Women in Modern India

  • “Women’s question” figured prominently in the discourses of Western observers, like James Mill, who used it to construct a “civilizational critique of India”.
  • By 19th century, the ideal of purdah had become universalized for both Muslim and Hindu women and for both elites and commoners, although in its practical implications it acted differently for diverse groups.
  • As far as Indian educated women were concerned, we may mention the endeavors of Tarabai Shinde, Pandita Ramabai in western India, Sister Subbalakshmi in Madras and Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain among the Muslim women in Bengal.
  • Tarabai Shinde: In 1882, Tarabai Shinde, a Marathi woman from Berar, published a book entitled, “A Comparison Between Women and Men”.
  • In 1920, Sister Subbalakshmi was awarded the Kaiser-i-Hind gold medal in recognition of her service to the women and girls of Madras Presidency. In 1960 Awarded the Padma Shri.
  • Pandita Ramabai: First woman in India to earn the titles of Pandita (feminine of pundit, or Sanskrit scholar) and Sarasvati, after examination by the faculty of the University of Calcutta. She founded Arya Mahila Samaj, a society of high-caste Hindu women working for the education of girls and against child marriage. She published her first book, Morals for Women, or in the original Marathi Stri Dharma Niti. And she testified before the Hunter Commission on Education in India, an enquiry set up by the British government. (Her testimony, which was later printed, is said to have influenced the thinking of Queen Victoria). She also founded the first home-cum-school for widows called the Sharda Sadan in Bombay.
  • Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain: She is commonly known as Begum Rokeya, was a Bengali feminist thinker, writer, educator and political activist from British India. She is widely regarded as a pioneer of women’s liberation in South Asia. In 1916, she founded the Muslim Women’s Association, an organization that fought for women’s education and employment.
  • From the late nineteenth century increasingly socially mobile peasant families began to confine their women to household work.
  • As they were idealised as wives and mothers, their household responsibilities came to be regarded as sacred duties and were thus emptied of any economic value.
  • Many of those who participated in various crafts began to lose their vocation with the advancement of mechanisation in the early twentieth century. Women were given less wages than their male counterparts and were always considered as parts of family units.
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