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Contesting Patriarchy

Contesting Patriarchy
The Early Years
(p.1) 1 Contesting Patriarchy
Debating Patriarchy

Chitra Sinha

Oxford University Press


Abstract and Keywords

The chapter focuses on the role of discourse and communicative action in the advancement of gender rights over
several centuries, the second chapter concentrates on social, political, and legal factors that led to substantive
reform efforts in the Hindu law during the twentieth century. It explores the lack of debate on womens rights in
pre-colonial India dominated by religious discourse and the transformation during the colonial era brought about
by the emergence of alternate discourses including orientalist perspective, the views of social reformers, and the
rise of feminist consciousness. The chapter also dwells upon the crystallization of Brahmanic patriarchy and the
challenge provided by the early debates beginning in the 18th century till the codification of Hindu law in the

Keywords: Shastric tradition, Vedic Era, Manusmriti, Caste system, Sati, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Brahmanic
Patriarchy, Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar, Pandita Ramabai, Tarabai Shinde

Indias democratic environment and tradition of public reasoning have contributed significantly towards
developing a robust legal foundation for gender empowerment, although the argumentative foundation did not
necessarily translate into gender equality with respect to other proximate indicators. It is all too well known that
when it comes to gender development indicators, India as a nation is often placed at the bottom of international
rankings. Low per capita income relative to average global income has deprived a sizeable section of Indian
women of basic necessities of life. Consequently, India has fared poorly with respect to demographic and health-
based indicators of gender development such as female maternal mortality, age of marriage, school enrolment,
and literacy rate. Paradoxically, relative poverty did not constrain Indias significantly superior performance
relating to social and legal empowerment. Social empowerment indicators that responded positively to the
enabling framework created by the existence of democracy included, among others, institution of voting rights,
creation of significant educational opportunities for women, enactment of enabling family laws and the presence
of women in workforce and governance in the country. While still behind their male counterparts, Indian women
have fared distinctly better than many developing nations in terms of development of institutional infrastructure
for gender development.1
(p.2) The disparity between the institutional indicators and demographic indices has existed ever since Indias
Independence. The Report of the National Committee on the Status of Women in India observed, The social
status of women in India is a typical example of this gap between the position and roles accorded to them by the
Constitution and the laws, and those imposed on them by social traditions. What is possible for women in theory,
is seldom within their reach.2 This explains why post-Independence feminist movements in India, particularly
since 1970s, have focussed on implementation of the legal reforms for women in the 1950s. Amartya Sen has
explained this as an outcome of the growth of gender consciousness and the progress achieved in instituting
gender rights, both of which were influenced and enriched, along with other factors, by the argumentative
tradition of India.3

Indeed, womens struggles against patriarchy in India were laced with a seamless sequence of communicative
processes over the last three centuries.4 Since the early nineteenth century, debates on womens issues evolved
and thrived around the world with the rise of feminist consciousness. In the Indian context, the debate revolved
around interpretations of modernity and tradition and creating spaces for women within the extant politico-
economic and socio-cultural contours of a nation in transition.

Shastric traditions, which shaped the basis of social organization of the Hindu communities, formed the basis for
these debates. It is of critical import to note the overwhelming dominance of religious (p.3) discourse in India
over centuries and try to understand the absence of alternate contesting discourses within Hindu communities.
The present chapter, therefore, is divided into two parts. In the first section, we shall navigate through available
information in the sources of the vedic and post-vedic periods to understand the reasons behind the universal
dominance of religious discourse in Hindu communities resulting in the absence of debates on gender issues
prior to the colonial rule in India. In the second part of the chapter, our attention will be on the evolution of
communicative processes surrounding gender issues in the colonial era.5 Looking beyond the short-term
determinants of gender justice, the chapter explores the long-term correlations between gender discourse and
attainment of gender rights. The chapter suggests that the application of Indias argumentative tradition goes a
long way to challenge deeply entrenched patriarchal consciousness and create conditions that promote the
formation of the legal basis for gender rights. Communication, particularly discourse in the public domain in a
representative form, the chapter argues, possesses the power to transform womens rights.

Religious Tradition and Gender Discourse

Over centuries, religion provided the basis for morality in Hindu society and played an instrumental role in
assigning the role for women within the family. Historical evidence available till date suggests that womens
rights within and outside the family was powerfully interlinked to the religious practices in Hindu
society.6 (p.4) Among the Hindus, in the pre-colonial era, religion and law were related through diverse local
customs administered by caste councils or village panchayats.7 These village panchayats carried out the task of
regulating civil life and family affairs. There were several religious sources that were usually cited for the
purpose of social administration. They were shruti (the divine revelations or utterances, primarily
in vedas), smriti (the memorized wordthe Dharmasutras and the Dharmashastras) and sadachar (good
custom). From around eighth century BC to fifth century AD guidelines governing all aspects of social relations
were laid down in the smritis. The Dharmashastra literature covered all aspects of law, ethics and
morality.8 These were works of vast scope and covered a wide range of topics enveloping social obligations and
duties of the various castes and of individuals in different stages of life. One can also find religious guidance on
codes of social behaviour between men and women of different castes, as well as between husbands and wives,
fathers and sons and family members within the domestic sphere, rituals of birth, death, and marriage. These
were not written texts and the knowledge was passed on by an oral tradition from generation to generation,
leaving the scope of texts being re-interpreted in different social contexts across time and space.

Gender discourse in early India, during both vedic and post-vedic periods, was overwhelmingly dominated by
religious texts, and lacked alternative discourses that challanged the religious perspective. The religious texts
reflected a gradual degeneration of status of women in Indian society. During the vedic period (extending
roughly from 2500 BC to 1200 BC), the position women enjoyed was one of respect and dignity, as it tends to
appear from the limited sources available. In fact, the existing evidence from the vedas leads to a broad
consensus that educational opportunities were not restricted to the male members of society in the early years of
Indian civilization. Visveswara, Apala, Lopamudra, Shashiyasi, and others prove that women were not denied
the right to education. Women used to learn the vedas, became teachers, composed hymns and were respected
for their intellectual capabilities. Radha Kumud Mukherjee observed, the Rigveda shows abundant evidence
pointing to the fact that women were fully equal to men, as regards (p.5) access to and capacity for highest
knowledge, even the knowledge of the absolute or Brahma.9

In Paninis Grammar (500 BC), several passages show that women had career options open to them apart from
literary ones. D.D. Kosambi has pointed out that several sources in ancient India reflected the proficiency of
women in weaving and pottery.10 Patanjalis Mahabhasya (150 BC) and Kautilyas Arthashastra(300 BC)
revealed that women were also soldiers. Women attended fairs and festivals; they could meet strangers and
enjoyed reasonable freedom in society.

Within the inner courtyards of the family, women seemed to have considerable freedom of choice. Marriage was
regarded as a sacred religious union. Being of divine dispensation, it was indissoluble. It was a union where the
husband and the wife stood on the same platform. There was freedom in choosing ones life partner
and swayamvara (self-choice) was popular among the Kshatriyas. Monogamy was the norm while polygamy
was looked upon with disfavour. According to A.L. Basham,

Family in ancient India was staunchly patrilineal and patriarchal. The wife though she enjoyed a
respectable position, was definitely subordinated by her husband. Marriage was usually
monogamous and apparently indissoluble for no reference to divorce and remarriage of widows
occur in Rig veda.11

There exists mixed evidence on womens rights to property during the vedic era. The Atharvaveda stated that at
the time of marriage, a husband took a vow that the rights and interests of the wife will not be transgressed. The
bride used to have full right over the gifts received by her, the Stridhana.12 However, women were debarred
from other forms of property. At the same time, one finds evidence of son preference
in vedic era. Atharvaveda mentioned that the birth of a girl child was not considered a pleasant affair during
the vedic period.13 The Aiteriya Brahmana equated the birth of a girl child with (p.6) trouble and misery. While
economic rationality perhaps resulted in son preference, the mother was accorded a high place in society.

