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					Deconstructing the Colonial Representation in “The Holy Woman”

The paper examines the representations of women who deny the traditional role of the wife and
mother to assert their identity and free will. My focus will be on the problematic representations
of the women in Qaisra Sharaz’s work “The Holy Woman”. The concept of representation as it
stands in contemporary literary theory (Heck:1980) is not a representation of reality, rather an
autonomous system of codes and symbols referring to the materiality of codes and symbols
themselves. While doing the analysis, I will compare the fixed colonial attitude towards making
a woman “holy” as an instance of ritualized violence towards women, in comparison with the
theoretical considerations by Gyatri Chakravorty Spivak (Spivak: 1985)and Fatima Mernissi.
The examination of Qaisra Sharaz’s work that I undertake in this essay leads to the realization
that it is, ironically, through this seclusion and deviation, a woman exercises her free will and
rejects the patriarchy. The construction of the subjugated picture of women by making them
“Holy,” as proposed in the novel, is a foreclosure for the expression and fulfillment of their
physical desires; but to identify someone as “woman” is already to have defined her as a passive
character devoid of any desire. I trace in this essay the intertwining of gender and politics of
representation as it shapes the subject of “Holy Woman”


The representation of women in the formerly colonized parts of the world has been an issue of a
heated debate. The publication of the Holy Women in 2003 brought out the question of
representations of women in Pakistan in particular and Islam in general. In the light of
Althusser’s concept of Ideology (Althusser:1971), Hall’s theory regarding the media
representation (Hall:1972), Said’s deconstruction of the image of Orient (1978), Indian Literary
theory (Spivak: 1985) it can be argued that the representation of women in colonial and post
colonial literatures is not a fixed reality as is usually claimed. On the contrary, such
representation is highly politicized and ambivalent. The gendering of that representation is
governed by the power relations and is highly motivated.

Ideologically Motivated Representations in Colonial Discourses:

Heck (1980) quotes Althusser’s definition of Ideology as follows:

“Ideology is a system of representation, but in majority of cases, these representations have
nothing to do with the consciousness. They are images and occasionally concepts but it is above
all, as structures, that they impose on the vast majority of men, not via their consciousness.”

What Althusser pointing out is that the ideology operates through the binary structures inherent
unconsciously through cultural practices and discourses. However, ideology is recognizable only
when it becomes a code. Barthes (1967) refers to Hjelmsleve and observes that the process of
signification takes place as an interrelation of signifier with the signified. He talks about the
denotative and the connotative level of signification and concludes that there is a second order
system called “myth”. Heck (1980) defines it as “connotations which have become dominant-
hegemonic.” Colonial discourses establish the hegemony of the colonizer by creating motivated
representations, governed by particular ideologies.

The colonial discourse identified women as oppressed by the cultural norms and ideologies
inherent in them (Rajan: 2001) Furthermore, the same ideology promoted patriarchic tyranny,
logically justifying white man’s rule. The representation of subjugation of women by ritualized
violence not only legitimizes the uprooting the culture of the colonized but the oppression by the

Electronic media representations around the globe are reinforcing the image of the women
subjugated by Islam. Hollywood movies produced in post 9/11 scenario are examples of it. The
movies like Black Hawk Down, The Jarhead, The Kingdom and The Siege present Muslim
bodies as pre-historic, uncivilized, barbaric, and oppressors of women (Aguayo, Volume 2, Issue
2, p.p 41-56) Razack (2008) points out that three types of figures dominate the movie
representations of “war on terror”: The dangerous Muslim men, the “imperiled” Muslim women
and the “civilized” European. Haideh Moghissi (1999) points out that the Oriental woman is
represented in literature as an impassive, undemanding and insensate being, her mystery never
failed to charm, her resources never exhausted. Jack Shaheen (2001) notes that the popular
media in general and Hollywood in particular is constructing the identities of Muslim women as
eroticized maidens. Edward Said (1978) points out that Oriental woman is represented as a
subject of male power fantasy. She represents unlimited sensuality and cannot resist a white man.

