Human Rights, Gender and Environment
Indian Women’s Movement
The roots of the Indian women’s movement go back to the nineteenth century male social reformers who took up issues concerning women and started women’s organizations. Women started forming their own organization from the end of the nineteenth century first at the local and then at the national level. In the years before independence, the two main issues they took up were political rights and reform of personal laws. Women’s participation in the freedom struggle broadened the base of the women’s movement. In post independence India, large number of women’s autonomous groups have sprung up challenging patriarchy and taking up a variety of issues such as violence against women, greater share for women in political decision making, etc. both at the activist and academic level. India has a rich and vibrant women’s movement but it has still a long way to go to achieve gender equality and gender justice.
Socio-Religious Reform Movements
The roots of the Indian women’s movement go back to the early nineteenth century when social reformers, beginning with Ram Mohun Roy (1772-1833), began to focus on issues concerning women. Roy condemned sati, kulin polygamy and spoke in favour of women’s property rights. He held the condition of Indian women as one of the factors responsible for the degraded state of Indian society. If Ram Mohun is remembered for his anti-sati movement, Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar is more often remembered for his widow remarriage campaign. Following them, improving the condition of women became the first tenet of the Indian social reform movement. Women’s inferior status, enforced seclusion, early marriage, condition of widows and lack of education were facts documented by reformers throughout the country.
Women’s Organizations started by men
Men who belonged to the socio religious reform associations began the first organization for women. In Bengal, Keshub Chandra Sen, a prominent Brahmo Samaj leader, started a woman’s journal, held prayer meetings for women and
Department of History, University of Delhi & Patron, All India Women’s Conference
University of Delhi
B A Programme II
Human Rights, Gender and Environment
developed educational programmes for women. Members of the Brahmo Samaj formed associations for women of their own families and faith. The Prarthana Samaj in Maharashtra and Gujarat did similar work. Narayan Ganesh Chandavarkar, Madhav Govind Ranade and R.G. Bhandarkar in Pune and Mahipatram Rupram Nilkanth and his associates in Ahmedabad started organizations for prohibition of child marriage, for widow remarriage and for women’s education.The male-inspired and male-guided organizations for women did valuable work in educating women and giving them their first experience with public work. While the men wanted their women to be educated and take part in public activities, they regarded the home as the primary focus for women.
Women’s organizations started by women
By the end of the nineteenth century, a few women emerged from within the reformed families who formed organizations of their own. One of the first to do so was Swarnakumari Devi, daughter of Devendranath Tagore, a Brahmo leader, and sister of the poet Rabindranath Tagore, who formed the Ladies Society in Calcutta in 1882 for educating and imparting skills to widows and other poor women to make them economically self reliant. She edited a women journal, Bharati, thus earning herself the distinction of being the first Indian woman editor. In the same year, Ramabai Saraswati formed the Arya Mahila Samaj in Pune and a few years later started the Sharda Sadan in Bombay. The National Conference was formed at the third session of the Indian National Congress in 1887 to provide a forum for the discussion of social issues. The Bharat Mahila Parishad was the women’s wing of this and was...
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