Rethinking Family History: Consent, Gender Segregation, and Women’s Freedom in Urdu Print Culture, 1900–30

Friday, January 8, 2016: 2:50 PM
Room 313/314 (Hilton Atlanta)
Asiya Alam, Louisiana State University-Baton Rouge
This paper looks at the debates on marital consent and women’s freedom that were held in Urdu women’s magazines of Tahzib-e Niswan and Ismat in early twentieth century. Discussion of consent in South Asian historiography has focused on the Age of Consent bill of 1891 highlighting the discomfort of Indian nationalists with the legislation or on the child marriage law of 1929. Looking at a different set of debates on consent, age and conjugality, this paper illustrates that Muslim women addressed the issue of marital consent through a discussion around notions of parental authority, gender segregation and freedom. In particular, the paper highlights various meanings associated with each of these concepts and sheds light on ‘feminist’ discourse circulating in Urdu women’s writings.  In exploring these debates, I demonstrate how questions of women’s emancipation amongst Urdu-speaking Muslims were excluded not just by the Indian nationalist discourse but also marginalized by the emerging voices of Muslim nationalism. I therefore argue that a legislative approach to family history or histories of nationalism/nation-state cannot completely encapsulate histories of women's movement or critiques of patriarchy.