I recently came face to face with a bacha posh through Nadia Hashimi’s eminently readable novel, One Half from the East.Bacha posh is a cultural practice in parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan, in which some families without sons pick a daughter to live and behave as a boy (Wikipedia)
A fluent portrayal of the gender lop-sidedness that exists in the Afghan culture, One Half From The East helps you understand what it means to be a girl in this part of the world.
The book depicts, with admirable deftness, the tragic irony of how a mere snipping of hair and wearing a pant, exponentially enhances the protagonist – Obayda’s confidence, her potential, and her quality of life.
What does wearing a pant really mean?
Shorn of aesthetics, it means mobility, movement, pace.Pants are meant for legs. And legs are meant for movement.
Restraining a girl from wearing pants is the first in a series of subtle attempts made by the society to restrict her pace.Several such seemingly innocuous disadvantages are engineered very early into her system.
Individually, these challenges may seem inconsequential. But their sum total is akin to tying a girl’s legs together and then asking her to run on the track called life.
A girl child is systematically programmed by society to flunk this race. Obayda’s father isn’t disabled by birth; an accident robs him of his leg and makes him an invalid.
Obayda and her three sisters, however, are disabled by birth… by virtue of being born girls in a society that suffers from a collective mental impairment… a society that discriminates between boys and girls on the basis of sex.
Sex is a REALITY – conferred on us by birth.
It cannot be tampered with or wished away.
But gender and freedom are IDEAS… floated by humans.
Unfortunately, a convoluted idea of male supremacy has become entrenched worldwide because of a biological difference between the bodies of the male and female species.
This idea has conditioned the psyche of our society – translating into exploitation, subjugation, predation, and victimization of women through the ages.
One Half From The East exposes the impact of gender-specific powerlessness inflicted by society on a girl child’s mind.
It underlines the limitations that are woven into a girl’s psyche by well-meaning parents simply because of her gender.
A daughter is given feet but denied spright.She’s given birth sans birthright.
Her body’s custody is in someone else’s hands.
Her life’s levers are in someone else’s control. She has a tongue, but she has no say. She has potential, but she can never have her way.
A society (which includes parents, of course) first conceives, creates, and encourages a divide between boys and girls.
Boys are fed a regular diet of aggression, whereas girls are handed over daily morsels of subjugation.
Over the years, this divide deepens and morphs into a crater – a crater that threatens to swallow its own creator.
Parents and society then seek respite from the stranglehold of their own creation.
They resort to artificially, and temporarily, bridge this divide.
And a bacha posh is born.
A bacha posh is the manifestation of an omnipresent social culture of misogyny.
It is the tragic byproduct of a collective social psyche that has been corroded by a deep-seated bias against one gender.
Turning a girl into a bacha posh entails a huge psychological cost because it can impose an undefeatable identity crisis on a young psyche.
When you tweak a girl’s physical identity for your own misplaced reasons, you snatch away an identity that is rightfully hers, and you thrust upon her an identity that never was nor ever will be hers.
You sow the seeds of a split personality – a mishmash of incomplete male faculties and suppressed female desires.
Mostly the reason for creating a bacha posh is even more misogynistic than the tradition of subjugating girls. It’s either because parents wish to avoid the social stigma of not having male offspring; or because they believe that the male energy created by a bacha posh may lead to the birth of a boy.
Parents victimize their daughter (in the garb of liberating her), simply to avoid becoming victims of a society that is created by people like themselves. What gives parents the right to psychologically brutalize a child’s mind like this?
Obayda goes through considerable mental trauma, not once but twice: first when she is suddenly made a bacha posh, and then when she is, just as suddenly, reinstated to her original gender.
Only as Obayd, and all the social privileges that come with being a boy, does she discover her own strength and courage.
She then outsmarts warlords, conquers mountains, strengthens her body, and accomplishes things she had never imagined as a girl…simply because now she’s not swimming against the tide of patriarchy; she is the tide of patriarchy.
Between gender and freedom, freedom is definitely the bigger and more important idea.Who really cares about long hair or short, pants or skirt, feminine or masculine, if renouncing one’s gender gives one access to the world?
Stifling one’s feminine urges seems a small price to a girl for the freedom to breathe in the open air.
So many centuries into mankind (there isn’t even womankind…see!) – a woman is an ill-conceived, malformed, rudimentary idea. She has been invented —and reinvented— several times over several decades.
But, unfortunately, her inventors are pathetic at handling their invention (Ursula Le Guin).
Their marketing techniques are primitive, their product research nil.No wonder, the concept of a woman as an entity has never taken off the ground.
So much so, that the world is chockablock with men alone. God is a man. Satan is a man. People are men. All of them go by the pronouns: he and his.
“If anybody wants to buy a bra, he can buy it here,” or “A doctor knows when his patient is ill.”
So that’s what women are at best – truncated men; generic men; poor versions of real men.
Two infants are born. Both have two eyes, two ears, one nose, one mouth.
Both have a heart, a stomach, a ribcage. You look at them as equals… as nubile saplings brimming with the promise and potential to grow and be part of a lush forest… as youthful waves that can weather any storm, conquer any calamity.
But then, you check between their legs. Suddenly, identities get established. Gender roles get defined. And segregation begins.
Every year, this segregation becomes more pronounced, more rigid. As a result of this segregation, one gender predates upon the other until the other is reduced to its own shadow. Upbringing is a simple English word.
It is synonymous in spirit with parenting. Parenting is all about bringing up a child. But why is it that while we bring UP a boy we bring DOWN a girl?
By handing out short-lived privileges to a daughter as a bacha posh, parents only end up iron-cladding the gender-divide.
They circumvent the problem instead of addressing it point-blank. Just imagine the potential being wasted because we can’t curb the urge to box people into gender-defined parameters.
All children, whatever their gender or nationality, wish for the same things: a chance to be free, to learn, to play, to grow, to explore, to express, to question, and to have a say in what happens to them.
Treat your girls as you treat your boys. Give your children a gender-neutral upbringing. Teach boys to cook and clean.
Teach girls to fight for their rights. Stop rubbing the toxic salt of corroded convention on the girl child’s fragile psyche.
And if you cannot do that, make every single girl in the world a bacha posh for life.