LAHORE - Noted poet Fahmida Riaz passed away at the age of 72 here on Wednesday evening. Her funeral prayers were offered after Asr prayers in Askari-1 on Thursday.

Fahmida passed away after a prolonged illness in Lahore, where she lived with her daughter. She was born on July 28, 1946 to a literary family of Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, British India. Her father, Riazuddin Ahmed, was an educationist, who had been involved in mapping and developing the modern education system for the province of Sindh. Her family settled in the city of Hyderabad following her father’s transfer to Sindh. Her father passed away when she was four and she was brought up by her mother.

Fahmida remained an activist in her academic life. She spoke and wrote against the ban on student politics during General Ayub’s regime. In the 1980s, she and her husband lived in exile in India after both of them were jailed by the dictator for their liberal and politically charged views.

She had been a prominent voice in the feminist struggle in Pakistan,.

In the second Benazir government, she was given a post at the Quaid-i-Azam Academy, which also ended when the government was dismissed.  Fahmida was the recipient of Al-Muftah Award at a graceful assembly of writers and social figures, presided over by Intezar Hussain at Karachi Gymkhana. The award, which also carries an amount of Rs100,000, was first given to famous poet Anwer Shaoor. Later, the award went to Munir Niazi, another well-known poet.

She was also forced to live in exile for over six years in India when former military dictator General Ziaul Haq ruled Pakistan. She studied Urdu and Sindhi literature in her childhood, and then she learnt Persian language. After completing her education, she began working as a newscaster for Radio Pakistan.

Fahmida was encouraged and persuaded by her family to step into an arranged marriage after her graduation. She spent some years in the United Kingdom with her first husband before getting divorce and coming back to Pakistan. During this period, she worked with the BBC Urdu service (Radio) and got a degree in filmmaking. She has two children from her second marriage with Zafar Ali Ujan, a Leftist political worker.

Her famous poetry collections include ‘Dhoop’, ‘Pura Chand’, ‘Admi Ki Zindagi’ and more. Her novels include ‘Zinda Bahar’, ‘Godaavari’ and ‘Karachi’.

Director General of the Punjab Institute of Language, Art and Culture (PILAC) Dr Sughra Sadaf said: “Fahmida Riaz was known for her feminist and unconventional views on social taboos, and struggled for women’s empowerment and democracy. Her work for women rights will be etched in history. Today, the country has lost a courageous and disciplined person who fought fearlessly for human rights.”

Renowned author Ayesha Siddiqa said: “Sad to lose another very lovely Khala, the dynamic Fahmida Riaz. She was brave, daring and a great person. Rest in peace, Khala. You will be missed in a land where people can no longer disagree and still live.”

PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb expressed sorrow over the demise of Fahmida and termed it a loss not only for literature but also for democracy.

PPP Senator Sherry Rehman expressed sadness at Fahmida’s passing. “She was a poet, activist and feminist in times of profound darkness for the free and creative voice. Her challenge to patriarchy was never ambiguous. May she rest in peace,” Sherry tweeted.

Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari paid tribute to Fahmida’s work, saying: “Her poetry challenged traditionalism at so many levels. She reflected the voice and emotions of women unchained.”

The HRCP stated: “Her commitment to women’s rights was integral to her poetry. She gave women in Pakistan a voice and a literary space that few others have since matched. Apart from her fierce feminism, she will be remembered as someone who stood up to General Ziaul Haq’s oppressive regime and shouldered human rights causes from the struggle for democracy and freedom of expression to the plight of forgotten communities. Her refusal to be cowed in the face of harassment, allegations of obscenity and even charges of sedition remain a lesson in moral courage for us all.”

Former president Asif Ali Zardari expressed grief and sorrow, saying that She was a strong independent voice against conservatism and dictatorship. “She was a great feminist who fought all her life for equality. Her struggle will remain a beacon of light for all progressives in the country and the region,” the former president said.

Zardari said that she was the epitome of bravery and resistance. “Her contributions in the field of Urdu poetry and prose will always be remembered”, he said.