Bulleh Shah

The poetry of Bulleh Shah is both profound and mesmerising. A Sufi poet living in 17th century Sindh, which is now in Pakistan, followed the teaching of great Sufi poets like Shah Hussain. Bulleh Shah’s life and work is well documented, from his love for his teacher to suffering banishment. The tyrannical reign of the Mogul emperor Aurengzeb profoundly shaped the thoughts of Bulleh Shah and he remains an original thinker. His writing is timeless, touching on the realms of truth and reality. A profound critic of the establishment, including religious leaders his work continues to be relevant today. Crevasses, fault-lines, fissures of the human soul are the points of discussion in much of this great Sufi poet’s work. His most famous being “Bulleh! To me I am not known”. Enjoy.

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

Not a believer inside the mosque, am I
Nor a pagan disciple of false rites
Not the pure amongst the impure
Neither Moses, nor the Pharaoh

Not in the holy Vedas, am I
Nor in opium, neither in wine
Not in the drunkard’s intoxicated craze
Neither awake, nor in a sleeping daze

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

In happiness nor in sorrow, am I
Neither clean, nor a filthy mire
Not from water, nor from earth
Neither fire, nor from air, is my birth

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

Not an Arab, nor Lahori
Neither Hindi, nor Nagauri
Hindu, Turk, nor Peshawari
Nor do I live in Nadaun

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

Secrets of religion, I have not known
From Adam and Eve, I am not born
I am not the name I assume
Not in stillness, nor on the move

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

I am the first, I am the last
None other, have I ever known
I am the wisest of them all
Bulleh! do I stand alone?

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

Reading Lolita in Tehran

“For nearly two years, almost every Thursday morning, rain or shine, they came to my house, and almost every time, I could not get over the shock of seeing them shed their mandatory veils and robes and burst into colour. When my students came into that room, they took off more then their scarves and robes. Gradually, each one gained an outline and a shape, becoming her own inimitable self. Our world in that living room with its window framing my beloved Elburz Mountains became our sanctuary… We read Persian classical literature, such as the tales of our own lady of fiction, Scheherazade, from a Thousand and One Nights, along with Western classics – Pride and Prejudice, Madam Bovary, Daisy Miller, The Dean’s December and, yes, Lolita”.

In her introduction to Reading Lolita in Tehran – a memoir in books, Azar Nafisi recreated a world full of hope doomed to remain with the realms of sorrow. Gathering a motley crew of students from the University of Tehran (which Nafisi resigned from), both Nafisi and her students took great risks of being discovered at their regular literature class reading banned classics.

First published in 2003, Reading Lolita in Tehran gave first hand account of what it was like to live in revolutionary Iran. A remarkable book about books, Reading Lolita illustrates Nafisi’s talent and magic of pinning each word down to have depth and meaning, nothing is wasted, nothing is written for the sake of writing. Her talent lies in her courage and her ability to construct without compromise or false memory, a time within her memory of how there really were moments of fearless living.

Reading Lolita in Tehran – a memoir in books written by Azar Nafisi is published by Fourth Estate publications.

Hate Crimes in Delhi Against “Kothis”

Dear Friends,

Sunil Gupta sent an alert through about a series of hate crimes against “Kothis”. There is a campaign being run by Saheli Women’s Resource Centre in New Delhi against these crimes and your support would be greatly appreciated.

Women’s Groups Condemn Attack On Kothis

We are shocked to hear about the attack on 3 kothis in Kolkata a few days ago. Seen as ‘effeminate’ men with ‘perverse’ sexual desires for men, once again kothis have had to face brutality. They were going to a park when they were attacked by a gang of 20-25 unidentified men. The brutal attack has left all of them bruised and injured, and one of them, Dhiman Roy, has sustained serious injuries. Needless to say, all of them, and the community at large is deeply traumatised by the attack.

The entire episode is being portrayed by the police as a stray incident, but we all are aware that such incidents of hate crimes against those who are seen to break social rules relating to who can desire whom and how men and women should look and behave happen all the time, all over the country. In most cases, the victims of such crimes are silenced and unable to seek justice due to both, the climate of intolerance against those oppressed on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity that exists all around, as well as the increased vulnerability of sexual minorities caused by Sec. 377 of the IPC – an archaic law that criminalises even consensual same-sex sexual activity.
As women’s groups, we condemn this act of gender based violence and express our solidarity with all those who suffer oppression because of their gender identity and sexual orientation. We also assert their right to safety and justice at par with every citizen in the country.

