Published: Dec. 1, 1999 By


[1]   The emergence of Taslima Nasrin's feminist writings inaugurates one of the most controversial moments in the scene of Bangladeshi literature. The news of her exile from Bangladesh in August, 1994, drew considerable international attention. The fundamentalists in Bangladesh issued a death threat against her for allegedly blaspheming the Quran. As a result, readers in the West were misled into viewing Taslima as a female counterpart of Salman Rushdie. What remained obscured by such an analogy was Taslima's equally relentless attack against the secular male elite of Bangladesh. Moreover, although there was a great deal of newspaper coverage of her exile, any in-depth study of her fictional works has yet to emerge. Such studies are crucial in foregrounding the unique style of her challenge and intervention against male domination within a specifically Bangladeshi context.


[2]   Taslima, in all of her work, obsessively comes back to the question of the female body, and her writings pivot on an exploration of the female body as it is constructed by the Bangladeshi patriarchy. Her focus on the female body can be traced back through to her non-fictional works such as the newspaper columns, her poetry and her novels which represent a culmination of her exploration of female desire.

[3]   Taslima initiates a break with the tradition of Bangladeshi literature. The literature of Bangladesh is replete with instances where self-sacrificing motherhood is celebrated. For example, in one of the classical texts, Shaukat Osman's Janani (1961), Daria, the central character, kills herself to expiate her sin when she gives birth to an illegitimate child as a result of her rape. Daria confronts the patriarchal imperative of self-sacrifice in the face of "moral duty." The sign of motherhood in Osman is invested with symbolic meanings, and is idealized through the self-immolation of Daria's body.1 But in Taslima no such self-immolation can be endorsed. In Taslima we do not see a celebration of the metaphoric motherhood of Janani; instead we see a delinking of motherhood from the ideal of self-sacrifice. Taslima invests the sign with a politics of subversion and protest. Unsanctioned pregnancies are endorsed in Taslima's stories with an agenda of empowering women, and an illegitimate child, the cause of Daria's tragic suicide is transformed, as a deliberate measure, to gain material ends in Taslima's stories. Reading Taslima in light of Osman's hegemonic text brings to focus the strategies of her oppositional discourse. Such a comparison also underscores how Taslima initiates an epistemic violence and foregrounds emancipatory possibilities for Bangladeshi women.2

[4]   Epistemology usually is defined as the theory of the origin, nature, methods and limits of knowledge. The question of epistemic violence is related to issues such as who produces knowledge, or how power and desire appropriate and condition the production of knowledge. I reformulate the term epistemic violence to introduce the oppositional discourse of Taslima, which has startled, baffled, and angered advocates of patriarchal power in Bangladesh. In Gayatri Spivak's formulation, epistemic violence results when in (post)colonial discourse, the subaltern is silenced by both the colonial and indigenous patriarchal power.3 I reformulate this concept of epistemic violence to characterize the resistant writings of Taslima. When the subaltern(ized) speaks, s/he, I am arguing, causes violence to the episteme of the dominant power both by the very fact of her/his articulation, and by posing a new knowledge contestory to the dominant one.

[5]   In the context of women's subalternization, how do Taslima's representations foreground a new episteme? In Foucault's analysis of power/knowledge dynamics, an episteme consists of the "unitary body of theory" which tends to privilege some knowledges while it subjugates certain others ranking them low in its hierarchical paradigm. These disqualified knowledges pose challenges to the power and organization of the dominant episteme by claiming attention to their oppositional emergence. Taslima's writings bring to the forefront such subjugated knowledges. As Hayden White in his interpretation of Foucault's tropology has explained, the dominant trope (metaphor, simile, symbol characteristic of the discourse of a period) of a given community of discourse determines both "what can be seen" in the world, as well as "what can be known about it."4 Taslima's writings intrude upon this tropological field with challenge. One crucial example is her assertion of female sexuality which is a taboo for the women of Bangladesh.

[6]   To understand how Taslima empowers subaltern women in her new episteme, it is important to define female subalternity in the Bangladeshi context. There is a wide range of subalternity among Bangladeshi women. A poor woman is subject to extreme subalternization since her lack of education severely limits her access to power; male violence is also relatively more common among the poor. A middle class woman, on the other hand, might enjoy above-subsistence life style and in some cases might be highly educated (but not necessarily) and decently employed. However, in a patriarchal society, she is vulnerable to subalternity in terms of property, marriage, and divorce laws of which an expanded account will be given later. A Bangladeshi woman cannot prove any entitlement to her income since, as we shall see, there are no legal guidelines protecting her. If divorced or widowed without a son to support her financially, she may become a poor woman herself, especially if she is not educated. Socially the upper class woman may be above the norm to a certain degree. For example, the constraints of family honor may be a little lax for the rich, but legally she is subject to the same patriarchal laws. As a physician and a writer, Taslima belongs to the elite class, yet she inhabits subaltern space by virtue of her gender.

[7]   The system of dowry encompassing all classes very effectively sums up the different degrees of subalternity devaluing all women. The Dowry Prohibition Act of 1980 outlaws dowry. But the custom has survived with extraordinary might and resilience. Although nobody calls it dowry, a bride's status in the in-law family is directly related to what she brings from the natal family in terms of money and goods. The value of dowry may vary across classes ranging from a watch and a bicycle to a television and refrigerator, to a car. Despite the Dowry Prohibition Act, dowry has been the cause of gender violence. Rabia Bhuiyan inAspects of Violence Against Women has pointed out that although official figures are under-reported, between 1986 and 1988, eighty-six cases of dowry violence with murder were committed against women in Bangladesh.5

[8]   In the pages that follow I explore how the marriage and divorce laws of Bangladesh subalternize women, erase their subjectivity and establish male supremacy. My study of Taslima's novels, Aparpokkhoand Shodh, addresses how her assertion of female desire outside of the marital bond validates female sexuality in a society which is based on the systematic regulation of female sexuality through religion and other socio-cultural mechanisms. I show that Taslima foregrounds hitherto repressed knowledges about female desire. In my analysis, I investigate the utilization of the womb by the protagonists of Taslima's stories to argue that they subvert and threaten patrilineality, the very foundation of a muslim society, by conceiving babies outside of marriage and by openly claiming the desirability of such measures. The patriarchal inheritance law is at stake since a son is heir to his father's property. I argue that the system of patrilineal descent is rendered fragile by the unsanctioned pregnancies of these married women.

