Bengali Muslim Women’s Association in 20th Century Indian National Liberation Politics

Abstract: Surprisingly, as all we know that the subject of women’s participation in politics (during pre-independence India) entered in the orb of historical research in recent days. And it is quite significant that there are only some studies have been made to sketch out the role of Indian Women in the National Movement. The process of writing on this sort of theme basically chooses Bengal, where we witnessed the pioneering efforts of women in the early 20th century Indian National Movement. Consecutively a number of articles and few books came into sight which integrated the themes like ‘Women’s Participation in Indian National Movement’, ‘Women in Pre-independence Politics’, ‘Political Participation of Muslim Women’, or ‘Bengali Women and Indian National Movement’ etc. Nevertheless, unexpectedly, no one ever tried to explore the area of Bengali Muslim women’s role, or we can say their involvement in the national liberation politics distinctly. There are several references, I have found, clearly indicate the substantial contribution or association of Bengali Muslim women in the twentieth century Indian National Movement. Either individually or collectively, they took part in the contemporary political uprising, whether it was national or local, and sometimes collaborated with Hindu sisters or sometime under the aegis of Hindu women leaders. Although scattered, irregular, sectionalised and austere character of their participations in colonial politics, so far it definitely brought a new spontaneous way of political awakening to the traditional and marginalised Muslim womenfolk. Their participation in the play of National liberation politics obviously questioned the moral foundation of ‘British Imperialism. Most importantly, it carried on the ‘mission of women empowerment’ to institute individual equality in social, economic and political sphere. Hence, primarily this paper made an endeavor to assemble the relative and relevant information regarding politically politicised Bengali Muslim women and their contribution in 20th century’s national liberation politics. Secondly, it tries to estimate the mechanism and magnitude of their participation followed by the limitation of their performance.

Keywords: muslim women, national politics, revolutionary, Bengal, independence, national liberation politics, national movement, politics of protest, colonial disobedience, women nationalist


About one and a half decade earlier we often talked about the role of men in the war of independence, and we never thought about the great role played and responsibility shouldered by women. However, nowadays we are busy exploring the role of women, in most of the cases only Hindu Women, in the Indian national liberation struggle. It would be quite wrong to say that no one ever had chosen the area of Muslim women’s contribution in the same manner. There are few scholars, who had paid attention to draw the graph of participation and achievement of Indian Muslim women in this particular context.1 Through their writings they tried to answer the question of how Muslim women who used to stay within the four walls and behind the veils were enough powerful and energetic to help in liberating the country. Nevertheless, till now there exists no such regional works which could accommodate the role of Muslim women in the main stream history of Indian National Movement. Therefore, I have selected this theme with respect to the province of Bengal, as the pioneering steps by women section in regard of nationalist protest first came from Bengali women. My diagram for this paper is to find out the Muslim Women who participated in different political uprising either national or regional, and also to analyze their mechanism, magnitude and limitation of participation.

It is obvious that women’s involvement in the pre-independent politics signalled the depth of their patriotic feeling for the Nation. It actually added a new and poignant dimension to their own cause of emancipation from the traditional socio-cultural sickles as well as from the foreign yoke. Our history witnessed that in response to the calls of local and national leaders, women of different communities and from all walks of life came out to join the struggle, marches and demonstrations and participated in constructive and reform programmes. From liberal homes and conservative families, urban centers and rural districts, women—single and married, young and old came forward and joined the struggle against colonial rule. At this juncture Muslim women did not remain silent. They came out to fight simultaneously against the orthodoxy, superstition and Imperial domination.2 This kind of participation called into question the British right to rule(Forbes, New Cambridge History of India; Women in Modern India 121).

