Table of Contents
Thus, in the year 200 B.C., wrote Manu, the great law-giver of India-India, whose mind was full grown when the western nations were yet unborn; India, whose life rolled on while the West, like the dragon fly, lived and died to live again. While Europe was still in a state of primitive barbarism, the Indo-Aryans of Bharat (India) had reached an elevated state of moral and spiritual perfection; and in the realm of intellectual culture they had attained an eminence which has not yet been equalled by the most advanced of western countries. Not only had they a perfect alphabet and a symmetrical language, but their literature already contained models of true poetry and remarkable treatises on philosophy, science, and ethics when the forefathers of the modern western nations were still clothed in skins and could neither read nor write. In their firm grasp of the fundamental meaning and purpose of life, and in the organization of their society with a view to the full attainment of the fruits of life, namely, "to take from each according to his capacity, and to give to each according to his needs," they had attained to a high degree of excellence, which has been recognized by the greatest of both western and oriental scholars. Says Max Muller, the noted scholar of oriental languages:
"If I were to look over the whole world to find out the country
most richly endowed with all the wealth, power, and beauty that
nature can bestow-in some parts a very paradise on earth-I should
point to India. If I were asked under what sky the human mind has
most fully developed some of its choicest gifts, has most deeply
pondered on the greatest problems of life, and has found
solutions of some of them which well deserve the attention even
of those who have studied Plato and Kant-I should point to
India. And if I were to ask myself from what literature we, here in
Europe, we who have been nurtured almost exclusively on the
thoughts of Greeks and Romans, and of one Semitic race, the Jewish,
may draw that corrective which is most wanted in order to make our
inner life more perfect, more comprehensive, more universal, in
fact more truly human, a life not for this life only, but a
transfigured and eternal life-again I should point to India."
[Max Muller---What India Can Teach Us]
Further, of the culture of this ancient people of India Sir Monier-Williams, sometime Boden Professor of Sanskrit in the University of Oxford, famous translator of Sanskrit drama, and author of many works on history and literature, speaks from an intimate knowledge of India derived from long residence in the country when he writes:
"Indeed, I am deeply convinced that the more we learn about the
ideas, feelings, drift of thought, religious and intellectual
development, eccentricities, and even errors of the people of
India, the less ready shall we be to judge them by our own
conventional European standards-the less disposed to regard
ourselves as the sole depositories of all the true knowledge,
learning, virtue and refinements of civilized life-the less prone
to despise as an ignorant and inferior race the men who compiled
the laws of Manu, one of the remarkable productions of the
world-who composed systems of ethics worthy of Christianity-who
imagined the Ramnayna and Mahabharata, poems in some respects
outrivalling the Iliad and the Odyssey-who invented for themselves
the sciences of grammar, arithmetic, astronomy, logic, and six most
subtle systems of philosophy. Above all, the less inclined shall we
be to stigmatize as benighted heathen the authors of two religions,
however false, which are at this moment professed by about half the
[Sir Monier-Williams-Modern India and the Indians, page 353.]
Such a civilization has built up the enormous literature of the Hindus embodied in the Vedas, Upnishads, the epic poems of Ramayna and Mahabharata, and the immortal works of Kalidasa, a literature comprising in itself an achievement of the human mind which may be considered sublime, and of which any civilization, ancient or modern, may feel justly proud. The poetical merit of Kalidasa's Sakuntala is universally admitted, and it ranks among the best of the world's masterpieces of dramatic art. Its beauty of thought and its tenderness in the expression of feeling are exquisite, while its creative fancy is rich, and the charm of its spirit is full. Says Goethe:
"Wouldst thou the life's young blossoms and the fruits of its
All by which the soul is pleased, enraptured, feasted, fed,-
Wouldst thou the earth, and heaven itself in one sweet name combine?
I name thee, 0 Sakuntala, and all at once is said."
The epic poems of Ramayna and Mahabharata consist of stories and
legends which form a splendid superstructure on the teachings
contained in the earlier scriptures of the Vedas. By relating what the
men and women of those times thought, said, and did, these poems
illustrate in a highly instructive manner the general character and
culture of the early Hindus. The stories contained in these poems,
which, in fact, rival the best known epic poems of the world, tell us
of the thoughts and beliefs, hopes and fears, joys and sorrows of the
people of this earliest recorded period. Through these stories we
learn the fundamental concepts which governed the religious and social
life of the early Hindus; in them are revealed also the basic moral
and spiritual laws which controlled the actions, "not only of gods and
supernatural men, but of ordinary men and women of India." "They
explain-by showing the degrees of danger incurred by such vices as
anger and pride, deception and faithlessness, intemperance and
impiety-the evil consequences of moral transgressions from both
man-made and supernatural laws; and at the same time they emphasize
the beauty of such virtues as patience and self-control, truthfulness
and purity, obedience and filial love."
