Punjab deyaN ManniaN PerwanniaN ZnaniaN
Sushila Chayn née Sharda, who passed away in October 2011 at age 88, was a Punjabi communist activist and leader of the [East] Punjab Istri Sabha. She devoted her entire life to the cause of national freedom, workers movement and the emancipation of women.
Born to Hindu reformist Arya Samaji parents of Pathankot she came into contact with Bibi Raghbir Kaur who was a Kirti-Ghadar Party member of Punjab State Legislative assembly, and became a political activist moving to the communist party headquarter in Lahore in 1941. At the time, she also worked amongst women in the district of Montgomery.
She displayed her organising skills in the kisãn peasants conference held in Fatehgarh Korotana in Ferozepur (now in Pakistan). Then she was deputed to work in Kangra district. This was the time when she got married to a party activist Chayn Singh Chayn. Along with Tahira Mazhar Ali, Vimla Dang and other Punjabi socialist women she worked day night collecting funds and other support for the victims of Bengal Famine.
A few yeas later in 1947 when the united Punjab was dismembered, Punjabi communists began to organise peace committees thus saving hundreds of Muslim, Hindu Sikh men, women and children from sectarian violence. Sushila was an important part of it, and later worked tirelessly in rehabilitating women victims of partition.
After 1947, the Chayn couple moved to Jalandhar and they both participated in the 1959 peasants’ anti-betterment levy agitation – Khush-hasiyati tax morcha.
She was the first ever woman panch of her village panchayat council in Daduwal. Till the end Sushila tackled the social problems at the grassroots level – dowry, domestic violence, casteism and inter-caste marriage.
Sushila is survived by her husband and their daughter Savita.
Sushila Chayn’s picture taken by Amarjit Chandan in Jalandhar, 1986.
Yes, its hard for me to just say ‘A Great…’ for the likes of MukhtaraN Bibi aka MukhtaraN Mai, and its not just because she makes me unashamedly proud of being a woman, a Punjabi, a Pakistani, a South Asian, a human.
Her story is known to us but it is not certain if it has been told. We know that a woman was punished by a jirga for the actions of her younger brother, June 2002 in Meerwala. On the orders of the jirga, MukhtaraN Bibi was gang-raped by the men of the aggrieved (influential) family to avenge the sexual liasons of her (lower status) brother with one of ‘their’ women.
MukhtaraN Bibi would have taken the rap of justice however hard but not that forced play on the ugly set of a live porn show. As is usual in such cases, the set that was erected to mount that gang-rape was conceived, staged and protected by local male elders, politicians, and law enforcers. It was an ‘honour’ kill without the dead body.
In the pit of physical pain, shame and humiliation, MukhtaraN Bibi may have come to know the meaning of many words but we are certain of one: ‘Ignorance’. (‘My slogan is to end oppression through education‘).
It is not unusual for women to receive punishment for the actions of their male family members in a country where ‘honour’ means ‘male revenge’, and killing for it is an acceptable social practice. Even in that environment, the punishment given to MukhtaraN Bibi by that local court of ‘justice’ was unacceptable for the larger society. Yet this was not the most unusual thing about this case. The most unusual thing was what MukhtaraN Bibi did after the porn show was over. Instead of going insane with shame, despairing to the point of committing suicide or accepting the status of a whore in the area, MukhtaraN Bibi stood up, gathered support, fought the system-backed aggressors, and won!
Oh victimized she was and survive she did as she changed the meaning of both ‘Victim’ and ‘Survivor’!
Even when the real criminals have still not been punished, MukhtaraN Bibi is victorious at many different levels. She has reclaimed her honour in her area and beyond, opened schools in her community to fight ignorance with the money she had received for her strengths and leadership, has become a continual source of inspiration and strength for women, and is one of the major reasons for creating an atmosphere for the jirgas to be declared illegal in Pakistan.