[9]   In order to examine how Taslima's narrative technique institutes a rupture in the Bangladeshi epistemic tradition, it is important to look at her use of the first person narrator. I argue that the public assertion of her heroines on sexual self-determination of women and illegitimate pregnancies is narrated in the first person to shock the reader into rethinking the issue of women's self-determination and rights to her body. Finally, I suggest that whereas in Spivak, the subaltern women experience physical horror and even annihilation of their bodies, Taslima's women represent a different oppositional model by enunciating and confirming the ecstatic pleasure of the body and by utilizing the womb to disrupt the male order. Although the shadowy space of the gendered subaltern that Spivak focuses on is not synonymous with the subalternized space that Taslima's heroines inhabit, I agree with S.M. Alam that "Nasrin's writings represent the issue of gendered [subaltern] self-representation in an era when it has been denied by both Islamic fundamentalists and the modernizing nation-state".6

[10]   The figure of the silent subaltern dominates the postcolonial terrain of Spivak's theory. In the postcolonial field, Spivak's model of the silent subaltern has constituted the overarching discourse. Her theorization of the postcolonial female body is primarily based on Mahasweta Devi's stories. Spivak analyzes Mahasweta's story "Breast Giver" in which Jashoda the female subaltern (poor and disempowered) dies from cancer, unattended and uncared for, after breast feeding at least thirty boys as a hired mother in the bourgeois Haldar family. Jashoda sells her excess milk to the Haldar family to earn her livelihood. At the end her milk is depleted and her body is invaded by cancer. At this critical juncture she is abandoned by the Haldar family and she dies a gruesome death. In her analysis, Spivak demonstrates that Jashoda's body, rotting with one thousand mouths of cancer, inhabits a space which is violent and is marked by ultimate silence perpetrated by patriarchal mechanisms. In the end, Jashoda, a victim of super-exploitation, cannot articulate her own story or resist her annihilation.

[11]   Spivak's strategy as a postcolonial critic is to represent the effects of these subject-deprived subaltern positions and utilize these effects to point to the injustice of their disarticulation, and thereby to "reinscribe" positive "subject positions" for the subaltern.7 It is important to look at how the figuration of the female body in Taslima's work represents a different possibility.


Historical Overview of Bangladeshi Patriarchy:
An Account of Marriage and Divorce Laws

[12]   Bangladesh was part of Pakistan until 1971. Economic exploitation of Bangladesh by the Pakistani government led to the freedom movement and the creation of Bangladesh in 1971. According to its present constitution, Bangladesh is a secular country. Yet marriage, divorce and property rights constitute a realm which falls under the category of Muslim personal law orshari'a law. Shari'a law derives itself from the Quran and the injunctions of the Hadith (the prophet's way of life). According toshari'a law, a husband can divorce his wife by a triple pronouncement of the word talak (divorce). The woman has to observe a period of Iddat (three menstrual cycles) during which she cannot remarry, thereby also ensuring the paternity of a child if she is pregnant. The Family Ordinance of 1961, during the Pakistani period, introduces new guidelines into the shari'a law. For example, to initiate divorce, the husband has to notify the Chairman of the local municipal committee and send a copy of the notification for divorce to the wife. Within a month of that notice, a reconciliation committee is formed by the Chairman, and negotiation efforts start toward reconciling the two contending parties. If all attempts fail, divorce will take effect after a period of ninety days.8 But most women in the villages are not aware of such an ordinance, neither would women want to appear before committees for a hearing. In the villages divorce may still be performed by a triple pronouncement of the word, talak.


[13]   In post-independent Bangladesh one important change that has taken place is the 1985 Family Court Ordinance establishing the family court, for the first time, to resolve exclusively the issues of marriage, divorce and inheritance. Even now, however, the wife obtains the "privilege" of divorcing her husband only if the husband delegates it to her. As Mojibor Rahman has noted, a husband can divorce his wife on practically any ground, but a wife cannot divorce her husband at her will.9 However, a woman who gains the right of divorce or talak-e-tawfiz as set forth in the marriage document (at the permission of her husband) can dissolve the marriage following the same rules of notification through the Chairman as her husband. When the woman is given no such rights of divorce, she can only initiate it through the family court (through a legal suit rather than a notification) and on appropriate grounds ranging from desertion by her husband to sexual impotence (The 1939 Divorce Act).10

[14]   The family ideology of Bangladesh insistently glorifies women's suffering thereby exhorting a "good" woman to be heroic or stoic in the face of overwhelming obstacles in the marital relationship. For example, in Bangladeshi folk lore, a chaste woman is defined as one who surrenders all her needs at her husband's feet: "A chaste woman gives up her life for his [master/husband's] devotion/Her one goal is but her devotion/ In sleep, in dreams and when she is awake."11 This is a mystical relationship of worship and surrender as if the husband is a god, and a wife his disciple. Religious values are very strong in the popular imagination as well. According to one Hadith, women's dedication to domestic life is equivalent to the glory of a Jihad or a holy war.12

[15]   In Bangladesh, a family's honor or ijjat is dependent on the conduct of its women and their success in marriage. Virginity and chastity are the defining qualities of a good woman, and she can preserve her honor only under the guardianship of a man; the father is in charge of protecting her virginity, the husband her chastity. A divorced woman, no longer having the guardianship of her husband, severely damages her family's ijjat. She is not only an economic burden on her family, but also a sexual threat to society at large. Considering the overwhelming obstacles that beset a divorced woman, it is unlikely that anyone will exercise the power of divorce even if she has that entitlement. Moreover, going to court for a divorce is extremely dishonorable for Bangladeshi women. Although an upper class woman is somewhat free from the norm, divorce stigmatizes her all the same only to a different degree.

[16]   Taslima boldly violates the dictates of ijjat, and exposes the disempowering agenda of the ideology of women's dependence on man. She observes:

Women can't go anywhere without a male companion [protector]. . . . If you want to board the bus, the conductor will ask, where is the man?. . . . In so many spheres of life, women are harassed if they are not accompanied by men. If there is a male companion who is neither a husband nor a near-relative, trouble is inevitable. Who is this man? And if you are alone, the issue is why are you without a man?13

A divorced woman is the prime target of such social harassment and she is likely to stumble against her single status at every step of her life irrespective of class. Divorce is more frequent among the poorer class who are ironically below the norm and hence somewhat free from the constraints of family honor. Yet divorce and desertion drive them to destitution often with children to support.

[17]   A married woman with children is normally entitled to one-eighth of her husband's property. But in the event of a divorce, she loses any rights to her husband's property. She is entitled to support from her husband only for the period of Iddat. She can receive mahr, an amount of money specified in the marriage document which is payable to the wife upon demand or at the dissolution of her marriage. It is usually a very low amount, and inflation reduces its value even further. A divorced woman can fall back on her parents if they are alive because a daughter inherits half the son's property, but as Kabeer has pointed out, " most women waive their rights to the land in favour of their brothers. Dependent on male protection, they bargain away their right to land in exchange for the promise of kin support in times of distress."14

[18]   It is important to note, however, that the enforcement of Islamic gender ideology has been weakened in Bangladesh by the political instability and economic crisis of the period after 1971.15 In the eighties, new economic pressures and the erosion of traditional refuge brought rural women to the garment factories in Dhaka for employment. As village women were gaining access to the industrial economy, women in the city were getting educated at an increasing rate. Consequently, they became more conscious of their dependent status (where the husband is the guardian), and of the deprivation of their rights.

