1. Question
  2. Introduction (Define | Origin | Data)
  3. Conclusion (summarize your points)
  4. Afterthoughts / Pitfall

Question for UPSC Mains GS Paper1

So far I’ve solved the first seventeen questions of the UPSC Mains Paper-1, now time for 18th:

Q18. The women’s questions arose in modern India as a part of the 19th century social reform movement. What were the major issues and debates concerning women in that period? (250 words, Asked in GSM1-2017)

आधुनिक भारत में, महिलाओ से संबंधित प्रश्न १९वी शताब्दी के सामाजिक सुधार आंदोलन के भाग के रूप में उठे थे. उस अवधि में महिलाओ से संबंध मुख्य मुद्दे और विवाद क्या थे?

Self-Study First

women issues in 19th century india

In in 19th century India, the debates concerning women Just like the color-theme of this infographics- full of stereotyping!

Introduction (Define | Origin | Data)

  • At the beginning of the 19th century, the condition of Indian women was not encouraging.
  • Several evil practices such as the practice of Sati, the Purdah system, child marriage, female infanticide, bride price and polygamy had made their life quite miserable.
  • There was no equality between Indian men and women in the educational, social and economic opportunities.
  • As a result, following were the major issues and debates took place in the 19th century India:

Since we are asked to write about women issues in 19th century (1801-1900), that means we’ve to give ‘origin’ about what was their life like- at the beginning of 19th century (i.e. 1/1/1801). Don’t bowl from too far away from the pitch like “Rig Vedic Women enjoyed high status in society, Lopamudra, Ghosa even authored vedic hymns…” स्टेडियम के बाहर से बोलिंग नही करनी है.

Men enacting social laws to protect women

  • James Mill (1817) and other European writers began constructing a “civilizational critique of India”. They argued:
    • India was not capable of progress without British help.
    • Degraded condition of Indian women was an indicator of India’s inferior status in the hierarchy of civilizations.
  • Consequently, Indian intellectuals began highlighting India’s golden past where women were treated with dignity and honour. They began to equate the concept of motherhood to the concept of motherland.
  • They also urged to reforms the customs which were distortions of the ancient past and were derogatory for the women
  • Indian reformers championed such reforms to counter the Western critiques. The British administrators passed such social laws considering it to be ‘white man’s burden to civilize the Indians’.

You need not mention individual reformers or individual laws- “B.M.Malbari -> Age of consent Act 1846”. Else you’ll run out of space before touching other ‘issues and debates related to Indian women’

But, women given unequal treatment before the Law

  • The British had upheld Hindu and Islamic personal laws. These laws sanctified the rights of the patriarchal family and treated women as second-class citizens in the matters of marriage-divorce, property, succession and adoption.
  • It was in this area, it appeared as if there was a “broad consensus” between the colonial state and the nationalist male elites to confine women to domesticity and servitude. [क्योकि सती प्रथा नाबूदी कानून के लिए मुहीम चली, लेकिन बेटियों को पैतृक-जायदाद में समान अधिकार के लिए कोई मुहीम नही चली!]

Men secluding women through ‘Purdah’ from public life

  • As Indian intellectuals began cherishing India’s glorious past, they used Indian woman’s moral order as the spirit of India. She had to be kept uncontaminated by the ‘polluting influence’ of the West.
  • Therefore, the ideal of secluded womanhood came to be universalized both among the Muslim and the Hindu elites of Bengal and Maharashtra.
  • This ideal of ‘purdah’ meant 1) women’s physical seclusion 2) code of conduct based on female modesty, 3) social distance between the sexes.
  • Therefore, we can rarely see women’s participation in any of the movements during this time period.

Widow remarriage legally accepted but socially disapproved

  • Previously, the lower caste women laborers faced less restrictions on their freedom of marriage, movement and social conduct.
  • But, under the influence of “Sanskritizarion” in 19th century, purity & purdah of women became an index of the status of a caste.
  • Thus, although the British had legalized widow-remarriage, but more number of Indian castes began to enforce celibate ascetic widowhood (सन्यासी समान वैधव्य) on their women, as it became a symbol of high status.

Women issues seen as social problems, not religious

  • This period has witnessed the proliferation of various organisations that fought for improving the status of women in the family & in the society.
  • These movements were the outcome of the reaction of urban, western educated men of various castes and religions.
  • But, these movements never developed as a “unified movement”.
  • Both the Indian and British men treated women issues and debates as social problems, without challenging the social structure, caste inequalities or religious orthodoxies which perpetuated women’s lower position. Gender equality was not on their agenda.

