Review: The neglected history

Munazza Yaqoob, Sofia Hussain’s book explores feminist literary struggle in Indian subcontinent

Maria Sani July 09, 2016
Munazza Yaqoob, Sofia Hussain’s book explores feminist literary struggle in Indian subcontinent

ISLAMABAD: When women writers appeared on the literary scene, they encountered many hurdles, both political and social. In our part of the world, women were colonised by both culture and the British. While plenty of work is done in Urdu to trace these women who stood against the tide and contributed to the literary milieu, the English-speaking world is largely unaware of them.

Munazza Yaqoob and Sofia Hussain’s Muslim Women Writers of the Subcontinent (1870-1950) includes short biographical essays on selected South Asian Muslim women authors who existed between 1870 and 1950. The book is unique in the sense that it follows a feminist perspective and the aforementioned researchers have supported their arguments well.

The book comprises sections that are separately dedicated to poets, prose and fiction writers, progressive writers and journalists. It also includes rare manuscripts and covers of literary magazines and journals. It basically talks about two generations that defied the odds; pertinent to note is the fact that this is the same period when feminist movements were at their peak in the West and thus the book traces similar struggles from our part of the world that have largely gone unnoticed.

Poetry collection: Role of women writers lauded

While the first generation worked with a more traditional approach, the second went a step further and dismantled oppressive social traditions. The former includes names such as Rahmat Begum, Sughra Begum, Basheer-un-Nissa Begum and the latter talks about women such as Zehra Nigah and Ada Jafri.

These writers initially followed the hegemonic literary patterns but wasted little time in developing a voice of their own.

Yaqoob and Hussain assert that the role of Muslim women writers cannot be ignored in the struggle for rights and independence. They have attempted to trace Western influences with these women and how they shaped progressive writing in the Indian subcontinent.

There are references of magazines launched between 1880 and 1947, divided into three categories: conservative/traditional, liberal and culturally appropriate. The first category includes Gul Dasta-e-Sukhan, Gul Dast-e-Piyam-e-Yaar and Shareef Bibiyan. The second includes Mufeed-e-Aam, Moalim, Rafeeq-e-Niswan, Parda-e-Ismat and Tammadun. The third category includes Ismat, Ummahat, Saheli, Makhzan, Hoor and Zeb-un-Nisa.

To a great extent the book succeeds in identifying the socio-cultural identity of women litterateurs and will indeed facilitate researchers and students interested in feminist struggles of the Indian subcontinent.

Title: Muslim Women Writers of the Subcontinent (1870-1950)

Editors: Munazza Yaqoob, Sofia Hussain

Publisher: Emel Publications

ISBN: 9789699556104

Price: Rs480

The writer is a graduate student at Air University, Islamabad

Published in The Express Tribune, July 10th, 2016.

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