Abstract: Sustenance and support of a strategic caste system and hierarchical patriarchal system that prevailed in India, was at an enormous social cost. Women of higher caste had to bear a considerable part of this social burden of the patriarchy within their caste. After the ingress of imperialism through colonisation, Indian society underwent transition. Changing positions of men in the process of modernisation called for realignment in the role of women within the family and society. These new roles for women necessitated the acquisition of certain skills, which was readily provided to them through English education. This also opened up a little space for women, which was not available to them in the system that prevailed till then. Pandita Ramabai Saraswathi was able to appropriate this little space that was opened for women. The term social entrepreneur is used to signify the leadership taken by Ramabai, the courage she has shown to accept the challenge, the mariner in which she organised her whole project, and addressed the social problems confronted by women of her caste. The paper attempts to make a contextualised space-time study of Ramabai as a social entrepreneur.
Keywords: women’s position, caste system, Christian conversion, women’s education, colonial history, hierarchical system, patriarchy, women’s roles, women development, reform measures, Christianity, improvement of women’s condition
Multiple histories that were erased from India’s past through colonial rule and nationalist struggle have to be retraced today in order to revisit the past from a present perspective. Amitav Ghosh’s novels and subaltern history studies have worked in this direction productively. Be it French or Anglo American feminist perspective, they have been Pandita Ramabai Saraswathi: Making of a Social Entrepreneur working from a single dimension of emancipation and equality to women. The true self of the woman has to be traced from a unique standpoint where the innovative ventures of women could be identified. These women perhaps never come into mainstream history as they are not just deviants from but also opposing forces to the mainstream. However, we cannot deny the fact that their innovative ventures are more important than the so far identified ventures of the significant figures in mainstream history. As colonial rule and the nationalist struggle were erasing the multiple histories in the advent of monolithic history to the nation, there were women who were creating history of the nation. Of course as we have been trying to say, their names were not recorded with great applaud. In this paper we would like to discuss Pandita Ramabai as an important figure in the alternative history whose contribution to the history of women development is significant. The paper is planned in four parts, beginning with an introduction as to the significance of choosing Ramabai. The second part is a sketch of her life. The third part deals with her contributions to society and the last part argues that she is a social entrepreneur with a difference.
Nineteenth century India was strategically caste based and patriarchal. The position of women in this period was in conjunction with the hierarchical and patriarchal system in the country. The British saw the degraded and subaltern position of women as a mark of underdevelopment of the society.1 As the British were in India to civilise the Indians, this was an important area that asked for improvement. The British felt the need to uplift the status of women. The strategies used here were entwined with the nationalist struggle itself. As we know well today, British colonisation of India was a part of British imperialism as well. It was necessary for the British to introduce modernity into the Indian space for imperial motives. Modernisation made its way into the highly caste based Indian society that was strongly insulated against transformation. The concept of modernity, nation and the history were put into circulation in India by the colonial powers that also engaged the Indian middle class in the dialogue of progress and development. A host of Indian elite intelligentsia, who occupied a strategic position in society, responded positively to the introduction of these new concepts. The western educated Indian youth were eager to take the nation to the `developed’ status. As a mark of it, they showed interest in the education of women. They firmly believed that education alone would transform the lives of women. The reform measures in this direction initiated by Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Pandit Vidyasagar, Dayananda Saraswathi and others, no doubt, were important. However it may be noted that the reform measures taken up by the reformers fell within the traditional boundaries.2
Indoctrination of the idea of ‘reformed women’ to the emerging middle class, further expedited with the introduction of new schools at the behest of missionaries and conversion to Christianity. The natives believed that English education would open up new opportunities and felt that it was not wrong to use or exploit opportunities that came their way. However, embracing Christianity to achieve material gains was not acceptable.3 Traditional Indian men were afraid that the girls who attended missionary schools might fall victims to the Christian mode of life and get converted.4
People got converted to Christianity for various reasons. Poor people were able to get the basic necessities of life. Moreover, it was also the feeling of liberation, which otherwise was not possible especially for people who were at the lower strata in the caste system. There were conversions from the higher castes, who got converted for reasons other than poverty.
Consequent on this fear, the natives started schools to impart modern education to prevent girls from attending the schools run by Christian Missionaries.5 The English education and training provided to women equipped them with new skills to function effectively in the private domain of housekeeping, looking after the husband and children, and also liaison with the changing society. The newly started education and reformation both by the missionaries and the Indians, more or less centred round educating women from the higher castes.
