Woman Movement in India
In the Early XX Century
WHEN the final chronicle of the twentieth century comes to be written, probably the most remarkable feature in its annals will be the history of the development of woman. Far and wide throughout the world to-day a new energy is spreading amid the ranks of women of every class. Rich and poor, educated and ignorant, all alike feel the dawning of an era of fresh usefulness for their sex. From North and South, East and West the active impulse comes, and women of every land call to one another to join hands for the enlightenment and betterment of their sisters, that they all may help in the great forward movement of the world. This activity among women is a sign of good, for it is at one with an inclination towards a more universal brotherhood that is sweeping over mankind. Over the Atlantic the women of America recognized the same impulses as the women of Europe. Through England, France, and Germany, across the Continent it passed, gathering force as it sped, till the women of the East felt its summons, and are taking their part also in the fresh life which is dawning in this second decade of the twentieth century.
So widespread a feeling must be taken seriously. Above the strife and noisy extravagance of the public champions of the cause of women, there is a true and earnest endeavor which the thoughtful mind of either sex acknowledges and approves. Therefore, since no one can ignore the progress or the sincerity of the movement, we propose to give a very brief account of the history of woman throughout the world, to remind the women of India of the position in public affairs which their sex occupies to-day. Some of the actions of their sisters in other lands may seem to them worthy of adaptation; others may be pitfalls to be avoided. In either case the subject is one full of importance, alike to East and West.
In the earliest times of which we have any historical knowledge men and women were grouped together in hordes, and seem to have led a nomadic life, holding all their possessions in common. The primitive ancestors of Indo-European stock probably had their home in Asia, near the Hindu Kush Mountains, though later critics have assigned North-East Europe as their dwelling-place. There they spoke the same language and venerated the same gods. In primitive times woman would appear to have been fully equal, both mentally and physically, to man and observations made among savage races of the present day, who are presumably at a similar stage of civilization, also point to this conclusion, since we find among them little or no difference between the male and female, either in physique or brain-power. The next step in the advance of civilization was the banding together of hordes into tribes, and gradually the separate tribes, migrating in different directions, developed into various nations of the earth. Their common characteristics disappeared in time to a great extent, under the influence of changed surroundings, of which climate is the most important feature in the evolution of distinct nationality.
In the most primitive stage of human life there was no permanent union between man and woman. Afterwards the custom of marriage arose, out of which developed in turn the home, the family, the tribe, the nation. It was woman who reared the children, built the rude hut or tent in which the family lived, made what scanty clothing they possessed, fed the household, in short, performed the general domestic labour, and left man to do most of the work outside the home. Later on, when, the human race increasing, it was found incumbent to sow and plant, it was chiefly woman who at harvest-time gathered in the crops. Subsequently the nomadic life of the tent was abandoned for that of a fixed home, and her position improved, but she still remained the property of her husband, who had absolute right over her in every way. Such was woman’s condition in primitive times.
But a gleam of brightness breaks upon the pages of her early history. Strangely enough, amid the bygone civilizations of the world, an era of glory dawned for woman, and we find in most nations a heroic age, when woman was worshipped and set in the highest place of honour. In the ancient literature of India, dating from centuries before European culture began, in the great epics of the Ramayana and Mahabharata, woman took distinguished part in her husband’s work, aiding him with her love and counsel, accompanying him, like Sita and Draupadi, even into exile. She shared in the public ceremonies, and was accorded the highest rank and dignity.
This heroic age of woman differed considerably in date among the various nations. Earliest among the Egyptians, Hindus, and Hebrews, it did not reach Europe till about the Christian Era. Judaea had its golden age for women in the days of Miriam; also about the twelfth century B.C., when Deborah, the prophetess, arose, “a mother in Israel,” who “ dwelt under the palm-tree between Rama and Bethel in Mount Ephraim: and the children of Israel came up to her for judment.” To this woman-judge of the Hebrews is due what is assuredly one of the most exultant battle-songs in all literature, the hymn of victory chanted by Deborah after Jael’s slaughter of Sisera. So we find in ancient Judæa women as rulers, prophetesses, judges, warriors.
