‘Burka Avenger’

Bina Shah is a Pakistani feminist writer. She expressed her opinions on Burka Avenger. Burka Avenger is a new TV cartoon series for children. The main character of Burka Avenger is a woman, mild-mannered schoolteacher by day, superhero by night, who wears a burka in order to fight villains in her village. The villains try to shut down the girls’ schools. Let’s read what Bina Shah wrote:

‘I’m especially pleased that the superhero is a woman, not a man. Pakistani society is hypermasculinized: children are used to seeing men in positions of power and authority, as leaders, military men, policemen, et cetera. They absorb this as the natural order of things from such early ages that it’s almost impossible to undo this conditioning later in life. Whereas the women of Pakistan are the silent heroes on the frontlines of the war we’ve got ourselves involved in today: schoolteachers, health workers and human rights activists are targeted by extremists and attacked and killed for going out and doing their ordinary jobs. It’s wonderful to see a woman being feted for something so true to life, and also to see that when her job is threatened, she doesn’t succumb to the aggression but instead fights back and triumphs. The children of Pakistan need this lesson as well.’

‘The superhero’s costume is such an integral part of his or her identity that it’s hard to escape from the question of whether or not the burka is an appropriate choice for Pakistan’s first female superhero. Yes, the burka is oppressive… the burka provides women with a modicum of agency. Women who would be confined to their houses are allowed to go out if they are wearing a burka.

I wish it weren’t so, but it is. Should we perpetuate the idea that women are strong when they put on the burka? Definitely not. Pakistani girls and women need to know that their natural state of being is not hidden away, shrouded by yards of black cloth to make their presence in society acceptable, safe, or halal. They need to learn that modesty can be interpreted in many different ways, and that a simple shalwar kameez and dupatta are good enough for us, because we’re Pakistanis, not Arabs. It will horrify me if little girls start wearing burkas in imitation of their hero, because that would be indoctrination of the worst kind.

My perfect ending to the Burka Avenger series would be that after the villains are vanquished, Jiya hangs up her burka in the closet and never needs to wear it again.’

But the question is why should Jiya, the superhero, hang up her burka in the closet if she never needs to wear it? Isn’t it better if she just throw the burka in the garbage?