Modernisation through institutional agency by the British and the nationalists helped women to get education. But they invariably failed to address the fundamental issues responsible for the subordinate position of women in the Indian society. However, this cannot be reckoned as a reason to discount the sincere effort of the reformists to improve the status of women in India.6 In fact, the initial reform agenda that addressed the problems of women served as a reference point for later moves of the nationalist and women’s movements. Nationalist leaders like M. K. Gandhi organised the Indian Nationalist Movement inclusive of women, partly as a continuance of the reformist movement. The rigorous pace of the movement opened up new space for women and allowed them to occupy their due place in the struggle for Indian independence. But at the same time, in their private sphere economic self sufficiency or independence was not achieved. However, within the nationalist struggle it could not be addressed, as the priority of the struggle was to gain political independence. Alongside, a few women leaders adopted unique strategies to improve the condition of women in India. For reasons unknown, such contributions have remained oblivious from the purview of public debates and discussions. It is necessary to trace this history of women’s struggle in the nineteenth century to locate the contribution of women in the development of the nation. Pandita Ramabai was not in the mainstream history of nationalism as Swami Vivekananda or Raja Ram Mohan Roy was. In addition to that she did not hesitate to accept the support of the sympathisers of her cause from Britain and the United States of America. It is important to trace this history to understand the domain of social entrepreneurship7 of women. In this context, Pandita Ramabai and her contribution to the socio economic condition of women in India deserves greater attention.8
Though the conceptual jargons like empowerment and emancipation9 were not in use during the time of Pandita Ramabai, her efforts to change the life of helpless Indian women, undoubtedly carry the overtones of these concepts. The rich experience based on the material conditions of her life fashioned her thinking as a social entrepreneur, and enabled her to bring changes in the life of the marginalised. The paper attempts to discuss the role of Ramabai in addressing the socioeconomic problems that deterred women from achieving economic independence and social advancement.
Pelt pebbles transformed into foundation stones
Pandita Ramabai was born in 1358 in a forest home at Ganga Moola in the Western Ghats on the borders of the Mysore State. Anantha Shastry Dongre, Ramabai’s father, a renowned Sanskrit scholar, trod a path different from other scholars of the time by educating his second wife Laxmibai.10 Anantha Shastry after the death of his first wife Yamuna Bai, married Lakshmi Bai in 1840 on his way back from Nepal to his native place near Pyitaan. At the time of marriage Lakshmi Bai was eight years old.
He strongly protested against the established practice of keeping women away from Sanskrit education. Having in-depth knowledge of the Hindu Scriptures, Anantha Shastry Dongre was critical of irrational rituals practiced in the name of religion. The objections raised by orthodox Pundits against educating women in Sanskrit were logically countered by Anantha Shastry Dongre in a debate organised at Shiroor Mutt in Udupi. Though he won the debate, the people in his native village were very hostile to him. Therefore, he left his native village and moved to Ganga Moola.11 Anantha Shastry had sufficient wealth gifted by the Maharaja of Mysore and the Peshwa kings of Pune. In his new ashram in Ganga Moola, Anantha Shastry Dongre had a relatively better atmosphere to exercise his views. He invited students who were keen on pursuing their studies. Ramabai was taught Sanskrit and religious texts by her mother Laxmi Bai. She was made to experience the need for and value of knowledge, self respect, dignity and hard work and she maintained them throughout her life. Her parents wanted the children to be strictly religious and adhere to their old faith and not to opt for any kind of secular education. But Ramabai in course of time realised that the kind training and education given by her parents and virtues alone wouldn’t offer her a decent life.12 Despite being a scholar and a good human being, her father suffered a lot and Ramabai was a witness to all their suffering. Being an ardent believer in the noble virtues enshrined in the ancient Hindu scriptures, Anantha Shastry invested all his wealth in educating people, offering gifts to Brahmins and learned puraniks. Anantha Shastry firmly believed that the good deeds performed by a Brahmin as prescribed by the sacred texts would ensure a good life to the Brahmin. But his experiences showed that he was too philosophical and far removed from reality.13 As a mute spectator of her parents’ deaths from hunger and illness, Ramabai was traumatised at the age of sixteen.14
Travelling through various provinces of India, Anantha Shastry Dongre’s family had gained valuable insight into the social dynamics of the country. The pilgrimage taught Ramabai to develop the art of understanding the Indian society, Hindu religion, and the craft of making a living. Ramabai lost her parents and her elder sister Krishnabai. Ramabai and her brother Srinivasa were greatly attached to one another. When they lost their parents and also the sister, their bondage grew stronger. Srinivasa was a healthy, strong young man but was impractical like their father. He was a great devotee of Lord Hanuman. He submitted to tapasya to get his lord’s darshan and by the time he realised that it was a futile exercise, he had lost his health and also the little wealth he possessed.15
Though she was a great scholar, Ramabai’s scholarship gained recognition only after she went to Calcutta, one of the important centres of learning and reform. In Calcutta she had the opportunity to interact with scholars and reformers like Keshab Chandur Sen, Kalicharan Bannerji, Nyayarathna Pandita Maheshchandra, J.C. Bose his wife Abala Bose, Sucharu Devi16 who married the Maharaja of Mayur Bhanj, Sunity Devi,17 and a number of other scholars. Ramabai, through her intellect, scholarship, and balanced approach attracted the attention of the elite. She was conferred the title ‘Pandita Saraswathi’ by the scholarly community of Calcutta. Ramabai and Srinivasa visited Sylhet in Assam and from there they went to Dhakka where Srinivasa fell sick and later passed away on the 8th of May 1880. Ramabai was deeply disturbed by his demise. This even made her question the Hindu belief in the existence of God. After her brother’s demise she thought of getting married. Though a number of Brahmin intellectuals proposed to marry her, she did not show interest in them.18 Ultimately she was guided by her progressive ideas and ruled by her intellect, chose to marry Bipin Bihari Das Medhavi, a close friend of her brother and a learned advocate of the Shudra caste. Unfortunately her married life was too short. She lost her husband within two years of her marriage. Ramabai left Calcutta with her infant daughter Manorama and reached Pune. Her sister, Krishnabai’s miserable failure of married life, Ramabai’s own life experiences, and the superficial ritualistic practices of her religion that never addressed the problems of everyday life appears to have played a major role in fashioning her personality.