In early ages the Musalman woman of Arabia was permitted equal instruction with men. The social position she occupied when the power of Islam reached its meridian proves that she possessed rights similar to those enjoyed by men. The Prophet’s own women – folk were very far from leading lives of idle seclusion. On the contrary, they were allowed great freedom. His first wife, Khadija, shared the changes and chances of his career for twenty-five years, and, after her death, Ayesha, his young wife, took prominent part as an active combatant at the “ Battle of the Camel.” His daughter Fatima gained high distinction in political debate. His granddaughter Zainab was noted for her attainments both in public and private life. A life of empty idleness was no part of the Prophet’s scheme of feminine existence. Moslem women held positions as sovereigns, teachers, theologians, and superintendents of religious communities, and, like Hindu women, were famous for learning, eloquence, and capacity to impart instruction. In the reign of the Sultan Bayazid I., women gave lectures in the mosques and schools to students of either sex, and in those days girls and boys were educated together. In the days of the Ommayads and of the first Abbasids, until the reign of Kadir b’Illah (A.D. 921), when progress in the Musalman world began to decline, women took prominent part in public life. Under Mansur, two of his women cousins went forth to the Byzantine Wars, clad in coats of mail. In the reign of Rashid-el-Mamun, ladies took part in poetic contests and learned discussions, while young Arab maidens fought on horseback and commanded regiments. The Empress Zubeida wife of Harun-al-Rashid, was renowned as a poetess, and with her money the great aqueduct at Mecca was constructed and the town of Alexandria rebuilt after its destruction by the Greeks. The category of Musalman women who similarly distinguished themselves in almost every art of peace and war is too long for quotation. It only ceases when the invasions of Tartar hordes and religious or dynastic struggles checked the onward march of civilization in the East, and in the general retrogression the cause of the Mahomedan woman suffered wellnigh total eclipse. In ancient Egypt women were the equals and comrades of their men-folk; the law conferred like privileges upon them; they were eligible for the priesthood and the throne.
Greece, too, from her Homeric Age has handed down types of noble, honoured womanhood, such as will live for ever in the pages of her literature. Penelope, Andromache, Clytemnestra, are names that will keep her memory green in the history of the world’s women. Italy, also, in the early days of the Republic, has given mankind an ideal of the Roman matron, steadfast, brave, resolute as her husband, yet tender and loving withal. Among the Germans we find a time when, according to Tacitus, women were the chieftains of certain tribes, and excelled the men in valour and wisdom, so that, speaking of the Teutonic conception of women, he says: “They hold that there is in her something Divine.” Nor can Britain be omitted from the category of the lands that, thus early, honoured women, since she, too, had her Boadicea, that warlike Queen of ancient Britain, who herself drove her chariot against the invading Romans.
Yet this early liberty was but a phantom dawn of freedom for woman. It passed, and a period in each case followed when her progress was checked. Among the upper classes a frivolous, or purely passive existence, now fell to her lot: among the lower ranks, a degrading, soulless toil.
Not until mediæval times does a fresh glimpse of sunshine flood her path. Through Europe, generally, the Middle Ages brought a revival of the honour formerly paid to woman. This was the time of chivalry, when the Knight-at-Arms devoted himself to the service of the poor and weak, when, under the influence of woman, the old love of brute force gave way before the nobler standard of right and duty. Every warrior, in taking upon himself the sacred vows of knighthood, swore, at the same time, an oath of allegiance to his Lady, and in his devotion to her there mingled the dim and holy adoration of the worshipper for his God. Surely never had European woman more power than in those centuries of chivalry!
Intellectually, woman had high distinction in the so-called Dark Ages, for we find lady-professors and doctors abounding on the Continent of Europe, and lecturing to students of both sexes. Various towns in Germany admitted women to trades, on a footing of perfect equality with men, and in France there were corporations of women-workers who had the monopoly of certain callings suitable to their sex. In the latter country, men and women voted equally in the management of the affairs of the different municipalities, and, after the Crusades, when wars for the protection of the Holy Sepulchre had decimated the ranks of the male population in France, women took up the administration of their lords’ estates, proving themselves just and efficient in the highest degree. Thus, woman was the light of the Dark Ages of Europe.
