Sarala and Rokeya: Women's Issues

Bharathi Ray

in Early Feminists of Colonial India

Published in print September 2012 | ISBN: 9780198083818
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199082186 | DOI:
Sarala and Rokeya: Women's Issues

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This chapter explores how Sarala Devi Chaudhurani and Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain looked at the abject position of women in society and what their prescriptions for improvement were. Sarala’s mission was to assist women to become aware of their potential and be confident of their power. In tune with current nationalist thought, Sarala valorized select qualities of women from the past, and believed that her contemporaries should emulate their lofty spirit and the worthy moral qualities. Rokeya’s words reflect not just courage but also a mind far ahead of its time. She believed in two principal premises: that women were used by men and were willing collaborators in their own oppression; and that men and women constituted two equal parts of society. If one was weak, the other could not thrive. The author describes how both Sarala and Rokeya believed that, to effect sustainable change, the problem of education needed to be addressed immediately. Yet here too their approaches differed. Sarala’s prescription for women’s education was mediated by nationalist consciousness. On the other hand, Rokeya’s emphasis was on making women self-respecting individuals at home and ideal Muslims in society. If Sarala upheld the home as a central place for educated woman, Rokeya reminded her readers that, in India, a majority of women did not possess a home which they might call their own. She also talked of women’s rights to paid employment, thus making a case for the economic independence of women. In asking for gender equality with men, Rokeya occupies a unique place amongst the women of her generation.

Keywords: Sarala Devi Chaudhurani; Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain; Nineteenth century Bengal; Hindu women; Social power; women’s education; women’s economic independence; Indian nationalism and women; Muslim women; Gender equality

Chapter.  9998 words. 

Subjects: Literature

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