Begum Rokeya Annual Lecture:

 

CWS hosts this Annual Lecture to commemorate Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain, the pioneering educationist and visionary author.

Speaker in 2013: Professor Rajeswari Sunder Rajan, Global Distinguished Professor of English, Department of English, New York University

Title of the Lecture: Feminism's Futures: Limits and Ambitions of Sultana's Dream

Short Abstract: 'Feminism's Futures' means not only scenarios of the future of feminism but also the futures that feminists have variously envisaged. What do feminists want? What visions of an ideal society have we conceptualized or dreamt of? What are the possibilities and limits of iterations of a feminist futurity? When and how does the 'longest revolution' as Juliet Mitchell called it, come to an end?

Three distinctive feminist modes of conceptualizing alternative social relations or political structures can be identified: namely, the ethical-radical, the political-liberal, and the sexual-techno-scientific. Focus will be on the last since Rokeya Shekawat Hossain's most widely known work, 'Sultana's Dream', describes a feminist utopia in terms of a technologically advanced female society. This paper addresses the implications of such an imaginative construction, alongside other works of feminist science fiction and Donna Haraway's 'Cyborg Manifesto' that push the limits of imagining sexual difference through techno-scientific transformations.

 

Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain (1880-1932)

Early years
Born in 1880 in a village in Rangpur (present-day Bangladesh) Rokeya was the daughter of a rich landlord Abu Ali Haidar Saber. Rokeya was taught Bengali and English secretly at home by her elder brother Abul Asad Mohammed Ibrahim Saber, and also learnt to recite the Quran. In 1896 Rokeya married Syed Sakhawat Hossain, a Deputy Magistrate in Bhagalpur, who supported women's education. He encouraged his young wife to continue with her writing, albeit at home. Widowed and childless after a married life of thirteen years, Rokeya embarked on her mission of establishing a school for Muslim girls. She moved to Calcutta permanently in 1910. This marked a new phase in her life as an educationist. Rokeya started Sakhawat Memorial Girls' School in Kolkata in 1911 with a few students and little infrastructure. By 1915 Sakhawat Memorial Girls' School had earned itself the status of Higher Primary school with nearly a hundred students. Rokeya struggled to make Sakhawat Memorial School accessible to poor Muslim families of Bengal. In 1916 she started the Bengal Chapter of the Anjuman-e-Khawatin-e-Islam (Muslim Women's Association). In her address to the Bengal Women's Educational Conference in 1926, she argued for an end to aborodh-pratha (the practice of seclusion) and the need to realise that women's education can never be deemed as un-Islamic. In 1930, the school became recognised as a full-fledged high school offering courses in several subjects.

Writing:
Rokeya's involvement with the school left her little time to pursue her own writing. Two volumes of Motichur (Pearl Dust, Part One 1908; Part Two 1921) showcase her scathing critique of women's subordination with humour, and Pipasa (Thirst, 1922) is a collection of essays vividly describing incidents of exploitation. Aborodhbasini (Secluded Women) is a collection of essays initially published in the monthly magazine Mashik Mohammedi between 1928 and 1930. Padmarag (Ruby, 1924) is a novel, and her witty utopian fantasy Sultana's Dream (1905) is a slim novella. Sultana's Dream was written in English describing a world where men are confined within mardana and women have taken over the responsibility of running the affairs of the world.

Begum Rokeya died in 1932 after a massive heart attack in Calcutta. In the last few days of her life she was working on a new essay Naarir Adhikar (Women's Rights), a fitting title for the final work of a feminist.

Regular Seminar Series:

The seminar series has been a flagship research activity of Women's Studies. This is an interdisciplinary forum to invite established and young scholars, working on any aspect of gender, to share their research and stimulate academic discussion. This seminar series has been well-attended since its inception and attracts scholars from various national and international universities and research institutions.

Some of our seminar speakers have been:

Nighat Said Khan (Institute of Women's Studies, Lahore); Yumiko Tokita-Tanabe, (Osaka University); Malathi de'Alwis (International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Colombo); Sumathi Ramaswamy, (Duke University); Rajeswari Sunder Rajan (New York University); Martina Rieker (American University in Cairo); Linda Gordon (New York University); Kumkum Sangari (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee).

Workshops and Special Seminars:

Women's Studies has been organising workshops on different relevant themes of feminist research and activism. In recent years some of the workshops, open for all, have addressed issues ranging from curriculum development in women's studies to sexual harassment in workplace and sexual violence within educational institutions.

Several workshops for research students are also organised to reflect on formulation of research questions, writing dissertations, and methods of research in women's studies.

Film Screenings:

The regular film screenings and discussions organized by Women's Studies have provided a focal point for the convergence of the creative and the political. Many contemporary documentary film makers like Paromita Vohra, Rahul Roy, Saba Dewan, Deepa Dhanraj, Sonia Jabbar, and Chandra Siddan, amongst others, have not merely screened their latest films, but also helped to generate vibrant discussions on subjects like urban planning, and the politics of family and marriage. Additionally, the CWS has screened films from its growing audio-visual collection; these have also drawn attention to questions regarding aesthetics, film making and its relationship to feminist thought.

Interdisciplinary Research Students' Colloquium (IRSC):

The IRSC is meant to be a discussion forum for research scholars at various stages of writing their dissertation/reports and the idea is to provide a space where research questions can be discussed in detail and writing can be tackled in various stages of the writing process.. All doctoral students from Social Science and Humanities disciplines (from within and outside JNU), especially those who are working on gender and sexuality related issues, are invited to be part of the colloquium.

Women's Studies hosts this Colloquium to encourage young researchers from different disciplinary backgrounds and using interdisciplinary methodologies. It is expected that in the long run IRSC will develop its own core group to take forward this series of presentations.


Centre for Women's Studies, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University