This is part of our new series, ‘Khaas Log’, that highlights the extraordinary people within our community who are inspiring with even the smallest acts of bravery, kindness and generosity that they spread around them.
Acts of defiance do not always have to be big; you don’t need to win a marathon to prove that you’ve accomplished something in life. It can be something as simple as standing up for yourself and deciding what you want from your life and how you want to spend it.
Naema Ahmed is just a proof that. Last year, BBC covered her story for their 100 inspirational women of 2016. The documentary made on her life was about defying her family in Pakistan.
Naema was born in Lahore and belongs to a conservative family, who believe that women should not be offered much freedom beyond their protect lives
Her idea of life was not just to get married and settle into someone else’s life, rather she wanted to make a life of her own. Everyone in her family is usually married by the age of 24, but she has decided to not follow that lead.
She worked hard to get a car for herself and it did not take long for a cousin who did not approve to vandalize her vehicle.
They believe that women should not be offered freedom like this, because having a car means that she can indulge in promiscuous activities.
We got in touch with Naema to discuss her story, because it is absolutely scintillating and courageous.
Here are a few questions we asked her. Her responses will make you realize that there are people who win by fighting little battles, and they deserve to be called heroes.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m a 26 year old working professional who lives in Lahore, Pakistan. I’m a workaholic, very much into reading & writing. I also love football. I’m also currently learning how to speak French and play the piano on my own.
What made you want to remain single and choose a career?
Initially things were rocky. I kept defining milestones for myself according to what society deems appropriate. I’ll work for a year, I’d tell my parents, then I’ll marry. I knew I wasn’t going to give up a career so I had a very secret goal of either getting a scholarship abroad or marrying into the kind of life I want, the independent life. Then I realized I don’t want to do either at this point, I liked working and wasn’t ready to go back to school. I didn’t want to marry, & it didn’t seem fair to put a clock on such an important decision of my life. That’s when I decided to fight for the kind of life I wanted.
How did you cope up with the family backlash over choice of freedom over marriage?
My parents are pretty understanding, it took a few years to bring them on board with the arrangement but it was possible. I coped with it by knowing what was at stake if I gave up along the way. I’d be stuck in a life I didn’t want to lead – so it was do or die for me.
At times I felt extremely claustrophobic, I even went through a stage of mild depression but I kept on fighting, like I’ve always done.
What’s the most difficult thing that you had to deal with?
I know my parents are on-board with most of my ‘eccentricities’ as I like to call them, but I constantly feel like I am disappointing them. t’s not easy knowing the expectations your parents have (even if they don’t voice them anymore) but not being able to give them what they want. I’m still learning how to deal with that, so far, not so successful.
What’s the most important lesson that you learnt through choosing a life that “defied” your family’s expectations?
Grit. It’s easy to sum it up in one word because that’s the most important lesson of all; to persevere.
A lot of people, after watching the BBC interview, commented that such things do not happen in Pakistan. What would you like to say to them?
We all have our battles, girls or boys, rich or poor, there’s no denying that. I’m part of a conservative family and I know how tough it was initially accepting that I had to fight people I love in order to be happy. Women in my position are usually advised not to speak up about a lot of things that ‘seem trival’ to others but that’s exactly why people believe this problem doesn’t exist because believe me it does. It’s not about pointing out flaws in my country, it’s about realising that yes there is a problem.
And to those who constantly belittle others and their efforts?
I have a simple philosophy in life; do what makes you happy as long as it does not hurt you or someone else. I try to follow that to the best of my ability. People who belittle others and their efforts are either doing it because they are scared of change or insecure about themselves. Stop fixating on other peoples’ lives and focus on your own. Trust me, it will make you much happier.
Naema is our hero. To watch her story with BBC, you can check it out over here. Don’t forget to shower her with love and best wishes @ladywordsmythe
If you know someone around you with an extraordinarily khaas story, share it with us so we can highlight these ‘Khaas Log’ that live within us.
Cover image via: BBC News / YouTube