But the inevitable reaction set in; for no sooner do we find a period of enlightenment, than, within a few centuries, we see her dejected again. This time it was due to the Renaissance, that passionate love of beauty in art, in literature, and above woman, which, spreading from Italy, infected France, England, and the larger part of Europe with its young enthusiasm. It was a great intellectual movement, this Revival of Learning, as men also named it, but the mad desire for freedom led to excess in all things, and woman, though outwardly deferred to as before, was no longer the inspirer of the purer worship of the Knights of the Middle Ages. Alongside intellectual refinement there grew up unbridled licentiousness, and in the sixteenth century we find the Court of Marguérite de Valois, sister of Francis I., one of the most immoral in history. In the seventeenth century, in France, woman was pre-eminent in intellectual culture, and we find her, as in Madame de Maintenon, the adviser of Kings and the educator of the young; in Mademoiselle de Scudéry and Madame de Sévigné, the personification of feminine intelligence.
In England, in the reign of Charles II., the reaction after the Reformation swung the pendulum over to the opposite extreme. As the old reverence for women departed, a frivolous, light, and inconsequent side of feminine nature developed, against which the satire of the time, in the epigram of Pope, directed its lash. In his second Epistle, dedicated “To a Lady,” those who will may read his opinion of the society woman of the day. Meantime, in spite of culture in the higher ranks, the lower classes, engaged solely in the deadening round of domestic toil, were still sunk in ignorance and apathy. “Home-keeping youths have ever homely wits,” and so it proved with the majority of women of lower rank in the eighteenth century in Europe. Not till the latter half of the nineteenth century, when again light dawned, in the shape of higher education, did woman once more lift up her head, and she seems now on the highroad to permanent freedom of development. It is to be noted that most of the Western nations, which have formally granted her the greatest liberty, are not (except America and Russia) of foremost rank as world-powers. In Finland, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, she is legally most emancipated. Finnish women may vote and sit in Parliament. In Norway women municipal franchise holders possess the parliamentary franchise. In Russia, which it has been said should be called the most Western of Eastern, instead of the most Eastern of Western nations, women have made marvellous progress, and have distinguished themselves in the political world. The Zemstvo and all the progressive political parties acknowledge the principle of absolute equality for men and women, and the latter are practising in most of the liberal professions. Many are doctors, several are engineers, while the number of literary aspirants increases daily at an almost alarming rate, for at the present time to be an authoress who has published a book is a hallmark for the Russian literary woman.
Each country has its own peculiar phase of the woman question. In England woman’s general condition since feudal days has been one of social freedom, but where she has had to enter the labour-market in competition with men, she has sometimes suffered disadvantage. By degrees she has won her way through, till now most of the liberal professions, except the Law and the Church, are open to her, and the majority of other callings, except those for which her physical limitations manifestly unfit her. A few of the stages marking the Englishwoman’s progress may be briefly noted. In 1870 the Married Women’s Property Act was passed (amended 1882), by which a married woman is capable of acquiring, holding, and disposing, by will or otherwise, of any real or personal property, and may enter into any contract or carry on a trade. The Hindu woman has enjoyed these rights since the days of Manu, probably before the Christian Era. In 1894 qualified Englishwomen were granted permission to vote for District Councils, Boards of Guardians, London County Council, and Parish Council elections. They can be elected on County and Borough Councils, Education Committees, Boards of Guardians, District and Parish Councils. In 1907 women were allowed the privilege of being Aldermen and Mayors, but they cannot act as Justices of the Peace nor can they sit on juries, as they may do in America, Norway, and Finland where it is said that they fulfil their duties with extreme conscientiousness and impartiality.
During the latter half of the nineteenth century a great educational wave overflowed England and bore woman upwards on its crest. One of the chief reasons for this increased culture lay in the growing preponderance of the female sex both in England and throughout Europe which made it necessary for some to come forth from the more secluded life of the home to take their part in the struggle for existence. The rise of the middle classes was now an established fact. Industry was expanding on a wonderful scale. New machinery, novel modes of communication, were introduced; the whole face of the world underwent a marvellous transformation during the nineteenth century. Such a change in the methods of production as was brought about by inventions for spinning and weaving, and for the manufacture of the countless objects of daily use, now made by mechanical skill instead of by hand, left woman freer from domestic duties than she had ever been before, and gave her liberty to turn her energies to different pursuits. So she has progressed, little by little, till now she claims the right to stand by the side of man and earn her moral and material independence. English-women have not yet been admitted to the suffrage, and the attainment of this privilege a certain section of the female population is agitating to secure.