Aguayo refers to Gottshalk and Greenberg and argue that the stereotypical representations of
Muslims are extended to the editorial cartoons promoting Islamophobia. The analysis of the
discourses in newspapers reveal similar motivated representations of Muslims (Van Dijk: 1991,
1993, Said:1991) Ironically the media representations, not only in the U.S. but in Middle East
and Pakistan are also reinforcing the colonial discourses. The representation of “imperiled
women” in traditional Sindhi ceremony of Hak Bakshwana is an example of it. Asharq alawsat
in its 22-07-07 edition writes:

“The phenomenon has caused much controversy throughout Pakistan as the government is
seeking to ban such practice. However, some families encourage “marriage to Quran” to prevent
a woman from marrying any person.

Women who are married to the Holy Quran are not allowed to have a relationship with a man or
to marry anybody. Moreover, men fear being cursed if they have a relationship with a woman
who is married to the Quran.”

Daily Times edition of March 13, 2007 report:
“Fareeba, who is a very pretty girl and was then around 25 years old, was dressed as a typical
bride, with red, sequined clothes, jewellery and mehndi patterns on her hands and feet but over
all this she was draped in an enveloping dark chaddor. There was music and lots of guests but no
groom,’’ Zubaida, 33, was quoted as saying by IRIN, the UN information unit in a report.

The tradition under which Fareeba was `wed’ is known as `Haq Bakshish’, which literally
translates into giving up the right to marry. Families use Haq Bakshish to prevent property
leaving the family when a girl weds someone who is not a relative.”

Due to the mix of religious societies, a number of Hindu traditions have remained amongst other
communities even after the sovereign Islamic state of Pakistan gained independence and some
argue that the practice of marriage to an inanimate holy object, in this case the Quran, emerged
from Hindu practices. However, this is a point of contention as the opinions of historians differ
over the roots of this phenomenon. It is likely that this practice is part of the traditions of Sindh
rather than Hinduism. In Sindh, which is so far dominated by the system of tribal chiefs or a
sophisticated tribal system, a tribal chief owns a large piece of land and has the right to
determine the destiny and future of farmers considering that he owns both the land and its

The voices from the marginalized insist on reversal of the motivated representations. It can be
best illustrated in the theories of Subaltern Studies group, which postulate that the signifier of
sacrifice, for example, in the case of sati, is not attached to the signified of suicide, in the
ideological constructs of Hinduism, rather such representations result from “the othering” created
through the colonizer’s perspective. Another such perspective is taken by Fatima Mernissi, who
argues that controlling the sexuality of the women in Muslim Society is the result of struggle of
power resulting from the changing geo political scenario in the Muslim World. She, taking up
the notion of Foucault, Spivak and Pennycook, is of the view that the myth of male power is, and
can be challenged by representing identity in the context of a different perspective on reality.
Hence, the traditional symbols, such as veiling the women, is not a return to archaic, rather a
signifier acquiring different meanings as a result of urbanization and education of women.
Razack (2008) argues that western feminists become agents in the war on terror (after 9/11) as
they propagate the subjugation of Muslim women in the name of customs and traditions,
justifying the white man’s rule on the account of saving Muslim women. Zillah Einstein points
out: “The women all over the world command their rights and freedoms on their own grounds-
the assistance of the West and its women does not aid in this recognition nor does it enlighten
Muslim women to discover that abuse or violence upon their bodies is an outright violation.”
(Einstein, 2002: 96)

In the next section, I will highlight the dialectical method as a mode of analysis and how it can
serve as an agency in the power politics of the novel.