In this particular incident, we demand the police take action in identifying and proceeding with the due course of law against the attackers, without any delay. We also demand that in the future, prompt action should be taken against people who intimidate, harass and blackmail people of different sexual orientations.

We lend our support and lodge our protest!
In solidarity,

  • Aalochana Centre for Documentation and Research on Women, Pune
  • Aawaaz-e-Niswaan, Mumbai
  • Akshara, Mumbai
  • Forum Against Oppression of Women (FAOW), Mumbai
  • Jagori, New Delhi
  • Kalanjium Unorganised Workers’ Union, Tamilnadu
  • Lesbians and Bisexuals in Action (LABIA), Mumbai
  • Nirantar, New Delhi
  • North East Network, New Delhi
  • Olakh, Baroda
  • Point of View, Mumbai
  • Rahi, New Delhi
  • Saheli, New Delhi
  • Sahiyar (Stree Sanghthan), Gujarat
  • Sama, New Delhi
  • Swayam, Kolkata
  • SANGRAM, Maharashtra 
  • Tamilnadu Resource Team, Tamilnadu
  • Vacha, Mumbai
  • VAMP, Maharashtra
  • Vanangana, Uttar Pradesh 
  • Women’s Centre, Mumbai
  • Women’s Collective, Tamilnadu

Saheli Women’s Resource Centre
Above Shop Nos. 105-108
Under Defence Colony Flyover Market (South Side)
New Delhi 110 024
Phone: +91 (011) 2461 6485
E-mail: saheliwomen@hotmail.com

Fugitive and Cloistered Virtue

The new translation of the famous Malleus Maleficarum, or ‘The Hammer of the Witches’ that has recently become available, illuminates the mind of the writer and the subsequent persecutions. Written in 1486, the Malleus became the bible of the witch hunters and used ‘blasphemy’ as a point of entry to terrorize and torture their victims. An extremely disturbing book, the advocacy of violence towards women in particular is shocking. This highly controversial book is said to have sent mostly women, many men, gypsies and anyone who didn’t fit into to the norm to their death. Although debate is still rife as to how many were killed, the trials at Salem in America are famously documented and illustrate the extent of what one human being can do to another.

Blasphemy played a key role to accuse and punish, and if you look closely at the word blasphemy, break its Latin components down, I believe it reads ‘stupid woman’. And since the roots of blasphemy are inherently about doubting the interpretations of the word of god or the sheer act of transgression, the word manages to travel effortlessly across all religions. And women have historically been dealt the card of being at the root of all evil, so that explains the construction of the word.

As words evolve they take on a character and standing, managing to strike a blow when called upon. Men and women throughout history have stood up against oppressive forces, questioning their interpretation of religious texts. Many of these opposing voices ended up being crushed or silenced.

“Estimates of the death toll during the Inquisition worldwide range from 600,000 to as high as 9,000,000 (over its 250 year long course); either is a chilling number when one realizes that nearly all of the accused were women, and consisted primarily of outcasts and other suspicious persons. Old women. Midwives. Jews. Poets. Gypsies. Anyone who did not fit within the contemporary view of pious Christians were suspect, and easily branded “Witch”. Usually to devastating effect.”  Introduction to the online edition available at www.malleusmaleficarum.org

Although our world is far from that of the 1400’s but on reflection what can future generations’ highlight about our understanding of the need for freedom of speech? The brutality of regimes throughout the world employs both sophisticated and crude methods of weeding out the non-conformist. Communalism, ethnic cleansing, censorship of anyone who would want to doubt and question scriptures are rife. Although no one has been burnt alive due to being a witch, many are killed for reasons of going against religious and cultural beliefs.

Writing almost 200 hundred years after the publication of the Malleus, John Milton, the poet was still pleading against censorship. An extraordinary poet and visionary and a devout Christian of the puritanical strain – he wrote passionately about the dangers of censorship: ‘I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary.’

And in another work he wrote: “Though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do ingloriously, by licensing and prohibiting, to misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple: who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?”

Cleverly using the idea of truth in the feminine, Milton clearly understood and demonstrated how easy it was to crush that voice. Merely questioning or uttering what might appear to be blasphemous even today can still cost a life; in many parts of the world a ‘medieval’ state of being exists. Perhaps we have to wait for another four hundred years before we reach the enlightened state that John Milton possessed with such intelligence and grace.