The Vision About the Role of  Woman in the Modern India by Makers of Modern India

More on Portrayal of Women in Social World

Yatra Naryastu Pujayante Ramante Tatra Devataha I
Yatra Etaha Na Pujyante Tatra Sarvangfalaha Kriyaha II

  • Upanishad.
“Women in my country (Pakistan) seek inspiration from them (Indian Women).”[1]
Accolades for the ‘bold’ and ‘courageous’ participation of Indian woman on the forefront of politics by Shad Begum, the Pakistani award winning advocate exemplifies freedom of expression in India. On the occasion of International Woman’s day Ms. Shad was awarded the 2012 International Woman of Courage Award from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the presence of the First Lady Michelle Obama.
At the same time it becomes necessary for us to evaluate the genesis behind the nation which disseminates its fragrance of equality since its real dependence upon itself. There would have been several thinkers and theoreticians who adumbrated  the draft for a nation which will rise to the highest estimations of humanity. The thinking process of such thinkers leads us towards the creation of nation called Bharat-Hindustan-India, which has its own unique identity, not just politically but from social, economical and geographical point of view as well.
A Concept of contemporary India as a nation has its roots in the tradition of centuries. The world’s most ancient text Rig-Veda itself provides evidence for it. It has a rich civilization which is comparable with(and perhaps more ancient than)  the Greek civilization. The next contact of western civilization in the form of the British Empire helped in making the concept of nationalization concretized and leads the nationalist freedom fighters to conceptualize the dream of nation, which we know as land of ‘unity in diversity’. Here we find a harmonious combination of three most prevailing high-cultures of the world the Hindu, the Mughal and the English. When this component amalgamates with the system of the state, the ultimate result of the largest democracy of the world comes into the existence.  The concept of India as a nation found its base in Manusmruti, Ramayana, Mahabharata,  Arthasastra and Ain-i-Abbari. The idea of India as a nation arises from different sets of experiences. The peculiar aspects such as Social reform, women emancipation, ‘Hindu Renaissance’ the specificity of Muslim thoughts and dissent of the lower orders in particular have contributed different modes of delivering present India as a nation. There has been a constant concern in the mind of the makers of modern India about the emancipation of woman in the newly established nation. Well before the Western literary awakening of feminism the Makers of the Modern India like Raja Rammohan Roy, Tarabai Shinde, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sri Aurobindo, and Subhash Chandra Bose have revealed their forethought about emancipation of the woman in India.
The literary evaluation of Gayatri Chakravarthy Spivak, Irigaray and Cixous in the form of ecriture feminine seems to have antecessors of such mode of thinking and social adequation. Where, Spivak especially presents the postcolonial studies as a novel instance of the attempt to liberate the other and to empower this other to have experience and articulate those elements that fall outside what the dominant discourse has constituted as its subjecthood. Her question is whether such work bear the fruits. In other words, is it possible that- with or without the interventions of the intentioned intellectuals- the subaltern speak? And she herself replies- No. In one of her essays she discusses upon the role of Indian elites in the Indian nationalism as,
“Certain members of the Indian elite are of course native informants for first-world intellectuals interested in the voice of the Other.”[2]
The earth, according to puranas, is constituted of seven continents. Jambudvipa, Plaksadvipa, Silmalidvipa, Kusadvipa, Kraunchadvipa, Sakudvipa and Puskaradvipa. Among them India is Jambudvipa. And the Bharatvarsa (India) was constituted of nine island. One can find varieties of languages and religious sect of India and there are marked differences between one regional custom and way of living with another one. Even though there is an over-all unity of pattern that binds the common citizens into the family. According to Nirmal Kumar Bose it “stems primarily from the economic and social organization of the country, and reaches over to communities of intellectual and emotional attachments and obligations.”[3]
The information might vary from one place to another and from one cast to another ‘yet the sameness of traditions on which all of them have been reared cannot be denied.’
From the point of view of civilization, India occupies a distinct place. The reason is here the mind of man elevated above and beyond the barriers set by geographical limits and in which she (as mother nation) reached an idea of cultural fraternity based on statutory recognition of the need of the mutual assistance between groups seeking economic ends under total social control, would remain one of her unique and original though imperfect “gift to the totality of the world’s civilization”[4]
Between the early nineteenth century and late nineteenth century there is no single frame of thought that we can call ‘India’. Similarly there is no continuity of concerns across time. The only question that how, ‘a huge country like India was conquered?’ remains riddle for thinkers even today. In the process of finding the solution for such question writers of late nineteenth and twentieth century faced one of the most crucial problem for the betterment for entire nation as: How can ‘we’ become free of  colonial rule?
One can find various version of the above mentioned noun ‘we’ in the form of modern Indian thinkers. The uniqueness about India as Guha opines, “Is that the man and women who made its history also wrote most authoritatively about”[5] the world they saw and shaped. The ‘makers’ of some of the well known countries of the world such as, Madison, Hamilton, Jefferson, Franklin from the first generation of American nationalism, Jose Marti from Cuba, Leopold Senghor from Senegal and Kwame  Nkrumah from Ghana participated in the freedom struggle of their nations and wrote essential propaganda for nationalism. Like wise, prominent Indian thinkers during the period of Indian freedom struggle wrote about various constructive aspects, such as female empowerment.
The nineteenth century India witnessed veracious explosion of intellectual activity, especially in western part and Bengal. Social reformers of western India such as Bal Shashtri Jambekar, Jotirao Govindrao Phule, Ramakrishna Gopal Bhandarkar, Gopal Ganesh Agarkar and Dayanand Saraswati emphatically focused upon the intrinsic values and religions of the nation. On the other hand in Bengal one finds idealists, forward looking thinkers  and social reformers like Raja Rammohan Roy, Iswarchandra Vidhyasagar, Michael Madhusudan, Swami Vivekananda, Keshab Chandra Sen and Surendranath Banerjee amongst others, who toiled to emend traditional social structures and ways of being. They launched most resolute critique of the then Indian society, with the goal of relieve it out of “thick clouds of superstitions” that “hung allovers the land.”[6]
