India has the world’s largest number of professionally qualified women. It has more female doctors, surgeons, scientists and professors than the United Statesi. This is a remarkable accomplishment for Indian women. Despite all of this, for thousands of years Indian women have been treated unfairly and unequally. It has taken years for women to gainrespectin society; it did not come over night. Not one single event has emancipated women, instead it has been a series of events which has led Indian women to their liberation. Many riots, protests and powerfulleadershiphave taken place in order to overcome this rigorous struggle.
Due to the leadership of one man India changed from being controlled by the British Commonwealth to becoming and Independent Nation. This leader was Mahatma Gandhi. In is efforts to develop an independent country he also paved the path for Indian women to rise and speak against the social norms, which excluded them in society. During the time of Gandhi’s leadership he observed many instances in which women were suffering. For instance, the average life p of an Indian was 27 years as both babies and pregnant women ran a high risk of dying young.
Child marriages were very common, widows were in high numbers, and only 2% of the women had anyeducation. In addition, specifically in North India the women practiced the purda (veil) system, in which they had to keep their faces covered if they were to go outside. Gandhi recognized and attempted to change the terrible suffering of Indian women and therefore, he initiated women to step out of their homes and participate in the protests by his use of Satyagrahaphilosophy, which resulted in several women leading their own movements.
The harmful treatment toward Indian women was profoundly due to societal and religious sacraments. Many societal and religious customs subordinated women and made them inferior to man. A hundred years ago it was common for child marriages to occur, and for it to be completely legal. Child marriages were considered important in Indian society especially in the Hindu religion, since it was crucial to be married to someone of the same caste and therefore should be arranged at a young age. However, this invariably led to a high number of child widows since the men the young girls were marrying were much older.
Gandhi stated ” not only consider it uncivilised but a crime against God to call the union of children a married state because it undermines morals and induces physical degeneration” ii. He recognized that child marriages were immoral and also contributed to the high number of child widows. Gandhi believed that if young girls were not married at such young ages then the number of child widows would decrease. Although, Gandhi was married at a young age of 13 he ” vehemently” condemned child marriages and argued that ancient Hindu scriptural texts laying down ” barbaric” and ” degrading” rules regarding women should be revisediii.
Gandhi proposed the idea that child marriages should not occur and that there should be a minimum age at which a girl can be married. This proposal by Gandhi initiated women to take action on this issue. At the first session of the Women’s Conference they adopted a resolution urging the government to make marriages under 16 a penal offence. Although, this did take time to enforce eventually in 1929 the Sarda Act took place fixing the age limit to 15 iv. This was the first legislative enactment the women had won, and a substantial part of this was due to Gandhi’s realization that women were equals.
Gandhi strongly believed that women and men were of equal sex and women should not be treated any differently. Gandhi stated, ” Woman is the companion of man, gifted with equal mental capacities. She has the right to participate in very minutest detail in the activities of man and she has an equal right of freedom and liberty with him” v. Gandhi had a strong sense of respect for women in society and believed they needed to be treated equally. Another societal and religious pressure that was considered essential for Indian women to practice was the purdah (veil) system.
Purdah was more of a tradition to areas of Islamic rule. Women were to keep all parts of their body covered in public, except their eyes. Gandhi witnessed the effects purdah had on women, and believed that chasity came from within and that it could not be protected by the purdah. Gandhi stated, ” It must grow from within, and to be worth anything it must be capable of withstanding every unsought temptation” vi. The purdah system restricted women to the household and even such tasks as shopping were theresponsibilityof the men.
Gandhi encouraged a campaign to be sought out which would educate both the men and women, ” If the campaign is well organized, and continued with zeal, the purdah should become a thing of the past” vii. Although the purdah system has not been entirely eliminated it has significantly decreased among women in South Asia today. However, Gandhi found that even those who were educated did not have the courage to reject the purdah customviii. The suggestion by Gandhi to educate young women was made early in the nineteenth century to eliminate practices that subordinated women.
The education of women was poor at the time of Gandhi, and this was because of their low status in society. As the Nationlist movement developed a high magnitude base in the 1930’s attention began to be directed toward the education of the crowd. In 1973, Gandhi organized a conference which came to be known as the Wardha scheme, a system of basic education for India. Girls basic education was to concentrate on domestic courses. However, Gandhi emphasized that men’s and women’s education should differ.
This idea is one that does not necessarily contribute toequality. Gandhi states, ” We shall accept equality of rights for women, but I think their education should differ from men’s as their nature and function do” ix. Gandhi did want women to achieve equality, however; he still believed that women had a different role. The fact that there are different roles due to gender does not necessarily support women’s liberation. This contradiction in Gandhi’s work is due to his belief that, ” It is women’s right to rule the house. Man is master outside of it” x.
Gandhi certainly believed that the education for women was extremely important, however; he did not believe that the methods for education should be identical in both cases xi. Once women became educated according to Gandhi they would no longer put up with ” glaring inequalities to which they are subjected” xii. Gandhi emphasized the importance of education and after independence came a constitutional guarantee to establish free and compulsory education for all children xiii. Gandhi’s insightful observations on Indian women have initiated substantial changes to their lifestyle and status in society due to his encouragement of education.
To get women out of their homes and participate in the freedom for Independence Gandhi introduced his philosophy of Satyagraha. Gandhi’s philosophy of Satyagraha is one that appealed to women and contributed to their emancipation. In South Africa Gandhi developed the technique of Satyagraha or ” soul force” which proved effective in resisting political control that the British demonstrated. Truth (Satya) implies love, and firmness (Agraha) engenders and therefore serve’s as a synonym for force. Gandhi adopted what he learned in South Africa and demonstrated his political genius for the Independence struggle of India.
