Overview for "Because I Am a Woman": A Child Widow's Memoirs from Colonial India
The latest publication from Distinguished Teaching Professor of History Geraldine Forbes traces the life of a remarkable woman who sheds light on often-unseen scenes of colonial-era India.
“Because I Am a Woman: A Child Widow’s Memoirs from Colonial India” traces the life of Haimabati Sen from troubled childhood to respected doctor and trailblazer. One of Sen’s grandsons gave Forbes the memoirs, written in a series of notebooks, and she worked with Tapan Raychaudhuri, a retired professor from St. Antony’s College of Oxford and renowned scholar of India, for the translation.
“In all our years, neither of us had ever seen anything quite like it,” Forbes said of the memoirs. “We were both astounded.”
Family members said Sen became known as someone who would stop women from being beaten in public and help those in need. “She became this champion of the oppressed,” Forbes said. “Despite her challenges, what she accomplished through her drive, her ambition and her determination was quite remarkable.”
The memoir is especially notable for its honest portrayal of the problems and perils of women at the time, as most early biographies of oppressed groups tend to be sympathetic to the societal order, Forbes said. “She gets into the inner workings of the family and her own relationships, and you get this critique of the center of women’s lives” in that era, Forbes said. Sen’s memoir “breaks the silence” on a lot of issues such as the various levels of abuse many women suffered at the time, she added.
Sen is “a natural feminist” who “talks about ‘this is what’s happening to me because I am a woman,’” Forbes said, explaining the book’s title. “She shows that kind of feminist ideology does emerge out of one’s own experience.”
Tapan Raychaudhuri (Translator)
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Geraldine Forbes (Editor)
Geraldine Forbs is Distinguished Teaching Professor of History at the State University of New York, Oswego. She began her research in India over three decades ago. Her focus has been colonial India, with special emphasis on womenâ€™s history. Her first book, Positivism in Bengal, was selected for the prestigious Rabindra Puroskar award by the West Bengal Government. Among her publications on the history and lives of Indian women are Women in Modern India. The Memoirs of Haimabati Sen, and a number of articles and book chapters. The series editor of Foremother Legacies, she has edited and introduced As Indian Freedom Fighter Recalls Her Life, and Memoirs of an Indian Women in this series. Geraldine Forbes is a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Womenâ€™s History and the editorial collective of Gender and History. Her current work is on Photographic Imagery and the History of Indian Women. In July 2004 she was chosen by the Organizing Committee of the Conference to receive an award for her contributions to Bengali society, arts and culture. She lives in Syracuse, New York which her husband Sidney Greenblatt.