Treading an untrodden path
The position of widows was dreadful in India. They were considered inauspicious and were treated as sinners. The condition of the high caste widows was worse than the rest of them. Ramabai, being an upper caste widow, wouldn’t fall a prey to the oppressive practices of her religion. She arrived in Pune on 3O’h April 1882 and the intellectual progressive Maharashtrian Brahmins were delighted to receive her. When Ramabai landed in Pune, she had many options before her. The choice even included embracing the reformist group. But she abstained from that choice. Her liberal mind was able to gauge the problems involved in opting for the patriarchal reformist groups. She was very rational and pragmatic in addressing the issues of women empowerment through her reformative activities and the strategies involved in them. As a consequence, she lost the good will and respect of the elite Brahmins and received criticisms for being progressive. Ramabai, without reacting much to the criticisms, continued her mission. She founded Arya Mahila Samaj on the 6th of January 1882 in Pune, to raise the consciousness of women, to change their mental and material conditions of life. Kesari, the newspaper run by Bala Gangadhar Tilak, came down heavily on Ramabai for her audacity to intervene in the lifestyle of men, under the pretext of eradicating the evil practices affecting the life of women. She wanted to address the issues concerning women more seriously, which many of the social reformers of her period could not pursue.
As a widow, Ramabai knew and could understand the status of widows well and decided to work for their cause. Ramabai had realised the value of modern education. She appeared before the Hunter Commission on Education in September 1882 and sought better facilities for women’s education.19 She strongly argued for the need for general as well as medical education for women. She insisted on the appointment of female teachers and doctors to educate and treat girls and she pointed out that females would find it very difficult to explain their problems to male teachers or doctors. But the traditional, patriarchal, chauvinistic Indian men feared the prospect of English education for women, for the reason that it would damage the social fabric of India.
Having engaged in a social dialogue with the women through Arya Mahila Samaj, Ramabai could take a closer look at the life of widows. She was shrewd enough to gauge the impact of the reform process carried out by the elite male in Maharashtra towards improving the condition of women. She found such reforms operating as an effective agency but lacking the strength and vigour to be a transformative agency.20 Knowing the calibre and vigour that would be required to bring in a structural change in the already existing patriarchal system, Ramabai distanced herself from it and explored alternative reformist measures that would grant women the agency to change the structures that exploited them or suppressed them. Her contact with the Christian missionary has to be understood in this context. Though she knew the depth of Hindu traditions and practices she was not blindly trapped in it. Series of discussions, letters and correspondence of Ramabai, make it clear that her decision to go in the Christian way had a definite purpose. Initially, she had reservations about Christianity as a religion. Her decision to get converted to Christianity came only after she got convincing answers to her questions by one of the converted Chitpavan Brahmin (Neelakanta Shastry) Fr. Nehemia Gore21
In the traditional Indian society, the identity of an individual was ascribed. Modern education provided a new space for the Indians. In the new space, the identity and position had to be acquired or attained through various skills and qualities. Modern education enabled people to move up the social ladder. Pandita Ramabai, with her life experiences, realised the power of modern English education. For Ramabai, it was the new space that could be used as a launching pad for women’s emancipation. On her visit to Wantage sisters in Poona, she discussed her plan to go to England with the missionaries. Once she decided to go to England for further studies, she realised the need for resources to support her. She wrote her first book titled Stri Dharma Neethi and raised sufficient funds to go to England for her studies. Her stay in Cheltenham College helped her to understand the education system in England and the works of Christian missionaries. She was both a student and a teacher. She gave lessons in Sanskrit at Cheltenham College. She taught Marathi at Wantage to the sisters who would be sent to India. She had hard times to face in England, especially when she lost her friend, Anandibai Bhagath, who accompanied her to England.
Ramabai had clear-cut ideas and plans of her own and did not yield to the plans prepared by the missionaries. She was discouraged from going to the United States of America to attend the Graduatiort ceremony of her cousin Anandi Bai Joshi. She was even threatened of withdrawal of support if she pursued her plans of visiting the USA. But she was very firm in her decision to visit the USA. She honoured the invitation of Dr. Rachel Badley, the Dean of Medical College of Pennsylvania, to attend the graduation of Anandi Bai Joshi. In America Ramabai was impressed by the liberal atmosphere, and the freedom that the women enjoyed there. She was fascinated by the education opportunities for girls. Immediately she thought of having such facilities back home in India for girls. She says,
I am deeply impressed by and interested in the works of western women, who seem to have one common aim, namely, the good of their fellow beings. It is my dream some day to tell my country women, in their own language, this wonderful story, in the hope that the recital may awaken in their hearts a desire to do likewise.22
Her idea of education for girls in India symbolically expressed `training of hand with that of the head.’23 She knew the importance of proper exposure in the form of good education from the early stage of life for girls. This was the main reason of her training in basic education and kindergarten education in America. She translated a good number of kindergarten school books into Marathi. Preparation of study materials for Indian students required resources and then she decided to write a book titled High Caste Hindu Woman to generate the necessary resources.
