In this essay I offer some examples of reading feminist agency in Pakistan through an analysis of the poems of two of Pakistan’s preeminent feminist poets, Fahmida Riaz (b.1946) and Kishwar Naheed (b.1940). Rather than gesture to their poetry in a strategy of recuperation I contend that their powerful narratives compel us to reevaluate the parameters of contemporary feminist historiography and discourses of nationalism in South Asia. The poems of Fahmida Riaz and Kishwar Naheed are informed by a different set of paradigms about self and community (Islam) and at the same time reflect an archive (poetry) as crucial to feminist critiques of nationalism. They have thus been able to reach a large audience of women and articulate an explicitly feminist politics in Pakistan. Their poems necessarily take center-stage in this essay. However, a detailed analysis of the larger context and space their work occupies sheds light on how they, as feminists, have used poetry to revise subtly the complex relationships between women and men, and gender and nationalism in Pakistan.

Author Biography

Anita Anantharam is an Assistant Professor of Women’s Studies at the University of Florida. Her doctoral dissertation at the University of California, Berkeley was a comparative study of women’s anti-state poetry from India and Pakistan during key moments of religious revitalization in the twentieth century. She is the editor of Mahadevi Varma: Political Essays on Women, Nation, and Culture, a volume of translations and her book manuscript titled Bodies that Remember: Women’s Indigenous Knowledge and Cosmopolitanism in South Asian Poetry is forthcoming with Syracuse University Press’ series in Gender and Globalization.