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Social change in 19th Century India: Women's Reforms

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supreet samra

on 25 March 2014

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Transcript of Social change in 19th Century India: Women's Reforms


1. Issues regarding women in India during the 19th century and reasons for the reform

2. Social reformers and their impact

3. Amar Jiban

4. Discussion Questions

Reasons for the reform

Female Infanticide
Dowry System
Child Marriage
Women’s property rights
Social reformers

- Both male and female reformers

Social Change in 19th Century India: Focus on Women's Reforms
Female Infanticide in Hinduism

- Son preference in the Hindu culture
- Men are better providers
- Sons are required for the proper performance of funeral rites
- A patriarchal bias against women

Female Infanticide in Sikhism

- Sikh authorities condemn infanticide
- Most are gender neutral
- Proclaim the equality of men and women

Women’s Property Rights

- Women excluded from getting a share in family property
- Rule of survivor ship
- Hindu Women’s Right to Properties Act, 1937
Female Infanticide in Islam

- Common in pre-Islamic Arabia
- Later, strictly forbidden
- Regarded as serious as adult murder

- The Qur'an on female infanticide:
"When the infant girl is buried alive, she is questioned for what
crime she was killed."
- Surah 81 v 8 - 9

Dowry System

- Payment in cash or gifts given to bridegroom's family along with the bride
- Great financial burden on the bride's family
- Distorted the sex ratio of India (940/1000)
- Been prohibited under The 1961 Dowry Prohibition Act in Indian civil law

1 woman is burned due to dowry every 20 minutes
If dowry is not given:

- Abuse, insults, passing sarcastic remarks
- Assault
- Denial of food or starvation
- Prohibiting them from going out and meeting any one
- Refusing visits to their parent's home
- Locking them up in a room
- Bride Burning/ Acid throwing
- Divorce
Neela’s Story

- Neela was married at 12 years old
- Her husband threw acid on her face when she was 14
- Reason: Dowry

Child marriage

- Formal marriage or informal union before the age of 18
- Related to child betrothal
- Unmarried teenage pregnancy
- Usually, the female is a child

Causes of Child Marriage

- Importance of female virginity
- Poverty
- Bride price
- Religious and social pressures
- Regional customs
- Inability of women to work for money
- Dowry
Child Marriage Restraint Act

- In 1929, the Child Marriage Restraint Act was passed
- South Asia has the highest prevalence of child marriage in the world
As India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru said:
“If you educate a man you educate an individual; however, If you educate a woman you educate a whole family. Women empowered means mother India empowered.”
Sati and Jahur

- Literally means a 'pure and virtuous woman'
- Burnt herself with the dead body of her husband
- Usually, it was done by force
- Abolition of “Sati” through regulation of 1829

Widow Remarriage

- Hindu Widow Remarriage Act, 1856
- Vishnu Shastri Pandit founded the Widow remarriage
Association in 1850
- D.K Karve, in western India, opened a home for widows
in Poona
- Set up a women's university in Mumbai, in 1916

- The custom of shaving the head of a widow

: monks and ascetic shaved their heads and felt widows should do the same


Rapidly declined in the first quarter of the 20th century
From My Story: The Autobiography of a Hindu Widow

- "Who knows who was the damn author of the custom of shaving widows’ heads. It is not even mentioned in the Ramayana or Mahabharata. We do not know whether the custom existed in the Vedic period.”

Devadasi- 10th century A.D

- Untouchable Sacred Whores
- A girl married to a temple
- Life of sexual slavery
- Outlawed in 1988
- More than 10,000 Dalit women across Andhra Pradesh are
forced to work as temple prostitutes

Brahmo Samaj

- Originated to remove issues like polygamy and Sati
- From 1822, over 500 Brahmins of
Calcutta organized themselves into a force under the guidance of social reformers like Ram Mohan Roy to fight against such issues
- To report and prosecute such offenses
Female Infanticide

Killed in the womb
Killed right after birth
Ram Mohun Roy
Ram Mohun Roy (1772-1833):
- Against the Sati ritual
- Fought to make women's lives better
- Social, religious, and educational reformer
- "Maker of modern India"
- Founded the Brahmo Samaj
- In favor of integrating the western culture with features of his own culture’s traditions
- Modernize the education system therefore, women were also allowed in
- Appealed before the British Parliament to ensure the ban on sati
- Sati Abolition Act was passed in 1829
Jyotiba Phule: 1827- 1890
Jyotiba Phule

- One of the pioneers of women's education in India
- One of the first to initiate widow remarriage
- Against gender inequality
Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar
- Played a great role in the uplift of the status of women in India
- Transform orthodox Hindu society from WITHIN
- Widow remarriage act in India, in 1856

Behramji Merwanji Malabari (1853-1912)
- In 1884, published notes that highlight issues like infant marriage and enforced widowhood
- Demands legislature to prevent them
- Blamed the priestly class for misinterpretation of the scripture and superstitions
- Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885 and the Age of Consent Act in 1891

Pandita Ramabai: 1858-1922
- Educated by her father
- Made the purpose and dedicated her entire life to help women in need
- Founder of Arya Mahila Samaj
- Raised awareness and funds in America to aid women
in India
- Sharda Sadan and Krupa Sadan
- Mukti mission

Dhondo Keshav Karve (1858 –1962)
Other women reformers?
First Indian woman editor
Amar Jiban ("My life")



- Lack of education
- Mostly illiterate
- Education limited to males belonging to the upper castes
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