Sultana's Dream

Sultana's Dream Study Guide

"Sultana's Dream," written in 1905 by Begum Rokeya (also known as Rokeya Sahkawat Hossain), is a science-fiction short story first published in The Indian Ladies' Magazine that depicts a society in which the practice of purdah is inverted, thus transforming into a feminist utopia. Purdah, a practice that was originally used in Persian culture by Muslims before being adopted by Hindus in India, involves secluding women away from public life. Women are relegated to live in their own segregated domestic spaces, which are called zenanas, and often must wear clothing that obscures or hides their face and body in order to remain shielded from the male gaze. In Ladyland, this tradition is reversed; rather than women being imprisoned, it is men who are sequestered into male-only spaces that the women refer to as mardanas.

Under female rule, Ladyland transforms into a utopian vision of idyllic life. Crime is eliminated, agriculture flourishes, and the women are able to live without fear. Rokeya uses themes that center on scientific and technological advancement to demonstrate the extent of progress that could be made possible if women were allowed access to education. Rokeya was a fervent advocate for women's right to education and spent much of her life writing essays, novels, and stories that involved themes of women's rights, feminism, and gender inequality. Born into an upper-class family in Bengal, Rokeya was educated by her father, who taught her and her sister Arabic, Persian, English, and Bengali. After marrying at age eighteen, Rokeya was able to write and publish work with the encouragement of her husband, who urged her to write in Bengali as well as English.

"Sultana's Dream" was originally composed in English. After it was published in The Indian Ladies' Magazine, it became a foundational text for women's liberation and feminism in South Asia. The work's depiction of a utopian society under female rule, as well as its use of sci-fi themes and imagery, is widely regarded as ahead of its time, written decades before many feminist texts began to explore similar themes. Rokeya went on to found a school for girls in 1911 as well as the Islamic Women's Organization in 1916, which advocated for educational reform and general societal reform for women.