Feminism in Urdu Poetry: A Guiding Light for Women in the Shadows

Feminism in Urdu Poetry: A Guiding Light for Women in the Shadows

A Story by pia
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how is feminism portrayed in eastern poetry by feminist poets in Pakistan

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Taught from their infancy that beauty is woman's sceptre, the mind shapes itself to the body, and, roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison’,  Mary Wollstonecraft penned ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ in 1792, where she became one of the earliest pioneers of the Feminist Movement. One of Wollstonecraft’s early beliefs was based on the idea that men denying women of the basic right to education reduced women to merely an ornament trapped in a mind moulded by the patriarchy. What this led to was the creation of a consolidated perception that women are weaker than men, or that women are lower to men. Wollstonecraft along with other early advocates of women’s rights fortified the Feminist ideology, fostering a ceaseless wave of feminism from one end of the world to the other.


Feminism disseminated its roots in Pakistan in 1947, during the time of Independence, where women were the ones who, during that period, suffered the worst. During partition, around 75,000 to 100,000 women were kidnapped, tortured and raped. They were advised to commit suicide on trains that were hijacked by enemies rather than surrendering. The situation of women in the subcontinent deteriorated. They were subject to harsh treatments and violence.


Gradually, women in the subcontinent started speaking up against the injustices. Pakistan was a newly created Country following the ideology of Islam. It was pertinent that women had to fight against extremist fundamentalists who deemed women as unfit and unequal in society.  Dr. Jaweria Shahid and Khalid Mansoor, in their commended study, entitled Position of Pakistani Women in the 21st Century, wrote that 'Feminists are those who dare to break the conspiracy of silence about oppression, unequal relationships between men and women and who want to change it.' Poetry was a robust medium for ideological and philosophical revolutions, reshaping of the mind and enlightenment. With the passage of time, feminism bloomed in Eastern poetry, strengthening its cause with each verse. Many Pakistani female poets sprung up, the most notable Kishwar Naheed, Azra Abbas, and Tanveer Anjum. Each of them promoted women's rights, pushed women to raise their voices and asserted the need for an exalted status for Women in Pakistan.

 

Kishwar Naheed was born in 1940 in India and migrated to Pakistan after partition in 1949 where she began her career as Feminist Poet. She witnessed the gruesome acts inflicted on the women of the subcontinent. Horrified by the situation of women in Pakistan, she started writing poetry as a tool to help provide a voice for those who were suffering.  Her most famous poem is 'Hum Guneghaar Auratien' (We Sinful Women) which expresses the qualities of women who are strong enough to stand up for herself but are seen as profane. The poem helps to empower and inculcate individuality in women through the lines 'It is we sinful women/while those who sell the harvests of our bodies/become exalted/become distinguished.' The poem further enkindles a rebellious undertone encouraging women to break away from social restriction and not capitulate to patriarchal narratives. Naheed's other poem 'Meh Woh Aurat Nahin Hoon' (I am not that woman) accentuates the idea that by improving themselves, women can then edify others.  The poem stresses the need for women to cease being doormats and to start taking responsibilities. Naheed advocated the need for women to support each other in order to overcome patriarchal forces. This notion can very well be seen through her mother's harsh rebukes and misogynistic values in the poem 'A Bad Woman's Story' where the poem recalls Naheed's childhood memories when her mother reprimanded her for being progressive and for seeking modern education. This poem acts as a bright flame in a dark and empty room for those women who fight for the right to education, and the women who work towards breaking cultural norms which weigh them down. Naheed has been targeted by extremists for her contributions over the years. Some claim that her work is unislamic and vulgar, however, fearless and unperturbed, Naheed continues to help women find their voice with the succour of her poetry.

 

 

Azra Abbas was born in 1948 and is considered to be amongst leading Pakistani poets.  She wrote numerous poems depicting female struggles in society and advocating women's rights. In her poem 'Maze Pay Rahkay Huay Haat' (Hands on the table), Abbas illustrated forces which held her down and her inability to break free from them. We assume that these forces are patriarchal values that limit women from freely expressing themselves. Women in Pakistan become victims to cultural restrictions which are wrapped around their throats like a python trying to suffocate its prey. She wrote numerous other Urdu poems about women’s rights and safety. Abbas, however, unlike other feminist poets, refrains from labelling herself as one. In her session at The Second Floor, she clarified that “My propensity towards standing up for the rights and injustices against women does not make me a feminist,” Abbas felt that most feminist poets use victimhood to gain recognition. It is a common misconception that feminists are misandrists. This notion is, however, false. Azra Abbas claims that despite always being at loggerheads with men, she never targets them to fuel the voices of unheard women in her poetry; rather she uses the internal struggles that women face.


