Fehmida Riaz was a progressive writer, an activist, a feminist, political rebel and a refined poet; all of these traits in women are being loathed in both India and Pakistan. It is no wonder then why all her life revolved around controversies. A head strong and unyielding woman, staying firm on her beliefs and putting her rebellious political opinions out there provoked the tyrants like Zia-ul-Haq. Women are considered as the weaker gender in India and Pakistan, but Fehmida Riaz with just the power of her pen made a dictator like Zia-ul-Haq a quivering mess of insecurity.
Fehmida Riaz owned a publication company named Awaaz during the Zia era. Awaaz was notorious for publishing politically liberal and rebellious content enraging the political leadership of Pakistan at that time. Because of this publication, Fehmida Riaz and her husband became target of political victimization, resulting in filing of 14 cases against the two of them and imprisonment of her husband. She is an only Urdu poet in history to have faced 14 state judicial cases. Ultimately she, along with her family, took self imposed exile and stayed in India for seven years. In her poem Apna Jurm Sabit hai which was published in Awaaz, she had the guts to fearlessly challenge tyranny of Zia’s era.
The time is coming when
We’ll take a full account,
But when we take account
Where will you be, to answer?
In our hearts, we have resolved
To clear the way, no matter what,
And since you’re but an underling,
We shall forgive you, in the end
In an interview with Indian press titled Nayab Hain Hum, she said, “Amrita Pritam was a dear friend of mine, she helped me in getting asylum in India and arranged an interview with Indira Gandhi, during my stay in India I learnt what I had not experienced even in England, I learnt about democracy, how people belonging to diverse cultures and religions adjust and live together, there are events of religious and political tumult but they get resolved just in 4 or 5 days, my period of stay in India was full of awareness, at that time the issue of Babari Masjid took place and eastern UP was under religious tiff.”
This religious tiff which was not different than the one going on in her own native land Pakistan, she improvised the situation of UP in her then written poem Purwanchal:-
How beautiful is this land!
Beautiful and long-suffering.
Brick and stone
Reduced to rubble.
Mosque and temple
In the same old squabble.
Disfigured by a frown.
A son of this land,
Laid long ago to rest,
To bring you peace.
Listen to Kabir,
Who pleads with you:
Wars of hatred
Do no honour to God.
Both Ram and Rahim
Will shun a loveless land.
'When two are locked in conflict
And ready to lose their lives,
Neither can win in the end,
Unless both do—and equally.
A battle lost by either
Will be fought and refought
Until both are destroyed
And both are equal losers.'
She felt nearer to Hindus more and had close association with communist party of India during her stay, but she experienced that religious extremism is the core cause of tumult in both countries. She felt rejected and disowned by such extremist approach of religion in Pakistan and India. On 8th March she wrote her final piece of poetry,’ Turned out you were just like us’.
So , it turned out you were just like us!
Where were you hiding all this time, buddy?
That stupidity, that ignorance
we wallowed in for a century –
look, it arrived at your shores too!
Many congratulations to you!
Raising the flag of religion,
I guess now you will be setting up Hindu Raj?
You too will commence to muddle everything up
You, too, will ravage your beautiful garden.
You, too, will sit and ponder –
I can tell preparations are afoot –
who is [truly] Hindu, who is not.
I guess you’ll be passing fatwas soon!
Here, too, it will become hard to survive.
Here, too, you will sweat and bleed.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Muslim World Today.