[19]   At such a time, the formation and development of some feminist organizations such as Mahila Parishad, Nari Shangotimarked a breakthrough in the struggle of women against patriarchal oppression. In the rural sector, NGOs (non-governmental organizations) organized the village women towards improving their condition. Organizations such as Proshika andSaptagram succeeded in raising the consciousness of the poor women. As a result, there has been a definite increase in the number of wage-earning women, and in the number of women who have ventured outside the confines of their homes.

[20]   However, the ideology and the policy of the government has remained paternalistic. Although the Feminist movement in Bangladesh has fallen short of achieving its goal, certainly there has been a growing awareness of male domination which should be recognized. It is against the backdrop of such growing awareness of gender subordination as systemic, that Taslima emerges on the scene of Bangladeshi literature. A physician by profession, popular as a columnist and a poet but also known as a novelist, Taslima appears at this time with a voice full of energy and rage.


Taslima Nasrin and the Critical Reception

[21]   Critics and reviewers sympathetic to Taslima have observed that the pain and anger of Taslima's writings are unique in the history of the literature of Bangladesh. These critics have equally emphasized that while Taslima's articulation is unique, her pain is representative of countless other women's lives in Bangladesh. Meer Nurul Islam, in his review, focuses on Taslima's rage as a crucial necessity to transform society. He argues:


Within the bounds of our closed society, darkness reigns so strongly, that there is no fissure to let in light or air. If one cannot make a chink through a needle or a nail on that wall of darkness, one can only use a spade, or an axe, or a hammer and a chisel to bore holes for light.16

The metaphors of enlightenment used by Islam are problematic. By defining darkness as negative and light as positive, he participates, either willingly or inadvertently, in inferiorizing the people of color. One of the major concerns of both postcolonial and postmodern discourse has been to foreground the failure of the project of enlightenment. Critics of enlightenment argue that in Western history, reason (which brings enlightenment) has functioned as a tool in the hands of the powerful against the disempowered. For example, colonizers have often justified their colonizing agenda by arguing that it will civilize the natives.

[22]   Within the above context, the rhetoric of Islam's review is problematic. However, it is important to take into account his positive contribution. He does point out that the crucial gender problem in Bangladesh is that women are constantly objectified and sexualized. According to him, Taslima is sailing against the tide with extraordinary boldness–the boldness that most people lack.17

[23]   In the controversy surrounding Taslima, critics who are unsympathetic to her have argued that Taslima is anti-Islamic, anti-male, and that she is too vulgar and commercial a writer in her representation of sex. Some have labelled her as "unscrupulous and market-oriented."18

[24]   While critics opposed to Taslima bring charges of obscenity, immodesty and anti-religious sentiments against her, her supporters praise the openness and honesty of the unvarnished mode of her representations. Her opponents cry foul and moral chaos when Taslima wants to shake the entire structure of patriarchy; her supporters praise her courage and honesty and welcome the tremor which causes cracks in the patriarchal defence. Underneath it all, what comes across is that one group considers gender inequality a given, the other sees it as a construction and calls for its deconstruction.

[25]   How Taslima's writings have drawn so much popular attention is one of the intriguing questions that poses itself for scrutiny. In his analysis of the Taslima controversy, Ali Riaz has aptly pointed out that "She [Taslima] earned a 'notoriety' for stirring debate and creating controversy often for raising issues which are considered 'explosive' by Bangladeshi society, and at times for her provocative style of writing."19 The issues Taslima raises and the way she presents them call for our attention.

[26]   Taslima, at least initially, and on a superficial level, seems to be assimilable by Bangadeshi tradition. It is important to note that the system of veil and dowry and other socio-cultural practices subjugating women have been targets of attack in various writings long before Taslima's emergence. In that sense, one response of Bangladeshi readership has been to acknowledge Taslima and allow her the voice of protest. Yet she is too troubling for many readers' sensibility. She defies assimilation into the Bangladeshi discourse of social criticism through her strangeness, so to speak, to the tradition of that discourse at least in two ways: by her provocative assertion of female sexuality leading to female empowerment, and through her uniquely aggressive style which is employed to celebrate the transgression of her writings.20 She writes:

I adore to proclaim that I am a fallen woman in the eyes of this society. . . . The first condition for purification of a woman is to become 'fallen' (in the eyes of this society). Unless a woman becomes 'fallen,' there is no way she can liberate herself from the clutch of this society. She is the real sane and admirable person, whom people call 'fallen.'21

By declaring herself "nastya" or "fallen" Taslima calls into question the patriarchal formulation of the categories of good and bad woman. Taslima builds an alliance with the downtrodden by giving herself the title fallen. A fallen woman in Taslima's economy is the one who initiates the agenda of claiming her rights (no matter how "immodest" it is), of defining herself and her sexual desire in her own terms as a subject, of rejecting male protection as oppressive and exploitative, of transforming society for her own emancipation. By the same token, a woman who upholds the notion of "purification" only contributes to her own subordination and self-effacement. Taslima makes it clear that it is self-deceiving to claim "purity" and maintain the facade of a "happy" family life when a woman knows that it is based on the ashes of her dreams.22Taslima believes in pushing the prescribed parameters of modesty to reappropriate power from the Bangladeshi male.

[27]   Although no extensive study of Taslima's stories has been published in the existing literature, at least one of the critics, Ranajit Das, has offered an interesting analysis. Das concedes that Taslima has largely been successful in identifying the problems of gender discrimination in Bangladeshi society. But simultaneously, he argues and cautions that the nature of the resolution of these problems as demonstrated by the heroines of Taslima's novels is unethical and morally degrading. In his critique ofAparpokkho, he contends that Jamuna, the central female character of the novel, through her choice of having a child outside the marital bond with her husband, violates the ethics of the family. Her ethical responsibility is towards her husband. Das argues that Taslima's female characters fail to uplift the reader's moral sense through their failure to follow the ideology of "ethical motherhood."23 What Das fails to acknowledge, along with other critics, is that ethical motherhood and morality defined by patriarchy are pillars to perpetuate female subjugation. While he agrees that there are some problems of gender inequality, he ignores that these problems are systematic. One cannot bring about changes by moving around some bricks and leaving the structure alone.

