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A Look at a Defender of Womens Rights

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    A Look at a Defender of Womens Rights

    Original Article from the Dawn Review

    Begum Zari Sarfaraz: Crusader for the Pakhtoons
    By Intikhab Amir
    There aren't many Pakistani women who can claim to be renowned
    politicians as well as astute businesswomen. In fact, one would
    assume that the number of such successful ladies would be negligible
    in a male dominated society like ours.

    Fifty years ago, our society was much more orthodox than what it is
    today. It can be assumed that the atmosphere could not really have
    been very conducive for women to undertake political struggle. And as
    for business, there were fewer still, attempting to enter the field
    let alone conquering the arena. In the North-West Frontier Province
    (NWFP) things were more difficult than in other provinces of the
    country and much more complex.

    The concept of females going out of their homes to earn or even just
    to work for their own satisfaction was considered improper. Even now,
    the situation has not really changed that much, but despite all the
    restrictions, the women of NWFP though handful have managed to pursue
    noble causes.

    One such lady is Begum Zari Sarfaraz, the elder sister of the late
    Mir Afzal Khan former chief minister of NWFP - and the eldest of the
    three children of Khan Bahadur Sarfaraz Khan, a leading landlord of
    the Pakhtoon dominated Mardan area of NWFP. She has played an active
    role in furthering Muslim League cause during the Pakistan Movement
    while running her own business in the mid 1940s.

    "I entered politics and also started taking care of the family's
    financial concerns at the age of 17, after the death of my father,"
    says Begum Zari Sarfaraz who is now in her late 70s and still has the
    verve to speak for hours and hours on politics and business.

    Be it the existing crisis faced by the country's sugar industry or
    the menace of prostitution; the difference between the past and the
    present day politics, or the Wali family's stand on the rights of
    Pakhtoons or ZA Bhutto as a politician; she has a clear perception of
    each and every issue. She expresses herself in a straightforward
    manner without caring much about the controversies attached to the
    statements she makes. She has been known for her forthright attitude
    in the political circles ever since she embarked on her political

    Enrolled at the Presentation Convent School, Srinagar, Begum Zari
    Sarfaraz aspired to become a doctor. She instead became one of the
    leading businesswomen of the country, still successfully running more
    than one sugar mills owned by her family group.

    Her father's early death made it necessary for her discontinue her
    studies. "After all, someone was needed to look after the massive
    landholdings and, above all, to keep intact the family's political
    reign which was at stake after the death of my father," notes Zari
    Sarfaraz. So being the eldest, she had to sacrifice her personal
    goals. Unlike any other Pakhtoon family she was made the figurehead
    of the family. Her mother, Kaukab Sultan, wanted her to oversee all
    family matters till the time her brothers Mir Afzal Khan and Khan
    Aziz Sarfaraz Khan both younger to her completed their studies and
    took over the political dynasty left by their father Khan Sarfaraz

    Sarfaraz Khan had always been an active member of Muslim League and
    she too had that inherent love for the party. Her father used to take
    her to all the important party meetings and she was also present at
    the 1940 resolution meeting at Minto Park where the famous Lahore
    resolution was passed.

    It was a test of her political clout when in her early political
    career she was asked to arrange a meeting of the women of Mardan in
    October 1945. It was certainly an uphill task, keeping in mind the
    orthodox society of Mardan fifty-five years ago.

    The president of the All India Muslim League (women wing) Begum
    Nusrat Haroon, the wife of Mr. Abdullah Haroon, was to address the
    gathering. "It was not possible to arrange the gathering at any other
    place other than my own house," she remembers. So, invitations were
    extended to the ladies of the area through the Naee [the person who
    was paid to deliver invitations and inform people all the relevant

    She asserts that her strong family background was pivotal in giving
    her a strong political foothold by allowing her to carry out all
    political activities and enabling her to organize the Muslim League
    at Mardan, back in 1945. But her own grit and diligence cannot be
    denied either, because how else could she have challenged all the
    narrow minded norms of the area, spurning the outrage (which could
    easily have been life threatening) of all the other Khan families of
    the area as well.

    Zari Sarfaraz remained a crusader of the rights of women and the
    unfortunate classes throughout her political career. And while she
    did dismiss petty chauvinism she was never defiant of the
    conservative Pakhtoon traditions which concerned family norms.

