Important Points to Remember:
The necessity of emancipation and education of Indian women; the evils of Ignorance of Purdah.
The methods which are thought to be suitable?
What type of education should be given, and how?
What does emancipation mean?
Abolition of the Purdah System;
Remove! of the legal disabilities etc.;
The necessity for inter-caste and inter-provincial marriage etc.;
The possible benefits of education and emancipation
The present day Indian society is male dominated: the male attitude towards female is primitive, the possessive attitude of barbaric times. The Indian husband seems to think of his wife Petruchio in Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew:
“I will be master of what is mine own;
She is my goods, my Chatties; she is my house,
My household-stuff, my fields, my barn,
My horse, my ox, my ass, my anything.”
That is why in India women are given a cruel treatment. There is plenty of lip-service to the cause of Indian womanhood, but good deal of insincerity. We have the Widow Remarriage Act, the Sharda Act preventing child marriage and so on, but in actual practice not much is done to emancipate Indian women or to educate them in a proper manner. Without proper education emancipation is not possible. It would be like putting the cart before the horse.
Yet the necessity of both is deeply felt. Ignorant and superstitious mothers with old-world ideas of child-rearing and hygiene are a positive danger to Indian society, Again, with half the population in purdah, Indians cannot hope to win their objective. They cannot play any glorious part in the world. It is also a moral duty to educate and emancipate our women. How can we deny them the rights that we ourselves enjoy ? How can we think of perpetuating this form of slavery when all the civilized nations of the world are giving the women equal rights with men? In ancient times the Hindus in India were far more liberal in their treatment of women. Women were given education and allowed to take part in public affairs.
It is, of course, true that we cannot proceed on the same lines in India as they are doing in the west. We must think of the genius of our race. First let us take education. It is no use sending our girls to schools and colleges for the education that is imparted to the boys and is meant for the boys. The curricula should be changed boldly and carefully. More stress should be laid on subjects calculated to help our girls in their glorious and difficult career of motherhood. Subjects like domestic hygiene, cookery, needle-work etc. should be carefully taught while elementary knowledge of midwifery, child-rearing etc. may be given at a higher stage.
Of course the study of literature, everyday science, history, geography and arithmetic should not be neglected. There should be as far as possible separate institutions for the girls. Everything should be done to encourage our girls to take an intelligent interest in present day politics, and they should be given studies in scientific and literary subjects. Only those girls of exceptional ability who do not have any attraction for domestic life may go in for higher studies and research. For women in the villages provision should be made for imparting primary education. Everywhere women should be encouraged to read the newspaper.
As for emancipation, it is a difficult thing. We have not inherited much of the old Indian reverence for women, but we have inherited much of the medieval distrust for women. There are many people in India who sincerely believe with the poet that
Hyaena, crocodile all beasts of craft,
Have been distill’d to make one woman.”
Besides, people in India do not want to admit or grant the equality of women with men. Women are eternally inferior. “God is the law; thou mine” that ought to be—according to most of the Indians—the attitude of the Indian wife to her husband. Such being the case, emancipation has to be a cautious and gradual process. Nothing delights the conservative Indian more than the sight of an emancipated woman stumbling. So, in India we have to contend against this psychology as well. Liberation of women cannot come in a day. It is also true that we cannot do away with purdah, unless we remove the inferiority complex of Indian women. It means that they are to be given equal moral, social and legal status with men.
There are certain legal disabilities regarding proprietary rights and administration, and these must be removed. Unless a woman enjoys full legal rights, she cannot feel confident of her place in society and will have to look up to man. The institution of marriage as it obtains in India will have to be radically changed. We have a Widow Remarriage Act; we have also the Sharda Act prohibiting child-marriage. But these acts do not operate successfully in India, because the mass of people do not care for these reforms. Young men with liberal views should do their best to see that widows can be easily and safely remarried.
Unless that is done the young Indian widow would never be emancipated women. As for child marriage public opinion must be organized against it. In a word, the old scriptures and superstitions should not be allowed to control the lives of the people to the extent they were doing. Marriage to the woman should be a choice, not a compulsory religious duty. No girl should be married against her wishes as is daily done in thousands of Indian homes.
We need not, however, bring in everything that exists in countries like England and America. Divorce for instance, should not be introduced in India that will only mar the peace and happiness of the Indian homes. But even divorce has been legalized. We have the Hindu Code Bill and the Parsi Divorce Bill. But divorce is not calculated to do any good to India. The Hindu husband no longer normally marries more than one wife; the Muslim husband is also practically monogamous. This is an improvement though the reason is purely economic.
The women must, then be educated and their legal disabilities removed, the institution of marriage reformed and everything should be done to bring about their economic independence. There are many educated women in India today who are earning their own living. This is a move in the right direction. Without some short of economic independence, the emancipation of Indian women would be rather unreal. Only when the husband knows that the wife need not depend entirely upon him for her daily bread, he will think twice before doing anything against her wishes.
But, as we have already said there should be proper check everywhere. Emancipation does not mean that the women should smoke or drink or dance in ball-rooms, nor does it mean that they should substitute their Indian modesty by Western freedom of thought and action. It only means that they should be given the fullest liberty to realize themselves according to the genius of their race.