The position of women apparently deteriorated during the period of the sutras(500 BC800 AD). The discourse
on gender rights of the time continued to be centered on religious discussions, such as the Manusmriti, a
powerful, detailed and passionate treatise on social philosophy. The central philosophy of Manu in relation to the
status of women was that, biologically women differed considerably from men and were therefore suitable for a
different role in society. He regarded women as less rational, more emotional, and therefore the male members
of the family had the duty to keep her in subordination throughout her lifespan.14 The Manusmriti clearly stated
that the best among women was she who was best administered. According to the Manusmriti, When creating
them, God allotted to women a love of their bed, of seat and of ornaments, impure desire, wrath, dishonesty,
malice and bad conduct.15

At the time of the sutras, women were married early and were thus denied the opportunity of education.
Womens position in the family was clearly one of subordination as seen from the Manusmriti. Manu
emphasized that in all circumstances, women should be under the control of men. In childhood, she should be
controlled by her father, in youth by her husband and in old age by her sons. According to Manu, a wife should
not do anything to displease her husband and should always bear a smiling face. Even at the death of her
husband, she should not think of any other man. A widow should never remarry. In the absence of proof to the
contrary, women in the post-vedic period were not allowed to own property, justified by Manu as their incapacity
to hold. As a result, women were entitled to stridhana alone, which included those given on the bridal
procession and gifts received by the bride. Stridhana was inherited by unmarried daughters only. Further,
the Manusmriti provided for the maintenance of widows on the condition of their being chaste.

These restrictions placed upon womens freedom and almost non-existent property rights went unchallenged for
a fairly long period of time. Depending on variations in regional customary (p.7) practices, two major schools of
law, Mitakshara and Dayabhaga ordained diverse views on womens entitlements to property.
While Mitakshara denied the widows right to the husbands property, the Dayabhaga school allowed her to
inherit the property of the husband.16 The Mitakshara system distinguished between two types of property
joint family property and self-acquired property. A community of interests and rights was recognized in the joint
family property, held jointly by a maximum of four generations of male membersa man, his sons, his sons
son, and sons sons son became coparceners by birth. There were severe restrictions on the alienation of
property in a joint family. Only self-acquired property (if acquired without detriment to the ancestral estate) and
any property inherited from persons other than his father, paternal grandfather or paternal great grandfather were
regarded as separate property.

In the absence of debate on improving womens rights within family and society, the status of women remained
rather dismal during the post-vedic period. The discursive construction of ideal woman throughout this period
was one serving the interests of the family being confined to her home, performing primarily domestic chores
and being subordinate to her husband. Such customary practices coupled with the low age of marriage deprived
women from being able to contribute to society beyond household work.

A series of Muslim invasions in the medieval period of Indian history forced the Hindu society to enter an
insular mode, in an attempt to protect their socio-religious fabric. As a consequence, glorification of womanhood
and motherhood was intertwined with the confinement of women within the family. The medieval discourse on
women, for instance, Amir Khusraus Hasht Bahisht, placed mothers on a high pedestal. In contrast, during this
phase, the custom of self-immolation or sati became popular and was considered a pious and devoted act on the
part of the wife. Ibn Batutah, in his account, confirmed the popularity of self-immolation among
Hindus.17 Among the Rajputs, the practice of jauhargained currency to maintain the integrity and chastity of the
women of the royal household in times (p.8) of political crisis.18 Purdah was considered to be the best ornament
of woman, which was to be observed religiously after she attained the age of seventeen years. The strict
observance of the purdah system to preserve a womans chastity and integrity restricted her mobility and
educational opportunities, thereby undermining her social status. Marriage was generally decided by the parents
of the bride and the bridegroom. Polygamy was patronized both by the ruling class and elite group of the court.
Although the Muslim rulers by and large did not interfere with the Hindu customary practices, sharply polarized
practices of Hindus and Muslims created distrust among the two dominant religious groups in India. The return
of Hindu customary practices to conservative values was an outcome of such polarization in society, ruling out
virtually all possibilities of a balanced argument on womens issues.

Early Challenges to Patriarchy: Nineteenth Century

Debates on Womens Issues
The nineteenth century saw the Indian society beginning to throw challenges at patriarchal values as womens
issues came to the fore due to a variety of factors. A critical factor was the expansion of British colonial rule in
India. The British arrived in India from a different social context and gender relations powered by the growth of
capitalism that accompanied the Industrial Revolution since the seventeenth century. In stark contrast to the
dynamism exhibited by British capitalism, Indian society displayed a de-centered, static nature with self-
sufficient village societies displaying insulation explained often as the Asiatic Mode of Production.
Expectedly, therefore, British rationality came in direct conflict with customary practices of the Indian society.
However, social reform was not part of the British colonial schema, and hence, when the British assumed
administrative responsibilities of a larger part of India they followed a policy of non-interference with customary
practices by religious communities. Though the British remained firm in their non-interference policy, they
nonetheless abhorred the barbaric practices of sati and child marriage. Contrary to the praxis of non-involvement
on the ground, the discourse of the colonizers reflected moral superiority. In available colonial documentation
and literary works, the British notion of the (p.9) status of Indian women was one of extreme subjugation,
unacceptable in any civilized society. In his History of British India, first published in 1826, James Mill argued
that if womens position could be used as an indicator of social progress, Indian society reflected extreme
subjugation of women. Mill observed, nothing can exceed the habitual contempt which the Hindus entertain for
their women. they are held in extreme degradation.19

The need and urgency for social reform was voiced strongly by British missionaries who visited India during the
period. For instance, Reverend E. Storrow, who came to India in 1848, observed and suggested the need for
remedial action to alleviate the low status of women in India. Similarly, Alice Boucher van Dorens work on
Indian social life in early twentieth century portrayed a picture of society infested with various gender biases.
Published in 1921, her memoir is an eyewitness account of family life in India by an outsider. She came to the
conclusion that the functioning of Indian families and the lives of women in India reflected gross injustices and
atrocities committed on women. The British discourse on gender issues in India had little or no impact on
colonial administration as the passivity regarding Hindu religious diktats continued to mark British
administrative strategy. The discourse nonetheless provided the basis for western civilizing mission in the
Orient. It was therefore inevitable that reform initiatives had to emerge out of Hindu society and the first
communicative challenge to the deep-rooted patriarchal values came from social reformers in the early
nineteenth century.

Caste Dynamics and the Evolution of the Gender Debate in the

Nineteenth Century
The debates surrounding gender issues in nineteenth century India can hardly be effectively interpreted without
recourse to the dynamics of caste system, a system of social stratification and hierarchy underscored by the
existence of endogamous hereditary groups termed as varnas and sub-divided into jatis. In India, the caste
system assumes special significance for Hindu women due to its influence on the customary practices built
around family and society. The system had a pervasive influence on Indian society and culture for over two
thousand five hundred years, and legitimized (p.10) the unequal access to resources and power in society.
Surviving through major socio-historical changes, the caste system coexisted along with different modes of
production, from the tributary modes to the present capitalist ones.20 M.N. Srinivas observed that the caste
system being essentially endogamous in nature, exerted a restrictive influence on women. As an instance, he has
cited the practices of anuloma and pratilomamarriages21 where caste system influenced customary laws
surrounding marriages. The system played an important role in the self-sufficient village economy, by ensuring
distribution of labour and skill within a closed economic model.22 During British rule, Indian society continued
to be divided into various caste and religious groups. It was influenced by an ideology of hierarchy than of
equality.23 However, over time, the expansion of British rule began to exert its influence on the socio-economic
structures of India and began to create a dent in the caste system, as has been highlighted in sociological and
historical accounts. In a recent account of the evolution of the caste system in India, it has been noted,

