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Sunday, September 21, 2003
Books

Women who showed the way
Ranjay Vardhan

Women Pioneers in Indian Renaissance
edited by Sushila Nayar and Kamla Mankekar. National Book Trust.
Pages 447. Rs 115.

Women Pioneers in Indian RenaissanceTHE role of women in social, educational, cultural, economic and political spheres is gaining impetus with the publication of books on issues relating to women. However, there are few studies on womenís role in national development, and the few there are unable to emphasise the importance of the role played by women in socio-religious reform movements and the freedom struggle. The approach to the subject has been elitist and there are a few autobiographies of elite women. The lives and conditions of a large majority of women, or their response to changing historical forces have been unexplored and thus marginalised in history. This book tries to fill this gap and attempts to bring out the role played by women in building modern India.

The book contains biographies of both well-known as well as unsung women pioneers in Indian Renaissance. It has contributions from eminent women of present times and can be considered as a maiden attempt to portray women who have left an indelible mark on history and were largely responsible for bringing about at change in the status of women. The book has been divided into three sections Culture and Society, Freedom and Women Liberation and Making a New India, though these sections have not been formally introduced in the book.

 


In the middle of 19th century, it was a common belief that women were fit only for household work; that their place was in the kitchen. Moreover, they were denied basic education and the practices of polygamy, child marriage, sati, purdah and prohibition of widow remarriage etc lowered the status of women. At such a stage, social reformers like Raja Rammohan Roy and Ishwar Chander Vidyasagar started working for the uplift of women and weaker sections of the society. Educated women were touched by the pitiable conditions in which the majority of women lived. They undertook the towering task of fighting social evils and fought valiantly despite all odds. They went to jails and faced social ostracism, torture, social boycott and ridicule but were not dissuaded from their chosen path. Some women pioneers were also the wives of great men and not only supported their husbands in their work but also completed their own livesí missions.

The book highlights the tremendous influence that Mahatma Gandhi and his philosophy had on women. Many women pioneers strictly followed his principles and thought. This book also brings out how women from different countries such as Annie Besant, Margaret Cousins, Madelene Slade (Mira Behn) and others were attracted towards the Indian culture. They chose to live in India and work for the cause of the uplift of women and the freedom of India.

The book is an invaluable collection of biographies of women pioneers in Indian Renaissance and will be of interest to all sections of the society.