Painting a colourful portrait of a young girl with books in her arms and a message advocating female education, truck artist Hayat Khan says he now finds satisfaction in his work.
A truck artist for 35 years, Khan has spent a lifetime painting vibrant but meaningless portraits of actors and animals. He says he feels responsible and proud painting portraits of young girl students.
He told Dawn it was very difficult to convince truck owners to let him paint such portraits.
“It took a long time to convince a few drivers initially, but with the passage of time, I am happy to say, drivers from far-flung areas such as Kohistan and Multan also ask me to paint such portraits on their trucks,” he said.
The truck he was painting has the image of a young girl in a school uniform with a school bag and books. The background is of a village with mud houses and a pond.
A message is also printed with the portrait which says, Kam umri aur zabardasti ki shadi kabil saza jurm hai, or child and forced marriages are punishable crimes.
The truck owner, Abdul Manan, was also pleased with the painting. He drives his truck deep into Punjab and believes the message will reach a myriad of people and will inspire other truck drivers to get similar portraits as well.
“A daughter is a blessing, not a burden and she has all the rights which a son enjoys. I saw a truck on a route from Lahore to Multan which had this message and I wanted to get it on my truck as well,” he said.
Hayat Khan has done similar work in Kohistan district under a Unesco project for girls’ right to education as the literacy rate for girls in that district is the lowest in Pakistan.
Renowned documentary maker and activist Samar Minallah assigned Hayat Khan to paint portraits of school-going girls on trucks with the message, Education is Power and Education is Light in Urdu.
Mr Khan’s son, Tahir Hayat, has also joined his father in the project.
“Truck painting is our family business but it did not interest me. However, I have been assisting my father in the project and I believe all Pakistanis should play a role in this drive, whenever they get a chance,” Tahir said.
He added that they have received orders from Mansehra, Kohistan, Sukkur, Multan and other remote areas after the completion of their first project initiated by Ms Minallah and Unesco.
Recently, for the first time in Punjab, under the Asian Development Project, Legal Literacy for Women in Punjab, Samar Minallah reached out to truck owners and artists to convince them to paint messages on the right of inheritance for women and rights of the girl child.
As many as 20 trucks will be painted with various portraits and messages.
The portraits will show men as heroes and partners which will help local truck owners and men own the idea. This is based on the premise that there are men who believe in the rights of women and it is important to highlight this silent majority.
One of the messages asks men, “My father will give me my rightful share of inheritance. Will you?” Yet another image shows a father encouraging his daughter to read.
Talking to Dawn, Ms Minallah said it is important to have men on board to address violence against women. She said truck artists and owners also helped in developing the messages.
She said trucks are like moving billboards which travel the length and breadth of the country. In order to reach out to the audience at the grassroots level, it is important to use a medium that is culturally relevant and acceptable, she added.
“Pakistan has a number of pro-women laws to address the violence against women. Despite that, there has been a 21.5pc increase in violence against women in 2017,” she added.
During her first project in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, she got rickshaws and trucks painted with pro-women messages that were culturally and religiously sensitive. These addressed Swara or compensation marriages, inheritance and preferring sons over daughters. She developed a positive female character named Mashra or wise old woman as a mascot for the messages.