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 awardsPride of Performance Award in 2010
Al-Muftah Award

Fahmida Riaz (Urdu: فہمیدہ ریاض) (28 July 1946 – 21 November 2018) was an Urdu writer, poet and activist from Pakistan.[1] She authored many books, such as, Godaavari, Khatt-e Marmuz, and Khana e Aab O Gil in addition to the first translation in rhyme of the Masnavi of Jalaluddin Rumi from Persian into Urdu. The author of more than 15 books of fiction and poetry, she remained at the center of controversies. When Badan Dareeda, her second collection of verses appeared, she was accused of using erotic, sensual expressions and sometimes islamist undertones in her work. 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. Fleeing General Zia-ul Haq's religious tyranny, Riaz 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 to a literary family from Meerut, British India. Her father, Riaz-ud-Din Ahmed, was an educationist involved in mapping and developing the modern education system for the province of Sindh. Her family settled in the city of Hyderabad after her father's transfer to Sindh.[5] Her father died when she was four, consequently being raised by her mother.[5] She learned about Urdu and Sindhi literature in her childhood, and later learnt the Persian language.[6] After completing her education, she began working as a newscaster for Radio Pakistan.[5]

After her graduation from college, Riaz was persuaded by her family to enter into an arranged marriage. She spent some years in the United Kingdom with her first husband, during which she worked with the BBC Urdu service (Radio). She earned a degree in film making, and had a daughter. After her divorce to her first husband, she returned to Pakistan. She later had two children from her second marriage with Zafar Ali Ujan, a leftist political worker.

Activism in Pakistan[edit]

Riaz worked in an advertising agency in the city of Karachi before beginning her own Urdu publication, Awaz. Its liberal and politically charged content attracted attention in Zia era. Riaz and her husband Zafar were charged with various crimes. The magazine was shut down, and Ujan was imprisoned.[5]

On the topic of censorship, Riaz said 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."[7]

She also asserted, "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."[7]

Exile in India[edit]

Riaz faced challenges due to her political ideology. More than 10 criminal charges were filed against her during General Zia-ul-Haq’s dictatorship.[2] She was charged with sedition under Section 124A of the Pakistan Penal Code.[8] When she and her husband were arrested, she was bailed out by an admirer of her work before she could be taken to jail, and fled to India with her sister and two small children under the pretext of a Mushaira invitation. Her friend, the renowned poet Amrita Pritam, spoke to prime minister Indira Gandhi on Riaz's behalf and gained her asylum there.[8]

Riaz had relatives in India, and her children went to school there.[8] Her husband joined them in India 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 was a poet-in-residence at Jamia Millia Islamia university in Delhi; it was there that she learnt to read Hindi.[7] She received a warm welcome on her return from exile.[2]

On 8 March 2014, against the backdrop of rising concerns over intolerance in India, Riaz recited her poem 'Tum bilkul hum jaisey nikley' at a seminar called ‘Hum Gunahgaar Auratein’. The poem compares the rising Hindutva in India and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Pakistan during Zia-ul-Haq's regime.[9]


Fahmida Riaz died on November 21, 2018, at the age 72.[10][11][12]

Literary work[edit]


Year Title
1967 Pathar ki Zaban[5]
1973 Badan Darida[5]
Kya Tum Poora Chand Na Dekho Ge
Mein Mitti Ki Moorat Hoon
Ye Khana-e-Aab-O-Gil[5]
2011 Sab Laal-o-Guhar


Year Title
2008 Qafile Parindon Ke[5]

Awards and recognition[edit]

Year Awards Awarded by
1998 Hellman/Hammett Grant[13] Human Rights Watch
2005 Al Muftah Award[14]
Sheikh Ayaz Award for Literature: Poetry Government of Sindh
2010 Pride of Performance award for Literature[15] Government of Pakistan
2014 Kamal-e-Fun award[16][17] 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 (14 September 2013). "Herald Exclusive: In conversation with Fahmida Riaz". DAWN.COM. Retrieved 23 February 2020.
  3. ^ Hanif, Mohammed (26 September 2018). "That Thing That India and Pakistan Do". The New York Times.
  4. ^ "Hindu Pakistan? Not Quite". 4 August 2018.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h "Fahmida Riaz - Profile". Rekhta.org website. Retrieved 23 February 2020.
  6. ^ "Fahmida Riaz". Retrieved 30 August 2017.
  7. ^ a b c thnsj (6 November 2005). "Literary Review / Interview : 'There is something sacred about art'". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 26 December 2018. Retrieved 30 August 2017.
  8. ^ a b c "Pakistanis seek friendship with India: Fahmida Riaz". hindustantimes.com/. 8 April 2013. Retrieved 30 August 2017.
  9. ^ "'You are just like us': Pakistani poet compares rise of Hindu and Islamic fundamentalism". Firstpost. 18 December 2014. Retrieved 30 August 2017.
  10. ^ "Pakistani poet, author Fahmida Riaz passes away". Al Jazeera. 21 November 2018. Retrieved 13 December 2018.
  11. ^ "Noted progressive poet, writer Fahmida Riaz passes away at 72". Dawn. 21 November 2018. Retrieved 13 December 2018.
  12. ^ "Iconic Urdu poet, writer Fahmida Riaz passes away". Geo News. 21 November 2018. Retrieved 13 December 2018.
  13. ^ "Ps". www.hrw.org. Retrieved 30 August 2017.
  14. ^ "KARACHI: Fahmida Riaz honoured". DAWN.COM. 20 July 2005. Retrieved 30 August 2017.
  15. ^ "Pride of Performance Honours Bestowed". Newsline (magazine). No. April 2010. Retrieved 23 February 2020.
  16. ^ "Honour: Kamal-e-Fun Award goes to Urdu poet Fahmida Riaz". The Express Tribune. 6 January 2016. Retrieved 23 February 2020.
  17. ^ "Fehmida Riaz gets 'Kamal-e-Funn' Award". The News International (newspaper). 6 January 2016. Retrieved 23 February 2020.

External links[edit]