The Islamic teaching of Jihad took a concrete shape in 1857 and continued till India achieved freedom in 1947. This principle not only influenced Muslim men but also Muslim women and they stood up alongside men against the British. The list of Muslim women who participated in the freedom struggle is impressive and not restricted to one type of activity. They encouraged their husbands, fathers and sons at home and themselves took all the household responsibilities on their shoulders in the absence of their men folk. 3 They came out of their four walls and travelled from place to place to encourage people to strive for independence. They joined non-violent as well as violent movement against the foreign rule. Some of them wrote poem, novel and printed journal to propagate nationalism and provoked people to join national movement. Many of them were imprisoned, fined and suffered from multiply losses. These women not only belonged to educated and enlightened families of urban centers but also from illiterate and rural areas. It is estimated that about 225 Muslim women committed their lives to the Revolt but their role in the freedom movement has not been properly acknowledged by the historians (Sarkar, “Muslim Women and the Politics of Invisibility in Late Colonial Bengal” 227). The great contribution of these ladies should be brought to the knowledge of the present generation and this would be the best way to pay homage to them.

Bengali Women and Nationalist Activities:

The early nationalist awakening among Bengali Muslim Women started through public education and social reform movements. The educated Muslim family began to send their daughters to school, and thus they started to read women’s magazines and literature which were brought out as a result of growth of nationalism (Minault 267). But there numbers were restricted to enlightened upper section only. However, by the elapsing of time, both the upper, middle class literate and lower class illiterate women got involved in the national liberation politics.

In Bengal, early step from Muslim women in the way of spreading Nationalism was taken by the writers like Rokeya Sakhawat Hossein (1880–1932),4 Sufia Kamal (1910–1999), Samsunnahar Mandal (1908- 1969)5 and others. They were not directly or actively involved in the nationalist politics. However their certain writings reflect the sense of patriotism and nationalism. Begam Rokeya was one of the most outstanding Muslim role model for Bengali women during the early decades of 20th century.6 During her times there were several writings which reflected the separatist tendency as they were influenced by the contemporary Muslim separatist politics in Bengal. However, there is no as such sign of weakness or sympathy in her writings for separatist politics of Muslim League; rather she was inclined towards nationalist movement of the mainstream led by the Indian National Congress.7 We can see the positive perception of Rokeya about nationalism in her article entitled “Sugrihini”. She said: ‘we are Indians, we are Indian first – and then thereafter we are Muslims, Sikhs, or some other’(Hasan 37-38).

Direct but mild participation of Muslim women can be seen first in the anti-partition and Swadesi Movement. Along with men like Abdul Rasheed, Liyakhat Hussain, Abdul Hakim Gajnavi, Yussuf Khan and Bahadur Mahammad so many women joined this movement as auxiliary faction (Ray 31). As Peter Custer said “while the masses of Bengali women of the time lived a life of the strict seclusion (submerged in purdah), many, nevertheless, enthusiastically supported the boycott during the Swadeshi movement. Girls and married women opened their veils and came out to protest in the streets”(8). During the Swadeshi Movement the women of Bengal undertook something like an anti-imperialist women’s strike.8Women’s participation was very large in the district of Barisal where the agitation against foreign goods was fierce and both Hindu and Muslims women faced severe social oppression (Custer 8). Some five hundred women from both communities met at Jonokand village in the district of Murshidabad to protest against government’s decision of partition and to urge the need of using country made goods.9

There are many references we have, about Muslim Women’ participation, even from behind the veils of purdah, in Khilafat – Noncooperation Movement. Gandhi’s appeal for joining women folk in the National Movement stimulated Muslim women extensively. Here Gandhiji applied secular tactic to provoked Muslim women to join in the mainstream of national movement. He essentially modified his message for Muslim women. Here he dropped the reference to the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, and simply he asked women to participate and encourage their husbands to join the movement.’10 On other occasions Gandhi told Muslim Women that ‘British rule was the rule of Satan and exhorted them to renounce foreign cloth to save Islam.’11 Due to his secular appeal, so many common Bengali women joined the movement. At this phase, meetings were arranged by the ladies in their streets and spinning wheels were introduced in the Zenana (Kaur 93). Women contributed their bangles, nose rings and bracelets to the National fund. In villages they started putting away a handful of grain daily for such purpose (Ibid 9). In Barisal, East Bengal, 350 fallen Hindu-Muslim sisters decided to join congress, contributed from their earnings to the Tilak Fund and engage in Congress work (Forbes, Women in Colonial India 42). Those women who were unable to picket could work from behind the scenes: encouraging their neighbors to spin and wear khaddar and distributing propaganda (Ibid 46). During non-cooperation Congress had distributed large number of charkhas among the Muslims in Comillah, Chitagong, Nadia (Kusthia), Noakhali, which were mainly operated by women (Waliullah 141-3). Large number of women of rural area of East Bengal got involved in ‘1920s Peasant Movement’, which somehow or other expanded the entity and scope of National Movement. 12

