Step aside, Wonderwoman: Pakistan (almost) unveils its first ever woman superhero… the Burka Avenger
- Burka Avenger is a mild-mannered teacher with secret martial arts skills
- Uses a flowing black burka to hide her identity as she fights local thugs
- Stops yobs seeking to shut down the girls’ school where she works
- Creation of Pakistan pop star, who wants to emphasise importance of school
Wonder Woman and Supergirl now have a Pakistani counterpart in the pantheon of female superheroes – albeit one who shows a lot less skin.
Meet Burka Avenger: a mild-mannered teacher with secret martial arts skills who uses a flowing black burka to hide her identity as she fights local thugs seeking to shut down the girls’ school where she works.
In a case of art mirroring life, the cartoon is one that Pakistanis can only too keenly relate to – as their educational institutions are regularly targeted by terrorists.
The Taliban have blown up hundreds of schools and attacked activists in Pakistan’s northwest because they oppose girls’ education.
The militants sparked worldwide condemnation last fall when they shot Malala Yousafzai, a 15-year-old schoolgirl activist, in the head in an unsuccessful attempt to kill her.
Action in the ‘Burka Avenger’ cartoon series, which is scheduled to start running on Geo TV in early August, isthe first South Asian ninja who wields books and pens as weapons.
The Urdu language show is the brainchild of one of Pakistan’s biggest pop stars, Aaron Haroon Rashid – known to many as simply Haroon – who conceived of it as a way to emphasize the importance of girls’ education and teach children other lessons, such as protecting the environment and not discriminating against others.
This last point is critical in a country where Islamist militants wage repeated attacks on religious minorities.
‘Each one of our episodes is centered around a moral, which sends out strong social messages to kids,’ Rashid said. ‘But it is cloaked in pure entertainment, laughter, action and adventure.’
Pakistani schoolgirls attend a Karate class in Islamabad, Pakistan. The country regularly has to deal with terrorists targeting its schools
The decision to clothe the superhero in a black burka – also often spelled burqa, a full-length robe commonly worn by conservative Islamic women in Pakistan and Afghanistan – could raise eyebrows because some people view the outfit as a sign of oppression.
The Taliban forced women to wear burkas when they took control of Afghanistan in the 1990s.
The version worn by the Burka Avenger shows only her eyes and fingers – though it has a sleeker, more ninjalike look than the bulky robes of an actual burka.
Rashid, who is certainly no radical Islamist, said he used a burka to give a local feel to the show, which is billed as the first animated series ever produced in Pakistan.
‘It’s not a sign of oppression. She is using the burka to hide her identity like other superheroes,’ said Rashid.
Pakistani orphans watch an early screening of the first episode of the Burka Avenger series, at an orphanage on the outskirts of Islamabad
‘Since she is a woman, we could have dressed her up like Catwoman or Wonder Woman, but that probably wouldn’t have worked in Pakistan.’
The series is set in Halwapur, a fictional town nestled in the soaring mountains and verdant valleys of northern Pakistan.
The Burka Avenger’s true identity is Jiya, whose adopted father, Kabbadi Jan, taught her the karate moves she uses to defeat her enemies.
When not garbed as her alter ego, Jiya does not wear a burka, or even a less conservative headscarf over her hair
A group of orphans who were provided an early screening of the first episode at an orphanage on the outskirts of Islamabad laughed and cheered as the Burka Avenger vanquished her enemies.
Ten year-old Samia Naeem said she liked the crusading heroine ‘because she saved kids’ lives, she motivated them for education and school.’
Rashid, the pop star, funded much of the program himself, but also had help from an outside donor who preferred not to be credited.
He leveraged his musical background in the process. Each of the 13 episodes completed so far contains songs written and performed by him and other major Pakistani rock stars, such as Ali Azmat and Ali Zafar. Rashid is producing an album of 10 songs and music videos that will be broadcast alongside the show. He has also created a Burka Avenger iPhone game and a fully interactive website that will accompany the show’s launch.