Canada’s Women Heroes : Sunera Thobani

Women who Named the Unnamed
Celebrate the (here and) Now

Sunera Thobani
scholar/activist/author

Challenging the Colonial Overtones of Classic Saviour Rhetoric
By Rahat Kurd

Today, the United States is one of the most dangerous and the most powerful global forces that is unleashing prolific levels of violence all over the world. From Chile to El Salvador, to Nicaragua to Iraq, the path of U.S. foreign policy is soaked in blood.

Speaking at a feminist conference in Ottawa in the weeks following the 9/11 attacks, Sunera Thobani in her speech ‘War Frenzy’, expressed clear alarm about the drums of war which were sounding from elected officials and opinion-makers in Canada and the US. She reminded her listeners how the 1991 US war against Iraq was followed by sanctions which had led to untold numbers of civilian deaths, and how exiled Palestinians had been living in refugee camps for (then) 50 years. Harkening back to the words of Angela Davis who had spoken a warning about the impact of the Vietnam war on women’s lives in the 1970s, she called upon Canadian feminists to stand against war and military occupation. ‘There is nothing new about this ‘war on terrorism’,’ she insisted. ‘This is more of the same that we have been fighting against for so many decades.’

The censure Sunera faced following this speech was immediate, infamously punitive (the RCMP investigated her for an anonymous hate crime allegation), and overwhelmingly ugly (she endured hate mail and threatening messages for several weeks, although the police matter was dropped). She credits the supportive letters written by members of immigrant communities with saving her job, against an aggressive corporate media drive to have her fired. But eighteen years after they were written, the words of her speech, War Frenzy, remain an eye-wateringly lucid indictment of militaristic abuses of power that continue to cause destruction and disruption in the lives of women from the US-Mexico border to Yemen to Palestine.

Resisting erasures of complexity within various strands of feminist thought, Sunera’s work pays careful attention to the anti-racist and anti-colonial scholarship and activism of Black and Indigenous women, and women in the global south, that have preceded and animated her own. Her practice of naming and acknowledging the influence of antecedents and peers rather than making claims of unprecedented innovation demonstrates her commitment to building solidarity. When pro-war voices called for the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, in the name of Afghan women’s liberation and equality, Sunera was quick to point out the colonial overtones of classic saviour rhetoric.

Critical race feminists have a very different story to tell and it doesn’t fall quite so neatly into liberal socialist or radical feminism, or first-wave, second-wave, third wave. The story to be told there is of anti-colonial feminists, black feminists for whom the struggles against slavery and its ongoing legacy and impact in the lives of black communities continues to remain central, and anti-imperialist feminists for whom the, north-south divide and imperialism continues to remain central to their politics…there is a much stronger, a much longer continuity around the alliances that we’ve tried to build.’

Sunera’s rigorous analysis of the construction of race and nationalism, EXALTED SUBJECTS (2007) is considered required reading for anyone who wishes to understand the making of Canada as a colonial nation state. The pathbreaking study also provides a durable foundation for readers who wish to understand the current rise of violent xenophobia, authoritarian governments, and the politics of exclusion which not only continue to target racialized and historically vulnerable populations around the world in 2019 but to normalize white supremacy in ways that have even begun to threaten the conventional public narrative, firmly entrenched since World War II, of Western liberal democratic triumphalism.

Race is one of the founding blocs of capitalism, of modernity, of the global order as we are experiencing it today, of questions of sovereignty, power, subjectivity and nation-state formation. Race is foundational to all of these phenomena and entities and structures and systems with which we live. If race doesn’t emerge as central in a transformative vision, if race is not addressed, it poses very serious limits to transformative politics. And when I say race, I think that Islamophobia is an articulation of race politics, it is a racialization of Muslims. So that when we talk about Muslims today we know that in practice the category doesn’t only apply to practicing Muslims. Instead, ‘Muslim’ is used to apply to black and brown bodies. The young man who was shot by British security services in London was Brazilian but he was described as ‘Pakistani-looking’. So we know that the ways Islamophobia gets articulated the ways it actually targets black and brown bodies, for surveillance, for the harsh measures of the security state, means that Islamophobia is a discourse of racialization of our times.’

Sunera was born in Tanzania in 1957. After studying in England and the United States, she earned her Ph.D. in Sociology at Simon Fraser University in Canada in 1998. In recent years her research has included such topics as the War on Terror, the mass killings of Muslims in the Indian state of Gujarat in 2002, and the representation of Muslim women in Bollywood films. She has been teaching at the University of British Columbia since 2000, and is currently an associate professor at the Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice, and a co-founder of Researchers and Academics of Colour for Equality/Equity or R.A.C.E., a ‘non-profit committed to anti-racist, anti-colonial, and feminist scholarship and praxis’.

Sunera’s distinguished record as an activist in solidarity with global justice struggles, however, deserves particular recognition, for evincing the spirited agility of a compassionate intellect. Beginning from a young age (while she was a Master’s student in England, she spent a year living and working as a volunteer in occupied Palestine) and sustained through her academic career, Sunera aligned herself with the South African anti-apartheid struggle, Third World solidarity, and South Asian feminist movements, and against nuclear proliferation as a student in the US. But it was not until after she moved to Canada and became involved with the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, eventually being elected its president in 1993, that her qualifications and experience drew the reactionary notice of certain Canadians, including an MP who went so far as to question her citizenship status.

The decision for me to run as the president of NAC was not a personal decision; it was a collective decision that was made by the Women of Colour caucus within NAC. So the existence of that really strong caucus also gets erased in the story of ‘me arriving [in Canada in 1989] and four years later I’m president’, because, of course, the history of women of colour organizing within NAC is much, much older. The Women of Colour caucus made the decision that it was time…

An interdisciplinary scholar, Sunera Thobani is one of the foremost critical feminist thinkers currently working in Canada and around the world, creating new pathways for understanding the production of social, political and economic injustice through her work as a critical race feminist.
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Researched & written by Rahat Kurd, with thanks to Seemi Ghazi for support. Quotations from ‘A Very Public Intellectual’, an interview conducted by William K. Carroll in Vancouver and published in Socialist Studies volume 8 (2), 2012.

Rahat Kurd is a Vancouver-based writer, editor and poet. She is currently at work on a critical memoir about the transformation of Muslim identity, once a matter of private conscience, into a politicized public spectacle. She recently guest edited the Puritan Magazine’s Summer 2019 issue on the theme, “What Does It Mean to be a Muslim Writer?” Her first collection of poetry, COSMOPHILIA, was published by Talonbooks in 2015.
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Women Who Named the Unnamed
Pakistan’s & Local Women Heroes

Saturday, September 28, 2019
6 – 9 PM
Centre Stage
Surrey City Hall
13450 – 104 Avenue
Surrey, BC, Canada V3T 1V8
Phone: 604-591-4011

Buy your ticket online at this link:
tickets.surrey.ca
Tickets $25
Box Office : 604-501-5566

More information
Women-who-named-the-unnamed
In-gratitude-we-celebrate-our-women-heroes
View our objectives and goals.

