The first Pakistani animation series has just arrived in India—and it features a coy schoolteacher who doubles as a burka-wearing superhero, complete with hidden martial art skills.
Two years after Burka Avenger—created by singer and composer Haroon Rashid—debuted in its home country, it is now screening on the Zee Network’s kids entertainment channel ZeeQ, which last month revamped its lineup of shows.
Cartoon channels in India, including Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon, are typically dominated by homegrown series like Motu Patlu and Krishna Balram, Japan’s Ninja Hattori, and American series like Ben 10.
But Burka Avenger is different. The heroine in this Emmy-nominated series uses books and pens to fight Taliban-inspired characters who hinder girls from attending schools. The message: “The pen is mightier than the sword and education is the answer,” Rashid said last month.
“The show’s culture and teachings are very similar to the Indian context. It perfectly fits with the ethos of the channel,” ZeeQ’s brand and communication head, Ashwin Sashital, told Quartz.
Although creator Rashid told the New York Times in 2013 that the show around such a female lead was decided before Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai was attacked in Pakistan for promoting female education, the parallels are obvious.
But when it was released in Pakistan in July 2013, the animated show drew attention for an altogether different reason.
It ended up sparking a debate about the choice of the female superhero’s costume: Is it correct to teach children to celebrate the burka after all?
Pakistani writer Bina Shah argued in a blog post whether the depiction could “brainwash girls into thinking that a burqa gives you power instead of taking it away from you?”
Former Pakistani ambassador to the US, Sherry Rehman, tweeted that “a dupatta could have done the job.”
In his defence, however, Rashid clarified that the protagonist doesn’t wear the burka as a schoolteacher, but only when she needs to “hide her identity.”
And that’s the line Zee Network is taking in India. ZeeQ’s Sashital said that kids in India will “interpret it as a Ninja dress.” Echoing Rashid, he explained that the protagonist used the costume ”to disguise herself and fight crime.”
In India, the first episode aired on April 13 in Hindi, English and Telugu.