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Archive for August 4, 2011

I am a Woman~by Helen Reddy~Music without borders

I Am Woman

-Artist: Helen Reddy from “Helen Reddy’s Greatest Hits”: EMI ST 11467
-peak Billboard position # 1 for 1 week in 1972
-Words and Music by Helen Reddy and Ray Burton

I am woman, hear me roar
In numbers too big to ignore
And I know too much to go back an’ pretend
’cause I’ve heard it all before
And I’ve been down there on the floor
No one’s ever gonna keep me down again

Oh yes I am wise
But it’s wisdom born of pain
Yes, I’ve paid the price
But look how much I gained
If I have to, I can do anything
I am strong (strong)
I am invincible (invincible)
I am woman

You can bend but never break me
’cause it only serves to make me
More determined to achieve my final goal
And I come back even stronger
Not a novice any longer
’cause you’ve deepened the conviction in my soul


I am woman watch me grow
See me standing toe to toe
As I spread my lovin’ arms across the land
But I’m still an embryo
With a long long way to go
Until I make my brother understand

Oh yes I am wise
But it’s wisdom born of pain
Yes, I’ve paid the price
But look how much I gained
If I have to I can face anything
I am strong (strong)
I am invincible (invincible)
I am woman
Oh, I am woman
I am invincible
I am strong

I am woman
I am invincible
I am strong
I am woman

History of the song:

“I am Woman” reached #1 on the Billboard charts in December 1972. The song was the first #1 hit on the Billboard chart by an Australian-born artist and the first Australian-penned song to win a Grammy Award .In her acceptance speech for Best Female Performance, Reddy famously thanked “God, because She makes everything possible”.

It sold more than a million copies, and has been played more than a million times on US radio.

National Organization for Women founder Betty Friedan was later to write that in 1973, a gala entertainment night in Washington DC at the NOW annual convention closed with the playing of “I Am Woman”. “Suddenly,” she said, “women got out of their seats and started dancing around the hotel ballroom and joining hands in a circle that got larger and larger until maybe a thousand of us were dancing and singing, ‘I am strong, I am invincible, I am woman.’ It was a spontaneous, beautiful expression of the exhilaration we all felt in those years, women really moving as women.”

To Reddy, the song’s message reaches beyond feminism. “It’s not just for women. It’s a general empowerment song about feeling good about yourself, believing in yourself. When my former brother-in-law, a doctor, was going to medical school he played it every morning just to get him going.”


The cost of crossing the ‘love’ border ~Indo-Pak Visa Part 2

Published in Aman Ki Asha blog by The News/Jang Group on August 03, 2011

For years after the Indian Consulate in Karachi was closed down, a cousin of mine (an Indian married to a Pakistani) whose parents live in Jaipur, followed the following trail year after year. She would travel from Karachi where she lives, to Islamabad to obtain an Indian visa. If successful, she would travel back to Karachi to pack up. She and her family would then travel to Lahore by train, and cross the Wagah-Atari border. They would then take a train from Amritsar to Delhi and then another to Jaipur. With 3 children, she could not afford air travel every year. 

The entire ordeal required her to travel over 4600 kilometres and several days in summer vacations, when in reality, the smallest distance between Jaipur and Karachi is only 1066 kilometres (through Khokrapar Munabao) and the train journey is just a 3-4 hours long.

I understood the real nightmare of this struggle some years ago when I had to travel from Karachi to Islamabad to get a visa for my father-in-law for his medical treatment in India.

My husband and I sat outside the Indian consulate in Islamabad for two days, sharing benches with people who had mostly come all the way from Karachi or Hyderabad. Most had been sitting there every day from 9 am to 5 pm for as long as 15 to 20 days at a stretch. The majority appeared to be daily wage earners, the poor and with no resources to take short cuts, like us, to obtain a visa – we had the parchi (‘slip’) that would expedite the visa process.

A lady and her husband, a carpenter hailing from Lalukhet in Karachi, had been sitting there every day for almost 20 days, from morning till the consulate closed in the evening, without any clue about whether they would be granted a visa or not. The embassy issues a limited number of visas each day. Names come up on a given day, their luck as unpredictable as a lottery. The more resourceful among the applicants jump the line, pushing these poor people to the back of the queue.

This couple had spent so much money on the travel from Karachi to Islamabad that they could not afford even a cup of tea from the tea stall outside the embassy, which caters to visa seekers. Every day the carpenter and his wife brought with them homemade rotis and pickle for lunch. I asked the woman how long she would sit there, and she replied with certainty: “When the money runs out, I will go back home whether I get the visa or not”.

She had applied after hearing that her mother was on her deathbed and had asked to see her one last time. She had been married for over twenty years but had been able to visit her native Hyderabad, Deccan, only once, and that too 12 years ago.

Her marriage had been a stroke of fate when her husband, a cousin from Pakistan, visited them. The poor family had been facing tough times, and found this as opportunity to make their daughter’s life better, as the cousin’s family was more prosperous. (How was she duped into marrying an already married man is another story for another time). 

This story is all too common to many families in the lower middle class strata who marry across the border; their girls are hardly able to visit their parents a handful of times in their lifetime, mostly due to not being able to afford the time, expenses and resources involved in obtaining the visa.

They resign themselves to their fate and learn to live with just memories of home. It is only when another sibling is about to get married; or a parent is ill; or dying, that they gather all their means and courage to try to obtain a visa to go to their erstwhile homeland.

The procedure has been somewhat modified now, so that people in other cities can apply for Indian visas through a courier service, without having to travel to Islamabad. But applicants still have no idea how long the process will take. A friend who wanted to attend her parents’ 50th wedding anniversary celebrations in India received a reply after an anxious six month wait, saying that her application papers were incomplete. Some don’t hear any news for a year or more; others don’t get any response at all.

