Listen to Kabir,

Who pleads with you:

Wars of hatred

Do no honour to God.

Both Ram and Rahim

Will shun a loveless land

–Fehmida Riaz

 

Fahmida Riaz was born in 1946 in Meerut and migrated to Hyderabad after the partition. Her second book of poetry “Badan Dareeda” published in 1973 expressed such taboo topics as sex, womanhood, menstruation and pregnancy. The use of such an explicit, bold language from a woman caused her a social backlash. The patriarchal literary and social milieus of her times dismissed her poetry as obscene. Along with poetry, she also wrote short stories, novels and translated the works of such literary giants as Sheikh Ayaz and Rumi. Besides literary pursuits, she was also a social activist who was a part of the protests against General Ayub’s dictatorship. She had to escape to India during General Zia’s period to evade her arrest. Except during the Benazir’s government, Riaz always remained in the bad books of the state for her criticisms. She died in 2018 in Lahore, having penned down her will in one of her poems “Condolence Resolution” beforehand, “Do not seek to prove me loyal, my friends, To the state, the nation and the powers-that-be”.

The non-conformist life and works of Fehmida Riaz show to us what we, caught in our ever increasing euphoria of patriotism, do not want to see, acknowledge; our deeply problematic history and culture mired with religious and gender violence. Instead of antagonizing such criticisms as the twitter accounts of peace for change and PTI Official are prone to, there is a need to accommodate people like Fehmida Riaz for a more just, humane Naya Pakistan.