Pakistani Women

your post-patriarchal marriages

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Dear young western-educated Muslim sisters: I see you priding yourselves on your “love” choices as you get ready to marry that boyfriend. I see you dancing in the limelight of capitalist delusions as you celebrate how “free” you are of religious and traditional constraints. I hear you demonize my Muslim mother for having consented to an arranged marriage thirty years ago as your talk about your “modern” love. I see you hate on my Muslim grandmother for looking at your boyfriend suspiciously, for refusing to believe the narrative of “freedom” espoused by the younger westernized generation.

Dear smug sisters: my grandma’s suspicion is a lesson in the traps of patriarchy. It is meant to teach us that self-chosen marriages are not inherently liberatory; they are the exact opposite of liberatory because they have us duped into thinking there can be any choice in this capitalist-heteropatriarchal messy world. My mother’s arranged marriage was so much more radical than your “love” marriage: she was under no such illusions when she unsmilingly signed her nikkahnama; she never believed in the emancipatory potential of the neoliberal ideas of free-will and autonomy. And perhaps she can teach you about the oppression that lies under willingly happily entering an institution that commodifies women as property. Perhaps she can show you that illusions of post-patriarchy are even more dangerous than in-your-face patriarchy.

So when you differentiate yourself from those oppressed Muslim women to make your own muslimness palatable to whiteness, know that your willingness to “choose” love cannot even match the strength of my mother’s refusal to love. My mother’s lack of smiles and laughter in her wedding pictures symbolizes resilience. Your smiles and laughter at your wedding symbolizes coercion, a kind of coercion that manifests itself through an arrogant patronizing feminism.

Our educated, westernized, modernized generation is not any less oppressed than the generation of our mothers and grandmothers. Self-chosen “love” marriages are not any different from the older generation’s arranged marriages. They are simply veiled under the dark illusory shrouds of love and choice. But how can there be choice in an act that inadvertently transforms a relationship into a contract in which the woman is an object of white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy? My mother understood the inherently patriarchal nature of this institution when she consented to an arranged marriage years ago. My grandmother understood the violent nature of marriage when her consent didn’t even matter years and years ago. These are women who can surely give you lessons in feminism, who can write correctives to your arrogant feminism that privileges Western-capitalist patriarchy over Muslim patriarchy.

Dear “modern” Muslim sisters, this is why certain older women refuse to participate in your contrived happiness. They have a knowledge that is so much deeper and sadder than the theatrical romance fed to us by heteropatriarchal capitalist culture. Despite her lack of English-medium education (or perhaps because of its lack), my grandmother can see the violence in both “arranged” and “love” marriages. So how can you demonize her for eyeing your boyfriend-turned-fiancé with suspicion? My frail aging daadi who recently said to me “shaadi se burri cheez is dunya main koi nahi” knows better than to endorse such false “love choices.”



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i am tired/ of shuttling between the binaries of mullah and white/ of defending the worst parts of me my history my trauma/ of constantly laboring to shatter stereotype to complicate your simplistic reductive bullshit that makes me want to give up the parts of me that are meant to be the most radical

your mullah, your imam, your man who holds hadiths like knives makes me defend the feminist movements that have harmed my mother my grandmother my aunties, makes me suck up to your imperialism, sows my mouth shut when the white cis gay man shrouds me in this rainbow veil/ i do not know how to critique the neoliberalism and colonialism behind feminist and queer movements when my womanhood and queerness is being charred slowly by the sparks of the holy quran/ in the name of god who is most merciful and kind but only in his tyrannical ways

your white, your western, your liberal makes me defend the religion the culture the traditions that i always ran away from, makes me suck up to all things islam, sows my mouth shut when my own brown men shroud me under their protective possessive violent gaze/ i do not know how to critique surah nisa and the thirteenness of khadija-zainab-saffiya-ayesha-etc.etc. behind the faith that has protected me against the swords of whiteness that do not slay, but only probe me slowly split my skin slowly/ you don’t kill straight-up you maim bruise torture me islamophobia

i’ve had enough of this shuttling/ of defending the violence of my brown muslim men in the face of your islamophobia, of defending the colonial violence and prescription of my western-educated feminism and queer liberation in the face of your blasphemy laws/ i am tired of shuttling between your islamophobia your blasphemy your mosque that pushes women to the back your fucked up imperialism your pinkwashing your homonationalism/ when will i give up this defending this justifying this explaining this educating/ when will i finally give up this body, this womanness, this ism, this islam, this muslimness, this brown queer bullshit that is supposed to make me radical but only makes me want to/ wash away my brown, tear apart my quran, vomit out my womyn my queer my desire, and surrender to you/ all of my shields and all of my explanations and all of my contrived broken strength

14th August: Kis ki Azadi?

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My grandparents are the only people in my family who lack patriotism. They are also the only people who witnessed partition, who migrated from Indian Punjab to Lahore a few days after the bloody subcontinent was split into a bloody India and an even bloodier Pakistan.