[28]   According to the patriarchal view of morality, women have to live a spiritual life and give over the material world for men to negotiate. Within this moral economy, women's suffering is ennobled, and is considered to be the foundation of family life. I depart from such a moral criticism of Taslima's work and engage in an analysis from a different set of concerns. It is the politics of power-deprivation of the female embedded in ethical motherhood which will propel my inquiry, and as a result my empathy is with Taslima's heroines. The practicability of what Jhumur and Jamuna, the two heroines of her stories, do with their bodies may be problematic, but my study concentrates on the measure of challenge such heroines propose through their lives. Fatima Mernissi has aptly noted "Curbing active female sexuality, preventing female sexual self-determination, is the basis of many of Islam's family institutions."24 The pivotal importance of Taslima's novels is the heroine's ability to reclaim the power over her body, tearing apart the ethical cover-up of the subordinating practices of Bangladeshi patriarchy.


The Subalternized Woman and Bangladeshi
Patriarchy in Taslima's Stories

[29]   In order to further explore and contextualize Taslima's works within the indigenous critical literature, we need to glance at her canon. Some of the important and popularly known writings of Taslima include poetical works such as Aamar Kichu Jai Ashena (I am Fearless, 1990); Baleekar Gollachute (Girls' Play, 1992);Jabona Keno Jabo ? (Why Shall I not Go? 1992); non-fictions such as Nirbachita Column (Selected Columns, 1993), and fictional works like Lajja and Chaar Kannya (a collection of Shodh,Aparpokkho,Bhramar Kayya Gia and Nimontron,1994).


[30]   In Taslima's representations, the female body, far from being mangled (as in "Breast Giver") is not only intact, but always a site of abundant energy and desire enabling us to ask whether it must be locked in a space of non-enunciation.25 At the end of "Breast Giver," Jashoda lay dying and "the sores on her breast kept mocking her with a hundred mouths, a hundred eyes."26 Unlike Jashoda, the heroines of Taslima's novels experience ecstasy and pleasure simultaneously as they engage in subverting the agenda of their husbands. For example, in Shodh, Jhumur is transfigured by her sexual experience with Afzal, a man other than her husband. At the same time she makes herself pregnant by him in order to subvert patriineality.

[31]   It is important to underscore that in her novels, Taslima's attack is consistently directed against the middle class, the professional, and the power elite. She points out that we can no longer relegate the problem of polygamy and desertion of women to the village, its peers (religious figures) or the peasant men who inhabit a rather subordinate rank in the chain of patriarchy. Taslima attacks where the attack is overdue. The middle class man, neither unenlightened, nor prejudicial, is brought to the spotlight as the practitioner of patriarchal oppression. InAparpokkho and Shodh, the heroines' adversaries are such men– they are not religious figures but rather secular elites.

[32]   Written in an epistolary form, Aparpokkho (meaning the opponent) traces the life of Jamuna who is divorced from her husband Saber, for allegedly having an illicit relationship with Saber's friend. Now reduced to the position of further devaluation, on account of her divorce, Jamuna remarries. Unhappy with her second husband, she becomes passionately involved with a lover and conceives. She boldly decides to have the baby and envisions a child outside of patrilineal descent.

[33]   The story in Aparpokkho, narrated by Jamuna to her sister, represents Jamuna's shifting predicament, and her progressively intensifying struggle as she goes through marriage and divorce. Her story documents the failure of the institution of marriage to protect women in a culture which is based on a concept of women's dependence on the male protector. It also foregrounds the failure of the legal reforms on polygamy and divorce laws to empower women within the existing socio-cultural and ideological condition of Bangladesh. Finally, Aparpokkho uses the female body and the maternal womb (of Jamuna) as a site of contestation and challenge to the system of patrilineal descent which organizes Bangladeshi patriarchy. By transforming the womb into a material site, Taslima undoes the foundational basis of Bangladeshi patriarchy.

[34]   The text of Aparpokkho, through its chronology, creates a paradigm within which marriage is a sign syntagmatically connected to polygamy, and divorce and displacement of a woman foregrounds the exploitative nature of marriage and divorce.27 The narrative contiguity of directly discordant themes like marriage and divorce or the juxtaposition of such opposing motifs creates a jagged feeling and brings to focus some discomforting questions. Such a paradigm calls into question the sanctity of marriage by wrenching the sign out of its affective predication and idealization (super-adequation).28 For example, the womb in this patriarchal economy is viewed as a site of reproduction through which patrilineal descent is perpetuated. Through her chastity, a woman protects the womb which is instrumental in ensuring proper descent and family lineage. In other words, a woman can (re)produce children by her lawful husband. Patriarchy's purpose of patrilineal validation through the female womb functions in conjunction with the ideological concept of motherhood celebrated through its cultural production as one of extraordinary affect and self-effacing love. Taslima abandons this patriarchally-delegated position, and contests its agenda by first foregrounding, and then destabilizing the patriarchal function of womb utilization for perpetuating proper male descent.

[35]   She questions the ideal of marriage which is considered a sacred institution in Bangladeshi society. The concept of marriage is sublimated as an eternal bond. In Taslima's writings marriage is represented as exploitative, and it inevitably ends in divorce preceded by the husband's polygamous marriage. It is through the perspective of a displaced woman (Jamuna) that the institutions and practices of marriage and divorce are examined and critiqued in Taslima's text. Taslima's strategy is to use the daily events in the micrology of the domestic as premises for a logical argument and as evidence for the conclusion that subordination and economic exploitation of women are embedded in patriarchal marital relationships.

[36]   One day Humayun, Jamuna's second husband, demands his food, but Jamuna remains motionless. Taslima offers the following dialogue:

Humayun asks, "Give me rice."

I said, "I didn't cook."


"I didn't cook means I didn't cook."


"I did not want to."29

The above exchange between Jamuna and Humayun may have the appearance of a domestic quarrel, but it inaugurates a discourse for women that the conventional episteme has not allowed so far. Neither does a woman respond to the inequality in the domestic setting with such simple but bold language against convention. In other words, Taslima puts new words in the married woman's mouth that is purported to unsettle the sign of marriage which signifies that woman's desires are subservient to that of man. The renunciation of female desire is the prerequisite for a successful marriage. In her anger, she realizes that the Bengali word for husband also means god, a transcendental signifier. Humayun is a "shaami," not a friend and, therefore, is hierarchically superior to her. Such a position forecloses the possibility of equality between them.

[37]   During her first marriage, Jamuna wanted to have sole entitlement to her income. But such a proposal undermines Saber's authority, becomes counter to Jamuna's dependent status which is a precondition of marital happiness.

[38]   In Bangladesh, muslim marriage has to be registered by filling out a contract by both parties. In this regard, the Registration form of the 1974 marriage Act, with its twenty five columns provides an interesting insight. In column 17 of this marriage form, a list of conditions is documented that the bridegroom has to abide by during his marriage. (Sometimes that column remains blank–meaning that the bridegroom disallows any rights to the bride at least in the formality of the contract.)