We gratefully acknowledge
that we are on the unceded Coast Salish territories of
the Semiahmoo, Katzie, Kwikwetlem, Kwantlen,
Qayqayt, Tsawwassen, Musqueam,
Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.

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A Surrey Woman of Courage : Katheren Szabo

Women who Named the Unnamed
Celebrate the (here and) Now

Katheren Szabo
poet/activist/survivor

Katheren Szabo: The Heart of Newton
By Zoë J. Dagneault

Katheren Szabo is a social innovator, grassroots organizer and advocate for those who have survived systemic social, physical and sexual abuse. She is the founder of Cedar Bark Poets and co-facilitator of Friends of the Grove. Katheren is a graduate of SFU’s Envision Financial Community Leaders Igniting Change program.

Katheren was born into a family of incest. Her harrowing young life included moving fifty times before the age of ten, and being sex trafficked by her mother. Amid this emotional abuse and torture, Katheren found solace in books. To cope with her overflowing emotions, Katheren read a book a day for her entire young life. She also took to writing poetry. Katheren learned that encoding her deepest secrets was the safest way to document her experiences and feelings, while evading the teasing and ridicule of her family. She has ‘six feet of poetry journals’ stacked in her apartment. Katheren recounts memories as a little girl, being sent to men’s houses where she was raped and molested, given money to bring to her mother, then walking home. Her family made fun of her and chastised her for her uncontrollable crying.

A little extra kindness from a couple of teachers, and a strong kinship with an arts teacher, drew Katheren into the creative realm just enough to help her survive. She left school in Grade Seven, never to return. Katheren suffered continuous sexual and emotional abuse in her youth, finally leaving home at the age of sixteen. The road did not become any easier; predatory men sought her out and she fell prey to several violent and heartbreaking relationships. Katheren had four children before she could get her bearings. She had no familial or government support when she received the medical diagnosis of three misshapen vertebrae which made it impossible to lift and carry her children. She had adapted by leaning and dragging her children when they were babies, along the sides of walls to move them from place to place. In 1991, disabled at thirty years of age, with four children under the age of six, she asked the Ministry of Child and Family Development for help and applied for a disability designation.

On advice from a counselor she was encouraged to document her physical disability and abuse history. Katheren filed a police report disclosing the years of molestation and abuse at the hands of her father and men in their community. Her father promptly had a heart attack and died. Katheren tried to bring charges against eight men who had repeatedly sexually assaulted her when she was between the ages of three and ten, one of whom was an RCMP Officer in Ladysmith, B.C. Katheren accurately named, gave descriptions of, and provided addresses of the pedophiles, yet was told that there was not enough evidence to press charges. Years later, she requested to have the files sent to her; the envelope arrived open in the mail. The RCMP had sent the file, unsealed.

Katheren’s disability and abuse records were used against her, and her four children were taken away. She was given one hour a month with two of her children at a time. Her children’s foster home was in Mission, and Katheren was living in Duncan at that time. Their family visits were scheduled for 9am. Having no additional resources, she would arrive the night before and sleep in parks and under trees to see her children in the morning. She suffered repeated attacks during this period. Katheren fought tirelessly to regain custody of her children.

With the loss of custody of her children and her aggressive physical pain, Katheren turned to drugs to cope. Katheren lived in the addictive cycle of self-medicating heavily for seven years. She still attended monthly meetings with her children. She never stopped loving and missing them deeply through this time. This period of her life remains a painful and sorrowful time for her to recount. She has been free from hard drugs for eighteen years.

Katheren’s move from East Vancouver to Surrey’s low-income housing left her isolated and immobile in her complex for ten years. The years of trauma and violence had caught up with her. Isolating felt like the only safe way to exist. A woman in her neighbourhood, who reminded Katheren of herself, was murdered. Something in Katheren recognized that she wanted to do something about it, to engage with the outside world again. She found out that she qualified for a mobility scooter and decided to hold a vigil for the murdered woman. She committed herself to hold vigil for sixty days. Katheren continued this sixty day Community Safety Vigil for the next five years.

In this time she met friends and neighbours and began to forge community connections and creative networks. She met two other like-minded citizens whose goals were to raise hope and create a safe and healthy sense of community. Over the next several years she organized annual Christmas parties, Nat’l Poetry Parties, numerous block parties and an Open Doors for Peace Party. Katheren also organized a Sierra Leone-style forgiveness party, Fambul Tok in 2017. Katheren and her cooperators have grown the Friends of the Grove based on The Better Block Model; transforming the community space from one of disconnection and danger, into a place of connection, art, music, food, friendship and families. Christmas, 2019, will mark their sixth annual community holiday event.

Katheren creates whimsical creatures, such as lady bugs and beetles, that magically appear around the community. Many families with children thank her and admit to having small families of her enchanting critters in their homes and gardens. Katheren uses public grants to fund her community engagements and creative projects. When there is no funding available, she finds a way to make ends meet. Regardless of the challenges, she brings people together and is a lifeline for many who have little positive community connection or hope.

Katheren is regularly asked to speak at community engagements across North America. She received a standing ovation at the Tamarack Institute’s- Neighbourhoods: The Heart of Community event in Montreal, Quebec, 2016. She spoke at the 38th Annual Research and Treatment Conference sponsored by the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers in Atlanta, Georgia, 2018. She was keynote speaker at the 2nd Annual Sierra Leone Community of B.C. Celebration. Recently Katheren spoke at Surrey’s Social Innovation Summit, speaking on leadership and sharing her change maker’s journey thus far. This year she received an Award for Recognition for her exemplary service in supporting community development by The Sierra Leone Community of B.C. Today Katheren is endearingly known as The Heart of Newton.

Katheren Zsabo has triumphed where the most resilient human might understandably collapse.
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Zoë Dagneault is a settler-citizen-poet residing on the traditional territories of the Musqueam, Skxwú7mesh and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations. Zoë is curating a collection of poems, prose and creative non-fiction that explores motherhood, childhood, and feminism within our social-spiritual structure. She lives with her family at the base of a large mountain.
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Women Who Named the Unnamed
Pakistan’s & Local Women Heroes

Saturday, September 28, 2019
6 – 9 PM
Centre Stage
Surrey City Hall
13450 – 104 Avenue
Surrey, BC, Canada V3T 1V8
Phone: 604-591-4011

Buy your ticket online at this link:
tickets.surrey.ca
Tickets $25
Box Office : 604-501-5566

More information
Women-who-named-the-unnamed
In-gratitude-we-celebrate-our-women-heroes
View our objectives and goals.

