Manmohan Singh, Nawaz Sharif and the ‘dehati aurat’

Published: October 2, 2013
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The writer is an independent social scientist and author of Military Inc.

The writer is an independent social scientist and author of Military Inc.

The news that Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, called his Indian counterpart a ‘dehati aurat’ (rustic woman) was sufficiently played up by media on both sides. Mian Nawaz Sharif denies using such language for Manmohan Singh. Indeed, the Indian journalist Barkha Dutt, who was part of the private meeting, denied hearing any derogatory remark about the Indian prime minister. Notwithstanding the fact that it is against journalistic norms to publicly report an off-the-record conversation, there is a possibility that Mian sahib might have used the term very privately to vent his frustration about the Indian premier discussing India-Pakistan relations with American President Barack Obama.

Many people wondered what was most provocative — dehati or aurat? Given the Punjabi or general South Asian culture, the term dehati or villager seems to be an icing on the cake with the main intended insult being aurat. It’s almost everyday that one hears terms that tend to differentiate between a man and a woman. Bravery is equal to being a man, not a woman. Thus, being a woman is akin to being soft, cowardly, unable to take decisions, someone who engages in backbiting and endless gossip, and will eventually turn to a strong male shoulder when in trouble rather than decide something on her own.

Despite that such a description will upset my feminist friends, let’s for minutes assume that these are indeed characteristics that describe the nature of a woman. But the question is, why does a woman behave thus? Since an average woman is physically softer than a man or is socially dependent upon male help, she tends to seek assistance from outside every time she feels threatened. The gossiping, the habit of involving others in her decisions, the inability to stand up and punch someone in the face and so seeking help of others, is her way of protecting herself and her interests. I am sure what a woman does to protect her household is unbelievable. To top it all, a dehati aurat is a very suave specie, who knows exactly where her interests lie and how she will manoeuvre to protect herself and those close to her. Let’s also imagine for a minute that the term dehati aurat is a concept and not just a reference to a particular person.

So, why does Mian Nawaz Sharif think that being a woman is derogatory because he did himself, what he is now implying a dehati aurat would do, many years ago? Surely, he still remembers how he rushed to the US to stop the Kargil conflict, a misadventure that even some senior commanders in the military admit was too risky and shouldn’t have been done. Could Pakistan have afforded to be more manly then and prolonged a fight that it simply couldn’t, especially with innocent soldiers stuck at the glacier without supplies?

In Pakistan’s security establishment’s estimation, Manmohan Singh should have been more manly and withstood immense pressure from the political opposition, the security hawks and India’s larger security community, which is now dominated by military thinking but not necessarily, the military as an organisation. The fact is that civil-military relations in all South Asian states have undergone a shift towards a more proactive military approach, which essentially reflects the growing militarism in all societies. The larger security establishment in India is averse to taking peace overtures by Nawaz Sharif, who is seen as a well-meaning leader on face value since the assumption is that he may not be in total control of security policymaking. Indeed, if the Sharif government has tasked the National Defence University to make the national security policy with minimal civilian intervention, then the GHQ has greater power than the political government.

It might have helped if we had village women in charge of policymaking on both sides. At least, there would have been more caution than adventure. Speaking from a woman’s logic, it may seem difficult for someone to trust a situation where every peace initiative is doomed due to some military or semi-military adventure. The Lahore Declaration followed by Kargil and Musharraf’s peace overtures by Mumbai can throw anyone off-balance. This is not to suggest that the Indian government is very innocent but then, diplomacy is not an issue of innocence versus evil but how interests are gauged.

Our years of manliness haven’t taken us very far. At the UN, Nawaz Sharif spoke about the Kashmir issue being resolved according to UN resolutions. This position is different from what was proposed by former president and army chief Pervez Musharraf. Even earlier in 1998, the then Sharif government had agreed on a comprehensive dialogue rather than a Kashmir-first approach. Surely, this flip-flop has confused many. Forget about the Indians, it is very confusing to average Kashmiris as well, especially on the Indian side, who have experienced a gradual weakening of their own position versus New Delhi due to variations in Pakistani policies. The hanging of Afzal Guru is a reflection of the strengthening of the Indian security community’s perspective. The relative consolidation of the Indian state’s position versus the Kashmiri population has happened also because of a realisation regarding Islamabad’s general fickleness and inability to negotiate the issue on its own terms.

