Gender in South Asia
Gender in South Asia
These two contradictory comments are about women – the first one is the rigid dictum which is still going on in our society and it had always been a consequence from the time of Mahabharat to the present day that women do not have the power to be an independent human being. And in the second comment a woman wants to lead her life to her own accord by refuting the patriarchal domination. She wants to caste a rebellion against the `Patriarchal hegemony` which creates a boundary over female freedom.
It seems as if she wants to repudiate the above-mentioned patriarchal dictum. These are two themes which I want to focus in my term paper which exists till now in our society of South-Asia in general and Bangladesh in particular. I want to show how South- Asian women face patriarchal oppression and how they have started to lead her life to their own accord. I want to establish these facts through Selina Hossain’s two short stories – Motijan’s Daughters and The world of Love and Labour.
I choose Bangladesh among so many South- Asian countries because the stories from Bangladesh also contributed to our experience of remembering the scattered and disjointed body of Bengali women’s writing, we are ashamed to acknowledge this but the fact remains that we had been largely ignorant of the extremely powerful body of women’s writing from our neighboring country despite our shared inheritance of language and culture. The distinct features of the above-mentioned texts, both in terms of content and treatment, bring out the political, religious nd culture specifities that inform women’s writing from Bangladesh.
In these two stories the setting is rural and the women, who have the power to destabilize the status quo of the sexse, function within village community. The purpose behind this rural setting, according to me, is lied in the fact that urbanization is a fairly recent phenomenon there. And the writers are possessing intimate links with their native villages. And I choose – Selina Hossain because she is one of the most important women writers of Bangladesh.
Her deep preceptions of nature and human psyche have made her writings unique and absorbing. She in her writings depict the role of a woman in the social and cultural movement of her country. She points to the challenges faced by women, to the decisions taken by women in social and political cries. Now I want to show how two above-mentioned themes function through Selina Hossain’s two stories. In Selina Hossain’s Motijan’s Daughters, the central character Motijan under goes a lugubrious marital life because of the malevolence and maltreatment of her mother-in-law Gulnur and husband Abul.
She is physically and mentally tortured and she looses her identity both as a `female` and `feminine`. (1) She looses the very `She` in her. She is blamed as `Sterile` woman. All her desire of becoming mother is shattered by her husband Abul as he has an illegal relationship with Rasui. So he does not care for Motijan. She is continually tortured by her mother-in-law as her father is unable to pay the promised `dowry`. This `dowry` system is a poignant phenomenon in our society for which many women have to face tremendous torture before and after their marriage.
Rabindranath Tagore has shown us how Nirupama, in his story Dena Paona had to face a fatal death as her father was unable to give the promised `dowry`. But here, Selina Hossain deviates from Tagore. Her character Motijan has transformed herself from a helpless creature incapable of even the slightest protest to a woman who can choose the man she desires and not simply put up with her husband who abuses and ignores her. She proves her fertility by making an extra-marital relationship with Lokman and like an `Angry young woman` chooses her own life to her own accord.
She wants to tell what Benares in Vijay Tendulkar’s Silence ! The Court Is In Sessoon, wanted to tell –“ My life is my own …… I will do ……what I like “ or she wants to do what the duchess of Malfi had done in webster’s The Duchess of Malfi. Motijan has fulfilled her desire by crossing ` Strategic Essecentialism `(2). Kunti in Mahabharat was not able to make public about her illicit relationship and about her son Karna but Motijan is able to do that. Motijan boldly makes public about her extramarital affair by taking two daughters in her hand.
Accordingly to Lacan – every desire is a misrecognition. In the case of Motijan, her desire is `non feminine` because she negates her `feminine` identity of `wife` or` Sati` to become a mother. She chooses Lokman not because she loves her, she makes a relation with him only to come out from the blame of infertility given by her mother-in-law Gulnur. Thus, Motijan’s desire for Lokman is ultimately misrecognised. She takes her desire for Lokman as a `weapon of rebellion` by which she negates her `feminine` identity of wife and builds her – female’ identity by giving birth of two female children.
