Although, the 18th century was under the conservative ideas and practices, the 19th century India experienced several trends of reform movements, which brought out awakening in the society. This was the direct result of several factors took place in India and those factors were as the English education, contact with the western liberal thinkers, British administration, the work of Christian Missionaries, the idea of equality, the rule of law, the contribution made by the Press etc.
The English education led Indians to revolt against ignorance, apathy, lethargy, superstition, fatalism and sloth. English language played very important role in communicating western ideas one to another. It worked as a common platform for people in all sections, segments, cultures and language groups.
It brought to the notice of every one the flaws, short comings and lapses in Indian religions and social life and motivated them to follow the liberal concept advocated in the western literature.
The beginning of nineteenth century has been considered as the beginning of modern times in India, where the people confronted with the new rulers and their way of life which was new for them. Lard Moire says that although, the British came to India as traders and became a political power to exploit India extensively, they adopted a wider perspective in the passage of time to enable them to establish peace and order in the society.
The British officers like Mountstuart Elphinstone who came to India were liberal and they believed in reasons. They opened schools and colleges where Indian students got opportunity to study the English literature, thoughts of Francis Bacon, David Hume, Middleton, George Berkeley, Condorcet, Joseph Butler and many other liberal litterateurs.
Among the British officials, who were responsible to start the western education in Maharashtra, Mountstuart Elphinstone’s contribution was much more. Elphinstone established a system of education in Maharashtra, due to the influence of people like T. Erskine, Colebrook, John Locke and Jeremy Bentham.
He secured cooperation from the traditional institutions and educated higher classes in Maharashtra.
He improved the mode of teaching at the native schools, increased number of schools, supplied with school books, encouraged lower classes to receive instructions in education, which were affordable to them.
Elphinstone established schools for teaching European sciences and improved higher branches of education under his jurisdiction. He provided certain amount to publish books of moral and physical sciences in native languages. He also provided for teaching English as a classical language to acquire knowledge and the knowledge of discoveries took place in European countries.
Elphinstone used the money for education of people, which was used to distribute to Brahmins under the Peshwas. His efforts led to create awareness in Maharashtra, The English educated people began to question to the existing outdated dogmas, principles and revolted against ignorance, apathy, superstition, lethargy and fatalism, which fermented thought and created social and religious awakening in general.
In addition to the English education, the work of Christian Missionaries provoked the people to create the experience awareness in social and religious life and lead the life like people in Europe.
The Missionaries criticized Hinduism as back ward religion began to convert Hindus into Christianity which hurt the educated Indians, who determined to reform their social and religious life. The idea of equality was generated as the missionaries admitted all Indians irrespective of their caste, creed and race in their schools.
They also opened schools for girls which appealed to the learned Indians and led them to create awareness in their social & religious life. Missionaries dedicated their services towards the poor, the physically and mentally challenged people that also provoked the Indians to start reform movements.
The last but not the least, the contribution of printing press and the work of orientalists to revive the past glory of India was one of the reasons for beginning the socio-religious reform movements in Maharashtra as well as in India in the nineteenth century.
Nationalism and Sicial groups
The English educated middle class turned its attention towards the religious social and cultural renaissance. Its spirit of nationalism aroused both the Hindus and the Muslims to set their houses in order.
This middle class began to analyses their own socio-religious conditions. It led them to convince that their original and pure religions had been defiled due to blind traditions on earning less ritual, customs, and superstitious beliefs. Naturally, they sought reforms in their religions and social life.
As a matter of fact, there was much influence of the socio-religious reform movement on the educated people in India, who created renaissance or awakening among the people.
Problems of Women
Position of women in Indian society differed period to period and age to age. Although it was quite satisfactory in the Rig Vedic period, it considerably transformed in the latter period and made her subservient.
As a matter of fact, the position of women mainly depends upon the two important elements in the society. The first is the social philosophy and the second the social institutions developed in the passage of time.
The social philosophy initiates a particular level of the culture and the general outlook of the society; these elements help in determining the position of women.
In addition to these, the social institutions have come up as family, marriage, provisions of Hindu law and the religion, which have never indicated a liberal outlook towards women.
These institutions created several problems in the life of women. Except in cities, joint family is in practice everywhere, in which contractual marriages take place.
