“The Knowledge Library”

Knowledge for All, without Barriers…

An Initiative by: Kausik Chakraborty.

“The Knowledge Library”

Knowledge for All, without Barriers……….
An Initiative by: Kausik Chakraborty.

The Knowledge Library

Women Reforms

    • The major social reform legislation after widow remarriage was the Age of Consent Act of 1891. Malabari‘s wide-ranging proposals directed against child marriage provoked massive opposition, particularly in Bengal and Maharashtra.
    • Frankly conservative and obscurantist sentiments mingled here with the nationalist argument, put forward most notably by Tilak that foreign rulers had no right to interfere with religious and social customs.
    • Finally, a relatively minor reform raised the age from 10 to 12, which was all that the government eventually accepted. The Sharda Act of 1929 which proposed to fix the minimum age of marriage for females at 14 and males at 18 was passed with overwhelming nationalist support.
    • Apart from that, in the central and provincial legislatures, a whole range of bills was passed in the 1930-5 to define women’s right to property, inheritance, and divorce, restrain dowry, and control prostitution. But did all these legislations improve gender relations and the quality of life for women in India?
    • If we take the Sharda Act as a test case, we find that soon both the government and the nationalists found the law impossible to implement; before long the Sharda Act was dead for all practical purposes.

Women in the Freedom Struggle

    • Under Gandhiji’s influence, the participation of women in the freedom struggle became visible. The struggle was on an unprecedented, massive scale. Gandhi turned traditional symbols and ideals into sources of inspiration and energy for women, who came out of their homes to organize meetings and processions, sell Khadi, spread the message of swadeshi, give away their jewelry, and picket near the shops selling liquor and foreign cloth.
    • Many women emerged as leaders, including Hansa Mehta, Mithuben Petit, Avantikabai Gokhale, Premabai Kantak, Swarup Rani Nehru, Rarvati Devi, Lado Rani Zutshi, Ambujammal, Rukmani Kakshmipathy, Durgabai (from Southern India), Basanti Devi. Urmila Devi, Sarala Devi, and Malati Choudhary (from Eastern India).
    • Women were active in the princely states too. Gandhiji’s Dandi march on 12 March 1930 opened a new chapter in India’s history, but his decision not to take women along disappointed women.
    • Many women and the Women’s Indian Association protested against the exclusion on the ground that in a non-violent struggle, any discrimination on the ground of sex was unnatural and would work against the awakened consciousness of women. Ultimately, Gandhi had to permit women to participate fully in the salt satyagraha.
    • He named Sarojini Naidu as his second successor, after Abbas Tyabji, and she carried out her mission with rare distinction. Amna Asaf Ali unfurled the flag, went underground, and earned the admiration of the people. Usha Mehta, with her three colleagues, made history by operating the underground radio. They called themselves “the Congress Radio operating from somewhere in India.”
    • Gandhi’s projection of the Indian woman, self-effacing but morally strong, was accepted by and large by people, and by most women. Under Gandhiji’s leadership women found it possible to traverse between the private sphere of home and the public sphere of the nationalist struggle.
    • Bhikaji Cama, who worked with Shyamji Krishna Varma and Savarkar’s Abhinava Bharat Society, maintained closed links with Indian revolutionaries from outside India; she represented India at the International Socialist Congress at Stuttgart in 1907, unfurling the Indian flag and carried on the movement for Swaraj.
    • A women’s regiment, Rani of Jhansi Regiment, was formed under Laxmi Sahgal. Hansa Mehta said in the Constituent Assembly on 19 December l946 that in spite of the low status of Indian women, ‘We have never” asked for privileges. What we have asked for is social justice, economic justice and political justice. We have asked for that equality which can alone be the basis of mutual respect and understanding and without which real co-operation is not possible between man and woman.

Women Organization

    • From the first two decades of the 20th century, the articulation of women’s issues was based on liberal principles of equality. In this context, three major women’s organizations, the Women’s Indian Association (WIA), the National Council for Women in India (NCWI), and the All India Women’s Conference (AIWC) played a major role in articulating women’s issues. The WIA (1917) represented women of all races, cultures, and religions.
    • Their primary focus was education, and the branches were encouraged to set up adult classes for literacy, sewing, and first aid. Stri Dharma, was its monthly English journal.
    • The NCWI (1925), a national branch of the International Council of women, was limited to the collection of information on women, preparing memoranda, and presenting them to the proper authorities.
    • It advocated legislation to improve women’s status and so was interested in petition politics. The Council kept its distance from the struggle for independence and made efforts to maintain connections with the British. The women in this organization included Herabai Tata, dowager Begum Saheb of Bhopal, and Tarabai Premehand.
    • All India Women”s Conference (1927), declared that women‘s education was foremost on its agenda. Nurtured by women like Margaret Cousins and Maharani Chimnibai of Gaekwad it enlarged its scope to cover issues pertaining to the progress of women and children, social reforms, and a united India.
    • It published Roshni, a monthly in Hindi and English. In pre-independence days it was the main vehicle for the articulation of women’s issues, and its message of liberal feminism reached Various regions of the country through its branches.
    • The three women’s organizations produced a joint memorandum objecting to schemes of separate electorates and reservation of seats after 1932, and reiterating their demand for the adult franchise.

Women Organizations at Provincial levels

    • At the provincial level too, various organizations started functioning around this time for a multitude of women’s issues.
    • Sarala Devi Chaudhuranis Bharat Stree Mahamandal. which had its first meeting in Allahabad in 1910, opened branches all over India to promote women”s education.
    • In Bengal in the 1920s, the Bangiya Nari Samaj started campaigning for women’s voting rights, the Bengal Women’s Education League demanded compulsory elementary and secondary education for women and the All-Bengal Women’s Union campaigned for legislation against illicit trafficking of women.
    • Women’s Struggle for Assertion of Rights: Some Points An all-India delegation of prominent women-led by Sarojini Naidu met with Secretary of State for India, Montague in December 1917 to demand the right to vote for women.
    • Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddi became the first women legislator when she was appointed to the Madras Legislative Council in 1927′.
    • Annie Besant was the first woman to become the President of the Congress in 1917 followed by Sarojini Naidu in 1925 and Nellie Sengupta in 1933.


