Mahatma Gandhi Community Forum

The historical roots of the feminist consciousness in the 19th century by Prof. Vibhuti Patel

Subject:Adult Education Paper: Women Studies
Historically, Indian women’s role in the family, community and society at large was determined by interplay of several forces such as caste and gender based division of work, class background, geographic location and ethnic origin of particular community/tribe. For example, women dominated by Aryan culture had a far more rigid control over sexuality, fertility and labour. Women in Dravidian culture had to face relatively less ferocious patriarchy. Over the last 5,000 years, Indian women’s status has also been influenced by various religions– Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Islam, Sikhism, Christianity and Zoroastrianism. Religious reform movements between 12th century and 16th century, which also gave rise to liberation theology, namely Bhakti Movement and Sufism, brought women’s concerns to the fore. Saint poetesses such as Mirabai, Lal Ded, Akka Mahadevi, and Bahinabai articulated women’s aspirations of personal freedom and creative urge (Krishnaswamy, 1993).

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Comment by Prof. Vibhuti Patel on May 21, 2018 at 19:54
The Genesis of Feminist Movement and Women’s Organisations in India

In the 19th century, the male social reformers with the blessing of the British administrators, influenced by western liberal democratic values initiated the process of fight against female infanticide, widow burning, segregation of women from the public life, prostitution and begging by destitute women. They also organised public functions for widow remarriages. As a result, their relatives, neighbours, community leaders and organised religion boycotted them. In a way, it was a blessing in disguise because their isolation from petty politics gave them ample time and resources to interact with the power structures to bring about legal reforms and establish educational institutions, shelter homes, training centres for women from where the first generation of teachers, nurses and other skilled workers came out. (Desai, 1977)

Women in Social Reform movement

Savitribai was the first woman teacher of modern education who was mentored by her social reformer husband, Jyotirao Phule. Both of them the school for the native girls in Pune in 1848. The couple also opened a care and rehabilitation center for pregnant rape victims and helped deliver their children. Both mother and child were looked after by them. Mother was made self dependent thro’ education and skill and child were sent to school. Savitribai also worked to abolish caste and gender based discrimination and injustices. In 1868, she opened a well in her house for the dalits who were refused drinking water by the upper caste can use it. She had to face extremely barbaric firms of humiliation and social boycott by the feudal and regressive forces.

1885, Rukhmabai chose prison over marriage as a child bride & studied to be a doctor. She played pivotal role in establishment of Civil Hospitals in Pune and Surat.

Tarabai Shinde, the 19th century social reformer is known for her published work, Stri Purush Tulana ("A Comparison Between Women and Men"), originally published in Marathi in 1882. The pamphlet is a critique of upper-caste patriarchy based on irrational, illogical double standards for caste based social hierarchy that subjugated shudras, ati-shudras and women.

In 1889, Pandita Ramabai, a visionary social reformer started the Sharada Sadan, a secular residential school for child widows. During horrifying femine years, she gave food, shelter and education to several thousand unfortunate, ill-treated child widows and destitute orphans. She started schools and the well-known Mission called the Pandita RAMABAI Mukti Mission.

In 1916, Maharshi Karve founded the 1st Women’s University of South Asia, SNDT Women’s University.

a. Movement Against Sati :
The Indian male social reformers sought to reform the society by initiating campaigns against caste, animism, purdah, child-marriage, sati-widow burning and female infanticide. Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar dedicated their entire life to stop barbaric custom of sati (widow buring). As a result, the government had to pass Sati Prohibition Act in 1929.
b. Promotion of Widow Remarriage :
In 1850, Pandit Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar proved from the Shastras that the re-marriage of widow is allowed. He was a long difficult journey through debates with Orthodox pundits. They created turmoil in society. Vidyasagar submitted a petition to the Governor General in 1855.
A widow Remarriage Association had started in Madras in 1871, but was short lived. In 1878, Viresalingam started the Rajmundri Social Reform Association, focusing mainly on widow re-marriage.
c. Fight against Female Infanticide
Social reformers in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Punjab worked really hard to stop female infanticide widely prevalent among upper caste. Due to their efforts laws criminalizing killing of newly born girls came into existence.

d. Rehabilitation of Prostitutes :
The notable personalities, who fought for reforms in anti-wo

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