These marriages have brought to surface problems like incompatibility of life partner, child marriage, polygamy, and restriction on widow remarriage,divorce, sati, female slavery and concubine age.
The practice of sati, which had a religious basis and belief that women by their self-immolation with the corpse of their husband attained such high spirit and merit that sins of their husbands were annihilated and they were raised to heaven to live in eternal union with the wife.
This was the role of religion, which might have driven a number of women to perform such an ordeal of burning themselves alive. Wives were considered one’s personal property, rather than a companion. This was the position of Indian women during ancient period and continued till modern days.
It is said that the gradual deterioration in the status of the women began during the Smriti period. In society women could not have an independent status and became entirely dependent on the men in socio-economic matters. With the passage of time women became victims of various social evils such as female infanticide, seclusion and dowry. They were denied education. These social evils and the low status of women continued since the ancient period.
Indian women faced several problems since the ages. Among them child marriage, female infanticide, illiteracy, restrictions on widow remarriage, polygamy, concubine, sati and restriction on divorce were more severe. ‘Purdah’ system which had entered India with the arrival of Muslims had come to stay and its grip was further tightened during the British period. The mobility of women was by and large restricted to the four walls of their dwellings. An average Indian woman had no access to school, college and other public places. A fairly large majority of them lived as deaf and dumb driven cattle. Those belonging to urban elite and also allowed relative freedom constituted only an iota.
Social Reforms and Women
When the British came to India and they became ruler of the country, the Britishers passed some of the social legislations like prohibition of female infanticide or sacrificing infants, sati, slavery and also passed the widow remarriage Act. But these acts ruffled the country and the British faced the uprising in 1857.
The British then decided not to interfere in the social life of the people which was assumed by the Queen’s Proclamation of 1858. However, there started a social reform movement, which succeeded in securing some reforms in society and created social awareness among the people. The efforts made towards the emancipation of women can be studied as under :
1) Sati system
The practice of sati, which had a religious basis and belief that women by their self-immolation with the corpse of their husband attained such high spirit and merit that sins of their husbands were annihilated and they were raised to heaven to live in eternal union with the wife. This was the role of religion, which might have driven a number of women to perform such an ordeal of burning themselves alive.
Raja Ram Mohan Roy wanted to improve the condition of the Indian women. He raised his voice against the practice of sati. He pointed out that most of the sati cases were not voluntary, but forced. When the orthodox leaders petition to the government, requesting the withdrawal of the regulations of 1812-13 and 1817, Ram Mohan Roy and his friend submitted a counter-petition in August 1818. Ram Mohan Roy wrote a number of articles in English to show that nowhere in the Hindu Shastras the burning of widows have been mentioned as a compulsory measure. He also published articles in his Bengali journal Samvad Kaumudi against the evil practice of sati. Ram Mohan Roy struggled against sati and finally succeeded when Lord William Bentinck declared the practice of sati illegal and published by the law passed in 1829.
2) Child Marriage :
This was one of the problems faced by women. Initially, there was no minimum marriageable age was fixed. People used to marry their children at very young age, even at the age of two to five years, which generated other problems like Sati, polygamy and concubine age. In order to avoid the chain of problems, reformers like, B. M. Malbari, R. G. Bhandarkar and M. G. Ranade began to create awareness among the people. B. M. Malbari, a Parsi reformer fought against this custom prevailed in the society. That led the British Government to pass the Act of 1860, which raised the age of consent for marriage from ten years to twelve years.
The social workers in Maharashtra challenged the degrading custom of child marriage and forced the British to pass the Act in 1872 by which the early marriage was abolished, polygamy was declared a penal offence and sanctioned widow remarriages and inter caste marriages in the country. Despite this law, the people in Maharashtra continued with evil system of child marriage in the society. In 1880, B. M. Malbari, the editor of Indian Spectator had attracted the attention of people towards the child marriage and published has notes on enforced widowhood and infant marriages in 1884. He said that the Government should include the evils of child marriage in the school syllabus to create awareness at the early age among the people. Justice Ranade advised the Government to pass Laws to fix twelve years the minimum age of girls for marriage and amend the penal code to punish the people who infringed these laws. Although, some of the prominent members opposed to this, B. M. Malbari went to England to pressurize the British Government to get passed these legislations. Due to the hard efforts of B. M. Malbari, the Age of Consent Act of 1891 was passed. This was a step ahead in the emancipation of women. These legislations led all enlightened and English educated people in Maharashtra to work jointly towards creating better conditions for women in society.
