Freedom of Mind
18 Jan, 2009
(Translated from Bengali into English by Abul Kasem)
After the partition
of India what remained intact is the system of education introduced
and developed by the British. It is no denying that while India was
under British Imperialism, The British also introduced in India the
concept of modern civilisation. This is evident from the development
of progressive mind due to the influence of the British education
system. Nevertheless, one cannot escape the truth that while women
of other religions have done fairly well in education the Muslim
women lagged behind. The main causes for this retardation are:
Islamic orthodoxy and the veil. Due to such impediments, until
recently, Muslim women’s education was confined only to the learning
of the Qur’an.
We learn from history that Indian Hindu women were the most
oppressed in the world. Raja Ram Mohon Roy and Ishwar Chandra
Vidyasagar pioneered the emancipation of Hindu women. They, however,
did not want the full freedom or equal rights of Hindu women. They
wanted to establish the fundamental rights of a Hindu woman, such
as: right to life, and the right to earn a living. During that time
it was too much for a Hindu woman to demand such basic rights.
Vidyasagar knew this truth well. That is why he first introduced the
law of re-marriage of widow. Without this first step, he thought, he
could never eliminate the despicable system of sati, the Hindu
system of burning a widow on the pyre of her husband.
Born on December 9, 1880, Begum Rokeya was a contemporary of this
period. She probably died on December 9, 1932. When she was a young
lady of only twenty-four she declared:
Men have made up the religious injunctions in the name of God just to imprison us.
One should have very little doubt of what Begum Rokeya had said,
for, all religious scriptures are written by men. Even when it is
claimed to be from God, that God is certainly a male god. Under such
circumstances, it is no wonder that for eons, men exert full control
on all affairs.
For centuries the system of education for Muslim women was confined primarily to the study of the Qur’an. Slowly, when the postal system was introduced, it became necessary for her to learn the art of writing and reading of the vernacular language to be able to correspond with her husband. Unfortunately, this too was severely limited—merely to the lowest literacy level. The system in household in our society is that the husband is the master of the house; the wife is merely a domesticated maid-servant. From the very past, until now, this system has survived, albeit with minor colour changes. The status of women has not change—they are still in the same Dark Age as before. The only difference is that previously women were uneducated; today many of them are educated.
Readers might ask why I did not introduce this essay with a brief
history of education of women. I agree with this premise. I am not
an expert historian, even though I wrote a few sentences on the
history of women’s condition in the Indian sub-continent. My main
thrust, however, is to expose the discrimination towards woman which
is largely responsible for the lack of education among women.
Together with this, I also want to discuss the financial freedom for
women, as well as the favouritism accorded to a son compared to a
In our society we notice that mothers often neglect their
daughters. These mothers consider sons to bring security, as a son
is the guarantee of income generation. The reason why a woman
perpetrates such blatant prejudice to another woman is rooted in the
truth that the mother herself had been a victim of such a prejudice.
Today, to prepare herself for a man, a woman has to indulge in
personal beautification, as well as educating herself. In the past a
woman was mostly obsessed with her attractiveness and look. She must
look fair, at any cost, as men do not like women of dark complexion,
she had been indoctrinated to believe. These women expend
considerable time to enhance the brightness of their skins. This is
done to the neglect of the upliftment of their personality. They are
wrong, because no matter how hard the might try they can never
render their skin to be absolute white or of fair complexion. The
truth is: the colour of skin is dependent upon the environment,
climate and the genetic makeup. Many women also educate themselves
in the hope of having a good marriage. These women are deluded too,
for, many such marriages end in unhappiness.
Marriage often makes these women spineless creatures. In many
cases the woman has to interrupt her education, attend to her family
chores, such as: cleaning utensils, food, cooking, washing, ironing,
household decoration…and so on. Whatever freedom she enjoyed before
marriage, she now loses it after the marriage. She has no choice but
to surrender to the whims and fancies of her man. The woman now
becomes the subordinate to her husband. In many cases, even when the
woman possesses higher qualifications and talent, she still lives a
life in servitude—the life of a maid-servant. Her financial
dependence on her husband is tantamount to the death of her heart,
mind and soul—she merely survives as a physical entity, her identity
There are many women who had excelled academically in the
university, but after marriage their talent have been limited to
banal activities of a housewife: kitchen, cooking, washing…etc.
Slowly, under such stifling environment, their talent and aptitude
die. Having nurtured children, exhausted, bored, dispirited, when
this woman turns old she becomes financially dependent more on her
son than on her husband—her dependency on men never ceases. Helpless
and destitute, she could never be independent financially. Her
intellect, ability, talent and prospect…whatever her ambition and
aspirations, all are extinguished with her servitude to the
financially stronger force. Lack of financial resources reduces her
to a mere chattel.
To clarify, let us review this example: a writer needs a
favourable environment for creative writing. These might include: a
cosy room, pleasant decoration, silence, comfort. He cannot be
productive in the absence of such milieu. A singer needs song
writers, lyricists, musicians, sound engineers, stage…to demonstrate
his talent to the fullest. Nevertheless, the audience never knows
about these behind-the–scene people. The praise and accolade goes to
the singer only—he is the one who becomes popular. The same also
happens in the case of the writer. Only he receives all the honour
and commendation. The environment which nurtured the author never
receives any credit whatsoever.
