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WOMEN IN THE HYDERABAD STATE IN 19th AND 20th CENTURIES









Abstract

The present paper attempts to write the history of women in the Hyderabad state in 19th and 20th centuries. As a theorist has put it, the practice of purdah “literally as well as figuratively” veils the Muslim woman. Assuming that the group most likely to be articulate about their historical situation will be the elite Muslim women at the turn of the century, our effort in this paper is to unravel the making of these women during the turn of the century. The Deccan region, with Hyderabad as its capital, had a different history from other places of comparative Muslim dominance. Ruled by the Nizam, the area was officially not a British province and therefore not subject to direct rule. Yet, the advent of colonial modernity was experienced in this area just as in many other places in British India. For the Muslim community though, the state of Hyderabad, as the largest princely state in India still represented one of the last bastions of Islamic glory and power. We look at the making of the modern women in the Nizam state .This paper divides the history of women into three phases.

1. Women in the early Nizam period, The formative period- till the 19th cen,

2. Women during the transitional phase in the Hyderabad state during the period of reform- through the 19th century.

3. The new women on the threshold of modernity – 20th century.



Keywords Content

The present paper attempts to write the history of women in the Hyderabad state in 19th and 20th centuries. As a theorist has put it, the practice of purdah “literally as well as figuratively” veils the Muslim woman [Minault, Gail. 1998]. Assuming that the group most likely to be articulate about their historical situation will be the elite Muslim women at the turn of the century, our effort in this paper is to unravel the making of these women during the turn of the century. The Deccan region, with Hyderabad as its capital, had a different history from other places of comparative Muslim dominance. Ruled by the Nizam, the area was officially not a British province and therefore not subject to direct rule. Yet, the advent of colonial modernity was experienced in this area just as in many other places in British India. For the Muslim community though, the state of Hyderabad, as the largest princely state in India still represented one of the last bastions of Islamic glory and power. Further  Hyderabad was the fifth largest city in India even during the Nizam’s period , a status which it continues to occupy even now thus showing the presence of a very large middle class. The only difference between then and now is the presence of the Muslims as a strong component of the middle class.

Women as agents of history

The feminist movement of the 1960’s and the consequent development of Women’s studies have drawn attention to the fact that, “though women like men have been actors and agents in history, their experiences and actions are not recorded”. Traditional historiography has always focused on areas of human activities in which the males are dominant, ie. War, diplomacy, politics or commerce, as worthy of studying and women’s participation in agriculture, animal husbandry, family ritual, folk art are regarded as unimportant and outside the realms of study of history. Men’s history has been presented as universally human. The framework, concepts and priorities of these universal histories reflect male interests, concerns and experiences [Mathews, Jill, 1985]. Traditional historiography has thus either ignored the positive role of women or portrayed it as insignificant. We often have a chapter at the end of,  lets say Vedic period, later Vedic period, Vijayanagara period, entitled women, and this has a discussion of  dress, Jewellery, festivals and pastimes. While this may be important it in no ways does justice to the role of women rather it reinforces the prevailing prejudices of representing women [Pande, et.al., 1987, 173] In any case the contributions of women to the past and in shaping its religion, politics and society have not been fully brought out. Recently there have been attempts to rehabilitate the many aspects of women’s lives particularly the royal women. Anila Verghese links up the dress and other aspects of women’s lives. She links this to the architecture of the Zenana and since women in the Vijaynagar empire lived in separate spaces they set up new styles which were not under patriarchal control [Verghese, Anila, 2000].

The general principle of the patriarchal society is that men work in the public domain and women are to be restricted into the private domestic sphere. Since it is the public domain, which is considered important, women become more passive participants in the historical process. This is reflected in the lack of any substantial and substantive documentation about them. There is no doubt that a social science, which ignores the role of women, can be a social science which can only give a distorted picture of society as a whole. Like the earlier histories all aspects focusing on the elite were looked down upon using a class analysis framework but the approach of new historicism has rescued this position somewhat and we see that when we use gender as a category, elite women also have a lot to reveal in the rewriting of history.

To many, women’s history is not “intellectually interesting”. A wide spread impression is that it is held in low esteem and the field itself lacks legitimacy. One of the reasons for this lies within the practice of women’s studies where according to Naomi Wolf we find two types of feminism, victim feminism and power feminism [Noami Wolf, 1994] . Many feel that the study of women must be the ultimate harbringer of scholarly chaos.  Scholars suffering from lingering, “Victorianism” might well feel that women are too eternal or unworldly to have much to do with politics and economics [Johansson, Sheila Ryan, 1976].