    • The Government of India Act. 1919 laid down that the provinces could settle the question of the franchise. Bombay and Madras were the first provinces to grant franchises to women in 1921, the United Provinces followed in 1923, Punjab and Bengal in 1926, and Assam the Central Provinces, Bihar, and Orissa in 1930.
    • The British Government invited Begum Shah Nawaz to the Round Table Conference in 1930. They accepted special reservations for women as an interim measure though the ideal was an adult franchise.
    • Women’s organizations, however, did not favor any reservation for women based on education, property or husbands status.
    • Margaret Cousins and Muthulakshmi Reddy from the WIA, Mrs. Hamid Ali and Rani Rajwade from the AIWC, and Tarabai Premchand from the NCWI together with Sarojini Naidu issued a joint memorandum in favor of a universal adult franchise.
    • Sarojini Naidu represented the women’s organization at the Second Round Table Conference in 1931 whereas Gandhi represented the Indian National Congress. Begum Shah Nawaz and Radhabai Subbarayan were nominated by the British.
    • The Franchise Committee under Lord Lothian was appointed by the government to work out the details. The Lothian Committee rejected adult franchises because of the size of the country, its high population, and adult illiteracy.
    • However, it recommended increasing the ratio of female-male voters from 1:20 to 1:5.
    • The Government of India Act, of 1935 extended franchise to six million women. In the 1937 elections, 10 women were elected from general constituencies, 41 from reserved constituencies, and five were nominated to provincial legislative councils.
    • Vijayalakshmi Pandit became the minister for local self-government and public health in the United Provinces. Anasuyabai Kale of Central Provinces occupied the position of deputy speaker. Hansa Mehta became parliamentary secretary in Bombay.
    • The Indian National Congress set up the National Planning Committee in 1938 and a sub-committee composed of women to submit proposals regarding womens place in a planned economy. Chaired by Lakshmibai Rajivade, the committee included Sarojini Naidu, S. Hamid Ali. Amrit Kaur, Vijay Lakshmi Pandit, Begum Shahnavaz and Sarala Devi, Mridula Sarabhai was the secretary.


    • However, instead of mobilizing mass agitations in support of these issues, these women’s organizations petitioned the government and appealed to the nationalists for support.
    • The government intervened reluctantly if at all and often preferred compromise formulae as it believed that the majority of Indian women were not yet ready to use their rights properly.
    • For example, the Montagu-Chelmsford Reform in 1919 left undecided the question of women’s franchise which was to be determined later by the provincial legislatures.
    • The nationalists, on the other hand, seemed more sympathetic to the women’s question since the 1920s, as they needed their participation in the nation-building project.
    • Women, too, gave more importance to this ‘process of universalization’ by placing nationalism before women‘s issues. As a reward, all the provincial legislatures between 1921 and 1930 granted voting right to women, subject of course to usual property and educational qualifications.
    • The Government of India Act of 1935 increased the ratio of female voters to 1:5 and gave women reserved seats in legislatures. The Congress and the women’s organizations did not like the idea of reservations and preferred instead universal adult franchise.
    • However, once provided, they accepted it and this helped a number of women to launch their legislative careers after the election of 1937.


    • Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar : campaigned for widows remarriage in Bengal, with the support of Sanskrit texts.
    • Durgararn Mehlaii in Gujarat felt like Vidyasagar that the denial of education to women was responsible for many of the social problems.
    • D.K. Kanre too contributed to women‘s education.
    • Behramj M. Malabari took up the crusade to end the sufferings of child widows and to raise the age of consent.
    • M.G. Ranade, Gopal Hari Deshmukh {Lolthiwadi), and Karsandar Mulji contributed to the betterment of women’s status.
    • Among Muslims, Khwaja Altai’ Husain Hall and Shaikh Muham- mad Abdullah, propagated the Importance of girls‘ education.
    • In south India, R. Venkata Ratnam Naidu opposed the devdasi system, and Kandulturi Virasalingam Pantulu worked for mar- riage reform.
    • Jyotirao Phule raised his voice against the tyranny of Brahmariicai traditions, and worked for the education of the oppressed classes and women.
    • Gopal Ganesh Agarkar was the foremost among the few who advocated the rights of women on the ground of equality. Pandita Ramabai dared to take up the issue of conjugal rights.
    • The new cultural awareness was reflected in literature as well, which became very different from the earlier one, both in content as well as in style. It minored the vast changes that had been taking place in society.
    • Previously religion and mythology written in verses dominated the literary works. From the beginning of the 19th century, an easy prose style developed and became the medium of expression for various literary forms.
    • Scholars like William Carey, Gilchrist, and Bishop Caldwell contributed a great deal to the preparation of grammar and compilation of dictionaries in modern Indian languages.
    • The theme of the new literature was predominantly humanistic. It stressed the freedom of man and equality of all. The distinctive work of poet Rabindranath Tagore won him the No- bel prize. The works of other literary figures like Bhartendu Harish Chandra, Prem Chand and Mohammad Iqbal were also highly acclaimed.
    • Like these great poets many other literary men of modern India sought to reconcile the ideas and thought of the east and the west. Later on, similar trends appeared in painting and sculptures as well.
  • In the field of science also some Indians showed high profi- ciency. High recognition was given to the works of scientists like Ramanujam, CV Raman and Jagdish Bose.

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