Un/Veiling and the Politics of Resistance in the Public Sphere: A Critical Study of Mumtaz Shah Nawaz The Heart Divided.

Byline: Khurshid Alam

In this paper, I have analyzed The Heart Divided by Mumtaz Shah Nawaz through the postcolonial lens to trace the trajectory of the resistance of Muslim woman in the public sphere. The story revolves around three female characters Zohra, Sughra (the siblings) and a Hindu girl Mohni. The domestic space in Muslim household is divided into Zenana(the space specified for women) and Mardana (the space for men). Muslim women cannot cross this border line in the practice of daily life. And if ever, they go out, they have to veil their faces. My argument is that through the removal of the veil, Shah Nawaz explores the possibility of the participation of Muslim women in the public sphere. The trope of marriage serves as the site of contestation between the traditional Muslim patriarchal demands and the feminine desire to subvert it. Sughra, in the beginning of the novel, cherishes the ideals of a traditional Muslim woman who finds fulfillment through marriage.

But the experience of a loveless marriage changes her views regarding the traditional gender roles in Muslim family structure. As an estranged wife, she finds refuge in the political struggle of the Muslim League. Zohra also refuses to accept the proposal of an arranged marriage. The veil is lifted both in the literal and metaphorical sense. Both the sisters are agreed to resist the patriarchal demands of conformity and decide to participate in the public sphere. Thus, the lifting of veil becomes symbolic of feminist resistance against patriarchal oppression which insists on confining women only to the private sphere of their lives.

The Heart Divided was published posthumously in 1957, almost after ten year of the creation of Pakistan. Hence it can be treated as a postcolonial text that looks at the genesis of the demand for Pakistan and also the social, political and cultural conditions that created maladjustments between the Hindus and the Muslims in every sphere of their lives. The novel is set in the backdrop of 1940, covering the span of seventeen year of the Muslim struggle against the oppressive colonial regime of the British on the one hand, and the Congress' insistence to be the representative of the Indian people on the other. Lahore, the historical and cultural embodiment of Muslim identity serves as the locale. Sheikh Jamaluddin and his wife Mehrunissa, live at Nishat Manzal with their two daughters, Sughra and Zohra and their only son Habib. It is a traditional Muslim family where the women observe purdah(veil) and domestic space is further divided into Zenana (where the women of the family live) and Mardana (for men).

The reader can find a structural similarity between the households depicted in Twilight in Delhi and The Heart Divided. In both the texts, the domestic spaces are divided in terms of gender i.e. Zenana (Women) and Mardana (Men). This division furthers the impression of the Muslim desire to marginalize women only to the private sphere of their lives. The women of the Sheikh family are strictly purdah (veil) observing but the mistress of the house is afraid of the "evil influence" of the Western life style. Mehrunnisa, like Mir Nihal, disapproves of the colonial education and its social manners, especially the dresses, as these new-fangled ideas (Shahnawaz 3) are a threat to their peculiar ways of Muslim life. Observing Purdah or veiling one's face thus becomes a mark of identity. And ignoring this dress code tantamount to violating the sanctity of the home and its Muslim traditions. Mehrunnisa feels worried:

She was always afraid of her younger daughter in whom she could see the beginnings of those strange modern ways that had already entered some Muslim families. Besides, she did not quite approve of her friendship with Surraya whose family has cast off the veil and went to shops and restaurants with their faces uncovered. How shameless they were, and she thought, yet they belong to an old and respectable Muslim family. (2)

Sheikh Jamaluuddin, on the other hand was an admirer of the West (3). He was the first man from his family to go abroad for higher education. So contrary to his wife, he is seemingly more liberal and enlightened. He does not oppose women education but believes in observing the...

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