Jahanara Imam’s The Weapon depicts not merely the trauma of a woman who is raped brutally but the specifies of her suffering acquire a new political significance as chhabiran resists the violent take-over of the territory of her body and land by Pakistani forces. As chhabiran uses her desire as a `weapon` like wise Motijan also takes her desire as a `weapon` to rebel against her mother-in-law. Another important theme in this story is the exploitation of women by women. Gulnur is like the traditional mother-in-law of our society who maintains her tradition by torturing her daughter-in-law.
Inspite of being a women she continually maltreats Motijan. As the mother-in-laws are also tortured by their mother-in-laws, so they carry on this torture as if it is a `legacy` to them. But they actually gain exploitation not any advantage. But when they use it, it becomes `negative legacy`. Gulnur is doing the same. Gulnur has not judged her self as a `woman`. She has been influenced by the conventional tradition of our society and has judged herself as a tool of `oppression`. Another important theme is about the birth of female child.
In Aitereya Brahaman, 6/3/7/13 [ from Taslima Nasreen’s Selected Columns ] it is stated that the birth of a daughter was considered a curse. Therefore it is imperative that a pregnant woman should perform so that her child may be a male. This is the concept of Vedic age and it is still now very dominant and static code in our society. And in this story same thing happens with Motijan after giving birth of two female children. Gulnur, her mother-in-law wants to drive out her from the house by claiming that family line will not be saved by female children.
But Motijan, like a `new woman` retaliates over Gulnur by rearing the children with utmost care and pride. Her pride is equal to the heroine Hester Pryne in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter who feels proud of her daughter Pearl. And her anger is equal to Jimmy Porter of Osborne’s Look Back in Anger. In Brihadaranyak Upanishad [ from Taslima Nasree’s Selected Coloumns ] it is declared that wife must walk behind her husband and The Satpath Brahamana directs women to follow the husband but Motijan’s husband Abul who is not worthy of a husband even not worthy of a human being, so there is no question to follow her.
Besides, his torture and his smoking of `bidi` keep Motijan in a Claustrophobic situation. Abul does not do the least duty of a husband. That is why she does not consider him even as a member against which she can set a rebellion. Besides, why always women should follow Men? This is totally a power play patriarchy. And according to me, every Motijan should disobey every Abul like husband as they are not worthy of being a husband. One of the synonyms of woman is `bharjya`; one who is borne. These is a similarity in origin between the words `bharjya` – `bhirtya` – a wife and a servant.
Motijan is treated like `bhirtya – slave ` in her family not as a true wife. The ending of the story is significant because although the story ends, the struggle of Motijan does not end. It is just the beginning of her struggle where she will have to face more complexity from Patriarchal society. She has brought two new `Motijan` whom she will have to make ready to struggle against later Abuls and Gulnur’s. Through the ending of the story Selina Hossain wants to tell that the revolt which Motijan has started is not the revolt of Motijan only but the revolt of every women of our South- Asian society in general and Bangladesh in particular.
It is the revolt of those women who are the victims of such Patriarchal and matriarchal oppressions. And the struggle which Motijan has started is unending, there is much left to gain her proper right and freedom. Likewise, women of South-Asia will have to struggle more to acquire their right and true freedom. Selina Hossain’s another story The world of Love and Labour shows that Amzad Mia, Fulbanu’s father wants to give marriage of Fulbanu to Kasem Khan who has already two wives, for the greed of land.
In spite of being a father he considers her daughter as an element of `exchangeable commodity`. This is not the present concept of our society. In Mahabharat we see that Arjun told Kunti, after bringing Draupadi by marrying her that he has brought a ` thing ` which he wants to give her mother. So, since the days of Mahabharat women are treated as an `object` not as a human being. Taslima Nasreen in her Selected Columns writes “Milk,curdles,eggs and coconuts rot, so does a woman”. Thus, we see that society applies the term to a woman as if she is an object.
Taslima Nasreen in her Selected Columns again shows that Samartha Sabdokosh which is a wonderful addition to the Bengali language and literature, uses synonyms for a `Man` – `Purushmanush` , `Manab`, `Manush` etc while for women synonyms are `Stri`,`Meye`,`Ramani` etc. The numerous synonyms for woman however do not mention `Manush` which simply means `Human`. But Fulbanu stops her father’s Conspiracy in order to teach him a lesson that she is also a human being and her desire should also be valued.
