History of Feminism and Women’s movement in Modern India, its impact Upsc

Women’s movement in India

Today most girls from all families, poor or rich go to school, colleges, IT companies along with boys. But this was not the case two hundred years ago. Also, Nowadays Girls has to be an adult before they are legally married. And as per the law, Women can marry anyone they wish from any religion, caste, race, etc.

And also the Windows can remarry too and can get a divorce if they are not happy with the marriage. Also, women can vote like men and can stand in elections and even they can rule the entire Republic of India. This is not the case two years ago, most children are married at an early age.

Another social custom in India, both Hindu and Muslim men can marry more than one girl. And also in certain of India women are praised if they choose death by burning in the fire if her husband dies. In some cases, widows are forcibly burned, along with the dead body of her husband. This custom is called Sati, which means virtuous women.

Earlier, Women have no access to education and right to their parents or ancestorial properties. Women and men are not considered equal in society. But things started to change in the Nineteenth and twentieth centuries, that is during early British rule.

Changing Culture and Atmosphere

In the early 19th century, there was a lot of discussions took place about the evil social customs and practices. The reason behind this development of communication, newspaper, books, etc. Where people started to read about the European culture, revolutions, politics, etc.

These books, newspapers are available at a cheap cost, cheaper than the manuscripts. Hindu manuscripts are not accessible to everyone. These manuscripts were accessible only to the so-called upper caste people. As a result, these newspapers went to accessible to ordinary people, also these ordinary started to express and share their idea in public forums.

As a result, these discussions started to reach wider audiences and this has ignited the movement for social change.

Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Abolision of Sati

He founded a reform association known as Brahmo Sabha and later known as Brahmo Samaj in Calcutta. Raja Ram Mohan Roy spread the knowledge of western education and brought greater freedom and equality for women.

He also wrote that the women were forced to do the domestic work and were confined to the home and kitchen. Also, the women were not allowed to move out and become educated.

Raja Ram Mohan Roy campaigned against the practice of Sati. He showed the old manuscripts that there is no practice of Sati in the ancient texts. Most important, many British officials began to criticize the Indian customs and traditions. The British official then supported the campaign of Raja Ram Mohan Roy against the practice of Sati.

Finally, in 1829 British officials banned the practice of Sati.

Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar

Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar used ancient texts to suggest Widows could remarry. The suggestions of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar were then adopted by the British officials and a law was passed in 1856 that permits widow remarriage.

Veerasalingam Pantulu

The idea of widow remarriage passed to the rest of the Indian subcontinent. During the second half of the 19th century, in the Telugu language-speaking areas of the Madras Presidency, a reformer named Veerasalingam Pantulu formed an association for widow remarriage.

Swami Dayanand Saraswati

In the same period, several reformers and intellectuals in Bombay’s presidency pledge themselves to work for the widow remarriage. One such intellectual Swami Dayanand Saraswati. He founded the association called Arya Samaj.

One of the main objectives of Arya Samaj is widow remarriage.

Even after several reformers, who worked a lot for widow remarriage. Yet the number of widows remarried remained low. This is due to the fact that society and conservative groups continued to oppose the law.

E.V. Ramaswamy Naicker or Periyar

Periyar work on feminism is unparallel and inferior to none and also controversial even today. Self-respect marriages, women empowerment, abolition of devadasi system, asking women to birth control to stay independent throughout life, Widow remmariages etc are famous ones.

Education of Women

Many intellectuals, reformers, etc felt that the education of girls is very low to nil in the Indian subcontinent. They felt that education for girls was necessary to improve the condition of women.

Vidyasagar in Calcutta and other reformers started schools for girls. Many in the society had fear over the school when it was first opened in the mid-nineteenth century and they thought the schools would take girls away from home and prevent them from doing domestic duties.

Many thought the girls who travel to school, will corrupt them and felt girls should stay away from public places. Due to this girls were thought at home by their liberal fathers, husband, and private teachers.

Also, some girls were self-taught such as Rashsundari Debi, and taught other girls. In the late 19th-century girl schools were established by Arya Samaj in Punjab and Jyotirao Phule in Maharashtra.

Some reformers such as Mumtaz Ali reinterpreted Koran to argue for women’s education. Also in some Muslim houses in North India women learned to read Koran in Arabic.

Written Works of Women

In the 19th century, the Begums of Bhopal played an important role in women’s education. They started schools for girls at Aligarh. Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain founded schools for Muslim girls in Patna and Calcutta.

Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain was a great and fearless critic of conservative ideas. She fearlessly expressed that all religious leaders irrespective of faith made women inferior to men by spreading their conservative ideas. As early as the 1880’s women started to enter the universities and a sizable number of women became doctors and teachers.

Many women started to write books and news columns in Newspapers, Magazines, etc to express their views about Feminism, Society, and the importance of women’s education. Also fearlessly criticized Male patriarchal society.

The important ones are,

1.Tarabai Shinde from Poona published a book Stripurushtulna (Meaning: A comparison between Women and Men). This book criticized the social differences between men and women.

2. Pandita Ramabai who was a Sanskrit scholar expressed her views on Hinduism. She felt that Hinduism was oppressive towards women and also wrote a book about the miserable lives of upper-caste Hindu women.

She then founded Widow home at Poona and it provided shelter to Widows and ill-treated Womens by their husbands. In these homes, women were trained to become economically independent.

All these activities alarmed the right-wing activities and Hindu nationalists. They felt that Hindu Women adopting Western Ways and this would corrupt the Hindu culture and values. Also, the orthodox Muslims felt the same.

Women’s becoming Pressure Groups

In the 19th century latter half, women started to become independent, they were working for reform, they wrote books, magazines, started schools for women, and set up a training center for women.

From the early 20th century, Women’s associations went on become political pressure groups. They have demanded laws for female suffrage (Right to Vote). Also demanded good health care and education for women. The women also joined various kinds of nationalist and socialist movements.

The Governtment of India Act of 1919 prohibited women from becoming legislators. But the first Justice Party Government in Madras Presidency, reversed this policy on 1 April 1921. Voter qualification were made gender neutral. By this resolution in 1926, Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddi became first woman to become a member of any legislature in India.

But this was not case in rest of India. Leader such as Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose supported the demand for equality. As a result, the Nationalist leaders promised there would be full suffrage (Right to vote for women) after independence. Till independence they have asked the women association to concentrate on the Anti-British struggles.

Abolition of Child Marriage

The Women Association and other liberals challenge another custom such as Child Marriage. A number of Indian legislators in the central legislative assembly fought to make law preventing child marriage. As result, 1929 the Child Marriage Restraint Act was passed.

According to this act no man below age of 18 and woman below the age of 16 could marry.



* * All the Notes in this blog, are referred from Tamil Nadu State Board Books and Samacheer Kalvi Books. Kindly check with the original Tamil Nadu state board books and Ncert Books.