Free Women: A tale of the 21st century

A completely illiterate village woman living on the outskirts of a small town has her own vlog on YouTube. I’m so impressed!

Anniqua is amused at my excitement. 

What does she talk about?

Nothing earth-shattering. In fact, absolutely nothing of consequence. It’s called “Daily Routine, but, it’s not the content,  I tell her, It’s the fact that she’s monetized her channel and already has 325,000 subscribers. 

This is and isn’t the Punjab we grew up in.

The flat fertile plains spread out into the horizon, and the vlogger’s voice mingles with cawing crows, chirping sparrows, and the occasional sounds of a hoopoe. The blues, greens, and browns of a familiar landscape takes me back to a simpler time.  I can almost smell the wood fire burning in her outdoor kitchen and feel the chill in the air on this misty morning in November. What is not familiar, is her use of technology, her smartphone which captures and uploads her videos every few days.

Why have you subscribed to her channel then? If the content is non-existent?

I’m fascinated by her confidence, her guts.

But women who work in the fields are pretty outspoken. Have you forgotten?

free women

Yes, I had forgotten. These women don’t have the luxury of staying indoors to protect themselves from aggressive male stares or behavior. Nor can they wrap themselves in a chador and become invisible as they plant vegetable seedlings into the newly tilled fields. No one advises them not to call out to each other in public, just in case a stranger discovers something as private as their name. They laugh and sometimes sing while they work on the land under the open sky. These free women have no obligation, or even desire, to follow middle class societal norms.

You’re right, I concede. They can be very bold. So, if they don’t follow social protocol like us, does that make them social deviants? 

Or are they just free women? Anniqua replies.

Being “free” has a negative connotation here – especially for a woman. Women want the security that comes with having a man in their life, a father, a brother, a husband, or a son. They don’t want to be “free” of a man’s presence. Men are their strength.

We were lucky. Born into a family where our men have both social and financial clout, we are protected. Unlike these women who work in the fields, we were protected from the prying eyes of strangers. Attending female-only schools and universities in our chador, our invisibility cloaks, we could assert our superior social status.

You raised your daughters in chador and married them off in chador too. No one even knew they existed.” This is how one of our mother’s acquaintances once complimented her, because she was able to keep us “unsullied” by the outside world. We were indeed privileged.



Click here to read more about rural Punjab: Inspired by Urdu Novelist, Krishna Sobti

Create Cultural Memories through Literature and Art


  1. These women are free and I think that it’s wonderful to be free. I have a husband, brother and son, but I don’t rely on them alone to protect me, I could seek help from my children and actually they give us help and look after us whether we ask for help or not. It is a reversal of the generations, which has happened as we and our children get older. My husband is happy with this reversal of generations and also the fact that he and I care for each other equally. Elizabeth

    • I agree. The strength you get from a loved one is so precious regardless of the gender or age of the person, and, freedom is a wonderful thing. It’s even better when you feel safe in your freedom. Until the pandemic stopped us in our tracks, I used to get on planes, trains, and buses, and head off to wherever I wanted to go in Europe – with or without Nasser. I don’t think I could ever give up this luxury, not now.

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