No country for the living.

PEOPLE love to say that Pakistan is a terrible place for women. I partially disagree. It's obvious that this country is infinitely respectful, unflinchingly tolerant, and even borderline reverent, towards one group of women in particular. Dead ones.

Consider one of the foremost women leaAders in Pakistani history: in 1964, Fatima Jinnah was leading a popular movement against a ruling dictator. Millions lined up to hear her speak as her train, 'the Freedom Special' crawled through East Pakistan. The presidential election of '65 was around the corner, and Ms Jinnah seemed poised to make history.

Ayub Khan responded by labelling her a 'ghadaar'. The irony was lost on an autocrat declaring the Quaid's sister a traitor to the country she helped create, simply because she had the courage to stand up to him. Time magazine described Gen Ayub's method; 'portray her as pro-Indian and pro-American'. A smear campaign was launched, Ms Jinnah brutally vilified, and without a caretaker government, the state machinery could suppress opposition enough to guarantee victory.

Defeated, Ms Jinnah returned to retirement, where she would remain until her death. Her life post-partition was described as 'wrought with disappointments, disillusionment and eventual isolation'.

Is a woman never an individual in her own right?

Now that she has left this world, Ms JinAnah is often referred to as 'Madar-i-Millat', mother of the nation. It's an oddly specific title, considering she was never a mother to anyone: she stayed unmarried until her death at 73. Coincidence? Or do we only deem a woman as respectable by virtue of connection to a man? As a mother, as a sister, but never as an individual in her own right?

In school, my history books mentioned Ms Jinnah as an inspiration because of her 'support for her brother' and for being 'highly educated in dentistry'. While this may be well-intentioned, it's a disgrace to the legacy of a fiercely independent voice for democracy. Hailing Ms Jinnah for her services to dentistry is like praising Gandhi for being a wonderful tailor. It's not incorrect, but if that's the one thing you choose to focus your attention on, there's something seriously wrong with you.

This lifetime vilification and posthumous reverence tells you a lot about the way Pakistan treats its women. And to put it bluntly, we seem to find the living, breathing, working ones to be awfully inconvenient. The dead can be retrospectively whitewashed, their legacy steered...

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