Dialectical Method:
The term “Dialectical Method” refers to a kind of process and to a mode of analysis. The former
goes back to Plato and Socratic dialogues, in which logical propositions were formulated.
G.W.F. Hegel made famous the idea of an interplay between thesis and antithesis that yield to
synthesis, while Karl Marx put this idea into social terms when he theorized a dialectic struggle
between classes that would yield a classless society. Materialist analysis employs a dialectical
method in which the critic seeks to understand the interplay of social and cultural forces in
concrete material circumstances and conflict was seen as a struggle towards freedom. Fanon
focuses both the situation of the colonized and the strategies of the colonizer, intervening on a
dialectic process that replicates this process discursively. Gyatri Chakravorty Spivak’s “Can the
Subalterns Speak” emphasize the affiliation of post colonialism with post structuralism. This
approach aims at studying how the binaries such as Colonizer/ Colonized, Oppressor/ Oppressed
are fluid and share the qualities of each other. . Bhabha has asserted that the colonized is
constructed within a disabling ‘master discourse.”However, the voice of the colonized can be
recovered by the strategy of mimicry and appropriation of “the other”. Mikhail Bakhtin, in his
work The Dialogic Imagination mentions the conflictual and dialogic nature of society. The
multiplicity of voices aims at studying where the oppressor becomes oppressed.

The multiplicity of the voices also aim at presenting the contrasting representation from that of
colonial discourse. In the next section, I will highlight the representations of subjugation of
women in the popular media in comparison with its representation in the novel. After that, I will
take into account the representation of female sexuality and its control by means of tools such as
veil in the power politics of patriarchy. In the end, I will highlight how the various female
characters in the novel are engaged in dialogic relationship with their “others” to assert their
identity and free will.

Re conceptualizing the Subjugation:

Zarri Bano, appears before us as a strongly located self, always in contrast to “the other (Gilbert).
The position of the othering is created by creating a parallel between her and various other
characters, such as Sikander, Rubi, Sakina, Firdous and Kaniz. She is even introduced in first
chapter as a very individual woman, who is defying patriarchy by exercising her will to attend
mela and not covering herself:

“The woman made no move to put it (veil) back, ignoring the convention of covering her head in
a public place amidst a group of men.

There were no other women present at the mela, apart from three elderly ladies, for it was not
common or socially acceptable for young women to join openly in all male set of activities”
(p.16. my emphasis)

Here she appears in contrast with the typical representation of subjugated women. The defiance
continued as she addresses Sikander in person during his visit at her home and later goes to live
at his place to make a decision about her marriage. Habib intends to exercise his will in not
allowing her to marry Sikander, but even here, he appears to be a caring father and far from
being the typically represented barbarian:

“I will not let anyone do anything to cause her any pain or insult her in any way.”

In the next section, I will discuss how the subject constitutive reality of a woman is created by
means of re writing the colonial discourse.

Signifier of the Holy Woman:

The “holy woman” is the central metaphor that keeps on signifying different realities in different
situations. What is equally important is the fact that the condition is not a compulsion, rather it is
adopted as a strategy to confront the situation resulting from the death of Jafar. The phenomenon
is resonant in Spivak’s studies of “The Rani of Sirmur” and the representation of Sati in it. Like
Sati, making a woman holy is not a fate of every woman, rather for exceptional few. The practice
like Sati, is coded as an act of exceptional sacred practice, or pilgrimage. Furthermore, Sati, like
the ritual of making a woman holy, is an abdication of woman’s free will. (Stephen Morton: . pp

Shahzada, the mother of Zarri Bano calls it “zulm”, “sacrifice” “deprivation of marriage with
Sikander and loss of bliss” (p.p 67) in keeping with the tradition of colonial representation,
however, Habib juxtaposes different realities associated with the ritual, in keeping with the
cultural practice.

“The most pure, devout, scholarly and revered by all”

Besides the abstract notions, an economic and monetary attribute is attached to the signifier of
the Holy woman; she is equated with the male heir, inheriting the land and property.
Consequently, the very act of subjugation results in elevation of her status. She is very much an
object of men’s reverence and admiration, as Habib says:

“How fascinated he had been by that woman and the fame and reverence she had elicited from
every man..”

The discourse further reveals certain other signifieds of Holy woman such as “marriage with the
fields’ and “denial of sexual pleasures consequently resulting in emancipation as Habib says:

“ As a normal woman or wife, you will be tied to one man..” (p.p85)

The concept of marriage with fields is itself of wider implication as it signifies not only
inheritance but the creation of customs, traditions and ethos of village life which is usually
attributed to men:

“Did you not know that men are true creators in our culture. They mould our lives and destinies
according to their own whims and fancies.”
So Zarri Bano becomes the actant of the society by being the heiress and role model (creator of
customs) and by getting the reverence of men through manipulating patriarchal decisions.
Furthermore, denying of sexuality becomes her strategy to acquire Ph. D from Cairo University,
hence the power of creating knowledge about the Islamic jurisprudence which in the first place
was made the logic of her oppression.