Women as a category in history have always been distinct from men and their activities. Sexual divisions have been one of the most basic distinctions with in the society encouraging one group to view its interests differently from another. Just as class, race, sex has been used to create a separate identity for men and women. By studying the history of men and assuming that this would cover the women also we cannot find out the realities of women’s lives during any given period. Gender like any group, class or race has always been a very powerful factor in history. It is therefore necessary to view the development of women’s history from the feminist perspective of women as a distinct sociological   group which experiences both overt and covert controls through legal, political and social restrictions [Pande, Rekha, 1999, 50-51].

As history has been taken away from women it is necessary to put them back into the picture and document their role and work, a task which may take many year of painstaking work. However this is not enough as women have to recover their lost self ie. womanhood. The effort is not just to tackle women’s history to the existing framework but to work for a better understanding of the past, to understand myth evolution of an ideology, social relations and institutions that led to the subordination of women.  This perspective has proved extremely fruitful both in terms of theoretical insights as well as in detailed empirical studies. For example even while talking of dress, Tarlo’s book on clothing focuses on what to wear rather than what is worn and how different individuals and groups have used clothes to assert power, challenge authority, define or conceal identity, and instigate or prevent social change at various levels of Indian society. She has pointed out that the early ethnographic accounts of Indian dress were collated by men like Colonel Dalton who were heavily involved in the Colonial administration. These works which have come down to us have caste a great deal of influence on the practice of history writing and have to be deconstructed [Tarlo, Emma, 1996].

Keeping all these aspects in mind we try to reconstruct the history of women in the Hyderabad state during the 19th and 20 the centuries. As there is very little information available on women and that which is available pertains to only elite women this paper by and large focuses on these women only. 

The 19th century and Hyderabad state

19th century, was a period of extension of the hegemonic control and influence of colonial ideology, a period of transition, of emerging bourgeois society and values of new modes of thought.  The colonial intervention in the 19th century was no longer confined to the market or polity but also now extended to intrude into areas of culture and society, an extension that could potentially affect transformation in the social fabric of Indian society. This potential threat was sensed by the India intellectual, who were exposed to western ideas and values. At this juncture the Indian intellectual reformer sensitive to the implicit power of colonial cultural domination, responded to the western idea of rationalism, liberalism and civilized society and at the same time seeking ways and mean of resisting this colonial hegemony responded to a cultural defense as a means of resistance [Pannikar, 1975, 1-2 ].

This cultural defense resulted in a paradoxical situation as is evident in the social reform movement. The social reformers questioned the traditional order both as a result of the new intellectual exposure and also as part of the strategy of cultural defense. As a result the intellectual content of the social reform movement was a curious mixture of nineteenth century European ideas of individualism, rationalism, progress, scientific thought and reaffirmation of colonialism. Thus began a critical appraisal of the Indian society in an attempt to create a new ethos, devoid of all overt social aberrations such as polytheism, casteism, sati child marriage, illiteracy, all of which they believed were impediments to progress.

In the case of Hyderabad princely state, British didn’t have direct control. Under such circumstances in Nizam’s domain educated elite Muslim women along with the support of few enlighten men stood for the education of evils associated with women in Hyderabad state. Women formed and propagated their ideas with the pen. They stood basically for the female education; they believed education could bring about a change among women. Hyderabad was the largest princely state of British India. The population of state was seventeen million, comprising of people from three different regions of Nizam state, different language, different culture and different economic background. Thus arises the  necessity to study about the women of different social backgrounds, region, language and culture. Hyderabad had its own unique culture ‘Ganga jamunie Tahzeeb’ and it reached to its zenith under Nizam’s patronage. At this use women were the active agents of culture, instruments for the cultural transmission and safeguards of culture. They also constituted many domains like the household that contributed to the formation of identity over the generations.

Hyderabad state was heterogeneous society and women in the state were the historic representatives of diverse ethnicity, religions and regions. The society had its own unique culture called Ganga jamunie tahzib and in it women played central role in the cultural transmission. The women of different backgrounds had different position and thus acquired different status in the society. For the better understanding of the Hyderabadi women, their lives and experiences, the study divided women into three periods to get a clear picture of women and her changing role in the society.

 

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