Pakistan’s first female superhero – the Burka Avenger – is making headlines today. Her mission is to ensure that the children of Halwapur make it to school and get an education. It’s the noblest cause that a Pakistani superhero could fight for and we have Malala as an example of how imperative education is to Pakistan today. Yet many of those who have seen the trailer of this 13-episode cartoon series to be featured on GEO TV are arguing about her choice of wardrobe.
Conservatives are arguing that the makers of Burka Avenger have trivialised the veil and are making a mockery of Islam. The liberals, more vocal on social media, are questioning the choice of shrouding her in a burka at all. “Why not a shalwar that balloons and helps her fly? Why not a mask?” they are asking, adding that the burka is an icon of female oppression in Afghanistan and Pakistan, since the Taliban enforced it on the women in the north.
Brushing off both arguments, I feel that the essence of the Burka Avenger is being lost in this debate. It’s like ignoring the essence of Malala’s speech at the UN and questioning why she agreed to wear Benazir Bhutto’s white chaddar. We have to focus. The Burka Avenger wants children to get an education and go to school; she’s advocating that education is the only way to fight oppression. If she wears a burka to hide her identity and fly (she doesn’t even cover her head by day) then so be it. She looks good in her black burka that is more like a sculpted bat/ninja suit than the shuttlecock that is the icon of oppression. No one has forced Jiya to wear the burka; she designs it as costume of her choice. Frankly speaking, could there be a better way to hide your identity in Pakistan? No. It’s a non issue.
I actually love the fact that the cartoon is heroine-centric and Jiya represents women who can cultivate an identity beneath their burkas and rise against their oppressors without the fear of being attacked or condemned. Until justice comes to Pakistan (a long way, still), this may not be such a bad way to avenge injustice.
MY concern would be her choice of weaponry: throwing books and pens at the enemy. I would say – and my dad, an academic and lover of books – is appalled that she is throwing text books as a method of attack. It’s disrespectful to the written word, which in our household was prohibited to even put on the floor, step on, throw or abuse in any way. Not just religious books, any books. Even algebra and Archie comics. But we’ve just seen a trailer, not even an episode. Maybe she will improvise.
Back to the Burka Avenger, I’m looking forward to the series. The graphics look good, the premise and villains are very relatable, the issues are real and one of the biggest attractions – the music – promises to be catchy. Burka Avenger is the brainchild of pop star Haroon (and an undisclosed donor) but he has brought on Ali Zafar, Ali Azmat and others for the ten-track soundtrack. It appears to be a great initiative but of course, only time will tell if it actually is as good as it looks.
Till then, “don’t mess with the lady in black” is a great slogan. I’ll say! She can be on the attack and the Burka Avenger actually motivates her to.