Sultana’s Dream by Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain is a science-fiction short story based on feminist utopia, which was featured in the Madras-based periodical Indian Ladies Magazine in 1905. It is not surprising that in today’s times too, the primary themes of resistance that Sultana’s Dream wittingly attempts to portray are of relevance.
In a world dominated by men, ‘Sultana’s Dream’ challenges the system of patriarchy and exposes the double standards of men in our society. The story’s protagonist, whose name is Sara, narrates the tale of her country named ‘Ladyland’, where patriarchy is abolished and matriarchy prevails. Throughout her narration of Ladyland’s unique and noteworthy features, readers can find multiple instances of active dissent against male chauvinism.
Firstly, Sara elucidates how in Ladyland, men are locked inside their house and forced to observe the ‘purdah’ while the women roam free, fly air cars, research and invent sophisticated machines and rule the society. This kind of gender role-reversal dissents against patriarchal practices such as the ‘purdah system’, which has been observed by Muslim women since time immemorial. Moreover, the text challenges the traditional norm of a woman being a ‘housemaker’ and a man being a ‘breadwinner’.
Secondly, Sara also elaborates on the results of keeping men locked inside their houses. She claims that in LadyLand, this system drastically reduced the crime rates and enhanced women’s safety in society. This argument is based on the simple understanding that men are the primary perpetrators of crime, especially when it comes to the harassment of women. Thus, the text poses a larger question to its readers i.e., should we be limiting the mobility of girls or boys? The best response to this question was given by the protagonist of the popular Bollywood film ‘Pink’ which was directed by Aniruddha Roy Chaudhary. During an intense courtroom hearing, he lambasts the society and thunders by saying: “We must save our boys and not our girls. Because if we save our boys, only then our girls will be safe”.
Thirdly, Sara debunks the preposterous argument that male dominance exists primarily because men are biologically stronger in comparison to women. She cites the example of elephants who have a larger brain than humans and lions who are physically stronger in comparison to humans and yet neither of them dominates humankind. Sara’s justification is an expression of resistance against traditional stereotypes which call upon men to protect women as women are considered to be naturally weak and inferior.
Fourthly, Ladyland‘s policy of not embracing any religious identities is also what makes it not only unique but also utopian. According to Sara, Ladyland follows only one religion i.e., the religion of love and truth. People of Ladyland consider it their religious duty to love one another and to be absolutely truthful. This way of thinking breaches the conventional boundaries of all mainstream religions which mostly restricts individuals to the worship of their god or gods.
Sara portrays in the story that a society with no religion means a society with zero intolerance and fewer conflicts, which ultimately results in peace, stability, and prosperity. With this logic, the text symbolises resistance against the institution of religion, which in the words of German philosopher Karl Marx is the “opium of the masses”. Moreover, most mainstream religions have customs and traditions which discriminate against women. Thus, the text invokes the spirit to question and resist our existing religious beliefs and traditions, which in the name of God promote disharmony and misogyny.
Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain’s ‘Sultana’s Dream’ is an epitome of resistance against the male-dominated institutional hierarchy as well as a landmark achievement in the field of Indian women’s literature. The text not only critiques every irrational pillar upon which patriarchy rests but also illustrates the ideal image of a society where women are the decision-makers. It attempts to amplify the principles of the feminist movement which believes that ‘personal is political’. The text is also a significant attempt at defining and portraying a society that resists and challenges every norm or custom that favours patriarchy. The reversal of gender roles in the story also enables the readers to visualise a utopian society that transgresses contemporary patriarchal principles.
“Sultana’s Dream.” Digital Library, Accessed 18 Apr. 2022.
Riyan Buragohain is a debater, writer and a public speaker who strongly espouses intersectional feminism. He has the experience of participating as well as chairing several Model UN conferences across Assam and has worked with NGO’s such as Girlup Guwahati and Little Umbrella Foundation. His areas of interest include international relations, domestic politics and government and gender studies. You can find him on Instagram.