[39]   In my survey of thirty marriage forms (from one county), the conditions listed in column 17 show that there is uniformity in the language phrasing these conditions. It says that the bridegroom will not abuse the bride, will support her every month, will fulfill her rights (not specified as to which rights) and so on. Such a discursively framed legal treatment of the woman presupposes that she has no economic resources or no access to income.

[40]   In the context of Jamuna's plight, what then are Jamuna's rights regarding her income? The marriage contract has no guidelines for that. When Jamuna claims the right to her income, Saber considers such a demand on her part equivalent to her committing adultery, and tries to circulate the story that Jamuna has an illicit affair with his friend which may disqualify her to remain his wife.

[41]   At this critical juncture, a scene follows in which Jamuna witnesses Saber's return with a new wife for whom she had to yield her own marital bed. Saber's polygamous marriage duly prepares the scene afterwards for Jamuna's forced exit.

[42]   Polygamy, even today, is a legalized institution in Bangladesh. The attempt to modify such laws has only helped in perpetuating it. According to 1961 Muslim Family Law Ordinance, the husband has to obtain permission from his first wife before marrying a new woman.30 Since women are subalternized in the familial structure, this new requirement can be fulfilled through coercion, and violence or threat of violence. A subaltern or subalternized woman will rarely want to undergo divorce, desertion or defamation, and may agree to her own devaluation by allowing her husband to be polygamous. Furthermore, an unregistered marriage is not considered void in Bangladeshi society.

[43]   In the context of this story, we see that for Saber, law poses no barrier against his polygamous marriage. First of all, for Jamuna, the immediate concern is to secure an alternative space now that her position is more unstable. Divorce for her may be imminent as well. In such cases, a woman would rarely initiate legal battles about the violation of Marriage laws by her husband. A subaltern woman normally would stay in the marriage along with co-wives (she cannot support herself independently). Although polygamy is not a dominant practice, it certainly strengthens male control over women of all classes. In one of her essays, Taslima challenges the Bangladeshi law-makers to raise a bill so that there can be "No marriage, contracted by any male person of the 'Muslim' religion, who has a wife alive."31

[44]   Renewed by his polygamous marriage, Saber declares his divorce intentions at this point. Polygamy makes it possible for one woman to police the eviction of another. One's coming is syntagmatically connected to the other's going. Once divorced, Jamuna is driven to marry Humayun as she says: "I yielded my guardianship to man [through marriage] so that no one finds a chink to fix their suspicious glance at me"

[45]   Aparpokkho is ultimately Taslima's vote of no confidence to the patriarchal institution of marriage, and a bold critique of the institution of divorce. Jamuna, in the absence of Humayun, experiences ecstatic pleasure with Pasha, and she decides to have the resulting child. The political significance of her choice lies in her refusal to abort the baby and in her bold articulation of that choice to her sister. Through initiating such an agenda, she offers a challenging alternative to the system of descent that controls the legitimate space of Bangladeshi society ensuring the subordination of women. At the end of the story, although she already apprehends the gloom of ostracization approaching her from all sides; she ends by appealing to her sister for an alliance against societal judgment. Jamuna announces with determination: "I want a child over whom man has no entitlement. . . . Like me, my child will be free of the offensive control of patriarchy"(63). Jamuna's reply to the intrusive inquiry of her neighbor about the paternity of the unborn child is: "I'm nobody's land for cultivation, nor can a man use me as he wishes. . . ." (66). This is Taslima's deliberate violation of the dominant episteme of which religion constitutes an important part. The Quran recommends to men: "Your women are a tilth (to cultivate) for you, so go to your tilth as ye will, . . ."32Taslima directly opposes such male privileges through her articulation.

[46]   In Shodh, Taslima's resistance to patriarchal marriage "rites" is brought into focus. Illegitimate pregnancy still figures as a key theme in this story. But the politics of such a pregnancy is covert as opposed to her overt position in Aparpokkho. Shodh (Getting Even) is the story of the compulsory transformation of a girl into a wife and her angry revenge. The story explores the institution of marriage, its regulatory structure of surveillance and subordination. In this story, Taslima provides a critical examination of the initiation "rites" of marriage, and the effacement of the female subject through those rites. Jhumur, the central character in Shodh, subverts the patriarchal agenda of appropriation and effacement of the female by conceiving a child outside of marriage, and passing him off as her husband, Harun's legitimate son. Through her covert strategies, Jhumur tries to undo the Bangladeshi patrilineal society by planting deceit at its heart.

[47]   One of the recurrent themes in Bangladeshi literature is the transformation of a girl who initially embodies the spirit of freedom, into a "normal wife" through the rites of marriage, so that the girl happily relinquishes exploration of life on her own terms and follows the new program of renunciation to achieve the status of a good wife. Taslima in Shodh calls into question such marriage rites and turns them into an object of deconstructive challenge to foreground the politics of that program (of rites). Naila Kabeer has very nicely summed up the itinerary of a new bride as programmed by the patriarchal agenda:

[In marriage] she is sent as a young and inexperienced bride into a stranger's household where her behaviour is viewed with suspicion until she has been successfully integrated into the new household and has learnt to identify with its interests.

[In marriage] she is sent as a young and inexperienced bride into a stranger's household where her behaviour is viewed with suspicion until she has been successfully integrated into the new household and has learnt to identify with its interests.33

[48]   So Jhumur finds after her marriage that her relationship to her parents has suddenly altered. According to the patriarchal norm "she is called not by her name, but bou (bride) of a certain man, a certainbari (house) or a certain poribar (family)."34 Harun says with complacency:

Your name has changed now! You're Mrs. Harun Rahman. You're now bhabi of Hasan, Habib and Dolon, and a bou of the house. Your address is no longer Waree but Dhanmondi Residential Area; since you are the bou of this house, you cannot hang around the city as before. (135)

[49]   Marriage for Jhumur takes on the characteristic of penance for being a woman. In return, patriarchy will legitimize her position as a good wife. Taslima in her denunciatory discourse against such practices has named such patriarchal strategies assangsartantra (257). Sangsartantra can be translated as domesticism or familiarchy. Sangsar is a very material term, and it has a complex signification. It may mean a family; it also signifies the material world or mundane life. Sometimes it is associated with worldliness which fetters the spirit. It may also mean a wife through her association with the mundane life of the domestic sphere, but never a husband. A sangsari who can postpone or sacrifice immediate satisfaction for future prosperity is prized for her thriftiness. Taslima, in her oppositional discourse, by callingsangsar a "tantra" or "ism" identifies the systematic oppression of women imbricated in the ideology and practices of Bangladeshi marriage "rites." In such a reading, the story of Jhumur's subordination in the Harun family becomes representative of the system rather than an isolated incident. By foregrounding the mechanism of patriarchal supremacy in the family, Taslima brings to scrutiny areas of subjugated knowledges.These initiatory "rites" of marriage also require that Jhumur be alienated from her natal family. Harun wonders annoyingly,"Why do you need to go to Waree [Jamuna's parents live in Waree]? You now belong to this place; this is your habitat. It is not right to insist on visiting your parents so often" (147).