From the middle of the nineteenth century onwards, breaches began to appear in the system
described above. Economic changes, especially the commercialization of agricultural production
and agrarian relations, emergence of contractual relations, new employment opportunities outside
the village in factories, mandis, government services, the army (aided by education), all contributed
to a shift24

The shifting norms of the caste system were also the result of the emergence of liberal reformers in several parts
of India in the nineteenth century, most notably in Bengal and Maharashtra. In the nineteenth century, the
Brahmo Samaj under Raja Ram Mohan (p.11) Roy actively campaigned against untouchability and casteism.
The Arya Samaj founded by Swami Dayanand also renounced discrimination against Dalits. Sri Ramakrishna
Paramahamsa and his disciple Swami Vivekananda founded the Ramakrishna Mission that participated in the
emancipation of Dalits. Caste inequality was also questioned by Jyotiba Phule in Maharashtra and Narayana
Guru in Kerala.25 In the twentieth century, two prominent personalities, Mahatma Gandhi and B.R.Ambedkar,
played a crucial role in bringing to the fore the injustices done to lower castes by upper castes. While Gandhiji
made the removal of untouchability a part of the national liberation campaign, Ambedkar, belonging to
the mahar community, organized campaigns in removing caste injustices, calling himself breaker of the pride of
twice-born classes.26 Under the leadership of Ambedkar, the mahars organized an autonomous movement from
the 1920s, demanding separate representation, the right to use tanks and enter temples. They also demanded the
abolition of mahar watan, a customary practice that forced them to give traditional services to village
chiefs.27 In 1927, the first Mahar Conference was held, and Ambedkars followers protested against caste
injustice by burning copies of the Manusmriti. Ambedkar continued his struggle against caste-based
discriminations, both within and outside the legislative sphere.28 The demands for ending caste based
discriminations were also recognized in the Constitution of independent India, Ambedkar playing a central role
in the framing of the Constitution.

In the legal sphere, the caste system played a significant role. The legal scholar John Duncan M. Derrett
observed, Of the many topics illustrating the gap between the shastric theory and practice, perhaps the most
remarkable is the caste system.29 Derrett observed that while the caste system was continuously evolving, so
was the law in practice which sought to accommodate and even foster regulated advance by groups. New
matrimonial relationships among castes were recognized by the customary laws in existence prior to
the (p.12) advent of the British. During British rule, the process of codification of shastric laws began with the
initiative of Warren Hastings and others. This process was not immune to the caste divisions that were an
indispensable part of the contemporary social fabric. To quote Derrett again,

Meanwhile, the rulers responsibility with regard to the caste matters were by no means abandoned.
The company retained the right to superintend the administration of temples, and the management
of the places of pilgrimage. But in course of time a definite disinclination to interfere in matters of
Hindu religion emerged, and even a distaste for cases involving claims to dignities and honours of a
religious character.30

Thus, a distinct lack of will to interfere with religious affairs of Hindu community by the colonial rulers was
discernable and, as a consequence, the castes were left to manage their own disputes, including those with
gender connotations. Gender discriminations and disputes were thus continued to be governed by custom, which
was influenced to a great extent by the caste system.

Discussions on gender issues of the nineteenth century, therefore, can hardly proceed without assessing its
affiliation to the caste system. Frozen in customary practices for a long time, the caste system demonstrated
dynamism resulting from the emergence of a new class structure in the colonial period as the interface between
gender, caste, and class, and led to a reconfiguration of the Indian social pecking order. The power dynamics of
Hindu patriarchy and their manifestations on issues of gender rights were compounded by caste differences. In
the presence of social categories like caste, women suffered from double status disadvantage, as victims of
both gender-based and caste-based discriminations.31

Under the British colonial rule, Indian society underwent significant changes since the early nineteenth century.
In the nineteenth century, the nation witnessed extensive debates concerning core issues with respect to gender
relations within the family and society. The growth of media and educational progress provided depth and
context to the debate. The growing conflict between orthodox segments and the socio-religious reform
movement came to the fore over debates and (p.13) discussions concerning sati 32 or widow immolation, age of
consent,33 widow remarriage,34 female education35 and the role and relationships surrounding the institution of
marriage.36 Gender relations, till then defined by customary practices came to be questioned by certain segments
of the Indian elite that benefited from exposure to liberal Western thoughts and values. The debate was
spearheaded by dissident religious movements and personalities who posed a challenge to the dominant
patriarchal orthodoxy. The political subjection to colonial rulers also raised sensitivity to wider issues of
domination and subordination along with the question of gender relations and exploitation of women. While the
liberal challenge spearheaded by the social reform movement was spirited, such reform efforts came to be
protested by conservatives with vehemence. The colonial rulers decided to permit unhindered progress of the
debate, taking a passive stance of non-interference with religious matters in Indian society.

Campaigns for reform first surfaced in Bengal where the upper echelons of the Bengali society, the society
of babus and bhadraloks, underwent a rapid transformation. British colonial expansion influenced a
reconfiguration of the professional domain and upward mobility among various castes. Inspired by western
education, and imbibing a spirit of liberty and equality, a section of the intelligentsia in Bengal started the Young
Bengal Movement. The thrust of the movement was the removal of glaring caste and gender biases in society. In
contrast to western perception, the core (p.14) of the liberal argument was focussed on glorification of Indias
past rather than its rejection. The social reformers focussed on womens position in the ancient shastras in an
attempt to prove that the degeneration of womens status in medieval Indian society did not necessarily reflect
the shastric traditions.

Two initial movements surrounding womens issues were spearheaded by Raja Rammohan Roy, an ardent
believer in the argumentative tradition of India. Although the British rulers were abhorred by the practice of sati,
Roy was the first Indian to raise his voice against sati. In 1815, Roy formed the Atmiya Sabhaand immediately
afterwards published a pamphlet criticizing the practice of sati. This was followed by the pronouncement by the
chief pandit of the Supreme Court, Mrityunjaya Vidyalankara in 1817 that sati had no shastric sanctions. A year
later, in 1818, William Bentinck, Governor of the Bengal province prohibited the practice of sati in Bengal. The
action by Bentinck was seen by religious Hindus as colonial interference with customary practices of the Hindu
community. The Hindu orthodox sections were quick to protest against the infringement, by outsiders, of their
own customs and practices. In a petition by the Hindus against the abolition of sati in Calcutta, they pointed out
that Our language, our customs and our religion have never been infringed by the highest of those who have
here administered the powers of Government and we trust will be preserved for the future37 The orthodox
Hindu community tried to resist the ban on sati by projecting Bengali women as self-sacrificing and chaste.
Ashish Nandy finds sati to be prominent in Bengal due to the presence of Dayabhaga system of inheritance in
Bengal. Under the Dayabhaga system, widows could inherit the husbands property if the latter died without
having a son, even if the family was undivided. This inheritance right given to women posed a threat to the
patriarchal order. The custom of sati ensured that such rights failed to materialize in practice, which probably
explains the high incidence of sati in Bengal. Thus, one not only finds an upsurge in protests from Hindu
orthodoxy challenging the legislation, there was a discernable increase in the number of satis being performed as
a result of the Hindu backlash.38

In the mid-nineteenth century, untiring initiatives by a social reformer from Bengal, Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar,
guided a (p.15) widespread debate on widow remarriage, polygamy and womens education. From a legal
reform standpoint, his efforts yielded partial success, but the debates surrounding the issues sowed the seeds of a
liberal, egalitarian consciousness in the midst of a deeply entrenched patriarchy. Experiences of childhood
strengthened the resolve of Ishwarchandra to fight the painful plight of Hindu widows and strengthened his
resolve to devote his life towards improving the status of Hindu widows. He also was shocked and enraged by
the practice of kulinism among brahmins of Bengal, where an elite segment of the brahmins were able to marry
as many women as they wished. Vidyasagars first essay on widow remarriage was published in 1855, where he
traced the descent of Hindu society to the dark ages from its golden vedic past through his reinterpretation of
religious scriptures. This led to a direct confrontation with the brahmins and a debate over interpretation of
Sanskrit scriptures. Vidyasagar faced death threats and abuses from the orthodox segments.

