brilliant example of communal harmony and
Legitimisation of the Nationalist Movement From liberal homes and
conservative families, urban centers and rural districts, women—single and
married, young and old—came forward and joined the struggle against
colonial rule. Though their total numbers were small, their involvement was
extremely important. Women’s participation called into question the British
right to rule, legitimised the Indian nationalist movement and won for activist
women, at least for a time, the approval of Indian men.
Altering Goals and Activities of Organised Women Politics completely
altered the goals and activities of organised women. Education, social reform
and women’s rights appealed to some progressive women, but the movement
to rid the country of its foreign rulers attracted people from all classes,
communities and ideological persuasions. Nationalist leaders deliberately
cultivated linkages with peasants, workers and women’s organisations to
demonstrate mass support for their position. Women were amazed to find
political participation approved of by men who wanted their wives to behave
in the home like the perfect wives in religious texts.
Other Consequences The story of women’s role in the nationalist struggle
is not simply one of those who were told when to march and where to picket.
First, the numbers of women who played some role in this movement,
however small, far exceeded expectations. The nature of their work
influenced how women saw themselves and how others saw their potential
contribution to national development. At the same time, their involvement
helped to shape women’s view of themselves and of their mission.
Their Early Contribution to the Nationalist Movement
Decorative and Symbolic Contribution Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyaya
(1838–94) wrote the novel Anandamath (1882) that portrayed revolutionaries
sacrificing their lives for the Motherland. Bankim’s emotional hymn, Bande
Mataram (“Hail to the Mother”) became famous throughout India. This call
to save the Motherland was not a call to women to join the political
movement but rather a linking of idealised womanhood with nationalism.
• The situation began to change after a number of Bengali women