Ramabai travelled around the USA and appealed to people to contribute to her work to uplift women in India. Ramabai was able to get good support from the U.S citizens for her cause. She was very critical of religious codes that denied freedom for women to express their views, and get education of their choice. She asserted to get women the freedom of choice and expression by creating democratic space that provided women the opportunity to participate in public life. However, these major contributions of Ramabai, escaped public debate and consequently a due place in the making of modern India.
Some of the leaders from the nationalist school of thought were unhappy because Ramabai spoke about the poor and inhuman condition of women in India. It was alleged that she painted a very ugly picture of India.24 Swami Vivekananda is said to have been very unhappy about Ramabai’s speeches, which stated the poor position of women in India. But it cannot be ignored that Ramabai was stating the ground realities that affected the life of women in India. The practice of child marriage, self-immolation of widows, restricting women to household chores, dowry deaths, social seclusion of widows, was all a reality.25
She did not believe in living in the glorious past of India where the position of women was believed to have been better. Ramabai believed in the ‘India of Women’ that she saw and experienced during her pilgrimage. This ‘India of Women’ was different from the ‘India of male reformers’ and also the ‘Glorious India’ that was said to have been in existence before the arrival of the Muslim invaders. Before bringing any reform there was a need to deconstruct the mythical India, which was the Construct of the patriarchal male. This project had to be taken up by Ramabai, because she did not have even an iota of doubt that neither Indian male reformers nor the colonial empire was interested in this. The reformist agenda of the patriarchal Indian men suffered from inherent defects to bring in any structural changes. The main project of the colonial power was to tune the socioeconomic system of India to the imperial powers at the global level. Any transformation or reformation was only incidental to their main project. This is obvious in the position taken by the British on certain critical occasions. The British feared to go against the sentiments of the majority people in India.26 This was evident in the judgement delivered in Rukhmabai and Phulmani cases.27
On her return to India from England, Ramabai swung into action. ‘Sharada Sadan,’ the home for high caste widows and orphan women was opened in a rented building in Bombay on 11th March 1889. The institution was open to boarders and day scholars. The child widow Godubai, the first inmate of the Sadan, grew up and married Bharatha Rathna Maharshi Dr. Dhondo Keshava Karve, the great social reformer and champion of the cause of regeneration of widows. Inmates of the school were taught in English, Gujarati, Marathi and Sanskrit. Pandita Ramabai’s efforts to improve the condition of Indian women were well appreciated by the local people. The American supporters of the project had already approved Rao Bahadur, Mahadeva Govinda Ranade, Dr. Sir Ramakrishna Gopal Bhandarkar, Bahadur Gopal Hari Deshmukh as trustees and advisors on the board.28 It was assured that the religious freedom of all those who were admitted to Sharada Sadan would not be infringed or affected (or freedom of religion would not be compromised for any facilities provided to them). More and more girls found in Sharada Sadan, a ray of hope because it offered them a life of freedom and choices. It renewed the faith of those helpless women for a better and meaningful life.29 Ramabai was not only adored but also taken as a role model by the inmates of Sharada Sadan. They were deeply moved by her sympathetic attitude and the democratic space provided for them. Some of the girls who used to attend Ramabai’s Bible Prayer in the evening were impressed and got converted to Christianity.
In the light of mounting criticisms to the works of the institution and the increasing economic burden, Ramabai thought it better to shift Sharada Sadan to Pune in November 1890. The news of conversion of girls in Sharada Sadan spread in the town and Ramabai’s opponents came down heavily on her. Some of the trustees of Sharada Sadan resigned from the board. But Ramabai did not deter from her mission and went ahead with her plans. With the increase in opposition to her missionary work, she began to grow closer to Christianity. Her search for solace in Jesus was further reinforced by her reading of Rev. Haslam’s From Death unto Life. Meanwhile people like Balagangadhar Tilak criticised her severely for disrupting Hindu religion by allowing conversion of the helpless.
Ramabai visited Brindavan, Delhi and Agra to study the condition of widows. To her surprise the condition of women was much worse than what she thought. In the name of religion, customs and tradition widows were exploited. Helpless women had no other option but to suffer silently. They were ready to do anything to escape the suffering. As Ramabai’s arrival brought new hope in life, it was natural for those women to develop a liking for her. With the increase in the number of girls embracing Christianity, the Hindu organisations developed a serious dislike for her. Efforts were made to address some of the problems that Hindu women confronted. As a result Home and Widow Remarriage Association was started on 31st December 1893.
