Sara Kazmi, Queens'

Degree: PhD
Course: CC
Supervisor: Professor Priya Gopal
Dissertation Title:

Towards a subaltern Punjabiyat: language and literary radicalism in Punjab, Pakistan


Biographical Information

I completed my BA (Hons) in Humanities from the Lahore University of Management Sciences, in Lahore, Pakistan, where I grew up. I went on to study for an MA History with a focus on South Asia from SOAS, University of London, in 2014, where I worked on the language politics and cultural activism of the Punjabi Movement in 1970s Pakistan. After completing my Masters, I returned to Pakistan where I worked as Lecturer and Teaching Fellow at the Beaconhouse National University, and the Lahore University of Management Sciences. In 2017, I started my PhD in English (Criticism and Culture) here in Cambridge.

Since 2008, I have also worked as a street theatre activist and performer with various artists' collectives and progressive political organisations in Pakistan. I trained in Hindustani classical music, but my passion lies in performing protest music and folk songs from regional traditions in North India.

Research Interests

My doctoral thesis examines Punjabi poetry from India and Pakistan in the post-Independence period, deploying shared genealogies of social critique embedded in folk tradition to read together feminist, Left-wing, and anti-caste intellectuals otherwise separated by one of the most militarized national borders in the world. Each chapter analyses a popular, Punjabi oral genre, going on to trace its enduring resonance and critical re-interpretation in twentieth century texts that draw on shared roots in the Punjabi literary formation for political critique in a contemporary, cross-border context.

This body of Punjabi poetry has remained marginalised from debates around post-colonial writing, national culture, and anti-colonial consciousness in South Asia, lying outside the privileged space occupied by writing in English, Urdu and Hindi where the novel form tends to be over-represented. Thus, my PhD research, which also includes translation work, aims to introduce texts hitherto inaccessible to the field of post-colonial literature and South Asian Studies, arguing for a methodological shift that centres a reflexive, oppositional engagement with pre-colonial, oral genres in the regional vernacular.

This framework allows us to place into conversation authors that have been separated in time, through religious background, and across national borders, reading post-colonial Punjabi writing as a ‘border literature’ that sketches its own literary cartography of the region,  traversing the national divide while also challenging the accompanying boundaries of caste, gender, class, and religion.

Areas of Supervision

Postcolonial literatures, Postcolonial theory, South Asia, anti-colonial thought, Marxist literary theory, folklore, orality, print cultures.

Selected Publications

Kazmi, Sara. 2019. “Radical re-tellings of Hir: gender and the politics of voice in postcolonial Punjabi poetry.” South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal [Free-standing article], 1-19.

 Kazmi, Sara. 2018. “The echoes of Ghadar in the Punjabi Movement,” Journal of Socialist Studies 13(2). 114-133.

 Kazmi, Sara. 2017. “The Marxist Panjabi Movement: Language and Literary Radicalism in Pakistan.” South Asia Chronicle 7. 227-250.