Burka Avenger: Should a superhero wear a burka?

Move over Catwoman, there's a new lady super-heroine in town and she's clad in a burka. That's right a burka. Her name Burka Avenger, duh. What is she fighting for? Justice for girls in her town Halwapur, Pakistan.

The plot is simple in the first episode of the series: Feudal Lord Pajero Vadero doesn't want the girls school to reopen mostly so that he can keep the money and also because women don't need education. After all as he says, 'Padh likh ke computer todhi ban jana hai' (It's not like they'll turn into computers once they are educated.) Vadero turns to baddie Baba Bandukh (with a name like that how could the guy not be a villain) to help shut down the school.

And Baba Bandukh almost succeeds except that he didn't count on Burka Avenger to ruin his plan. As he tries to shut down the school in episode one, Burka Avenger turns up and beats the crap out of him and his buddies.

 Burka Avenger: Should a superhero wear a burka?

Burka Avenger is here. Image from Facebook

So who is the Burka Avenger?If you think that she's a burka clad-Kalashnikov wielding  woman who  pumps bullets into her enemies' brains, Kill-Bill style, you're in for a bit of disappointment.

What are her weapons then, you ask? Just some regular books, pens and super-fast reflexes.

She's a school teacher by day named Jiya who was adopted by her parents and trained in Takht Kabbadi.

What the hell is that you ask? Some sort of martial arts which doesn't involve deadly weapons. The opening sequence of the first episode shows Jiya's training where she has to catch eggs thrown at her by her father/Kabbadi Jaan (that's what she calls him), without breaking them. If you're not persuaded of the awesome power of  this form of self-defence, you should note that she catches the eggs with her eyes closed.

Each episode ends with a clear message. A the end of the first one, Burka Avenger declares, Talim aapka hakh hai ( education is your right) and don't let anyone take that away from you.

Burka Avenger's plot may seem simplistic to an adult but it works as a children's cartoon. According to cartoon creator Aaron Haroon Rashid the series is a reaction to Taliban's campaign to bad education for girls in Pakistan -- though the series itself never  mentions the Taliban. But as the series shows, it's not just fanatical Islamists who are against education for girls but also feudal landlords.

The cartoon has also raised concerns over the message sent by a female superhero wearing a burka. 'Cool or Conformist?' was the question at a recent NDTV debate?  Former Pakistan ambassador to US, Sherry Rehman certainly doesn't think the show is cool, recently tweeting

 

Haroon however told NDTV that he didn't want his super-heroine to be degraded or objectified like the super-heroines in the West who are dressed in sexy costumes.  He says Burka Avenger's burka is much more stylised, almost like a Ninja. He emphasises that for his heroine, the burka is both a choice and necessity since she needs it to her hide her identity.

I don't quite agree that Western heroines in their sexy outfits are viewed as mere objects. Remember Wonder Woman fought for justice, love, peace, and sexual equality and has been regarded as a feminist icon too. So just as wearing a sexy costume doesn't mean a woman can't be taken seriously as a superhero, I don't see why same argument should not hold true for the burka.

Jiya, in fact, is subverting the use of the burka to a large extent. Note she doesn't wear the burka during the day when she's going out to teach. She's dons it to kick some ass, an association that people don't normally make with women who are dressed in burkas.

Some critics says that Jiya wearing the burka makes her invisible, which is rather unfair and also not true. Who would miss out a woman clad in a burka  throwing books and bringing down men twice her size? I wouldn't.

Nobody is denying the fact that many women are forced to wear the burka or abaya or the veil. Some do it out of fear, some do it because it is tradition and they don't question it. But there are also those who choose to wear the burka out of choice. As Haroon makes clear, in Jiya's case the burka is something she has chosen.

To say that a super-heroine wearing a burka is creating a dangerous role model is unfair and untrue. Perhaps it's time we focused our attention not on what Jiya is wearing, but what she is doing — and she's doing quite a lot.

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Updated Date: Aug 01, 2013 17:14:16 IST