From Pune Ramabai shifted her establishment to a nearby place called Khedgaon in 1897. She could get sufficient land in which she built her institutions and also provided place for other productive activities. Ramabai’s work was initially aimed at improving the conditions of upper caste Hindu widows. The stiff opposition to conversion, made her extend her activities. She indoctrinated the principle of service in her life. Thousands of people had turned helpless and homeless due to the famine in Central provinces in 1896. Ramabai toured the famine hit places and started rescuing women from starvation and destitution. Rescued women were brought to Khedgaon in Pune. Mukti Sadan (Home for Salvation) was opened to provide asylum to them. Sexual abuse and exploitation of women gained momentum with the developing urbanisation. The helpless and homeless women who were pushed into the flesh trade were rescued and Kripa Sadan provided shelter to them. Perhaps this kind of rescue mission was the first of its kind in the region. Ramabai’s vision and inexhaustible energy to serve the cause of women brought a ray of hope in the life of helpless women in India. In the newfound home, women were given education and training to lead an independent life of dignity and self respect. Efforts to empower women through income generating activities like teaching, nursing, tailoring embroidery, laundering, weaving of clothes and carpets, gardening and operating the printing press were taken up.
Surging power of Creative Destruction
Sustenance and support of a strategic caste system and hierarchical patriarchal system that prevailed in India, was at enormous social cost. Women of higher caste had to bear a considerable part of this social burden of the patriarchy within their caste. After the ingress of imperialism through colonisation, Indian society underwent transition. Though the transition to modernity opened up new avenues for middle class women by enabling them to opt for English education and selective participation in the public sphere, there was hardly any escape from the broader patriarchal and caste dominated social design. An exploration into the social history of 19th century India unfolds the intricate designs within the nation’s social fabric. The process of modernisation opened new opportunities to the educated Indian men especially drawn from the dominant castes. These opportunities were in the form of ascribed status created at the bottom of the pyramids of power structure. Changing positions of men in the process of modernisation called for realignment in the role of women within the family and society.30 These new roles for women necessitated the acquisition of certain skills, which was readily provided to them through English education. This also opened up a little space for women, which was not available to them in the system that prevailed till then. Ramabai was able to appropriate this little space that was opened for women. She had an in depth knowledge of the Hindu religion, the gap between the practice and its philosophy, as reflected by the condition of women in the Indian society.
The term social entrepreneur is of recent origin but the spirit of social enterprise is not new.31 It is not easy to frame a definition that would encompass the varied entrepreneurial ventures undertaken to achieve a social goal. It has to be understood as a particular concept constructed within a particular context. Even though the concept of social entrepreneur is mostly in circulation in the capitalist economy,32 it embodies features that are quite distinct from the reformers and business entrepreneurs. Ramabai stands apart from many of her contemporaries, in a number of ways. This is the reason why, we choose to consider her a social entrepreneur of the period in which she lived. Accordingly, the term social entrepreneur is used to signify the leadership taken by Ramabai, the courage she has shown to accept the challenge, the manner in which she organised her whole project, assumed to address the social problems confronted by women of her caste. Therefore, it was thought necessary to contextualise the situation within which Ramabai was driven towards the achievement of a social goal. It is apparent from the above explanation that she traversed a different terrain altogether in enabling women to open a window to the modern world.
During Ramabai’s time the changes in the life of women would have hardly been brought by the state without the active participation of natives like Ramabai. The position that Rarnabai took needed lot of strategic thinking, courage, vision, boldness and belief in oneself. Ramabai appealed to the former Governor of Bombay presidency, Sir Bartle Frere and sought his support to set up a destitute home for the women in India.33 Undoubtedly she was able to think much ahead of her time. The following explorations into the pioneering work that she did stands testimony to the claim that she was one of the first social entrepreneurs of India.
Pandita Ramabai rose to the position of an extraordinary personality, through her protest against the mode of practised Hinduism which reduced the philosophy of life to mere rituals. She failed to endorse the scholastic handouts by Pundits and Puraniks, which could not live up to her own scrutiny and scholarship. Her enormous courage sprang from her self confidence which matured in the light of her own suffering and the experience she had in her life. Her first major virtue is her unquestionable faith in God, which people felt was Hindu in the pre-conversion period and Jesus in the post conversion period. The second great virtue is her experimental outlook to test the knowledge acquired in the light of her own life experiences. Unlike many scholars and nationalist leaders, she never waited for an auspicious day for improving the condition of women in India. It was a now or never decision. As discussed in the earlier sections, she was down to earth in her approach; she never took recourse to history and consoled herself about the position of women in the Indian society. She reconciled with realities and sought action. When she decided to do something to improve the condition of women, she started the Arya Mahila Samaj. Like the Weberian Protestant Ethic and Spirit of Capitalism, she chose her own course through a creative and courageous path, destroying the barriers and chains that stopped women from marching ahead. It is a kind of creative destruction that we find throughout her life’s journey.
From the writings and life experiences of Ramabai, one can certainly state that she gave a more practical, down to earth explanation regarding the condition of Indian women. One can infer that the insatiable hunger for knowledge and the commitment to the cause of improving the living conditions of high caste Hindu women was the driving force behind Ramabai’s deeds. She had her foot strongly grounded in the Indian tradition, with her mind responding to the practical requirements of the poor and the needy. By all counts she was never looking back or being buried in the glorious (spiritual Vedic) past which most of the Indian men dwelt in. The Orientalist view of India as spiritual as against the rational and modern West doesn’t seem to apply to Ramabai’s dealing with Indian women. She seems to be very rational. She visibly broke this binary sensation and worked for the development of women from the humanist standpoint. This approach of Ramabai defeats the West’s view of treating India as spiritual and at the same time it defeats the idea that India is not rational and scientific in its approach. She felt that there was a need for (a) self reliance for women (b) education for women and (c) more women teachers to educate women.