In the first quarter of 20th century Indian deployed revolutionary action for resistance. And this method was robustly manipulated by both Men and Women folk of Bengal. In this field Muslim women were not in behind. They contributed to this kind of struggle either through hiding revolutionaries or through funding or through acting as messenger. Just before Khudiram’s arrest he was given shelter by the sister of Mulvi Abdul Waheed, who was known as legendery didi of Khuduram.13 Suriya Sen and Ambika Chakroborty, Bijoy Sen took shelter in Muslim family during emergency time (Sarkar, Bengal 1928-1934; The Politics of Protest 154). Another lady known as Rezia Khatun, daughter of revolutionary worker Nasiruddin Ahmed, was associated with Jugantar party. She was the first Muslim lady of Bengal who stood up against the British and was arrested and sent to Kalapani where she took her last breath (Ray 44). Revolutionaries of Chittagong and Mymensingh had considerable mass base amongst the Muslim. When the youths of the Hindu families were kept behind the bars, the doors of Muslim families were open to provide shelter and food for underground revolutionaries at great peril (Ibid 44). Suriya sen and Kalpana Dutta’s revolutionary societies’ membership also included a few Muslim women of East Bengal (Ibid 48). However, the use of Hindu Symbolism and revivalist rhetoric by militant nationalists exacerbated latent tensions between the Hindu and Muslim communities and it ultimately forced Muslim section to be isolated.

In the 1920s campaign for voting rights was also carried out by a particular section of Muslim women in Bengal. Bangiya Nari Samaj carried on vigorous campaign for Female Franchise during 1920s, and it received active-cum-ineffective expressions of support from prominent Muslim women Mrs. R. S. Hossain and Begum Sultan Muwayidzada.14 Their participation in the movements of 1921 was largely limited to writing letters and statements in support of suffrage. In 1925, Mrs. R. S. Hossain played a prominent role in BNS meetings.15 During Suffrage campaign Begum Sultan Muwayaidzada wrote an indigenous response to the Statesman:

The women of this province, especially those belonging to the Mahomedans community, have been mercilessly decried in the Council and have been constantly accused of having performed no social service which would qualify them for the vote. But who is to answer for their backward condition? … It would not be unfair to remark that it is the men, especially men of the type of our worthy opponent, who are in reality opposed to the amelioration of the condition of the womankind of this province.16

Nevertheless, when Women Indian Association sent its delegation to meet Montague in 1917 to ask for the franchise, some Muslim wives of congress men participated in it (Forbes, “Votes for Women: The Demand for Women’s Franchise in India, 1917-37” 5 & 21). On February 1923 women’s delegation visited Governor Lord Lytton. The delegation led by Kamini Ray included two Muslim women, Mrs. Mazaheruddin and Mrs. Latif. They demanded governor’s support for franchise for women in Calcutta.17 From 1921 to 1925 this campaign remained confined within highly educated women who belonged to the higher section of the society. In 1928, Congress session set a precedent for the involvement of Bengali women in political activities. Women marched side by side with men in demonstration and spoke publically about women’s problems (Forbes, “Votes for Women: The Demand for Women’s Franchise in India, 1917- 37” 54).

