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In Session: Selfhood and Agency: Muslim Women’s Fashioning of State, Religion, and Literature in South Asia
3: Selfhood and Citizenship: Urdu Periodicals and the “New Pakistani Woman”
Thursday, March 25, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
University of Arkansas, United States
This paper examines how women writers in Urdu literary magazines such as Ismat (“chastity”) debated the forging of a new national identity after the creation of Pakistan during 1947-1957. Partition of India and the creation of Pakistan resulted in one of the greatest migrations in human history with hundreds of thousands moving across the newly created states of India and Pakistan. The first decade is a significant time to study the imagination of new identities by citizens. Magazines such as Ismat, for instance, published contents that discussed the type of career a “new Pakistani woman” should adopt. Such writings in women’s journals advocated for an inclusive and progressive notion of “Pakistani-ness.” In one piece, “Laṛkiyan” (Girls, 1949), the writer stresses the value of raising children without gender inequality and educating them to be contributors to the nation building. Despite writings that limited women’s professions to medicine, teaching or nursing, those like “Laṛkiyan” encouraged women’s participation in traditionally male-dominated fields such as engineering and law which had a dearth of women. In suggesting various career paths, these writers asked women to limit their purdah (veiling, seclusion) and venture out in the public sphere without compromising their family honor. This paper will analyze such writings in Urdu periodicals in order to understand conversations surrounding women’s belongingness in the new nation-state, and how they could contribute to the idea of “Pakistani-ness”.