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Feminist Concerns in Mohammad Hanif’s ‘Our Lady of Alice Bhatti

This study explores the feminist concerns in Mohammad Hanif's Our Lady of Alice Bhatti. The

paper aims to show that by touching the most aching aspects of the lives of the Pakistani women,

Hanif has presented the reality of the Pakistani society from a feminist perspective. This

qualitative research has further analyzed the collected data under the light of Feminist Theory. It

has highlighted the impact of marginalization on the lives of female characters in the novel,

examined the nature of the ills created by class differences and the way they did affect the lives

of women, observed how Hanif presented the social reality from women's perspective and

reinforced feminism, and appraised the resistance shown by women against male dominance and

suppression. It sought to find out the ways women became victims of double and triple

marginalization in the novel, the psychological traumas they went through during their lives, the

manner in which they were exploited by their male counterparts both within and without their

homes, how patriarchal traditions and class differences played havoc in the lives of females and

how Hanif portrayed religious bigotry and its use as a tool of aggression and suppression.

In Our Lady of Alice Bhatti, Hanif has shown how the patriarchal traditions are still strongly

existing in Pakistan and the ways women are discriminated and marginalized on the basis of their

gender, religion and class. Like a true feminist, Hanif's tone becomes very acerbic and satiric

when he describes the miserable plight of females in the society where, '[...] cutting up women is

a sport older than cricket but just as a popular and equally full of obscure rituals and intricate

rules ...' (Hanif, 2011, p. 96). It is through Alice Bhatti and some other female characters in the

novel that Hanif depicts the agonies and psychological anxieties of females.
Alice Bhatti faces triple marginalization for being a female, a Christian, and a person from the

lowest class. Hanif has given detailed account of the precautionary measures taken by Alice

when she moves outside the confines of her home, the care about her dress, her gait, her manners

etc. It is also evident from the novel that there are numberless problems for females with respect

to their profession and work. In her review of Our Lady of Alice Bhatti, Qureshi also states the

same fact that with respect to her status in the society Alice is an underdog but it is an important

fact that even being an outcast she does not let someone subjugate her or force her for some

immoral act. Being one from the Christian minority and also from the lower class, she defends

herself against the religious pressures very well.

The novel is clearly an attempt to convey a strong feminist message. In Our Lady of Alice Bhatti

Pakistani society's apparent claim of having strong religious and moral values proves to be a

failure. Rather, it has gone from bad to worse.

The psychological trauma that Alice suffers makes her think so differently that '[s]he tries to

maintain a nondescript exterior; she learns the sideways glance instead of looking at people

directly' (p. 98). She is extra careful when it comes to eating something in public and avoids

doing so considering the fact that it may be understood in the sense of '...an invitation for

someone to shove something horrible down your throat' (p. 98, 99). These ways seem to be an

effort on the part of Alice or perhaps on the part of all the females to break out from the

tormenting reality which has caused them distress.

Inspector Malangi who '...get[s] away from one wife and three daughters...' (p. 102), seems to be

the true and explicit depiction of a typical misogynist who is bent upon insulting and degrading

the females in every possible manner and who has some set generalized notions about the
women folk. Giving advice to Teddy Butt, Malangi declared that making a woman happy '...was

the easiest thing in the world' (p. 145) but it was the most arduous task to keep her happy,

irrespective of her relation, it '...is impossible' (p. 145).

Being weak segment of society, women are made scapegoats in the settlements of various

disputes; it is they who most of the times have to pay for the sins of their sons, husbands and

fathers. It is a matter of daily routine for Alice to see women who have been brought to hospital

as victims of their family members: "During her house job she worked in Accidents and

Emergencies for six months and there was not a single day –not a single day–when she didn’t see

a woman shot or hacked, strangled or suffocated, poisoned or burnt, hanged or buried alive." (p.

96)

In traditional societies like the one that exists in Pakistan, it is quite arduous for women to do

their jobs in association with men, they have to face the criticism of the people around them, they

are to protect themselves from the verbal and physical harassment both outside the confines of

their homes and at the offices or workplaces. In order to avoid the lascivious looks of people

around her, she has to make a less prominent appearance. The author shares her consciousness in

the following words: For work she chooses a loose shirt and then over that loose shirt covers her

chest with a dupatta, makes sure that even the back of her neck is covered.... (p. 94)

In patriarchal societies like the Pakistani society women most often become the victim of double

marginalization; one because of their sex and the other because of their position. The patriarchal

culture which has strong roots in the social system pushes females to subordinate positions; prior

to marriage, being daughters they are considered inferior to the sons of the family and after

marriage they are supposed to serve their husbands.


One of the greatest challenges faced by feminism is to fight against the evil of gender

discrimination. Being an illness, it is harmful both for males and females but in patriarchal

cultures it goes mostly in favour of males as in such cultures a stereotypical impression is created

that males are superior to females. Hanif has pointed towards the alarming and shocking feature

of patriarchal culture that the birth of male child is preferred over a female child and the mother

is given place and status on the basis of what she has given birth to. A female giving birth to a

female child is looked down upon and is likely to lose respect.

One of the important aspects of feminism is the resistance shown by women against the male

dominance and subjugation. It is on very rare occasions or some exceptional women who show

resistance to or challenge the hierarchical system that sacrifices the rights of women at the altar

of men and strive to achieve a niche in a much congested male society. Out of the two female

characters who seem to be the vigorous voice of feminism in the novel, one is the senior nurse or

sister Hina Alvi, who is much experienced and has been through hard and harsh times but has

ultimately made her place in a world which belongs to male community and when any of the

male members of society has to face her, he, it seems, feels less confident.

On the basis of the above discussion it is revealed that Hanif has taken into consideration all the

important aspects related to the lives of females in Our Lady of Alice Bhatti; their sufferings,

traumas, alienation, insecurities etc. and his voice really throbs with anger and seems to be a true

feminist voice which becomes bitter and ironic while describing the attitude and the treatment of

society with the females. Hanif through this novel has attempted to reach and explore the various

layers of patriarchal norms and has been quite successful to unveil some of the most horrible and

bleak facets of them. In a very deft manner he has shown the patterns of marginalization and the

sufferings and gloom resulting from it.