Womens Emancipation Movement

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Historically women have participated in all spheres of life with courage and gusto. Indian Higher Education system is no exception. Indian mythology is rich with stories of highly educated and evolved women. So much so that our deity of learning is also a woman! One can trace the historical evidence of ancient Indian Education to the 3rd century BC. Those days education was imparted orally and many women scholars participated in this. When Buddhism spread to India, some world famous educational institutions such as Nalanda, Vikramshila and Takshila were established. Research shows that a number of women were enrolled in these temples of learning. These universities flourished from about 5th century to 13th century. In the 11th century the Muslim rulers helped establish universities at Delhi, Lucknow and Allahabad. Women participated in all fields of knowledge like theology, religion, philosophy, fine arts, astronomy etc. However, education till this time was restricted to a certain strata of the society. It was not available to all and sundry. Later when the British arrived in India, English education came into being. European missionaries came and established many schools. These missionaries promoted schooling for girls from the early part of 19th century. These schools were mostly attended by girls from poor families. By the end of the 19th century, women were graduating from colleges and universities in a sizeable number. (In 1882 there were 2,700 schools and colleges for girls with 127,000 students) The social reform movement of the 19th century (that originated within the Indian intelligentsia and later spread to sections of the middle classes) had a major role in this upsurge of education amongst women, but this movement was largely an urban phenomenon. This period coincided with several other reforms such as child marriage, Sati pratha, Purdah system etc. In 1857, three universities were established in three presidencies- Bombay, Calcutta and Madras. Acquiring higher education presented a personal challenge to middle class girls, but the participation of Christian and Parsi women was much higher than that of Hindu women, and it was the lowest among Muslims. Around the beginning of the 20th century the new emphasis on education for women was not just to make them better housewives and mothers but to help them educate their children and so contribute to nation-building. In 1906, Sarojini Naidu said in a speech to Indian Social Conference in Calcutta, “Therefore, I charge you, restore to your women their ancient rights, for, as I have said, it is we, and not you, who are the real nation builders, and without our active co-operation at all points of progress all your Congresses and Conferences are in vain. Educate your women and the nation will take care of itself, for it is as true today as it was yesterday and will be to the end of human life that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world”. At this time only 2% of Indian women had any education, so one can imagine the meager number of women who got ‘higher’ education. Nevertheless education was increasingly being viewed as a means to enhance the social presence of Indian women and enable them to adapt to a changing external situation. Indian National Congress played a major role in emancipating women. Within a year of its formation in 1885, a Ladies Association was formed. By 1890s more and more highly educated women were visible in public sphere. Later prominent Indian women like Ramabai Ranade, Sarojini Naidu, Annie Besant, Rameshwari Nehru, Rajkumari Amrit kaur, Aruna Asif Ali, Sucheta Kriplani, Usha Mehta, and Vilasini Devi Shenai played an important political and social role. By the 1920s different rationales were being presented to provide quality higher education to women. According to one view women should be highly educated because of their useful role as a mother. According to the other group women having the same needs, desires and capacities as...
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