Pandita Ramabai was one more pioneering personality, who worked hard towards the emancipation of women. Many orthodox people in Pune criticized her for her marriage to a non-Brahmin Bengali man. She was very much critical about the miseries of women at the hands of men. In order to support women in miseries Pandita Ramabai established Arya Mahila Samaj with the help of Prarthana Samaj. She was also supported in her efforts by Bhandarkar and Justice Ranade. Pandita Ramabai was harassed by orthodox Brahmins to such extent that she was forced to convert to Christianity and leave for England and America for some time. She wrote a book and blamed the orthodox people in Hinduism for her troubles and sufferings. She established sharda sadan in Mumbai in 1889 and shifted it to Pune on the request of M. G. Ranade and Bhandarkar, who supported her in her efforts of solving problems of destitute women. In 1930, the Government passed the Sharda Act which made a provision for fine and imprisonment to a person abating for marriage of the girl below fourteen years of age.
3) Female Education :
Illiteracy was one more problems faced by Indian women due to misunderstanding, wrong notions, superstition and general backwardness of the society. tradionally, it was said that parents should spend money on girls marriage including dowry and other heads but not to spend any thing on their education. They should spend money on the education of boys only. This phenomenon was changed when the Christian Missionaries came to India and they established convent schools for education of girl child under the supervision of nuns. However, this effort was suspected that the missionary schools would be used to convert girls to Christianity. As a matter of fact these schools were open for all castes, communities, religions and groups but the above suspicion did not let maximum girls to take benefits of those schools.
Due to the spread of English education, some of the English educated people began to educate their girls. R. C. Majumdar, therefore says that there was no observance of purda system in the Mumbai presidency, which led people in the Presidency to educate their girls. The ‘Students literary and Scientific Society’ was founded under the banner of Gujarati Dyan Prasarak Mandal which began to support the cause of female education. The people like Dadabhai Naoraji, B. M. Malbari, P. C. Banaji and the Camas started educatina their girls and opened schools for female education despite opposition from the orthodox section of their community. The Marathi industrialists like Jagannath Shankar Seth and Bhau Dagi also contributed to the cause of educating girls in the Mumbai presidency. Among the social reformers like B. M. Malbari (who started Seva Sadan in Mumbai), Ranade, Bhandarkar and Chandawarkar, Mahatma Jyotiba G. Phule and Pandita Ramabai were prominent in the field of female education. in 1851, Phule started a private school for girls with the help of his wife, Savitribai Phule. Some other organizations also began to open schools for girls in Mumbai & Poona areas and spread the cause of female education. In 1891 Bipin Chandra, therefore, said that the Mumbai presidency was ahead in the field of female education. In the same way, Capt. Lester, the education inspector said that there was be no hurdle in establishing schools for female education in Mumbai presidency and its neighboring areas of Poona due to the lead taken by eminent social reformers like Phule, Gokhale, Ranade and Agarkar.
4) Widow Remarriage :
This was one more problem faced by women since the ages. There was no-widow remarriage in the upper caste while the lower castes tried to imitate the upper caste and faced a chain of problems like committing sati or remaining widow for the whole life. Widow was not allowed to participate in any programme or religious function and she was to spend her life aimlessly in isolation. Many social reformers was tried to encourage widow remarriages and helped the Govt. to pass the Hindu widow remarriage Act in 1856. but the situation did not change much.
During the modern times social reformers like M. G. Ranade, Vishnu Shastri Pandit, D. K. Karve and Pandita Ramabai actively participated in encouraging widow remarriages and founded various societies for the same purpose. In addition to the foundation of Vidhava Vivaha Uttejak Mandal, the ‘Widow remarriage Association’ was established in 1893 and the ‘Anath Balikashram’ was brought up in 1896 near Pune for sheltering destitute widows. Among all social reformers who worked towards the cause of widow remarriage, Mahatma Jyotiba Govind Phule was very much concerned. He supported the widow remarriage and criticized the other social reformers who married spinters ofter the death of their wives and not allowed to remarry their relatives like sisters and daughters, when they lost their husbands in very young age.