    "In view of the strict norms and traditions of the area, when I asked
    Begum Nusrat Haroon and other female members of her delegation to
    visit us, I emphasized that they must be veiled and should stay that
    way while travelling from the Nowshera railway station to Mardan and
    when they visited the area to address a women's gathering," recalls
    Zari Sarfaraz. During that first meeting, Zarin Sarfaraz assumed the
    role of a translator for Mrs. Abdullah Haroon who at the end of the
    meeting appointed her as the general secretary and her mother as the
    president of the Mardan Muslim League's women wing.

    Two years later Zari Sarfaraz was elected president after her mother
    stepped down from the office on health reasons. She pursued politics
    fervently but always remained within the parameters of the culture
    and traditions of the area. It was only in 1965 when she, for the
    first time, made an appearance without a veil in a men's gathering at
    Peshawar's Chowk, Yadgar. "It was the first time that I was
    addressing a gathering of men and I was the lone female speaker in
    that rally," she muses.

    "We generally used to hold women's meetings in-door whereas whenever
    we had to attend a public meeting there used to be a specified
    separate space for females from where the female speakers would
    address," recollects an elderly Begum Zari while narrating the
    hardships she used to undergo while pursuing politics.

    Her eyes twinkle and her face creases into a smile when she recalls
    her meetings with the Quaid-i-Azam whom she met on five occasions
    last time on his deathbed.

    She appears to be critical of the controversy attached to the death
    of Mohammed Ali Jinnah as she firmly believes that Mr. Jinnah died
    after being given proper treatment at his official residence in
    Karachi. She says, "I am a witness to this. When I reached the
    Governor General's residence, a nurse was sitting beside Mr. Jinnah.
    By then he had expired but he had been duly given every medical
    treatment possible at the time. I still possess the three empty packs
    of Cromin injections the doctor had used to boost him up," absolutely
    refuting the charge that Mr. Jinnah died at the Karachi airport or
    without being given medication.

    After partition she was the first female to be elected to the NWFP
    legislative assembly. Later, she also remained a member of the West
    Pakistan and the National assemblies.

    She was responsible for blocking the resolution moved in the West
    Pakistan Assembly for shifting the 'red light area' of Lahore,
    considering it to be against the rights of the women who were victims
    of circumstances.

    "In an attempt to understand their position and problems, I
    personally arranged a visit to the area and interviewed the girls
    there," says Begum Zari, adding, "one of them even told me that it
    was because of the men that they had ended up in a brothel."

    In 1952 when she was a member of the NWFP legislative assembly she
    was assigned the job of rehabilitating some 42 girls of NWFP who were
    recovered from different brothel houses of Punjab. After their
    recovery they were accommodated temporarily at Nowshera. "I, along
    with a DSP categorized these girls into three groups age wise and
    then advertisements were published in newspapers for the marriage of
    these ill-fated girls. The suitors, who turned up on the day of the
    interview, were also divided into three categories and later each one
    of them was introduced to a girl of his age group. Wedding
    arrangements had also been made on the same day at the end of which
    all the couples left for their homes," recounts Begum Zari.

    She believes that though the state of women in the Urban areas of the
    country particularly concerning education and freedom of movement has
    improved, the amount of respect previously enjoyed by the women folk
    has diminished to a great extent, for which she holds the religio-
    political parties of the country responsible. "These parties have
    sown hatred in society and have encouraged people to throw chemicals
    on women passing through markets and bazaars, in the past."

    Begum Zari maintains that the increasing intolerance, with respect to
    the man-woman relationship, would get reduced if the co-education
    system is promoted in the country. "I had made this suggestion in the
    1985 report of The Pakistan Commission on the Status of Women of
    which I was appointed chairperson by President General Zia-ul-Haq
    back in 1983."

    She comments that she had great hopes of improvement taking place in
    the status of women when Benazir Bhutto came into power, "but
    unfortunately Ms Bhutto failed to deliver on this front." Now,
    General Pervez Musharraf has made great promises. But the success of
    his claims would only be proved when a good number of women are
    appointed on important posts. Though the federal and provincial
    cabinets contain one female member each, how many women get top slots
    would prove the reality of the General's promises.

    Being strongly supportive of the idea of renaming NWFP to give an
    identity to the people of the area, she believes that the Wali family
    always compromised on the rights of Pakhtoons. "Before Partition I
    waged a struggle for Pakistan's independence, later, I focused my
    attention on the well being of my area as a result of which I was
    called Pakhtoonistani by the leaders from Punjab and then I became
    the first person from NWFP to oppose the establishment of One Unit. I
    was the first person who took up the issue of renaming the province
    52 years ago when I conveyed this demand to Prime Minister Liaquat
    Ali Khan. I advised him to rename the province and to put an end to
    this controversy once and for all."