[50]   Affect plays a contingent, tentative, and conditional role in such marriage. Making the in-law family happy is instrumental in gaining the affection of a husband. In one scene, Harun says in a tender voice, "try to win their [my family] hearts. It will be your success. Isn't it your obligation to make this sangsar your own?" (148). In this regard, Spivak's theorization about the effacement of the female subject is important. In her critique of the Subaltern Studies work on communal modes of power, Spivak has pointed out how a programmed effacement of the female through marriage structures patriarchal power in Indian society. Although her context is the Subaltern history of India in the pre-capitalist world, her theorization has relevance for Taslima's work. In Spivak's language, "the figure of the woman moving from clan to clan, and family to family as daughter/sister/wife/mother syntaxes patriarchal continuity even as she is herself drained of proper identity." Patriarchal power, she argues, bases itself on "the dissimulation of her discontinuity, on the repeated emptying of her meaning as instrument."35

[51]   In Shodh, by removing the veil of affect from the marital relationship, Taslima engages in foregrounding the politics of that relationship and that institution. The dubious status of affect in this story underscores the power relations that underlie the Bangladeshi ideology of marriage. It is important to note here that in Mahasweta's "Breast Giver," mothering is exploded out of "affective coding" through Jashoda's gruesome death which remains unacknowledged by any of her children. But in Taslima's stories, marriage itself is divested of the romanticism utilized to seduce the imagination of Bengali women. The focus on the structure of domination and exploitation in marriage destroys the affect that mystifies marriage for Bengali men and women.

[52]   In a patriarchal, patrilocal, and patrilineal marriage in Shodh, the surveillance of Jhumur's chastity is crucially important to Harun in order to ensure proper descent. After one and a half months of marriage, as Jhumur finds out that she is pregnant, and turns to Harun for affection, and approval, he responds with displeasure and distrust and denies that it is his child. A pregnancy immediately after marriage, in Harun's view, is the result of pre-marital relationship with someone else. (Didn't Jhumur attend the University with other young men?) He decides that the baby should be aborted. As a male, it is Harun's prerogative to define and institute what is licit and illicit as it suits his paranoiac fear of the educated woman and her will to autonomy.

[53]   Driven by anger and pain, and determined to take revenge, Jhumur secretly makes love to an artist named Afzal (her neighbor) and appropriates the right to her body. She describes with passionate intensity her love for Afzal. Jhumur becomes pregnant again, but on her own terms (this pregnancy Harun considers late enough to be caused by him), and establishes her legitimacy by giving birth to a son. The affect of a mother or the prospect of a boy or a girl does not move Jhumur, as she says, "this is not my desired baby. This is the baby of protest and revenge. . . . The foetus of pain and agony" (181).


An Epistemic Violation: The First Person
Singular in Taslima's Writings

[54]   Jhumur and Jamuna become the spokespersons of the author, Taslima, in the first person narratives of Shodh andAparpokkho. Their complete defiance of patriarchal prohibitions against illegitimate pregnancy derives its power from the narrator/ author whose passion for change against the system of patrilineality is wellknown through her non-fictional writings. Focusing on the ideological significance of her first person technique, Taslima herself explains, "Time and again, I come back to my stories; and I intend to because I'm a woman. I speak to every woman through my experience, my awareness and myvision" (emphasis mine).36 In this regard Riaz comments:


Nasreen feels comfortable in writing in the first person. . . . Most of the time she deals with issues pertaining to oppression, harassment,and the like. To say that 'I' have been subjected to harassment is to expose the self. In Bangladesh society, the common wisdom is to distance oneself from unpleasant events. . . By reconstructing and rearticulating her own and other women's experiences of humiliation, abuse, and discrimination . . . Nasreen connects the personal (or social) identity to the larger context of social relations.37>

As Riaz has pointed out, Taslima clearly violates the dominant narrative tradition by using the first person in talking about her sexual and family problems in public.

[55]   Stylistically, Taslima's deliberate and bold use of the first person narrative against the embarrassing micropractices of Bangladeshi patriarchy sets her apart as a writer. In Bangladesh, a social critique is usually launched in the third person objective style. Taslima's narratives and poems are more compelling and all the more threatening for her first person characterization. The threat is that if a female physician/writer can speak in the first person, it will enable other elite women to come out and speak in the first person about their shame, their experiences of male oppression. As a result, the middle class home will turn into a site of confusion and undoing of the male.

[56]   Taslima observes that Bangladeshi women who submit to male domination live a deceitful life. It is that very self-deception that she strikes against by writing stories in personal terms. While Bangladeshi women might share their life stories in private, public articulation is not a choice. Taslima's narratives might motivate others to make that choice.

[57]   In Taslima's work, the first person narrator has multiple personae. Sometimes she is a doctor looking at a patient who has been coerced by her husband into an abortion, or a member of an intellectual group (which includes famous names in Bangladeshi society) encountering sexist views on her own writings or a wife struggling against an imprisoning life. However, what unifies all her work is the compelling agenda of bringing Bangladeshi patriarchy to a serious scrutiny. And never does she abandon that project. The recurrence of the first person narrator with her relentless focus on gender issues demands the attention of the reader and disturbs his/her sense of complacency. The "I" in Taslima's work is the name of a political platform.

[58]   As Taslima points out, most Bangladeshi female authors write about love and familial happiness. The story of gender oppression evades them. In this regard Fazlul Huq Rippon comments, "it is in accordance with tradition that a woman should write about her experiences ingratiatingly, with modesty-clad words, and not represent man as her opponent."38 Taslima rejects the ingratiating style violating the epistemic tradition. One of the important poems that constitutes the Bengali imagination is "Natorer Banalata Sen" by Jibanada Das. Das defines and identifies the Bengali woman as the eternally waiting, loving/serene figure bequeathing home to the age old wanderer-the Bengali man. Taslima contrasts that passive image by speaking for herself, voicing her own demands and calling into question the exploitative ideology of that romanticized home.

[59]   Shodh and Aparpokkho cannot be read in isolation from her non-fictional works (which are also full of anecdotal elements). She is an activist in her non-fictional writings calling upon women to rise against their subordination. She challenges women : "If you are human, you will smash your chain to stand tall. Smash the chains with your hands; these hands are yours. . . ."39 Shodh andAparpokkho bear the imprint of that activist "I" of the newspaper columns. The burning pain of Taslima's personal suffering breathes life into her writings. She deliberately rejects the third person narrative voice of omniscience typically used in Bangladeshi literature; she reinvents her narrative voice as a woman. Although Taslima is from an elite class, subalternized women of her inquiry are not her other; by utilizing the first person technique, she emphasizes that she is also the other in a patriarchal society.


