of the Radhasoami faith, advocated female emancipation in his volumes of
prose, Prem Patra. Among Muslims, Khwaja Altaf Husain Hali and Shaikh
Muhammad Abdullah introduced education for girls.
Western India In western India, Mahadev Govind Ranade founded the
National Social Conference to focus attention on social reforms. At the same
time, the Parsee journalist Behramji Malabari captured the attention of the
British reading public with his articles in The Times on the evils of child
marriage and the tragedy of enforced widowhood for young women. Dhondo
Keshav Karve offered a practical solution with his institutions in Poona to
educate young widows to become teachers in girls’ schools.
South India In South India, R. Venkata Ratnam Naidu opposed the
devadasi system while Virasalingam Pantulu worked for marriage reform.
Both sought to increase opportunities for female education. Reformers were
found throughout India and among all communities. They addressed a
number of issues, most of them relating to marriage and the importance of
female education.
Merits of Reformers What is especially interesting about these nineteenth-
century reformers is their activism. Their ideas on gender were rooted in
personal experience; during their lives, they attempted to change those with
whom they lived and worked. They were not simply reacting to British
pressure—these issues were very real and they responded to them with
Their Shortcomings These reformers viewed women as their subjects—to
be changed as a consequence of persuasive arguments, social action,
education and legislation.
They were concerned primarily with modifying relationships within their
own families and sought only “limited and controlled emancipation” of their
Women themselves were not partners in the schemes created for their
regeneration; more often, they were portrayed as opposed to their own
liberation. Without first-hand accounts by these women, their reluctance to
change in the ways prescribed by their husbands and fathers could be read as
nascent feminist resistance, an intelligent reading of their true interests, or
plain and simple opposition to