foreign presence in their midst.
Emergence of Two Groups Not all agreed that gender relations needed
modification. A number of Indian intellectuals praised their own culture’s
treatment of women or compared the conditions of Indian women with those
of European women and concluded that females in both countries suffered
hardships. Those who accepted the idea that society’s ills could be traced to
the oppressed condition of women saw female education and female
emancipation as the first steps towards progress. But both groups–those who
extolled gender relations and those convinced of the need for reform – shared
an ideology, later linked to the nationalist project that separated the home
from the world.
Pity as the Driving Force of Reform By the last decade of the nineteenth
century, there was a recognisable reformist ideology. The shape of this
ideology–particularly in its view of women – was retained throughout much
of the twentieth century. First and foremost, Indian women were to be pitied.
In 1839, Mahesh Chundra Deb spoke to the Society for the Acquisition of
General Knowledge about the daily life of young married women: “Suffice it
to say that every man who has carefully examined the condition of Hindu
women cannot help pitying the benighted and miserable situation in which
they are placed.”
Mixture of Humanitarianism with Revivalism The theme of Deb’s speech
– the misery of Indian women – echoed the Western critics of Indian society
and was repeated in speeches and essays throughout the century. But
humanitarianism was only one of the arguments used to urge reform. Inspired
and influenced by Western ideas, these reformers were also conversant with
their own traditions. Rammohun Roy, Pandit Vidyasagar, Swami Dayananda
Saraswati and many others were trained in Hindu classics and saw India as
recovering from a dark age. There had been a “golden age,” they argued,
when women were valued and occupied positions of high status. This view of
the Vedic past had been adopted from the Indologists and was useful to refute
Mill’s version of India. During this “golden age” women were educated,
married only after they had reached maturity, moved about freely, and
participated in the social and political life of the time. The power of such an
idea may well have stifled serious historical research on women’s lives until