Generally women of Bengal showed much enthusiasm during Civil Disobedience Movement. Some Calcutta women made and sold salt, picketed cloth and liquor shops, preached the value of khaddar, and took procession into the street.18 During Civil Disobedience Movement, Muslim women from upper class conservative families in the towns of Comillah and Noakhali in eastern Bengal played notable role. They courted arrest, occupied official buildings, organised demonstration and assumed charge of picketing, flag demonstration and procession.19 No Chowkidari Tax movement largely affected Muslim women and this movement got successful particularly among Bogara Muslims (Sarkar, Bengal 1928-1934; The Politics of Protest 145). At the same time participation of women had some clear draw backs. A few Muslim women who were steadfast followers of Gandhi adhered to the movement, and reaming section either found it difficult to accept the overtly Hindu ideological basis of his ideas or was neglected by the congress organisers (Forbes 154-55). On the other side, growing Muslim separatist politics kept aside many women who earlier joined Swedish-Non Cooperation movement.

Muslim women were also very active in all aspects of Union activities particularly in Bengal. Number of aristocratic Muslim ladies of East Bengal such as Begum Peri Bano of Dacca, Lady Rahaman was aficionado to union activities. Begum Peri Bano, at a time became the vice president of the Bengali Women’s Union.20 Lady Rahaman addressed meetings in support of legislation to curb immoral traffic and the other aims of the Union in 1932.21 Mrs. R. Ahmed, Mrs. Hakam and Mrs. Momin all served on the executive committee of the association at different times during the thirties.22 Muslim women who were active in the Union took the lead in organising gatherings of women to gain the moral and financial support of the elite Muslim. In this context Mrs. Nazim was a prominent lady who used to hold this kind of meetings at her home. These Muslim ladies also passed some important resolution supporting the abolition of brothels and began to organise fund raising activities for a rescue home for former prostitutes.23 Mrs. Momin was active and prolific spokeswomen of the union. As part of delegation from the Union, she met with Nur Muhammad (MLA) to urge him to modify the amendment he had proposed in 1939 to the Immoral Traffic Act of 1933. Mrs. Momin was selected by the legislature to serve the Select Committee which was in the process of being nominated to consider the amendment.24

There were very few women associated with the contemporary National Women’s organisation. According to Geraldine ‘Muslim women, unless they could agree to a secular, Hindu national project, were not adequately represented’(Forbes 189).25 Parenthetically, some political minded Muslim Women, who were the members of national organisation like AIWC and WIA took active part in the 1930s onward electoral politics. Some women were also involved in the Muslim league’s women branch and other Muslim organisations (Ibid 196-197). Begum Shah Nawaz in Lahore, Begum Sharifah Hamida Ali, Jahan Ara Shah Nawaz, Begum Qudsia in United Provinces, Mrs. Zarina E. Currimbhoy and Hamida Ali in Bombay, Begum Amiruddin in Madras, Maosuma Begum in Hayderbad and Begum Shaista Suharwardy Ikramullah in Bengal were some well known political activists in pre-independent India (Ibid 198-199). Begum Shaista Suharwardy Ikramullah of Calcutta was famous purdah free women of 20th century.26 She was a secular minded women and was sympathetic towards nationalism. She usually attended women’s meetings and had even made an impassioned speech at one of them (Ibid 47-8). By 1940 she return to Delhi and acquainted with M. Jinnah, she subsequently involved in organising the Muslim Women’s Student’s Federation and Women’s subcommittee of Muslim League. She was elected as Muslim League Member of the Indian Constitutional Assembly in 1946.27 The Communal Award of 1932 increased the Muslim representation in the assembly which incorporated two seats for Muslim Women (Sen 68). In the 1946’s provincial election two Muslim women’s reserved seats in Bengal won the election under the umbrella of Muslim League (Ibid 198).

During Second World War large number of women from all section, directly or indirectly, got involved in the National Liberation Movement. Apart from Calcutta, in the district of Mymensing and Bnakura, organised women staged public procession and hunger marches. In the town of Madaripur (Faridpur District) a large number of women, not less than two thousand including several Muslim women joined the upsurge (Custer 55). Muslim Women, though very few in number, collaborated with their Hindu sisters in organising local societies in almost every districts viz. Faridpur Women’s Association, Chittagong District Women’s Association to propagate self-reliance and sisterhood. 1943’s Bengal famine forced Muslim women to get rapidly organised and mobilised. A report drafted by Nanikuntala Sen says “the traditional seclusion was broken during second world war as women were forced to queue at rationing shops: women who would never leave their houses for only matter whatsoever … now stood for hours in front of control shops.” Not only women from slum areas, but middle class Hindu and Muslim women with burkhas also stood there in queue in which “women’s modesty and shame was pulverised.”28