Educating women to domesticate them as better wives & moms

  • Colonial government wanted female education, as it wanted Indian civil servants to be married to educated wives, so they didnot have to pace the psychological trauma of a split household between English and Indian values. And such English educated mothers were expected to breed children loyal to the British crown.
  • Similarly, Indian male social reformers’ assumed that female education would revitalise the family system, which was threatened by the increasing communication gap between educated men and their uneducated wives.
  • Thus, the ultimate goal of female education during this period, was to ensure Indian girls grew up to become better wives, better mothers and better housekeepers. This new concept of womenhood was a fine blending of Self-sacrificing Indian wife and a Victorian helpmaid.
  • Tarabai Shinde, Pandita Ramabai and other progressive women challenged this new role model of educated but compliant & domesticated wives. However, such views were criticized equally by Indian males from both reformist and the conservative organizations.

So, this is an example of ‘Debate’: Woods & co. wanted to make Indian girls better mothers, whereas Tarabai, Ramabai et al. wanted education to mean more than just “home science”.

Female Labour Force Participation & Wages < Males

Since the ancient times, Indian women participated in agricultural, animal husbandry, fisheries and allied activities. But during 19th century-

  • Socially mobile peasant families began to confine their women to household work, because seclusion of women had become a symbol of higher castes. While they idealized women as wives and mothers- Their reproductive role was considered to be more important than wage labour. Their income was regarded as “supplementary” to family income and therefore of less importance.
  • As a result, the Indian capitalists and plantation owners began to stereotype women workers as devoid of skills and commitment. On this argument, women were given less wages than their male counterparts. Yet, the trade unions remained muted for the economic rights and freedom of women workers.
  • Mechanized production led to unemployment of women: Example, Bengali women employed in rice husking began to lose out with the coming of rice-mills.

Conclusion (summarize your points)

  • Thus, in the 19th century both Indian intelligentsia and the British administrators worked to improve the status of Indian women.
  • However, the issues and debates regarding women’s education, labour participation, status within family and society were dealt within the restrictive parameters of ‘domesticity’ (घरेलूपन) without addressing the aspects of gender equality, religious orthodoxy and caste inequalities.

Afterthoughts / Pitfall

  • This question is NOT about whether Indian women were better-off or worst-off in 19th century compared to 18th century or the vedic age! So, any such “Comparative- Chronological -FINDING” type conclusion should be avoided. You’re asked only to narrate the issues and debates within 19th century. So conclusion should be confined to that time-frame only. “वैदिक युग की अपेक्षा महिलाओ की परिस्थिति बद से बदतर हो गयी थी लेकिन गांधी के आने के बाद महिलाओने अपना लोहा मनवाया…!” एसी सब तुलना करने को नही पूछा है.
  • Since the question is lifted from Plassey to Partition book, therefore ideal answer should run parallel to the “FINDINGs” of the author i.e. While derogatory customers will made illegal, but women continued to be treated as second-class citizen, in pretext of glorifying them as domesticated self-sacrificing wives and mothers. Besides, Gandhi is yet to arrive from S.Africa (1915), so, “women enthusiastically participated in the freedom struggle” type of body / conclusion will be completely WRONG.
  • My answer is ~1000 words, but if you focus only on the ‘headings’ -and use only 1-2 sentence to elaborate that heading, then automatically it’ll compress to 250 words limit.
  • This question is NOT about just the ‘PRACTICISE DEROGATORY to WOMEN’. So, too much ronaa-dhonaa and emotional outrage over Sati, female infanticide, widow-remarriage etc. should be avoided. You’ve to give a broad sketch of various ISSUES, NOT merely the “ATROCITIES” related to women in 19th century. [“उनके साथ कितना अत्याचार हो रहा था, उसका सदृष्टान्त और सविस्तृत वर्णन करो”… ऐसा प्रश्न नही पूछा है.]
  • This question is NOT about contribution of MEN in upliftment of women. So, excessive focus on William Bentinck or Individual reforms such as Raja Rammohan Roy, Henry Derozio etc. should be avoided.
  • You’re NOT ASKED to identify the challenges / limitations of the Indian reformers. So, “Indian reform movements were Brahminical in nature and confined mostly to the urban parts..” That’s true but you need not center the entire discussion around such limitations only.
  • This question is NOT about giving a chronological account of legal reforms to protect women. So, “In 1846, the minimum marriageable age for a girl was only 10 years. In 1891, through the enactment of the Age of Consent Act, this was raised to 12 years. In 1930, through the Sharda Act, the minimum age was raised to 14 years. After independence, the limit was raised to 18 years in 1978.”….. this type of information is NOT ASKED in the question.

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