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"Married Among Their Companions": Female Homoerotic Relations in Nineteenth-Century Urdu Rekhti Poetry in India

From: Journal of Women's History
Volume 16, Number 1, Spring 2004
pp. 12-53 | 10.1353/jowh.2004.0038

Abstract

This essay examines the little-known representation of female-female romantic and sexual relations in early nineteenth-century Urdu Rekhti poetry in north India. Rekhti is poetry written mostly by men, in "women's language," and with female personae. Women's language was not spoken by women alone—it was the language of non-elites and was adopted by poets to represent an indigenous urbanity. Focusing on the terms used to represent and debate female-female sexual relationships, I contest the view that Rekhti is obscene verse written for male titillation alone. I argue that its virtual disappearance from the canon is due not only to its homoerotic content but also to its nonjudgmental adoption of literary conventions and social customs drawn from non-Persianate and Hindu sources. After the politics of nationalist social reform led to the identification of Hindi with Hindus and Urdu with Muslims, these sources were denigrated as anti-Islamic.