CONVENTIONALLY women are referred to as weak and fickle. They are also dubbed as cowardly. But all these labels have been given by men in a patriarchal society. It is unfortunate that many women have internalised these qualities and thus reinforce the male perception. One has to be grateful for those fearless women — whose numbers are now growing — who continue to defy the stereotypical image to keep reminding society that women are inherently strong and resilient and are capable of meeting the most difficult of challenges they face.
Last week, we were reminded of this truth when Khairo Dero, a village in Sindh, experienced a harrowing incident. I feel a sense of belonging when it comes to Khairo Dero, and the news of the attack on Ramz Ali literally shook me. Ramz is the project manager of the Ali Hasan Mangi Memorial Trust that Naween Mangi has set up to promote the development of this small and charming goth in district Larkana.
Ramz is the gentle and kind and honest-to-the-core soul who runs the various projects of the Trust with a firm and efficient hand. Ramz is also the father of my best friend in Khairo Dero, four-year-old Sitara.
Why should anyone want to harm a person like Ramz? One can only guess. It appears to be a case of exploitation of the poor by the robber barons who rule us. The alleged attackers, six in all, are believed to have had motives. They had been pressing Ramz to help them in building their house. The Trust helps in upgrading houses, providing solar panels, building toilets and running a medical facility and it manages a community school apart from being the sponsor of a TCF (The Citizens Foundation) school campus in the village. The alleged attackers are not indigent and do not qualify for assistance.
The Trust is financed by donors and it spends its funds only on the poor and deserving. Ramz’s integrity is impeccable and his shrewd assessment of people enables him to spend the Trust’s money judiciously. That is how he has extended his programme to 80 neighbouring villages.
As is generally the case, the real culprit is apparently a wealthy and influential person who uses his position and clout to hire gunmen to pull the trigger. Ramz was lucky. The first attacker used an axe to strike Ramz. In the ensuing scuffle, the axe failed to hit its target. When the second attacker pulled out his gun he was stopped by members of the family. But the most heroic defence came from the women of Khairo Dero, a number of whom threw themselves at Ramz to form a human shield to cover him. Had the gunman tried to fire he would have had to kill a few women to reach his target.
When Naween told me about this I gasped with shock. After relief came a surge of pride for my sisters in Khairo Dero. As for Naween, I have always admired her for her courage and her love for her ancestral village and its development. She chose to give up a lucrative job to spend more time in Khairo Dero even in the sizzling heat of summer. She has now rushed to Khairo Dero to be with her kin in this trying hour.
But whenever we would discuss the needs of the people of Khairo Dero we have always fretted about the women. They seem to be an oppressed lot who need to show more guts and come forward to play their role as responsible members of society. Without them, Khairo Dero could never be a complete entity. True the women have cooperated in sending all children of the village to school. Otherwise they tend to lead a segregated life. The Trust’s consistent efforts to draw women into its staff succeeded in attracting only one woman — Mushkoora — to work for the Trust. She, however, left after a few years.
Will this horrendous incident bring about a change? It should. The women who sprang to protect Ramz Ali did so instinctively and without being asked to. It was something they did without thinking about it and it is this impulsiveness that gives rise to the hope that the time of change has arrived and the women of Khairo Dero will now recognise their inner strength. A small step was taken a decade ago when the first girl enrolled in school. Now some of these girls will be joining college in Larkana when the educational institutions reopen next month. There will be no stopping them thereafter.
It is not just the women who now matter. The men of Khairo Dero have also discovered their own strength. With great efforts, an FIR was registered with the police against the alleged attackers. Two were arrested and four went into hiding only to surrender four days later. The men of Khairo Dero are now learning how to fight for their own rights.
Published in Dawn, August 28th, 2020