Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Nandi Bhatia

2nd Supervisor

Julia Emberley

Joint Supervisor


The start of the twenty-first century has witnessed a simultaneous rise of three areas of scholarly interest: 9/11 literature, human rights discourse, and War on Terror studies. The resulting intersections between literature and human rights, foregrounded by an overarching narrative of terror, have led to a new area of interdisciplinary enquiry broadly classed under human rights literature, at the point of the convergence of which lies the idea of human empathy. Concurrently with the development of human rights literature as a distinct field of study, two new strains of Pakistani literature have emerged on the Anglophone literary scene. Firstly, there are biographical works by women, co-authored with Western journalists, that have become controversial because there are contesting claims about human rights that emerge from their authorship, circulation and reception. Secondly, there are works of fiction, with the potential to be read as rights narratives, that problematize the current universal view of human rights based in the Western tradition of liberalism. The role of these writings is both valuable and disputable, as is reflected in its widely divergent reception by local and global audiences, and in its ambivalent position vis-a-vis universal human rights debates. Therefore, an examination of how Pakistani English literature speaks to the global reader is not only timely, but gainful in its insights.

My dissertation has a two-pronged focus. I examine memoirs by Malala Yousafzai and Mukhtaran Mai to highlight how conflicting reader reactions in Pakistan and in the Western world shape such memoirs’ conversation with human rights in the current climate of geopolitical tension. I also analyze recent fiction by Mohsin Hamid, Muhammed Hanif, Kamila Shamsie, Daniyal Mueenuddin, Nadeem Aslam and Jamil Ahmad who face a double challenge: writing about human rights violations in Pakistan without being accused of subscribing to Western agendas that promote the same instances of violence to justify military intervention in the region, and shifting the focus of 9/11 trauma writing to include the equally calamitous human rights issues that have resulted in its global aftermath. I propose that close readings of contemporary Pakistani literature can aid in promoting the pluralities of vision that support the “new universalism” movement in human rights as a viable option for global solidarity.