Though not permitted to play an immediate part in English politics, women here, even without the vote, are, as they can be if they choose in all countries of the world, a great indirect power. Particularly in English society do we find ladies taking up the cause of their husbands, fathers, and brothers, helping them to win their election-fights, charming the hearts of the constituents by their enthusiastic championship, and promoting the welfare of the poor and suffering by their appearance on public platforms. In England they have peculiarly ample opportunities for such influence, since there for many centuries social and political functions have been harmoniously interwoven. Those who would form an idea of the wide influence exercised by ladies of highest rank in England, will find a very thoughtful and interesting account of this phase of political life in some of Mrs. Humphry Ward’s novels, and, in lighter vein, in Lady Randolph Churchill’s witty and amusing “Reminiscences.”
But how has it fared with the woman of India through the long centuries since civilization dawned upon her land? We have seen that in the early ages of the world, while Northern Europe was yet steeped in barbarism, she enjoyed the highest public honour, and was a participant in all the wisdom and activities of her day. Neither should we omit to recall the fact that in ancient India the laws of Manu and of other Hindu lawgivers touching women’s property rights, known as Stridhana, though introduced about 2,000 years ago, have hardly yet been the excelled by any laws in any country in the West. Mahomedan women also have long enjoyed their share in the property of their male relations, which is granted to them by their laws. But succeeding years in India checked woman’s glory. Our land became a prey to external invasion and internal strife, and in the ceaseless struggle that was waged, the cause of learning, and with it that of woman, was forced to the wall. The arts of peace had no room to expand, and, with the constant warfare that devastated India in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, woman’s interests and education fell into a depth of miserable neglect and suppression, from which they are only now recovering.
Fortunately there is no longer need to ask by what means woman may rise to a higher and nobler position. The woman of the East, like the woman of the West, may depend on this, that in the proper use of education lies the salvation of her sex. As long as she is ignorant, so long will she remain dejected, oppressed, incapable of sharing man’s pursuits and ideals. But educate her, help her to organize her efforts, and she will respond to the changed environment. It is education and useful organizations that alone can give true freedom and enlightenment. By means of women’s Associations woman has gained in Europe and America, and should acquire in the East, a broader outlook, wider interests, a more generally useful attitude to life than she has had in the past. High and low, rich and poor, all are shaking themselves free to a great extent from the lethargy and indifference which seemed in past ages to envelop them. The movement is confined to no one rank or creed, country or continent; its professed aim is the uplifting of the feminine mental and public status throughout the world. In this matter there can be no separation of the interests of the sexes. The good of woman is the good of man. Many famous men have recognized the importance to the race of the well-being of its womankind, and have agreed that it is by the character of its women that the standard of a nation’s civilization is judged. In the word of Sheridan, the well-known dramatist: ” Women govern us; let us render them perfect: the more they are enlightened, so much the more shall we be. On the cultivation of the mind of women depends the wisdom of men.”
Only by education can a woman fit herself to be the companion and inspiring helpmate of her husband. Only by information can she gain the ability to direct her children’s course and follow their careers with loving, intelligent sympathy. Therefore the women of every country should feel it their duty to seek the highest culture within their reach, that they may be in truth the moral and intellectual mothers of their children. The mother whose sons “get beyond her” in information generally loses a certain amount of influence over them. The bond between her and them cannot be so close and tender, unless she, by her training, has fitted herself to be their true comrade in things spiritual and mental, as well as things material.
That there is a dearth of female teachers in India no one can deny. At a meeting of the Legislative Council of the United Provinces, held in April last, Mr. De La Fosse, speaking on behalf of the Government as to the insufficiency of female teachers, said that the difficulty lay with the people themselves, who thought it beneath the dignity of the better class of Indian women to earn their living as teachers. We for our part have no hesitation in endorsing this view. No Government in the world is perfect, and we do not for a moment say that either the British Indian Government or that of any Native State is perfect. But it must be admitted that no Government, either native or foreign, can make improvements without the hearty cooperation of the people. Therefore, we appeal to the women of India, whether British subjects or subjects of Native Rulers, to help the cause of progress as much as lies in their power.