Nana Abu is vocal about questioning this new state-produced, army-generated nationalism that, according to him, does not at all resemble the spirit of those who fought for independence. Nani Ami on the only hand, is silent. She refuses to partake in these celebrations of oblivion, but she also does not correct our misguided understanding of history.

Nana Abu tells me that he finds it difficult to understand why his grandchildren dress up and sing and blow up crackers on the day that only revives traumatic memories of violence and hatred for him. It is easy for him to talk about how his cousin was shot by a Sikh man, and how his family lost all their belongings after their village was invaded by a frenzied mob. But his voice cracks and stumbles when he confesses how he was involved in opening fires on Hindu neighbors, on old friends. How does political rhetoric transform one’s desires, one’s attachments to land and people? I want to ask him this, but I don’t think he knows the answer.

Nani Ami says nothing. There is nothing for her say during partition stories. She was there, she was migrating along with her family, but her worth was murdered as Pakistan was born. Nation, state, army, Jinnah, Islam, Pakistan, all stood up to sow her lips shut. If they could, they would’ve sowed her vagina shut too, to prevent her vulnerable body from bringing shame on Pakistan. 14th August 1947: When my grandmother was rendered non-human. She was made into a mere symbol of religious nationalism that her brothers and uncles and the Muslim League could use for their own nationalistic purposes. Unlike thousands of other women, she reached Pakistan unharmed, untouched by enemy men. She was protected by the freedom fighters because her body was now suddenly Pakistan. They had to protect it –not to spare her of trauma and pain– but to satisfy their honor-obsessed nationalistic appetites.

During these partition stories, Nani Ami only looks up and nods when my aunt mentions how during the war, fathers were willingly burning their daughters’ bodies to “protect” them from rape. I want Nani Ami to elaborate, but she merely keeps nodding.

14th August 1947: When killing daughters seemed a more honorable deed than risking their rape. When different groups of independence fighters threatened each other’s ownership by stealing women.

When chants of La ilaha ilallah rang in the air. What such chants actually screamed: Pakistan ka matlab kya: land is more worthy than a woman. Pakistan ka matlab kya: escape oppression to create a more varied kind of state-sanctioned oppression.

14th August 1947: When Pakistan and India weren’t actually warring for freedom from anyone. They were simply competing to create more oppressions: who could marginalize more and more groups of people? The winner would get ample rewards from the capitalist global economy half a century later.

14th August, this year: We continue to celebrate the freedom of the heterosexual Punjabi patriarchal Sunni man but don’t give a fuck about Balochistan getting plundered by our military forces, or the Afghan immigrants losing their kachay homes at the hands of the state, or the Khwaja Sira folks getting killed and raped and forgotten, or the Ahmedi patients being refused treatment, or the women being shamed and mocked and molested and killed, or about the Dalit communities still entrapped in caste-based violence. 14th August 1947: when certain men fought for “freedom” but didn’t give a fuck about others’ basic right to exist as humans.

14th August 1947: When nationalistic men started to confuse women’s bodies with land. Raping women equaled invading land. Why does nation-incited zeal make men rape?

14th August 1947: When the air rung with low-pitched chants of freedom. Male voices. Male freedom attained by forcefully grinding Nation to Woman until the two merged into a new-found thing called Culture.

14th August 1947: When women were talked about only for the sake of political sensationalism. When women’s bodies were incised by border-making. When even the few progressive men like Manto decided to use narratives of silent raped bodies in order to shock and shame the mainstream, without really doing anything about the silence, about the rape, about their own male gaze. [Sometimes left-wing masculinity is just as toxic as majoritarian masculine nationalism]

14th August 1947: When many manly wars were fought: between the Muslim nationalists and the Hindu nationalists; between the Muslim nationalists and the anti-partition Muslims; between the Muslim nationalists and the Muslim left-wing anti-nationalists. But all these manly wars used women as symbols, as things, as property, as nation, as theories.

So when I talk to Nana Abu, I hear him talk of enmity between Muslims and Hindus, of the unjustifiable violence of both sides, of how war makes one mad. But I do not hear about the erasure of women. I do not hear about how all of this 14th August mess– the nationalistic mess the army reveres as a fight for “justice,” as well as the mess of anti-nation ideology that questions Pakistan’s warped purpose– erased (and still continues to erase) women.

This is why Nani Ami refuses to talk, refuses to cry. Perhaps she knows that if she cried, her pain would be misused to serve another theory of nation and culture. Perhaps she foresees how her narrative would get twisted into one of nation-land and Hindu oppression and la ilaha ilallah. Perhaps she understands that neither the Pakistani state, nor Jinnah, nor Manto, nor her grandchildren with their green and white painted faces really ever cared about her.


to this day,

quiet she remains.

[this piece has been republished on Tanqeed on August 14th 2016. URL:]