Meanwhile, his book on the Hindu widows became immensely popular among the emerging segment of Bengali
intelligentsia and went into multiple reprints. Vidyasagar also endeavoured hard to elicit support through
signature campaigns and submitted a petition to introduce laws permitting widow remarriage to the Indian
Legislative Council. The council received several thousand petitions for and against the issue and finally
rendered their support to the enlightened minority. The Hindu Widow Remarriage Act was passed in 1856. The
Act did not immediately transform the condition of Hindu widows but created awareness in society about the
plight of the widows, thereby setting in motion a slow process of evolution of the Hindu mindset on the issue.
Hindu orthodox society reacted strongly and more than forty petitions were submitted by around sixty thousand
Hindus of the upper class. The dissenting social attitude prevented the legislative measure from being effective
in practice. This was evident from the statistics on widow remarriage. Only five hundred widow remarriages
took place between 1856 and 1890 which meant not more than a dozen every year. Even when a widow survived
immolation, widow remarriage was against social sanction. The inheritance laws at that time discriminated
against those who decided to remarry. Any property received by the widow from her husbands side ceased to be
hers upon remarriage.

After 1856, Vidyasagar continued his campaign against polygamy, especially prevalent among Kulin brahmins,
and sought legislative (p.16) prohibition of polygamy through signature campaigns and petitions. He also wrote
extensively on issues of polygamy and need for female education. As a Special Inspector of schools, Vidyasagar
was instrumental in launching about forty girls schools in Bengal. It is important to note that the path adopted
by Vidyasagar was the path of deliberation, argument and persuasion. His actions unleashed communicative
forces that engaged the educated Bengali society in communicative actions to encourage social change.39

Evidence of communicative processes surrounding gender issues in the nineteenth century were also observed in
the Bombay Presidency (also referred in the book as Maharashtra, the name of the region in independent India to
signify the State covering Bombay and its surrounding districts). Gender issues were debated and discussed
against the background of a transformation of the staunchly patriarchal social milieu that existed during the
Peshwa rule in western India, and sought to maintain Brahmin superiority by controlling womens
behaviour.40 The transformation took place under the British rule, and the feudal form of Brahmanism gradually
gave way to a modernized, updated, reformist Brahmanism which constructed an image of the Hindu woman
transcending caste differences but drawing, to a considerable degree, from the patriarchy of traditional
Brahmanism. A new Brahmanism was being constructed, which saw brahmins as the elite representatives of a
broader Hindu community.

This new Hindu community continued to identify with the vedas, as the fountainhead of religion and philosophy
and with the Aryan identity they represented; but the vedic tradition and Brahmanism were reinterpreted so
that now-embarrassing aspects of the past legacy of orthodoxy could be seen as simply an outcome of the
necessities for their time. Beneath reforms such as the sponsorship of widow remarriage were the important high
caste norms of pativrata, i.e., the ideal wife, the sanctity of marriage, and the authority of husbands in the home
to all the sections of what was now seen as a Hindu community. Thus, even as castes were homogenized into a
larger Hindu legal structure, British administrators and their Indian counterparts ensured the maintenance of
brahmanic (p.17) ideology and brahmanized patriarchy and at the same time made these the basis of the norms
for everybody else. In effect, this meant that the lower-caste woman was required to conform to the norms for
the upper-caste woman. Whereas earlier brahmin women had in the caste-patriarchal bargain traded prestige
and status for greater confinement and bondage, now low caste men were offered a chance to trade the relatively
greater independence of their women for some of the status of the twice-born castes.41This greater
generalization of patriarchal controls and pativrata ideals42throughout the caste hierarchy was a major factor in
the increasing number of widows seen in the colonial period, and a gradually declining sex ratioleaving India
as one of the most patriarchal societies in the world when counting the number of missing womenan
estimated 3540 million women who would be alive were it not for the systematic discrimination.43

Another notable development within Maharashtrian society under colonial rule, particularly among the middle
and upper classes, was the growing attraction towards a Hindu nationalist movement. Since the days of Shivaji
and Ramdas, Shivajis Brahmin counsellor, Maharashtrian society was bred on a combination of asceticism and
martial valour. Ram Das founded the akharas 44 dedicated to the deity Hanuman, which later became the
breeding ground for the cadre of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)45. The development
of akharas (p.18)thus had a strong regional influence, particularly in Maharashtra, before they finally became
popular in the North India.46 The number of akharas multiplied in Bengal and Maharashtra, especially in the
late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.47 The RSS was founded in Nagpur in 1925 and its leaders such as
Veer Savarkar, Vasant Rao Oke, Nana Deshmukh, and Keshav Baliram Hedgewar were from
Maharashtra.48 The pervasiveness of a brahmanical ethos in Maharashtra was the basis of rejection of the
Gandhian political ideology in many Maharashtrian circles. This was due to several reasons. First, Gandhis
Hinduism was largely influenced by bhakti and thus excluded many brahmanical values. Second, high caste
Hindus were feeling insecure, owing to Gandhis strategy of mass mobilization.49 These factors apart, it has
been noted that Gandhis femininity was a major factor explaining the lack of popularity of Gandhi in many
Maharashtrian circles.50 One can thus discern a strong religious and patriarchal undercurrent in Maharashtra.

Alongside the social reform movements contesting voice against deep-rooted patriarchy, nineteenth century also
saw the first stirrings of feminist consciousness in India. Women like Savitribai Phule, Pandita Ramabai, Tarabai
Shinde, Anandibai Joshi and Kashibai Kanitkar among others lauched reform efforts stemming from strong
resentment of patriarchal orthodoxy.51 Personal testimonies of women demonstrate a new sense of worth
experienced by these women as individuals. The possibility of womens participation in the discourse on the
position of (p.19) women in society was remote in nineteenth century Maharashtra, considering the low level of
female education in India in the nineteenth century and the degree of subordination of women in India.
Nevertheless, these remarkable women contributed to the debate in no uncertain terms, and even though their
writings could only marginally influence their contemporaries, their contributions had a profound impact on later
generations of women activists. These women were able to identify and raise their voices to protest against
gender discrimination and unequal distribution of power in intimate human relationships.

One of the early expressions of feminist consciousness came from Savitribai Phule (18311897). A teacher and
a social reformer, firmly standing by her husband Jyotiba Phule, Savitribais literary expositions and published
correspondence reflect the role women can play as social reformers and in combating various social oppressions
including gender injustice.