When the quit India Movement spread to the countryside, large numbers of peasant women along with their husband and brothers came out from home to protest against taxes, land tenure, and landholder’s rights. They attacked police stations and destroyed telegraph lines and joined protest rallies (Forbes, Women in Colonial India 205). Aruna Ganguli, wife of Asaf Ali, another daring lady of Bengal carried out underground revolutionary societies during Second World War. She had earlier joined civil disobedience movement and afterward offered for Individual Satyagraha in 1941 (Ibid 206). Mayzada Hashina Begum, a lady of incomparable audacity and uncommon dedication known as ‘Darling of Calcutta scavengers and Sewerage cleaners’. She fought for their rights, police oppression, social injustices and obscurantist ideas of Mollahs and confronted boldly rabid communal approach of Muslim Leagues during the forties (Ray 84-85).

Last but not least, Tebhaga Movement in Bengal provided a wide platform for women of both communities to participate in the last pre- independent upsurge. During Tebhaga Movement officials departments got attacked from women section especially at Nandigram area (Midnapure district). Here peasant women independently cut the harvest crops from Jotedar’s field, besieged the Cutchery office with brooms blocked the main entrance of the offices and burned officials papers. Ultimately they were successful in knocking down the feudal authority. However, bestial terror was perpetrated by the police, and they arbitrarily violated women’s honours.29 The Kishan Sabha’s appeal and objectives enhanced the participation of Muslim peasants in Tebhaga Movement.30 Though unlike their sisters from tribal and Hindu communities, Muslim women did not emerge as leaders of the movement, yet against the background of their own history, the mass participation of Muslim women in Tebhaga and in the Nari Bahini was decidedly a breakthrough.31 Writer Chabi Ray stresses about their participation as: “in Muslim homes revolutionary girls were born. But those were not the homes of urban middle class (families)—but the homes of hundreds of luckless Muslim sharecroppers” (Custer 145).. The communal forces failed to subvert the movement through the vicious weapon of communalism. This time, Hindus and Muslims protected each other’s houses and joined hand in hand in the struggle against the police (Ibid 133). Meetings usually held at evening for the convenience of Muslim Women, that they could join meetings (Ibid 172).

In some area, Tebhaga movement exhibited greater communal harmony, though it was the peak time of communal riots and tension in Bengal. In 24 Parganas, when a big contingent of policemen arrested some male peasant cadres and wanted to leave by truck, abruptly women of the village sounded the warning system. The air vibrated with the noise and echoes of conch-shells, horns, gongs and other instruments. As a reaction, hundreds of women from Hindu, Muslim and tribal family came out from their huts with their brooms and knifes to save their men. An unequal fight ensued, in which the policemen could ultimately outstrip the women, after they had fired their rifles (Custers WS97-WS104). Same kind of courage and cooperation had been shown by the women of Jesore, Mgura and Sunderban area. During this movement ‘sounding of alarm’ was a specific contribution of women. In Sunderbans area of the 24 Parganas, Hindu women used to blow conchshells and beat gongs while Muslim women used school bells or some other instrument for warning that could help to mobilise local people against any British advancement (Ibid).

Mechanisim and Magnitude of Participants:

Before going to discuss the methods of protest followed by the Muslim Women in different movements, we should see the statement of Jawaharlal Nehru regarding the women’s role in National Movements:

Most of us menfolk were in prison. And then a remarkable thing happened. Our women came to the front and took charge of the struggle. Women had always been there of course, but now there was an avalanche of them, which took not only the British Government but their own menfolk by surprise. Here were these women, women of the upper or middle classes, leading sheltered lives in their homes—peasant women, working-class women, rich women—pouring out in their tens of thousands in defiance of government order and police lathi. It was not only that display of courage and daring, but what was even more surprising was the organisational power they showed (Nehru 41).32

