Forging Identities: Gender, Communities, and the State

By Zoya Hasan | Go to book overview

Gender and the Politics of Space:
the movement for women's
reform, 1857-1900 *

Faisal Fatehali Devji


Introduction

Late nineteenth century Muslim India (or rather élite Muslim north India) witnessed the emergence of a powerful new movement concerned with the reform of women's conditions. The reformers concentrated on female education (the basics of which were literacy, home economics, and "orthodox" practices) as a means of both improving the lot of Muslim women and of the community in general. Thus in 1869 Nazir Ahmad published his first novel promoting women's education titled the Mirat al-arus; in 1874 Altaf Husayn Hali produced the Majalis un-Nissa, a didactic work on the benefits of female education; in 1896 a women's section was created at the Mohammadan Educational Conference ; in 1898 Mumtaz Ali began publishing a women's magazine called Tahzib-e Niswan; in 1904 Shaikh Abdullah began another women's journal, Khatun; in 1905 was published Ashraf Ali Thanawi's monumental female curriculum, the Bihishti Zewar; and in 1906 the Aligarh Zenana Madrassa was opened. These actions, of course, did not pass without comment or opposition-both from within and without the ranks of the reformers. Soon, however, opposition to the idea of female education as such was stilled; and the arguments that now raged had to do with the degree of education that was to be imparted to them. Given that educated women were better able to raise children, manage their homes, improve their language, morals and religion (and so perhaps their marital prospects as well), provide intelligent company for their husbands (keeping them away from cour

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*
Originally published in South Asia, Vol XIV, No. 1, 1991.

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