It’s said that in Hinduism marriage was considered sacrosanct and solemnized in heaven. It, therefore became irrevocable in any case. Naturally, widow remarriage was not permitted. That led Hindu women to suffer forever. In order to get rid of this orthoxy, the western educated people began to oppose it and advocated the widow remarriage based on the authority of the Vedas. Although, orthodox inhabitants of Pune submitted two petitions to the Government to oppose the widow remarriage and established a society to protect the Hindu Dharma, social reformers like Vishnu Shastri challenged the orthodox people to debate on the issue of widow remarriage and published several articles for creating awareness about the widow remarriage. D. K. Karve took a step ahead, he himself married a widow Godubai in 1883, who was his friend’s sister and set an example for other people to follow the suit. He also set up a ‘Widow Home Association’ based on the Sharda Sadan founded by Pandita Ramabai. M. G. Ranade and Bhandarkar helped a lot to the Association for a longtime. This led to create much awareness in the society which was crystal clear from the fact that D. K. Karve’s widow Home Association married twenty five widows in Maharashtra successfully and Indu Prakash and Social Conference became much more popular in the movement of social reforms in Maharashtra.
Contribution of Social Reformers towards the Emancipation of Women
Due to the impact of western education and the educated Indians such as Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Swami Dayananda Saraswati and other social reformers, an attempt was made to liberate women from the shackles of ancient social disabilities through the socio-religious reform movements.
Raja Ram Mohan Roy also opposed to polygamy. He pointed out that the Shastra has permitted the second marriage of men under certain circumstances. Ram Mohan Roy was in favour of the education of women. The Brahmo Samajists sought to bring women into new roles through schools and prayer meetings.
Swami Vivekananda was arguing that women could become a powerful regenerative force. Dayananda encouraged female education and condemned all evil customs. M.G. Rande, Malabari, D.K. Karve tried to educate young widows and made them teachers in girl‘s schools. R.V.R. Naidu opposed the devdasi system while Pantulu worked for marriage reforms.
Ishwar Chandra Vidysagar supported the female education and advocated the widow remarriage. Although, the widow remarriage Act was passed in 1856, the status of women was not changed and never received the approval of the society.
Mahatma Phule and Savitribai Phule
Mahatma Jyotibha Phule never discriminated between men and women on the basis of sex and wanted to give them equal rights in all matters. He envisaged a society based on liberty, equality and fraternity.
In order to profess and spread his message he started Dinbandhu, a weekly journal with the help of Narayan Meghaji Lokhande, who was his close associate and a trade union leader.
Phule used his whole energy and intellect to emancipate the women from their age old bondages of tyrannical brahmanical patriarchy. He tried to create awareness among them against the unnatural and unreasonable claims of the Hindu people and professed individual dignity and equality in socio-religious matters. He was the first man to start school for girls in Maharashtra.
Gopal Ganesh Agarkar
Gopal Ganesh Agarkar was the first editor of Kesari. During this period he discussed several social problems and offered solutions for them. For his reformative view he had to resign the editorship of Kesari.
Agarkar started ‘Sudharak’ to propagate social reforms. He discussed several social problems and offered solution for them. Agarkar’s thinking was independent Progressive and powerful.
Equality and Education
Agarkar’s thinking was independent and fearless. His progressive approach towards the women’s questions created a new awakening. He propagated his views about social reform fearlessly. He was moved by the status of woman in family and stressed on the importance of women’s education. He believed that husband and wife was equally important member of the family.
The ancient religious scriptures denounced woman. He stood against such views. He suggested several measures for the emancipations of women. According to him the outdated social practices which are wrong and injurious in modern days should be reduced to the ashes. He was determined to use his newspaper to educate the society.
As an editor of the Sudharak, he was ready to fight orthodoxy. He had to confront feelings, anger and short sightedness of the orthodox people. The Sudharak believed in the philosophy of ‘saying whatever is right and doing whatever is possible’.
Many articles in the Sudharak show his concern for education. He spent most of the life in teaching and propagating education. According to Agarkar, if men and women are given the same type of education then men may have to stay of home to look after the children, wash clothes. But men should not feel it below their dignity to undertake household works.