In most of the cases, Muslim women in Bengal participated in the movement as co-associates of their Hindu sisters, and some time worked under the guidance and leadership of Hindu Women. They usually preferred to follow the male section’s instruction and acted as volunteers. Their number was many folds less than the number of Hindu women participants. And of course their participation was sporadic, localised and limited in many senses. However, we can not underestimate their role and sacrifice, rather we can say that their (direct & indirect) participation made possible to accomplish the national goal. In general Muslim women worked as auxiliary cadres to men-folk and in few cases they acted as individual heroin or commander and suffered like men (Kuar 63-64). There were very few but sturdy women like Begum Shaista Suharwardy Ikramullah of Calcutta, Begum Peri Bano of Dacca and Mrs. Momin of Easter Bengal who led their respective mission by self and they were enough capable to supervise the mass women for greater achievement. Muslim women usually were expert in messaging, alarming and were supplier of food and shelter to revolutionaries. They contributed through spinning khaddar, boycotting foreign goods and provoking their men for national cause.33 Women, especially from urban and semi urban area joined rallies, strikes and meetings and even sometime followed civil disobedience. They also have played notable role in the non- cooperation and Swadeshi mission, and some of them were inclined towards electoral politics of 1930s and 1940s. Now the question is that whether they followed ‘Non-violence’ or ‘Violent’ method for their respective movements? So far Muslim women’s protest is concerned, I have found that most often they followed principle of non-violence, especially whenever they have participated in Gandhian Movement. But it was not always non-violent, particularly during world war and post world war upsurge they became fierce and aggressive (Kuar 86). Their arms and ammunition comprised of Brooms, Knife (Boti) and their brother, husband and sons to whom they used to send message of time and action.

In the initial years of the growth of the autonomous women’s movement, the proliferation of organisations was noticed in urban India in which very few Muslim women were involved. However, I have already mentioned that gradually from liberal homes and conservative families, urban centers and rural districts, women–single and married, young and old – came forward and joined the struggle against colonial rule. From the beginning of the 20th century rural Muslim women were quite untouched with the national upsurge, but by the passing of decades their number of participation gradually increased through peasant and world war time movements.

Achievement and Limitation:

Generally, the participation of women in the National Liberation Politics of the 20th century had dual motives: first to get liberate from age old bound of Men-folk and second is to free the nation from foreign yoke.34 It would not be easy to estimate that how far they were able to achieve their first goal after getting Country’s Independence. But we can certainly say that their participation in the movement showed the feminine inner strength and capability of resistance. By the participation in political movement Indian women themselves helped their own struggle for liberation. Thus, National Liberation Politics helped them to emancipate from many socio-economic bar, and it eventually led them towards wider scope of life. They struggled against women’s problem including rape, domestic abuse the right for equal pay, and the right to better health, education and inheritance.35 The liberation movements highlight that “women in India have been involved in the public sphere and they were ready to represent country.”36 However, Muslim women did not usually defy their families to throw off the veil, but due to this they achieved greater freedom of movement with the help or instance of their spouses (Minault 271). It must be mentioned here that, although the idea of individual freedom had been propagated by the reform and nationalist movements, even after that they did meet with resistance from society and even their own families.

There was certain limitation behind the Muslim women’s participation in the pre-independent politics. In this regard first question is that–why Muslim women in Bengal were less likely to emerge from the confines of purdah and participated in liberation politics? The answer has analytically been given by Gail Minlaut as “the small number of Muslim women receiving secondary or higher education who would have been in a position to challenge conservative customs. As late as in 1901, there was not a single Muslim girl among the 294 women attending college in India. There were some exceptional cases of Muslim women who defied purdah in the first two decades of the twentieth century, but it was not until the 1920s and 1930s that a significant number of Muslim women activities in political and social reform movement began to openly challenge purdah” (Minlaut 102). At that time, Muslims was not only an insecure community but was also the most backward community in socio- economic terms. Therefore, initially poor Muslim family of Bengal remained aloof from any kind of political upheaval. But the crisis times of the 20th century consequently fetched them into the orbit of national or regional movements.

