What is feminism? How is it woven through poems, shayaris and songs written across ages and by various voices? Answering these questions and more, the first session of Asia’s first Feminist Poetry Festival organised by SheThePeople.TV had a memorable opening. It has Saumya Kulshreshtha, the founder of Poet’s Collective and Maha Varta in conversation with RJ Sayema who hosts one of the longest-running shows of Radio Mirchi, Purani Jeans. The session was titled “Hum Gunahgar Auratein“.
The session began with decoding and demystifying the idea of feminism. RJ Sayema said, “Feminism is not about bashing men but about achieving equality. Whether it is political equality, social equality or economic equality.” Adding further she said, “Feminism has ‘feminine’ because women are the most unequal in society. In order to achieve equality in society, women will have to be raised to an equal level as men.”
Role of men in feminism
Adding to it, Kulshreshtha said, “Men are feminists too. If we talk about shayari, many men have written progressive works.”
Adding to this, RJ Sayema said that male poets and writers were the harbingers of feminist ideologies. “Writers like Saadat Hasan Manto, Kaifi Azmi, Sahir Ludhianvi among others flared for the first time the idea that women should walk along with men and raise their voice against wrong.”
But where are women?
RJ Sayema said, “Women were so subservient in earlier times that they had to take permission to even speak. And this idea of seeking permission is what breeds the inequality. Even before a woman is born on this earth, she needs the permission of her father if he wants a daughter or not.”
RJ Sayema rightly said that women do not need to depend on others to achieve equality. “Some people also question me that can women achieve equality if they don’t involve men in their talks and struggles? My only answer to them is that men never required women to achieve their equality, then why should women. “
“And if it is a sin for a woman to seek equality, affirm her existence and celebrate her life without being dependent on anyone, ye gunah sar ankho par.“
Today, feminist poetry enables women to talk about women. “Feminist poetries talk about women who have decided to fight their own battles and achieve equality no matter what.” RJ Sayema counted on some of the versatile feminist writers like Ismat Chughtai, Fahmida Riaz, Ishrat Afreen and other Urdu female poets of the late 20th century.
Hum Gunahgar Auratein
With this, the idea of Gunahgar Auratein was unfolded through an Urdu poem by Kishwar Naheed, “Yeh Hum Gunahgar Auratein Hai” recited by RJ Sayema. The crux of the poem was that women who dare to speak and seek their rights by breaking down the subversive control of patriarchy are termed as gunahgar auratein (sinful women) as they transcend and threaten the patriarchal norms.
As Kulshreshtha said, “Throughout history, one of the ways in which women have been subjugated is by shaming and blaming them as sinful.”
“Before blaming women as sinful, look deep into their reasons and struggles. And even then if you want to call us sinful, yes we are sinful and happy. We will continue to banish everything that comes in our way, ” she added.
Why is poetry necessary?
Should a woman’s freedom just be a poetic subject? How can poetry be closer to reality? To this RJ Sayema answered by defining the essence and power of poetry. “When you read and connect with poetry, you meet your natural self that is unadulterated with worldly rules and customs.” She also said that for readers, feminist poetries are just deep questions about women equality but for the writers, it reflects the depth of their life experience.
On being asked that why are feminist writers considered as aggressive but never romantic, RJ Sayema said, “Feminist writers are as much romantic. But the aggression comes because feminist philosophy rooted in political connotations.”
“Feminism is a dream that we need to achieve, it is about gaining equal rights for which feminism has to be political. Aggression is inevitable because it is not easy for a woman to gain her rights. They have to be snatched, ” she said.
Ending remarks about Feminism
Closing the empowering session of feminist verses, RJ Sayema said, “We face disappointments in life because we expect others to bring the change. And that’s where we have to begin following the feminist ideology. We don’t have to be dependent on others for the change we want. We will bring the change by ourselves, first for our own self and then for the fellow women.”
“Every thought that makes us happy should raise one question – are we happy because we like it or because our fathers like it. And the honest answers will make us realise the shackles that have bound us. True, breaking those shackles will be painful. But that pain should be directed towards increasing the will power rather than abusing someone else. Then feminism will not be about male-bashing and men too will understand the meaning of feminism,” she signed off.