The book ‘Gandhi’s contribution to the emancipation of women’ by Aloo J. Dastur and Usha H. Mehta focuses on the work done for the women of India. And how much did Gandhi contribute towards their emancipation. The book has altogether 5 chapters, starting with the first chapter which is ‘Position of women in before Gandhi’. Chapter 2, 3, 4 is about ‘Social regeneration’, ‘Economic regeneration’, and ‘Political regeneration’ of the women in our Indian Society when Gandhi came into the scene.
And the last chapter is ‘Gandhi and the present status of women’, which is mostly an attempt made by the authors to assess the contribution made by Gandhi to the emancipation of women in comparative context. The first sentence of the book is that – “The status of women in society is a measuring rod and a true index of its civilisation and cultural attainment” which is very true. History has been proof that women and their issues are always side tracked or often not taken seriously. The women have always been neglected when planning about the society’s development, and thinking of the nation’s interest.
Like for example: - during national movement women rights/empowerment was not the priority. It was about India being a Nation. It was said that let India become a Nation first, then we can talk about empowering women. But even today after all these years we see that still society is talking about women inequality. And very less is being done for the women by the nation policy makers. The women in India have undergone various changes in their position starting from the Vedic age till now the 21st century.
Their position has differed from period to period and varied in different parts of the country at the same time. The women of our nation were not always suppressed and restraint. During the various finds from Mohenjodaro like the female goddesses, female figurines, ornaments and toilet jars, it was assumed that a form of matriarchate prevailed and women were at the forefront, at that time. However Asceticism in Buddhism and Jainism led to deterioration in the position of women. The change was gradual, in the change of the position of women.
Social evils like sati, child marriage, female in foeticide, purdah system, laws for widows, became a part of our society gradually. Also the Hindu ideas and laws were responsible for the change in position of women in society. The first chapter of the book traces the position of women during different periods of history. It explains how the position of women in our society underwent changes. It also tells about how gradually social reformers were touched by the plight of women and thus began to try and do something for their upliftment.
Before Gandhi came into the frame various social reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar, Keshab Chandra Sen, Byramji Malabari, G. Subramanian, D. K Karve and a host of other unceasingly worked for the betterment of women in Indian society. Under the pressure of these reformers various acts were passed to protect the women. Some of these acts were- the government of India Act I of 1856 legalised the remarriage of Hindu widows, Child marriage Act III of 1872 abolished child marriage, the age of consent bill, 1891, raised the age of consent from 10 to 12 for all.
Thus, the reform movements of last century concentrated on removing the hardships and handicaps of women and then on elevating their position. There were various establishments like the Brahmo Samaj of Raja Ram Mohan Roy, the Prarthana Samaj of Renade, the Arya Samaj of Dayanand Saraswati, all of which aimed at bringing up the position of women and shedding the misconceptions that Hinduism had gathered over the ages.
The last chapter is mostly based on the views of people, who were interviewed by the authors, on how much they think did Gandhi contribute towards the upliftment of women in Indian society. Different people like family members, ashram inmates, and women associated with Gandhi, active participants, constructive workers, Non- Gandhian turned Gandhians, women social workers, critics of Gandhi and General and foreigners were interviewed on what they thought of Gandhi’s contribution to women’s upliftment.
Out of them 85 respondents were of the view that it was mainly due to Gandhi’s efforts that women enjoyed equal status. The other reasons in order of priority were- the work done by social reformers (74), equal rights being guaranteed by Indian constitution (73), the work done by educational institutions (72), and women’s organisation (69), contact with foreign countries and western education (61), and policies followed by the congress governments (35). It is important however that Gandhi’s efforts ranked first and the policies of government came last among the reasons given by the respondents.
The reason given by those who held that as to why women do not enjoy equal status today were- that women themselves are tradition bound(91), illiterate(84), and economically dependent on men(84), and reluctant to assert their rights, and age-old customs still have firm grip on peoples mind(81). The respondents also suggest remedies by which women position can be further improved and a equal and egalitarian society can be achieved such as education, legislation, work by women’s organisation, opening more schools in rural area, awarding freeships and special scholarships, giving attendance prize etc.
It is true that Gandhi did a lot for the betterment of the women in India. It was he who encouraged them to participate politically. In fact during the National movement to free India from the Britishers the women participated in large numbers. They played an important part. Gandhi opined that because the women were gentle compared to men they were even better suited for the Non-violent protest. However, the work done by the other social reformers before Gandhi cannot be overlooked.
It can be said that they paved the path for Gandhi. But there are many differences between hoe Gandhi worked and how the other social reformers worked. The social workers had to say to say the following things as to what was the difference between Gandhi and other social reformers:- 1)While the other reformers touched only a microscopic fringe of the many problems women had to face and their efforts were piecemeal, Gandhiji tried to bring about a total revolution in their lives by trying to change all aspects of their lives. )The other social reformers tried to seek an intellectual solution to women’s problems, Gandhi emancipated them emotionally. 3)While the other emancipators were social reformers, Gandhi was a spiritual reformer. Also the reason why Gandhi stands out from the other social reformers is that it was Gandhi who made women realise that they had strength which lay in their gentleness, dedication, tolerance and maternal love. And that they could be factor for establishing a non-violent society.
Gandhiji made women realise their strength and helped them to break the traditional bondages which kept them down. Though the book was written during 1991, to review the position of women in Indian society today even in 2012 we find that the women still have not acquired the much sought after equal position in society. Gandhi’s teaching and ways are hardly of any use to the women today. And very few draw inspiration from him. The position of the women in some way can be blamed to them. Because as P.
P Naidu states “In most cases they (village) are still backward and ignorant relying on age-old customs and traditions. This is true with regard to womenfolk whose conservation is proverbial. While our women are no doubt repositories of our true culture, they are also the repositories of worn-out beliefs, meaningless customs, unwanted practices and unbelievable superstition” Thus, we see that education is a very important parameter if the society has to progress and women are to be brought to an equal position with men.
Unless they are educated they will never realise the social inequalities meted out to them. Also Gandhi contributed a lot to uplift their position in ways that are commendable. He tried to show them that what the world think is their weakness can be turned to strengths and actually are the strength of women. So few of Gandhi’s methods should be revisited and tried upon.