After assessing such reflection of India and its developements Karl Marx in his observations aptly opines that,
“England, it is true, is causing a social revolution in Hindustan was actuated only by the vilest interests, and was stupid in her manner of enforcing them. But that is not the question. The question is, can mankind fulfill its destiny without a fundamental revolution in the social state of Asia? If not, whatever may have been the crimes of England, she was the unconscious tool of history in bringing about that revolution.”[7]
It is this ‘unconscious tool’ that injected some of the most awaited intellectual reformations. Raja Rammohan Roy (1772-1833) as ‘The First liberal’ represented the development of freedom in India as a quintessential part of a larger ‘transnational pursuit of humanity for self-realization.’ His multilingual mobile manner of education accomplished him to interpret England to India (in the form of social concerns) and India to England (in the form of political concerns). An Indian ‘religious, social, and educational reformer’ he could “challenge traditional Hindu culture and indicated the lines of progress for Indian society under British rule.”[8] He debated the rights of Hindu women with various orthodox scholars. In 1818, he wrote a pamphlet entitled ‘A conference between an Advocate for and an opponent of the practice of Burning Widows Alive.’ There he refers to Indian-ritual of marriage and following injustices to women as, ‘at marriage the wife is recognized as half of her husband, but [after marriage] they are treated worse than inferior animal.’[9] His suggestion ‘as half of her husband’ refers to Hindu mythological term of Ardhagana and their treatment as ‘inferior animal’ signifies the rottenness that entered into Hindu society due to various reasons.
In 1929 the credit for abolition of the practice of Sati was given to the then Governor, general, William Bentinck. By remaining behind the curtain first it was Rammohan Roy, who veraciously demonstrated the Government (which was not warm to him) that sati was not ‘a religious duty sanctioned or upheld by Hindu scriptural tradition.’ A contemporary English observer-herself a woman- observed that ‘powerful though unacknowledged aid of the great Hindu philosopher Rammohan Roy.’[10] Similarly, one of leading feminist Raka Ray rightly observed that,
“The Indian women’s movement has a long and rich history linked to social reform movements of the nineteenth century…..”[11]
As a ‘practical deconstructionist feminist Marxist’, Gayatri Chakravarthy Spivak in her effort to develop and appropriate the model of intellectual work turns to Sigmund Freud. Freud implicitly cautions against scapegoating or in rebuttal, creating savior. Spivak in her ‘Sentence’ – in an essay ‘As critique of Post colonial Reason’ says that, white men are saving brown women from brown men serves to justify colonial interventions if white men are taken savior and brown men are scapegoated as oppressor. In this conspicuous argument one can observe the reality behind  White man’s (William Bentinck) ‘hegemony’ of social reformer in India and brown men’s (Rammohan Roy) role of pioneer as well as of reformer as a feminist thinkers.
After Raja Rammohan Roy for the feminist awaking in India one should mention the name of Tarabai Shinde. She is perhaps one of the first persons to challenge the Social constructs as well as cultural prejudices that were main stays of male domination over female section of society. In her feminist interpretation of the Hindu epics she employs literary devices like sarcasm and satire. She sketches renouncers and gods as harmful predators always in search of pretty women. She enumerates seven peculiar allegations generally considered about women in India society. To make it authentic she gives examples of ancient India epics like Mahabharata (The stealing of Subhadra) and Ramayana (The ordeal of Sita). Tarabai ends her work by asking one simple question in her explicitly conversation style as,
“Do you think she’s some form of life that wasn’t made in the same way as the rest of creation?”[12]
Similarly, Mahatma Gandhi introduced the empowerment of women as one of the abiding social concerns. [In the following chapters we shall try to explore his concerns and opinions in detail.] In his unique style which ‘is a blend of the modern manner of an Indian tradition in which the thought is more important than the person expounding it’. Gandhiji ingenuously puts his notion about female equality as,
“Let us not live with one limb completely or partially paralyzed. Rama would be nowhere without Sita, free and independent even as he was himself.”[13]
Such social awakening reaches at its height when India gets independence and Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, the then law minister of India raises the ‘Hindu Code Bill’, to  ‘give women the right to choose their marriage partner , the right to divorce and the right to have a share of their father’s property’. It faced opposition by more conservative minded politicians. To confront such hindrance Jawaharlal Nehru revived the reform with the help of his eloquent speech of 5th May 1955 in the House of Parliament. He expressed his views in a logical manner and concludes the speech with the strong opinion that,
“…I think if anybody can truly represent the spirit of India, it can be truly represented by the women of India and not by the men.”[14]
Similarly, as the critic of Rabindranath Tagore, Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay asked Mahatma Gandhi to be more sensitive to the rights of women and also asked to have regards for the economic basis of social strife. She had been the president of All India Women’s Conference. In the year 1944 on the occasion of the Women’s Conference as a president she delivered her key-note address. There she unknowingly delineates the map of feminist movement in India. She opines that,
“The women’s movement, therefore, does not seek to make women either fight men or imitate them. It rather seeks to instill into them a consciousness of their own faculties and functions and create a respect for those of the other sex.”
It is the trajectory of such thinkers like Raja Rammohan Roy, Tarabai Shinde, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhash Chandra Bose and Kamladevi Chattopadhyay only that lead India to have a ‘women’ in the form of the first citizen of the nation whereas the ‘oldest democracy’ is still dominated by the patriarchal power systems. It is still have more potential to provide a kind leadership to the world of equality, empowerment and equanimity in the present world of various discriminations and disparities.

