SOAS University of London

Department of History, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

Beyond the Pale of Respectability: The Hysteria of the Mis-educated Woman

Darakhshan Khan (Newcastle)

Date: 5 March 2019Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 5 March 2019Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: 4426

Type of Event: 0

The paper will examine the discourse of female hysteria in Rashid ul Khairi’s novel Bint ul Waqt (The Daughter of the Moment). A social reformer and novelist, Rashid ul Khairi (d. 1936) campaigned for female education that was ‘appropriate’ for girls from respectable Muslim families. Bint ul Waqt is his warning about women’s education gone disastrously wrong. 

Farkhanda, the protagonist of the novel, is the daughter of Wahid Mirza, a corrupt man who has amassed wealth through fraudulent means. The father and the daughter share a marked disregard for Islamic values but are enthusiastic supporters of the colonial government. An important theme in Bint ul Waqt is Farkhanda’s attacks of hysteria, an ailment that Khairi simultaneously treats as a medical condition and as a symbol of the corruption of the modern woman. Farkhanda’s hysteria is an ailment rooted not in her physiological or psychological make-up, but in her mis-education and poor upbringing. 

Women’s health featured prominently on the agenda of social reformers. It intersected with the discourse of personal hygiene but could also be extrapolated to serve as an indicator of the health of the community and the nation. Rashid ul Khairi is interesting in this regard because the respectable women in his novels embrace poor health, illness and even death to prove their righteousness. In contrast, Bint ul Waqt ends with a hysterical and disgraced Farkhanda living in poverty to serve as a warning against the evils of Western education for women.

This paper will argue that in creating Farkhanda as a hysterical woman who refuses to die, Khairi situates her beyond the pale of respectability, while clearly marking the boundaries of the middle-class modernization project.


Organiser: Eleanor Newbigin

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