care and pass laws to protect women as proof
challenged the notion that the British were the legitimate rulers of
India, and at the same time, lent full support to the Congress as the
rightful heirs to political power.
• The construction of the British as moral rulers was called into
question by widely publicised accounts of their violent attacks on
peaceful demonstrators. British mistreatment of women clashed with
prevailing gender ideology and seriously undermined their self-
proclaimed role of protector.
• The scriptures of both Hinduism and Islam praise modest and chaste
women. The ideal woman, valorised in law, legend and folklore, was
faithful to her husband and untouched, sometimes unseen, by other
men. Men who protected women were honourable.
• When Gandhi asked women to take part in the political movement, he
instructed them to be like Sita. The British were the equivalent of
Ravana and the world would not be set right until the moral rule of
Ram was re-established.
• These ideas resonated with his female audience for whom Sita was a
living legend. Although not many girls went to school, they were
taught these legends in the home and even low-caste people learned
them through folk theater and stories.
Brutal Treatment of Women Demonstrators From the earliest days of
women’s protests, the British were charged with brutal treatment of women
demonstrators. In 1920, Sarojini Naidu accused the Martial Law
Administration in the Punjab of grossly mistreating women. The British
expressed shock; the Secretary of State for India Edwin Montagu had his
secretary reply: “Mr. Montagu finds it difficult to believe that anybody could
for one moment, have thought that such occurrences were possible.” In reply,
Mrs. Naidu quoted details from the Report of the Enquiry Committee of the
Indian National Congress. She reminded Montagu’s secretary that “pardah is
as sacred to the Indian women as is her veil to the Catholic Nun and forcibly
to unveil an Indian woman constitutes in itself, a gross outrage.”
• During the civil disobedience movement, accounts of police brutality
against women were epidemic. In Bardoli District, Gujarat, the
peasants of the village of Badmani stopped paying taxes. The police,
in their efforts to intimidate the villagers, beat many people. They