Daily Archives: June 23, 2008

Chador aur Char Divari: Subverting the discourse of exclusion 6

In this article, our prolific contributor Shaheryar Ali looks at the invisibility of women in extreme interpretations of Islam that were adopted by the General Zia-ul-Haq and that refuse to go away despite decades of struggle. He cites a powerful poem by the Urdu poet Fahmida Riaz that sums up the perversity of this peculiar mindset and is a bitter song of liberation too. (Ed: RR)

Of the three great systems of exclusion governing discourse — prohibited words, the division of madness and the will to truth ———” Foucault

The non-existence of women is the most important problem that has plagued the discourse in the Muslim countries. “Representational discourse” is in itself a discourse of exclusion, the “woman” and “woman hood” are representational entities, the Woman has always been be represented in the discourse , she never had her own voice. The famous existential philosopher Simone de Beauvior whilst writing her seminal feminist work “The second Sex” reached the conclusion : “No Human is born a Woman”.

In fundamentalist ‘Islamic’ context this representational discourse acquired a legal status where woman was judged to be unworthy of testimony. De-humanization of woman reached its peak under the USA sponsored Islamization of the Muslim world. General Muhammed Zia ul Haq and the theologians brought the “Law of Evidence” according to which the testimony of the woman was to be considered half of that of man. The traditional reading of Islam brought about the concept of “Naqis ul Aqal” “semi compos mentis” for the Woman. An animal which is not capable of making independent decisions, is source of Sin and lust and hence must be covered in a black veil, to protect the piety of Men, whose place is within the 4 walls of the house and who cant leave it without a male relative escorting her.

“Zina” (or fornication) became the ultimate focus of the project that aimed to suppress women’s sexuality with the fear of stones and lashes. “Chador or Char divari” became the official state doctrine for “woman” with approval from Mansoora! [Pakistan’s self-styled Vatican, headquarter of the Jamate Islami]

The Progressive left led a heroic struggle against the Neo Fascist Zia ul Haq, resulting in one of the most brutal crackdown against them, hangings, torture,murders,exiles, lashes—. Fahmida Riaz , Kishwar Naheed stood up against this tyranny , the result was the emergence of a radical feminist discourse that was modernist and progressive and which challenged the Islamist discourse on woman.

Fehmida Riaz is a true artist who never compromised , she was victimized by Zia ul Haq and his political Son Nawaz Sharif but she stood firm. Chador aur Char Divari is one of the most important poems ever written in Urdu. It traces the origins of Islamist exclusionist discourse and de constructs it. It asserts the “humanity” of woman , her independent will and voice and her challenge to the tyrants. Continue reading


Filed under Citizens, Literature, poetry, Politics, Women

‘am no god’ and other poems

four poems by temporal

am no god

when i was young
i knew everything
could do anything
i was GOD
today i know i know
so little
am barely inches
above ground
and contentedly
am no god

painting with words

if i were a painter
with whisks
would wipe away scowls
make faces smile

she smiled at my folly,
i thought of the rancor
between religions,
and sullen gods

but i am a stargazer and
armed with word-chisel
would work to wipe away
a few more frowns.


he never yelled
just pushed the gajras* in view
and looked with baleful eyes

when the traffic halted
other hawkers, beggars pounced
seeking alms, selling wares

but this kid

and his younger sister
merely looked at you

they could’ve been mute
i never heard them peddle
the only thing i traded
was a dismissive
maaf karo! nahiN chahiyay**

* * *

stopped at red on islington*** yesterday
and the scent of jasmine wafted in
i looked around for baleful eyes

*….a bracelet made of flowers
**…forgive me! don’t need it
***..a T.O. street


fate deals, we play
we own not the deck
play best as we can
whine, thank, pray, scold

for the allotted seconds
we play

dropped in waters
we swim
with or against the tide
in shallow and deep waters


for the allotted seconds
we swim

is there anything
we cannot do
to stay afloat?
tell me then why
are we segmented?

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Filed under Pakistan