Referring to Pervez Musharraf, he realised even after doing Kargil that direct military means was not an option. Of course, the other possibility is giving a free hand to non-state actors, which is something that would scare anyone into adopting a very cautious approach in bilateral relations. Twenty-Fourteen is a likely game changer for the entire region. This is a time when militants will gather more strength and legitimacy due to their involvement at multiple fronts. Even the Kashmiris are concerned that there may be an increase in violence on their side. A growing internal discontent will play into the hands of the jihadis.

From a bilateral perspective, it is necessary for leaders to adopt a more cautious approach towards each other. Mian sahib may deny the state’s assistance to Hafiz Saeed and the likes but the ground reality scares others into caution.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 3rd, 2013.

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Reader Comments (18)

  • Shloka Bose
    Oct 2, 2013 - 10:56PM

    Whats derogatory being called Dehati Aurat. Whole rural economy rides on the shoulders of Dehati Aurat. She walks miles for potable water, toils hard on the fields, tends to the herds, does household chores all the while with a child or two on her back. She is fierce in her abilities and kind with her sweat. Not self serving and not meek. She finds ways out of her resourcefulness yet accepts meager pay back. No credits, no felicitation. It is a false stereotype that we perpetuate and make others the victim of it. Dehati Aurat doesn’t need to change its our connotation about Dehati Aurat that needs to change.

    As far as Manmohan Singh is concerned no body would believe is a Dehati Aurat. He lacks the gumption and panache of Dehati Aurat. I wish we had a PM who was more like a Dehati Aurat.

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  • np
    Oct 3, 2013 - 1:49AM

    @Shloka Bose: “Whats derogatory being called Dehati Aurat. Whole rural economy rides on the shoulders of Dehati Aurat. ”

    It is irrelevant whether the term Dehati Aurat is derogatory or not. What is relevant is that in our culture taunting a man that he is like a woman is considered an insult. Expressions like ‘Humne choodiya nahin pehen rakhi’ arise exactly from such a mindeset. Other cultures too have such mindsets for example – expressions such as ‘who wears the pants around here’ or ‘if you have the b–ls to do something’ etc come from the same mindset. The issue is not whether we agree with this mindset but whether Sharif said something that was meant to be derogaory to Manmohan Singh in an off the record conversation while being highly efusive towards him in his public pronouncements. If he did that, it shows his hypocrisy and lowers his credibility with regards to any India based initiative. No one has forgotten what happened after the Lahore declaration signed by Mian saab and it is unclear whether he was at least aware about Kargill – even if he did not initiate it.Recommend

  • Vakil
    Oct 3, 2013 - 2:52AM

    …**””As far as Manmohan Singh is concerned no body would believe is a Dehati Aurat. He lacks the gumption and panache of Dehati Aurat.”** — yes indeed…. not to mention the other qualities like looks, dress (all very elegant with the latter) at that!!Recommend

  • Arifq
    Oct 3, 2013 - 2:56AM

    Stand up Ayesha and take a bow, you have done it again. Hats off to Ayesha for taking on power brokers of this region, you madam are the saving grace for this Hafiz Saeed ridden country.

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  • nas
    Oct 3, 2013 - 2:58AM

    What a dumb article. No analysis, no solution, no point, no information not even an Opinion on anything, what a miserable use of space.

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  • Deeds
    Oct 3, 2013 - 4:01AM

    “being a woman is akin to being soft, cowardly, unable to take decisions, someone who engages in backbiting and endless gossip”
    …eh excuse me but writing a whole column on something that someone denies saying are you are not sure if he said it… while some eye witnesses deny that the offending statement was said…. doesn’t this column qualify for atleast the “endless gossip” bit?

