November Issue 2009

By | Arts & Culture | Published 14 years ago

One of the founding members and a current board member of the Citizens Archive of Pakistan, Minal Rahimtoola speaks to Newsline about the permanent photography exhibition New Nation, New Freedom and New Responsibilities on display at Shanaakht 2009.

Tell us about the event that your grandmother’s story is part of.

The New Nation, New Freedom and New Responsibilities photography exhibition will have images of women who played a key role in the early decades of Pakistan. These women were the first fighters for women’s rights. They were mothers, wives, doctors, social workers, lawyers and professionals who helped start schools, health clinics, vocational training centres, and raise funds for the new nation and its people. These women were the backbone of our fledgling nation who helped Pakistan establish itself.

Can you also elaborate on the life of Zubeida Rahimtoola, your grandmother?

My grandmother Zubeida Rahimtoola devoted her life to the cause of her country. In 1947, she became the international face of the Pakistani woman as she supported her husband, Habib Ibrahim Rahimtoola, and played a key role in the establishment of the first Pakistani High Commission in the United Kingdom. She was the founder and the first president of the Pakistan Muslim League of Britain, a role that enabled her to raise funds for the rehabilitation of women in the new state. She was also a founding member of the All Pakistan Women’s Association (APWA) and the first president of the UK branch of APWA. Her involvement with APWA spanned many decades at the provincial and national levels within Pakistan. She also played a key role in women’s rights and tackling the creation of the Family Law Ordinance, which was passed in 1961 and still exists today, opened health centres, schools and vocational training centres for women. She was recognised by the Government of Pakistan with the Sitara-e-Khidmat award in 1960.

What does the event aim to achieve through the festival?

Our objectives are twofold. First, we would like to celebrate the lives of these women and recognise their independent and collective contributions to our nation in its formative years. These women are our unsung heroes whose contributions are not mentioned in history books, and thus this exhibition presents a unique chance for the public to see the extent to which women, side by side men, worked towards the progress of our nation. Secondly, we would like to use this showcase opportunity to inspire women and girls who live and work in Pakistan to challenge their boundaries and follow their dreams. These women tailored their lives to the needs of their country and their families.

How important are festivals like Shanaakht?

Very important. When we were in the initial planning stages of Shanaakht 2007, we realised that there was a dearth of events where people were encouraged to appreciate, interpret and participate in our history. That is what we seek to do with Shanaakht. Our events include mediums such as photography and theatre to document history and stimulate discussions, but we also look for ways to engage our audience so they can be a part of the festival and not just attend, see and leave. We encourage participation from all walks of life, and I think there are a limited number of events that cater to all irrespective of age, ethnicity, gender or class. Shanaakht is for Pakistanis.

Shanaakht events mentioned in this article:

Photography Exhibition
Images of women from the early decades of Pakistan: Revolutionaries who played an instrumental role in the building of the new nation
Curated by Shahana Rajani