Martyr for Women's Liberation
Countless are the contributors to the cause of emancipation of women. Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Kandukuri Veeresalingam in our country, Kemal Ataturk in Turkey and Amir Amanullah in Afghanistan are among the names which suggest themselves readily. But their experience and the success which attended their efforts have varied from country to country depending on the social climate in which they operated. This article describes how Tahirih, in what was then Persia, sacrificed her life for the uplift of her sex.
Not long ago, women all over the world were in a state of more or less subjection to men. Today after centuries of somnolence. Women are aware of their rightful position in society and are stirring to new ideas. This transformation has occurred not all of a sudden but because of the continuous struggle put up by many a brave men and women. Who strove relentlessly for this cause. To us in Asia, it should be of interest to know that the first women's rights martyr was not a western at all. She was in fact, Tahirih, the 'Pure one,' in 19th century Persia.
To reconstruct the story of Tahirih, let us visualize a beautiful young woman in Iran a genius a poetess, and a scholar of the Quran. Coming from a jurist family of letters, daughter of the high priest of her province, very rich, enjoying a high rank, living in an artistic palace and known among her friends for her courage. Difficult as it might be let us visualize this young woman, still in her twenties, ready to lay down her life, if necessary, in the struggle for women's liberation from biased customs, traditions and ideas in a strife-torn, mullah- dominated, and self-styled Islamic Persia of the "dark ages. " Now we can grasp the he role and at the same tragic life of Tahirih, also known to some as Qurratu'1-Ann (Solace of the Eyes).
Persia was then a feeble, backward nation divided against itself by corrupt practices and ferocious bigotries. Inefficiency and moral decay were rampant no one appeared to have the capacity to carry out any reforms nor even the will, seriously, to institute them. The national concept preached a grandiose self-content. A pall or immobility lay over an things and a general paralysis of mind made any development impossible.
It was against such a background that Tahirih showed her exemplary courage and power. Despite the custom of the day that women should not speak with men, she indulged in discussions with learned men and they marveled at her. The Iranian Government took her prisoner. She was stoned in the streets, anathematized exiled from town to town and threatened with death. But nothing shook her determination to work for the freedom of her sisters. Even in prison she gained followers. To a minister of Iran, in whose house she was imprisoned she said, "You can kill me as soon as you like, but you cannot stop the emancipation of women."
Tahirih was a follower of the forerunner of the Bahá'í faith, the Báb, whose teachings were the backbone of her enthusiasm and devotion to God. It was, perhaps, this faith which shone thought all her actions and verses. Even His Imperial Majesty was moved by Tahirih's fire and spirit. It is said that once when she was brought like her looks; leave her, and let her be."
It is related that later he sent her a letter, the gist of which was that she should change her beliefs. If she would do this, he would give her an exalted position as the guardian of the women of his household. He would even make her his bride Tahirih wrote a reply in verse on the back of his letter and sent it back to the Shah an shah. The English translation, which cannot do justice to the beauty of the original poem, is : Kingdom wealth and ruling be for thee.
Wandering, becoming a poor dervish and calamity be for me. If that station is good, let it be for thee. And if this station bad. I long for it ; let it be for me ! The Shah was impressed and said "So far history has not shown such a woman to us."
Jealous and fearful of her growing Influence on the masses, the chiefs of the Government devised a plan to get rid of her. They commanded Haji Mulla Knat and Haji Mulla Muhammad Andirmani, two of the most learned clergymen of Teheran to interrogate her. They declared that whatever these two divines decide upon would be done. When the divines held discussions with Tahirih, she defeated them at every session. Still they remained unconvinced and concluded "This woman is astray and a leader astray of others : therefore, her death is necessary and expedient."
She was carried into a garden and ordered to be strangled by a drunken man. Not cowed down at all Tahirih had put on her best robes a s if she were going to join a bridal partly. Before leaving her prison, she told the man in-charge there. "I am preparing to meet my Beloved and wish to free you from the cares and anxieties of my imprisonment." Thus with marginality and courage Tahirih gave up her life.
Lord Curzon, in his book 'Persia and the Persian Question' wrote thus of Tahirih the "ill-fated poetess of Qazvin, ZarrinTaz (Crown of Gold) or Quarratu'1-Ann (Solace of the Eyes) who throwing off the veil carried the missionary torch far and wide, is one of the most affecting episodes in modern history", Sulayman Nazim Big, famed author and poet of Turkey said in his book "Nasirid Dinshah and the Babies". "O Tahirih you are worth a thus and Nazirid- Din Shahs"! Mrs. Sarojini Naidu the nightingale of India, told Mr. Martha Root, a Bahá'í teacher, in June 1930, "Oh, for ten years I have longed to have the poems of Tahirih".
Trough the fearless stand taken by women like Tahirih, our world is more balanced today. Man and woman are how equal in the eyes of the law. Force, the old standard, is losing its dominance day by day and the qualities of intuitions, insight love and service, in which women are strong are gaining ascendancy. This new epoch is an age which demands that men and women become more equal. ◙