Born in a stringent patriarchal society , she broke all the rules laid by local religious clerics. She didn’t let anyone to dictate her life and her choices. Dressed as a man , she saw there is no barrier to what she could accomplish. She is Ukmina Manoori , the woman who was brought up as a Bacha Posh in Afghanistan. In Afghan villages , the families which consists of all girls would bring up the eldest daughter as a son. She would be dressed up as a boy , hair cut short and will learn to fight and defend herself from other boys. The Bacha Posh will accompany her mother to bazaar , work in the field and earn a living until she reach puberty.
Lot of girls faces the uncomfortable and inevitable process of “transforming” into a female after they’d tasted the freedom of being a male child. Ukmina was intimidated by the life as a female which has nothing to offer ; being a man’s invisible property for the rest of life. All her childhood she has been living as a boy. She was free to attend school and play soccer in the evening. She didn’t want to wear the burqah (Islamic veil covering the whole body) and disappear into oblivion. The very thought of marriage and maternity made her to reel with disgust. Therefore she made a resolve not to change , not to give in to the plea of her father and local mullah.
She continued to dress as a man even after having her first menstruation. When the Soviet invaded Afghanistan in 1979 , she offered to fight along the mujahideen. At first , the fighters were sceptical but relented when they needed someone to bring food and medical aid. When the Soviet troop withdrew in 1989 , the Taliban took over her village. Situation became more dangerous as the religious hardliners would persecute any woman disguised as a man. Fear seeped into her heart for the first time. Will she be caught red handed by Taliban militants? She went hiding into her home , never to appear in public again. For her , being in the men’s garb as a free person is better than being a prisoner in women’s clothing.
Ten years of Soviet invasion , four years of mujahideen and warlords factions and finally six years of Taliban’s rule had torn her country into pieces. When the Taliban was ousted in 1996 , president Hamid Karzai announced that democracy will rule Afghanistan once again. Elections would be held but can the women vote? Ukmina was excited but the Afghan women hadn’t practiced their constitutional rights granted to them in 1963. But she is a woman clad as a man. She is free. When the electoral council held the registration for voters , she registered and received her voter’s card. She did cast her vote , fulfilled her duty as an Afghan civilian.
When Hamid Karzai won the elections , the plight of women in Afghanistan came to limelight. President Karzai’s administration developed a blueprint to uplift the women , especially in rural areas. Ukmina’s village is no exemption. A civil servant visited Ukmina and explained to her about the women’s development program. She has an assignment for Ukmina ; she was appointed to recruit women in her village to be members of local women council.She had confided that Ukmina has the charisma needed for the job.
Soon , Ukmina found herself talking to women and men , convincing them to participate in the government programs. In the end , she successfully recruited 150 women to the council. Her job was well done , earning her credibility and respect among the villagers. Thirty years of war had stripped the women of protection. Many of them lost their husbands and had no one to look after their needs. Ukmina listened to the widows carefully and recorded what need to be done. One day , an elderly woman , having observed Ukmina , asked why she didn’t run for the provincial election. That was a major turning point for Ukmina. She did run as a candidate for Khost province and won!
Today , Ukmina recounts how the male garments earned her freedom. She is thankful to her father for not forcing her to be a female. She bent the rules , preserved the Afghan tradition of Bacha Posh against the backdrop of religious fanaticism. Perhaps , woman like Ukmina who defied the cultural heritage of womanhood could change the face of Afghanistan. Courage is rare , freedom is precious.
MARIA TOORPAKAI WAZIR
Maria was born in the era of Taliban’s rule 1990. Her father recognized his daughter had a rare potential and encouraged her to take strenuous weight lifting training at the age of twelve. Maria discovered her potential and her affinity for sports. She found the squash had a certain appeal to her and soon started playing squash. But her father was worried her daughter would not be able to practice squash openly and therefore clothed her as a boy. Maria took part in squash tournaments in Pakistan and won. The newfound fame attracted the Taliban and they threatened Maria and her family with death. Terrified , Maria hid in the safety of her home and sent numerous emails to trainers. Her email caught the attention of Jonathan Power from Canada. Today , Maria trains under Jonathan in Canada.
The Pashtun women are rare diamonds , vessels of courage and valor. It is the land of Nazo Tokhi , a young princess whom defied the invasion of British troop in 18th century. It is the selfless fathers who bring up their daughters as the conquerors of their fates. Lot of Afghan women are striving to better their community and country despite the religious buffer and the intimidation from males. They are the future of their country and rich heritage of Afghanistan.
Based on an autobiography by Ukmina Manoori , ” I am a Bacha Posh”