September 5th, 2020

By Ahmad Saeed


Dr. Veerta Ali, daughter of renowned writer and poet Fehmida Riaz rejected a presidential award for her late mother saying that it would bring shame to her mother’s life long struggle for freedom of expression and human rights to accept any award by the present government.

“If my mother was alive, she would have done the same,  given the human rights abuses in the first two years of the PTI government,” said Ms. Ali in an exclusive interview to Riaz had written hundreds of poems and short stories in support of principles of human rights, tolerance, and equality. She was a staunch supporter of freedom of the press and the women’s rights movement. She passed away in 2018 at the age of 72.
She was nominated posthumously for the Tamgha-i-Imtiaz in 2019 by the PTI government for her exceptional work in the field of poetry.

Ms. Ali said that she cannot accept the presidential award from a government under whose rule freedom of expression is under threat and journalists and writers are being abducted.
“If my mother was alive today, she would have protested against these rights violations through her writings. I shall also ashamed to receive an award in the current atmosphere of repression. ”, she said

Ms. Ali said that she knew that the PTI government is not directly responsible for violations of rights but “they can resist and condemn the rights abuses, “ she argues.
She also criticized the norm in Pakistan of conferring awards to notable personalities after their death. She said that such people’s work should be admired and recognized during their lifetime.

Riaz had never minced her words and vehemently criticized the authorities for their abuse of power through her poetry and novels. Her work had landed her into trouble many times but she stood firm on her principles.

She was termed as a traitor over her fierce criticism of the military rule of General Zia -ul-Haq and she had to live in self-exile for over six years in India during Zia’s tenure.
Recalling those days, Ms. Ali said that was a very tough time for her mother and father. “My mother used to do three jobs to make ends meet.”

According to Ms. Ali, her mother always challenged and broke social taboos, one such move being marrying a Sindhi man. “She was an Urdu speaking woman but she chose to marry a Sindh man at a time when people got killed for inter-ethnic marriages,” she added.
Ms. Ali said that her mother was an optimistic person and she believed that if people are taught to have compassion for each other, our society will become a better place to live.