She marries Kasem Khan secretly without giving any information to her father and her family so that her father cannot get the property offered by Kasem Khan. On the other hand she wants to teach a lesson to Kasem Khan also. Kasem is a representative of neo-colonialism. (3) [ In Neo-Colonialist concept one person thinks himself to be superior without thinking what others think about him ] as he marries many women only to fulfil his lust without caring any body. He gives wrong notion of his practicing Polygamy that as he has no children so to save the family line he wants to marry Fulbanu.
We find that it is not a recent phenomenon. In Aitereya Brahmana [ from Taslima Nasreen’s Selected Columns ] it is stated that a woman cannot marry more than once. Even if a man has many wives, one husband is enough for a woman. Actually there is a medical reason behind this polygamy and to prove this matter I want to refer Taslima Nasreen’s view, who in her Selected Columns tells that between the age of fifty and seventy many men suffer from an enlargement of Prostate Gland. This enlargement of the gland leads to an increase in sexual desire, though the end is likely to be permanent impotence.
These old men, because of an enlarged gland, are suddenly fired with excessive sexual urge and long to get them selves wives. Many try to saying these men need a companion in their old age. They prefer to marry adolescent girl rather than old woman. The case of Kasem Khan is also the same. Kasem Khan also reminds the example of Prophet Mohammed. But Fulbanu Shatters his dream of enjoying her and also proves that the two wives do not suffer from infertility. The true fact is that Kasem Khan Is impotent and for that he has no children.
The Aitereya Brahmana gives [ from Taslima Nasreen’s Selected Columns ] unreserved praise to a woman who never Contradicts their husband. The two wives before Fulbanu blindly accept this concept. They neither refutes Kasem Khan nor try to discover the actual truth behind their infertility. But Fulbanu, like a `new woman` deviates from that cheap accepted norm of blindly receiving patriarchal hegemony. She gains her freedom by refuting that hegemony and hierarchy created by her father and Kasem Khan. I hope, she creates an example of freedom which will become an agenda to the girls who are the victims of such oppression.
At the end of the story without caring anybody and without receiving any `Talaq` or `Divorce` she just starts a new journey to an unknown path. She does not know what fate will awaiting her. But she frees her self from the bondage of patriarchal hegemony and now she chooses a life of free bird. She wants to find her own place to live in Virginia woolf’s famous room of one’s own ‘ where any bondage is prohibited. She wants to become the mistress of her own desire. Thus the two heroines of Selina Hossain’s through their tragic end ( as they both do not leade a normal happy lives ) prove the dictum “ Every tragedy is a story of survival “.
They both negate the traditional gender roles which cast men as rational, strong, protective etc, while women are emotional, weak, submissive. They prove that gender is a cultural construction, not a biological one. Men think themselves superior that is why they are superior [ Benedict Anderson’s view ](4). Actually they want to prove that no one is superior from the first days. Women also know how to build equality by breaking superiority . And through these stories Selina Hossain proves herself as a feminist writer.
Her characters are the representatives of the contemporary fates of South-Asian women. Her private purpose has thus become a public feminine issue. She prefers to cast her rebellion against the Patriarchal oppression not by `Sword` but by `Pen` and I hope, she is very much successful in this fact. Virgin Woolf in her story of Judith lamented “ For who shall measure the heat and violence of a poet’s heart when caught and tangled in a woman’s body ? ”. But I hope Selina Hossain has no reason to lament because she has created writings which is totally free from male influence.
And her writing may be treated under Gynocentricism (5) [ Elaine Showalter;s Concept ] as she in three phases ( feminine, feminist and female ) proves that she remains a fair gentle woman through her writings. Thus, through my term paper I want to tell that the women of South-Asia partly achieved their success of independence. But if there is to be a true female independence too, much remains to be done. But the struggle which has started by Motijan, Fulbanu and Selina Hossain herself is a great achievement. Their struggle is like a `torch` whose light will show path for the true right and freedom for women.
University/College: University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 13 November 2016
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