Pandita Ramabais (18581922) life and her literary contributions, analysed by Uma Chakravarty, deserve
attention from the viewpoint of feminist consciousness. Apart from being a literary figure of stature52 and a
scholar of repute,53 she was also an extremely controversial social activist, and had to face considerable
opposition from both Hindu and Christian communities. She founded Sharda Sadan, a home for widows in 1889.
The home was soon the centre of controversy, with traditional segments of Hindus feeling that it was a centre of
preaching Christianity and for the conversion of Hindus.54 The Christians on the other hand found her efforts too
secular.55 In early 1897, when Pune was hit by plague, Ramabai protested against the mishandling of women by
the Plague Committee headed by Walter Charles Rand.56

Kashibai Kanitkar (18611948) was another remarkable woman whose contributions in the late nineteenth and
early twentieth century left an undeniable impact on the early feminist assertions. (p.20) For Kashibai, the thirst
for education arose because as a woman she wanted a better relationship with her spouse, and educated herself in
secret despite heavy odds. Among Kashibais writings are two novels, Rangrao in 1903 and Palkicha
Gonda (The Silk Tassle in the Palanquin) in 1928. These works are notable contributions to feminist thought,
advocating love as the basis of marriage, education, and economic independence of women.57

Another striking intellectual contribution of the nineteenth century was by Tarabai Shinde (18501910), a
housewife from Maharashtra in Western India. She wrote Stri Purusha Tulana (A Comparison between Women
and Men) in response to a court case in Surat, involving a young brahmin widow Vijayalaxmi in 1881 for killing
her illegitimate child.58 The subjection of women in institutions like marriage and family thus came under the
purview of her essay. Stri Purusha Tulana can be regarded as an alternative viewpoint to the dominant
perceptions of gender relations within the family. As a matter of fact, Shindes statement at the beginning of the
book was a negation of the dominant perception of gender roles in society, the Stridharma of the pativrata wife,

In fact, what does stridharma really mean? It means always obeying orders from your husband and
doing everything he wants. He can kick you and swear at you, keep his whores, get drunk, gamble
with dice and bawl hes lost all his money, steal, commit murder, be treacherous, slander people, rob
peoples treasures or squeeze them for bribes. He can do all this, but when he comes home, women
are meant to think, Oh, Whos this coming now but our little lord Krishna, whos just stolen the
milkmaids curds and milk and tried to blame Chandravali for it. .. how can people go on
believing in the idea of Stridharma once they have begun to think about whats good and bad?59

Shinde questioned the patriarchal values in the family, If the husband is really to be like a god to the wife then
shouldnt he behave like one? And if wives are to worship them like true devotees, shouldnt husbands have a
tender love for them in return, and care about the (p.21) joys and pains like a real god would?60Tarabai Shinde
expressed the beneficial impact of female education in clear terms throughout her work.

In early twentieth century Bombay, feminist consciousness spread fast through organized efforts by womens
organizations aimed at addressing the gender issues. Moreover, efforts towards expanding the base of womens
education led to the spread of feminist consciousness among a broader segment of population. While individual
efforts from women writers such as Geeta Sane and Vidya Bal among others left their impressions, a far greater
influence on feminist consciousness and the growth of the organized womens movement was the beneficial
impact of womens education.

Womens Movement in the Twentieth Century

The growth of the womens movement contributed significantly towards growing social awareness on gender
issues. Partha Chatterjee has pointed out that the initial impulses of a womens movement were felt during the
partition of Bengal in 1905.61 In Bombay, Stree Zoroastrian Mandal was established in 1903 by Parsi women,
who formulated a scheme of visiting poor women and impressing on them the role of constructive work. They
inspired poor women to secure economic independence by working in various cottage industries so that they
might stop living on doles or charity. They distributed medicines, food and milk among poor Parsi families. The
organization also did laudable work in the field of education.62

With a view to imparting education and training to Gujarati women, social worker B.N. Motiwala founded the
Gujarati Hindu Stri Mandal in 1908. The main objects of the Mandal were to promote co-operation among
women and to provide them with appropriate education. It organized classes for sewing, embroidery, painting,
leather work and teachers training and also conducted classes in Gujarati language, English literature, Sanskrit,
Hindi, and music. The Mandal also formed cultural committees, and started a (p.22) journal and a
library.63 Another womens organization in Bombay, Seva Sadan was established by Ramabai Ranade in 1909. It
provided a home for women, to impart education and to prepare them for social work. The Sadan started classes
in industrial training for adult women, hostels, a teachers training college, a high school, a medical department
and nurses centre.

In Poona, Bhagini Samaj was formed in 1916 with the aim of serving society in general and women and children
in particular. The agenda of Bhagini Samaj included education, social service, propaganda and legal work. It
organized classes for adult women, night classes for working women and made medical facilities available to the
poorer sections of society.

In Baroda, a state then run by a Marathi speaking elite, several womens organizations were formed in the early
twentieth century. Chimnabai Maternity and Child Welfare League was started in 1914 to look after the health of
the women of poor localities. Maharani Chimnabai Udyogalaya was organized to train middle class and working
women in some crafts in order to make them self-supporting. It organized classes in sewing, embroidery,
bookbinding, calico-printing, carpet-making, weaving and cooking. The Baroda Stree Sahakari Necessary Stores
Ltd. was also established for the sale of finished goods on a cooperative basis. It tried to foster among its
members a sense of economy and encouraged the use of swadeshi.64

Womens Indian Association, founded in May 1917, was the first organization of pan-Indian character; its
branches were first opened in Srinagar, Madras, Calicut, Tanjore, Bezwada, and Bombay. Later, its branches
were opened in other parts of India as well. The association, under the leadership of M.E. Cousins conducted the
womens suffrage movement and succeeded in its mission.65 Among the women social activists in Bombay who
gained prominence were Maniben Nanavati, Maniben Kara, Perin Captain, Gosiben M. Captain, Ratanben M.
Mehta, and Sarojini Naidu.

The first demand for womens franchise came from Bombay and Madras provinces in 1918, when womens
organizations appealed (p.23) for support from the Indian National Congress.66 In 1918, Sarojini Naidu spoke in
a special session of the Indian National Congress in Bombay,

Never, never, for we realise that men and women have their separate goals, separate destinies and
that just as man can never fulfil the responsibility or the destiny of a woman, a woman cannot fulfil
the responsibility of man.. We ask for the vote not that we might interfere with you in your
official functions, your civic duties, your place and power, but rather that we might lay the
foundations of national character in the souls of the children that we hold upon our laps, and instil
into them the ideals of national life.67

Womens Council of India was founded in 1920 at Bombay and it was open to all women engaged or interested
in womens welfare. It also extended its affiliation to other womens organizations and was designed to act as a
coordinating body for all social and philanthropic work conducted for the welfare of women and children
throughout Bombay Presidency. Meant to be a rallying ground for all organized efforts,68 it ran a home
industries depot, childrens holiday library, labour camps, parliamentary subcommittee and dealt with the beggar
problem and literacy movements also. In 1922, the Council opened a rescue home for women, the object being
to provide relief and shelter to deserted women.

The All India Womens Conference (AIWC) was also founded in Bombay in 1926, becoming the most
outstanding all-India organization of Indian women to fight for their rights and work for their general welfare
and promotion of education. Its first session was held at Poona during January 58, 1927 with Maharani
Chimnabai Gaekwad of Baroda as President. Margaret Cousins was elected its first honorary organizing
secretary.69 The resolutions passed at the first conference related almost without exception to womens
education ranging from primary to college and adult education. A resolution condemning the practice of early
marriage, as it interfered with education and supporting Sir Hari Singh Gours Age of Consent (p.24) Bill was
also adopted in the Poona conference.70 Margaret Cousins observes that, The closing session fused the women
present, young and old, into a spiritual sisterhood dedicated and sent forth to turn their vision into
accomplishment and to embody their general principles into a detailed system in a new educational social era.

