General Zia-ul-Haq’s regime was a tumultuous time for Pakistan and Pakistani poet and writer Fahmida Riaz found herself in the middle of it, in the ’70s. Jailed for her politically charged writings in Awaz, an Urdu publication she founded, she fled to India with her two children. Riaz will be part of a day-long seminar to celebrate art and resistance shown by women in repressive environments and regimes. Organised as part of the 10th IAWRT Asian Women’s Festival to mark International Women’s Day, the focus is on “how women artistes and activists in South Asia can survive in repressive environments?”
The participants include poets, writers, performers, artistes and activists from Pakistan, Bangladesh and India. From Pakistan, there’s artist-activist Salima Hashmi, the daughter of poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz; Kathak dancer Nahid Siddiqui who was forced to flee Pakistan when dance was banned in the country; and writer Amar Sindhu who has been working against repression faced by Sindhi women.
Among artists from India, there will be Mithu Sen, whose diptych work You Owe Me from her 2010 show “Black Candy (iforgotmypenisathome)” was taken down from an exhibition in Belgium, by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, for showing an Indian man defecating on the road; Tamil poet Kutti Revathi, whose book of poems Mulaigal (Breasts) published by Panikkudam Pathippagam in 2002, received a wave of protests from conservative Tamil groups asking for the book to be burnt publicly on Mount Road in Chennai. “These women have faced some form of resistance in their field of work and have overcome that. This will not be like an ordinary seminar where people read from a script. It will be an interactive session with lively discussions and debates,” says Anupama Chandra, film editor and one of the organisers of the festival. Hana Shams Ahmed from Bangladesh, who worked with the Chittagong Hill Tracts region, will also be present.
The seminar has been divided into four sessions: poetry, writing and performance; the visual arts; political activism across generations; and comedy and satire. The closing performance will include a routine by stand-up comedian Vasu Primlani on queer issues. Express Feature Service