Defending the Rights of a Soviet Woman

It was election day for the Supreme Court of the USSR, December 12 1937, when Milidzhan Gafurovyi burst into the election commission’s office with a knife in his hand, searching for his wife Rakhmalia-bibi Rustamova.

Turns out, this was the third recorded incident of an assault on his wife — and his last.

Правда Востока (Pravda Tosokta), a local newspaper in what is modern-day Uzbekistan, published an article on June 22 1938, detailing that incident and the two previous, reporting on an incredible story of feminist activism in the Soviet Union.


Uzbekistan (dark red) was once part of the former Soviet Union (light red)


Rustamova and Gafurovyi were both communal farmers, an occupation all too common in the Soviet Union.

As Правда Востока notes, the origins of their marital issues began when “Rustamova threw off her veil, eliminated her illiteracy, work[ed] like a Stakhanovite in the collective farm, and was elected to serve as a brigade leader.” Along the way Gafurovyi ” obstructed the political development of his wife by persecuting her and more than once threatening to kill her.”

Rustamova became known as an activist and public organizer in her local community, which is how she ended up on the electoral commission of the USSR Supreme Court. In response to the achievement of her ambitions, Gafurovyi attempted to kill his wife twice before the electoral commission incident, once in their apartment and again in the fields of their cotton operation.

Once Gafurovyi was restrained in the commission’s office, he eventually landed in front of a military tribunal that would determine his fate. “The court determined that Gafurov [was] a descendant of a kulak-bai family, was a merchant, and has for the last few years lived on the income of his wife.” For those reasons, it was decided that he would be put to death.

All in all, I found this story fascinating and specific and kind of weird (why was he not arrested after the first or second murder attempts????) but I hope you enjoyed it nonetheless!

I found this story by researching how women were used as propoganda prop-pieces in the war for the USSR’s cultural/nationalist heart. Information on this story probably would have been impossible if not for the incredible newspaper excepert linked in the blog post. is a resource I appreciated in learning more broadly about feminism in the Soviet Union.


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