The Maternal Womb: Taslima and Spivak

[60]   In Shodh, the material womb, a signifier of male control, and patriarchal continuity has been appropriated by Jhumur to show how the surveillance fails to safeguard its interests. The entire system malfunctions when Jhumur appropriates power covertly, and renders the surveillance futile.


[61]   Within a patriarchal ideology, a woman's sexuality is instrumental for reproductive purposes, and after giving birth to children, especially sons, she rises in her status in society (for example as mother-in-law) and commands some respect for transcending the ordeal of her early phase of life. Taslima's work counters such representations by following the trajectory of female desire and deconstructing the image of the desexualized good wife. In other words, Taslima renounces the conventional image by enunciating female desire.

[62]   In her reading of "Breast Giver," Spivak employs Marxist Feminism to theorize Jashoda's body. Spivak interrupts Marxist Feminism itself by inserting new significations as she focuses on the exchange value of Jashoda's milk. In order to produce breast milk, Jashoda undergoes repeated pregnancies. Thus the female womb in Mahasweta's story is a means to produce milk which in turn earns a livelihood for Jashoda. Spivak argues, Jashoda's selling of excess milk to the Haldar family for exchange value "introduces a stutter in the pre-supposition that women's work is typically non-productive of value."40 She explains that the womb is utilized in "Breast Giver" for exchange value which goes beyond the reproductive rights of the Western feminists raising new areas of interrogation.

[63]   Whereas in Spivak, the womb figures only as a means to reach the final product– breast milk to which a price value is added, in my critique of Taslima's stories, the focus on the female womb as a signifier is more direct. Taslima has inserted in the liberal feminist struggle a new dimension by conceiving babies outside of the sanctioned space to contest patrilineality and patriarchal heritage. She has brought to the forefront women like Jhumur and Jamuna as legitimate figures in spite of their reappropriation of the womb from the hegemonic order. Taslima, through such an approach, has moved beyond reproductive rights to contest the system itself, and to undermine the system's foundation. In the economy of her stories, the womb is transformed so that conception takes place as a strategic move to destabilize patriarchy. Although in Aparpokkho, Jamuna's decision to keep the illegitimate baby instead of aborting it falls within the purview of Reproductive rights as conceived in the West, her political agenda encompasses much more than a claim to the product of her own body. Her womb is not (only) a site of reproduction in that sense.

[64]   The context of Taslima's writings is a Muslim society which considers female desire as enticing and destructive; hence the need to veil women or to promote the idea of family honor which revolves around protecting women's virginity (before marriage) and chastity (after marriage). In this regard, Mernissi comments, "while Western women's liberation movements had to repudiate the body in pornographic mass media, Muslim women are likely to claim the right to their bodies as part of their liberation movement."41Taslima's reappropriation of the womb in a Muslim society is groundbreaking in many ways. The children that her heroines conceive outside of marriage are also the products of passionate relationships with men other than their husbands. These children thus give permanence to the transgressive desire of her heroines in a Muslim society which is based on the regulation of female sex, specifically in the family unit. Purdah, modesty and family honor all originate from the fear of female sexuality and the need to establish patrilineality. Taslima strikes at this very foundation of a Muslim family. For example, in Shodh, the child who becomes an heir to Harun's property is not his own. In this novel, Taslima utilizes female sexuality to subvert the system of inheritance. In Western feminism, reproductive rights can be considered in terms of equality of choice and rights to one's body; Taslima's enunciation of the womb is aimed at disrupting the order of patrilineal descent in Bangladeshi society.

[65]   One possible approach to the issue of the reappropriated womb in these stories is to read conception as metaphoric. Taslima might be suggesting that we, through our desires, should conceive of new alternatives, that our liberated desire should define our goals. The yet-to-be born baby in Aparpokkho may be metaphoric of embryonic ideas represented for further expansion, elaboration and espousal.

[66]   Her strong social and professional identity validate her embryonic ideas. Taslima's fictions gain power from her public position as a professional in the field of medical science. Specifically, if her fictional writings are read against the backdrop of her newspaper columns, one is likely to hear the resonance of the powerful observer/doctor writing about the female patients and their devaluation by social gendering based on misconception and unscientificity. For example, in one of her newspaper articles, Taslima reveals that many childless couples come to her for medical help to cure barrenness. Categorically, it is the wife who is targeted for

treatment by the husband and the in-law family. In defiance of the norms of modesty and courtesy to men, Taslima then announces that she diagnosed many of these men to be impotent and found them responsible for the childlessness in their families.42

[67]   Such a bold exposure of a fact certainly emboldens other women to come forward to deflate the balloon of power held by men who promote silence and ignorance in the area of reproduction but exercise power to ensure the patrilineal identity of children. By bringing the most personal and mystified realm of life such as reproduction to such a scrutiny, Taslima deals a good blow to the unequal foundation of gendering. She shows how no social taboo should befall "barren" women. The narrator of her novels bears the authorizing mark of that columnist /doctor endowing her stories with a seal of extra-fictional validity.

[68]   If the major pillars of an exploitative system are called into question, it may help dethrone the middle class man; the middle class man is robbed of his good name by these stories. The husbands of Shodh andAparpokkho live in cities and they are neither mollahs nor uneducated village men.

[69]   Taslima has challenged the unassailability of Bangladeshi patriarchy by instituting fear in the system, and by introducing terminologies of revenge and oppositionality in the realm of domestic relationships. Taslima has shown that the patriarchal institutions and customs of Bangladeshi society constitute the armor for the contending male rendering the female helpless. By unveiling the patriarchal agenda of subordinating women, and by introducing overt and covert strategies to subvert this agenda, Taslima has pioneered the feminist discourse in Bangladeshi society. Simultaneously, her work opens up areas for new exploration and debate in postcolonial feminist studies.



I owe special thanks to Mary Cappello and Jean Walton for their encouragement and insightful comments on the earlier versions of this essay. I also wish to thank the editors and anonymous reviewers of GENDERS for their suggestions.