Though jirgas still thrive and continue to generate an ‘official’ form of community violence against women and men of lower social groups, a strong blow to this entrenched system of religio-feudal oppression has been dealt by MukharaN Mai; and, here comes a Punjabi poem for her in roman:
By Fauzia Rafiq
Terae pairaN haiThhaN jutti
jutti thallae nissaldi mitti
soohae rang vich ghol
mathae tae lawaN
Ek mitti Punjabi
utae tera parchhawaN
Inj laggae Bibo
ajjo dil. dlairee pawaN
Update: April 22/11
Pakistan Shariat Court Delivers Sham Justice in MukharaN Mai Gang Rape Case
Sources and Links to more information:
Chronology of Events
Mai’s Profile on Wikipedia
‘Whose Justice? MUKHTARAN MAI: Punishment of the innocent’: Amnesty International
Mai’s Blog: Poland Travelogue
Interview with Mukhtaran Mai
A film ‘Mukhtiar Mai: The Struggle for Justice’ by Journalist Beena Sarwar
“If I am not a person for the purposes of representation, why should I be a fit person for taxation?”
Sophia Duleep Singh was a Punjabi born and brought up in the UK where she fought for gender equality in the suffragette movement. Her interventions on behalf of Women’s Tax Resistance League (WTRL) where she would refuse to pay taxes and be penalized to bring home the point that the prevailing disenfranchisement of women was an unfair practice that needed to be changed by giving women the right to vote.
Between 1909 to 1914, Sophia also became an active leading member of Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) at the local and national level. She was one of the leaders of the WSPU delegation to the British House of Commons on 18 November 1910, the day known as Black Friday. Two women died due to police violence, and two hundred were arrested out of the 300 women who had marched that day to stop the Parliament from shelving a Conciliation Bill that would have allowed some women to vote in the General Election. Police aggression against unarmed protesters brought the public opinion in favor of suffrage.
As well, Sophia supported Punjabi communities in Britain in different ways. She was the only ‘Indian’ member of the WTRL, and created support in the Indian community for women’s right to vote by bringing ‘Indian Suffregettes’ into the British women’s movement. She also organized supporting events for British Indian troops, and helped establish a Lascar Club in London to alleviate the economic conditions of Indian sea workers on British ships.
The Fifth daughter of the last Sikh Sovereign of the Punjab, Princess Sophia Alexandrowna Duleep Singh was born 1876 in Suffolk to Maharani Bamba and Maharaja Duleep Singh.
The woman who became her ‘God Mother’ was the same person who 27 years back had usurped the land, the kingdom, the crown, and the Kohinoor jewel from Sophia’s father; and, had rendered him bereft of his childhood, youth and pride by plucking him away in his teens from his people, his religion and his legacy. To Sophia’s people in the Punjab, Queen Victoria had caused widespread persecution before, during and after the two Anglo-Sikh wars.
Sophia Duleep Singh is a Great woman not just because of her substantial role as an activist in womens rights movement but for the serene and determined face of resistance and resolution she brought forward out of all the humiliation, violence and abuse of her colonial history. Out of all the privileges, favors and possessions awarded by the British Crown; and, out of the utter powerlessness, estrangement and dispossession of her own family, the voice that emerges is calm and aware:
“I am unable conscientiously to pay money to the state, as I am not allowed to exercise any control over its expenditure; neither am I allowed any voice in the choosing of Members of Parliament, whose salaries I help to pay. This is very unjust. When the women of England are enfranchised and the state acknowledges me as a citizen I shall, of course, pay my share willingly towards its upkeep. If I am not a fit person for the purpose of representation, why should I be a fit person for taxation?”
(Politicians and Suffragettes)
Sohpia’s colonial history with all its humiliation, grandeur and dispossession is our colonial history but for one important difference. The level of her dispossession was so complete that she along with the rest of her seven brothers and sisters from the two wives of Maharaja Duleep Singh, did not dare to concieve a child.
Sources and additional information:
Lives and Times
Sophia’s Photo at the Museum of London
Sophia Duleep Singh: Wikipedia
Official Website of Maharaja Duleep Singh
The Duleep Singhs: Photograph album of Queen Victoria’s Maharajah by Peter Bance
‘H.H. Maharajadhiraja Duleep Singh Bahadur’ by Dr. Naqvi
DULEEP SIṄGH, MAHĀRĀJĀ (1838-1893)
Bamba Muller 1848 to 1886
‘The Kohinoor, Duleep Singh and his descendants’ by Gurmukh S. Sandhu
Maharajah Duleep Singh, From Lahore to Elveden. (1838-1893)
A review of ‘The Maharajah’s Box by Christy Campbell’
A Great Woman from the Punjab
Kishwar Naheed is one of those few women who command a kind of respect for their work that continues on to transform into love at some point in one’s life. I have always felt indebted to Kishwar for the face of courage she continued to show as a poet and as a person amidst political turmoils, personal sorrows and social discriminations. From 1970’s in Lahore to 2007 in Islamabad, Kishwar has become stronger, more together, prettier, and even more of a direct person; and, like many Pakistan women, i can say that i have grown to love Kishwar Naheed.