    It stands to reason that if the other three provinces are identified
    from the name of their province then what is wrong if the people of
    NWFP are also given their identity?

    "The new name could be devised on the same pattern on the basis of
    which the name of the country [Pakistan] had been developed. Renaming
    of NWFP is not the question of only giving identity to Pakhtoons
    rather it should be taken in a broader perspective considering all
    the linguistic groups living in the province. Had they [ANP] been
    sincere to the cause of Pakhtoons' rights they would have adopted
    Pashto as the medium of instruction when they were in coalition
    government led by Maulana Mufti Mehmood in the early 1970s," she

    Continuing on the topic she feels strongly about, Begum Zari
    emphasizes, "The government of Sindh did the same by declaring Sindhi
    as medium of instruction, but the Wali Khan group did not do so. They
    had the stand that it would hurt feelings of other linguistic groups
    including Hindko speaking and the Seraiki speaking, but they could
    have easily adopted Pashto as the medium of instruction, at least, in
    the Pakhtoon dominated areas," reiterating that Pakhtoons have always
    been taken as a threat by other races of the sub-continent because
    they had been the rulers. And rulers are seldom liked.

    After 20 long years of being a parliamentarian and a prolonged stint
    as a politician, Zari Sarfaraz abandoned active politics in 1970 on
    her brother, Mir Afzal Khan's advice. "Mir Afzal advised me to call
    it a day as the politicians who were at the helm of affairs in the
    early 1970s were not the ones I was used to working with."

    She contends that the process of the existing condemnable state of
    politics and disharmony in the society started in the late 1960s, for
    which primarily, Z.A. Bhutto is responsible. "Z.A. Bhutto did one
    good thing to this nation and it was to make them aware of their
    rights. Besides this, the man is responsible for all the ills
    presently faced by the country," asserts an emphatic Zari
    Sarfaraz. "He never infused in them a sense of responsibility,
    causing an unending gulf between the landlords and the farmers and
    between the industrialists and the labour. This has caused an
    irreparable damage to the society."

    Sensing that change, Begum Zari decided to leave politics, as it was
    getting difficult for her to adjust with people without worthy

    She reminisces, "During our days, we used to spend from our own
    pocket for any political cause at hand, now, politics has become a
    business. That is why there is always the problem of maintaining a
    quorum in assemblies as elected representatives hardly care about
    their original job, which is to frame laws. Rather, the existing lot
    only takes care of their monitory interests while sitting in the

    She believes that an ideal politician should be first a social
    worker. "How can a person serve the people while sitting in the
    assemblies when he/she has not done any social work?"

    Being a democrat, how did she feel when Abbas Sarfaraz, her nephew,
    joined an un-elected and military government? She rationalizes the
    issue by saying, "No democratic minded person would ever support any
    military government, but tell me, was there any way to bring about a
    change of government before Oct. 12, 1999? It was so-called democracy
    but all the powers were concentrated only in one person. After the No
    Confidence motion was blocked due to the 14th amendment, there were
    only two ways of removing that man (Nawaz Sharif) either by a bullet
    or through the army."

    She strongly believes that only the politicians are responsible for
    the army's taking over again and again. None of the successive
    governments addressed the important issues concerning the country,
    rather, each one of them made things more complex making it
    imperative for the army to take over each time.

    How can a man die better than facing fearful odds for the ashes of his fathers and the Temple of his Gods?

    I admire this woman. She's got her head screwed on right, unlike too many people.
    I believe in dragons, good men, and other fantasy creatures.


      Too bad she is fighting a lost cause. Under the present unjust system, NWFP will never be renamed, nor will Pashtu be allowed in schools. Pakistani rulers have learned well from the British.


        Originally posted by Mir of Hunza:
        Too bad she is fighting a lost cause. Under the present unjust system, NWFP will never be renamed, nor will Pashtu be allowed in schools. Pakistani rulers have learned well from the British.
        Why you want NWFP to be renamed? Pastoons are also the blood of Pakistan!

        How about fighting over basic needs of life?


          P T is right - whats in a name?

