There are some beautiful museums in the world which attract millions of visitors. The region of Mardan is rich in culture and especially Gandhara remains are matchless. The people of Mardan had the idea of a museum for a long time and they were keen to preserve the heritage. For this reason they formed National Heritage Preservation Societies in the past. Ultimately with the interest of the local Government Officials and the then commissioner of Mardan, Mr R N Sahibzada, the proposal of building a museum in Mardan was made in 1990. The museum was opened in April1991.
The original name is Takht-i-Bahi. This town is situated 15 km from Mardan on Swat Malakand road. In 1908/9 the ancient Buddhist history was discovered in the mountains. Large numbers of buildings look beautiful on top of the mountains.
Unfortunately the possessions of the houses and buildings have been taken away illegally and maybe decorating some famous buildings in the rest of the world. The population is expanding and new houses are approaching the site. If ignored for a few more years, the tourist and historic attractions will disappear.
Cultural heritage has a great historical significance. It represents the taste and theme of the time. The Guides Memorial Mardan also has a very relevant historical importance. It was built by the British in 1892 in memory of their soldiers who sacrificed their lives in defence of Queen’s Residency in Kabul on September 23rd 1879.This historical memorial was built in the centre of Mardan city.
Tough Woman in Tough Land
Nusrat Ara, an activist from Pakistan's North Western Frontier Province (NWFP), is known for her work in empowering women for over two decades in a deeply conservative society. Ara took charge of her life, first by educating herself after marriage and then by launching an organization for women's development - Women's Development Organization - in her home-town, Mardan.
Fortunately, her father was on her side, and with his support, she was able to finish school and join college. After graduating, she married her cousin and moved to Punjab. He supported her strong desire to work for the welfare and social development of women. She began this work in Punjab and continued when she later moved back to her home town Mardan.
Looking around her, Ara saw women tolerating domestic violence and other forms of oppression and decided to help. Ara noted that these women were in no position to fight for their rights because they were financially dependent on their men-folk, so she decided to focus on helping them find ways to generate income. With no infrastructure to speak of, but with a great deal of passion and commitment, she launched Women's Development Organization in 1995. Ara organized a team of committed social activists to work with her. In the beginning, they had very few resources but were able to extend their work in the year 2000 with the help of the South Asia Partnership - Pakistan, which provided financial support.
During her two-and-half decades of work with women, Ara has focused on their socio-economic and political empowerment and issues of combating violence against women and child labor. The majority of the women she works with are uneducated and unskilled. She set up skill training and literacy centers for them, along with awareness building and mobilization programs. In the centers, women were taught sewing, knitting, and embroidery, enabling them to earn their own money.
Ara has targeted customs such as honor killings, and 'swarah', which led to women being married off to men to settle disputes, regardless of age differences, etc. She has also worked hard to end the custom of women being married to much older men in return for a "bride price". Ara began a political education programme to motivate women to fight local elections. Although there are 33 per cent seats earmarked for women in some local bodies, women are actively discouraged from participating in the political process. Ara personally contested local elections and won. She is now a member of the district council of her area. The methods that she uses to communicate with women include dialogue, workshops, rallies and corner meetings. Ara works effectively to help families resolve internal problems and conflicts. She communicates in simple language and uses examples from daily life, as well as interactive theatre, which can be very effective. For example, by performing a skit about a family marrying off its underage daughter, she convinced a woman who was planning to get such a bride for her son to change her mind.
When she addresses an issue, Ara addresses both women and men, to bridge the gap between different perspectives. She does not impose her decisions on the community but helps communities find their own solutions. Ara has faced many difficulties in her work, especially criticism by religious leaders and other members of the feudal elite. Clerics accused her of corrupting women. They described her as a non-Muslim preaching “Christianity". Some political figures and men, too, felt threatened by her work, and saw her as a destabilizing influence.
Ara has dealt with these challenges with positive behavior, ignoring negative attitudes. Today, her critics understand her vision of development and see how women of the area have improved with her help. Ara has also worked with women prisoners in the district jail in Mardan, providing them with free legal aid.
Today women are more visible in her district and the community has learnt to exercise its rights without losing its traditional moorings. In 1993, when she opened a school in village Toru, it was hard for her to find female staff, because no woman was willing to work in the school. But now, a number of educated women are doing so. Some women have contested local elections.
Although the region still remains extremely conservative, there is greater tolerance for Ara's work. It is not easy to change customs, practices and myths existing in a society for centuries. So Ara believes that the struggle for women's rights is a long one. But she is optimistic and hopes that small changes can lead to big ones.