Born in 1956, Tanveer Anjum rose to recognition in 1970 as a Pakistani Poet and a feminist. She wrote numerous poems and prose throughout her career such as ‘Undeikhi Lehrein' (unseen waves) in (1982) and 'Toofani Barishon mein Raqsan Sitare' (1997) and has recently published a book of selected poems 'Fireworks on a Windowpane'. In a session held at LUMs University, Lahore, Anjum recalled some of the poems she read in her youth and elucidated them as being 'Male Colonized.' She believed that poems by famous Eastern poets framed worlds which were too masculine and limiting for female readers. Furthermore, Anjum highlighted the dangers that haunt poets who expressed feminist agendas in their poetry. In one of her poems 'TANHAI KE FAN MEIN KAAMYAB' ( successful in Loneliness) Tanveer Anjum expresses the liberation of a woman from all societal chains. It successfully describes the emotions and the desires of a free woman with the lines 'I can go as far I can into a Jungle that I am unable to return back.' Tanveer Anjum is an avid writer and continues to advocate feminism through her poetry.

 

 

In this segregated society, these three feminist poets use their words and verses to bridge gender gaps across the country. They embrace diverse views on feminism; with Kishwar advocating a bolder and recalcitrant stance, Azra focusing on a woman's internal battle, and Tanveer Anjum describing a world where women live liberated. Pakistan is fairly an infant towards the concept of feminism. It may take decades till the movement is completely accepted and the violent reprisal against it is controlled.

All three poets, regardless of their varying outlook on feminism and threats, work to empower, aspire and spread the ideology of feminism through their very own Urdu Poetry.

© 2018 pia


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Very informative! I enjoyed this. A lot of Westerners just don't appreciate how hard our lives are as Eastern women, I'm glad I learned about some very inspirational women.

Posted 1 Year Ago


fantastic essay pia ... enlightening history .. i would never had guessed a woman had spoken out way back in 1792 .. your piece inspires me to learn more about her ... the opening quote from her is incredible .. nice choice! i am not sure i could find the courage that women in the East show ... the price paid can be devastating ... but those who do are torch bearers to be sure .. thank you so much for sharing this pia ... you are opening eyes a little wider says i!
E.
ps. i agree with Ghania .. very well articulated indeed!

Posted 1 Year Ago


Oh wow, beautifully articulated!
Thank you so much Pia, for bringing and advocating such beautiful pieces with us. I loved reading about it.
This is really so well written! I'd love to read the above mentioned poetry of respective poets.

Posted 1 Year Ago


pia

1 Year Ago

thank you so much
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A brilliantly academic piece of writing which surely, surely must beckon ignorant reviewers like myself, to read more, learn more. Would have much to say another time about the rights of women.. and perhaps will. But all i can adde today is, that women are born to give birth ... to words. And the Word is the Lightfilled right to love and cherish anybody, anything and everything.

Magnificent work. Will return to make notes of this and that then - go further.

Posted 2 Years Ago


pia

2 Years Ago

Thank you for such a wonderful review
emmajoy

2 Years Ago

Your post is more than fine, instructive, sincere .. and i really will come back to exchange more th.. read more
This is a very thorough piece of writing, well written. You have aroused my interest in the three poetesses and I will look them up. Of course I think all woman know we are not 'inferior' to men, but sometimes it pays to let men think they are better!!!!

Posted 2 Years Ago


You are very good at this genre Pia..
Very well written..

Posted 2 Years Ago


pia

2 Years Ago

thank you so much !!
this is one informative piece about feminism in pakistan and the constant struggle for women's liberation, if given the time i would also like to do an essay on feminism in my country since it is also very patriarchal in nature but then at least there is a little development where women's emancipation is the issue

Posted 2 Years Ago


pia

2 Years Ago

Where are you from??
sette

2 Years Ago

phillippines
Well written piece. I enjoyed reading this alot, I must appreciate you for writing something as important as this topic. The time we are living now, Is more like a show off . we talk and just talk. In mine and your nation, only similarities exit when we talk about the state of a woman.
I read the beautiful scribble's of Azra Abbas which you mentioned here.
Undekhi lehrein I will be reading next.

Posted 2 Years Ago


pia

2 Years Ago

Thank you for such wonderful review
Wow that's a great piece indeed.....

Posted 2 Years Ago


pia

2 Years Ago

thank you :)
Fame

2 Years Ago

you welcom
I was completly ignorant of the feminist poetry of Pakistan, and I am glad your article remedied this for me. I always feel that my opinion should not be relevant to the discussion of women's rights since I am male. But typing this it kind of donned on me that in its way that this is sexist on my part. So far as women's rights are human's rights and that the liberation of every member of our species should be in everyone's interest.

Posted 2 Years Ago


pia

2 Years Ago

its both a man and a woman's job to stand up against the wrong being done against woman
than.. read more

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Added on May 15, 2018
Last Updated on May 15, 2018

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pia
pia

Karachi, Sindh, Pakistan



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