We gratefully acknowledge
that we are on the unceded Coast Salish territories of
the Semiahmoo, Katzie, Kwikwetlem, Kwantlen,
Qayqayt, Tsawwassen, Musqueam,
Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.

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Pakistan’s Women Heroes : Huma Safdar

Women who Named the Unnamed
Honor/Cherish the Continuity

Huma Safdar
theatre director/producer/actor

The Revolutionary Act of Staging Punjabi Literature
By Faiza Rna

Painter, actor, director, poet, and founder of Sangat Theatre, Huma Safdar combines her many talents to create a people-centric awareness-raising theatre that is steeped in Punjabi literature and culture. She has staged classic Punjabi texts such as Heer Damodar, Heer Waris Shah, Mirza Saheban; countless modern Punjabi texts including ‘Alfo Pairni di Vaar’, a six-hour stage play; and, classic and modern poetry presentations. She chooses diverse venues in the City, from girls’ schools and colleges to the shrines of Sufi saints; from big cities to small towns.

When Huma joined Lahore’s National College of Arts (NCA) in 1981, three things had happened: because of the colonial practices of the British and then the local power holders, Punjabi language in the Punjab had been relegated to a subservient role in favor of the two ‘national’ languages, Urdu and English; Pakistan’s Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA) had instituted discriminatory laws against women and minorities; and, the living conditions of the under-privileged and less-privileged population groups had become worse. Huma decided that the cumulative impact of these conditions was unacceptable to her. Politicised by the authoritarian nature of the time, she emerged from her shell of society-imposed restrictions to showcase her art and her commitment to freedom and resistance.

That year, she acted in her first play, Hawa aur Zindgi: Air and Life, that was performed for the women’s movement with arts activists Madeeha Gauhar, Faryal Gauhar, Rubina Saigol, Rabia Nadir, and Sabah. ‘I was a first year student of National college of arts at that point’, Huma said in an interview. ‘We performed at Lahore Museum’s library hall on International Women’s Day.’

Later, Huma joined Lok Rahs, an alternative theatre group that had emerged to amplify the voices of the oppressed. Huma worked as an actor and director. Here, she imparted her knowledge to new and emerging artists, and she organised theatre workshops for young people. She saw theatre as a powerful cultural medium to bring about change in Punjabi societal mentality, and she found ways to integrate it with Punjab’s many local cultural and performing art traditions. Evolving and constantly learning, she formed her own group, Sangat Theatre. Progressivism, cultural activism and social justice are the core values of her work. Her plays depict the struggles of the common people, mostly written by Punjabi poet and playwright Najm Hosain Syed, they portray the truth of the lives of the majority of people by reviving our faith in ourselves, one another and in our mother-tongue.

Huma believes that Punjabi is the language of resistance, love, art and the people. Her actors sing Punjabi classical revolutionary poetry, dancing and performing plays to a variety of audiences including rural and urban workers. Her team of versatile performers can act in a variety of arenas and sets, as well as in open air. Sangat Theatre has presented hundreds of Punjabi plays, and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future.

Huma draws inspiration from, and is keeping alive, centuries of unbroken yet ever-evolving traditions of Punjabi poetry and prose through the traditional and modern techniques of Punjab’s performing arts. In doing so, she has changed the nature of popular Punjabi theatre from slapstick-sexist-racist-ableist ‘comedies’ to a profound contemplation of a shared and evolving experience.
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Faiza Rna Faiza Rna is a writer, teacher and a poltical/social activist. She edits the Punjabi monthly magazine ‘Pancham’. She is the vice president of Punjab professors and lecturers association.
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Women Who Named the Unnamed
Pakistan’s & Local Women Heroes

Saturday, September 28, 2019
6 – 9 PM
Centre Stage
Surrey City Hall
13450 – 104 Avenue
Surrey, BC, Canada V3T 1V8
Phone: 604-591-4011

Buy your ticket online at this link:
tickets.surrey.ca
Tickets $25
Box Office : 604-501-5566

More information
Women-who-named-the-unnamed
In-gratitude-we-celebrate-our-women-heroes
View our objectives and goals.

We gratefully acknowledge
that we are on the unceded Coast Salish territories of
the Semiahmoo, Katzie, Kwikwetlem, Kwantlen,
Qayqayt, Tsawwassen, Musqueam,
Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.

..

Pakistan’s Women Heroes : Mukhtar Mai

Women who Named the Unnamed
Honor/Cherish the Continuity

Mukhtar Mai
leader/survivor/organizer

Reclaiming the Narrative
By Aamna Rashid

Today, we must remember and remind ourselves to be like her ~ fearless.’

There is power in speaking up against injustice, there is courage that comes through in standing up against an oppressive system. There is an indomitable resilience and the will to fight that carries forward such a struggle. It is all this and more that we see within the figure of Mukhtar Mai. In the backdrop of a country where honour is rooted in the woman’s body, where women are bartered as objects to settle disputes, where allegations of rape are swept away to protect the perpetrator and where vendetta rapes and honour killings are rampant, her story becomes an exceptionally powerful force.

She was born in the village of Meerwala, Muzaffargarh district, in the South Western region of the Punjab. Her family is from the Gujjar tribe, a ‘lower’ caste in the tribal system of her village, a place, which like most rural areas in Pakistan, follows a strictly demarcated hierarchal caste system. The politics of this system determines the everyday reality and customs of people upholding structural biases as it attempts to hold its power in place, the same politics that uses gendered violence against those who threaten it. It was under this that her story came to light when news of her attack ordered by this system, and her decision to fight it, were brought to public attention.

Mukhtar Mai was gang raped on 22 June, 2002, on the orders of the Panchayat or Jirga- the local village council. The decision was made to allow the members of the Mastoi tribe to ‘avenge’ the damage to their ‘honour’ caused by a supposed offence enacted by Mukhtar’s brother – an offence that proved to be false. They claimed he had an affair with a woman from their tribe who was of a higher caste, something which was not allowed by the stringent caste system as it would threaten its foundations, and so they took the case to the local village council. Keeping in mind both the position of the village tribunal as being outside the country’s judicial laws, and the prevalent customs where the female body was seen as a site to be conquered and violated to enact revenge, the verdict given to Mukhtar Mai protected both as she was ordered to go to the Mastois for punishment.

According to the dictates of the ‘tradition’, she had only two options – to live life in shame and never speak of it, or to commit suicide – but she refused to be silenced, instead she held back and forged a third one. She and her family reported the case to the police and went to pick up their son from jail only to find that he had committed no crime. The story reached national news when a sermon of the Imam of the local mosque critiquing the public gang rape was picked up by a journalist. Encouraged by the support she was receiving on a national level, she petitioned to have a case filed against her perpetrators, levying an attack against the same tradition that had resulted in the violence against her.