References :


[1]     Indian Women are an Inspiration: Pakistani Activist, The Hindu, March 10, 2012, pp13.

[2]    Gayatri Chakravarthy Spivak, A Critique of Postcolonial Reason, The Norton Anthology of Theory and  
Criticism, W.W. Norton and Company, (New York,2001), pp. 2200.

[3]    Bose, Nirmal Kumar, The Cultural Heritage of India Vol- 1, Page.15.

[4]    Ibid , P.16.

[5]    Guha, Ramchandra (Ed.), Makers of Modern India, New York: Penguin, 2010.

[6]    Raja Rammohan Roy on Rigidity of Indian Culture.

[7]   From Guha, Ramchandra, Makers of Modern India,New Delhi,2010, pp.23.

[8]   Student’s Britannica: India, Ed. Dale Hoiberg, Encyclopedia Britannica Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, 2000. Vol.- 4, P.310

[9]    Rammohan Roy, ‘ A conference between an advocate for, and an opponent of, the practice of Burning
Widows alive.’ ( Pamphlet)1818

[10]    Guha, Ramachandra, Makers of Modern India New Delhi: Penguin-Book India, 2010, P.28.

[11]     Ray, Raka, Field of Protest: Women’s Movements in Indian  Minneapolis: University of Minnesota
Press, 1999.    

[12]    O’Hanlon, Rosalind, editor and translator, A comparison between women and men: Tarabai Shinde
and the Critique of Gender Relations in Colonial India, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1994, P.97.

[13]   Young India, 3 February 1927 as reproduced in CWMG, Volume 33,P-45.

[14]   Loksabha Debates,Volume 4, Part 2,22nd April to 7th May 1955, Col-7968.


Gohil Hardeepsinh R.
Asst. Professor,
Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Open University, Ahmedabad.
Email :-,