By Manahel Ayyaz Khan
Under Zia-ul-Haq, journalism in Pakistan suffered as the press was put under strict regulation.
To talk about this period where media went under severe censorship, the Gurmani Centre at LUMS hosted a talk by the valued Urdu poetess and feminist, Kishwar Naheed, well known for her poem “Hum Gunahgaar Auratain”, on the 25th of October, 2019.
Naheed ran the audience through the “atrocities” against freedom of journalism that were carried out under Zia’s regime.
“The censorship under Zia was banning words like ‘zalim’ (tyrant),‘hukaamraan’ (ruler) and ‘shab’ (night) from newspapers and magazines,” Naheed narrated to the audience. The censorship of the first two emerged out of a fear of raising rebellion amongst the masses, while the latter connotated “sensuality” and hence, “vulgarity”. According to her, working as the editor of the prestigious literary magazine “Mahe Naw” under such issues was a feat. Moreover, those who tried to defy the orders of the government were jailed and even exiled.
Mrs. Naheed started publishing works inspired by authors and books that specifically contained the aforementioned “banned” words.
Another problem that, according to her, Mrs. Naheed faced as a young female editor of Mahe Naw was the misogynistic behaviors of her work colleagues. “When I published an article from one of Manto’s works, a senior ‘sahab’ called me up and told me that I was too young to be on such a key position for a big magazine. Additionally, he reprimanded me for publishing a ‘vulgar’ article.”
Mrs. Naheed’s everyday encounters with media censorship and chauvinism did not cripple her. Rather, she continued to work for freedom of expression while adopting a feminist role, through which she established herself as one of the most accomplished Pakistani poetesses who worked for free media.
When asked about her message for the upcoming generation, Mrs. Naheed commented, “You kids are our greatest assets. Understand your worth and value it. I am not saying that you pick a sword and leave for Jihad. What I mean is, start small. Maybe begin a start-up, or just stop littering. Anything that contributes to this country’s progress, do it! And remember, always express yourselves.”
While Naheed went onto have cordial conversations with the LUMS instructors, the student body present at the venue was seen immersed in exchanges about how her strong anecdote and message had made them an hour wiser and a lot more resolute in always voicing themselves.
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