The cult of shame and silences that is forced upon a woman in Pakistan if they are raped or assaulted, was thrust off by Mukhtar Mai’s actions as she stood facing the village elders on one level and the entire hegemonic patriarchal force on another, fighting simultaneously on the social, legal and political battlegrounds. Each level tried to silence her. The court attempted to brush away her case by acquitting her attackers in 2005 and granting them complete exoneration in 2011. In addition to the troubles at court, she and her family received countless threats for following through with the case and she was even put on the Exit Control list by General Pervez Musharraf’s dictatorial regime to prevent her story from spreading to international level ‘tarnishing’ Pakistan’s image. But despite these attempts, she continued to press forward with unwavering determination, continuing her fight and remaining outspoken about the injustices in a system built to hinder retribution for women.

She became the first woman in Pakistan to put a tribunal justice system on trial and to advocate to have her rapists sentenced to death. This brought the news to the international media and garnered her support across the board, ensuring the government took notice of the case. The intricacies of power, caste and sexual politics all came to a head with her story, where through prosecuting her rapists, she levied a blow to all three when finally in 2019, 17 years after the event, the case was finally ruled in her favour.

Following the aftermath of the rape and the legal proceedings, she became an advocate for women’s rights and sought to improve conditions within the village. She used the money she had received through the settlement of the case to construct two schools for girls within her village setting up the Mukhtar Mai Girls Model School and established a crisis centre in her own home for women subjected to violence to provide them with shelter and legal counselling. She also set up the Mukhtar Mai Women’s Welfare Organisation to help support and educate women and girls. She was invited to numerous talks, both at a national and international level and became an important figure in raising awareness of the rights of women and in attempting to change the tribunal system borne through caste and gendered hierarchies.

She was accredited with the title of Woman of the Year by Glamour magazine in 2005, and she received Fatima Jinnah gold medal for bravery and courage in the same year. In 2006, her autobiography In The Name of Hon-our – A Memoir was released and reached number 3 in the best seller list in France. Her story was featured internationally in both the news, the media and the arts. It became the subject of a book Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, an opera Thumbprint, and a documentary Shame by Muhammad Naqvi.

Her continued presence and involvement in public and political events acts as a rebuttal against the stigma of rape and against the traditional mandate of hiding women away in the confines of the private sphere. It lays down a new precedent that breaks away from the many pronged patriarchal beast, putting a crack in its edifice, paving the path for more and more women to speak out and be heard.

We see in Mukhtar Mai’s story signs of struggle and resilience, of perseverance and retribution, of a reclaiming of narrative. We see through her story a subversion and attack against the oppressive norms of the society. But more than anything, we see through her story an alternate path to that of shame and silence laid out for women – we see the path of resistance.

And that is why we must speak of her, to highlight her power in breaking the silence, in breaking the bonds that shackle despite continued attempts to silence her. We seek to recognise and appreciate her strides for women and to hope through it all for a future where attacks against women would not go unpunished, a future where rather than elicit cries of shame, there would be cries of outrage against the injustice, a future where women will no longer be considered objects of men and a future where the judicial system isn’t borne of selective justice that benefits only the perpetrators.

Today, we must remember and remind ourselves to be like her ~ fearless.

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Aamna Rashid recently finished her BA Honours in Literature from the Lahore University of Management Sciences with a focus on feminist politics, questions of identity and resistance. She pursues photography and art in her free time and has a keen interest in art history and film.
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Women Who Named the Unnamed
Pakistan’s & Local Women Heroes

Saturday, September 28, 2019
6 – 9 PM
Centre Stage
Surrey City Hall
13450 – 104 Avenue
Surrey, BC, Canada V3T 1V8
Phone: 604-591-4011

Buy your ticket online at this link:
tickets.surrey.ca
Tickets $25
Box Office : 604-501-5566

More information
Women-who-named-the-unnamed
In-gratitude-we-celebrate-our-women-heroes
View our objectives and goals.

We gratefully acknowledge
that we are on the unceded Coast Salish territories of
the Semiahmoo, Katzie, Kwikwetlem, Kwantlen,
Qayqayt, Tsawwassen, Musqueam,
Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.

..

Pakistan’s Women Heroes : Hina Jilani

Women who Named the Unnamed
Honor/Cherish the Continuity

Hina Jilani
lawyer/human rights defender/elder

Voice of Resistance and Courage
By Asma Sayed

I always had this feeling that if you see injustice,
you have to speak out against it; otherwise, you are not
in a position to complain
.’ – Hina Jilani

Hina Jilani is one of the most noteworthy and globally known activists in the field of human rights and women’s liberation. Born and raised in Pakistan, she has served in many roles and continues to fight for the upliftment of the marginalized and oppressed in Pakistan and elsewhere.

After completing her training as a lawyer in 1974, and after a number of years of legal practice, she was appointed as an Advocate to the High Court of Pakistan in 1981; that year, she also co-instituted Pakistan’s first all-women law firm. In 1986, she established the first legal aid centre in Lahore. Among one of Hina’s most notable achievements is the founding of Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission as well as the Women’s Action Forum in 1986. During her remarkable career in law, Hina especially focused on litigation related to human rights of women, children, minorities, and prisoners, groups that have historically been underrepresented. As well, she is the founder of Dastak, a housing facility for women at risk of being targets of honour killing. Dastak not only provides a safe place to live, but also helps women achieve education and financial independence.

Hina was appointed as an Advocate in the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 1992. She was the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary General on Human Rights Defenders from 2000 to 2008; during this time, she presented numerous fact-finding reports to the Human Rights Council. She was also a member of the UN Fact-Finding Commission on Darfur in 2004 and on the Gaza conflict in 2009.

In 2007, she joined The Elders, ‘a group of independent global leaders working together for peace and human rights,’ which was founded by Nelson Mandela. The group works on six core programmes: ethical leadership and multilateral cooperation; conflict countries and regions; universal health coverage; climate change; refugees and migration; and access to justice. A member of the Eminent Jurists Panel on Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, and Human Rights, Hina has been affiliated with the United Nations Center for Human Rights, the Carter Center, and the UN Conference on Women. She has worked for numerous non-governmental organizations such as UNICEF and UNIFEM, and visited many countries on human rights missions: Angola, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Indonesia, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Nigeria, Serbia, Thailand, and Turkey among others.

She has received multiple awards for her remarkable work; the highlights include: Human Rights Award by the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (1999); Amnesty International’s the Ginetta Sagan Award for Women’s Rights (2000); the Millennium Peace Prize for Women (2001); the American Bar Association’s International Human Rights Lawyer Award (2008); and the Editor’s Award for Outstanding Achievement (2013). A versatile speaker, she has delivered talks at universities around the world.

