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The battle continues...

Pakistani activist poet Kishwar Naheed brings a whiff of inspiration to Delhi.



Kishwar Naheed (left) with Ajeet Cour.

HER EYES still turn moist as she recalls the days of protest when during the regime of General Zia-ul-Haq in Pakistan, she and her associates were "beaten black and blue" by his henchmen. The reason was, she held rallies and sang her poem in protest against the law requiring rape victims to produce two witnesses in a court of law. The activists were jailed and many hospitalised. "Maulanas declared that we all were sinners so our marriage stood nullified and that all of us would go to hell," she recalls.

Due to constant threat to the lives of even her children she had to send them to the U.S. and Spain through the help of a friend. This was in 1981. She was "forced to sit at home" and it is then she wrote "Hum Jahannumi Aurtain", a path-breaking anthology of contemporary Urdu feminist poetry. This has been translated and edited by Rukhsana Ahmad, as "We, Sinful Women" published in London by The Women's Press in 1991. And soon almost all major languages of the world saw its translation.

Yes, we are talking about famous Pakistani poet and author Kishwar Naheed, in New Delhi recently for the SAARC Writers Conference - IX organised by the Academy Fine Arts and literature led by Punjabi writer Ajeet Cour. Now her poem has become "a community song" and wherever she goes, she is greeted with even performances based on the song.

Male writers' hang-ups

The poetess, who wrote the collection "Lab-I-Goya" that won the prestigious Adamjee Prize for Literature, thinks that poetry is better in Pakistan as compared to India. But while Pakistan's criticism is syllabus-oriented, India's criticism is more democratic. "India has better critics and Pakistan has better poetry," she observes. She is also mournful about "Pakistan's male writers' typical, age-old attitude of romantic inclination in writings, which they don't want to part with."

Whether it is 1312-page volume titled "Dasht-e-Qais Main Lail'a", her daily columns in the newspaper Jang, or her autobiography in 1994, her creations always raised controversy, for they went beyond the accepted feminine domains.

A long time has elapsed, yet the poetess doesn't see much change in the society. "Society ko to koi farkh hi nahin parta, unless someone from their own families is affected," she laments.

So her efforts continue, through her organisation Hawwa - meaning woman. Hawwa works for women's empowerment through self-employment projects. It has eliminated the concept of men weavers and introduced women weavers, she recounts. Dying arts as handloom, phulkari, mirror work of Bhukti area, intricate patchwork called rali and others have been revived through Hawwa's efforts. "Since the middleman concept has been completely wiped out, each woman weaver now earns from Rs.3000 to 7000 monthly," informs Naheed, adding she has been wearing only woven material from here for 20 years.

Her journey of protest never ends. Her recent book "Buri Aurat ke Khatoot, Zahida Beti Ke Naam" proves that. "It is about a woman writing letters to a yet unborn girl child telling her about the hardships she would face when she arrives in the world."

RANA SIDDIQUI

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