Sitara Wafadar’s story touched the hearts of millions across the globe. This Afghan girl spent more than a decade disguised as a son that her parents desired. A recent report by AFP told the entire world about how Sitara was working as a boy in a brick factory to support her family and should people there know that she is actually a girl, she might even be kidnapped.
She told AFP, “I never think that I am a girl,” and she also says, “I don’t feel ashamed about what I am doing but people my age tell me ‘you have reached puberty and now you don’t have to work at a brick factory. But what should I do? I don’t have any other choice.”
Being dressed as a boy allows Sitara the freedom she wouldn’t have as a girl. She can go to funerals and is not confined within the walls of her home. But is that what she should be doing?
Posing as being from another gender creates a conflict within. Bacha Posh, which is practised since over a century in conservative areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan, is a really inhumane practice.
According to a 2012 article in the Nepali Times, the custom must have begun when women began disguising themselves as fighters during wartime.
The inherent obsession of people to have a male heir to carry forward ‘their name’, and so that they can save their ‘reputation’ in the society, leads to such practices that shake a woman’s existence. The root of this practice is in the mindset that women are liabilities, while men are the honour. They are both human, both perfectly able to carry forward the name of the family, both perfectly intelligent and fit – then why are the feet of women tied by rotting customs that stink?
Sitara’s story is only one such tale that could come out in the open. What about the scores of others who continue to ‘disguise’?
A New York Times report by Jenny Nordberg reads, ‘The purpose of the practice is not deception and many people, such as teachers or family friends, will be aware that the child is actually a girl. In her family, she will occupy an intermediate status in which she is treated as neither a daughter nor fully as a son, but she will not need to cook or clean like other girls. As a bacha posh, a girl is more readily able to attend school, run errands, move freely in public, escort her sisters in places where they could not be without a male companion, play sports and find work.’ Nordberg has also written a book titled ‘The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan’, on the subject.
In 2003, a film was also made titled, Osama that talks about how a girl disguises herself as a boy named Osama, so she can support her family.
Do these women continue living their lives as a man forever? Usually, the females are switched back when they attain puberty and are to be ‘married off’ to a groom of their parents’ choice. Imagine their lives post-marriage when they live constantly in the fear of being abused because their husbands know that once they were a ‘bacha posh’.
‘Many Bacha Posh do not want to get married because they feel that once married they will be repressed and even abused by their husbands and society. Furthermore, since the bacha posh are classed as boys when growing up, they do not learn what women typically learn when they are young, like cooking, sewing and other household chores. This makes married life hard for them because they do not know how to do the essential things that they are expected to know,’ reads a paper by Marija Bulatovic.
Majid Majidi’s film Baran also talks about this custom. Another film titled ‘The Breadwinner’ released in 2017 which also talks about a girl dressing up as a boy to support her family.
The exact amount of women living as ‘bacha posh’ aren’t estimated.
One can’t help but wonder about Sitara’s future, with her photos splashed all over the internet and her existence still in the small village of Afghanistan. Will her speaking up about her life cause her an immense amount of trouble?
Sometimes, we live in metros fighting crimes against women without having the faintest idea about customs that aren’t even ‘crimes’ against women who never can do much about it.
A documentary about Bacha Posh:
Keep watching this space on another article about Albanian sworn virgins, who spend their lives dressed as the opposite gender.
Preview Photo: ndtv.com