Bombay women also participated vigorously in the Civil Disobedience Movement of 193032. The picketing by
thousands of women received more coverage in newspapers than that by women in other parts of the country.
Geraldine Forbes observed, That Bombays women took the lead seems natural given the cosmopolitan nature
of the city, its transportation system, the presence of Parsees and Christians, both communities supportive of
female education. The large Gujarati population found the message of their fellow Gujarati, Gandhi, especially
appealing.71 Bombay was also the centre of activity of the Rashtriya Stree Sangha, under the Presidency of
Sarojini Naidu with Gosiben Naoroji Captain and Avantibai Gokhale as Vice Presidents.72 On April 6, 1930,
women gathered at the seaside to break the Salt Laws, by boiling sea water. Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay wrote,
This was our first appearance in any modern militant political campaign and I could hardly suppress my
excitement at the enormity of the occasion73 Demonstrations and picketing in Bombay continued till 1931,
when Gandhi was released from jail. The demonstrations had two effects, viz., many merchants pledged not to
sell foreign cloth, and women in other parts of India were inspired by the courage and resilience of women in

Rajkumari Amrit Kaur presided over the twelfth session of All India Womens Conference (AIWC) held at
Nagpur in December 1936. She placed on record the glorious achievement of sixty women entering the
legislatures of the various provinces. One of them, Vijaylakshmi Pandit, was elected a cabinet minister. The
standing committee of the conference drafted a scheme for introducing legislation to improve the social status of
women and forwarded it (p.25) to chief ministers of the new provincial governments and to women members of
legislatures.75 Bombay organized the seventeenth session of the conference in April 1944, presided over by
Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya and attended by 205 delegates. The conference organized an agitation in support of
the Hindu Law Committee.76

SNDT University and the Discourse on Womens

Alongside the growth of womens organizations demanding gender justice, there was a parallel discourse
surrounding educational opportunities of women. The social reformers and early feminists tried to improve the
status of women by promoting womens education in the nineteenth century. By the middle of the nineteenth
century, the spread of womens education had made considerable progress in Bengal, Madras and Bombay
(though Bombay Presidency was a distant third with 65 girls schools as against 288 girls schools in Calcutta, and
256 in Madras in 1854).77 Two remarkable visionaries made a sharp difference in Bombays educational scene,
Pandita Ramabai Saraswati and Maharshi Dhondo Keshav Karve, in the second half of the nineteenth century.
Pandita Ramabai founded Sharada Sadan in Bombay and Poona in 1889, and D.K. Karve opened a school for
widows in Poona in 1896. Geraldine Forbes observed, Ramabais educational work impressed contemporaries,
but her connections to Christianity has obfuscated her contributions to womens education.78Ramabais girls
school in the outskirts of Poona, named Mukti, grew into a major educational institution housing 2000 women
and children.79

Karves contribution to shaping the growth of Shreemati Nathibai Damodar Thackersey Womens University
(SNDT) was a major step towards womens education in Bombay. The SNDT Womens University was founded
by Maharshi Dhondo Keshav Karve in the early twentieth century, along the lines of the (p.26)Japanese
Womens University (1900) to impart education among women and prepare them to contribute more
significantly to the well being of the nation and the family. The University was influence by Karves philosophy
that identified womens education with deshrakshawork for nation, and dharmarakshawork for religion.
The University was formally launched on June 3, 1916 without government recognition. It was known as the
Bharatwarshiya Mahila Vidyapeeth and was a unique institution due to its geographical spread, its divergent
curriculum, its flexibility and its freedom from government control. Ramkrishna Gopal Bhandarkar was the first
Chancellor, Raghunath Paranjape was the first Vice Chancellor and Hari Ramchandra Divekar was the first
Registrar. Karve was the first Principal of the Mahila Pathshala, the first college of the University. In the first
entrance examination of the University, also known as the Karve Matric, six girls appeared of whom four
successful candidates joined the first college, the Mahila Pathshala. The lukewarm response may be attributed to
the fact that the degrees from this University did not have the recognition of the government and also to the fact
that the course curriculum was somewhat different, embedded as they were in the Preambles of the University.
For instance, the BA and MA courses were known as GA and PA, and the graduates and postgraduates
as grihitagama, one who has acquired knowledge and pradeyagama, one who is ready to impart knowledge.
These terms were coined by Ramkrishna Gopal Bhandarkar, the first Chancellor of the University. Prior to the
setting up of the University, Karve, while spelling out the details of his idea of a womens university, described
the four fundamental premises of the University: generating confidence in women as responsible human beings,
equipping them to contribute to nation building by strengthening the family, promoting nationalism among
women and children and enabling greater work participation of women to give them the opportunity to live a life
of dignity. The spirit of nationalism was reflected in the thrust of education through the vernacular medium,
while the acceptance of gender roles in society led to a curriculum and educational pattern specially suited to the
needs and requirements of women. The curriculum included subjects like domestic sciences and child
development. In the initial years, the target group of the University were widows and deserted women.

(p.27) Since stress on female education through the mother tongue had little support among the colonial rulers,
the University started without any form of State funding. For the first five years, the financial condition of the
University was in a poor shape. Two separate electorates as the sources of funds for the University contributed
either five or ten rupees every year. There was also a provision for a one time donation of rupees one hundred
and fifty. Around 1200 members contributed to University funds. In 1921, Sir Vithaldas Thakersays donation of
fifteen lakhs provided the much needed finances. After 1921, the geographical spread of the University
expanded, with the University extending its activities in Gujarat. The patronage increased too with the
Maharajas of Bansoda, Bharatpur, Bhavnagar, Gwalior, Mysore, Porbandar, Nawab of Cambay, the Nizam of
Hyderabad, and also the Maharanis of Dharampur, Indore, Limdi, and Phaltan, extending financial support to the
University. In the 1930s, a college of the University started in Bombay and thereafter, the University
headquarters shifted to Bombay.

Recognition for the good work done by the SNDT Womens University came from several sources. First, more
and more girls schools became affiliated to the University and sent girls for the entrance test even as the
University was running without recognition from government. The Hartog Commission in 1929 recorded the
Universitys contribution for the higher education of women in Bombay Presidency. In the views of the Hartog
Commission, the main obstacle before the University was non-recognition of its degrees by the government,
which was due to an anxiety on the part of the University to avoid control over the curricula and conditions of
examination. Till the early 1930s, however, the graduates of the University had to seek employment in the
private sector. The first Congress ministry in Bombay under B.G. Kher recognized the degrees of the University
to be at par with those in other universities in 1934, thus opening the doors of government service for SNDT

Sir Sitaram Patkar, eminent judge, played an instrumental role in advancing the cause of the recognition of the
Womens University as a Chancellor during 19312 to 19456. He struggled to attain recognition from the
Government of Bombay. The government in response, appointed a committee to look into the question of the
University. The chairman of the committee was Sir H.V. Divatia, other members included Hansa Mehta, K.M.
Jhaveri, (p.28) A.B. Gajendragadkar, Principal V.J. Jog, Sharda Diwan and Lila Dhume. The Committee
submitted its report in 1948, paving the way for governments recognition. A bill to this effect was introduced by
the Bombay Legislative Assembly on September 30, 1949. After three readings in the Legislative Council, it
was passed into law on October 13, 1949. The government recognition for the University finally came on
November 23, 1949. The University received its Charter of Recognition when it was put in the Statute Book in

The colonial State, in the initial phase, did not make any substantive reform to promote the education of women
in India, the earlier efforts coming from the missionaries. On the contrary, the history of the nineteenth century
educational reforms is replete with evidence that the State did in fact oppose the expansion of womens
education.80 The first explicit official recognition of the need for womens education can be traced back to
Woods Educational Dispatch of 1854. In the report, Sir Charles Wood stressed the need to promote womens
education in schools through State grants. The reform measures of the colonial State received a further impetus
when the Hunters Commission Report, 1881 pointed out the need to focus on womens education, through
greater State support to private enterprise. The Commission also advocated a separate education suitable for
girls, and suggested that the curriculum may contain reading, writing, arithmetic, music, hygiene, needlework
and embroidery.

The existing literature on womens education has found it rather difficult to locate the role of the State towards
reforming womens education. Geraldine Forbes81 has remarked,

Looking at female education and its products in the second decade of the twentieth century, one can
begin to answer the question of how far female education has achieved the results desired by the
three groups who had promoted it: the British rulers, Indian male reformers and educated Indian
women. The British wanted their civil servants to have educated wives to further ensure their
loyaltythey believed English educated Indian women would raise their children to become

(p.29) The early years of struggle of the SNDT Womens University also coincided with a sharp upsurge in
female literacy and educational progress acting as engines for the mobilization in social forces. The contribution
of SNDT Womens University was significant, considering the degree of difficulty for women to get education
in co-educational universities. Educational progress of women prepared the ground for womens struggle for
justice and equality.

