Seduced by God or Man? Religious Conversions and Women’s Desire in Pakistan
For the past decade, the press in Pakistan has remained rife with stories of the kidnapping, forcible conversion to Islam, and marriages of young Hindu women at the hands of Muslim men. Women’s rights and minority advocacy groups have demanded a state-led response, but two attempts at legislation have already failed. In courts, legal redress requires a clear, visible difference between forcible abduction and what is termed “free-will” elopement. However, these matters are complicated further when the very nature of Hindu women’s desire appears indeterminate. Accusations that young Hindu women have been seduced (warghalana) into conversion by Muslim men compete with claims that such women leave their natal homes upon becoming irrepressibly attracted to Islam and the Prophet. Drawing on an archive of conversions, elopements, and love affairs that I have been collecting since 2014, in this talk I problematize reductive binaries that focus only on the presence or absence of “free will”, to ask how hierarchies of il/licit desire feed into the public question of just who can claim control of young Hindu women’s bodies in Pakistan. I argue that the seeming unknowability of women’s desires underscores the entangled sexual and religious stakes at the heart of these events.

Ghazal Asif Farrukhi is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at LUMS University, Lahore. Her research and scholarship broadly focus on dilemmas of citizenship, secularism, and sexuality in South Asia. Her book project, Marvi’s Sisters: Hindu Belonging and the Muslim State in Pakistan, explores how Hindu women’s bodies, desires, and relationships are entangled with techniques of governance and the specter of the religious other in Muslim-majority Pakistan. A second ongoing project is concerned with the public secret of caste in Pakistan. Her writing has appeared most recently in Political and Legal Anthropology Review (PoLAR) and South Asia: Journal of South Asia Studies. Ghazal holds a PhD in Anthropology from Johns Hopkins University.

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Date: 15 May 2023, 16:00 (Monday, 4th week, Trinity 2023)
Venue: Online with Zoom
Speaker: Ghazal Asif Farrukhi (Lahore University of Management Sciences)
Organising department: Asian Studies Centre
Organiser: Zobia Haq (University of Oxford)
Organiser contact email address:
Part of: South Asian Intellectual History Seminar
Booking required?: Required
Booking email:
Audience: Public
Editor: Zobia Haq