Hina hails from a family of human rights activists. Her father, Malik Gulam Jilani, was a strong critic of Pakistan government. Her sister, Asma Jahangir, who passed away in 2018, has been known for her human rights activism. The family has been subjected to abuse by both government and non-government forces and been attacked multiple times; they have been kept under surveillance and received death threats. Hina, along with her family members, stood her ground and did not give up her fight for a better society.

Hina Jilani has dedicated her life to the uplifting of humanity. She is a voice of resistance and courage personified.
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Asma Sayed teaches literary and film studies at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. She specializes in postcolonial South Asian literature and cinema. Her interdisciplinary research and social activism focus on marginalization of gendered and racialized people and violence against women as represented in literature, film, and media. Her publications include five books and numerous articles. She is the President of the Canadian Association of Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies.

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Women Who Named the Unnamed
Pakistan’s & Local Women Heroes

Saturday, September 28, 2019
6 – 9 PM
Centre Stage
Surrey City Hall
13450 – 104 Avenue
Surrey, BC, Canada V3T 1V8
Phone: 604-591-4011

Buy your ticket online at this link:
tickets.surrey.ca
Tickets $25
Box Office : 604-501-5566

More information
Women-who-named-the-unnamed
In-gratitude-we-celebrate-our-women-heroes
View our objectives and goals.

We gratefully acknowledge
that we are on the unceded Coast Salish territories of
the Semiahmoo, Katzie, Kwikwetlem, Kwantlen,
Qayqayt, Tsawwassen, Musqueam,
Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.

..

Pakistan’s Women Heroes : Sheema Kermani

Women who Named the Unnamed
Honor/Cherish the Continuity

Sheema Kermani
dancer/activist/mentor

Of Dance and Dissent
By Mahnoor Kazmi

Her limbs move with ease and grace, in perfect harmony with the melody and rhythm. She takes another step forward. With each delicate movement, the sound from the paayel anklet on her feet echoes on the stage, creating music of its own. There is a tender and loving quality to her dance; it is, at the same time, fierce and bold. It is enticing. Challenging. It is, in these ways, a perfect reflection of her own self.

Sheema Kermani was born in Pakistan in 1951 in the city of Rawalpindi. Her family migrated from India following the partition in 1947, and her childhood was spent travelling to and from India on a regular basis. She comes from a middle-class and educated upbringing, and takes pride in the fact that her parents always laid emphasis on the role of performing arts in their children’s lives. She became acquainted with classical music and dance in her early years, and consequently developed a deep and lasting bond with art in its many forms.

Her decision to pursue the medium of dance was influenced by her politics. During the 1970s, in the Bhutto era, Kermani worked with women who were factory workers, helping them to form trade unions and increase awareness about their own rights. She founded the Tehrik-e-Niswan as an organization that aimed to provide women with basic skills which would allow them to enter the work force. The organization also developed adult literacy programs, as well as educational programs for children whose mothers could not afford to send them to school.

The 1980s in Pakistan, under General Zia Ul Haq, saw a surge of Islamization, of the infiltration of right-wing, and Islamic fundamentalist mindsets in all strata of society. The state became increasingly draconian in its laws, and the performing arts began to be seen as inextricably tied to moral degeneration and anti-religious beliefs. Dance, in particular, was detested by this new moral order and was banned by the state. It was in this social and political climate that Sheema made the decision to take up dancing as a form of resistance. Her dance symbolized her defiance and her rejection of the establishment. It laid claim to her ownership of her own body, and became her way of exploring and sparking dialogue about women, their agency and their sexuality.

Sheema continued to dance in the Zia era, and for each public performance she had to obtain a No Objection Certificate. This was a time when fundamentalism and religious extremism was quickly becoming ingrained into the very fabric of Pakistani society, and as a result anything considered ‘un-Islamic’ was a direct threat, one that needed to be eliminated at all costs. Sheema chose to dance, even when death was a likely consequence. She risked her life to defy and question established notions of public and private space. She claimed public space for women, in a time when it was only acceptable for men to inhabit it, and through her dance attempted to engage with and change people’s relationship with the space itself. Through her dance, she became the voice of the voiceless and the unheard.

Her dance is intricately tied to her feminist and socialist politics: Sheema focuses on the significance of the spine, more specifically the straightening of the spine, in her teaching. She sees dance as acceptance and as an embrace; it is to feel confidence in your body, it is an assertion that no oppressive structure can make women cower and become weak. To stand straight is to stand against those modes of oppression and subjugation that attempt to silence women, and to make them invisible. Sheema sees dance as a way to subvert the ways in which women interact with and view their own bodies, and their own selves.

In 2015, Sheema co-edited a book titled ‘Gender, Politics, and Performance Art’. She has worked extensively for women’s rights, and has made major contributions towards the feminist movement in Pakistan by raising awareness about multiple issues faced by women across different socio-economic classes. She has performed at hospitals and for women training to become midwives. Through these performances, Kermani highlights the specific health issues that arise from child marriages, forced sexual intercourse and the violence – physical, sexual, psychological – that women face in the domestic and public spheres. Her work has inspired many women to take up dance and to make it their mode of resistance: resistance against the patriarchy and against the State that has continually existed as an oppressive structure, causing and reinforcing this violence against women.

Asked, in an interview, about how circumstances have changed since she first started performing, Sheema stated that today it is even more difficult to reach people through the medium of dance. Religious fundamentalism has seeped into people’s way of life in subtle but more concrete ways than ever before. She says the ‘enemy’ is now obscured; where as it was the State in previous times, it is now more abstract and latent, and so more difficult to address. This difficulty has not hindered Sheema’s efforts; she continues to boldly and bravely perform her subversive art in public spaces.

In 2017, the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar (a Sufi saint) became the target of a terrorist attack, which killed 88 people and left several hundreds injured. Darbaar shrine/court culture forms an integral part of sub continental heritage: it has historically transcended barriers of class and religion and existed as a unifying force in this part of the world. The attack left the entire country heartbroken, stunned and scared. Following the attack, Sheema visited the shrine and in her characteristically fearless manner, performed the tradition dhamaal, a dance form linked to Sufism and shrine culture. Through this simple yet deeply courageous act, Sheema once again demonstrated her passion and vigour towards the cause of social justice, towards her struggle for peace, for harmony and for love.