“It is through good education,” says Kant, “that all the good in the world arises.” An ideal feminine education, leading to a wider, freer life, is difficult to realize. It must be one that will prepare its pupils for all human duties-those of the household, as mother, daughter, wife, and those of the State, as useful members of the community. It must be practical as well as theoretical, physiological as well as psychological. India, with her long centuries of philosophic teaching, may find her methods somewhat prone to abstractions, but she should remember that pure intellect is not all. The education that unfits a girl for the practical duties of the home is a progression on totally wrong lines, since the majority of women will always be called upon to direct household tasks. Here, from the experience of England, the women of India may glean a warning. Beware of too literary an education! In Europe many women have directed their energies so zealously to the intellectual side, that the practical part of life is in danger of being neglected, and the result is the overcrowding of certain careers. There are many manual occupations affording light, pleasant, skilled employment for women, which we shall discuss in later chapters, but which at present are disregarded in favour of exclusively mental pursuits. Yet such callings, demanding the supple manipulation and refinement of taste which are woman’s innate attributes, would be eminently suited to her. Moreover, some women are of a distinctly practical bent. They do not all incline to mental work, and would often be more happily engaged in something of an active tendency. Till lately, the fault in the average higher education of Englishwomen has been its unpractical nature, its failure to inculcate the organizing spirit, its neglect of physiology, its small care for imparting the principles of hygiene. Its success has arisen from the fact that the mental development, though advancing by leaps and bounds, has not been allowed to interfere with the physical well-being of the girl. The stature of the gentler sex has been increasing latterly in England to a noticeable extent, and the physique of the highly educated woman leaves little to be desired. The woman question in Europe and America differs fundamentally from the Indian one, because in Europe and America the surplus population of single women has rendered it imperative for many widows and unmarried women of the middle and lower classes to bestir themselves, and cease to be a burden upon their male relatives. The desire for a wider sphere of usefulness shows itself also among the well-to-do, for never was there a time when larger charitable schemes were set on foot, or more done to relieve the lot of the poor and suffering than now. What gentleness, pity, kindness there is in the world to-day, is due largely to woman, who has had the greatest share in stimulating the progress of humanity in this direction. Under her guidance the homeless are sheltered, the sick made whole, the weak ones strengthened, the fallen raised and cheered. The amount of honorary philanthropic work performed now is larger than it has ever been before. All this is the result of the broader education of women, and of their organizations.
The question may be asked, “ Is woman equal to the efforts required of her? Is she mentally and physically capable of profiting by an education as wide as that given to men?” Here the women of India, if the experience of their own clever countrywomen be insufficient for them, may accept certain of the conclusions arrived at regarding their sex in Europe and America, where it is more and more acknowledged that the peculiarities of woman need prove no obstacle to her advance in most branches requiring intellect or manual skill. Woman’s brain is not proportionately smaller than man’s at birth, and observations among races at a low stage of civilization show that the female brain differs in size and weight far less from that of the male than it does among nations of higher culture, the deducible conclusion being that the long centuries of carelessness and ignorance through which woman has passed, may have prevented the normal evolution of her mental faculties. Though the average female brain is actually smaller than that of the male, yet, if it be compared with the total weight of the body, the female brain will be found relatively heavier. As the case stands, however, woman is generally inferior to man in mental capacity. Lombroso accords her only a small place in the history of genius, but it must not be forgotten that her peculiar training, in which the faculties of feeling and sentiment, rather than those of the understanding, have been fostered, has probably made her yield the foremost rank to man in science, poetry, philosophy, and the fine arts. Similarly, woman’s physical education has been neglected through long centuries, and the laws of evolution have produced their inevitable result in the comparative inferiority of the feminine physique.
