Radical new female Urdu writers use poetry to call for changes in gender roles in Pakistan, major new study finds

Radical new female writers and performers are turning Urdu into a ‘kind’ language and using their work to call for changes in gender roles in Pakistan, a major new study has found.

Different voices have emerged in the twenty-marches of women in rap artists in the streets of Lyari in Karachi to bring the expression Urdu in new directions. In recent years, the demonstrators march of aurat began rebuilding a language Urdu sexed by taking him in new directions by using the slogan “mera jism, meri marzi” (My body, my choice) while that Eva B, a rapper from Karachi brings both his Baluch origin and identity as a woman wearing the niqab at the forefront of his rap song “Gully Girls”. His work captures the darkness of urban life in a ghetto culture of gangs, drugs and poverty. These follow a long history of resistance of women in Pakistan.

Gender, Sexuality and Feminism in Pakistani Urdu Writing, published by Anthem Press, by Professor Amina Yaqin of the University of Exeter, traces the development of women’s poetry in Pakistan during the 20th century. It shows how this period saw a unique chapter of progressive women’s poetry unfold alongside the more radical group of prose writing.

The creation of a new nation and a new kind of Pakistani women led the poets to reflect the trauma of partition and the “self” in a new way. Their work was secular, influenced by alternative values of the middle class who embraced intimacy, sexuality and opposition to membership of the military government with the Conservative party Jamaate Islami. The writers felt moved to the left and right politics.

The book shows the influence of the Deoband and Aligarh reform schools and their influential founding texts in Urdu on these writers.

Professor Yaqin analyzes controversial short stories by Saadat Hasan Manto and Ismat Chughtai to illustrate how the open stance towards sexualities in their writings has continued to disrupt the status quo. These writers were censored, unlike the poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, who used his work to successfully convey social justice politics to the public.

The study takes up the stories of progressive women poets in Pakistan to try to understand their response to emerging dominant narratives of nation, community and gender. How did national politics and an ideological Islamization at odds with a secular separation of church and state affect their writing?

In the middle of the twentieth century, the poet migrant Ada Jafri has adapted the classic metaphors to communicate agitation. Zehra Nigah caused a sensation among the public Mushaira with its performance and mastery of lyrical form. His distinguished poetic voice brought a new articulation of women’s silences.

During this period, Urdu poetry was no longer the preserve of the elite and began to reflect the experiences of a rapidly changing socio-political environment.

The book shows how progressive women’s poetry reached its peak in the 1970s and 1980s with the writing of Fahmida Riaz and Kishwar Naheed, whose work captured the personal and the political, and generated debate, disagreement and censorship. Their lives and writings reflect the tensions and closure of the left in Pakistan, the women’s movement’s strong affiliation with left-wing alliances, and a resistance to the military state. They presented female sexualities in new ways and challenged stereotypes, using their work to call for change.