Her experiences in life built courage and confidence to live up to her ideas, despite all odds like losing her near ones. Travelling in the UK and the USA and exposure to modern type of education, institutional functioning, democratic and liberal atmosphere in such circumstances, inculcated the spirit of enterprise in Ramabai. Throughout her life, Ramabai explored public space more than the private space. Perhaps this was instrumental in exploring new ideas to introduce the ‘high caste hindu women’ to this space. In fact, it was only the high caste Hindu women, who were deprived of their opportunity to explore public space in the name of ‘purity’, ‘chastity’ honour’ and ‘dignity’. Empowerment in the real sense of the term is exposure to a larger public domain with confidence. It is apparent from the life and works of Ramabai that what we define as empowerment in contemporary situation was practiced by her much earlier. She had her action plan and she gathered sufficient resources required to transform her plans into concrete actions or projects. It is reflected in her parting words to her admirers in the USA:
Christ came to give different gifts to different people. Some he made prophets, some he made preachers and some he made teachers. Since I have become a Christian I have thought he has given me the gift of being a sweeper. I want to sweep away some of the old difficulties that be before the missionaries in their efforts to reach our Hindu widows.34
One of the significant contributions of Pandita Ramabai was that she was instrumental in making her ardent critics also to think of improving the condition of women in India. People did disagree with the means she chose to improve the condition of women. But there is hardly any disagreement about the ends she wanted to achieve. Ramabai addressed a huge gathering of the social council in Bombay on 29th December 1889. She appealed to the men gathered there not to force women to shave their heads on the death of their husbands. She insisted that men, who complain of the British Government robbing their freedom of speech, should not deny the same to womenfolk in their families. She moved a resolution in a meeting demanding freedom for widows to lead a decent and dignified life according to their wish after the death of their husband. A number of prominent Congress members were present at the meeting.
The questions raised by Ramabai were taken up seriously by the Indian political leaders. Dr. Bhandarkar, who was the then Vice Chancellor of Bombay University and had just resigned from the trusteeship of Sharada Sadan Advisory Board, drew attention of the INC at its 5th session of Indian National Conference in 1889.35
The misery of our widows has been the subject of frequent remark. I will not detain you long with full exposition of it. I will only make a general observation that that society which, allows men to marry number of times even up to the age of sixty, while it sternly forbids even girls of seven or eight to have another husband after one is dead; which gives liberty to a man of fifty or sixty to marry a girl of eleven or twelve, which has no word of condemnation for man who marries another wife within fifteen days of the death of first, is a society which sets very little value upon the life of the female human being and places women on the same level as cattle, and is thus in an unsound condition, disqualifying it for a successful competition with societies with a more healthy constitution. Often times the marriage of a girl under certain circumstances proves her death warrant.36
Mr. Justice Ranade also testified against the inhuman treatment meted out to the widows in India, especially the upper caste widows. Maharashtra was a place of rapid industrialisation and also the home of many right wing Hindu religious activities. Ramabai chose to be a Christian to improve the condition of women. It is a paradox that the daughter of a Hindu scholar like Anantha Shastry Dongre went on to become the most revolutionary reformist, by getting converted into the Christian faith to improve the status of the Hindu women in India. It is very disturbing to note that the contributions of this social entrepreneur have been ignored by both the Christian missionaries and other social groups. Christian missionaries colour her achievements with religious reverence; other social groups are struck with Ramabai’s conversion as major issue, ignoring the much brighter side of her entrepreneurial venture in the horizon of women empowerment. Undoubtedly she stands out as the most important social entrepreneur of the 19th century, whose contribution in this regard needs to be revisited in the light of recent debates on development, empowerment, gender and social entrepreneurship.
194 Udaya Kumar Irvathur & Rajalakshmi N.
1 Kumkum Sanghari and Sudesh Vaid (Ed) Re Casting Women: Essays in Colonial History. Kali For Women New Delhi, 1999. Also see Geraldine Forbes Women. in Modern India: The New Cambridge History of India . New York : Cambridge University Press 2000 pp 28-31
1 Kumkum Sanghari and Sudesh Vaid (Ed) Re Casting Women: Essays in Colonial History. Kali For Women New Delhi, 1999. Also see Geraldine Forbes Women in Modern India: The New Cambridge History of India .New York : Cambridge University Press 2000 pp 28-31
2 Berberoughe, Bech. Class, State and Development in India. New Delhi: Sage Publications 1992, also see Anupam Sen. Sate, Industrialisation, and Class Formation in India: A Neo-Marxist Perspective on Colonialism, Underdevelopment and Development London :Routledge 1982
3 There was a visible division between the benefits of the colonial rule and the tradition. The benefits seemed to be acceptable because they were very essential to the transformation of the society. But at the same time the people were not ready to accept new forms of living as their traditional grounds were strong and also were necessary to’ fight for the independence of the nation. Thus the benefits that followed the colonial rule were accepted but the move away from tradition was not tolerated.