Another reason for the limited participation was the segregation among the Muslims as well as the Muslim separatist politics which dominated the Indian political scene from 1920 to 1947. Separatist politics not only segregated male section, it consequently kept separate female group of both communities (Lateef 94). The position of Muslim women in Bengal was influenced by both Islamic injunctions as well as by the contemporary Hindu dominated traditional nationalism. On the other side, Muslim League did not encompass masses and as such the Muslim women were denied the opportunity to participate in the National Movement (Ahmad 30).


1 Works done by scholars such as Gail Minault and Sonia Amin, has addressed this silence surrounding Muslim women in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. However, the focus in these studies has been mostly on rendering ‘historical’ what, in the words of Joan W. Scott, has hitherto been ‘hidden from history’. Amin, Sonia. The World of Muslim Women In Colonial Bengal: 1876–1939, E. J. Brill, Leiden, Netherlands, 1996; Minault, Gail. “Purdah Politics: The Role of Muslim Women in Indian Nationalism, 1911-1924.” Separate World. Ed. Hannah Papanek and G. Minault. Delhi: Chanakya, 1982; Sarkar, Mahua. Muslim Women and the Politics of Invisibility in Late Colonial Bengal”, Journal of Historical Sociology, Vol. 14 No. 2 June 2001.

2 Toward Equality, Report of the Committee on the Status of Women in India. New Delhi: Government of India Ministry of Education and Social Welfare, 1974, p. 284.

3 Whenever we are talking about Indian Women who played a vital role in the independence struggle, so many names of Muslim women obviously comes to our eyes: Bi Amma (Abadi Begum), Mrs. Zubaida Daoodi, Amjadi Begum, Sadat Bano, Zulekha Begum, Nishat un Nisa Begum, Begum Khursheed Khwaja, Akbari Begum, Asghari Begum, Zehida Khatoon Sherwani, Khadija Begum, Muneera Begum, Amina Qureshi, Fatima Qureshi, Amina Tyabji Rehana Tyabji , Hamida Tyabji, Begum Sakina Luqmani, Fatima Taib Ali, Shafaat un-Nisa Bibi, Safia Saad, Begum Kulsoom Siyani, Asmat Ara Khatoon, Sughra Khatoon, Bibi Amatul Islam, Fatima Ismail, Sultana Hayat Ansari, Hazra Begum, Zuhra Ansari and so on.

4 She cherished desire was the spread of modern western education among the Muslim womenfolk. She worked as emancipator for Bengali Muslim women. Her thoughts, consciousness, work, in awakening of women. See: Abdul Mannan Syed. Begam Rokey 1st edition, Dacca: Bengla Academy, December 1983, pp. 51-52.

5 She brought out the progressive periodical Bul Bul from Calcutta, See for details: Srivastava, Gouri. The Legend Makers: Some Eminent Muslim Women of India. New Delhi: Concept, 2003, p.98.

6 For details see: Jahan, Roshan (edited and translated) Inside Seclusion: (The Avarodhbasini of Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain), Daka Bengladesh: BRAC, 1981.

7 See for details: Sinha, Soumita. The Quest for Modernity and the Bengali Muslims, 1921-1947. Calcutta: Minerva Associates, 1995.

8 See for details: Dasgupta, Kamala. Sadhinata Songrame Benglar Nari (Bengali Women in the Liberation Struggle). Calcutta: Vasudhara Prokashini, (undated).

9 The Veasant Spirit, Vol. 4, Adyar: The Teosophical Publishing House, p. 47.

10 Gandhi, Speech at Women’s Meeting Patna, CWMG, VOL. XIX, pp..67-8.

11 Gandhi, Speech at Meeting of Muslim Women, CWMG, VOL. XX, p.397.

12 See for details: Sarkar, Tanika. Bengal 1928-1934; The Politics of Protest. Delhi: Oxford UP, 1987, pp.38-49.

13 Dutta, B. N. Aprakashita Rajnaitik Itihas, Vol. 1, p.162. This Muslim lady braving all the risks, did not finish in making enquiries about khudiram’ welfare in last few days before he was hanged. See: Kalinath Sen ‘Khudiram in Prabasi’, p.75.

