Among the very few masculine voices with a raised tenor for the women’s cause in Pakistan is Waris Mir’s – a teacher, writer and intellectual who left this mortal world on July 9, 1987. He enriched the national dailies with his columns from 1967 until 1987. “We believed once Pakistan would come into being, the Muslims of this country could get an environment where they could rid themselves of orthodoxy and backwardness for good, and look ahead towards a future laden with intellectual communication, enlightened discussions and freethinking,” Prof Waris Mir once wrote in one of his columns, now a compilation in book form, titled Kya Aurat Adhi Hai? (Is Woman Half a Human?).

Speaking about womanhood, or supporting the feminist cause, during the martial law era of General Zia ul Haq, was a feat in itself. Waris Mir, along with Habib Jalib, was among those who took to the roads to protest against the Hudood Ordinance and was beaten up by the police for a peaceful protest. That was the trigger that made Mir write extensively in favour of a breathable atmosphere for women in the Pakistani society, which was otherwise bent upon stifling a very vibrant and useful part of the population.

“Man and woman are not supposed to be daggers drawn against each other. Both of them present two sides of the same picture… In reality, by creating a rift between both the genders, no social structure can sustain for a longer period… The immediate requirement is to make the men accept and understand the issues impartially related to women. Similarly, women must be given confidence and awareness to work as responsible members of society,” Mir once penned down.

Waris Mir fell out of favour with the rightist writers who insisted upon the theory of Behishti Zewar by Ashraf Ali Thanvi. Waris Mir quotes excerpts from the ten-volume book, “If a husband orders his wife to pick up a rock from one mountain and take to the other, and from there to another, she must comply. If the husband demands anything at an inappropriate time, she must comply. If the husband is seeing another woman, she can request him to stop doing so, in private but not protest about it. This shall ensure a high reward in the afterlife and lots of praise from family and neighbours in this world.” This incongruent theory goes on and on, until Waris Mir flexes his intellectual muscles, and quotes Qasim Amin, an Egyptian scholar, who believed, the Quran has already defined the status of women, and that is of partners with men. “The reason women are suffering from undue prejudice in Muslim countries is not to be blamed upon the religion but on the cultural setup of those countries.” Mir writes, “When Qasim Ameen wrote this book which encouraged Muslim countries to have their women educated and made to feel responsible for the development of better culture, thirty or more books and journals were written to shun Qasim Amin and his theory. However, with time, things started to change, and the literacy rate for women in Egypt started to grow.”

Waris Mir, a true champion of the feminist cause, was not against the concept of purdah, debating the fact that if a woman desires to opt for purdah, she needs no one’s permission or the law for it.

In this regard, modern theorists have started to question the “will” of a woman, and rightfully so. Even if a woman takes purdah out of her own will, it is considered an extension of patriarchal paradigms. It must be kept in consideration, if wearing a burka or a hijab or a niqab is the condition upon which a young woman can acquire education, work in an amiable atmosphere with men, go out of the house to shop, socialize, et al, then it is more useful, in her context, than harmful. The argument Mir presents about giving a woman freedom of choice is entirely rational – Education alone can equip her with the knowledge she needs to make clear decisions for herself. If the first step towards enlightenment would be to tug her away from what a woman had believed to be her ‘shield’, it would undoubtedly backfire.

Waris Mir does not use the word ‘acceptance’ liberally, but the undertones of his logic are all about giving respect to women as people of equal status, respecting their opinions as well as their intelligence. The Pakistani law, of considering the witness statement of a woman as half, had been a cornerstone of Waris Mir’s write-ups. In his lengthy series of articles and columns on the subject, he fought the case of women through religious, legal, philosophical and historical references. Waris Mir, the man who fought duels with his pen, sat down to write his heart out: “This is an ignominious way to look at things. If this is how a woman’s statement is to be taken, then would the health and birth certificate written by a female doctor lose its value? Would the result cards and character certificates written by a female teacher be shaky? Would a professional female scientist or medicine practitioner’s researches be half nullified? It is ludicrous to think of this in a country (Pakistan) where women are going up and above men in every department.”

Since religion is a touchy subject and usually literary and scientific logic is discarded, Waris Mir also presented the case from Islam’s point of view. He writes, “The first woman to declare witness for Prophet Muhammad’s prophethood was a woman – Lady Khadija (R.A). And Lady Ayeshah, a wife of the prophet, the collector and memoriser of the largest collection of Sunnah, about whom the Prophet himself once said, “Acquire half the understanding of your deen from Ayeshah”. Caliph Umar had employed a woman mathematician to calculate his finances, and Caliph Abu Bakar considered ‘women to have more knowledge about certain subjects than men.”

Waris Mir was a student and teacher of journalism, an orator who knew how to present befitting rebuttals to his opponents, an unapologetic feminist who dedicated his print space and literary pursuits to dig up knowledge that benefits feminist researchers even today. More than all these, Waris Mir was a man of empirical evidence, science and logic. Indeed, it is impossible to silence logic with the loudest of screams – be it the threats coming from the throne of dictatorship, or losing at the hands of a youthful death at the age of 48. Waris Mir’s words ring through the corridors of time.