Her art is how she chooses to converse with the world: through it, she talks of pain, and of loss, and of hope. Sheema Kermani continues to be an inspiring force of resistance and opposition. She embodies, in her art and in her being, the message of hope.
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Mahnoor Kazmi is pursuing a B.A. (Hons) in History at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, with a special focus on South Asian History, post-colonial studies and feminist politics. She has a keen interest in the performing arts, particularly music and dance.
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Women Who Named the Unnamed
Pakistan’s & Local Women Heroes

Saturday, September 28, 2019
6 – 9 PM
Centre Stage
Surrey City Hall
13450 – 104 Avenue
Surrey, BC, Canada V3T 1V8
Phone: 604-591-4011

Buy your ticket online at this link:
tickets.surrey.ca
Tickets $25
Box Office : 604-501-5566

More information
Women-who-named-the-unnamed
In-gratitude-we-celebrate-our-women-heroes
View our objectives and goals.

We gratefully acknowledge
that we are on the unceded Coast Salish territories of
the Semiahmoo, Katzie, Kwikwetlem, Kwantlen,
Qayqayt, Tsawwassen, Musqueam,
Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.

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Pakistan’s Women Heroes : Madeeha Gauhar

Women who Named the Unnamed
Tribute to the Brilliance

Madeeha Gauhar (1956-2018)
theatre director/producer/actor

By Hina Imam & Saroop Soofi

She did not just swim against the tide, she turned the tide.

Born in 1956 in Karachi, Madeeha Gauhar was an actor, director, playwright and women’s rights activist who co-founded Ajoka (present day) Theatre. She studied English Literature from Kinnaird College Lahore, and later went to England to pursue a degree in theatre sciences from University College London.

Madeeha created platforms for human rights activism at a time when General Zia-ul-Haq’s oppressive, dictatorial regime had blocked all avenues for political expression in Pakistan. In 1983, she began Ajoka Theatre with her partner playwright/director/actor Shahid Mahmood Nadeem (quoted above), where she combined conventional Western theatre techniques with local performing traditions and cultural nuances to produce her work. The group began operating out of the homes of its members, using money raised from personal contributions and donations by activists, supporters and audiences. Soon, it built up a reputation for taking up bold and topical themes, including the eroding rights of women, the plight of bonded labor, minorities facing an assault on their rights, and religious intolerance that had been given official patronage.

With censorship in force, Madeeha and her band lived with the fear of arrest, and worse, she had to quit her job as lecturer at a girl’s college because her theater activism was intolerable to the regime. She was also briefly jailed for demonstrating, along with other women activists, against the discriminatory Law of Evidence in 1984.

Ajoka, mainly operating in Urdu language, became one of Pakistan’s foremost theater groups with 40 original plays and adaptations to its credit. The list includes Bullah (on Punjabi Sufi poet Bulleh Shah) first performed in Lahore in 2001, Kaun Hai Yeh Gustaakh (Who is this Arrogant?) Lahore 2012, Lo Phir Basant Aayi (Spring is here again) Lahore 2014, and, Kaun Banega Badshah (Who will become the King?) Islamabad in 2015. Madeeha’s play ‘Burqavaganza’, a satire on the society, was banned by Pakistan’s parliament and Ajoka was threatened with sanctions. The local non-governmental cultural organisations and activist, however, went ahead, translated it in other languages, and it was performed in several other countries.

Madeeha was nominated for Nobel Peace Prize in 2005, was awarded Prince Claus Award in the Netherlands in 2006, the International Theatre Pasta Award in 2007, and she received the country’s highest award, Pride of Performance for the revival of Pakistani theatre.

Madeeha lost her battle with cancer in April 2018.
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Hina Imam is a journalist living in Vancouver who previously worked in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan before moving to Canada to pursue a master’s degree at UBC. Hina writes about social justice, race and representation, gender, and urban issues.

Saroop Soofi is a visual artist, researcher and an art educationist born in Lahore, Pakistan. She has exhibited her work in solo and group shows in Canada and Pakistan where she has received awards and distinctions.

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Women Who Named the Unnamed
Pakistan’s & Local Women Heroes

Saturday, September 28, 2019
6 – 9 PM
Centre Stage
Surrey City Hall
13450 – 104 Avenue
Surrey, BC, Canada V3T 1V8
Phone: 604-591-4011

Buy your ticket online at this link:
tickets.surrey.ca
Tickets $25
Box Office : 604-501-5566

More information
Women-who-named-the-unnamed
In-gratitude-we-celebrate-our-women-heroes
View our objectives and goals.

We gratefully acknowledge
that we are on the unceded Coast Salish territories of
the Semiahmoo, Katzie, Kwikwetlem, Kwantlen,
Qayqayt, Tsawwassen, Musqueam,
Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.

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Pakistan’s Women Heroes : Sabeen Mahmud

Women who Named the Unnamed
Tribute to the Brilliance

Sabeen Mahmud (1975-2015)
arts activist/poet/organizer

By Fauzia Rafique

Sabeen Mahmud was a computer programmer and graphic designer who had a clear vision of her world and her own role in it. She taught herself these skills not just to make a living but to create public spaces for free expression in a city she saw as chaotic and oppressed by a system based in a military industrial complex. In her own words, she wanted to create ‘a safe haven for artists, musicians, writers, poets, activists, and thinkers— essentially anyone who wanted to escape the relentless tyranny of the city for a little while. If I built it, would anyone come?’

She sure built it, and her vision brought enough support to establish an institution called The Second Floor or 2tf, combining art and literary presentations with opportunities for vibrant social interaction by inculcating secularism, freedom of speech, non-discrimination and equality. Soon, the surrounding religious and governmental structures began to see this as an unwanted activity. Sabeen began to receive death threats from conservative religion-based outfits in 2013, and later, from the country’s security agencies. She continued to bring out some of the burning issues to public attention including the devastating reality of the people of the province of Baluchistan where Baluch activists, political workers and men in general were, and are, made to disappear by para-military agencies.

In 2014, Baluch families and activists staged a 3000 mile three-month long march from Quetta to Islamabad to protest the over 3000 documented cases of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings that had occurred since 2005, and to demand the return of their loved ones. Sabeen had organized talks and discussions on this issue since 2011, in 2015, she presented an event called ‘Unsilencing Baluchistan – take two’. After the event, Sabeen was driving home with her mother when unidentified armed men from the para-military agencies fired at the car injuring her mother, and killing Sabeen.

She was not a dangerous criminal to have been killed like that, she was a visionary, informed, articulate, her execution-style killing was a warning to other democracy-loving people to stay silent. Indeed, after this, many poets, writers, bloggers and teachers were killed, tortured or made to disappear in Pakistan’s cities. Yet what Sabeen stood for, did not disappear; her vision, her t2f, her Peace Niche, her kindnesses, her humour- all remain and flourish in Karachi and Beyond.

Wishing a Happy Sabeen Day to us all, today and every day.

