Lahore School of Economics

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Women and Literature: Reclaiming the silenced voice

Dr. Shahid Siddiqui, Professor and Head, Department of Social Sciences, Lahore School of Economics

Knowledge and power are interlinked in a complex manner as power constructs, validates, and perpetuates certain kind of knowledge that in return justifies the acts of power and serves as a tool of hegemony (Gramsci, Foucault). Historically the dominant groups of a society offer their version of knowledge as standard knowledge which reflects their experiences and promotes their worldview. The voice of marginalized groups in a society is suppressed as their version of knowledge is denied its space in the main stream knowledge channels. Literature is a genre of knowledge which is subtle, entertaining, and effective.

In South Asian history of Urdu literature we see long periods of silence of women as literature was declared as a tabooed territory for women and the pen that represents voice was held by the male. The politics of representation constructs and dominates the ‘others’ with all kinds of biases (Said). In Indo-Pakistan male writers in their didactic writings would advise the women how to speak, act, and behave. Women in the subcontinent were denied school education or were restricted to the rudimentary functional literacy. In such patriarchal domination some female writers defied the oppressive literary norms and challenged gendered stereotypes based on unidirectional knowledge, being strengthened through the literary genres. Authors like Rasheed Jehan ‘criticized the actual causes of women’s backwardness, helplessness, ignorance and defeated outlook’ (Jameel, 2005:57). Ismat Chughtai, through her bold treatment of the social topics, tried to resist the pressure of the society. Similarly Kishwar Naheed and Parveen Shakir made a rich contribution by bringing women’s voice to the mainstream of literature. The impact of female writers could have been much more but Urdu criticism was dominated by male critics whose cannons were based on male perspectives. Ahmed (1990:i) termed it as a sign of ‘conservatism of literary establishment and their strongholds on aesthetic values.’ The female engagement in the process of literary evaluation is important to ensure furthering of the cause of an unbiased discourse in the literary circle based on the multiplicity of knowledge, experiences, and viewpoints.

About the presenter:

Dr. Shahid Siddiqui obtained his PhD in Language Education from University of Toronto, Canada and MEd TESOL from University of Manchester, U.K. Dr. Siddiqui has worked in prestigious universities such as the Aga Khan University, GIK Institute of Engineering Sciences and Technology, and Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). Currently he is working as a Professor and Head of Department of Social Sciences in Lahore School of Economics (LSE). His areas of interest include socio-cultural aspects of language, gender, educational change, and critical pedagogy. His published books include, Rethinking Education in Pakistan: Perceptions, Practices, and Possibilities (2007, 2010); Adhe Adhoore Khawab- An Urdu Novel (2010), and Education, Inequalities, and Freedom (2012). His most recent book is Language, Gender, and Power: The Politics of Representation and Hegemony in South Asia, published by OUP in October, 2013. He regularly writes on educational issues for the editorial pages of national newspapers. He can be reached at

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posted by S A J Shirazi @ 4/03/2014 10:50:00 AM,

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