It is with immense hope that one looks at a woman like Gulalai Ismail, because there are only a few who listen to the calling of their hearts despite hostile environments like she did. She is a strong-headed, outspoken and courageous woman from Pakistan who has made it her life’s mission to work towards the empowerment of women in a world that is premised on patriarchal ideals. She is truly a feminist hero, an inspiration for thousands of women around the world who look unto her for courage and determination in serving the cause of women’s liberation in Pakistan.
It would not be incorrect to say that she is a crusader for women’s rights and by going beyond her own comfort zone she has fought for all kinds of oppression and violent behaviour against women- forced marriages, gang rapes and forceful denial of the right to pursue higher education or a career of one’s choice.
In a society that is conservative and often in denial of women’s dignified existence, a woman like Ismail reminds us of the power of truth and the strength it empowers people with. It is her groundbreaking contributions that may have won her critical acclaim around the world but her greatest reward is when battered, tortured, tormented women from her own motherland begin to believe that Ismail can transform their lives and lend them hope. Ironically, her own nation Pakistan does not realise the worth of the precious contribution that she is making towards the betterment of the society, towards making it sensitive to justice and gender equity- and has instead chosen to see her as an enemy of the state, as a traitor and as someone who is responsible for inciting rebellion and disturbing societal peace.
Where is justice for a woman like Ismail, does she deserve to be punished for bringing positivity and strength into the lives of thousands of battered women?
Is visualising an equal world her fault or is her fault the fact that she decided not to tolerate gender-injustice?
For the fear of her life, Ismail is on the run and nobody has had the chance to meet her for the last two months. Even the cunning and brutal security forces of her country cannot find her anywhere. Her home and office have been raided, her friends and family have been interrogated for hours and police personnel are deployed in large numbers in all the places she may have ever visited- but despite all efforts, Ismail is nowhere to be found.
While it is not yet known where Ismail is and whether she is safe but her associates feel confident that she is alive and leading a phantom like existence. She is frequently shifting residence, timing all her moves carefully, disguising herself and relying on a strong underground network of fellow feminists across Pakistani cities who are working with her and ensuring that her existence is not threatened. Her younger sister Saba argues that ever since she disappeared in the month of May, even her intimate family and friends don’t know how to speak to her, let alone see her.
Rumors about her arrest surface from time to time but the truth is that she is not in police custody and the police is unable to look for her. This search for a rebel feminist, an activist who worked relentlessly for improving the lives of women in Pakistan is unfolding at a juncture in Pakistan’s history when the nation is trying its best to change its image from a regressive militant-state to a modern, liberated nation. The army and military that continue to hold special control over the nation-state in Pakistan look at all liberal voices as deviations from the norm and have surpassed dissent frequently without mercy. No wonder, voices like those of Ismail are seen as digressions or anti-national. Not surprisingly, Ismail has been accused of sedition, financial terrorism, defaming state institutions among a series of other grievous charges.
Ismail’s organisational strength has allowed her to compel many women to come out of oppressive homes and speak for their dignities, she had began to win over more and more young people- the government had often shown discomfort with her way of seeing the world and taken resort in all sorts of mellowing down mechanisms such as arresting her team, firing on unarmed people who came to attend demonstrations organised by her and so on.
One of the many severe allegations that Ismail has levelled against her nation’s government is that its soldiers have sexually abused and raped women in the Pashtun region of Pakistan. She let out a controversial statement “The Ones Responsible For Terrorism Are In Uniform”.
The government feels that her controversial statements and repeated criticism of the state are to incite violence and commit treason. And has accused her of charges such as money-laundering and terrorism and even said that her activities are being sponsored by neighbouring country India.