Fauzia Rafique is a novelist, poet, editor and blogger. She has published two novels, ‘The Adventures of SahebaN: Biography of a Relentless Warrior‘ and ‘Skeena’. A collection of her poems ‘Holier than Life’ was published as an ebook in 2013. She is a co-founder and the coordinator of Surrey Muse Arts society (SMAS).
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Women Who Named the Unnamed
Pakistan’s & Local Women Heroes

Saturday, September 28, 2019
6 – 9 PM
Centre Stage
Surrey City Hall
13450 – 104 Avenue
Surrey, BC, Canada V3T 1V8
Phone: 604-591-4011

Buy your ticket online at this link:
tickets.surrey.ca
Tickets $25
Box Office : 604-501-5566

More information
Women-who-named-the-unnamed
In-gratitude-we-celebrate-our-women-heroes
View our objectives and goals.

We gratefully acknowledge
that we are on the unceded Coast Salish territories of
the Semiahmoo, Katzie, Kwikwetlem, Kwantlen,
Qayqayt, Tsawwassen, Musqueam,
Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.

..

Pakistan’s Women Heroes : Asma Jahangir

Women who Named the Unnamed
Tribute to the Brilliance

Asma Jahangir (1952-2018)
lawyer/human rights activist/author

By Sameena Siddiqui

Who they are, they are bizarre! But them you can’t extinguish,
They are whole, they are part, mingled so, you can’t distinguish,
Determined! They want the flame of hope to ignite,
Determined! They want life to illuminate like light,
Who they are, they are bizarre! Them you can’t extinguish,
They are whole, they are part, mingled so, you cant distinguish

yeh jo bhi hain ajeeb hain mitai mit na payenge,
yeh kul bhi hain, yeh juz bhi hain, tumhe nazar na ayenge,
yeah zid pe hain ke roshni ka har chirag jal uthe,
yeh zid pe hain ke zindagi mein roshni beekher de,
yeh jo bhi hain ajeeb hai mitai mit na payenge,
yeh kul bhi hain yeh juz bhi hain tumhe nazar na ayenge

(Gauhar Raza, Urdu. Translation, Author)

On 11th Feb 2018, Pakistan lost a willful feminist who insisted on getting her way, becoming audible and laying bare the societal violence directed towards the vulnerable and the marginalized. Asma Jilani Jahangir was the leading Pakistani Human Rights activist, lawyer, feminist and a fearless critic of the military interference in civil society and dictatorial role in politics. She always spoke truth to power and fought for women, minority, and bonded labourers’ rights against religious extremism and state authoritarian injustice in Pakistan. Asma gained international recognition for being the conscience of democratic and progressive Pakistan in the decades when secular voices and civil liberties were constantly under threat.

Asma’s tryst with the authoritarian state began in the year 1971 when she filed a case against the government of the Punjab for the release of her father, Malik Ghulam Jilani, then a Member of the National Assembly who had been incarcerated for protesting against Pakistan’s Army action in East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. This was Asma’s first case, she won it, and it became a landmark that was followed by the interim Constitution of 1972 and by the permanent constitution of 1973. As well, Zulfikar Ali Bhtto, the President and Chief Martial law Administrator at the time, had no choice but to remove the Martial law because of the judicial pronouncements made in that case.

Then in 1983, military dictator General Mohammed Zia-ul-Haq enacted laws for the Islamization of Pakistan based on political motives. Haq’s desire to create an Islamic state where people of diverse ethnicity and pluralities live per Islamic principles was rooted in Pakistan’s genesis narratives. In 1979, he made several attempts to change the essential secular character of Pakistan’s legal system by implementing Islamic criminal law and established the Federal Shariat Court to monitor Pakistan’s adherence to it. Under such a system, women and minorities were subjected to violence, sexual abuse and blasphemy laws to control, punish and outcast those who defied the retrogressive norms and patriarchal oppression.

This was the decade when the Islamic revolution in Iran, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and emergence of Zia’s regime backed by US military forced a backward journey on women in the South Asian subcontinent. In that era of religious extremism, Asma Jahangir became the face of feminist protest against Zia-ul-Haq’s ordinances and fought on the streets against the weaponization of the seventh-century Islamic laws and tenets targeting women, queers and people belonging to minority groups. On the ground, despite several death threats and imprisonments, feminist poets, writers and lawyers joined hands to build a counter momentum to fight the tyranny, politicization of Islam, and institutional compliance with gendered discriminatory legislation.

Asma, her sister Hina Jilani, and other women leaders were determined to resist the moral regulation unleashed by the post-colonial state in the name of religion, and they came together with progressive men to form Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP, 1987)-an independent group, where they openly spoke about the failure of Pakistan’s state to protect women and minority rights as a systemic violation of international human rights. Women founded other organizations such as Women Action Forum (WAF), Punjab Women Lawyers Association (PWLA), AGHS Legal Aid Cell (ALAC). These organizations campaigned against the Hudood Ordinances (1979), provided free legal assistance to the lower caste/class women fleeing sexual violence, domestic abuse or custodial rights.

Interestingly, the regime that attempted to marginalize the women saw the genesis of the most vibrant women’ movement in Pakistan. Despite being seen as a threat to ‘national honour’, Asma Jahangir continued her lifelong work of fighting for legal rights for minorities and eradication of child labour. Later, she won several international awards and served as a United Nations rapporteur on Freedom of religion and was also a trustee at the International Crisis Group.

Today, Asma Jahangir left us with a feminist legacy that teaches us how to willfully refuse to be included in a system that is predicated on inequality and violence.


Sameena Siddiqui is a Ph.D. candidate at the Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory (AHVA) at UBC. In her doctoral thesis, she is looking at the politics of intertextuality between print, photography, and cinema in the early 20th century India. She did her M.Phil from School of Arts & Aesthetics, JNU, Delhi and has presented her work in several international conferences and residencies.

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Women Who Named the Unnamed
Pakistan’s & Local Women Heroes

Saturday, September 28, 2019
6 – 9 PM
Centre Stage
Surrey City Hall
13450 – 104 Avenue
Surrey, BC, Canada V3T 1V8
Phone: 604-591-4011

Buy your ticket online at this link:
tickets.surrey.ca
Tickets $25
Box Office : 604-501-5566

More information
Women-who-named-the-unnamed
In-gratitude-we-celebrate-our-women-heroes
View our objectives and goals.

We gratefully acknowledge
that we are on the unceded Coast Salish territories of
the Semiahmoo, Katzie, Kwikwetlem, Kwantlen,
Qayqayt, Tsawwassen, Musqueam,
Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.

..

