As literati around the globe are celebrating World Poetry Day, a young Pashto poet from Malakand named Asma Ikhlas reaffirms her pledge to continue raising her voice for the rights of Pakhtun women.

Poets and writers across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata have planned various events to mark the day. Unfortunately, one of the taboos in traditional Pakhtun society is that women are not encouraged to make use of their inborn talent, not even in front of family members and close relatives.

The young poet says that her maternal uncles and elder bothers will take time to approve of her talent. She says that the taboo that Pakhtun women shouldn't express themselves through poetry should be broken.

The young poet wants to publish her maiden poetry collection having ghazals and poems on variety of topics, particularly women rights, loss of culture and freedom of expression. She is the recipient of the award of best moderator at university and hardly any literary event goes on the campus without her being the most outspoken young bard.

Asma Ikhlas wants to set up a school for girls in her village

“I want to serve my people through my talent. I wish I could play a positive role as social activist in making village girls aware of their due rights. My themes in poetry are varied as my tastes. Zaitoon Bano, Prof Salma Shaheen, Zeba Afridi, Kulsoomzeb and Haseena Gul Tanha are sources of inspiration for me,” says Asma.

She considers poetry a powerful vehicle to express human emotions, feelings and thoughts in a befitting manner. She is an active member of several literary organisations including Malakand Adabi Tolana for Women and Da Khwendy Adabi Lakhkar, Peshawar.

“Poetry will be a good and effective forum for women to share their views. I regret that a few male organisers invite me for moderating literary events but don’t bring their own women to attend such gatherings. Pakhtun women writers played a great role despite resistance and (adversity) in the past for a social change,” she says.

Born with a natural penchant for Pashto poetry, Ms Ikhlas turned to composing couplets in her early childhood but would keep her diary only to herself for fear of her family. The clouds of darkness further engulfed her when after passing 10th grade, she was confined to her home as no girls’ college was located in vicinity of her village Palai.

For two years, she continued versifying the pal of pitch darkness around her and a day came in her life when she dared whisper one of her long poems titled Da Bewasa Paighle Awaaz (The voice of a helpless young virgin) to her mother.

She recalls that her mother suggested a phone call to be made to Prof Abaseen Yousafzai for resolving her problem. “It worked and Mr Yousafzai came to our home, talked to my father and helped me save my future from being ruined. I passed my intermediate examination as a private candidate with Pashto as career subject. Now I am doing my BS Pashto from Islamia College University,” she narrates.

Ms Ikhlas was invited to Nishtar Hall to recite her poetry in front of a big crowd way back in 2015. It proved a milestone as she was encouraged to participate in a poetry competition held at Ghani Bagh in Peshawar’s Hayatabad. It earned her a cash award of Rs12,750 and a commendation certificate. Her father, a retired police officer, supported her and she became an instant university celebrity because of her bold expression and captivating style.

Ms Ikhlas claims she is the first girl in her entire village to make it to university. She says that after completing her studies, she will open an institute in her village to educate girls on many social issues including women rights.

Originally published in Dawn, March 21st, 2018