‘Burka Avenger’ – Pakistan’s first ever female Superhero

Pakistan is fighting back. The everyday Pakistani is fighting back. Maybe it’s not with guns and grenades, but it is just as effective. In small pockets all around the country, people are using comedy, music and now animations to spread awareness about the evils of illiteracy, extremism, corruption and others that plague our society today.

The Burka Avenger is not Pakistan’s first superhero. She is in a way preceded by Commander Safeguard, a superhero created by Pakistani ad agency IAL Saatchi and Saatchi for an international wellness products client. Commander Safeguard is the personification of the company’s antibacterial soap brand, and was used to promote health and hygiene to young Pakistani children. The series was so successful it is now being adapted for audiences in Latin America, China, the Philippines and Africa.

Superheroines were introduced to the world in 1942, when Wonder Woman made her publication debut in All Star Comics. She is seen as a heroine fighting for justice, love, peace and gender equality. She is an image of a strong feminine identity and self-esteem, and laid the foundation of other superheroine creations all over the world. The cultural impact of her persona cannot be denied, and it would come as a surprise if she served as inspiration for Pakistan’s The Burka Avenger.

Here’s a bit of Burka Avenger trivia before we get into the nitty-gritty:

-          Alter ego: Jiya, a teacher at an all-girls school in the fictional town of Halwapur

-          Adoptive father: Kabbadi Jan

-          Abilities: Takht Kabbadi, a variant of Karate that uses books and pens as weapons

-          Friends: Ashu, Immu, Mooli

-          Adversaries: Baba Bandook (an evil magician) and Vadero Pajero (corrupt politician)

-          Voiced by: Ainy Jaffri

-          Creator: Haroon, Pakistani musician

-          Available on: Geo Tez (Pakistani satellite channel)

‘Burka Avenger’ – Pakistan’s first ever female Superhero1

The idea for the show was conceived in the backdrop of the Taliban’s attacks on girls’ schools in FATA and KPK. Records show that around 1200 have been destroyed so far. The concept has certainly caught on in a country where women’s literacy remains low (about 12%) because of cultural, social and political hurdles. What stands out however is Jiya’s superheroine ‘costume’, the burka. Seen by liberals as a symbol of female suppression especially since the Taliban forced women in Afghanistan to don the burka when they took over the country; Jiya’s burka makes for a perfect Batman-esque costume, keeping her identity a secret and preserving her modesty as she fights evil. Female Pakistani personalities such as Sherray Rehman, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US, journalist Marvi Sirmed and writer Bina Shah have all been quite vocal in their criticism about Haroon’s choice of the burka as a superhero costume, but he defends his idea by saying that Jiya does not wear it during the day. He intends for Jiya and her burka to represent the real and not the extremist interpretation of Islam. Haroon also plans for Jiya to tackle issues such as sectarianism, protecting the environment, discrimination.

The show started running on Geo Tez in August this year (2013).