4 People got converted to Christianity for various reasons. Poor people were able to get the basic necessities of life. Moreover, it was also the feeling of liberation, which otherwise was not possible especially for people who were at the lower strata in the caste system. There were conversions from the higher castes, who got converted for reasons other than poverty.
5 Geraldine Forbes, Women in Modern India: The New Cambridge History of India. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000.pp 41-46
6 ibid., p 31.
7 A Social Entrepreneur is a person who recognises a social problem and uses entrepreneurial principles to organise, create and manage a venture/project to address the social problem and bring in a social change.
8 Padma Anagol, The Emergence of Feminism in India .1850-1920 England: Ash gate, 2005. pp 19-55.
9 Udaya Kumar M.A. Measuring Empowerment of Women in Socioeconomic Development in “Development and Empowerment Rural Women in India” Ed. Jaya Arunachalam and U. Kalpagum, Jaipur:Rawath Pulications, 2006. pp 145-167.
10 Anantha Shastry after the death of his first wife Yamuna Bai, married Lakshmi Bai in 1840 on his way back from Nepal to his native place near Pyitaan. At the time of marriage Lakshmi Bai was eight years old.
11 The birthplace of Rama Bai in Ganga Moola is now on Mangalore – Kudremkuh highway, about 75 KM from Mangalore in Karnataka in the southern part of India.
12 Meera Kosambi Ed. Pandita Ramabai in Her Own Words. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2000. p 297.
13 The four canonical principles of the Hindu way of life are to be pursued in a synchronised way, persuasion of mere moksha without corresponding it to dharma, artha and kama is disastrous. For details see Antony J Parel Gandhi’s Quest for Philosophy and Quest for Harmony. New Delhi: Cambridge University Press, 2006. pp vii-xi
14 Anantha Shastry died at the age of 78 in the year 1874 near Tirupathy in Andhra Pradesh and his wife Lakshmi Bai died near Raichur in Karnataka at the age of 47. In her biographical description, which was printed in Subodh Patrika, Ramabai writes that she intended to publish a book giving a detailed description of her experiences and travels throughout India. Perhaps it did not get published. See Padmini Sen Gupta, Pandita Rama Bai Sarswathi: Her Life and Work. New Delhi: Asia Publishing House, 1970. p 56.
196 Udaya KUrnar irvathur & Rafaiakslimi N. K
15 Rama Bai makes a special mention of this incident on a number of occasions where her brother Srinivasa found the various methods adopted by the priests in holy places to cheat people. Of course, Srinivasa also firmly believed that if one performed penance (tapasya) God will appear before him. While in Dwaraka he performed tapasya with total dedication putting his health and little wealth to test, and found that it was not true.
16 She was a revered figure in. Calcutta and a leader of the Women’s movement.
17 One of the intellectuals, and who married the Maharaja of Cooch Behar
18 Shripad Babaji Thakur, a Bombay based barrister and ICS officer, holding a high position in the then government was one of them who was interested in marrying Rama Bai. He came to meet Ramabai when she was in Sylhet. Padmini Sen Gupta, Pandita Rama Bai Saraswathi: He Life and Work. New Delhi: Asia Publishing House, 1970. p 72.
19 Padmini. Sen Gupta, Pandita Rama Bai Saraswathi: Her Life and Work, Asia Publishing House New Delhi 1970 pp 94-95. Also see Meera Kosambi Ed. Pandita Rama Bai in Her Own Words. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2000. p 8.
20 Amartya, Sen. Development as Freedom. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2000. pp189-204
21 Pandit Nilakantha Shastry, who stayed in Banaras got converted to Christianity after a lot of self introspection. He was baptised on 14th March 1848 and took the name Nehemiah. Later he joined the Society of St. John the Evangelist (S.S.J.E.) mission in Bombay, see Padmini Sen Gupta, Pandita Rama Bai Sarswathi: Her Life and Work. New Delhi :Asia Publishing House, 1970. pp 112-116.
22 Pandita Rama Bai The Widows Friend, An Australian Edition of High Caste Hindu Women by Pandita Rain’ a Bai with a sequel by her daughter Manorama Bai 2nd Edition (George Robertson & Co. Proprietary Limited , Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane 1903) as quoted in Padmini Sen Gupta, Pandita Rama Bai Sarswathi: Her Life and Work. New Delhi: Asia Publishing House, 1970. pp 157.
23 Ibid, p 157.
24 Swami Vivekananda visited the USA and delivered lectures which gave a splendid picture of India, but the picture of Indian women that Rama Bai gave was different. It is said that Vivekananda was very unhappy about it. Moreover, Rabindra Nath Tagore writes about occasions were men shouted down Rama Bai without allowing her to express her views after her return to India from the US. See Padmini Sen Gupta, Pandita Rama Bai Sarswathi: Her Life and Work, New Delhi: Asia Publishing House, 1970. pp 163 and 205-206. It is stated that leaders like B.G. Tilak were critical of Rama Bai for not conforming to the religious tradition to which she was born. The criticism was much severe for her conversion to Christianity and for motivating other Hindu Women for conversion. For a detailed study see, Padma Anagol, The Emergence of Feminism in India 185-1920 England: Ashgate Publishing House, 200. pp 35-36, Meera Kosambi Ed. Pandita Rama Bai in Her Own Words New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2000. Uma Chakravarthy Rewriting History: Pandita Rama Bai, Her Life and Times New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998. Padmini Sen Gupta, Pandita Rama Bai Sarswathi: Her Life and Work. New Delhi :Asia Publishing House, 1970.
