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I have argued throughout this book that the political interventions made by progressive Urduphone intellectuals – “modern,” “secular," and left-leaning – were inspired by in great part by the Indo-Persianate cultural and ethical lifeworlds that had outlasted Mughal imperial rule in spite of subsequent colonial epistemes that placed new limits upon Urdu literature. Having moved beyond the colonial archive by closely examining texts and debates within the vernacular South Asian language of Urdu, it is my contention that leftist politics in late colonial north India and in early postcolonial Pakistan cannot be fully understood without turning to a longer history of Urdu literary ethics, particularly its relationship to religion, given the impact of Sufi thought upon the leftist Urdu literary milieu. Lastly, a history which examines leftist politics in South Asia cannot ignore the Indian Muslim minority question embedded within political movements for freedom against colonial rule.
Faiz’s literary pursuits are difficult to disentangle from the wider political trajectory out of which he emerged and impacted. I argue that Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s ethical self-fashioning as a political subject was deeply rooted within Perso-Arabic, Indo-Persian, and Urdu literary traditions even as he became increasingly invested in internationalist solidarity. I show that Faiz’s poetry, deeply rooted in Urdu literary and ethical traditions and composed during incarceration and exile, demonstrated his revulsion for the narrow confines of territorial nationalism and the authoritarianism of the postcolonial state.
This chapter contends that Manto’s trials signify a paradoxical sociopolitical context when it came to questions of women and sexuality: middle-class women became more visible in public and more highly educated in the formal sense, but there was also a shift in expressions of sexuality. This chapter argues that a complex and critical reassessment of Manto’s ethical self-fashioning through an examination of official documents, literary materials, and debates within progressive literary circles over representations of sexuality, enhances an understanding of the larger cultural and political developments of a turbulent period when it comes to the politics of sexuality. Finally, moral discourses, particularly around sexuality, were also prevalent within progressive, communist, and socialist intellectual circles as well, giving rise to hegemonic definitions and distinctions about who constituted the ideal literary progressive.
The controversy over Angāre in the early 1930s has always been interpreted as a contest between religious and secular forces given the furor around the publication for being “blasphemous.” Turning to relevant legislation in the period, contextualizing debates around blasphemy in the legal and literary spheres, and analyzing responses to the text, I problematize assumptions behind seeing the controversy as one about religion vs. secularism. I argue that the text and the reception to it is best read as a crisis over ethics within the colonized, Urdu-speaking Muslim upper classes of urban North India, who were beginning to stake their raison d’etre and sense of selfhood on minority political status. This status had enormous consequences a decade later in the demand for Pakistan. This chapter shows how this early controversy was about how a class of Indian Muslims were identifying as an ethical community, not a religious one.
“Feminist Literary Ethics and Censorship,” is devoted to historically contextualizing the work of feminist Urdu poets of the 1970s and 1980s in Pakistan. It argues that the burgeoning of feminist Urdu literature in this period represents a revitalization of the progressive literary movement, which is often schematized as having come to an end by 1950s or 1960s. The chapter begins by tracing the genealogies and the long history of South Asian Muslim women’s writing in Urdu, the gender politics and patriarchal modes of Urduphone progressive intellectual spaces, and Pakistani nationalism. Then it turns to the life, work, and context of the Urduphone intellectual and feminist poet and writer Fahmida Riaz (1946–2018) who was at the vanguard of feminist politico-literary transformations in Pakistan.
A historiography of South Asian Muslim nationalism and the place of Urdu progressive literature within a broader political context of independence struggles against colonial rule in India and Pakistan.
Censorship, Urdu literature, Islam, and progressive secular nationalisms in colonial India and Pakistan have a complex, intertwined history. Sarah Waheed offers a timely examination of the role of progressive Muslim intellectuals in the Pakistan movement. She delves into how these left-leaning intellectuals drew from long-standing literary traditions of Islam in a period of great duress and upheaval, complicating our understanding of the relationship between religion and secularism. Rather than seeing 'religion' and 'the secular' as distinct and oppositional phenomena, this book demonstrates how these concepts themselves were historically produced in South Asia and were deeply interconnected in the cultural politics of the left. Through a detailed analysis of trials for blasphemy, obscenity, and sedition, and feminist writers, Waheed argues that Muslim intellectuals engaged with socialism and communism through their distinctive ethical and cultural past. In so doing, she provides a fresh perspective on the creation of Pakistan and South Asian modernity.
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