Millennium Post

"Where Women Rule: South Asia" | Rare accounts of South Asian women rulers

In South Asia, women have held top leadership positions for many years. Many women ruled in South Asia from ancient times but their stories are not well known.

Price:   850 |  21 Oct 2017 2:51 PM GMT  |  Team MP

Rare accounts of South Asian women rulers

Hasna is author of a number of books. She is a former lecturer of Dhaka University and professor of Development Alternative University, Dhaka. She has held visiting scholar’s positions at Oxford University, George Washington University and Harvard University. She is now affiliated at Harvard University South Asian Institute.Hasna Jasimuddin Moudud’s book starts with a quote from a Hindu philosopher, astronomer and mathematician, Varahamihira of 6th century AD. 

“On women depend dharma (religion) and artha (wealth), tell me truly, what faults attributed to women have not also been committed by men? Men in their audacity treat women with contempt, but they really possess more virtues than men. One’s mother or wife is a woman. Men in privacy utter flattering words to women, but there are no such words after death, while wives in gratitude clasp the corpse of their husbands and enter fire.”

It truly amazes me to find Hasna’s knowledge and ability to handle Hindu mythology and ancient history so comfortably in her book. She has earlier contributed to scholarly study of ancient Indian history and history of old Bengali Mystic Buddhist poetry with ease when she wrote the second edition of  Mystic Poetry of Bangladesh which I also published this year in 2017. She is not a new talent. Hasna’s book Women in China was the first book I have published in 1978 from Bangladesh in a first attempt to introduce Bangladeshi authors to India and a greater readership outside Bangladesh.

Where Women Rule is a different kind of book but Hasna does not miss the opportunity to educate the reader about what it is to be pan Indian and part of a composite culture in South Asia. The present book is Hasna’s own account about women who rule or ruled in South Asia. She writes, “From housewives to leaders, women who have changed South Asia have shown courage, shared immense popularity and have sacrificed their personal lives, it has not been easy. Together they have created more space and places for women. I have been fortunate to personally know or closely observe many leading Asian women leaders like Indira Gandhi as prime minister of India, Benazir Bhutto as prime minister of Pakistan, Aung San Suu Kyi, prime minister-elect of Myanmar, Corazon Aquino as a house wife and as president of the Philippines, Sirimavo Bandaranaike as prime minister and Chandrika Kumaratunga as president of Sri Lanka, Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina both as housewife and as prime minister and leader of opposition in Bangladesh. Each one of them has been a pioneer in being the first woman to lead their people or hold the top office. In 2008 in USA, Hillary Clinton ran unsuccessfully for the democratic presidential nomination. In South Asia women have held top leadership positions for many years. Many women ruled in South Asia from ancient times but their stories are not well known.”

She further recounts her own country’s unique position in the world having two women leaders who have been head of the government or leader of opposition since 1990. She recounts, “It is not a freak incident that two women in Bangladesh have led the largest political parties since 1991. They are two very powerful women leaders who have played major roles in ousting military dictators and have survived military interventions including prison.”

Hasna asks the question, why so many women have been elected prime ministers and president in this poor and populous region where the position of women is far from equal and why more are likely to follow?  Then she goes ahead and offers her wanting ‘an outlet to recount my personal glimpses and amazing experiences in the context of South Asian heritage, politics and culture, the idea of this book was thus born.’ She has many stories to tell. With great fondness she describes the chapter on Indira Gandhi. “Indira Gandhi known as ‘India is Indira’ and ‘Indira is India. She also recounts her encounters with Benazir Bhutto and others. What is so different about this book? Hasna says she has known most of the leaders as house wife, as prime minister, president or leader of opposition. Hasna Moudud had access to leaders which very few authors have. It is a rarity. Her accounts make it very lively and offer insights we otherwise would not have.

When this book was sent for editing in India the editors had a hard time but agreed to most of Hasna’s points of view. After all, she has written a great deal from her experience and from primary source. Her rendering of military take overs in Asian countries will remain a valuable input. Her husband former prime minister and vice  president of Bangladesh also underwent jail under the military without charge or trial. So she is sympathetic to all who suffer under rule. She says they come with an agenda of cleansing corruption and then take over and indulge in corruption.

Hasna was directly elected as member of parliament from a coastal constituency and she defeated her opponent who is currently Secretary General of party in power. She has guts and courage. It will be interesting to see how she deals with selected leaders on charges of corruption and nepotism and the culture of political dynasty. Hasna has won United Nations Award Global 500 Roll of Honor in 1992. 

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