Over the last two decades I have seen a see-saw situation. Things seem to move towards easing the procedure, then suddenly something occurs and the whole change is reset from the start.
A silver lining is that the Khokrapar-Munabao line, suspended since 1965, has been revived, reducing unnecessary distance for many.

I hope and wish that the latest news about easing of the borders does not remain restricted to the artists who travel on exchange programmes or businessmen attending conferences, but is extended to this voiceless, resigned group of poor, invisible women who marry across borders. I am afraid they are the group most likely to be forgotten when the categories are laid down for easing visa procedures.

Most will never be able to raise their own voice and will resign to their fate of seeing their parents or first of kin, barely a few times in their entire lives, after they cross the ‘love’ border in matrimony.
On their behalf, I beg the authorities concerned to hear the silent wails of these women and to ease the visa process making it easier for them too, so that they may see their parents and families more often.

Ilmana Fasih

The writer is an Indian gynaecologist and women’s health activist, married to a Pakistani. She blogs at

Cross-border couples and their visa travails ~Indo-Pak Visa Part 1

Published in Aman ki Asha blog The News/Jang Group on July 27, 2011

“A marriage license doesn’t come with a job description or a set of instructions. There is definitely some ‘assembly’ required. In fact, putting together a marriage can be likened to assembling an airplane in flight” – Patricia Love

Every marriage needs a lot of reassembling in social, psychological and emotional terms. But when marriages take place across the Indo-Pak border they also involve a lot of political reassembling.

Indo-Pak marriages are different from other cross-border marriages – such unions between people from these two neighbouring countries are far tougher and more challenging than marriages across oceans between people with vast cultural differences. The distance between India and Pakistan does not entail crossing oceans or even cultures but one has to cross huge mountains of hurdles in terms of legal and bureaucratic formalities.

With the pendulous political love-hate relationship that exists between the two countries, marrying and staying happily married across the border (‘pyar border paar’) is no small feat. It takes a tough mind and resilient heart to brave the challenges.

There are personal challenges involved in every marriage. But the additional challenges in Indo-Pak marriages include taking certain decisions which may be painful. As a patriotic and a proud Indian, it was hard for me to surrender my Indian passport and apply for a Pakistani. Not that I had any grudges against the latter, but to give up your national identity is an experience you have to live, to know how it feels.

You might ask why would an educated woman change her nationality? The answer is simple. No one coerced me. I did it for the desire to have a peaceful family life and for the sake of our children (who were to arrive later).

My British, Canadian and Filipino friends married to Pakistanis live without any problems in Pakistan, using their original passports. But for an Indian this is not possible.
I did quite a bit of homework before taking this life-changing decision. I knew of instances where people in this situation had retained their nationalities, leading to many practical and political challenges. Most of them advised me to swallow this bitter pill and make the change, but finally, it was entirely my own decision.

In Pakistan, the ID cards of both parents are required to obtain documents for children like B-form, passport, and ID card. A mother with an Indian passport would mean inviting trouble, with more errands from office to office, or one section officer to another, to get ‘no objection certificates’ or NOCs.

Obtaining a visa to visit family across the border is any case a Herculean task if you don’t have connections in the high offices. And for a family like ours living in a third country I would, if I had maintained my Indian nationality, have to go through the gruelling process of obtaining a Pakistani visa each time we were to visit Pakistan. By giving up my nationality and becoming a Pakistani, I thought at least we have to struggle for the visa on one side only, when my children and husband want to visit India.

Unfortunately, my having been a born Indian, lived there for 23 years, and having parents still living there, does not mean that my husband and children will be given any extra consideration when they apply for an Indian visa. I know this is also the case for Pakistani women who are married and live in India. The visa policies work on a reciprocal basis.

Our visa troubles are not a once in a while exercise, but an annual struggle. The struggle which I have been undertaking for the past twenty years, almost each year, to visit my ageing parents exactly the way any married woman aspires to visit her family. As the time nears for the visa application, I always shudder with the apprehension of “What if…”

Families like ours have no choice but to face this ordeal every time they want to visit ‘home’. Visas may be sometimes facilitated and expedited for artists going on a cultural exchange or for businessmen but the procedure, the requirements, the scrutiny, the hurdles are all exactly the same for people like us. We have to stand in the same queue as those applying for a visit visa for a conference or meeting (there is no ‘tourist’ visa between our two countries), to visit to meet distant relatives once or maybe twice in a lifetime.

Each time I stand in front of the visa submission window of the Consulate of the country where I was born, which I still love and own as I did then, I feel as if I am being punished for my audacious decision to marry across border. My counterparts across the border must be feeling the same, I am sure.

Once, I was exceptionally lucky: I obtained an Indian visa while sipping a cup of coffee in the office of the Consul General, when the Consulate was in Karachi. The CG turned out to be my father’s student. We followed the usual application procedure of course, but he expedited it. Then, as we left, a plainclothes official intercepted my husband and asked for our purpose of having visited the CG’s room. He said that our car’s plate number had been noted and that we must not repeat this again.

All told, in the 21 years of my marriage I have been lucky that despite the hurdles and the painful waiting times, I have not faced any serious disappointments in ultimately obtaining a visa for India.

The only time I faced a major setback was after the Kargil war, when tensions were so high that I could not visit my parents for three years, despite running from pillar to post, pulling various influential strings. Then, not even ‘high connections’ were willing to go out of their way to help me. However, for a vast majority of women from India married to Pakistanis, especially those living in Pakistan, it is by no means a smooth sailing.

Ilmana Fasih

The writer is an Indian gynaecologist and women’s health activist, married to a Pakistani. She blogs at

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