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  • logic
    Oct 3, 2013 - 6:06AM

    Well written article. Aysha you are brave like a real man……

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  • A reader
    Oct 3, 2013 - 7:48AM

    “Indian security forces” vs “the Kashmiri population”? Who exactly is the Kashmiri population? Does it include Kashmiri Pandits, does it include the people of Ladhakh and Jammu? does it include secular Kashmmiris who side with India and have never wanted anything to do with Pakistan, Ummah or Calipha? Nice try at subversion, but it’s not going to work.

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  • JD
    Oct 3, 2013 - 10:02AM

    Are you aware of how men deal with situations? Do you consider them to be barbarians who would not stop unless shredding the opponents to pieces? Men also have the ‘diplomatic’ skills which are equally essential. Nawaz Sharif was a man enough to go to the US and try to avoid the Kargil misadventure from further deterioration. It doesn’t show the attitude of dependency on other. It shows to what length would you go to protect human life on either side. Trust me, we in Pakistan don’t mind if Kargil or any other skirmish evolve into a full scale war. If that’s how its going to be.. then let it be.
    On the other hand, Manmohan Singh had the opportunity to talk to NS. That was the whole point of the conference.. to talk and neutralize misunderstandings. and what do you do? move around like a headless chicken and complain to the ‘super power’? The super power itself is in a state of confusion on its policies with Pakistan.

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  • Muneer
    Oct 3, 2013 - 10:03AM

    ‘ Our years of manliness haven’t taken us very far’. Rest assured,that,’our womanliness’, will not take us even that far.

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  • CAT
    Oct 3, 2013 - 10:29AM

    Fantastic gender analysis of societal biases. Excellent.

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  • K Singh
    Oct 3, 2013 - 11:28AM

    The term ‘Dehati Aurat’ is not a reflection on Mr. Manmohan Singh but Mr. Nawaz Sharif’s mindset and his intellectual capability if he indeed used these words. He has been overtly courteous to Mr. Manmohan Singh but one reference gave away his dissembling nature besides exposing his class bias and male chauvnism.

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  • Genius
    Oct 3, 2013 - 1:21PM

    @ Shloka Bose
    You have enlightened us all with nothing but the facts. Hard facts.
    Now coming to a woman. Here it is from me.

    Can there be anything more wonderful than a mother and a mother is a woman. Women gIve birth to men. Women make men what they are.
    So here we go:
    There is nothing like Mama. My Mama was a dame. There is nothing like a dame.
    There is nothing you can name. There is nothing like a dame.

    Recommend

  • Naresh
    Oct 3, 2013 - 2:21PM

    Ayesha Ji : You stated Notwithstanding the fact that it is against journalistic norms to publicly report an off-the-record conversation, there is a possibility that Mian sahib might have used the term very privately to vent his frustration about the Indian premier discussing India-Pakistan relations with American President Barack Obama.
    .
    Thus Ayesha Ji, Barkha Dutt “LIED”. I am sure – albeit an off the record statement – Nawz Sharrif did indeed use in term “DEHATI AURAT” and it is a Shame that Barkha Dutt has descended to such “Low Levels”!
    .
    For you I have only One Word – “SALUTATION”
    .
    Cheers

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  • Weirdity
    Oct 3, 2013 - 6:39PM

    I find it very interesting that nawaz sharif was comfortable enough in calling Indian PM names in front of Indian journalist barkha dutt. But the Pakistani journalist is the one who let the cat out of the bag. Nawaz sharif must have full trust in barkha dutt and she maintained that trust by even lying that Nawaz did not say such a thing.

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  • Rakib
    Oct 3, 2013 - 10:40PM

    Comments section does appear to be peopled with quite a few “dehati aurats”!

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  • Parvez
    Oct 3, 2013 - 10:59PM

    On the issue of the remark I am a bit bewildered but the rest of the article reads well.

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  • M. Emad
    Oct 4, 2013 - 11:39PM

    President General Yahya Khan of Pakistan used similar term for Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi in 1971.

    Few months later, 93000 Pakistan Army publicly surrendered to dehati aurat’s (Indian) Army on 16 December 1971.

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