Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Shazia Marri

The victim of a child marriage Shazia Marri was engaged at 11, married at 14 and divorced with a baby by the time she was 16. At an age when girls are just beginning to dream of a good life, hers was shattered. Sworn to the provincial assembly through PPP's reserved seat, Marri always wanted to prove her mettle.

A Dual Life – Brought up with Care:
She lived a dual life in my formative years: a village girl and a studious city girl who attended a regular English medium school in Karachi. Her education was quite liberal in the sense that she was aware of what was happening around her but was not ultramodern. She was very conservative and yet so advanced that she knew how to drive by the time she was 11.

Berani and Karachi, in tandem:
Born and educated in Karachi, Marri belongs to the Berani village in Sanghar district. She regularly visited her village throughout her childhood. Her family house was one amongst the many built within a huge compound. She cherishes many happy memories of playing in her grand aunt's house. Besides being a politician, her father was also an agriculturist. Her family’s basic livelihood depended on his regular visits to the village.

A Third Generation Politician:
Marri is the eldest amongst her siblings, and though she stepped into active politics just two and a half years ago, it was perhaps destined. A third generation politician, she is proud of her heritage. Her father was Atta Mohammed Marri, whose political career spanned 30 years. And much before that there was her grandfather, Ali Mohammed Marri, who was a member of the Sindh legislative assembly during the late 1930s.
Shazia Marri had never seen her grandfather. She only heard of him from people and from her own father who had lost both his parents within months of each other when he was a child. During her father's tenure in politics, her mother, Perveen Marri, also served as member of the provincial assembly between 1986 and 1987.

Shazia feels womens’ pain, her own life makes her do so: Bold
A staunch supporter of women's issues, she wanted to get power for herself in order to empower other women. She, herself, has gone through many stages in her life, but now she smiles and then looks away. She was the best debater of her school, the captain of the school's throw ball, badminton and table tennis teams, but was not allowed to take her O-Level exams.
There was absolutely no compatibility between Marri and her husband who was a cousin and more than 10 years older. She felt trapped and suffocated. And throughout her suffering her father also felt her pain.
As a condition to the divorce she had to give up the custody of her child. She tries to come to terms with it by saying, "I, too, was very young with my whole life ahead of me, so maybe it was all for the best." Nevertheless, it was the end of her childhood.

The seven years that followed were spent in recovering from the ordeal. With love and support from her father she returned to her studies.

She married again, but this time the decision was entirely her own; which came as quite a surprise to her father. Anushe, her seven-year-old daughter, is the best thing that came out of this second union of further pain and heartbreak, something she was not prepared to experience again.

Her sole support, her father, too, became quite ill during this time. She would hide her sorrow from him but all he had to do was look at her face to know what was going on. Yet she fought on, never giving up on life, if for nothing else then her daughter. And she says has emerged stronger.

Anushe today is her greatest admirer, and wants to be a politician, a TV host; whatever her mother is. But then she is also a little girl who prefers watching cartoons than Shazia’s talk shows. Shazia tries to keep Anushe with her often so that she can see the realities of life. Shazia doesn't want a sheltered upbringing for Anushe.

Getting Sworn in to the Sindh Provincial Assembly, and beyond:
"Being a woman in politics is a big challenge. People only look at your face and not beyond that. They don't see what I have in me and what I am capable of. I never enjoyed seeing just my pictures printed in the newspapers and not what I had to say. It was quite frustrating. But I was a fighter, a survivor. I started working harder. With my father no longer around to guide me I had to experience everything myself. I am a perfectionist. I never settle for anything less than solid." Shazia says with pride.

Marri started researching government projects such as the Kalabagh Dam, the Greater Thal Canal and the Left Bank Out fall Drain. She wanted to learn what the realities were behind the slogans. She had to understand the issues and she studied all of them. Any issue which comes up, she researches thoroughly. She asks people and takes the experts' opinions. She studies the existing laws, the ordinances and the Constitution. She thinks there is so much to learn and so much to do that if we follow a path, then she thinks that politics is the best way to achieve something for people.

People approach her with their problems and Marri also keeps her eyes and ears open. Proud of her feminist views, she also works against domestic violence. "Seventy per cent of women here suffer from it and not just in the uneducated households," she says. "I have submitted resolutions on the Darul Aman. There are only four in the whole of Sindh and more are needed."

Passionate about all the causes she takes up, Marri must have made quite a few adversaries who dare not challenge her up front as she hardly loses a debate. Although she is educated, she strongly feels that being a graduate to compete in the elections is wrong.

"In a democracy you need representatives of the people. How do you find an educated person in an illiterate population? The leaders will then have to come from the elite who will keep themselves aloof from those they are to represent," she explains.

Her other achievements include a shadow cabinet where she serves as the spokesperson on finance, another major issue of concern for the province of Sindh.

One matter close to her heart is helping the elderly and the physically challenged. Recently, when her younger sister was filling out the forms for the CSS examination, she came across a strange clause stating that any kind of shortening of limbs disqualifies one from taking the exam. "My sister who walks with a slight limp was shocked and started crying. I explained to her that if she couldn't give the exam there were plenty of other options open for her. But I vowed to take up this issue for all the others out there who couldn't appear in this very important examination on the basis of their physical disability.

"I submitted a resolution in the assembly which was passed unanimously. Well, of course, initially it was opposed by the government benches but I was able to make them realize that this was an issue which had to be addressed, and as it was the demand of everybody they had to surrender to the demand. It was my first political achievement. After that I never looked back."

Then there was the issue of absence of ramps. "I have submitted a bill asking for an amendment in the Sindh Building Control Ordinance of 1979 which doesn't mention that buildings should have ramps or elevators for the disabled, physically challenged or senior citizens. The bill was challenged but I refuse to give up."

She has a list of issues which she rattles off in one breath, "There is the unemployment problem to tackle, the fishermen issue, the concern for the homeless children and their education, and the rackets created by the Rangers."

And with each victory that comes her way, each challenge which she takes on, she breaks a shackle within her.

A traveler, a learner:
Shazia has travelled to the following countries:
• India
• Malaysia
• Singapore
• Switzerland
• United Arab Emirates
• United Kingdom
• United States

She has attended a number of seminars in Malaysia, UK and USA; and has won laurels for herself and her country.

(Profile by: Talha Abbasi)
(Source: Pakistanileaders)