Table 1.1: Literacy among Women in the Pre-Independence Period82

Year Female Literacy Rate

188182 0.2
190102 0.7
192122 1.8
194647 6.0

Social Resistance to Womens Education

Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, the SNDT Womens University came under a lot of discussion
and debate. When questions relating to the need and relevance of the University were raised when in 1915,
Karve presented the case for establishing a womens university in Maharashtra. Some of the social reformers and
liberal segments of society were opposed to a separate university for women as they considered it to be a
retrograde step.83 Karve pointed out to them, What we aim at is to frame our schedules of study to suit the
mental and physical conditions of women at present, and to gradually raise the standard in accordance with
general progress. He added that We must recognize that both national and social economy requires that women
should occupy a station of their own distinct from that of men84

In fact, while establishing the university, the founders were clear that government recognition would be hard to
come by, as the idea (p.30) of a separate university, coupled with its stress on the mother tongue did not interest
the State. At that point Tagore advised Karve to win government recognition at the end instead of praying for it
in the beginning.

The SNDT viewpoint can be found in the convocation address of Principal A.B. Dhruva in 1929,

We are asked by some of our best friends of female educationwhy should there be a separate
university for women with distinctive courses? My simple answer is: because men have ignored
women too long, unpardonably long, making no provision for their special needs in the educational
system in the country.85

At the convocation speech of the SNDT Womens University in 1943, Nil Ratan Sarkar said, The University
should offer a true synthesis of liberal and cultural education with the training of practical subjects to fit women
for their primal vocation of home-making.86

In 1949, the SNDT Womens University Bill was debated in the Bombay Legislative Assembly. While the main
focus of the debate was the grant of statutory recognition, the debate covered a wide range of issues including
the need for separation and special courses for women. The debate confirmed the highly controversial nature of
womens education and reflected the conflicting interests of social groups. Orthodox sections obviously wanted
to halt the progress of womens education due to the perceived threat to the integrity of the family. There was a
feeling that the higher education of girls was affecting the interests of the family. There was also a widespread
belief that married men were getting attracted to the charms of educated ladies at the peril of their marriage.
Liberal sections felt that given the current social set-up educational reform should seek change from within. On
the other hand, the liberal views of this group were firmly embedded in the belief of the virtues of the family and
the specialised role of women in the family which educational reform was supposed to address. The liberals
therefore advocated educational reforms from within the existing power structure of the family in Hindu society.
In retrospect, communicative processes surrounding gender reforms in colonial India suggest strong links
between religion, (p.31) state, and social action.87Interlinks between religion, nationalism, and female
empowerment can be found in the scattered literature on gender issues in the nineteenth century. Analysing
discussion of the historical backdrop of the Hindu Code Bill controversy is, therefore, essential to comprehend
the evolution of forces that shaped the contours of the Hindu Code Bill debate.

(1) Joni Seager, The Penguin Atlas of Women in the World, Penguin, London, 2009.

(2) ICSSR, Status of Women in India: A Synopsis of the Report of the National Committee on the Status of
Women (197174), Allied Publishers, New Delhi, p. 13.

(3) The contributions made by Indias argumentative tradition to its intellectual and social history has been
highlighted by Amartya Sen in his book, The Argumentative Indian: Writings in Indian History, Culture and
Identity. Sen notes that developing a society based on deliberation and reasoning is a momentous task and is
made easier by the long history and consummate strength of our argumentative tradition, which we have reason
to celebrate and defend. In Amartya Sen (ed.), The Argumentative Indian: Writings in Indian History, Culture
and Identity, Allen Lane, 2005.

(4) The concept of patriarchy defied conformation to a unified definition across time and space. Accordingly,
feminists have provided a universal though not necessarily uniform structure to explain male domination within
and outside the family, centering on the definition of patriarchy. Patriarchy in India also evolved in its own
unique characteristics, often referred to as brahmanical patriarchy. In fact, the upsurge of research on feminist
issues over the past two decades in India has been anchored on deep seated notions of patriarchy as shaped and
defined by the brahmanas.

(5) While discussing the colonial era, the focus is on the Bombay Presidency in western Indiawhere staunch
orthodoxy co-existed with a pulsating and dynamic womens movement to make the discourse invigorating and
the interactions between diverse social forces easily discernible.

(6) Flavia Agnes, Law and Gender Inequality: The Politics of Womens Rights in India, Oxford University Press,
New Delhi, 1999, p. 13. Agnes observes that Hindu society was rather diverse and unstructured in character, as
communities practised diverse norms of marriage, divorce and ownership of property. Given the variety, it
became extremely difficult to situate the representative Hindu. The term Hindu has been traced by some
scholars to the term Indoi, used by Greeks to denote the inhabitants of the Indus valley. The first known use of
the word was by Krishnadevaraya II in a plate Satyamangala in 1424 AD. The Portuguese referred to the
natives as Gentoos that is derived from the word gentiles, indicating non-believers. The initial regulations of
the East India Company also used the same expression to denote non-Muslim natives.

(7) Termed variously as kula (family or tribe), shreni (artisans guilds) and pugaor gana (assembly or

(8) Ibid., pp. 1213.

(9) Radha Kumud Mukherjee, Women in Ancient India, in Tara Ali Baig (ed.), Women in India, Ministry of
Information and Broadcasting, Publication Division, New Delhi, 1958, p. 1.

(10) D.D. Kosambi, Ancient India; A History of its Culture and Civilization, Pantheon Books, New York, 1965.

(11) A.L. Basham, The Wonder that was India, Grove Press, New York, 1954, p. 36.
(12) Agnes, Law and Gender Inequality, p. 14.

(13) Madhu Shashtri, Status of Hindu Women: A Study of Legislative Trends and Judicial Behavior, RBSA
Publications, Jaipur, 1990, p. 27.

(14) Shastri, Status of Hindu Women, p. 44.

(15) Ibid., p. 47.

(16) Henry Thomas Colebrooke, Essays on the Religion and Philosophy of the Hindus, William and Norgate,
London, 1858.

(17) Lokesh Chandra Nand, Women in Delhi Sultanate, Vohra Publishers, New Delhi, 1989, p. 179.

(18) James Tod, Annal and Antiquities of Rajasthan: Or, the Central and Western Rajpoot States of India,
Routledge, London, 1950.

(19) For a brief discussion, see Geraldine Forbes, Women in Modern India, the New Cambridge History of India,
Cambridge University Press, New Delhi, 1988, p. 13.

(20) Gail Omvedt, Land, Caste and Politics in Indian States, Teaching Politics, University of Delhi, 1982, pp.

(21) An anuloma marriage is a marriage where the husband is from a higher caste than the wife.
A pratiloma marriage is a marriage where the wife is from a higher caste than the husband. See M.N.
Srinivas, Caste in Modern India and Other Essays, Media Promoters and Publishers Private Limited, Bombay,
1978, p. 3.

(22) John Duncan M. Derrett, Religion, Law and the State in India, Faber and Faber, London, 1968, p. 172.

(23) Paul R. Brass, The Politics of India since Independence, The New Cambridge History of India, Vol. IV.1,
Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1990, p. 5.

(24) Bipan Chandra, Mridula Mukherjee, and Aditya Mukherjee, India after Independence: 19472000, Penguin
Books, 2002, p. 444.

(25) Ibid., p. 444.

(26) John Duncan M. Derrett, Hindu Law: Past and Present, A. Mukhejee and Co., Calcutta, 1957, p. 70.

(27) Sumit Sarkar, Modern India 18851947, Macmillan India Limited, New Delhi, seventh edition, 1990, p.

(28) Chandra et. al., India after Independence, pp. 4456.

(29) Derrett, Religion, Law and the State in India, p. 172.

(30) Ibid., p. 290.

