The Brave Bengali writer

Nazneen Sultana By Nazneen Sultana, 14th Nov 2011 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Essays

An attempt to understand the work of Begum Rokeya Shakhawat Hossein's 'Motichur'. I would like to show objections to womanhood in crisis in male dominated societies to which she answers very subtly in her collection of essays.

Feminist Aspect by Begum Rokeya

Begum Rokeya was the founding pillar of Bengali Muslim feminism. Her writings, actions, and resistances strategically pin point, analyzed, and resolved gender biased social, cultural and political practices. Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain was born in 1880 in Rangpur. Her father was a local zamindar and preferred to maintain strict purdah for the women in his family. Begum Rokeya has had inhabitated from late 19th C to early 20th C. First and foremost, what exactly feminist critics do? They revalue women’s experience; examine representations of women as ‘Others’; raise the question of whether men and women are ‘essentially’ different because of biology, or are socially well constructed; and re-read psychoanalysis to further explore the issues of male and female identity. The early and contemporary women’s movements has been crucially concerned with books and literature; so that feminism which is remote from the ultimate aims of the movement, but as one of its most practical ways of influencing everyday conduct and attitude (Peter Barry).

The concept of education as a prerequisite for women’s equality was, in fact, the first demand of the early women’s movement that developed during 1920s and 1930s (Mazumdar ). Afterall it was the 19th C in which a benign human face of British imperialism arrived as a harbinger of intellectual modernity, showing ‘Bengali’ Hindu Women how to liberate themselves from blind medieval prejudices . Given the elitist nature of the early women’s movement, it hardly paid attention to the question of female education among lower castes and Muslims. However, before this movement, Begum Rokeya wrote many articles, journals, compiled in a collection titled Motichur (vol.1) published in 1904, Padmarag in 1924. The major works written in Motichur were “The Degradation of Women”, “The Veil”, “The Female half”, etc. which heralded towards the liberation of women. This courageous feminist writer and activist who worked all her life to remove what she called the ‘purdah of ignorance’ was aided by her husband and her brother who helped her in acquiring to learn English.

In 'Motichur', Rokeya’s narrative used full of satire, humor and irony to focus attention on the injustices faced by Bengali Muslim Women. She criticised oppressive social customs forced upon women in the name of religion, asserting that the Glory of God could be best displayed by women fulfilling their potential as human beings. In ‘The Degradation of Women’ of slavery, her writing evoked witty and imaginative polemic all over Bengal:
"The five worst maladies that afflict the female mind are: indocility, discontent, slander, jealousy and silliness…such is the stupidity of her character, that it is incumbent on her, in every particular, to distrust herself and to obey her husband."

The religion and seclusion goes hand in hand. The religion is an important sacred institution maintained within the society by respective communities. Begum Rokeya comes from a Muslim society where purdah is a must. She is not against her religion but she always tried to remove the seal ‘other’ from the Bengali Muslim women. She takes the aid of her religion and in ‘The Veil’ or ‘Burqa, she proudly asserts that the Burqa is a lighter material than an Englishwomen’s big heavy hat. She alludes Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) who himself respected his wives and other women in purdah and strictly denied the fact of women as a private property. Rokeya’s grudges are not against the purdah but of the seclusion. Seclusion, Begum Rokeya wrote, “is not a gaping wound, hurting people. It is rather like carbon monoxide gas.” She denied this custom had any basis in the Quran or Shari’ah (The Muslim religious Law). Janak Nair has discussed the importance of zenana had come to be practically synonymous with “Indian Womanhood” and women “oppressions” (Sarkar 236). As a feminist, she depicts women are treated as of social construct which in turn shaped by respective religions like Hindu, Muslim, etc., “We believe that there is no real conflict between purdah system and progress”. Throughout her writings, she continuously backlashes on women’s progress and liberation. Again, reinforcing on seclusion, she states that:
"By ‘purdah’ we mean covering the body; not simply seclusion within the four walls of the women’s quarters. Surely, not to cover the body properly means rejecting purdah. Those who go out of the house, to the market or elsewhere, properly clad, observe purdah far better than those who expose their bodies in a half-naked states to their servants, even though they are within the seclusion of their homes."(17)
However marriage is also a religious institution. Through this act, women have to play different roles like “Ardhangini” (The Female Half), “Griha” (The House) and “Sugrihini” (The Ideal Housewife). Religious dictates makes us embrace what we may not accept easily at first. Such is the sorry state of affairs that nowadays, the moment a girl is born, she is told, ‘Down! You are born a slave, and you will remain a slave’. Thus it seems even the soul has hopped in for ‘manoshik dashotto’ or mental slavery (Rokeya 17).

Rokeya comes from a very conservative Zamindar family and married to a rich Indian family. The purdah system did not allow Muslim women to go outside. Women were usually taught to read The Holy Quran but not write so illiteracy. Rokeya, herself a reformer urged to be educated and she got aided by her husband and her brother. She stepped out from the zenana and started off with Shakhawat Memorial Girl’s School. According to Rokeya, education is the only way for the women to grow and develop in step with their menfolk (Forbes 56). In “Sugrihini”, Rokeya pointed that education would help women fulfill their traditional roles knowledgeably and professionally and hence contribute to the progress of nation (Forbes 56). In 'Motichur', she subtly writes on male dominance. She insists her sisters not to spend money on ornaments but rather on books. She speaks out not only against ornaments, fripperies and other female vanities but also against those men who profess love romantically, “They (men) imprison us in the cages of their hearts, depriving us of the ray of knowledge of pure air, thereby pushing us towards a slow death.” Obviously men who enjoy have more power in any case. Thus to get rid of their bitter power, she recommends Muslim Women to read and read.

Begum Rokeya was indeed the torchlight for the Bengali Muslim Women but there are the Muslim men who still are not ready to accept or engulf Rokeya's subtle remarks. In a review in 1905, Karim and Emdad wrote, “It is one thing to reform society, ….whipping might leaves scars on the social fabric, and does not help to make for a loss…we can’t hope that any good will come of it.”


Class, Education, Gender, Religion, Seclusion

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author avatar Nazneen Sultana
Self-exploring human being I am. Learning new things is my hobby. Expressions of everyday observations and personal opinions are two of the many areas my writing focuses on. Enjoy Reading!

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author avatar Retired
15th Nov 2011 (#)

Nice profiling i enjoyed it

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author avatar Nazneen Sultana
15th Nov 2011 (#)

thanks buddy...

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author avatar RUBY
30th Oct 2012 (#)

very good

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author avatar M G Singh
30th Aug 2014 (#)

This is a nice post

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