Identity Construction and the Signifier of Veil:

The veil becomes an important signifier in the politics of gendering. Mernissi points out that the
concept of Veil is three-dimensional in Islamic jurisprudence. The first dimension is visual i.e. to
physically hide from the sight, the second dimension is spatial- to mark the boundary or to
separate and the third is ethical which belongs to the realm of the forbidden. In keeping with the
argument, Ali(1993) points out that purdah aims at restricting the movement of Muslim women
by confining them to domestic sphere. However, in Sufism, “Mahjub” (the veiled) is the one who
is trapped in earthly reality, the opposite of which is “Kashaf” (self discovery). Several examples
from Holy Quran can be quoted in this context to prove that there is a strongly negative
connotation attached to the concept of veiling, such as:

“And they [the polytheists] say: Our hearts are protected from that unto which thou (O
Muhammad) callest us, and in our ears there is a deafness, and between us and thee, there is a
veil” So veil is something that diminishes human intelligence. In the course of the novel, the veil,
as an attribute of patriarchy, is presented with strongly negative connotations:

“Can any woman look lovely in this garment? I loathe this clothe, Sister Sakina. It burns my

Wearing the veil epitomized denial of fashion. Even Habib hates the garment as he “loathes the
shapeless sack” because it made her daughter look like a “ghost” (p.165)

The ceremony of veiling requires a woman to dress up as a bride and then wear a veil over her
bridal dress. Holland et all(1998) suggest that women construct distinct and hybrid identity in the
backdrop of traditional roles which was often dichotomous and at times, fragmented. The
symbolism inherent in dressing up as a bride and wearing a veil over it, suggests creating a split
personality, feminity and matrimony controlled by means of male interpretation of Islamic
jurisprudence. However, Zarri Bano decides to strip away her feminity and with it, her sexual
desire; hence denying those very things which resulted in her subjugation in the first place. Later
she decides to cut her locks, to adhere completely to her new role- the role of a combatant in the
power politics. At the wedding ceremony of Ruby, she dresses up and dances like other girls,
denying her role of holy woman, so her identity is highly fluid and keeps on changing.

“ I have my pride too, Sister Sakina. Nobody can take that away from me. I will not do all their
bidding. There is a bit of Zarri Bano that I will retain all the time, even though, I will kill and
burry the rest. And that is m personal pride and integrity.” (p.p146)
When she marries Sikander, her dichotomous personality is evident again through her indecision
of which dress to wear:

“At the moment, I am struggling to make sense of minor details and changes in my lifestyle. For
instance, I found myself debating whether I should wear a dull colored suit, as I have done for
the past five years, or to switch over to these pastel shades and bright deep colors. Yet my mind
shies away from them. Until now, I have gone everywhere in my burqa; now I am requested to
discard it at home. I am so used to the burqa, feel so totally happy and safe behind it, Mother,
that without it I feel naked and disorientated, very conscious of my body and its shape.” (p.p443)

Later, she throws away her bright colored clothes and adheres to her burqa, as a symbol of her
free will, so veil becomes a strategy for her emancipation

Furthermore, she denies the spatial boundary of Hijab and travels abroad for higher studies. This
is a luxury which is denied to her sister Ruby and results in her jealousy. So Hijab acquires a new
meaning as a domain- the veil was intended to assert the spatial boundary but ironically it
becomes the protagonist’s source of transcendence of the spatial boundary, a liberty longed for
by her sister.

