5 Pakistani women recall when they were first called ‘Churail’

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Unless you have been living under a rock or are on an Internet detox, you have probably heard off or binge watched Churails already. I mean my 56-year-old mom has! Before me. What in the world is going on?

Asim Abbasi’s web series that aired on the digital platform, Zee5, Churails has caused a stir on social media. With mostly praises and some criticism for showing some of what no one wants to see or address, Churails has sparked conversations around the virtual space. One of them was some young girls recalling when they were first called ‘churail’, what it did to them and what it took to get over.

They are not pretty stories but a lesson on how careless words can impact people’s lives forever. Images spoke to them and found out more. Read on…

I was in 4th grade…

Zoha Alvi recalls being called churail by her mom’s friend casually on the day of her 4th grade result because she was first in her class. “She said her son, who happened to be in the same class said that 4 witches topped the class. That was the first time I received the seemingly gruesome label of being a churail; little did I know that it would mark the beginning of a lifetime of similar occurrences”, she mentioned.

Starting them young. —Illustration credits: @komalash
Starting them young. —Illustration credits: @komalash

Overtime, Zoha realized that whenever a woman achieves success or stands up for herself and for those around her, she’s given this label.

“From the woman whose husband listens to her, the one who marries out of choice, the one who wears what she wants to the one who files a case for abuse – all of them are churails”, added Zoha.

Zoha went on to highlight women are labeled as “churails” everywhere.

“From schools to workplaces, homes, in-laws’ homes, streets, and even in our mothers’ wombs, we are stamped as churails. Women who exercise their free will to dress up the way they want to, who wear perfume before going out of home, who paint their nails and lips black, who go out on the streets to demand justice, who dance, sing, and express the anger – accumulated from all this suppression – that they’ve kept buried inside for their entire lives are all churail-like”, she said.

So, if anything you do out of your own will is going to get you that label, might as well reclaim it and own it.

For owning my dark side

Fatima Lyba told Dawn Images that she has been called a ‘churail’ for as long as she can remember.

“I’m into dark stuff; metal music, skulls, dark arts, you name it. This has been a part of my passion and people have been calling me churail and even have accused me of practicing magic just because of the way I dress and of my interests”.

Fatima likes what she likes and doesn't apologise for it
Fatima likes what she likes and doesn’t apologise for it

She’s now sick of trying to explain people that just because she likes the colour black or gothic stuff, she’s not satanic.

“People would come into my room and say I’m weird because it was half black and skulls and half stuff toys of Disney characters. When I turned 20, I thought perhaps I should try to fit in, however it didn’t last long. I felt untrue to myself.”

“I realised, hey! I’m not a bad person just because I like dark stuff. I’m me! I’m different but I’m me! I wore my Asking Alexandria shirt the next day and it felt like I was no longer caring about what people thought. I just do my thing and I love every bit of it because it’s me, what’s wrong in being interested in something other than the norm? It’s who I have always been since I was a toddler. Doesn’t make me satanic or a churail.

A churail since primary school

Erj Zehra Zaidi was in primary school when she was first made to feel like a ‘churail’ and that too by a librarian at her school. “

We had a librarian who showed affection to children she found cute. She’d cuddle them, hug them and give them attention but never to me”, recalls Erj.

To think that this is the language we use with kids is heartbreaking
To think that this is the language we use with kids is heartbreaking

Unfortunately, the same librarian was also in charge of selecting children for various roles in skits. For a particular skit, Erj went to audition in the hopes to play the role of a fairy but she was selected as the witch. Like any innocent child who idolized princess and fairies, Erj requested for another role.

“That’s when she dropped the bomb on me. She told me that I was tan and didn’t have light brown hair so I couldn’t play a ‘nice’ role. My only choice was to be the witch because maybe I looked like one. At the age of 7, someone had imprinted it on my mind that I had to act like a witch because I didn’t look like the nicer girls.”

For years Erj couldn’t process her thoughts. She took the role because of her passion for performing arts but what followed later made her realize what had actually happened. She became the center of jokes and bullying and nobody showed warmth towards her. “

It shattered my confidence and a lot of self love and took years of work to rebuild that”, recalls Erj.

For helping other women

Momina Naveed recalls being called ‘churail’ for writing an article about a helpless woman in one of Lahore’s red light areas. “I was told that I was highlighting the ‘wrong side of my city’ despite me having depicted only the woman’s agony as well as how helpless she was seeing the state of her baby girl who she didn’t want growing up only to partake in sex work”, told Momina.

Of course nothing irks patriarchy more than women supporting women
Of course nothing irks patriarchy more than women supporting women

She told Dawn Images that she believes words like ‘churail’ and ‘bitch’ only hold negative connotations because of the way they are used by men and women suffering from internalized misogyny to belittle other women.

“I redefined this narrative inside my head when I joined Soul Bitches as a moderator. Here, the word ‘bitch’ held a completely different meaning. Here, women called each other that in an attempt to alter the narrative surrounding the word The same goes for the word churail”.

For using make up…

For most women make up is a way to express their creativity and enhance their features to feel good. It was quite the opposite for Lalarukh Abbas, who had just begun to do her own makeup was told that she looks like a churail by a member of her extended family. A comment that was supposed to be humour but left bad taste and sometimes haunts Lalarukh today too.

Makeup is art for your face, what's everyone's problem with that? —Photograph credits: Arshia Moorjani YouTube
Makeup is art for your face, what’s everyone’s problem with that? —Photograph credits: Arshia Moorjani YouTube

“I stopped doing makeup from that day until recently. It’s crazy to admit how big a deal it was for me until now. It took me a while to gradually come out of it and now I’m a makeup fanatic. Random people have come up to me and commented on how beautiful my makeup is and how I should really pursue it professionally but I still find myself wondering if I’m overdoing it because of that careless remark”.

Clearly, the society will use derogatory words for any woman who tries to be herself, stand against the stereotypes or express her creativity but girl, if there’s one thing the show Churails has taught us, it’s that you do your thing! Keep going.

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