  1. 1. For an English translation of this novel, see Shaukat Osman,Janani, trans. Osman Jamal (Oxford: Heinemann,1993). back
  2. According to Gayatri Spivak, an example of epistemic violence is the imperial "project to constitute the colonial subject as Other." In the context of widow burning, as Spivak has pointed out, the discourse of Sati exemplifies epistemic violence. Epistemologically, the colonial discourse considers the widow an object or a victim (object-formation) of Brown patriarchy, whereas the nativist account (subject- constitution) represents her as a willing participant in this ritual. Both are complicit, maintains Spivak, in effacing the voice (the possibility of an episteme by the subaltern) of the subaltern woman through appropriation. "Can the Subaltern Speak?" Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, eds. Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 280-81; 297; 306. back
  3. According to Ranajit Guha's formulation, the subaltern population of India represents the "demographic difference between the total Indian population" and the elite class. Quoted in Gayatri Spivak, In Other Worlds: Essays in Cultural Politics (New York: Routledge,1988), 204. I argue that women of Bangladesh inhabit the subaltern space of powerlessness irrespective of classes, although the degree of subalternization may vary. back
  4. Quoted in Hayden White, "Michel Foucault," Structuralism and Since: From LeviStrauss to Derrida, ed. John Sturrock (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), 94. back
  5. Rabia Bhuiyan, Aspects of Violence Against Women (Dhaka: Institute of Democratic Rights, 1991), 51. back
  6. S.M. Shamsul Alam, "Women in the Era of Modernity and Islamic Fundamentalism: The Case of Taslima Nasrin of Bangladesh," Signs 23 (1998): 431. back
  7. For a detailed discussion, see Robert Young, White Mythologies: Writing History and the West (New York: Routledge,1990), 160. back
  8. For a detailed account, see Rabia Bhuiyan, Bibaha o Bibaha-Bichhede Muslim Narir Aingoto Adhikar(Dhaka: Women for Women, 1986). Unless otherwise noted, all translations from Bengali texts are my own. back
  9. Mojibor Rahman, Muslim o Paribarik Ain Parichiti (Dhaka: Badsha Publishers, 1989), 84. back
  10. See Bhuiyan, Bibaha o Bibaha Bichhede, 7. back
  11. Quoted in Taslima Nasrin, Nirbachita Column (Dhaka: Gyan Koshe Prakashani, 1993; reprint, 1994), 77. back
  12. Taslima Nasrin, Nastya Meyer Nastya Gaddya (Dhaka: Kakali Prakashani, 1992, reprint, 1994), 99. back
  13. Nasrin, Column, 12. back
  14. Naila Kabeer, "Subordination and Struggle: Women in Bangladesh," New Left Review 168 (April/May, 1988), 104. back
  15. See Naila Kabeer, "The Quest for National Identity: Women, Islam and the State in Bangladesh," Women, Islam and the State, ed. Deniz Kandiyoti (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991), 115-143. back
  16. Meer Nurul Islam, "Bhinnya Dristir Annyarakam Akjon Kabi,"Taslima Nasriner Pakkhe Bipakkhe, vol. 1 [2 vols.], ed. Mesbahuddin Ahmed, (Dhaka: Ankur Prakashani, 1993), 89. back
  17. Islam, "Bhinnya Dristir," 90. back
  18. Quoted in Taslima Nasriner Pakkhe Bipakkhe, vol.2, 21. back
  19. Ali Riaz, Voice and Silence: Contextualizing Taslima Nasrin(Dhaka: Ankur Prakashani, 1995), 39. back
  20. Riaz has used the term "strangeness" in reference to Taslima's writings. Riaz has also been observant of the first person style of Taslima's writings and the critical importance of female sexuality in her work (75). back
  21. Quoted in Riaz, Voice and Silence, 69. back
  22. Nasrin, Nastya Meyer Nastya, 11. back
  23. Ranajit Das, Taslima Nasriner Nari (Dhaka: Mamuni Prakashan, 1993),75. back
  24. Fatima Mernissi, Beyond the Veil: Male-Female Dynamics in Modern Muslim Society (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), 60. back
  25. Alam has adequately pointed out, "Nasrin does not view the body as a biological entity; rather, she attempts to unwrap the socio-cultural meaning of the female body, especially the historical configurations of male-female power relations to which the female body in Bangladesh is subjected" (453). My essay in addressing those power-relations particularly focuses on the Bangladeshi personal law of marriage and divorce which can be considered the primary site of female subordination. back
  26. Quoted in Spivak, In Other Worlds, 260. back
  27. In the Sassurean system, any sign's value is determined by its syntagmatic and paradigmatic relationship with other signs in a particular signifying system ( which may vary, for example, from culture to culture). A syntagmatic relationship denotes formal contiguity: for example, a sentence connects different words which are formally contiguous. In Kaja Silverman's language, "A word depends for its value, and hence its significance, both on its immediate neighbors and on its location within the linear organization of the sentence in which it appears." In my example, the syntagmatic character of the sign is not a grammatical sentence, but signs and concepts "chained together" to create a linear narrative. The working of a syntagmatic device in a story can be illuminated by comparing it to similar devices in cinema or painting. For example, "the spatial disposition of objects in a painting. . .establishes a syntagmatic connection between them. . . ." The Subject of Semiotics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983), 105; 106. I am also indebted to Spivak for this idea which she utilizes to analyze women's position in the pre-capitalist society of India. Spivak, In Other Worlds, 219. back
  28. From the Marxist point of view, labor is idealized in capitalism through the idea of superadequation-meaning the laborer can produce much more than he needs (or what is called necessary labor). Similarly, I would argue that the image of the mother as supremely giving points to the exploitative notion of superadequation that may be embedded in it. For more on the idea of super-adequation, see, Gayatri Spivak, "Scattered Speculations on the Question of Value," The Spivak Reader, eds, Donna Landry and Gerald Maclean (New York: Routledge, 1996), 107-40. It is also important to mention here that in her analysis of Mahasweta Devi's "Breast Giver," Spivak observes that the figure of Jashoda "blasts mothering right out of its affective coding." TheSpivak Reader, 165. back
  29. Taslima Nasrin, Chaar Kannya (Dhaka: Pearl Publications, 1994), 43. All further references to this work will be cited parenthetically in the text. back
  30. See Bhuyian, Bibha o Bibaha-Bichhede, 4. back
  31. Nasrin, Column, 141. back
  32. Quoted in Nasrin, Column, 129. back
  33. Kabeer, "Subordination," 102. back
  34. Naseem Ahmed, Women in Bangladesh, Universities Field Staff International, 36 (Indianapolis: UFS, 1987), 2. back
  35. Spivak, In Other Worlds, 220. back
  36. Nasrin, Column, 102. back
  37. Riaz, Voice and Silence, 82. back
  38. Fazlul Huq Rippon, "Taslima Nasrin: Kayekti Parzabekkhon,"Taslima Nasriner Pakkhe Bipakkhe, vol.2, 88. back
  39. Nasrin, Column, 104. back
  40. Spivak, In Other Worlds, 249. back
  41. Mernissi, Beyond, 168. back
  42. Nasrin, Column, 95. back