Who are the bhadramahilā?

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2009-08

Authors

Pallardy, Jacqueline Lee

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Abstract

This thesis focuses on the identity of middle class Bengali Muslim women of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Historians identify bhadramahilā as members of the social class bhadralok and also use bhadramahilā as an analytic category. I use several authors’ work in order to show that there are two important but differing ideas about who the bhadramahilā were. The most common view is that bhadramahilā were upper caste Hindus who became the new class of English educated Bengalis via the introduction of the British education system. Others suggest that Muslims are also members of this class group, but either 1) do not include them in their studies on bhadralok or 2) have not proven that Muslims were in fact bhadramahilā. The question is, Should we consider middle class Muslim women to be bhadramahilā? Or, does the category bhadramahilā apply to Muslims? After examining women’s writings and the historical, economic, and socio-cultural conditions of the period, I suggest that Muslim women were indeed among the bhadramahilā, and that the category is a useful analytic tool for the study of educated middle class Bengali women, both Hindu and Muslim.

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