Agarkar believed in the universal law of change. Struggle is essential to bring about change. Agarakar stood for social legislation by the government. Tilak led the opposition to such legislation. Agarkar being a staunch social reformer stood for transformation of Hindu religion and society by adopting the best principles of western civilization. His mission of life was to convey to the people the essence of the progressive principles.
He denounced the system of child marriage. Agarkar advocated reforms like education of woman and ban on child marriages, remarriage of widows. According to him child marriage had harmful impact on the society. These marriages were physically and psychologically harmful and cannot be justified. It was improper to marry off children before they were physically mature.
The children out of such marriages are usually weak both mentally and physically. He maintained that age of marriage for the young could be raised. With genuine fervour he advocated restriction on child marriage. The issue of child marriage led to sharp conflict between Agarkar and Tilak.
Agarkar supported famous social reformer Malabari who struggled to get Bill of Age of Consent passed. However Tilak opposed the idea of the government interference in the social reform. Agarkar strongly supported the Bill. He advocated the bill for the sake of protecting women’s physical health and mental development.
According to him it was necessary to adopt legal measures to prevent woman from being treated as the property of men. Tilak and his supporters did not approve of Agarkar’s views. There are many other differences as well regarding the other social reforms hence Agarkar had to resign from kesari’s editorship. He started independent weekly, Sudharak to propagate the social reforms. It became the vehicle to spread ideas of the social reforms. In the first issue he wrote on political and social reforms.
According to him due to the ignorance in the public mind on religious and social issues, it would not be possible to arouse the people to the political problems. He was devoted to his ideals and hopeful to achieve the goal of reformation in the society.
While advocating restriction on child marriage, Agarkar put emphasis on the need for widow remarriage. The ban on widow remarriage exited among the higher castes. A widow’s life in Hindus was miserable. Agarkar advocated that the society should accept widow remarriage which would give her purpose and dignity to her life. This would also take care of the problems of forced abortions. In this matter Agarkar proposed the need for a law as well as social education.
Maharshi Dhondo Keshav Karve
Maharshi Dhondo Keshav Karve was pioneer in promoting women’s education and the right for widows to remarry. He was active social reformer. After the death of his first wife he married a widow rather than unmarried girl. The work of Pandita Ramabai inspired him to dedicate his life to the cause of female education and the work of PanditVishnu Shastri inspired him to work for the uplifting the status of widow. In 1893, Karve founded “Vidhwa Vivahattejak Mandali”. In 1896, he established “Hindu Widows Home Association” and started a ‘Mahilashram’ in Hingane. The aim of the Home was to create among high caste widows an interest in life by training them to become self-sufficient. The establishment of a Girls School (Mahila Vidyalaya) which was a boarding school for non-widow students was the next reform initiated by Karve. The managing Committee of his Vidyalaya and Widow’s Home Association decided to open the schools and other institutions for the education of the women. Later on ‘Widows Home Association’ was renamed as ‘Hingane Stree Shikshan Sanstha’. During 1817-18 Karve established another school for girls.
The greatest achievement of Karve is the foundation of the women’s university in Maharashtra. He presented the idea of establishing the special institute for women’s education in the meeting of National Social Conference at Mumbai. He was supported by many leaders including Annie Besant, Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Bhandarkar. The women’s University was founded in 1916. All the educational institutions founded by karve were affiliated to the university. In 1919 Sir Vithaldas D. Thackersey an industrialist in Mumbai provided ample funds for the university. Henceforth the University came to be known as SNDT (Shrimati Nathibai Damodar Thakersey) Women’s University. Karve was also took initiative in establishing girl’s high schools in Maharashtra and Gujarat. He was awarded ‘Bharat Ratna’, the nation’s highest honour for his achievements and dedication to the educational cause in 1958.
