Ladyland revisited

Ladyland revisited

On the first feminist science fiction in the Subcontinent.

(This is a review from our July 2015 print quarterly, 'Disaster Politics'. See more from the issue here.)

One night in October 2014, only women were seen loitering along the downtown boulevards of Bogota. They drank away the wee hours in bars that offered special 'women-only' cocktails and filled all the seats at special open-air concerts, making the capital of Colombia seem like a city exclusively for women. Brainchild of Antanas Mockus, the wacky former mayor of Bogota, this unusual experiment was intended to highlight women's secondary status in society – their deep fear of assault, restricted mobility and lack of leisure time. When Mockus, a mathematician at the Colombian National University and a political novice, successfully won the mayoral post, he led many interesting social experiments to tackle endemic crime and lawlessness in the capital city. The most notable of these was the 'Night Without Men' on 9 March 2001. In what seems like a direct vindication of this strategy, the crime rate was significantly lower in Bogota on that day. Thirteen years later, the 2014 'Night for Women' represents a more exuberant claim by women on public spaces, rather than simply keeping the men out. Although the curfew was 'voluntary', most men welcomed the experience of a self-imposed night curfew, something that women are usually subject to on a daily basis.

Visions of women-only spaces are not new. While American writer Charlotte Perkin Gilman's immensely popular Herland (1915) has been widely lauded as the 'first' feminist science fiction, written closer home, Sultana's Dream by Begum Rokheya Sakhawat Hossain, in fact, predates Gilman by a full decade. An exquisitely illustrated reprint of this classic piece of feminist fiction was republished by Chennai-based publishing house Tara books in 2005, exactly a century after its original publication in The Indian Ladies Magazine of Madras in 1905. The new (2014) version has the added delight of stunning illustrations by the Gond artist Durga Bai Vyam. A reprint of the book in 2014 is testimony to the timeless appeal of Hossain's feminist utopia, and what adds value is what the book cover calls "a fascinating dialogue across time and cultures" between a tribal woman artist from Madhya Pradesh and a book written a century ago in Bengal.

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Himal Southasian