25 Account of the Life of Hindu Women: Notes of Conversations with Rama Bai. Cheltenham College Magazine 1885 pp 138-146. Also see Padmini Sen Gupta, Pandita Rama Bai Sarswathi: Her Life and Work, New Delhi :Asia Publishing House 1970
26 Meera Kosambi, ‘Women’s Emancipation and Equality: Pandita Ramabai’s contribution to Women’s Cause’ Economic and Political Weekly October 1988 WS, pp 38-49.
27 Rukhmabai, married Dadaji Bhikaji at the age of eleven, stayed with her father and continued her studies. Dadaji’s demand for Rukhmabai’s stay with him was refused by her. The court first agreed to her decision to stay with the father and continue her studies. When Dadaji appealed to the court, it ordered Rukhmabai either to go her husband’s house or to jail. The decision was welcomed by traditionalists like B.G. Tilak. But Pandita Ramabai was furious about this judgment. Queen Victoria issued a royal decree dissolving the marriage and saved Rukhmabai from the sentence. Rukhmabai studied medicine in England and on her return to India headed the Hindu Hospital Poona. See Letters and Correspondence of Pandita Ramabai (Ed.) A.B. Shah Maharashtra State Board of Literature and Culture Bombay 1977 pp175-78. Also see, Tanika Sarkar “Rhetoric Age of Consent, Resisting Colonial Reason and Death of a Child Wife” Economic and Political Weekly Vol. WS 28 No. 36 1993, Geraldine Forbes Women in Modern India: The New Cambridge History of India New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000. pp 69-70. Phulmani was a child wife who died of sexual injuries in 1891. Her death lead to the passage of the second Consent Bill (the first one in 1860), which raised the age of consent from the existing ten to twelve years. In this case too B.G.Tilak and other traditionalists opposed the bill and termed it as interference in the life of Hindus and Hindu Traditions. For detailed information see, Taisha Abraham (Ed) Women and Politics of Violence New Delhi: Hari Anand Publications Pvt. Ltd, 2002, and also Catharine A. MacKinnon, ‘Sex equality under the Constitution of India: Problems, prospects, and personal.’ International Journal of Constitutional La w.2006; Vol.4: No 2, -202 and Padma Anagol, The Emergence of Feminism in India 185-1920 England: Ashgate Publishing House, 2005. pp 270-271.
198 Ltdaya .Kumar Iruathur Rajalakshmi N.K
28 It is stated that apart from the above, Krishnaaji Laxman Noolakara, Kasheenatha Thryambaka Telanga, and Rao were made members of the advisory board.
29 Padma Anagol in her work gives some interesting details about the number of girls who opted for the life that Rama Bai offered to the girls. At the end of 1900, Pandita Rama Bai had 2000 pupils in four of her institutions and with the exception of a few, were all converts to Christianity. She also spread her work outside Maharashtra after 1900 by opening branches in Doddaballapur and Gulbarga, now in Karnataka. In any one year in the 1890s Sounder Powar’s school had 200 female converts. Franscina Sorbaji likewise noted with pride that over 400 students had completed their education in the Victoria High School. Shewanthi Bai Nikambe had 120 girls in the Princess High School, all of whom were high caste Hindu girls. Padma Anagol, The Emergence of Feminism in India 1850-1920. England :Ashgate Publishing House 2005, p 21.
30 See Shankar Ghosh Political Ideas and Movements in India. New Delhi: Allied Publishers, 1975. pp 21-24.
31 Gregory Dees J. The Meaning of Social Entrepreneurship. Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship at Duke University Fuqua School of Business USA 2001; Also see, Charles Leadbeater The Rise of Social Entrepreneur Demos United Kingdom ,1997. pp 53-66.
32 See Jacques Defourny and Jose L Monzon Campos Ed. The Third Sector: Cooperative Mutual and Non-Profit Organisations. Ciriec Belgium 1992.
33 Meera Kosambi Ed. Pandita Rama Bai in Her Own Words. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2000. p 9.
34 Padmini Sen Gupta, Pandita Rama Bai Saraswati: Her Life and Work. New Delhi :Asia Publishing House, 1970. p 179.
35 Padmini Sen Gupta, p 230.
36 Pandita Rama Bai Saraswati; Pioneer in the Movement for Education of the Child Widow of India, Chairman Executive Committee-American Rama Bai Association ( Flemming H Revell Company London and Edinburgh New York Chicago 1922pp 48-49, as quoted in Padmini Sen Gupta Pandita Rama Bai Sarswati: Her Life and Work. New Delhi :Asia Publishing House, 1970. pp 230.
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