[Oman-The Great Indian Epics.]
As an illustration of the fascinating and elevated nature of its lofty idealism, we shall quote two passages from Ramayna. In the first, Rama, the ideal king, has determined to execute the will of his late father by staying in the forests as an exile for fourteen years. Sita, his wife and the heroine of the story, begs her lord and husband to allow her to accompany him in his exile to the forests and offers a picture highly expressive of pious conjugal love. Sita says:
"Thou art my king, my guide, my only refuge, my divinity. It is my fixed resolve to follow thee. If thou must wander forth Through thorny trackless forests, I will go before thee, treading down The prickly brambles to make smooth thy path. Walking before thee, I Shall feel no weariness : the forest thorns will seem like silken robes; The bed of leaves, a couch of down. To me the shelter of thy presence Is better far than stately palaces, and paradise itself. Protected by thy arm, gods, demons, men shall have no power to harm me. Roaming with thee in desert wastes, a thousand years will be a clay: Dwelling with thee, e'en hell itself would be to me a heaven of bliss."
In the second selection Rama is heard answering to the entreaties of Bharata, who has tried in vain to dissuade him from carrying out his design. The following is Rama's answer to the messenger of Bharata:
"The words which you have addressed to me, though they recommend what seems to be right and salutary, advise, in fact, the contrary. The sinful transgressor, who lives according to the rules of heretical systems, obtains no esteem from good men. It is good conduct that marks a man to be noble or ignoble, heroic or a pretender to manliness, pure or impure. Truth and mercy are immemorial characteristics of a king's conduct. Hence royal rule is in its essence truth. On truth the world is based. Both sages and gods have esteemed truth. The man who speaks truth in this world attains the highest imperishable state. Men shrink with fear and horror from a liar as from a serpent. In this world the chief element in virtue is truth; it is called the basis of everything. Truth is lord in the world; virtue always rests on truth. All things are founded on truth; nothing is higher than it. Why, then, should I not be true to my promise, and faithfully observe the truthful injunction given by my father? Neither through covetousness, nor delusion, nor ignorance, will I, overpowered by darkness, break through the barrier of truth, but remain true to my promise to my father. How shall I, having promised to him that I would thus reside in the forests, transgress his injunction, and do what Bharata recommends?"
In Mahabharata again wee find proof of the high esteem in which the manly virtues of truthfulness, charity, benevolence, and chivalry towards women were held by the ancient Hindus. The most important incident in the drama (Mahabharata), namely, the death of Bhishma, occurred when this brave and virtuous man, in fidelity to his pledge never to hurt a woman, refused to fight, and was killed by a soldier dressed in a woman's garb. The drama is full of moral maxims, around each one of which the poet has woven a story in a beautiful and elegant manner.
"If Truth and a hundred horse sacrifice were weighed together,
Truth would weigh the heavier. There is no virtue equal to Truth,
and no sin greater than falsehood."
"For the weak as well as for the strong, forgiveness is an ornament."
"A person should never do to others what he does not like others to do to him, knowing how painful it is to himself."
"The man who fails to protect his wife earns great infamy here, and goes to hell afterwards."
"A wife is half the, man, his truest friend;
A loving wife is a perpetual spring
Of virtue, pleasure, wealth; a faithful wife
Is his best aid in seeking heavenly bliss;
A sweetly-speaking wife is a companion
In solitude, a father in advice,
A mother in all seasons of distress,
A rest in passing through life's wilderness."
These great epic poems have a special claim to our attention because they not only illustrate the genius of a most interesting people, but they are to this day believed as entirely and literally true by the vast population of India. "Huge congregations of devout men and women listen day after day with eager attention to recitations of these old national stories with their striking incidents of moral uplift and inspiration; and a large portion of the people of India order their lives upon the models supplied by those venerable epics."
The subjection of woman was accepted as a natural thing by the entire West until very recent times. Woman was held in the eyes of the law as no better than a slave, and she was considered useful in society merely to serve and gratify man, her master. Truly, such a condition forms a dark page in the history of the race. Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt, in her foreword to Mill's Subjection of Women, writes:
"In defense of these expressions [subjection and slavery used in Mill's essay] and the general character of the essay, it must be said that the position of women in society at that time  was comparable to that of no other class except the slave. As the slave took the name of his master so the woman upon marriage gave up her own and took that of her husband. Like the slave, the married woman was permitted to own no property; as, upon marriage, her property real and personal, and all she acquired subsequently by gift, will, or her own labour, was absolutely in her husband's control and subject to his debts. He could even will away her marriage-portion and leave her destitute. The earnings of the slave belonged to the master, those of the wife to the husband. Neither slave nor wife could make a legal contract, sue or be sued, establish business, testify in court, nor sign a paper as a witness. Both were said to be `dead in law'.