(31) Clyde Wilcox, Racial and Gender Consciousness among AfricanAmerican Women: Sources and
Consequences, Women & Politics, Volume 17, No. 1, 1997, pp. 7394.
(32) Ashish Nandy, Sati: A Nineteenth Century Tale of Women, Violence and Protest, in Ashish Nandy, At the
Edge of Psychology, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1992. See also Bachi Karkaria, Identity in Waiting:
A Long Haul from Sati to Tara, The Times of India, Bombay, July 4, 1994.

(33) Meera Kosambi, Girl-Brides and Socio-legal Change: Age of Consent Bill (1891) Controversy, Economic
and Political Weekly, Volume XXVI, No. 31, August 310, 1991, p. 1857.

(34) Lucy Carroll, Law, Custom and Statutory Social Reform: The Hindu Widows Remarriage Act of
1856, Indian Economic and Social History Review, Volume XX, No. 4, OctDec, 1983, p. 363.

(35) Aparna Basu, A Centurys Journey: Womens Education in Western India: 18201920 in Karuna Chanana
(ed.), Socialisation, Education and Women: Explorations in Gender Identity, New Delhi, Orient Longman,
1988. See also, Pratima Choudhury, Womens Education in India: Myth and Reality, Har Anand Publications,
New Delhi, 1995 and V. Khandwala, Education of Women in India, 18501967, A Bibliography, SNDT
Womens University Press, Bombay, 1988.

(36) Rochona Majumdar, Marriage and Modernity: Family Values in Colonial Bengal, Duke University Press,
USA, 2009.

(37) Nandy, Sati: A Nineteenth Century Tale, p. 33.

(38) Ibid., terms this as early nineteenth century epidemic of sati.

(39) For detailed accounts of Ishwarchandra Vidyasagars social reform initiatives, refer to Asok
sen, Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar and his Elusive Milestones, Riddle-India, Calcutta, 1977.

(40) See Uma Chakravarty, Conceptualising Brahmanical Patriarchy in Early India, Economic and Political
Weekly, Volume XXVIII, No. 14, April 3, 1993, p. 579.

(41) Uma Chakravarty, Rewriting History: The Life and Times of Pandita Ramabai, Kali for Women Press, New
Delhi, 1998. The study is the first serious effort to analyse patriarchy and Brahmanism in Indian history,
according to Gail Omvedt, Towards a Theory of Brahmanic Patriarchy, Economic and Political Weekly,
January 22, 2000, p. 187.

(42) Wendy Doniger and Brian K. Smith, The Laws of Manu, Penguin India, New Delhi, 1991, p. 198. A
virtuous wife, according to Manu, should serve her husband like a God, even if he behaves badly, freely
indulges in lust, and is devoid of good qualities in Ibid., p. 114.

(43) Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen, India: Economic Development and Social Opportunity, Oxford University
Press, New Delhi, 1995.

(44) The term akhara designates a place where the young men of the society gather daily for body building,
exercise and sportsmainly wrestling and weight lifting. Members of the akhara were placed under the
authority of a Guru who instructs the members of the akhara physical and mental discipline.
The akharadeveloped a strong collective behaviour among its members. See S. Freitag, Collective Action and
Community: The Public Arena and the Emergence of Communalism in North India, Oxford University Press,
New Delhi, 1990, p. 121.

(45) See R.I. Cashman, The Myth of Lokmanya, University of California Press, Berkley, 1975, p. 15.

(46) See N. Kumar, The Artisans of Benaras: Popular Culture and Identity, 18801986, Princeton University
Press, 1988 for a detailed exposition of the spread of Hindu nationalism in northern India.
(47) Christopher Jafferlot, The Hindu Nationalist Movement and Indian Politics, 1925 to the 1990s, Penguin
Books, New Delhi, 1999, pp. 3647.

(48) W. Anderson and S. Damle, The Brotherhood in Saffron: The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Hindu
Revivalism, Vistaar Publications, New Delhi, 1987, p. 34.

(49) Ashish Nandy, At the Edge of Psychology: Essays in Politics and Culture, Oxford University Press, Delhi,
1980, p. 8.

(50) Ibid., p. 78.

(51) It is beyond the scope of the present study to give a detailed account of the work of women writers and
social reformers from Maharashtra. The attempt rather is to trace the growth of feminist consciousness. One may
refer to Susie Tharu and K. Lalita, Women Writing in India, Volumes I and II, Oxford University Press, New
Delhi, 1999 for further details.

(52) Several editions of her book sold out immediately after publication, and thus provided financial strength to
Ramabai, enabling her to visit England and the United States.

(53) Ramabai was publicly honoured with the title Pandita, for her scholarship.

(54) In a series of hard hitting editorials in Kesari, Tilak attacked the Sharda Sadan, stating that it was worse than
a government or missionary school.

(55) Tharu and Lalita, Women Writing in India, p. 246.

(56) Ibid., p. 247.

(57) Ibid., p. 257.

(58) At the first trial she was sentenced to hang but on appeal this was changed to transportation for life and later
was further reduced to five years. This angered Tarabai Shinde and prompted her to write the book, Stri Purusha

(59) Tarabai Shinde, Stri Purusha Tulana, tr. Rosalind OHanlon, p. 80.

(60) Ibid., p. 81.

(61) Partha Chatterjee, The Nationalist Resolution to the Womens Question, in Kumkum Sangari and Sudesh
Vaid (eds), Recasting Women: Essays in Indian Colonial History, Kali for Women, New Delhi, 1989.

(62) Neera Desai, Women in Modern India, Vora Publishers, Bombay, 1977, p. 120.

(63) Ibid., p. 126.

(64) Maharani of Baroda, The Position of Women in Indian Life, Bombay, 1911, p. 240.

(65) Margaret E. Cousins, Indian Womanhood Today, Kitabistan Series, No. 5, New Delhi, p. 30.

(66) Forbes, Women in Modern India, p. 93.

(67) Report of the Special Session of the Indian National Congress, Bombay, August 1931 and September 1,
1918, pp. 10910.

(68) Neera Desai, Women in Modern India, p. 130.

(69) All India Womens Conference, First Annual Report, 1928, p. 3.

(70) Proceedings of the First All India Womens Conference, pp. 2832.

(71) Forbes, Women in Modern India, p. 130.

(72) Vijay Agnew, Elite Women in Indian Politics, Vikas Publishing House, New Delhi, 1979, p. 39.

(73) Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, Inner Recesses/Outer Spaces: Memoirs, Navrang, New Delhi, 1986, pp. 1523.

(74) Forbes, Women in Modern India, pp. 1345.

(75) All India Womens Conference, Twelfth Annual Report, 1937.

(76) All India Womens Conference, Seventeenth Annual Report, 1944.

(77) Y.B. Mathur, Womens Education in India, 18131966, Asia Publishing House, Bombay, 1973, p. 25.

(78) Forbes, Women in Modern India, p. 48.

(79) A.B. Shah (ed.), Letters and Correspondence of Pandita Ramabai, Maharashtra State Board of Literature
and Culture, Bombay, 1977, pp. 342426.

(80) Pratima Chaudhary, Womens Education in India, Myth and Reality, Har-Anand Publications, New Delhi,

(81) Forbes, Women in Modern India, p. 60.

(82) Prabhash P. Singh, Women in India: A Statistical Panorama, Inter India Publications, New Delhi, 1991, p.

(83) Lokmanya Tilak was an important personality opposed to higher education for women, as he felt that this
could destroy the family.

(84) Forbes, Women in Modern India, p. 53.

(85) SNDT Womens University, Annual Report, 1929.

(86) Untitled Report, The Times of India, March 4, 1943, p. 6.

(87) Susie Tharu and Tejaswini Niranjana, Problems for a Contemporary Theory of Gender, in Social Scientist,
Volume XXII, Nos. 34, MarchApril, 1994.