to her husband’s home and required to adjust to their customs.
The aging woman watched her children mature and marry and accepted the
new roles of mother-in-law and grandmother. If her husband died before her,
she became a widow with abstemious habits.
Different Reactions Historically, women experienced these rules and
prescriptions differently, depending on religion, caste, class, age, place in the
family hierarchy and an element of serendipity. There were women who lived
up to the ideal, but there were also women who rebelled against these
prescriptions. The historical record confirms that women found an escape
from conventional roles in religion and scholarship, and occasionally through
political action. Some women were able to live outside patriarchal
households and gain status as courtesans. But the options open to women of
extraordinary talent or those unhappy with their lives were limited. Surviving
records inform us that a few women became educated, attained fame and
commanded armies, but most were denied men’s opportunities to acquire
knowledge, property and social status.
Appearance of Reformers By the second half of the nineteenth century,
there were reform groups in all parts of British India. They focused attention
on sati, female infanticide, polygyny, child marriage, purdah, prohibitions on
female education, devadasis (temple dancers wedded to the gods), and the
patrilocal joint family. Their activity acted as a stimulus and encouragement
to reform-minded individuals in other areas, and gradually, reformist
organisations with an all-India identity began to emerge.
Contribution of Male Reformers
Bengal Across India, there is a long list of reformers who undertook major
efforts on women’s behalf. In Bengal, Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar
championed female education and led the campaign to legalise widow
remarriage, and Keshub Chandra Sen sought to bring women into new roles
through schools, prayer meeting, and experiments in living. By the turn of the
century, Swami Vivekananda was arguing that women could become a
powerful regenerative force.
North India In North India, Swami Dayananda Saraswati encouraged
female education and condemned customs he regarded as degrading to