KARACHI colours: ‘Bari’ a play for women
By Moomal Shunaid
KARACHI: A thought-provoking play ‘Bari’ by Ajoka Theatre was organised here on Sunday by Agha Khan Universities’Working Group of Women (WGW).
The play highlighted the plight of women languishing in jails.
The play revolves around the stories of four women prison inmates, Zahida Zaman, Jannat Bibi, Jamila and Mariam. Jannat bibi, played by Uzra Butt, is in prison because her grandson is wanted for theft and she will only be freed on the condition that the police arrest her son.
Zahida Zaman acted by Tahira Imam, is a political prisoner and a lawyer who narrates the story of these women, who find themselves in deplorable conditions due to the ineptitude of the law and police.
Jamila (Samia Mumtaz) is a young girl who loves to look at herself in a small hand mirror. She was married off to a man old enough to be her father when she was 14-years-old. She unfortunately fell in love with a young man. When her husband found out, he physically abused her. Eventually she murdered her husband and ended up in jail.
Mariam (Samina Butt) is a half-crazy beggar who was arrested in front of a shrine for dancing in a festival just because women are not allowed to dance. She is pregnant and when asked who is the father of the child, she reveals the shocking news that, “it could either be the warden, or one of the officers.” Her rape is the cause of her nightmares and distressed mental state.
These women develop a bond as they share each others happiness and tears, but fate has something else in store for them as each of them pays a heavy price for being in jail. Jannat bibi’s grandson is finally arrested and she loses her will to live because her grandson was her only hope of survival. Jamila is hanged for the murder and Mariam is devastated as she is forced to abort her child by the prison doctor in her seventh month because the jail authorities were worried about the news of her rape in jail getting out. The lawyer is freed in the end.
‘Bari’ was written in 1986 and was first performed on International Women’s Day in 1987. It was written by Shahid Nadeem and directed by Madeeha Gauhar, the spirit behind Ajoka, the play refers to the oppressive and discriminatory laws introduced by General Ziaul-Haq’s military regime in 1983, under the cover of Islamic reform.
The reforms were protested by the enlightened middle class women. A protest march in Lahore in February 1983 was violently broken up by police. The demonstrating women were baton charged, dragged on the road by their hair and arrested (Madeeha Gauhar was one of them).
The cast deserves kudos for a job well done which was obvious from the standing ovation, they received. Uzra Butt stunned the audience for her acting especially in the scene where she writes an appeal to a Colonel sahib and requests him to let her grandson go as he was unjustly convicted for a crime he hadn’t committed. The 86-year-old veteran has been associated with Ajoka theatre for the last 20 years. She is the sister of the famous actress Zehra Saigol who resides in India.
Commenting on the play, Ms Madeeha Gauhar said, “Although this play was written more than fifteen years ago the theme and issues raised in it are as relevant in today’s Pakistan as they were in the mid-80’s. The first victims of the Zia regime were women.
They continued to be objects of tyranny caught between the unjust system of law and order and traditions. To try and create awareness in different sections of society we have travelled to remote areas of rural Punjab and Sindh. Our last play was on the subject of ‘karo kari’ and we hope to come to Karachi more often for the audience here is wonderfully receptive,” Ms Gauhar added.