Under his guidance a mass movement was created and eventually through his patience and his use of Satyagraha, Independence was declared in 1949. Gandhi seemed to direct an appeal specifically to women, telling them he had great faith in their capacity to sacrifice and endure suffering. This was a concept that women could easily comprehend since they have socialized to endure and sacrifice. Mahatma Gandhi speaks of this and explains why women are more able to self-sacrifice, ” Woman is the incarnation of Ahimsa. Ahimsa means infinite love which again means infinite capacity in the largest measure.
She shows it as she carries the infant and feeds it during nine months and derives joy in the suffering involved. What can beat the sufferings caused by the pangs of labour? But she forgets them in the joy of creation. Who, again, suffers daily so that her babe may wax from today? Let her transfer that love the whole humanity, let her forget she ever was or can be object of man’s lust. And she will occupy her proud position by the side of man as his mother, maker and silent leader. It is given to her to teach the art of peace to the warring world, thirsting for that nectar.
She can become the leader of Satyagraha which does not require the learning that books give but does require the stout heart that comes from suffering and faith” xiv. As one can see it was Gandhi’s belief in women’s strength that initiated them to promote Satyagraha and become a part of the movement. Millions of women both educated and illiterate, housewives, widows, students and the elderly participated in India’s freedom movement because of Gandhi’s influence. Gandhi set a unique example amongst Indian leaders by including women among the ” masses” in a more natural way.
Women participated in mass movements led by him in a natural course xv. The women of India used their new tool of passive resistance to fight for freedom and independence. During the march to Dandi in 1930, to break the salt law, women from all levels and walks of life came out into the ” battle arena”. As the men were put behind bars, the women stepped out providing mature considered leadership, inititative, and resourcefulness, beyond all expectations xvi. At this time women were risking their lives in order to gain freedom. Women were held in jail, some of them pregnant and thus many died because of the lack offood.
They did this all in the hope that one day India would be a free country, with little conception that these actions would help to free the women of India. Gandhi put women on a higher spiritual pedestal and expected them to be a real ‘divine power’. ” Not only did he believe that women was man’s equal, rather, he took her to be superior in her capacity to suffer and sacrifice” xvii. Gandhi’s belief that women were more superior because they could endure greater amounts of suffering encouraged women to step forward and participate in such movements.
There is not doubt that the most awakening event for Indian women was the battle for India’s political freedom by the use of the non-violent action that Gandhi encouraged. During Gandhi’s political movements he attempted to boycott all British made goods and instead assert the need for Indians to make their own goods. Mahatma Gandhi was indeed a pragmatic thinker and he realized that women were the fifty percent of human resources and it was essential to use them in the struggle for independence. ” The chastity of women can be protected with the help of the spinning wheel.
There is another occupation in which millions of women can engage themselves remaining at home. India must learn to be self-reliant” xviii. He believed that women were overwhelmingly concerned with the need for foreign cloth, and instead believed that women should start spinning the wheel in order to make their own cloth. This was an idea that started off to be for the benefit of reaching independence, however; it also benefited the emancipation of women in India. Women were now self-sufficient and began to feel much more confidant and independent because they did not have to rely on others.
Gandhi has made considerable impacts on women and has motivated them to step forward and lead movements of their own. For instance the All India Women’s Conference (AIWC) founded in 1927 tried to mobilize Indian women and build a national organization concerning social service activities xix. The AIWC gave women’s organization a national leadership and achieved limited success in influencing government policy with regard to women’s suffrage, education and healthxx. The Nationalist leader Sarojini Naidu was one of the first women to take the ” pledge”.
She held demonstrations in various cites and made special appeals to women of the land xxi. Under Gandhi’s leadership thousands of women took leading roles in several movements. Gandhi never considered women to be unfit for any position or task. From the considerable support of Gandhi, women’s groups were formed all over India and hardly a week passed where Gandhi did not address a women’s group. Mary Fainsoid said in her article that leftist commentators argued that women’s groups associated with parties have the potential of being more effective because of their connections with mass organizations xxii.
Gandhi was a member of the Indian National Congress. He approved the declaration in 1931 that the Constitute would have to agree to for a free India. The particular clauses relating to women were those dealing with equal rights and obligations of citizens without any bar on account for sex, the protection of women workers and special adequate provisions of leave during maternity periodxxiii. The commitment that was made in 1931 was embodied in the Constitution of free India and was later adopted by the Indian Constituent Assembly of 1949 xxiv.
It is safe to say that the women’s contributions along with Gandhi’s leadership in the Independence struggle were in a sense rewarded by legal equality. Women in Indian society have achieved great prominence. This has been achieved not only by one single event but instead by a string of events. Gandhi is an individual who started the emancipation of women due to his protests for an Independent India. He not only introduced women to Satyagraha but he was also a ceaseless crusader for women’s equality. He brought the women of their homes and made them equal participants in the walks of life-social as well as political.
The work of Gandhi has affected millions of people but the effect it has on women has changed their status forever. It is due to Gandhi’s initiative and guidance that India now has more working women than any other country. This includes female workers at all levels of skill – from the surgeon and the airline pilot to bus conductors and menial labourers xxv. Although, there are still many social barriers facing Indian women today, hopefully people will look upon Gandhi’s guidance and be motivated to abolish and prejudice that still occurs today.