          Its better to work for the betterment of the people than to fight for renaming NWFP. By the way, according to the article, she's done more than try to rename NWFP, for which I appreciate her.
          I believe in dragons, good men, and other fantasy creatures.


            Fine, rename Punjab to Rapeistan.

            The NWFP was choosen by the British to degarde Pashtoons as a ethnic group. It was to make sure that they don't learn about their culture or origins in Afghanistan and do not create more trouble for the British. It is an insult to the memory of those who dies fighting the British that the name even after "independence" has remained the same. In fact, only the rulers have changed.


              Originally posted by Mir of Hunza:
              Fine, rename Punjab to Rapeistan.
              In the same vein, how about renaming you for the moron that you are?


                Mir: I have warned you repeatedly and it's quite clear that you have problems keeping your behaviour in check.


                  Dear brother in islam outlaw, I have reformed from now on.


                    You know, I'm no Punjabi, but Mir, you need to check yourself.

                    My point isn't to keep NWFP's name to demean the Pashtuns or the other non-Pushtun ethnicities living in NWFP. My point is that so much fuss is being made on the name, and not on the content, that will changing the name NWFP to whatever it is you guys want really make the province a better one?

                    Will it change the lives and fortunes of the downtrodden Pashtuns? No, of course not.

                    First lets reform the laws in the province, and enforce them.

                    The treatment of women in NWFP is atrocious. Not to say the rest of Pakistan is a farishta when it comes to women's rights.

                    But let me ask you? Who is going to respect and help the very same people who insult their women by demeaning them in such an inhumane way?

                    This is why Pakistan is behind. Its being punished by nature for the wrongs its done.
                    I believe in dragons, good men, and other fantasy creatures.


                      PCG, my point is that the affairs of a province should be handled by the province, not by Islamambad. If they want to change their name to Timbuktu, it is only their problem, not anyone else's.

                      Also, treatment of women in Punjab is just as bad, or perhaps even worse then frontier.


                        My ideology is totally different than you guys.

                        I'd prefer to see Pakistan as a ONE UNIT, which was back in 1954 constitution. I believe this is the only and possible step, which could VANISHED the provincial difference among provinces. Furthermore, it would be a great step towards UNITY. PAKISTAN UNITY

                        Ladies & Gentlemen, I moved my resolution



                          I strongly disagree with you PT, I believe th whole one unit plan caused 1971's tragedy.

                          You need to learn to respect the diversity and internal politics of provinces even when you disagree with them. If My province wants to rename itself timbuktoo, it is the right of my rpovince to do so, that is within it's realm to do so, you might not like it, but it's what the people of the province want.
                          How can a man die better than facing fearful odds for the ashes of his fathers and the Temple of his Gods?


                            Originally posted by Zakk:
                            I strongly disagree with you PT, I believe th whole one unit plan caused 1971's tragedy.
                            Nope! That didn't cause 1971 tragedy. Everyone opposed this issue because they put and fond themselves to be Punjabis, Sindhis, Pastoons, Baluchis, NOT PAKISTANIS Even, M.A Jinnah once said

                            Whatever we do, whereever we go, we should consider ourselves as a Pakistani.
                            You need to learn to respect the diversity and internal politics of provinces even when you disagree with them. If My province wants to rename itself timbuktoo, it is the right of my rpovince to do so, that is within it's realm to do so, you might not like it, but it's what the people of the province want.
                            Well, as a said eariler, there is no need of changing the name of a province. Why not working for the welfare of a province? I know and have read lots of dishonesty done by the previous Govt. You are saying your people of the province want to re-name NWFP. Right? Don't they want better and progressive province? What would happen, for instance, if you changed the name of a province. Situation in the province would remain same. Isn't it?

                            I moved farward the PAKISTAN AS A ONE UNIT resolution because today Pakistan lacks in Unity. Only this resolution can bring Unity among the nation of Pakistan. Furthermore, people from different provinces communicate with each other only in URDU LANGUAGE. Punjabi knows Urdu and so does Pastoon, Sindhi, Baluchi and so on.

                            That is why I support PAKISTAN AS A ONE UNIT RESOLUTION



                              Pakistani Tiger, the unity that exists ( a little bit) will also vanish if such a move is implemented, besides its not possible to govern properly such big units. There are many countries in the world who have lesser area than Pakistan, but they have far more provinces than us. Infact, I believe that the provinces should be chopped down further, so that the development could reach to those places which have been ignored till now.

                              [This message has been edited by zaavia (edited July 09, 2002).]