. Mohsin Makhmalbaf, in his critique of the movie Kandahar (2001) postulate that there are
particular circumstances or contexts where women have deliberately chosen to wear veil. During
the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the women of Iran chose to wear a veil as a sign of solidarity
with their working class sisters. It is a “context specific strategy” however, a strategy suits a
situation, a strategy is not a theory (Spivak 1993: 4)

The Sexuality and Politics of Power :

The sexuality of woman has always been the subject of a heated debate in Post colonial literature
as its dynamics are routed in the socio-political and cultural factors. In the novel under
discussion, the sexuality of the central character Zarri Bano is controlled by labeling her as
possession of her male counterparts, by attaching the concept of “honor” with her and by
exploiting the holy texts. However, by the end of the novel, a self-imposed control over her
sexual desires enable Zarri Bano to exercise her free will.

Fatima Marnissi, in her work “Beyond the Veil: Male-Female Dynamics of Muslim Society”
mentions that the female sexuality is controlled by male domains of power. The self
representation and Identity construction of Habib, in terms of his clan’s grandeour and wealth,
demanded the complete control of sexuality of his daughter. Only then he could make believe the
fact that the women of his clan, the subjects of his power as well as his lands will escape erosion
of time and social change. Shahzada points out that Habib hated Sikander because he considered
him a rival in her daughter’s affections.
“He was afraid of losing you to him. He glimpsed something in your eyes that he had never seen
before for any other suitor and simply couldn’t cope with it.” (p.p 445)

The sexuality of Zarri Bano is controlled by attaching the concept of “honor, Izzat and Asmat”
with her. Habib points out:

“That life (married life) in no way can compare to the izzat, the honour and the fame that your
new role will bring to you.” (p.p 86)

It might be also pointed out that socially and culturally, the rejection of this patriarchal myth
results in violence perpetuated on women’s bodies; honor killings are an example of it. As Bapsi
Sidhwa writes:“Victories are celebrated on women’s bodies and revenge is taken on women’s
bodies.” The concept of honor demands a complete negation of sexual desires on the part of the
woman. Habib taunts Zarri Bano of desiring a man; the shame of it makes her give him up.The
gendering of the sexes is reinforced by manipulating the Holy Quran. Mernissi describes this
scenario by quoting several examples from history and concludes:

“Not only the sacred texts have always been manipulated, but the manipulation of them is the
structural characteristic of the practice of power in Muslim societies. Since all power, from
seventh century on, was only legitimated by religion, political forces and economic interests
pushed for the fabrication of false traditions” (1987:9)

In the present context, the Holy Quran is used to reinforce the control of sexuality of Zarri Bano.
She is married to Quran, signifying that if she ever tries to reject the tyranny, the act would be
equivalent to the betraying of the sacred text. The sacred texts are misinterpreted to represent
sexuality as “Fitna” or disruption in the devoutness or the love of God. The love of God is
contrasted with the love of man and consequently should be relinquished.

The central character is represented initially as exotic maiden, represented in terms of her body
parts such as emerald-green eyes (274), tide of color suffusing her cheeks (p.p49)dimple, slender
neck, beautiful face, or in terms of her clothes ( black shalwar kameez, a matching black chiffon
dupata, flowing shahrarah outfit, with a long red chiffon skirt and white matching tunic). It is
also observed that in the three intimate scenes happening between Zarri Bano and Sikander,
before she became the Holy Woman, she is represented as the passive recipient of love and
Sikander as the agent. Furthermore, Sikander is seen to exercise that control over Zarri Bano by
arousing those passionate feelings in her. An example of such incident is when Sikander visits
her to dissuade from becoming Holy Woman:

“..Sikander took her hand in his and held it between his palms. Her heart was beating powerfully
but she made no attempt to draw her hand back. When he raised it to his lips, she felt a warm
glow light up inside her, fanning the rose garden of her heart to bloom again. She closed her
eyes. He continued to journey over her face.” (p.p127)
Hence, before she becomes a holy woman, she is very much an image of fantasized orient
woman.Barthes points out that the myths are presented through a system of signifiers creating a
particular reality. The notion of creating a reality, according to Mernissi, implies creating
meaning of the world and thus exercising power over others. Foucault describes the concept of
power as:

“Power must be understood in the first instance as the multiplicity of force relations immanent in
the sphere in which they operate and which constitute their own organization: as the process
which, through ceaseless struggle and confrontations, transforms, strengthens, or even reverses
them; as the support which these force relations find in one another, thus forming a chain or a
system, or on the contrary, the disjunctions and contradictions which isolate them from one
another; and lastly, as the strategies in which they take effect, whose general design or
institutional crystallization is embodied in the state apparatus, in the formulation of the law, in
the various social hegemonies.”