Pakistan’s Woman Heroes : Fahmida Riaz

Women who Named the Unnamed
Tribute to the Brilliance

Fahmid Riaz (1946-2018)
poet/publisher/activist

By Sara Kazmi

On November 21, 2018, dedicated political activist, unflinching social critic and revolutionary feminist poet Fahmida Riaz passed away in Lahore, Pakistan. She will forever be enshrined in the progressive history of the Indian sub-continent for her lifelong pursuit of a poetics of Marxist-feminist dissent, for her matchless contribution to Urdu poetry, prose and regional intellectual culture.

Fahmida was born in Meerut in 1945. She grew up in Hyderabad, Sindh, where her father had been posted. Fahmida began writing poetry at a tender age, and honed her craft through her experiences of student activism in the 1960s. She was part of a powerful student movement resisting Ayub Khan’s ban on student unions, and published her first book of poetry in 1967, titled ‘Patthar ki Zuban : The Tongue of Stone’. Six years would pass before Fahmida Riaz published her explosive poems in ‘Badan Darida : The Torn Body’. The book courted enormous controversy when it was published. Conventional literary critics decried its exploration of female sexuality and bodily experience as “pornographic.” Regardless of where they stood along the ideological spectrum, men — including progressives and Marxists — could only muster a thinly veiled contempt for her bold insertion of a feminist subjectivity at the center of progressive writing. A self-identified Marxist herself, Fahmida’s work put pressure on radical discourse in the subcontinent, compelling her peers to refine the crude resolutions to ‘the woman question’ many male intellectuals were inclined to present.

Returning from England after her first marriage ended in divorce, she met a Sindhi Marxist, her second husband with whom she started running a magazine called Avaaz. Eventually, the magazine’s brave critique of military authoritarianism under General Ziaul Haq’s Martial Law would force Riaz into exile across the border in India. While in exile, Fahmida penned her celebrated poem, ‘Tum bilkul hum jesay niklay : So it turned out you are just like us’ that makes a powerful comment on the rise of religious fascism on both sides of the India-Pakistan border. Similarly, her poem ‘Aman ki asha : A Wish for Peace’ boldly calls out the vested interests of the military in perpetuating hostility.

While still in India at the Jamia Millia University in New Delhi, Fahmida also wrote a book titled ‘Pakistan: literature and society’, that was published in 1986. Although lesser known than Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s reflections on national culture, Fahmida’s essays on Sindhi, Balochi, Punjabi and Pashto literatures of resistance envision a national character premised on linguistic plurality. As Amina Yaquin points out, unlike Faiz who remained trapped within a ‘myth of nationalism,’ Riaz offered us a dynamic collective identity, in which Urdu too, must bend to the mould of its newfound homeland. At the core of Fahmida’s argument is a critique of what she terms ‘linguistic chauvinism’ and a corrective to the entrenched position of ‘a Pakistani literature that exists in the perception of the people of North India, written only in Urdu, which again, in their imagination, was the language of the Indian Muslims.’

Counter to the state’s inscription of Pakistani identity through a conflation of Islam and Urdu, Fahmida’s analysis takes us to the regional margins and plies through vernacular literature to unearth local modes of resistance. Her own use of language in her poetry also deliberately subverted the cultural agenda of the Pakistani state, while also avoiding the elitist trap of reifying its place in a nostalgic, Mughal past. For Riaz, ‘Urdu was the language of Kabir and Tulsi, the language of the peasants of UP, CP and Bihar.’

Fahmida’s intellectual trajectory was informed by the critical, anti-colonial legacy of the Progressive Writers Movement. Founded in the late 1920s, it bloomed into a loosely-knit cultural movement that addressed the intertwined histories of class, caste, gender, colonialism and citizenship in South Asia with a commitment to radical transformation. Her politics, and her poems, subvert the border by embedding themselves in a collective historical memory that is rapidly being forgotten 70 years after Partition.

In the latter half of her literary career, Fahmida focused her energies on prose. Her engagement with literary pasts and cultural history led her to pen a historical account of the life of Mazdak, whom she described as a pre-Islamic revolutionary in Iran espousing principles of egalitarianism and social equality. This book, titled ‘Qila e Faramoshi : The Castle of Forgetfulness’, was published in 2017 and is her last work of prose. The drive behind Qila e Faramoshi emanated from her translations of Rumi, and found resonance with her forays into regional literature. She also translated the works of Sindhi poets, Shah Abdul Lateef Bhitai and Sheikh Ayaz, indicating her interest in a cultural project that unearthed marginalised subjectivities in Islamic and regional pasts.

This sensitivity to the productive potential of the peripheries stemmed from her own subjectivity — as a political activist, a progressive poet and most importantly, a woman. The exploration of a gendered body, through a poetic idiom that pushed the conventions of literary Urdu remains her most impressive feat. In 1989, following the lifting of General Zia’s martial law, Fahmida would return to Pakistan from exile. She continued her work, her writing, and her activism. Between 2009 and 2012, she served as the chief editor of the Urdu Dictionary Board, one of the many public-sector jobs she would undertake pertaining to languages and the arts. She remained a staunch voice for oppressed groups within Pakistan, especially the Baloch. She wrote her last book of poetry, ‘Tum Kabir : You Kabir’, dedicated to her son who died an untimely death, leaving her all too soon.

Today, as we are left bereft of her skillful working of the sharp insights of materialist feminism into the subtle plays of Urdu verse, let us remember her most for her unfailing commitment to the principles of justice, dignity and equality for oppressed classes everywhere. Let us remember her in her own words from her poem, ‘Condolence Resolutions’:

This corpse belongs to a being
Who said whatever she wanted
Was never repentant, lifelong.
Do not let the authorities own my corpse.

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Adapted by the Author from her article,’Don’t make my corpse apologise: lessons in dissidence from Fahmida Riaz’, published in Pakistan’s daily Dawn on December 4, 2018.

Sara Kazmi is pursuing a PhD in Criticism and Culture at the University of Cambridge. Her research focuses on progressive Punjabi poetry in India and Pakistan. She has been extensively involved with performing street theatre and protest music in Lahore, Pakistan, and in particular, is drawn to questions of gender, regional identity, and radical language politics.

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Women Who Named the Unnamed
Pakistan’s & Local Women Heroes

Saturday, September 28, 2019
6 – 9 PM
Centre Stage
Surrey City Hall
13450 – 104 Avenue
Surrey, BC, Canada V3T 1V8
Phone: 604-591-4011

Buy your ticket online at this link:
tickets.surrey.ca
Tickets $25
Box Office : 604-501-5566

More information
Women-who-named-the-unnamed
In-gratitude-we-celebrate-our-women-heroes
View our objectives and goals.

We gratefully acknowledge
that we are on the unceded Coast Salish territories of
the Semiahmoo, Katzie, Kwikwetlem, Kwantlen,
Qayqayt, Tsawwassen, Musqueam,
Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.

..