Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Kim Solga

2nd Supervisor

Dr. Nandi Bhatia

Joint Supervisor


My dissertation, which works at the intersections of feminist theory, architectural theory and postcolonial literary theory, examines the spatiality of the zenana and the burqa as represented in Pakistani literary and cultural texts. I propose that the burqa creates a portable closet, an interstitial, liminal, “third space” that allows Pakistani (secluded and veiled) women to not only traverse the borders between the private (female, domestic) and public (male) spaces, but to also signal chastity and religiosity while in the public, and semi-public spaces of the cities and villages of Pakistan. I argue that the dupatta, the chador and the hijab (different types of the veil) function in a manner similar to the burqa and the zenana, even though the veils do not enclose or restrict the woman’s body in the same way. I focus on General Zia-ul-Haq’s Islamization of Pakistan’s constitution (1977-1988) and examine the impact of specific laws on women’s mobility in the decade following Zia’s death (1988-1999) as represented in literary and cultural texts. I examine Tehmina Durrani’s Blasphemy (1996), Maniza Naqvi’s Mass Transit (1998), Shahid Nadeem’s PTV drama serial Neelay Haath (1989), Sheema Kermani’s music video “Aseer Shahzadi” [Imprisoned Princess] (2002) and Shahid Nadeem’s theatrical farce “Burqavaganza” to show that the enclosures created by the segregation system are paradoxical spaces that are both restrictive and imprisoning but also comforting at the same time. The complex relationship of these authors and artists with the veiling and segregation system highlights the conundrum that most Pakistani feminists face: any challenge to the veiling and segregation system in Pakistan is seen as a questioning of Islam, and hence blasphemous. It also shows that a complete abolition of the veiling system may not even be desired, for the system is used consistently by Pakistani women to win concessions from a patriarchal state.