14 Bengalee, August 28, 1921.

15 Statesmen, August 15, 1925.

16 Statesmen, September 9, 1921.

17 Statesmen, February 4, 1923.

18 Particularly in Bara Bazar several women of both communities visited place to stop the sale of foreign cloth. See: Amrita Bazar Patrika, January 5, 1932, p.5.

19 Home Confidential, GOB, Poll 599 (SI No. 1-14) of 1930, letter 387 C of 24/ 5/1930 from District Magustrate, Cpomilla; GOB Home Confidential, Poll 441 (SI No. 1) of 2929 – Lowman’s Note on Youth Association in Bengal.

20 ABWU Report, 1932-33, p.1.

21 She was also active in educational reform, serving as delegate to the AIWC in 1933. ABWU Report, 1932-33, p.6.

22 ABWU Reports, 1934-35, 1935-36, 1937-38.

23 ABWU Report, 1932-33, p.12.

24 Amrit Bazar Patrika, April 12, 1935 as quoted in ABWU Report, 1934-35, p.23.

25 Forbes, Geraldine. New Cambridge History of India; Women in Modern India, Vol. 4, Part. 2. np: Cambridge UP, 1996. p.189; for Muslim membership in AIWC, See: Forbes, Geraldine. “The Indian Women’ Movement” Extended Family. Ed. G. Minlaut, p.60-67.

26 See: Ikramullah. Shaista S. “From Purdah to Parliament.” Behind the Veil

(new edition) Karachi: Oxford UP, 1992, p.28.

27 See: Ikramullah. Shaista S. “From Purdah to Parliament.” Behind the Veil

(new edition) Karachi:Oxford UP, 1992, pp. 89, 94, 165, 168.

28 See the Report entitled ‘Bangiya Pradeshik Mahila, Atma Raksha Samitir Dwitiya Barshik sammelan – Barshiki Report/ Prostababoli’ was published under the name of prominent women activist Neli Sengupta.

29 See: Swadhinata Reports in April 6, 1947.

30 Example have been drawn from Somnath Hor ‘Tebhaga Diary’ written in December, 1946, but published in the literary Magazine Ekshan in 1981.

31 Some attention to the role of Muslim women in the Tebhaga struggle has been paid by Chabi Ray in her booklet mentioned under note 8. The most unique feature of Tebhaga is the spontaneous creation of women’s fighting troops, called ‘Nari Bahini’. Rural poor women through their courageous deeds-snatching police-guns, forming semi militia, and staging defensive actions against the forces of the state-were bent on putting that forms of struggle for the agenda. See: Custers, Peter. “Women’s Role in Tebhaga Movement.” Economic and Political Weekly, 21. 43 (Oct. 25, 1986), pp. WS97- WS104.

32 The following quote taken from Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru’s Discovery of India that illustrates the role of women in the struggle for Independence. See: Nehru, Jaharlal. The Discovery of India, Oxford, Delhi: Oxford UP, 1946, (Six Imp. 1994), p.41.

33 See for general women role in details: Forbes, Geraldine. “Women in Nationalist Movement.” Women Modern India. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996.

34 See for detail: Shukla, Shashi. “Political Participation of Muslim Women.”

The Indian Journal of Political Science, 57.1/4, (1996), pp. 1-13.

35 See for example: Ray, Raka. “Women’s Movement and Political Fields.” Field of Protest, Women’s Movement in India. London: University of Minnesota Press,1999, p. 179.

36 Due to this cause the Congress party took historic decision in 1931 of the inclusion of women in the Constituent Assembly and the unanimity of opinions on the issue of women’s equality showed the favorable attitude of the political parties at that time. See: Sethi, Renu. “Determinant of Women’s Active Political Participation.” The Indian Journal of Political Science, 49. 4 (Oct. – Dec. 1988), pp. 565-579.


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FIROJ HIGH SARWAR. Is Assistant Professor, Department of History, Murshidabad adarsha Mahavidyalaya, (University ofKalyani), Mrshidabad, West Bengal.

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