Organizer: Shahid Refai, College of Saint Rose
Chair: Gail Minault: University of Texas, Austin
Discussants: Gail Minault, University of Texas, Austin; Ghazala Anwar, Temple University; Shahid Refai, College of Saint Rose, Albany; Sylvia Vatuk, University of Illinois, Chicago Circle; S. M. Shamsul Alam, Southern Oregon State College; Theodore P. Wright, Jr., State University of New York, Albany
South Asia is considered a paramount paradigm of hierarchical structuring of social, political, and economic relationships. This vision of the subcontinent has even found a place in fiction. E. M. Forster (in A Passage to India) called it "a spirit of Indian earth which tries to keep men in compartments." One could add 'gender' and 'modernity' to these kaleidoscopic compartments. Islam, being a milieu of religio-cultural homogeneity, has come under social stress in South Asia because of persistent prompting of caste, class, race, communality and ethnicity. To this stress, contemporary movements of 'gender' and 'modernity' have added more complexity.
This roundtable would attempt to examine this dilemma of South Asian Islam, especially in its cultural, political, economic, and social dimension. Questions would be raised as to whether ideological homogeneity (the claimed 'brotherhood') could cope with contrasting collateral forces of community and individuality, egalitarianism and caste, the holy law and customary practice, religious universality and ethnicity, male dominance and women's autonomy, and traditions and modernity. Had these contrasting forces affected the religio-cultural homogeneity of Islam?
Shahid Refai and Sylvia Vatuk would attempt to analyze the aspects of Muslim women's dilemma under the stress of customary male dominance. Refai would look at the activism of American women missionaries in transplanting women's rights ideas among Muslim girls of Isabella Thoburn College Lucknow and among the elite begums through the zenana work and by publishing Urdu women's journals, Rafiq-i-Niswan. This led to several major court cases in Lucknow during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Using 25 short biographies, a travelogue, and an autobiographical account of and by women, Sylvia Vatuk will try to discern the lives of South Indian women, their community and individuality. To gauge modernity and gender under stress, Ghazala Anwar will analyze the relationships between the modes of politics of the female heads of state and the women's movements in Bangladesh and Pakistan. Theodore Wright will evaluate postmodernism and the study of South Asian Muslim Ethnicity. Gail Minault will make concluding comments on the roundtable's theme. Shamsul Alam will speak on the Islamicist movement in Bangladesh and the Taslima Nasrin controversy.