Kishwar was born in Uttar Pardesh in India in 1940, and came to Lahore in the Punjab after the Partition of 1947. From that time on, Kishwar lived and worked in Lahore with some digressions into other cities, and after retirement settled in Islamabad in her cozy two bedroom apartment. Urdu is her mother tongue, and that is the language she basically worked in but her administration role/s at National Centre, National Council of the Arts, Urdu Board and other positions allowed her to develop literary communities that involved both Urdu, Punjabi and other language writers. Kishwar was married to Poet Yousuf Kamran, raised two sons with him as a working woman, and then continued to support her family after his death in the Eighties.
I can not tell you when i first saw Kishwar but i bet it was in the heat of the Seventies in Lahore where Kishwar had already emerged as a poet with two collections of Urdu poetry, ‘Lab-I goya’ in 1968 and ‘Benam musafat’ in 1971; and was the recipient of Adamjee Award for Literature in 1969. From the start, i admired the strength of her voice, poetic and otherwise, in dealing with a sexist social milieu that was geared to strike dissenting women hard.
By 1991, she had published six collections of Urdu poetry, many anthologies, biographies, translations, travelogues and textbooks for children. Later, she won Unesco prize for ‘Dais Dais Ki Kahanian’, a book of short stories for children, and the prestigious Sitara-e-Imtiaz for lifetime achievements.
Here are two of her poems ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ in English:
A delicate awareness of life
Dawned in the desolation of my body.
The deception of the shore’s indifference
And the futility of surging waves.
Every limb is asking:
Now tell us
If you know why a flower blossoms.
And create a riot in the garden.
In the lap of hope’s mountain,
I was alone reaping losses.
I was tall like the Pleiades,
Was concerned with only me;
Lost in myself
I hated the glow of yes.
Then, I killed myself,
Drank my blood,
People had never heard
Such frightening laughter.
(Poems translated by Baidar Bakht and Derek M. Cohen for ‘The Scream of an Illegitimate Voice’, Lahore 1991)
Resources on Kishwar:
Kishwar reads her poem ‘Hum gunahgar aurtaiN’ We Sinful Women
Her profile at the Library of Congress
Collection of Kishwar’s Urdu poems
Poems translated by Rukhsana Ahmed
Entry at the Foundation of SAARC Writers and Literature
‘Kishwar Naheed Looks Back’ by Khalid Hasan
Kishwar-e-naheed Shaad Baad!
More on Kishwar Naheed
Tahira Mazhar Ali Khan
A Great Punjabi Woman
Sixty Years of Unflinching Beauty, 1948-2008
Tahira Mazhar Ali is one of the brightest stars in my life, and I know, in the lives of many Punjabi and Pakistani women. A founding member of Democratic Women’s Association (DWA), she began leading in 1948, the first political organization of women in the newly formed country. At that time, there were may be three national level organizations of women; All Pakistan Women’s Association (APWA), Christian Women’s Associations, and Women’s Guards. From that time on, Tahira was active in creating social change for equality in the Punjab.
I saw her in early Seventies in Lahore during protests and rallies; she was strong, unafraid, and confident about voicing her views and, through the devastating Eighties, consistent in acting upon them. Then, I saw her in 2007 presiding over a rally of women workers to celebrate the International Women’s Day. As beautiful as ever, now 80-plus, she appeared invincible having lived a life of rights activism in a country where the Army does not know how to stay inside the barracks, democracy is a scared rat that we sometimes see racing across our backyard, and men and Muslims are given the divine right to dominate women and the minorities in the name of the religion of the state.