Ramabai was a daughter of Anant Shastri, a well-known Sanskrit scholar. She got married to Bipin Behari Das, a Brahmo Samajist. Unfortunately her husband died in 1881. At this time, Ramabai decided to devote the rest of the life to the upliftment of women. She was welcomed in Pune by reformers like Ranade, Bhandarkar, Telang and Agarkar. She has established Arya Mahila Samaj in 1882at Pune. She visited England and America to create awareness about the women’s condition. She addressed numerous meetings to highlight the condition of the women in India. She published a book, ‘The High Caste Hindu Woman’ to describe the miserable plight of the Indian Women. In Mumbai, she founded ‘Sharada Sadan’, a home for widows in 1889. This Home aimed at providing educational facilities for widows and destitute women. The opening of the Sharda Sadan attracted criticism as well as praise from the leaders in Pune. Reformers like Ranade and Agarkar welcomed her activities. However orthodox section was suspicious of her motives. Tilak opposed to her. The increasing criticism on Pandita Ramabai changed the reformer’s stand that had sympathy to her. Ramabai continued her activities on her own strength. The opposition of the orthodox section led to the conversion of the Ramabai to the Christianity. In 1919 the British Monarchy conferred on her the (Kaiser-I-Hind-Award).
Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar
Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar rendered great service to all the women by his emphasis on equality. The preamble of the constitution of India promises to secure to all citizens justice. Parts III and IV of the constitution have provided these objectives which contain many provisions providing for preferential treatment for promoting social status of women and children. Because of his efforts, working women got the full pay maternity benefit. As a Labour minister in Viceroys Executive Council (1942-1946), he enacted various laws especially for the betterment of women. He as a Law Minister submitted a bill which raised the age of consent and marriage, upheld monogamy, gave women the right of divorce and treated stridhan as women’s property. However the conservative opposition to the radical proposals led to the postponement of the Hindu Code Bill. Dr. Ambedkar resigned in disgust due to attitude of the conservative members of the Constituent Assembly. Later sections of the Bill were passed as four distinct Acts. Thus, he devoted his entire life for the upliftment of all sections of society for the overall development of our country. Dr. Ambedkar was truly liberator of the Indian women.
Women and Indian National Movement
When the history of India’s fight for Independence comes to be written, the sacrifice made by the women of India will occupy the fore most place – Mahatma Gandhi Jawaharlal Nehru had remarked, when most of the men-folk were in prison then a remarkable thing happened. Our women came forward and took charge of the struggle. Women had always been there of course but now there was an avalanche of them, which took not only the British Government but their own men folk by surprise. The entire history of the freedom movement is replete with the saga of bravery, sacrifice and political sagacity of great men and women of the country. This struggle which gained momentum in the early 20th century, threw up stalwarts like Mahatma Gandhi, Lala Lajpat Rai,Motilal Nehru, Abul Kalam Azad, C. Rajagopalachari, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhash Chander Bose. Their number and stature often gives usan erroneous impression that it was only a man’s movement. But it is not so. Many prominent women played a leading role in the freedom movement. The important place assigned to women in India dates back to the time of the Vedas and Smritis. Manudeclared that where women were adored, Gods frequented that place, During the Vedic age the position of women in society was very high and they were regarded as equal partners with men in all respects. Who had not heard of Maitri, Gargi, Sati Annusuya and Sita? In keeping with this tradition, burden of tears and toils of the long years of struggle for India’s freedom was borne by the wives, mothers, and daughters, silently and cheerfully. The programme of self-imposed poverty and periodical jail going was possible only because of the willing co-operation of the worker’s family. In the various resistance movements in the villages, the illiterate women played this passive but contributory part as comrades of their men folk.
It has been very often and correctly said that India’s struggle for independence has also been a struggle for Indian woman’s socio-economic emancipation. And the sole credit goes to Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation, who included woman uplift as an important part of the Congress constructive programme. The resurgence of the Indian womenfolk has also been helped by some foreign born women like Dr. Annie Besant, Neili Sen Gupta, and Margaret Cousins who zealously worked in India, for country’s freedom and its socio-economic development.
