How Two Feminist Reformers Forever Changed Bengal's History/


How Two Feminist Reformers Forever Changed Bengal's History?

Think about a mother of 12 who gets angry when she sees paper or a book. It is someone who wants to learn how to read so they can sing hymns and read holy texts. Because women from "cultured" homes were not taught to read, Rassundari Devi recounts in her autobiography that she used to curse herself for having such wicked impulses.

Women who could read and write were stigmatised and shunned by society. A fuss would be made if an elderly, traditional woman spotted a piece of paper in a little girl's hands. Nevertheless, her desire won out despite societal concerns. Rassundari Devi snatched one of the leaves from which her son practised writing and tore a page from her husband's religious book.

They were both concealed in her kitchen. She attempted to match the words on the leaf to those on the page when she wasn't cleaning the house. When she first started learning to read, if she heard footsteps, she would hide the page and the leaf behind a kitchen appliance like the stove.

The manner this woman learned to read and write might seem unusual in today's society. Later, Rassundari Devi chronicled her struggles in an autobiography titled "Amar Jiban" (my life). In her memoirs, she describes the moments when she first learnt to read and write:

"Back in the day, while the Ramayana was being recited, I used to get impatient. Women were not free. They were unable to make any choices on their own. Women were caged just like any other bird. I had a limited ability to read (religious books). But I had no free time, and more significantly, I always lived in terror of being detected and punished. Later, I made the decision to read "Chetna Bhagat" (a holy book) first thing in the morning, away from the three of my sisters-in-law who were engaged in religious observances. Even so, I had to read while hiding in a house corner while one of my maidservants kept watch.

The first instalment of Amar Jiban was released in 1876. It was a historic occasion when a woman's autobiography was published in Bengali. Rassundari Devi's Bengali autobiography was published considerably later than Pandita Ramabai Saraswati's "The High-Caste Hindu Woman" (1887) and Tarabai Shinde's "Stri Purush Talana" (1882), which compared men and women and sparked controversy in the time's society.

The Tagore family member Swarnakumari Devi didn't get involved with Bengali literature until much later, in 1884, when she started running a Bengali literary journal. Jyotirindranath Tagore wrote the foreword to the second edition of Amar Jiban. He was the elder brother of Rabindranath Tagore and a well-known author. In the foreword, he writes:

"I was eager to get started reading "Amar Jiban. I had made the decision to highlight significant and captivating sentences in pencil. I discovered that the entire book had been annotated with a pencil as I was reading. We are shocked by her life narrative. It is impossible to put the book down without finishing it because of how straightforward, sincere, and compelling her writing is.

Upper-caste Hindu and Muslim women lived behind the veil in the 19th and early 20th centuries in a way that was comparable to that of prisoners (purdah). We discover descriptions of women's predicament in the works of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay and Rabindranath Tagore.

But the description gives you is  more potent in Amar Jiban. She had to use her ghoonghat even in the kitchen (veil). She had to speak in a low voice to the domestic staff so that no male worker or family member might hear her.

The cage of the veil contained even a woman's voice. The book Amar Jiban explains the significance of the purdah in Bengali culture. Due to years of patriarchal rule, women had grown accustomed to these practises and thought that they had a legal obligation to remain in this captivity.

She describes a purdah-related incident that took place when she was 25 and her son was learning how to ride a horse:

"Our home once contained a horse named Jay Hari. I was able to witness my son ride one day when it was carried in front of the woman's patio. Someone said that it was my husband's horse, which I overheard. I instantly realised that I couldn't push this horse in front of me. I hid inside the house because it would have been embarrassing if my husband's horse had seen me.

Women at the time believed it was their duty to hide, even from a horse owned by their husbands. We can only guess how they may have behaved if a male had been around. Purdah was the foundation of Bengali women's psychology. They could not have imagined life without it.

Amar Jiban also explains how the veil's acceptance prevented women from enrolling in education. It was a means of marginalisation from society. Over a century and a half ago, Rassundari Devi's tale first appeared. Thanks to evolving conditions, women can now come out and pursue education.

We must keep in mind, nevertheless, that strong women's sacrifices and deeds paved the path for later generations of women.

Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hussain And "Sultana's Dream"

Rokeya Begum Born in 1880, Sakhawat Hossain, also known as Begum Rokeya, was a significant feminist figure in Bengali history. The Bengali women's rights movement is credited with having its origins in Begum Rokeya.

Begum Rokeya is a feminist, writer, philosopher, educator, activist, and writer who has long promoted women's rights in her writings and works. The BBC's list of the "Greatest Bengalis of All Time" included her name in 2004.

In her writings, Begum Rokeya promoted gender parity. In her novels, poetry, short stories, science fiction, satires, treatises, and essays, she made inferences that men and women should be afforded equal rights and representation on all fronts.

This was a brand-new idea at the time. She believed that women's lack of equal rights and representation was due to a lack of knowledge. Let's think about how she envisioned a feminism paradise in "Sultana's Dream."

Despite experiencing a lot of opposition, she opened Bengal's first-ever school for girls. She founded the Muslim Women's Association in 1916. This organisation promoted the rights of women in the workplace and in education.

One of her most well-known works is Sultana's Dream. A future where gender roles were reversed and women were in charge was imagined in Begum Rokeya's utopian feminist novel, which was published decades before her time. The narrative also explores technological developments and refutes common gender prejudices using logic and argument.

