Fahmida Riaz

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Fahmida Riaz
Fehmida Riaz.jpg
Born(1946-07-28)28 July 1946
Meerut, UP, British India
Died21 November 2018(2018-11-21) (aged 72)
OccupationUrdu poet, writer
Literary movementProgressive Writers Movement
Notable worksGodaavari
Khatt-e Marmuz
Notable awardsAl-Muftah Award

Fahmida Riaz (Urdu: فہمیدہ ریاض‎) (28 July 1946 – 21 November 2018) was a Progressive Urdu writer, poet, human rights activist and feminist of Pakistan.[1] She authored Godaavari, Khatt-e Marmuz, and Khana e Aab O Gil, the first translation of the Masnavi of Jalaluddin Rumi from Persian into Urdu. The author of more than 15 books on fiction and poetry, she remained at the center of controversies. When Badan Dareeda, her second collection of verse, appeared, she was accused of using erotic and sensual expressions in her poetry. The themes prevalent in her verse were, until then, considered taboo for women writers.[2] She also translated the works of Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai and Shaikh Ayaz from Sindhi to Urdu. Fahmida Riaz fled General Zia-ul Haq's religious tyranny and sought refuge in India and spent seven years there.[3][4]

The poems from her collection Apna Jurm Sabit Hae reflect her homeland's experience under the dictatorship of General Zia-ul-Haq. By reputation, Riaz stands alongside Nazim Hikmet, Pablo Neruda, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.[2]

Personal life[edit]

Fahmida Riaz was born on 28 July 1946 in a literary family of Meerut, UP, of British India. Her father, Riaz-ud-Din Ahmed, was a educationist, who had been involved in mapping and developing the modern education system for the province of Sindh.[5] Her family settled in the city of Hyderabad following her father’s transfer to the province of Sindh.[5] Her father died when she was four and so she was brought up by her mother.[6] She learned about the Urdu and Sindhi literature in her childhood and after that learnt the language of Persian.[7] After completing her education she began working as a newscaster for Radio Pakistan.[6]

Fahmida Riaz was encouraged and persuaded by her family to step into an arranged marriage after the graduation from college. She spent some years in the United Kingdom with her first husband before coming back to Pakistan after a divorce. During this period she worked with the BBC Urdu service (Radio) and got a degree in film making. She had one daughter from this marriage.[5]

She had two children from her second marriage with Zafar Ali Ujan, a leftist political worker.[5]

Work and Progressive Activism in Pakistan[edit]

Fahmida Riaz worked in an advertising agency in the city of Karachi before beginning her own Urdu publication Awaz. The liberal and politically charged content of Awaz grabbed the attention of the Zia era and both Fahmida and her husband Zafar were charged with various cases—the magazine shut down and Zafar was imprisoned.[6]

Fahmida Riaz on Censorship believes that "one should be totally sincere in one's art, and uncompromising. There is something sacred about art that cannot take violation. One should read extensively to polish expression. I read Platts' Urdu-Hindi to English Dictionary like a book of poems. I love words."[8]

She asserted that "feminism has so many interpretations. What it means for me is simply that women, like men, are complete human beings with limitless possibilities. They have to achieve social equality, much like the Dalits or the Black Americans. In the case of women, it is so much more complex. I mean, there is the right to walk on the road without being harassed. Or to be able to swim, or write a love poem, like a man without being considered immoral. The discrimination is very obvious and very subtle, very cruel and always inhuman."[8]

Exile in India[edit]

Fahmida Riaz was faced with challenges due to her political ideology. More than 10 cases were filed against her during General Ziaul Haq’s dictatorship.[2] She was charged with sedition under Section 124A of the Pakistan Penal Code.[9] After her husband was arrested she was bailed out by a fan of her works before she could be taken to jail and fled to India with her two small children and sister on the excuse of a Mushaira invitation. Her friend the renowned poet Amrita Pritam who spoke to then prime minister (late) Indira Gandhi which got her asylum.[9]

