Fahmida Riaz, Pakistan's Progressive Urdu Writer, Dies Aged 73
File image of Fahmida Riaz | (Photo Credits: Facebook/Fahmida)

Lahore, November 23: Noted Pakistani progressive Urdu writer, poet and rights activist Fahmida Riaz, who spent nearly seven years in exile in India, has died in Lahore following a prolonged illness. She was 73.

Fahmida breathed her last at a local hospital in Lahore on Wednesday night, according to her family. She had been suffering from illness for the past few months.

Her funeral prayers were attended by scores of prominent individuals, including literary figures. She was buried at the Bahar Shah graveyard in Lahore.

Born in 1945 in a literary family of Meerut, UP, India her family settled in Pakistan's Hyderabad following her father's transfer to Sindh province.

She was hailed by many as a pioneer in feminist literature. She authored more than 15 books on fiction and poetry. Her first literary work 'Pather Ki Zuban' was published in 1967.

Her collection of poetry includes 'Dhoop', 'Pura Chand', 'Admi Ki Zindagi' and more. Her novels include ‘Zinda Bahar', ‘Godaavari' and ‘Karachi'. She was famous for her revolutionary and contrary to tradition poetry.

On her second collection of verse - Badan Dareeda -- published in 1973, she was accused of using erotic and sensual expressions in her poetry.

The liberal and politically charged content of 'Awaz' grabbed the attention of the regime of military dictator General Zia-ul Haq in early 1980s and both Fahmida and her husband Zafar were charged with various cases. The magazine was shut and Zafar was imprisoned.

Fahmida was faced with challenges due to her political ideology.

More than 10 cases were filed against her during Zia's dictatorship. She was charged with sedition under Section 124A of the Pakistan Penal Code.

Fahmida and her husband were arrested. Her fans bailed her out. Soon after her release on bail, she fled to India with her two small children and sister on the excuse of a Mushaira invitation.

Her friend renowned poet Amrita Pritam spoke to the then prime minister (late) Indira Gandhi which got her asylum. Her children went to school in India. She had relatives in India and her husband later joined her there after his release from the jail.

The family spent almost seven years in exile before returning to Pakistan after Zia's death on the eve of Benazir Bhutto's wedding reception. She was greeted with a warm welcome upon her return from exile.

During her exile, Fahmida had been poet in residence for Jamia Millia Islamia University in Delhi and it is during this period that she learnt to read Hindi.

After completing her education, she began working as a newscaster for Radio Pakistan.

Fahmida was encouraged and persuaded by her family to step into an arranged marriage after her 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 has one daughter from that marriage.

She has two children from her second marriage with Zafar, a leftist impressive political worker. She was not only an eminent progressive writer, considered as pioneer of feminist literature in Pakistan, but also a forceful voice of human rights and democracy.

Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari paid tributes to Fahmida's literary contribution. "Her poetry challenged traditionalism at so many levels as she reflected the voice and emotions of women unchained. Her sensitivity and often sensuality of expression was unique," she said.