The Sexual Subaltern in Court: The Queer and Inter-Caste Obscenities of Ismat Chughtai's "Lihaaf" and Saadat Hasan Manto's "Boo"

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Aqdas Aftab


In November 1946, Ismat Chughtai and Saadat Hasan Manto entered the Lahore High Court, indignant at the charges of obscenity being hurled at their literary productions. Many in the audience begged the writers to apologize for their error so the trial would not take place. Even before the trial began, the court proceedings were anticipated to be so affectively charged that some audience members even offered to pay fines on behalf of the writers. As the trial commenced, the writers’ lawyer asked the witnesses to provide textual evidence for the obscenity of the stories under question. By deflecting the panopticonian light on individualized words rather than cultural interpretations of the narratives, the lawyer left the witnesses in a verbal conundrum. There was general consensus in the court that the stories felt obscene, but somehow there was no textual evidence to substantiate this collective affect of discomfort. Keen to condemn the stories, the witnesses threw out words such as “breasts” or “lovers” at the judge, words that ended up providing inadequate evidence for obscenity. Why did the witnesses rebuke the narratives as obscene, but fail to describe or name the obscenity in them?

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