Her children went to school in India.[9] She had relatives in India and her husband later joined her there after his release from jail. The family spent almost seven years in exile before returning to Pakistan after Zia-ul-Haq's death on the eve of Benazir Bhutto's wedding reception. During this time Riaz had been poet in residence for Jamia Millia Islamia university in Delhi and it is during her exile that she learnt to read Hindi.[8] She was greeted with a warm welcome upon her return from exile.[2]

In the backdrop of concerns over rising intolerance in India she recited her recent poem 'Tum bilkul hum jaisey nikley' at a seminar called ‘Hum Gunahgaar Auratein’ on 8 March 2014 comparing the rising Hindutva in India and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Pakistan during Zia-ul-Haq regime.[10]


Fahmida Riaz died on November 21, 2018 at the age 72.[11][12][13]

Literary work[edit]


Year Title
1967 Pathar ki Zaban
1973 Badan Dareeda
Kya Tum Poora Chand Na Dekho Ge
Mein Mitti Ki Moorat Hoon
Ye Khana-e-Aab-O-Gil
2011 Sab Laal-o-Guhar


Year Title
2008 Godavari


Year Awards Awarded by
1998 Hellman/Hammett Grant[14] Human Rights Watch
2005 Al Muftah Award[15]
Sheikh Ayaz Award for Literature: Poetry[5][dubious ] Government of Sindh
2010 Pride of Performance award for Literature[16] Government of Pakistan
2014 Kamal-e-Fun award[17][18] Pakistan Academy of Letters


  1. ^ "Pakistani poet Fahmida Riaz is 72. These poems show she was in relentless pursuit of a new order".
  2. ^ a b c d Sindhu, Amar (2013-09-14). "Herald Exclusive: In conversation with Fahmida Riaz". DAWN.COM. Retrieved 2017-08-29.
  3. ^ "That Thing That India and Pakistan Do".
  4. ^ "Hindu Pakistan? Not Quite".
  5. ^ a b c d e "Fahmida Riaz: The Progressive Writer and Poet of Sindh". Sindhi Dunya. 2016-04-07. Retrieved 2017-08-30.
  6. ^ a b c "Fahmida Riaz - Profile & Biography | Rekhta". Rekhta. Retrieved 2017-08-30.
  7. ^ "Fahmida Riaz". Retrieved 2017-08-30.
  8. ^ a b c thnsj. "The Hindu : Literary Review / Interview : `There is something sacred about art'". www.thehindu.com. Retrieved 2017-08-30.
  9. ^ a b c "Pakistanis seek friendship with India: Fahmida Riaz". hindustantimes.com/. 2013-04-08. Retrieved 2017-08-30.
  10. ^ "'You are just like us': Pakistani poet compares rise of Hindu and Islamic fundamentalism". Firstpost. 2014-12-18. Retrieved 2017-08-30.
  11. ^ "Pakistani poet, author Fahmida Riaz passes away". Al Jazeera. 21 November 2018. Retrieved 13 December 2018.
  12. ^ "Noted progressive poet, writer Fahmida Riaz passes away at 72". Dawn. 21 November 2018. Retrieved 13 December 2018.
  13. ^ "Iconic Urdu poet, writer Fahmida Riaz passes away". Geo News. 21 November 2018. Retrieved 13 December 2018.
  14. ^ "Ps". www.hrw.org. Retrieved 2017-08-30.
  15. ^ "KARACHI: Fahmida Riaz honoured". DAWN.COM. 2005-07-20. Retrieved 2017-08-30.
  16. ^ "Pride of Performance Honours Bestowed". Newsline (April 2010).
  17. ^ "Honour: Kamal-e-Fun Award goes to Urdu poet Fahmida Riaz". The Express Tribune. January 6, 2016.
  18. ^ "Fehmida Riaz gets 'Kamal-e-Funn' Award". The News International. January 6, 2016.

External links[edit]