We are lucky to behold Tahira Mazhar Ali From 1948 to 2008, a 60-year long legacy of a glorious ongoing fight for democratic rights of people, especially women and organized workers, in the Punjab. During this time, she has nourished a society and a family with amazing results. As she stands alone in her own right in the movement for democracy in Pakistan, she has nurtured her lifelong partnership with Editor/Activist Mazhar Ali Khan of Weekly Viewpoint Lahore who was almost always in opposition to the policies of the existing military or civilian governments increasing hardship in their daily lives; has brought up Tariq Ali who is evolving his own amazing legacy in England; and Maher Ali who is working as a journalist in Australia.
I was hoping somehow that Tahira would be finishing up her memoirs right about now.
Tales of resistance by By Ammar Ali Jan in Daily Jang
An activist to the core by Shehar Bano Khan in Daily Dawn
56 years of women’s rights activism by Ali Waqar in Daily Times
A Great Woman of Punjabi Origin
Vimla Dang née Bakaaya (December 26, 1926 Allahabad) a Punjabi of Kashmiri descent has been a role model of East Punjabi feminists. She along with all her siblings joined the progressive movement at an early age, becoming activists of the Lahore Students Union and the Friends of the Soviet Union. While she was a college student in Lahore in early 1940s, she went to Chittagong in Bengal and raised money for famine relief. In 1952, she married Communist leader Satya Pal Dang – a Government College Lahore alumni – and has lived since in Chheharta, Amritsar. Vimla worked among women primarily and was the General Secretary of the Punjab lstri Sabha (Women’s Organisation) for many years.
In 1991 she was felicitated with the Padma Shri by the President of India for her social work. She was a correspondent for Blitz and New Age for a few years. She was elected to the Punjab Assembly in 1992.
Sat Pal Dang was the first President of erstwhile Municipal Committee Chheharta (1953–67) while Vimla was its President from 1968 till Chheharta was merged into Amritsar. Known for their hard work, honesty and simple living the Dangs set another example by voluntarily withdrawing from elective posts in the Communist Party of India and outside in 1997.
Inspite of her age Vimla is still active in the Punjab Istri Sabha Relief Trust and the Aruna Asaf Ali Trust to help disadvantaged sections of Punjabi society.
Gulab Kaur, a revolutionary of early 1900s, is the first Great Punjabi Woman featured here though we know little about her.
Yet there is this amazing possibility that this post may find someone who can tell us more.
Gulab Kaur (circa 1890 Bakhshiwala District Sangrur – 1931)
According to Amarjit Chandan, Gulab joined Ghadr Party (established California, June 1913) in the Philippines where Hafiz Abdullah of Jagraon was the President of the local branch. She also worked with other Ghadr Party leaders such as Banta Singh Sanghwal and Harnam Singh Tundilat. Gulab Kaur kept vigil on party printing press in guise, and helped in the distribution of arms and literature.
Gulab Kaur suffered two years imprisonment in Lahore.
From the information provided by Amarjit Chandan, this is all we know about Kewal Kaur:
Kewal Kaur (c1940. Samrai BhodaN. Jalandhar – 1982)
An activist of the Maoist-Naxalite CPI (ML) in East Punjab, Kewal Kaur was jailed during Moga agitation in 1972.
She was the Editor of a Punjabi magazine Ma (The Mother).
Kewal Kaur was forced to commit suicide in Jalandhar in 1982.
Photo by Amarjit Chandan, Jallandhar 1974
Great Punjabi Women, Great Women of Punjabi Origin and Great Women from the Punjab is spurred by Author Amarjit Chandan who sent the photos of Gulab Kaur (from his collection) and Kewal Kaur (taken by him in 1974) after having already provided an unpublished photo of Punjabi Actress Ragini (taken in 1943 by her fan Partap Singh Ahdan).
At this stage, there are disparities in the levels of available information about each person that, among other things, also point to the kind of discrimination faced by women at an earlier time in our herstory.
The exciting part is that now there is a greater chance that we can fill these gaps in information.
We want to collect information about great Punjabi women, great women of Punjabi origin and the great women of the Punjab in all walks of life and from everywhere in the world.
We will attempt to provide basic facts about each woman, with links leading to detailed information, where available. Our ‘basic fact’ threshold is low; name, a digital photo, profession, time period, places of birth and residence, list of major works/contributions, link/s to detailed information, comments by the writer (optional), and source/credit of photo.
Your help is desired and needed; so, please add to it by posting a comment or by sending an email at:email@example.com