Purdah - An Anthology

Purdah - An Anthology

Product ID: 13371

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Author: Eunice de Souza
Editor(s): Eunice de Souza
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Year: 2004
Language: English
Pages: 552
ISBN/UPC (if available): 0195666615


This collection brings together writings on the theme of purdah not just in terms of the burqua worn by Muslim women, but more broadly as the elaborate codes of seclusion and feminine modesty used to protect and control women's lives across the religious divide.

The focus is primarily on purdah as a lived experience. What was it like to live in seclusion? What did the women do with their time? What did they know of the outside world? What implications did the practice of purdah have on their health and education? How did their husbands and families help them break out of purdah? And what was it like for a man to grow up without women after a certain age?

Using nineteenth and twentieth century texts, including personal accounts, biographies, poetry, fiction, satire, and essays, this collection puts together a picture of the hidden aspects of women's lives in all its complexity. The variety of western perspectives on purdah presented here challenge the simplistic postcolonial assumption that they all speak with one voice. Similarly, Indian perceptions vary from a strict adherence to purdah to a belief that the seclusion of women is responsible for societal decay. There are biographical pieces by major reformers, quotations from contemporary newspapers, and apiece on film images of purdah. First-person accounts include the redoubtable Begums of Bhopal who, in or out of purdah, were excellent and enlightened rulers. And finally, there is Purdah in fiction, notably the tragic failure of an experiment in bringing one's wife out of purdah, depicted by Tagore.

This book will be an important resource for scholars of cultural studies, gender studies, and will interest the general reader of religion, culture and society in South Asia.


When I put on the burqua, my depraved brothers had roared so much with laughter that I came to blows with them, and instead of taking them to task, Amma has smacked me.
-Ismat Chugtai, More from the Autobiography, 1981.

The toes (of a Chinese lady) are crushed up under the foot, so as to render the person perfectly lame: this is a less expensive mode of keeping a woman confined to the house, than having guards and a zenana-the principle is the same.
-Fanny Parkes, Wanderings of a Pilgrim, 1850

My aunt was already furious with me. She used to call me nasty names for reading the Quran so much: she would say, Thank God, this girl hasn't learned anything else, otherwise she would have time for nothing al all.
-Bibi Ashraf, How I Learned to Read and Write, 1899

The Young wives were never allowed to see their husbands during the day; but often when I played in the front courtyard I heard my name called softly and would be asked to convey love-letter between the temporarily separated couples.
-Sunity Devee, Maharanee of Cooch Behar,
The Autobiography of an Indian Princess, 1921




Mrs Meer Hassan Ali
Observations on the Mussulmans of India

Fanny Parkes
Wandering of a Pilgrim in Searach of the Picturesque

Mrs Colin (Helen) Mackenzie
Funeral Scene in a Zenana

Louis Rousselet
Bhopal-India and Its Native Princes

Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava
Our Viceregal Life in India

Sir Monier Monier-Williams
Modern India and the Indians

Sir Lepel Griffin

Mrs Marcus Fuller
The Zenana

Rev Edward Storrow
Daily Life

J K H Denny
The Beginning of the Work
Wives and Widows

Annie Besant
The Education of Indian Girls

Sister Nivedita (Margaret Noble)
The Hindu Woman as Wife
Woman in the Natoinal Life

Kathleen Olga Vaughan
Osteomalacia in Kashmir

Frieda Hauswirth
Women in the Zenana
Some Helpless Women of India

Charlotte Wiser
Four Families of Karimpur

Gail Minault
Urdu Women's Magazines in The Early Twentieth Century

Dr Meredith Borthwick
Dress Reform and Ideas of Modesty


Sir Syed Ahmed Khan
The Education of Mohammedan Girls

Chirag Ali
The Position of Woman

P N Bose
Social Condiation

Maulan Ashraf Ali Thanavi
The First Book of the Bihishti Zewar

S Khuda Bukhsh
Thoughts on the Present Situation

Sultan Jehan Begum
Al Hijab or the Necessity of Purdah

Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain
The Secluded Ones

Ameerali Syed
The Status of Women in Islam
The Spirit of Islam

Dr Rukhmabi
Purdah-The Need for its Abolition

Dr Kalikinkar Datta
Education of Women

Husain B Tyabji
Social Reform

Malavika Karlekar
Constructions of Femininity in Nineteenth Century Bengal

Maithili Rao
Screen Image


C M Naim
How Bibi Ashraf Learned to Read and Write

Shah Jahan Begum
The History of Bhopal

Rassundari Devi
The Sixth Composition

Nawab Sultan Jahan Begum
An Account of My Life

Sunity Devee Maharanee of Cooch Behar
My Childhood-The Autobiography of an Indian Princess

Bipan Chandra Pal
In the Days of My Youth

Mohamed Ali
My Life: a Fragment

Shaista Suhrawardy Ikramullah
Twilight of an Empire

Ismat Chugtai
More from the Autobiography

Sahibzada Ata Muhamed Khan
Quoted in Lives of the Princes


Ardersir F J Chinoy and Mrs Dinbai A F Chinoy

Rabindranath Tagore
Bimala's Story

Romesh Chunder Dutt
What the Women-folk Said

Rashid Jahan
Behind the Veil

The Curtain

Rajinder Singh Bedi

S J Joshi
Anandi Gopal

Iqbalunnissa Hussain
Purdah and Polygamy

Sarojini Naidu
The Pardah Nashin

B P Sathe