In a patriarchal society like ours, women are discouraged from being independent, they are punished for trying to exercise their agency, are denied equal rights and their failure to comply with societal dictates can cost them their lives. Parveen Atta is a living embodiment of the societal unwillingness to accept a woman who chooses to challenge the norms and therefore is labeled a rebel, which somehow also translates into them tarnishing the image of their families.
Seeing women as inferior beings and someone who can easily be suppressed is accepted and celebrated in most circles of this society. Parveen stood against this suppression of her ambitions which in return threatened the people in her surroundings and they attempted everything in their power to deter her progress. Yet, she remained undeterred and became a lawyer despite the backlash. As Parveen narrates,
“I belong to such a family where giving education to women is considered an anomaly. We are not even allowed to leave our homes. Living in circumstances such as these, I held my ground and worked towards reaching my ambitions.”
She adds that when her father tried to get her admission to school, her extended family immediately stood up against them. When she reached Metric, she had to give up her education because the backlash from her family turned into dangerous threats and as always it all boiled down to the family’s honor. Her relatives maintained that her education ambitions were bringing a bad name to them. “I did not give up even then, I used to hide from everyone and read and learn from my brother’s books. Looking at my commitment, my brother helped me and facilitated me so I could sit in intermediate exams.” She admits she needed the support of the men in her family to make her dreams come true. This highlights the unfortunate reality – Education is a basic right for every individual, but for women at large it is a luxury that only a few can afford.
The family’s disappointment and resistance were at their peak when Parveen asked her father to let her enroll in a law degree. Her father was not against her ambitions, however, he too had to give in to the family’s pressure. He did not outrightly reject her demand, however, informed her he did not have enough money to finance her enrolment. Parveen took her father’s lack of an outright rejection as a positive sign and went ahead to state she had saved enough money over the years to fund her higher studies. Looking at her passion and commitment her father decided to go against his family and took her to get enrolled in the Bahawalpur Islamia University for law. She studied there with all her heart and passion and even got a chance to practice law. But by this time the verbal insults and threats had culminated in physical violence.
Narrating one such incident, Parveen stated she was thrown in a river by some miscreants. She, however, survived that first attack. This did not stop them from putting her life in danger again. A second attempt was made to harm her, and this time they were far more vicious than the last time. They shot at her six times and all bullets were shot at her legs, perhaps they wanted to destroy her ability to walk, or that was a warning that things could further escalate. Either way, she was lucky enough to escape yet another brutal attack. She was, however, badly injured. It was not just the physical pain, the attack left her rattled mentally. She was assaulted for being ambitious, for practicing as a lawyer and somehow her rebellion amounted to justifying the murderous attempts on her life.
Parveen opined that people have different experiences that shape their lives, some make them stronger some weaker, but it makes one learn nonetheless. Her personal experiences made her more resilient. “My own life is full of such experiences that have strengthened my ambitions.” Parveen was strong-willed, she stayed true to her values. Had it been anyone else, they might have given up their fight but not her.
These attempts on her life failed in completely derailing her from her path as intended since even after the attack she continued her journey. She suffered and was afraid, but she did not let her fears get the best of her. In 2015, she took part in a multidisciplinary scientific conference where she won an award in the competition.
The attempts on her life, however, did not stop, the more she achieved professionally the more intense the attacks became. She was attacked several times by both her family and colleagues afterward. People were sent to her chambers to beat her. Her car was attacked by a truck. It was in 2021 that she finally felt her life was going to get better and safer. This was when she got married to her husband who is a judge by profession. She says that is when she got the strength to fight back. This raises concerns about women and their safety, where women such as Parveen who are professionally empowered and work in the very domain of law are somehow still vulnerable to external pressures and susceptible to violence. She needed the protection of her father and brother before and now her husband to be able to live in peace. This reliance on men makes one wonder what women with no male figures in their lives go through. Who is there to protect them from vicious societal attacks? Do they all need influence and power to get by, is their influence and position not enough to deter attacks? A woman should feel safe irrespective of what she does and it is the responsibility of society to make them feel that way. The unfortunate reality however dictates that women are seldom safe no matter what, and if they try to defy the norms then that is equated with an invitation to attack them either mentally or physically, in some cases both.
The ill-fated truth is that these very women, however independent they become, in most cases are only valued as long as they have brothers, fathers, or husbands to protect them. This mentality is further perpetuated by the institutional systems; such as banks requiring male guarantees instead of accepting females as guarantors, on several occasions, women have complained about being denied their rights to register FIR because they were not accompanied by a male member, etc. Such overt and covert denial of women as independent humans increases their reliance upon men. This reliance in return increases a woman’s vulnerability and their dependence may prove counterintuitive. Women are independent, rational beings and they need to be treated that way, dehumanizing them will only increase their suffering. This necessitates a change in the mindsets both at the individual and institutional level – the inability to do that will rob them of their basic rights and agency as is the case at present. Far more women have suffered and continue to do so at the hands of unfair societal standards, but now is the time to change that for good.