Those women who have been called upon to rule have proved themselves equal to the noble task. In India Razia Begum, daughter of the Sultan Altamsh, reigned at Delhi after the dethronement of her brother. Nurjehan, wife of Jehangir, was so admired by her husband that he made her the virtual ruler, and struck a coinage in her image. This Queen was not Lalla Rookh celebrated by Thomas Moore, as sometimes supposed. The present Begum of Bhopal may be cited as another successful Moslem lady-ruler. Ahalya Bai, who ruled over Holkar’s State in the eighteenth century, may be taken as a model Hindu Queen. In England the greatest Empire the world has ever known has expanded beneath a woman’s sway. Indeed, the number of successful Queens all over the world is quite remarkable, so that it cannot be urged that women have no talent for responsible work.
Most of the great agitations for the bettering of humanity have had a woman as their primary mover. In America, for instance, Harriet Beecher Stowe was the organizer of the famous struggle which ended in the abolition of slavery. In England Elizabeth Fry devoted years of unselfish toil to the improvement of the pestilential prisons in which her countrymen and women languished. Therefore women must be granted a capacity for social reform.
Where women have hitherto failed is in organization. This is as much the fault of their training as of their false pride, which prevents their seeking the co-operation of man. A woman’s household duties call for an independence of action which develops individuality, but does not foster unity of spirit, to acquire which, at least during some generations to come, she must needs have man’s co-operation.
Inaccuracy as to technical and scientific detail is another defect in women, which militates against their conduct of social and moral reform movements. Too much sentiment, too, is another weakness; a woman reasons from her heart, not from her head; hence many of her errors and difficulties. Energy misdirected by enthusiasm leads her to extremes, so that we find in her the noblest heights of virtue, and, on the other hand, as in the French Revolution, the most appalling depths of vice. Her energy, moreover, is apt to be of an evanescent quality. “ A woman’s fitness comes by fits,” says Shakespeare. These characteristics are, however, such as a practical, broad education may with time eradicate, and then, with her noble gifts of intuition, sympathy, earnestness, moral instinct, unselfishness, and tact, woman would seem to have a glorious prospect of usefulness and happiness before her. But in the meantime she cannot afford to do without the aid of man’s business capacity.
The difficulty with regard to woman’s education is how to construct a scheme by which she may, if called upon to do so, earn her livelihood or contribute actively to the betterment of her fellow-creatures, without unfitting herself for the all-important duties of wifehood and motherhood. This is a problem which is recognized as difficult of solution by modern scientists and educationalists, who see clearly that to employ woman in manual, or even intellectual, labour unsuited to her sex is a terribly wasteful method of carrying out the world’s work. The ideal seems to be that women should seek out lines of development in which they may make the most of the special characteristics of their sex. They should abandon the old idea of following men along the beaten tracks marked out in the past, and they should try to devise occupations in which their own peculiar excellences may have full scope for exercise. The differences between the faculties of the sexes are fundamental. In some qualities man excels woman; in others woman surpasses man. “ The special qualities,” says Dr. T. S. Clouston, “are complementary.” There is no question of comparison of worth; both are requisite for the welfare of the world. Eminent scientists declare that the past history of woman and the experience of the race should be taken into account before rushing blindly into any advanced scheme of feminine development; and, above all, it should be kept well in mind that to encourage the professional career to the exclusion of the domestic life is a movement on wrong lines. No doubt, it is a hard case to decide, and would appear to impose on woman the duties of a twofold education, the one fitting her for wifehood and motherhood, and the other rendering her capable, in case of necessity, of earning her livelihood outside the home circle. The only conclusion that can at present be arrived at is that extremes are dangerous, that no general rules can safely be laid down for woman’s education, but that the needs of the individual should be carefully studied, and changes imposed only after diligent observation, and in a scientific spirit. There would appear, according to European and American educational authorities, no reason why girls’ education should not at first proceed on a plan identical with that of boys, but only for a certain time. Afterwards it should be continued on a different system, which would take into account the psychological peculiarities of their sex.
In the State of Baroda there is compulsory primary education, with mixed vernacular schools, which both sexes attend up to a certain age. As stated in the Baroda Administration Report for 1908-9, the people of the Antyaj, or depressed classes, have derived considerable benefit from the compulsory primary education system. In the other higher girls’ schools in Baroda such subjects as embroidery, drawing, cooking, plain needlework, etc., are taught, in addition to the usual curriculum. A boarding-house for girl-students in connection with the Female Training College has also been started, and a number of scholars have taken advantage of it.