A woman who receives education is often entrusted with household
duties. Her mother practices discrimination on this matter.
Therefore, how is it possible for the learner woman to shine in her
studies when she is denied the proper environment to pursue her
The situation is omnipresent, whether the woman is an artist, a
housewife, an author or a singer. As a priority, she has to attend
her family chores. Having done these household duties, if she could
manage a little time, only then she could indulge in her passion,
such as writing. Even during this ‘free’ time she faces
distractions. She often receives discouragement from her near and
dear ones, just because she is a woman. To dissuade her, epithets
such as, dullard, weak, dependent, brainless, dunce…are hurled at
her. To add further insult to her intellect she is reminded subtly
that she is already educated, so further education is
unnecessary—her principal duty is to her husband, in-laws, children
and family. It is incumbent on her to please all parties. This means
that to render the intelligent woman to the status of a dumb and
subservient, the man, in this case husband and a few women will
spare no pain to dissuade her from pursuing any intellectual work.
They believe that anon-conformist, intelligent woman is a dangerous
The above torment is more prevalent if the woman indulges in
literary works. She is often reprobated for having the gall to put
pen on paper. Under such adverse circumstances it is not that simple
for a housewife to demonstrate her literary talent. Despite such
hostile situation, some women do make it, establish themselves as
accomplished. Unfortunately, many such talented women eventually
give up. With the passage of time; they get tired, and lose their
passion and enthusiasm. Eventually, they sacrifice themselves, just
to preserve the peace and harmony in the family. With pride, many
husbands declare that they have authorised full freedom to their
wives, as if the husband has the power to control his wife’s
freedom. This simply tells us that the wife is really under the
power of the husband—she is fully enslaved by him.
This is a huge loss to the nation, in fact, to humanity. Our
world is deprived of the talent of such women.
Religion is another hindrance to the blooming of talent of women.
Religious instructions are designed just for this purpose—to deter
woman from pursuing their freedom of thought and expression. Since a
woman reaches the age of reason she is indoctrinated with religious
restrictions so much so that throughout her life she is haunted by
fear, the fear of breaking religious taboo. Even when a woman is
educated and self-reliant she is tormented by religious
prohibitions/injunctions throughout her entire life. This morbid
fear of religious sanctions is often inflicted by men who resort to
quoting the verses from Holy Scriptures, just to implant absolute
terror in her mind. Here is a verse from the Qur’an which most
Muslim men will recite to their wives to instill fear and obedience
YUSUFALI: Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband's) absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (Next), refuse to share their beds, (And last) beat them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them Means (of annoyance): For Allah is Most High, great (above you all).
The above verse has sealed the fate of all women. Since Allah has
sent down this instruction to men, no power on earth could ever
change the situation of Muslim women. Since their birth women are
continuously bombarded with such verses, to the extent that fear and
terror is ingrained in women, from her childhood to her married
life, and finally to her old age. She is absolutely gripped with
such fright that her mind dies, she has to comply with any
instructions her husband justifies from religious scriptures.
Take note of the double-standard here. Men are not subjected to
any such measures depicted in the above verse.
In a Tirmidhi hadis we read:
A woman is an object of concealment. Whenever she goes out without her covering (veil or burkha) the devil renders her an object of desire to men.
We read in the Holy Scriptures that men and women were created by
the merciful God. So how is it, according to the above hadis, that a
woman is the creation of devil whereas, a man is not? Will it not be
fair to say that men and women both are influenced by the Satan?
This is why, being fettered on all sides, a woman is always
greatly frightened, constantly alarmed.
A working man does less home responsibilities than a working
woman. This is because household duties are relegated to the
exclusive domain of women. The man returns home, tired, and
exhausted. He takes rest; he does not attend to any home duties.
Whereas, a working woman’s job does not end after returning from
work, she has to mind the home chores, besides attending to her
husbands services. Thus, the working woman, soon after her return
from work, transforms into a house-maid.
As soon as a woman reaches puberty she is constantly haunted with the fear of marriage and its responsibilities. In some cases she is even threatened with physical violence at her matrimonial home. Gripped by constant fear, she is always under the spell of the dreaded word talak (divorce). Islam allows a husband to have four concurrent wives at any time. Religion has cast a permanent fear in her; she could never be free of such terror. She always feels insecure.
In conclusion, we must comprehend that poor women of our society
must be freed from such despicable physical and mental torment.
Progressive outlook can bring such a change. Unfortunately, there
are plenty of obstacles on this road for the emancipation of our
women. The only viable step to free our women from the bondage of
fear, anxiety, and physical torment is to create awareness in women
about their rights. A woman under the spell of religious apartheid,
social restrictions, and financial dependence is a mental wreck. It
will not be easy for her to break such formidable barriers. But
break she must. She must assert herself as a human being, not as a
This essay was based on the writings of various authors. I am
deeply indebted to them.
Nari (women), Dr Humayun Azad
Various religious sources
Eka is a progressive Muslim woman from Bangladesh.