The core of the feminist utopian vision is the query of the viability of a gender-equal utopia. A feminist utopia imagines a society devoid of gender binary thinking, patriarchal oppression, and the violence that these things cause in people's daily lives. A feminist utopia imagines a future without prejudice and gender binary concepts. According to radical feminism, discrimination and inequality based on gender are incompatible with the existence of a feminist utopia. It encourages the development of a feminist utopia that criticises gender.

The plot of Sultana's Dream is based on the author's own experiences as a Muslim girl born into an upper-class Muslim household, despite the fact that it is a feminist attempt to envision a feminist utopia dubbed "Ladyland." The women of the family strictly adhered to the purdah, a practice that restricts women to domestic life.

While the family's female members were forbidden from attending any educational institutions, Rokeya's father urged his boys to pursue a western education and a post in the colonial administration (no matter what they desired).

Rokeya's brothers, who were frequently questioned by their family, taught Rokeya and her older sister, Karimunnessa, at home. Rokeya's older sister was married off before turning 14 because her father disapproved of her learning Bengali.

Rokeya emphasised in one of her pieces how her sister's marriage hindered her from pursuing her studies further. But once they got married, Rokeya's government servant husband urged her to carry on with her schooling.

Rokeya's spouse, Khan Bahadur Sakhawat Hussain, was a deputy magistrate in Bhagalpur who spoke Urdu, had a western education and was identified as "liberal." Rokeya published "Motichur" in 1905 and Sultana's Dream in 1908 after he urged her to write in Bengali.

The work of Rokeya is excellent. Sultana's Dream is set in a fictional Ladyland where societal or religious restrictions don't seem to apply to women's access to public areas. Sultana believed it to be unreasonable for Ladyland to change from being a place where men predominated.

By taking control of a public area that is free from male sight and observation, she initially feels free. The narrative illustrates the variety of feelings that patriarchal oppressed women go through.

Rage, terror, and a persistent need to challenge male authority are all conveyed through the literary style. Rokeya makes various attempts to pique the interest of the female reader by highlighting their own value and questioning the patriarchal authority that keeps them confined to the home.

The protagonist's imaginary companion Sara is a scientific researcher who thinks that women are superior to men, and the novel portrays women as being more reasonable and scientific than males. Sara's assertion that men are unsuited to work for women assails Sultana.

Sultana respects how women run and direct their lives. She questions her buddy about patriarchal beliefs that women are incapable of working logically and outside the home. Throughout the story, the reader is constantly reminded of the social and religious norms that hindered women's emancipation.

She focuses on the need for greater education for women and criticises archaic customs like child marriage and the purdah system. Rokeya draws on her own early experiences of women, such as her mother and other female family members, as she discusses her sister's child marriage and the purdah regime.

Through the narrative, she makes an effort to highlight the problems that hindered women's freedom. She emphasises how the purdah system has evolved from being about women's seclusion to being about male seclusion in order to make a point about this.

Men are portrayed as having the ability to increase military might, whereas women are portrayed as scientists. Throughout the entire novel, Rokeya emphasises the importance of women in social and religious issues. In the imaginary dream, religion is given the qualities of "love and truth," and murdering another person is regarded as a crime.

The family ties of the male-dominated world are defied by Ladyland customs. In Sultana's Dream, a book written during colonial control, Rokeya makes an effort to emphasise the importance of independence, equality, and women's education. Through this novel, Rokeya also successfully parodies the patriarchal tyranny of Muslim women.

Sultana's Dream hardly touches on the inequality that gender binaries promote. Men are portrayed as the weaker sex in an effort to reverse sexual roles. However, it only addresses the gender-based forms of violence and discrimination.

Since then, it has offered a critique of patriarchy and how it affects women's lives, but it has mostly disregarded how caste and class contribute to discrimination and inequality.

Feminist figures from West Bengal include Begum Rokeya (top) and Rassundari Devi (bottom). They were Savarna ladies who openly discussed the patriarchy they encountered in and around the homes of their upper-caste families.

Bengali Writers and Feminist Icons

Both Begum Rokeya and Rassundari Devi battled for their own freedom and against male patriarchal oppression because they had experienced a great deal of male dominance and had written extensively about how patriarchal culture institutionalises and normalises oppression and dominance.

On the other side, women are growing habituated to sexual assault, marital rape, and patriarchal oppression. Male supremacy is constantly present, almost in a religious sense. Also depicted in these tales is the masculine control that prevailed in a prominent Bengali household of the day.

In response to male supremacy, women felt rage, anxiety, and frustration. Begum Rokeya's story also shows how women grew up and failed to fight for their own interests. The ability to express oneself and access to education are both protected rights.

The freedom to speak their minds, to have an opinion on what they enjoy and don't like, and to be free from structural base oppression like "what should a woman do?" What is forbidden for a Muslim woman, and what are the limitations and exceptions in the field of education?

The delicateness of writing thoughts in a very bold and rational style displays her feminist utopia and her strong opinion on feminist science fiction in the story Sultana's Dream, which is set in Ladyland, where women are more sensible than males in the real world.

Amar Jiban by Rassundari Devi is based on a genuine account of a woman from a wealthy and distinguished family learning, gaining an education, and surviving. the ambition to be an educated woman in a culture where strong male dominators rule and where women are viewed as housewives who can only do what is expected of them. It was a genuine struggle.

We have the chance to voice our bold views thanks to these two female reformers, educators, and writers, who also provide us with the freedom to express our opinions and conduct our lives according to our own standards.

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