How Tehmina Durrani became one of Pakistan's most powerful feminist voices

Lahore: Among the most powerful feminist voices in Pakistan today is that of Tehmina Durrani.

Durrani's father — Shahkir Ullah Durran — was the governor of the State Bank of Pakistan, and the managing director of Pakistan International Airlines; while her mother, Samina Durrani, was a homemaker. From her mother's side, Tehmina is the granddaughter of Nawab Sir Liaqat Hayat Khan, of the Khattar tribe; a prime minister of the former princely state of Patiala for eleven years. Sir Liaqat Hyat Khan himself was the brother of Sir Sikandar Hayat Khan, a pre-1947 Punjabi Indian statesman and leader.

Throughout her life, Durrani has been something of a rebel. As the wife of Punjab’s Chief Minister Mian Mohammad Shahbaz Sharif, Tehmina could have chosen to live a life of leisure. Instead, she chose to focus on social activism and reform.

Durrani played an important role in her husband's political success (he is the younger brother of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif). But she chose to forge an identity of her own.

Tehmina Durrani. Photo via Facebook

Tehmina Durrani. Photo via Facebook

Tehmina received tremendous attention when her autobiography, My Feudal Lord, was published in 1991. It detailed her abusive and traumatic marriage to Ghulam Mustafa Khar, then the chief minister and later, governor of Punjab. It was translated into 39 languages and became a best-seller. Since that time, Durrani emerged as one of Pakistan's leading human rights activists. She also founded the Tehmina Durrani Foundation.

“I found Tehmina Durrani to be an incredibly brave woman, who opted to serve the people of Pakistan and managed to build her own identity — beyond the shadows of the Sharif family,” says Ansar Burney, a social worker.

Durrani works with a team of volunteers at the Foundation's headquarters in Lahore. No one who needs help is turned away from its doors.

In 2001, she launched a movement called Ana Hadjra Labaek. A document describing the movement reads: "Indeed, at that time it was futuristic to believe that women empowered with an Islamic symbol as proof of their Islamic rights, could move towards a peaceful transition to Islam's original intention through ijtehad. Tehmina sent a message...that... women will remain subjugated, not only by men but also by women conditioned by the patriarchal construct of mainstream Islam, until the Quran is not re-interpreted in a manner that does justice to its original intention.”

“It is redundant to state that the current condition of Muslim women, especially in terms of the self-image they have constructed — consonant with the dominant image of a bearded and turbaned Islam — is dismal. However long the issue has been debated, the quest for a solution remains. Until the Quran is not re-interpreted in a manner that does justice to its original intention, women will remain subjugated, not only by men but also by women conditioned by the patriarchal construction of mainstream Islam. Two obstacles need to be crossed, and the very first was the fear of change that will disturb the present balance," Durrani says.

In 2002, a year after launching Ana Hadjra Labaek, Durrani publicly spoke out for the rights of Fakhra Younas, a victim of an acid attack, and her five-year-old son Noman.

Younis, a dancing girl from Karachi's Napier Road area, was allegedly attacked by Bilal Khar, the son of Punjab’s former governor Ghulam Mustafa Khar. Durrani knew she could face wrath of influential attackers if she dared to stand by the victim. However, nothing could stop her from helping Younus.

“The only sanctuary I could provide them was my own home, where my children, my staff and I were terrorised with life threats and acid attacks, while I confronted the criminals and fought the ‘laws' of an ‘unlawful' military government,” Tehmina recounts. "Finally, after five grueling months, with the support of the media and the public pressure it ignited, the government issued identification papers for the victims to travel."

Durrani helped arrange for Younus to receive treatment in Italy.

In Rome, Fakhra Younus underwent 30 major surgeries in nine years, at the expense of the Italian Government. She tragically succumbed to the agony of her existence and committed suicide on 17 April 2012.

“I received her coffin draped in the Italian and Pakistani flags at Karachi, where Edhi sahib at Edhi Home Kharadar led her funeral prayers. Fakhra's son Noman continues to study at school in Rome, and remains under the supervision of an Italian family and myself," Durrani said.

In Pakistan, people familiar with Durrani’s work compare her to Princess Diana, whose philanthropic efforts were noted across the world.

Meeting this correspondent at the office of the Foundation, Durrani says she hoped it would become a ‘global movement’ striving to educate and help the downtrodden achieve rights denied them by the state.

In September 2012, Durrani was named to the Pakistan Power 100 — a list that honours the highest levels of achievements from within the international Pakistani community. With or without awards, however, Durrani will continue to soldier on.

Updated Date: May 07, 2017 18:16 PM

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