16th January 2021

By Asra Haque and Ahmed Saeed


FAISALABAD

“Listen here,” Farzana Siddique takes us aside before we even have a chance to introduce ourselves. “You’re journalists, I’m a journalist, so there’s no need for niceties. Be frank, what would you like to eat?”

Despite our repeated assertions that she did not have to extend this courtesy, she does not let up, finally convincing us that the cream chaat in Faisalabad is something else, and that we should really try it. Sending out an errand boy to fetch this famed snack, she resolves to give us a tour of the club in the mean time.

Farzana doesn’t walk – she strides across the network of corridors, halls and offices of the Faisalabad Press Club (FPC) with confidence and purpose. And why shouldn’t she? She’s the club’s new Vice President – the first woman to be elected to the position in its 30-year-long history. Her desk boasts the biggest collection of bouquets among the recently elected executive body, and she makes sure that we compare.

We chat during the tour trying to get a bearing on who she is before we begin with the interview properly, stopping at intervals when the conversation gets particularly interesting; walking just serves as a distraction. Her hands are in her jacket pockets, not because she’s irked by the unprecedented chill that day, but because it’s comfortable for her. When the camera does start rolling though, her palms emerge as she gestures animatedly, spilling out her story with a rare pause here and there to catch her breath.

Born to a labourer in her hometown of Layyah, Farzana is the youngest of four siblings. She graduated with an LLB but drifted towards journalism. She worked as a court reporter from 2015 to 2018 with 92 News and then switched to crime reporting with 24 News HD’s City 41, a channel dedicated to news within the city of Faisalabad. She doesn’t want it any other way – it’s her calling. No other beat excites her or demands so much of her the way crime reporting does.

“If I was given the choice to switch to any other beat, I would flat out decline,” she insists. “What instigated me was when people said ‘women can’t do that’. Every time it was ‘oh, don’t go there, someone was murdered’, ‘you can’t go there, there was a burglary’. Why can’t I go? Women have the capability to fulfill whatever mission they’re given.”

She says she made it as far as she is now, because of the endless belief in her by her senior, the bureau chief of City 41.

“I have Mr. Zafar Dogar’s unconditional support,” she says. He never restricted or limited her from doing something professionally. Perhaps this is why today she is completely unafraid of the myriad obstacles that women journalists face in the way of their work, and women in general face as members of society – her comrades and her institution were always there for her.

“If women are given that space by their media organizations, they can do everything.”

As Vice President, however, we wonder if there’s way too much on her plate than she’s equipped to handle, what with a beat as difficult as crime reporting, and now actively advocating for the rights of the journalist community and for the freedom of the press. But Farzana doesn’t seem fazed by the long road ahead. Her landslide victory in the club’s election is proof that her community has unshakeable faith in her abilities, and she is dead-set on fulfilling this responsibility as well.

“Among my own colleagues however, there was plentiful resistance to my nomination as a candidate for the seat,” she recalls, a hint of hurt in her otherwise driven voice. “The easiest way for a man to put down a capable woman is to question her character.”

But Farzana did not let these rumours get to her.

“They would say I was ‘friends’ with so-and-so SSP if they saw me at the station talking to them, and I would hit back with ‘Yeah so? What’s it to you? It’s my life; I live however the hell I want!’”

The errand boy announces his arrival and he comes bearing the famed cream chaat. The interview wraps up, and by that time our stomachs are audibly growling. She gives her hands a much needed break, digging into her serving of diced kiwi, papayas, apples, guava, bananas, grapes and pomegranates swimming in sweetened cream.

She’s right: the cream chaat here is something else.

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