Apart from the achievement of political independence, the second best benefit that flowed out of our Freedom Movement has been the liberation of our women, particularly those hailing from urban settlements. However, the path shown by them is continuously being followed by the rural women also. Many of the enlightened women then, plunged into India’s freedom movement. And it is very interesting and worthwhile to have a peep in their glorious service in this regard. References have already been cited related to the works of Dr. Annie Besant, Madam Cama, Bina Das, Pritilata Wadedar, Kalpana Dutt, Sarojini Naidu, Neili Sengupta, and Indira Gandhi etc. However, there is a long and unending listof the women who enthusiastically participated in this crusade in one way or the other. But the sufferings and sacrifices of Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, Kasturba Gandhi, Vijayalakshmi Pandit, Sucheta Kriplani, Lilavati Munshi, Sister Nivedita, Amma A. V.Kuthimalu, Kamla Devi Chattopadhya. Chaudharani Sarla Devi, Subhadra Kumari Chauhan, Kamala Das Gupta, Durgabai Deshmukh, Basanti Das, Nanibala, Rama Devi, Swaran Kumari, Urmila Devi, Subbamma Dhuvri, Lakshmibayamma Unnava, Kadambini Ganguly, Suhasini Ganguly, Santi Das, Avantikabai Gokhale, Hema Prabha, Meera Behn, Sharda Behn, Aruna Asaf Ali, Behn Satyawati Devi, Lakshmi Menon, Muthulakshmi Reddi, Lila Roy, Pandita Ramabai, Violet Alva, Indumati Sinha, Rani Gaidinliu, Annie Mascrene, etc. etc. are worth remembering.
Under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, the national movement became a mass movement since 1920. The participation of women in the national movement made a steady progress from the non-cooperation movement to the Quit India movement in 1942. During these mass movements, the women shouldered the responsibilities with running their homes, to contribute to the mite of the freedom struggle as they marched on the streets, shouted slogans, picketed shops of foreign goods and liquor, faced police lathi charge and bullets. Due to Gandhiji‘s appeal the Indian women fought shoulder to shoulder with men in the freedom Struggle of India, which enhanced their status and brought to the fore several issues related to women. The national movement was the first forum where the women participated in public life, to acquire rights and positions hither to denied to them. It was Mahatma Gandhi who tapped the potential of women as political agitators and partners in the process of building up a nation. The national movement acted in liberating women in drastic way than the past social reforms. They showed their capability as Socialist, Communist and Militant revolutionaries. They also fought under the leadership of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose for the liberation from the British rule. The women participated in the national movement were as; in1889 ten women attended the Indian National Congress session. In 1890Swarnakumari Ghosal, a novelist and Kadambiri Ganguly, the first women in the British Empire to receive BA and the India‘s first lady doctor attended as delegates. Saraladevi, Muthulakshmi Reddy and Amrit Kaur followed Gandhi in the movement. Sarojini Naidu, Goshiben Naoriji and Avantikabai Gokhale were attached to Rashtriya Stree Sangha. Urmila Devi, Shanti Das and Bimal Protiba Devi in Bengal and Smt.
S. Ambujammal, Krishnabai Rau and Rukmani Lakshmipathy from south were ahead in the movement. Due to this participation of women, there started changes taking place in the society and administration. The first major change was a legislation passed in 1937, the Hindu Women‘s property Act. It applied uniformly to all Hindus. When a husband died leaving properly, the widow would be entitled to the same share as the sons in the property. In the case of joint family property, she would be entitled to the same interests in the property as her husband had, including the right to demand partition.
The Indian National Movement began to change the condition of women in the country. This change enabled women to demand the trappings of modern life, education, health care, protective legislations, civil and political rights within the framework of a social feminist ideology that constructed women more psychologically different than man. Indian women, who sacrificed for her husband and family in the past, the same habit of sacrifice now valorized the women worthy for all rights in the country.
Since the ancient period, Indian society had been under out dated systems, traditions and superstitions. The large section which suffered a lot was the woman in the society. It is clear that many of the social reformers took lot of efforts for the upliftment of Indian society.
Mahatma Phule had done pioneering work towards the social reform movement in India during the second half of the 19th Century. Most of the social reformers worked towards the emancipation of Women and because of their efforts many important issues were addressed and solved by them.
Even then Indian woman contributed a lot towards the development Indian Society. Among them Cama, Besant, Naidu were prominent. Besides, these women crusaders, there have been thousands of women who whole heartedly participated in Indian national Movement. Many of them were greatly influenced by Mahatma Gandhi and happily underwent all types of sufferings and repressive measures.
It is evidently clear, that Indian women did not lag behind and it has been a great contribution of Gandhiji that he, through his programmes and calls, brought about socioeconomic uplift of the Indian women, no mean an achievement.