What Foucault suggests is the fact that our society is governed by power relations and the
oppressed also exercise agency. Zarri Bano starts exercising a control over her own sexuality as
an expression of her free will and to conform to her role as a learned scholar of Islam, devoted to
Ibadah. She refuses to marry Musa for the same reason. Later when she marries Sikander, she
refuses to give in to her urges. Zubair (2006, Journal of South Asian Development) points out
that young women in Pakistan in general and Southern Punjab in particular exercise a deliberate
and self-imposed control over their sexuality to conform to socially acceptable roles. They
exhibit a very rational approach towards love and marriage because they do not want their
families or themselves to lose face in the society. The narrative under discussion aims at
rewriting the colonial discourse of presenting the third world women as exotic maidens, subject
of male power fantasy. In keeping with this aim, the protagonist’s decision of wearing a veil is a
tool of combating the patriarchal notions of normalcy attached only to a sexually attractive
female body:

“Once my whole life was devoted to looking good, and presenting a glamorous smart image to
the public world. Now I am content with simple burqa. I do not dress to please others and in
deference to them. Thank you for your question, Sister Jane. The veil has always perplexed and
tantalized the Western world, both men and women alike. It is a disconcerting phenomenon for
them as much now as it ever was. Westerners have always misunderstood the reason why women
wear it. To add insult to injury, they see it as a symbol of male oppression-a widely accepted
stereotyped myth. They think that women are forced to wear it by their men folk.”

Habib and later Sikander try to dissuade her from wearing Hijab, but she continues to wear it as
it is the symbol of her emancipated identity.

In the patriarchal politics, an equally important role is played by the mother in law in regulating
the sexuality of her daughter in law and the consequent dialogic relationship established. I will
now look at the dynamics of this relationship and how it is represented in the novel under

Dialogic Relationship between Mother- in- Law and Daughter- in- Law:

The story is typically postcolonial as it presents the dialectic process between the “oppressors”
and the “oppressed”. We also notice that in accordance with the tenants of Post Structuralism,
the two binaries are fluid and share the qualities of each other. This quality is the result of
dialogic relations between the oppressor and the oppressed; traditionally passive “oppressed” is
questioning and challenging his ill treatment and trying to be as powerful as the “oppressor”.
When looked at in this way, the story becomes a message of hope for the under privileged as it
teaches them to question the authority and hegemony of the oppressor. In this section, my focus
will be limited on the representation of three characters Kaniz, Firdaus and Fatima because I
want to high light the decisive role played by the mother of the husband (Kaniz) in the lives of
her son and daughter in law and the “agency” exercised reciprocally by the daughter in law
(Firdaus). In the current situation, the mother of the bride, Fatima is also a part of power politics
as she was the beloved of Kaniz’z husband before marriage. The trio of the three female
characters presents an interesting scenario of the power politics. Psychanalytic theory has
identified the relationship with the mother as a deciding factor in the development of “normal’
sexuality i.e. heterosexual relationship. Philip Slater in his cross cultural studies postulate that
there are two types of societies. One type of society accents the mother child relationship, the
other, the marital bond. Traditionally speaking, Pakistani Society in general and Muslim society
in particular, falls into the first category, where the marriage institutionalizes the Oedipal split
between love and sex in a man’s life. However, the daughters in law exercise agency through
manipulation of men.

