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Reading Literary Justice through Intertextuality in Ismat Chughtai's Lihaf Trial

Piya Srinivasan

This paper explores the relationship of law and literature through an intertextual reading of Urdu writer Ismat
Chughtai’s biographical essay Un Byaahtaonke naam (In the Name of Those Brides). The essay is based on the
obscenity trial for her short story Lihaf, where she was tried alongside fellow writer Saadat Hasan Manto for
his story Bu. The trial branded her as a writer of obscenity in literary memory. The author in this paper
explores how law becomes a tool of oppression through a feminist reading of women’s experiences that resists
their violent interpellation by law as insubordinate subjects. The essay presents an ethnographic account of
her experience of law’s violence by mapping the feminine self in court and turning an irreverent gaze on law
through literature’s meaning-making practices. Using three texts, the paper traces how Chughtai
problematizes the gendered parameters of obscenity within literature and creates a dialogical universe in her
writing that challenges the monological consciousness of Manto’s Bu. In tracing this journey of feminist
subjectivity, the paper argues that Chughtai makes an internal critique of not just law but also of her friend
Manto. Using these instances, the paper demonstrates how the essay produces new textualities that
supersedes law’s regulatory nature and becomes a way of reading its limits, presenting a commentary on
censorship itself. The paper argues that her critical reflexivity provides insights into law’s exclusions and maps
an intellectual space in which to challenge its phallocentric vision. The essay becomes the blueprint for a
feminist vision of literary justice, illuminating literary truths that fill what law does not accommodate.

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