The education of women is a cause which the Maharaja of Baroda has particularly at heart. At the annual general meeting of the Bombay Sanitary Association, held last April, the Maharaja spoke of the share that the people themselves, and especially the women, must take in their own uplifting, and he emphasized the fact that the training of women was the all-important object after which to strive. He said: “Our only weapon is education-education of women, because it is their part to influence home-life, and to fashion future generations; and education of our ignorant masses in the simple teachings of elementary sanitation and hygiene . . . .It is insufficient to teach boys and girls how to read, write, and cipher. We must deal with their lives in their homes. For that purpose I appeal to the educated portion of the community, and to the natural leaders of the people, to set the example, and, by personal practice and precept, teach their backward neighbours how to lead hygienic lives. I advocate education.”
The practical trend which education should take if it is to be of any real good to the nation is fully recognized by Queen Mary who believes firmly that the moral and physical well-being of her country is dependent on the proper education of its children, a task which is mainly in the hands of women. Her Majesty thinks that every girl’s education ought to include some study of domestic science and domestic arts, by which a trained and experienced head of the household would take the place of the now often inefficient mistress. Women are too apt to proceed simply by “rule of thumb,” but it is hoped that the establishment of an institution, with the express purpose of training them in the science of the household, will do much to change old, irregular, traditional methods. A sum of 100,000 is being subscribed to endow a University of Domestic Science, which is to be provided with a staff of professors and lecturers on such subjects as chemistry, hygiene, economics, physiology. It is to be a residential University for women students, and its many influential patrons hope that Queen Mary’s Hostel, as it is to be called, will prove one of the most effective monuments of this Coronation year.
The important role that Englishwomen have played in the furtherance of female education in India has perhaps been scarcely emphasized so strongly as it deserves. It is acknowledged that the largest number of lady graduates in India come from Bengal, and it is interesting to note that the earliest attempt to educate Hindu women in Bengal was not made by the State, but the entire credit is due to two Englishwomen, who, in 1819, more than a generation before the Indian Universities were established, first tried to elevate the condition of Indian women. The names of these ladies, Lady Amherst and Miss Cook, the two pioneers of female education in India, show what women can do to benefit members of their own sex, even though differing, from them in religion, race, and language.
The Indian ideal of womanhood differs from that prevalent in Europe and America, and, therefore, the methods of education to be adopted for our countrywomen will naturally differ accordingly. But the aim of all education should be to teach the pupil to apply her acquired knowledge to the pursuits of daily life, to fit her, not unfit her, for the position she will have to fill. It is systematic training alone- training begun in the most elementary stages of her development-which can accomplish this. The ideal which many Western thinkers now set before them, and the all-powerful factor which they hold education to be, are well and concisely set forth in the following words of one of England’s most progressive writers, Mr. H. G. Wells:
“ We want to invigorate and reinvigorate education. We want to create a sustained effort to the perpetual tendency of all educational organizations towards classicalism., secondary issues, and the evasion of life.
“ We want to stimulate the expression of life through art and literature, and its exploration through research.
“We want to make the best and finest thought accessible to every one, and more particularly to create and sustain an enormous free criticism, without which art, literature, and research alike degenerate into tradition or imposture.
“Then all the other problems which are now so insoluble-destitution, disease, the difficulty of maintaining international peace-the scarcely faced possibility of making life generally and continually beautiful-become … easy …”
In some of the following chapters we propose to deal with a few professions in which it would appear from the experience of England that women by better organization might carve out future for themselves in particular and for their sex in general. In this there need be no question of actual comparison with man, no thought of surpassing, or even of equalling, him. The highest aim of woman’s education should be to fit her to work freely and bravely with man; or if not with him, then alongside him, for the benefit of the human race. The spiritual side of woman’s nature is the complement of the material side of man’s. Hitherto these faculties have often been separate, or even at variance. Who can tell what the combination of the two, working together in perfect harmony, may not achieve? Likewise in the adaptation of certain Western organizations to Eastern requirements the abstract nature of India may find the leaven of the practical nature of England prove beneficial to her people, and the coming age may see in their happy union the dawn of a brighter day. It would raise the position of Indian women in public life, and thus help the great forward movement in India which most cultured men and women there have at heart.
Source: The Position of Women in Indian Life (1912)