Relegated by a patriarchal society; as well as, the limitations of the west-led feminist discourse, Muslim women have found it harder to develop their own form of activism and feminist thinking. However, there are a few women who made their voices audible, demanded their rights and began a new prophecy of feminism in Islam. They were women who stood for and embraced women in a bold way, a way that remains unmatched. They are an indelible part of the history of women’s rights movement in India.
Feminism has become a buzzword in the modern day’s gender discourse. Some like it, some stray away from it and some are neutral about it. Among various advocacies for the word, the question that arises is, ‘What is feminism?’ For all its fallacies, feminism at its heart is about enabling and celebrating women. And there are women who have been creating a tough case for generations.
Ismat ChughtaiShe is one of the most prominent women in the realm of Urdu literature. She wasn’t just a writer but one of the fiercest feminists of her times, who successfully laid down the base for all future female writers in India and around the Asian continent. Many of her iconic works were banned due to their controversial themes. She was a rebellious writer who wrote about patriarchal privileges, sexuality and women’s trepidations in a patriarchal society. Born in Uttar Pradesh, she encouraged women rights, the idea of consent, and female sexuality. Her most noteworthy and provocative work was Lihaaf (The Quilt), which dealt with the subject of homosexuality. She was summoned for probably being too bold for her sex.
Qurralutain Hyder‘Ainee Apa’ as they fondly called her, Qurratulain Hyder was many things. She was a writer and a novelist, an educationist and also a journalist. Born in 1927, her literary works portrayed women protagonists as capable as men. She managed to alter sensitivities and perceptions related to gender labels through her work. That is precisely what described Qurratulain Hyder as a robust feminist writer. Many a times she was compared to her contemporaries like Gabriel García Márquez, with respect to the nature of her literary vision. Her short novels Delrina, Sita Haran and Agle Janam Mohe Bitiya Na Kijo discover gender injustice in the context of Indian society.
Rashid JahanBorn in Aligarh in 1905, Rashid Jahan was the daughter of Sheikh Abdullah, a man who led the way for women’s education in India. She was a trained gynecologist, who was also interested in penning down short stories. Her book 'Angaaray' in 1931 was entrapped among various controversies. It was a collection of stories which touched upon the struggles of women in a patriarchal culture, the hypocrisy of ministers and the discriminations in the society. She represented women in Urdu literature and her writings contributed a lot in educating people on patriarchy. She did not deter from raising her voice against patriarchy despite facing staunch criticism from conformist Islamic institutions.
Rokeya Sakhawat HussainBorn in Bengal in 1880, Begum Rokeya continues to be one of the most notable feminist figures in the history of feminism in India. She is considered the forerunner of women right’s crusade in the state of Bengal. She was a great writer, thinker, avant-garde feminist, and educationist. Interestingly her name was in BBC’s Greatest Bengalis of all Time list published in 2004. She promoted gender equality through her writings. Her writings connoted that men and women must enjoy equal rights and exemplification on all domains. She considered the lack of education as the root cause for exploitation of women. Fighting all condemnations, she founded the first ever school for girls in Bengal and also the Muslim Women’s Association in 1916. The aim of this organization was the education of women. Sultana’s Dream is her most notable piece of writing which spoke of a utopian world where gender roles were upturned and women were the leaders.
Shah BanoShah Bano became a popular name in not just the feminist circles of the country but her audacity also took the judiciary and orthodox Islamic institutions by storm. A mother of five from Indore, Shah Bano is known due to the Mohd. Ahmed Khan v. Shah Bano Begum (1985 SCR (3) 844) or colloquially called Shah Bano case. This case went on to become one of the most iconic cases in the history of Indian judiciary. She fought to demand alimony from her separated husband and in the way came across severe denigration and retorts from traditional Islamic factions. Shah Bano married a well-to-do advocate named Mohammad Ahmed Khan in the year 1932. She bore 5 children from the relationship. Her husband married another woman and sent her and her children away in the promise of an alimony. However, few years down the line, he stopped giving her the promised alimony. Shah Bano took the case to court and filed a lawsuit against her ex-husband under section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Her case became a national and religious issue and was much debated in the media discourse. She fought against all orthodoxies and won the case. It was a milestone accomplishment, not just for her but for women’s rights in India.