In the sub plot of the novel, we find out that a strong dialogic relationship is established between
the two women. Both take certain actions with clear orientations and with certain tools of
manipulation. In fact the episode of Kaniz and Firdaus is a power struggle between two women,
who start with different objectives but later learn to collaborate and share and respect each
other’s power. Khawar is only a passive male character whose fate is decided by the two women
he love. Kaniz plays a decisive role in the choice of a bride for her son, Khawar. The woman she
chooses is either of the two daughters of Habib as the match would be beneficial for Khawar in
material terms. However, an equally important factor is negating the woman who is a strong rival
in her son’s affections, Firdaus. As a result, Khawar leaves his home and goes to live in another
house. The strong emotional attachment with the son and the loneliness makes Kaniz bitter. She
takes revenge by verbally abusing Firdaus in her office. Firdaus takes advantage of her economic
independence and job and throws her out of the office. Kaniz is still not ready to be defeated by
her rival; this time she adopts a different tactic i.e. begging in front of Firdaus to marry her son.
The action is equal to sipping the poison but it is done with the orientation of having her son
back. Fatima again throws her out of the office. Khawar decides to give up his wish of marrying
Firdaus because of the ill treatment of his mother. Fatima begs forgiveness from both Kaniz and
Khawar and ultimately gets married to him. What is significant here is the fact that every action
of Kaniz and Fatima is motivated by achieving practical gains i.e. being Chaudhrani. Both “come
on knees” in front of each other for the same purpose.

The Minor Female Characters in the Novel:

Jasmine Zine points out that Muslim women’s bodies are being positioned in contemporary
discourses, not as actors in their own rights but as foils for modernity, civilization and freedom.
However, the novel under discussion presents even the minor female characters who are quite
modern and independent. Edward Said points out that the western representations of Eastern
women present a monolithic reality, frozen in time and place. The novel under discussion breaks
away from this trend as well, by presenting the women achieving emancipation gradually over
the generations in their own way. Zarri Bano goes abroad for getting higher education, an action
unimaginable in the times of her grandfather. Even in their traditional roles of wives, mothers
and daughters, they achieve emancipation over the years. The women like Shahzada and Siraj
Din’s wife are examples. Mernissi (1975) points out that traditionally, the relationship between
husband and wife is a power relationship. The husband is expected to give orders and wife is
expected to show obedience. The wife cannot expect fidelity from the husband. The husband is
not encouraged to love his wife or respect him or agree to her arguments. The wife is always
threatened by the fear of polygamy; the right to bring another wife conferred upon the Muslim
men. During the course of the novel, Shahzada is forced to be a complicit agent in her husband’s
plan of making her daughter a holy woman, because her husband threatened to divorce her. She
admits that she had lived with a terrible fear in the early years of her married life, that her
husband would fall in love with another woman. However, she exercises discursive power by
stopping to talk to her husband. Habib ultimately begs her forgiveness by touching her feet, but
she refuses to change her mind. On the contrary, Siraj Din’s wife, Zulaikha exercised a
discursive power by arguing with her husband and exerting her free will. Habib says:

“I have not dominated her (Shahzada) in the way you taught us to do and the way you dominated
our mother. I didn’t break Shahzada’s spirit- a thing you spent all your life endeavoring to do
with our mother but never quite succeeded. Mother stood up to you even on her death bed.”

 The case of Fatima, was a special one because her husband stayed at home and she played the
role of the bread earner for her family. Her husband, after breaking one of her legs in an accident
was forced to stay at home and Fatima got employment with Habib’s family. Her income sent
her son Sarfaraz to Dubai, Firdaus to an illustrious teaching college and Salma to study for two
years at a sewing college in the city. Fatima is very much loved by her husband even after
denying the traditional roles of women. The village matchmaker Kulsoom is an equally
independent woman as she earns her money by psychological manipulation of her clients. Her
financial status is highlighted by her possession of expensive clothes, such as Chiffon dupatta
and gold earrings. Similarly, Naimat Bibi, the village cook earns her money by cooking and
washing. She is divorced by her husband for her sterility but she is happy and contented with her
life, as she says: “I have no regret. I am a very independent, self sufficient, sort of women. I
could not have lived with his second wife, and helped to look after her brood. I am happy that he
has children now by another woman, but I have no maternal love for them nor do I begrudge
them.” Besides the menial jobs of washerwoman, matchmaker and cook, the women like
Firdaus and Kaniz are presented at the respectable positions of the headmistress of the school
and Chaudhrani of the village respectively. So, all the women in the novel are financially
independent and emotionally strong.
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