Burka Avenger is an animated television series about
a school teacher who dons a Burka at night to turn into a superhero that fights
villains attempting to abolish education in her town. However, her Burka is
creating a bigger storm across the world than her fight for education! Read on
to know more.
Don’t mess with the Lady in Black, a poster of Burka Avenger proudly proclaims!
teacher by day, and ferocious superhero by night; Jiya dons the burka at night
to fight evil in the form of greedy feudal lords, villainous goons-for-hire,
and chauvinistic bigots who claim that education is wasted on females.
Avenger has no Lasso of Truth like Wonder Woman or high-tech gadgets like Bat
Woman, what she does have is her father’s training of takht kabbadi; her burka,
worn to hide her true identity and her
books and pens to use as weapons against evildoers. Taking the old adage, a pen
is mightier than the sword literally, are we Jiya?
Popularity of Burka Avenger
With over 20,000
fans on Facebook, a phone game, and fast-selling merchandise before it was even
launched on television,
Burka Avenger is the first made-in-Urdu animated series for children to be
aired in Pakistan and promises to be a musical extravaganza with acts from some
of South Asia’s biggest musical stars such as Ali Zafar, Haroon, Ali Azmat,
Josh, etc. Aaron Haroon Rashid, the creator of Burka Avenger, is a Pakistani
pop star who decided to create the series to spread awareness after hearing of
extremists shutting down girls’ schools in his native Pakistan. However, her choice
of attire, namely the Burka, has upset liberal activists so much so, that the
social messages that she is trying to deliver are almost lost in the backlash
against the Burka.
Plot of Burka Avenger
In the first
episode of the Burka Avenger series, Jiya is a school teacher in the fictitious
town of Halwapur. The greedy sexist feudal lord is attempting to shut down the
girls’ school in order to pocket all the money that would otherwise help run
the school. He raucously proclaims, “padh
likh ke computer thodi ban jana hai” (What is the point of educating girls...It’s
not like they will become computers after studying). He hires ruffian magician Baba
Bandook, and his sidekick to help close down the school but they are all
thwarted by the timely action of the Burka Avenger. Burka Avenger uses
well-aimed pens to immobilise the goons and beats them up with the help of her
books and superfast reflexes courtesy of her father’s martial arts training.
Burka Avenger is
slated to be a 13 episode serial and every episode will end with a clear social
message for the youth. Burka Avenger, along with three young kids Immu, Mooli
and Ashu help fight all evils like corruption, discrimination, child labour,
oppression of females, sectarian violence and so on.
The Burka: Tool of Empowerment or Symbol of Submission
While Burka Avenger
is to be lauded for highlighting the importance of education
at a time when Malala Yousufzai and other education activists are fighting a
formidable battle against hard-line extremists such as the Taliban, Jiya’s choice
of apparel to fight baddies, namely the Burka, has ruffled a lot of feminist
rights activists, such as Marvi Sirmed, vociferously announced that the series
was wrong to glamorise the burka as a means of empowering women when in reality
it was a symbol of the oppression faced by women. Bina Shah, a Pakistani
feminist, was especially vocal in her unhappiness with Burka Avenger for suggesting
the burka gives girls
superpowers when in reality it takes power away from them. She fears that young
girls may get brainwashed into wearing burkas to be more like their hero, the
Burka Avenger and get superpowers like she does.
While it is true
that the burka has been viewed as a symbol of oppression by most liberal
activists, one cannot argue that in a land where the nationwide female literacy
rate is just 12%, the Burka Avenger may succeed in shedding a positive light
upon education which has been severely blighted by the Taliban blowing up a
number of girls’ schools to terrorise and discourage them from going to school.
that in the case of the Burka Avenger, her Burka is source of power. After all
Jiya does not wear a burka in her day-to-day life, only when she needs to
become her superhero alter ego does she don the burka which helps her to fly
not unlike the capes of the superheroes in the west.
As creator Haroon
points out, the western superheroes are all portrayed as sex kittens.
Objectifying women would not work well with the modest Pakistani culture; Burka
Avenger's attire is a demonstration of her strength, not her sexuality.
Burka Avenger: A Role Model for Girls
of the opinion that Burka Avenger is a far superior female role model than any animated
character of the west. Jiya is neither vain about her looks, nor is her
strength a depiction of masculinity as is the norm with most superheroes. Her
main concern is to save her village and ensure that all children have access to
a good education. She does not need a man to lean on and she fights against
real world villains like corrupt politicians, vicious mercenaries and hard-line
extremists instead of evil witches and wicked stepsisters.
Is it so wrong
that the series has simply twisted the old superhero cape to more effectively
resonate with the culture their audience is used to? Is Burka Avenger simply
collateral damage in the age old fight liberalists have waged against the
Burka? Is her attire simply distracting most from receiving the message that
she wants all of Pakistan to hear? Yes, many perceive the Burka to signify
submission. But not Jiya, and definitely not her alter identity. After all,
doesn’t Burka Avenger set out to protect the weak, fight for her village’s
rights, and take a stand against all corrupt and discriminatory practices
occurring around her? Isn’t that the same battle that liberalists have waged
and struggled against since decades? Then maybe it is time that one focuses on
what she is doing instead of just what she is wearing. The Burka Avenger is all
set to deliver positive social messages to the young ones in a medium that they
not only accept but also covet.
fearing that children will begin to glamorise the Burka, shouldn’t people hope
that the first-of-its-kind animated series will motivate
children to stand up for their rights, set right all wrongs, and fight
of all kinds? The series idealises girl power and education in a way that
excites children to do the same. As Burka Avenger emphatically asserts at the
end of episode 1 – “Talim aapka hakh hai!
(Education is your fundamental right!)”
let your children watch Burka Avenger? Do you think that Burka Avenger is a
good role model for girls? What are your views on the Burka being used as a
superhero cape? Discuss