[Solved] The women’s questions arose in modern India as a part of the 19th century social reform movement. What are the major issues and debates concerning women in that period? ( UPSC GS-1 mains 2017)

[Solved] The women’s questions arose in modern India as a part of the 19th century social reform movement. What are the major issues and debates concerning women in that period? ( UPSC GS-1 mains 2017)

During the British rule the spread of English education and Western liberal ideology among Indians and spread of Christianity and missionary activities, resulted in a number of movements for social change and religious reform in the nineteenth century. The initiatives came largely from male reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar, M.G.Ranade, R.G. Bhandarkar etc. The new urban elite, drawn mostly from the upper castes, imbibed the enlightenment philosophy of individualism and humanism. They perceived barbaric traditional practices against women as a civilizational lapse and as recognizable social evils.

 Major issues:

  • British India mainly concentrated on the personal laws of different communities. It had strengthened the foundation of the patriarchal society and deprived the women of property rights, adoption, marriage, and divorce.
  • The nexus between the British colonial state and the patriarchal society was evident.
  • The reformers of India used to revere the glorious past of India considering the woman’s presence as significant belonging. They safeguarded the western influence in society.
  • The Purdah system extended the distancing between opposite sexes, social isolation, and mental numbness. That was the reason, women’s participation in the mass movement was missing at that time.
  • Previously, the restriction of women on the issue of marriage, movement, freedom, liberty, decisions was not that much rampant but in the 19th century, it became a part of the society.
  • In 1956, the British government started ratified widow remarriage, but the participation of women was missing. They used to refrain themselves from remarriage to keep their social status intact.
  • Many individuals and societies emerged at that time to become the voice of the women. Mid 19th century experienced many movements but its extent and intensity were limited.
  • The very purpose of providing women education was associated with domestication. The ultimate goal was to produce better wives, better mothers, and better keepers.
  • The 19th century experienced a gradual transition in the participation of women from agricultural, animal husbandry, fisheries sectors.
  • The society of the 19th century in India tried to improve the position of the women by the developmental approach towards education, labor participation, social participation, but the issues like equal rights, and equal status were overlooked.
  • Women education was denied,
  • Widow remarriages were not allowed with presence of social stigmatization against widows,
  • Sati was widely prevalent,
  • no rights for women in inheritance
  • social customs encouraged child marriages, polygamy etc.

 How the issues were dealt with:

  • A number of organizations notably the Brahmo Samaj, Arya Samaj, Theosophical Society, Prarthana Samaj were set up to deal with these issues.
  • Laws like Bengal Regulation Act XXI termed female infanticide as a murder, Consummation of marriage age was increased to ten, then twelve and then to fourteen. Hindu Widow’s Remarriage Act was passed in 1856. Abolition of Sati Act 1829 was passed.
  • The chief instrument was formal education but the issue became inextricably linked with the gender segregation and seclusion (purdah) practiced by the upper castes and classes and, by extension, with a reworking of public-private gender roles.

There were also women’s movement organized by white-collar middle-class women and social workers from upper class. Feminist publications such as Manushi, Mahila Andolan Patrika, Feminist Network were run by women to enlighten masses about women’s rights.

Further reading..

  • Women’s movement is an important variant of social movement in the sense that it aims to bring changes in the institutional arrangements, values, customs and beliefs in the society that have subjugated women over the years.By nineteenth century there were several evil social practices like Sati, child marriage, ban on widow remarriage, polygamy etc. which were a matter of debate.
  • During the British rule the spread of English education and Western liberal ideology among Indians and spread of Christianity and missionary activities, resulted in a number of movements for social change and religious reform in the nineteenth century.the initiatives came largely from male reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar. M.G.Ranade, R.G.BHandarkar etc. The new urban elite, drawn mostly from the upper castes, imbibed the enlightenment philosophy of individualism and humanism. They perceived barbaric traditional practices against women as a civilizational lapse and as recognizable social evils.
  • The issues that were taken up by them were Sati, ill treatment of widows, ban on widow remarriage, polygyny, child marriage and denial of property rights to women and the need to educate women. A number of organizations notably the Brahmo Samaj, Arya Samaj, Theosophical Society, Prathana Samaj were set up.
  • Women were in the forefront of all the main items on the agenda of the social reform movement.
  • For reformers, women’s emancipation was a prerequisite to national regeneration and an index of national achievement in the connected discourse of civilization, progress, modernity, and nationalism. One strand in the movement concentrated on legislative remedy. A series of campaigns resulted in the abolition of sati in 1829 and the enabling of widow remarriage in 1856. Another strand was concerned with creating the female counterpart of the new male elite, “New Women”, who would share the sensibilities of the men in the family and be able to sustain their new class roles. The chief instrument was formal education but the issue became inextricably linked with the gender segregation and seclusion (purdah) practiced by the upper castes and classes and, by extension, with a reworking of public-private gender roles.
  • The social reform movement saw the emergence of women’s organizations and institutions. However, the movement was led by men and originated in metropolitan cities. Despite being labelled as a middle class reform movements,these socio religious movements of the 19th century opened the doors for feminist movement in India.
  • The socio-religious philosophers protested evil practices such as Sati, child marriage, prohibition of widow remarriage, polygamy, dowry and the Devadasi system.
  • Their views were strengthened when Christian missionaries exposed the evils of such social customs.
  • Further, some of the enlightened British officials in India and England also initiated measures to remove these social evils.
  • Pandita Rama Bai, Savitribai Phule, Tarabai Shinde, Anandibai Joshi and Sarojini Naidu and many other enlightened women came forward to liberate the rest of women.
  • The practice of Sati was prohibited officially in 1829 in Bengal with the active participation of Raja Ram Mohan Roy and then in Madras in 1830.
  • Reformers reinterpreted the Sashtras in favor of widow remarriage. In 1855 Ishwar Chandra Vidhyasagar started a vigorous campaign in favor of widow remarriage.
  • To summarize, the issues of women in the 19th century are mainly related to the social upliftment of women in Indian society. Efforts were on to empower women that included social reforms and economic self-reliance.

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