International Journal of Asian History, Cultures and Traditions

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Decoding the Presence of Women in the Reformist-Nationalist Movements of the Nineteenth Century in India through Ramabai


The present paper is an objective study of the Reformist-Nationalist structures and agendas of the nineteenth century India which unfortunately was not honest enough towards the causes of women. Women in their scheme of things were secondary and subsidiary and women like Pandita Ramabai was keenly aware of the fact. Hence she came forward to give a clarion call to the conscience of the nation. Ramabai fought throughout her life for the rights and upliftment of child widows, destitute women, child orphan, and their education. She was the first feminist thinker and champion of women’s right and education. She left her imprint in the arena of women issues with her ideologies and literary-critical works during the time when women education was almost non-existent. Education is power she knew and also that both the Shudras and women are denied this power making them helpless and hopeless lot, a mere scum of the earth. There were some other women reformers like Mataji Tapaswini, Begum Rokeya Shekahwat Hossain, Sister Subbhalakshmi etc. who took the women causes and through their active participation in the creative and social arena tried their best for reformation in the age-old dictums for women given by patriarchy. But none of them was as vocal and as rebel as Pandita Ramabai whose very life stood as an example of denial of all that dehumanized women. The social history of the nineteenth and twentieth century’s in India has dwelt at considerable length upon the socio-religious reform movements of the period. Descriptions and analysis of such movements have featured in all the standard text-books and form a part of historical learning from the social syllabi upwards. The centre of this reformist movement is admittedly the reforms relating to women’s status. Yet the focus of almost all the writing on the nineteenth century is on men – men who spearheaded it and men who resisted it. Ramabai, who spent the better part of her life working for women in general but more specifically on the most powerless section within upper-caste society – the widow- gets only a passing reference in discussions on reform and no mention at all in any discussion on the making of modern India.

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