Academic journal article South Asian Studies

Modernist Trends and Varied Responses: Reflections on Muslim Women in Urdu Prose by Male Authors of South Asia (1900-1936)

Academic journal article South Asian Studies

Modernist Trends and Varied Responses: Reflections on Muslim Women in Urdu Prose by Male Authors of South Asia (1900-1936)

Article excerpt


Many Indian writers and activists in the 19th century South Asia made the subject of women as central topic as their agenda of cultural reform, expressing the same concern, above all, through the newly available medium of print. The main objectives of these writings were to check the decadence and resuscitate the values which had gone dormant. In order to do that, a few authors supported the British and others criticized it and tried to find out the solution in the religious or traditional education. Whether Hindus or Muslims, they were now seen at least in part as colonial collaborators. These are, above all, people who internalized the Orientalist argument that Indian traditions had fallen into decay and stagnation, and prescribed the western education necessary for their revitalization. Education for women, in particular, was not catered for. This paper argues that Urdu journalism was the dynamic tool for persuading the common people to educate their female folk to enable them to face the changed socio-political circumstance, which had impinged upon the traditional family structure. The development of that new literature focusing on Muslim women pointed to the emergence of Urdu as the common language. It also became the medium of instruction for women. By publishing of various books and journals led to the establishment of the educational institutions and societies. That's why the Urdu literature with theme centering on women in the latter half of the 19th century also helps us to visualize various aspects of different local cultures, customs, the regional idioms, proverbs and parables that formed the essence of the local language used only by the women. These writings also underscore the emergence of Muslim women from middle echelons as professional ladies.

KEY WORDS: Urdu prose, Muslim women, Educational Reforms, Enlightened society

Setting the Context

The 19th and 20th centuries witnessed far-reaching changes that the people of sub continent underwent. It was the time when European nations already operating in India for trade purposes, got engaged in power wrangling thereby bringing about tectonic changes in the political scenario of the subcontinent. Among these western nations, competing for supremacy, British eventually had a last laugh and seized power first in the Bengal and then in the rest of India. With the inception of the British rule, India got connected with the metropolitan world and therefore it was placed in the subservient position to the West, since East India Company, the masters of India was being monitored and controlled from London. That's how then Colonial dispensation got underway, bringing about political, economic and most importantly the social changes in its wake. Those were the days when Industrial Revolution had manifested in Europe and the era of modernity had found firm grounds to flourish. Hence the modern ideas, embedded in Western Rationality firstly developed in Europe, subsequently made their way into India through the agency of colonialism. The new (modernist) thinking emanating from the changed circumstance had some of its resonance in India even in the 18th century. But that process got exhilarated in the 19th century ushering in an era that was qualitatively different from the yore. Women status and role had also become the burning issue in colonial India, by the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of 20th century. The development of reformist literature and social activities gradually offered a public space to women. Indeed, this social discourse became a widening channel for the 'expression of their cultural experiences and feminist behaviors:' Feminism led them to accomplish their desires and helped them to realize that with the education, women can face all sorts of challenges and thus can enhance the prestige of the families.

Most striking was the realization of the vast difference in respective customs of Europe and India. Some of these became the subject of British disdain were infanticide, polygamy, polyandry, sahamaran, devdasi service, infant marriage, purdah, the joint family system and caste system. …

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