Celebrating the love and resilience of Amrita Pritam and Fahmida Riaz

Celebrating the love and resilience of Amrita Pritam and Fahmida Riaz
Event poster from PIPFPD

Upcoming event: An evening of dialogue, poetry and music dedicated to the late radical feminist poets Amrita Pritam of India and Fahmida Riaz of Pakistan.

‘Ishq, Siyasat, aur Awam’ (Love, politics, and the people) is the title of an evening of guftagu (dialogue), poetry and music on Saturday, 27 January 2024 dedicated to the late radical feminist poets Amrita Pritam of India and Fahmida Riaz of Pakistan.

A multitude of speakers from both countries will pay tribute to the ‘strong voices of love, desire and resilience’ of these literary stalwarts at the Jawahar Bhawan, New Delhi and online. The bilingual event is scheduled to last for four hours, 3.30 to 7.30 pm (India time); 3- 7.00 pm (Pakistan time).

To join the hybrid event, register here (https://forms.gle/Ucw3A1DoFJjkQpos5)

The evening is hosted by the Pakistan India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy in collaboration with Rajiv Gandhi Foundation and South Asian Solidarity Collective.

“We welcome you all to join us to celebrate our art and resilience,” say the organisers, Tapan Bose, Dr Syeda Hameed, Evita Das, and Vijayan MJ of the PIPFPD, who are also founder members of the Southasia Peace Action Network. “We take the liberty to do this in honour of and through the prism of Amrita and Fahmida, who instigated love and politics.”

Note of context:

When Gen. Zia-ul-Haq’s military regime found the poetry and political activism of Fahmida Riaz intolerable, she fled the country and took political asylum in India. It was Amrita Pritam who went to the then Prime Minister of India, Mrs Indira Gandhi and secured shelter and safety for her friend and contemporary poet from Pakistan.

The relationship between these two amazing women of South Asia does not start or end with this story of asylum.

Remember when Amrita Pritam said, “Jaha bhi azad ruh ki Jhalak pade, Samajhna waha mera ghar hai” (Wherever you find a glimpse of a free spirit; that’s where you will find me)

And Fahmida Riaz said, “Jis lamhe me tum zinda ho, vo lamha tum se zinda hai (the moment through which you are alive, is the moment which is alive through you)

The two are often categorized as revolutionary, resilient, courageous women, challenging society, patriarchy, and other norms. We might often forget that one of the seeds of the revolutionary thought process is radical love.

Both writers tirelessly provided the strength for themselves and others to imagine, if not fulfil, relationships of people beyond boundaries, beyond norms of society, state and religion. They relentlessly contested norms and lived by their convictions.

The lines of poetry quoted above epitomise their life, writings, politics and choice of themes.

In more than one way, their love and respect for each other personified the bond between the peoples of India and Pakistan. They stood on either side of the border with open arms and open hearts, not judging the ‘other’ from the prism of religion, politics or nationalism.

Fahmida Riaz wrote her satirical 1992 poem ‘Tum bilkul hum jaisey nikley‘ (You have turned out to be just like us) after the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Comparing the rising Hindutva in India and Islamic fundamentalism in Pakistan during Zia-ul-Haq’s regime, the poem remains relevant today, against the backdrop of rising concerns over violence in the name of religion in India.

The poem gained new life after Riaz recited it in Delhi on 8 March 2014 at a seminar titled ‘Hum Gunahgaar Auratein’ (We Sinful Women, the title of a poem by another contemporary Pakistani radical feminist poet, Kishwar Naheed).

“One should be totally sincere in one’s art, and uncompromising. There is something sacred about art that cannot take violation,” as Fahmid Riaz said.

These lines epitomise courageous Southasian women who stood out and spoke their heart and art. Love, desire, democracy, passion, resistance – they dealt with their times like prophets amidst lost peoples.

Topics and speakers:

Nazm on ishq, siyasat aur awam Ankush Gupta ‘Siraj’, poet, writer, India
Hum Jaise – Subodh Lal, writer, India
Amrita Pritam ek khudmukhtar aurat – Atiya Dawood, writer, poet, Pakistan
Fahmida aur jaddo-jahad – Meera Rizvi, artist, India
Voices of two revolutionaries resonates even today – Onaiza Drabu, co-founder of Daak Vaak, Kashmir
‘Amrita de naam’ poetic expression – Navsharan Singh, writer, activist, India
Amrita ek dharti – Muddasir Bashir, writer, Pakistan
Do mulkon ki mausiqui – Rene singh, artist, India
Paigham-e-ishq tarannum mein – Ananyaa Gaur, artist, India

As the poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz advised the people of Pakistan and India: Halqa kiye baiThe raho ik sham.a ko yaaro; kuchh raushnī baaqī to hai har-chand ki kam hai” (Friends, keep sitting in a circle around the candle; although limited at least some light is visible)

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