PresenterPaul Sreejata - Shiv Nadar Institution of Eminence, English, Greater Noida, India
Panel01 – Bengali Muslim Societies and Literatures, c.1600-1947
Rassundari Devi’s Amar Jiban (1868) is widely acknowledged as the first Bangla autobiography. Syeda Monowara Khatun’s Smritir Pata (1962), an early autobiography by a Muslim woman, is virtually unknown. This marginality makes sense in light of the majoritarian Hindu Bangla literary canon and the primacy of north India in predominant understandings of South Asian Islam. While Devi’s literacy is lauded amidst caste-Hindu backlash against reforms to educate women, Khatun’s anomalous access to zenana education through Quranic instruction disqualifies her from being similarly reclaimed. Her account of childhood and adolescence in riverine Mirzapur also outlines a different notion of sharafat than reformist tracts and novels by north Indian Muslims of the time. Acknowledging her brothers’ rural-to-urban migration and salaried professions, Khatun nevertheless exhibits a nostalgic belief in zamindari as a progressive institution for providing swift justice to the poor and facilitating conversion of lower-caste Hindus to Islam. She refuses to characterise her conjugal relationship with Syed Tahir Ali as the model of companionate marriage that north Indian Muslim writers extol or highlight her ‘emancipated’ life as teacher of Arabic and Bangla after widowhood, in the mould of the better-known Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain. Instead, Khatun’s text revels in the joys of punthi-reading (in place of Urdu women’s manuals) and later, wanting to be as involved in the freedom struggle as Joan of Arc!