South Asia

Organized Panel Session

3 - Whom Can a Muslim Woman Represent? Begum Jahanara Shahnawaz and Electoral Politics in Late Colonial India

Friday, July 6
4:30 PM - 6:00 PM
Location: Tamarind, New Building

This paper will examine the confluence of gender, politics, and religious mobilization in the career of a prominent Punjabi politician of the All-India Muslim League named Begum Jahanara Shahnawaz (1896-1979). I focus on Shahnawaz’s career during the 1940s when she was expelled from the League for accepting an official appointment against party directives, and a few years later, brought back into the fold. Shahnawaz responded to the League’s disciplinary actions with a somewhat curious self-representational narrative. Instead of reasserting her commitment to the League, as other politicians at the receiving end of these same disciplinary actions did, she argued that her capacity to represent Muslims was distinct from her capacity to represent Indian women. In this paper, I analyze the political implications of this moment of rupture between Shahnawaz and the League. I contend that her argument reveals the complex ways in which elite women politicians of her time negotiated the colonial representative structure to secure and retain political posts that they understood to be advantageous for Indian women. In doing so, I further submit, these elite women also navigated multiple patriarchies — of family, party, and the state — with more success on some occasions than others. For Shahnawaz herself, posting a political universe in which one politician could represent multiple constituencies facilitated an extensive political career that often cut across ideological divides and party lines, but remained committed to what she considered women’s rights. 

Ashish Koul

Yale University, United States

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