"The children of the slave belonged to the master; those of the wife to the husband. Not even after the death of the husband was the wife a legal guardian of her own children, unless he made her so by will. While living he could give them away, and at death could will them. as he pleased. He dictated the form of education and religion that they should be taught, and if the parents differed in religion, the wife was forced to teach the husband's faith. Like the slave, if the wife left her husband she could take nothing with her, as she had no legal claim to her children, her clothing, nor her most personal possessions.
"The law in many lands gave husbands the right to whip their
wives and administer other punishments for disobedience, provided
they kept within certain legal restrictions. Within the memory of
those living in Mill's day, wife-beating was a common offense in
England and America, husbands contending that they were well within
their `rights', when so doing.
". . . Education, always considered the most certain sign of individual advancement, was either forbidden or disapproved, for women. No colleges and few high schools, except in the United States, were open to women. Common schools were less usual for girls than for boys and the number of totally illiterate women vastly exceeded the number of illiterate men. Religion was recommended to women as a natural solace and avenue of usefulness, but they were not permitted to preach, teach, or pray in most churches, and in many singing was likewise barred! The professions and more skilled trades were closed to them."
That such a state of things was ever tolerated in the advanced countries of Europe and America seems to us of India incredible. But it is, nevertheless, true. As in the case of other social laws, the subjection of woman was the result of the fundamental ideals (or the lack of ideals) which governed the western society of those times. Men were still in that low state of development in which "Might was Right," and in which the law of superior strength was the rule of life. No pretension was made to regulate the affairs of society according to any moral law. The physical law which sanctioned traffic in human slaves, at the same time sustained the bondage of the weaker sex.
We now live in an age where the law of the strongest, in principle at least, has been abandoned as the guiding maxim of life. It is still very widely practised in individual as well as in national relationships, but always under the guise of higher social and cultural in individual as well as in national relationships, but always under the guise of higher social and cultural ends. The law of force as the avowed rule of general conduct has given place to ideals of social equality, human brotherhood, and international goodwill. How far such ideals are being actively followed by the different peoples of the world remains to be determined; but their profession as the symbol of good culture, at least, is universal.
The emancipation of woman in the West is thus a very recent achievement. Yet it is rightly considered by most thinkers the greatest single step forward in the advancement of the human race. Its tremendous importance in the future development of the race is realized now by all classes of people over the entire world. In fact, the social status of woman in any society is regarded by most people, and properly so, as the test of its civilization.
Through what hardships and dangers, privations and humiliations ran the thorny and uphill path of the early leaders of the women's suffrage movement. The deeds of true nobility and heroic determination that were performed by the pioneers of women's emancipation are very little known to the average man and woman of the present day. How numerous and difficult were the obstacles placed in the way of these pioneers by their brow-beating opponents, how bitter was the nature of their persecutions, how mean and foul the character of the insults offered them, and blind and obstinate the attitude of the governing class to their simple demand for justice are little realized by those who enjoy the legacy left by those liberators.
The high idealism which inspired the movement of the militant suffragettes in England is manifest in their every word and action. Their methods of peaceful, silent, dignified, conscious and courageous suffering, contrasted with the treacherous, cowardly, shameful, unmanly, and brutal attacks of their opponents, have received considerations of high merit from all sections of honest and fair-minded men the world over. Virtuous women belonging to the highest stations in life and possessing qualities of rare courage, purity, and self-denial were attacked in the most cowardly fashion by bands of strong-bodied hooligans, "felled to the ground, struck in the face, frog-marched, and tossed hither and thither in a shameless manner." "The women speakers were assaulted with dead mice and flocks of live mice, and flights of sparrows were let loose into their meetings. Paid gangs of drunken men were dispatched to the women's gatherings to sing obscene songs, and drown the voices of the speakers with the rattle of tin cans and the ringing of bells. Bands of suffragettes were attacked, struck down unconscious, and driven out over wet roads covered with carbide by gangs of Liberal volunteers. Suffragette leaders were imprisoned in the jails of England in groups of hundreds at a time and were meted out the fancy punishment of forcible feeding through a tube inserted into the stomach, a process which causes intense and lingering pain." [K. Sylvie Pankhurst.] This barbarous treatment excited at once the horror and indignation of the whole civilized world. Yet all these brutalities were carried on under the very nose, in fact, at the direction of the full-fledged Liberal members of the British cabinet.
At a campaign meeting held in Swansea where the suffragettes attempted to ask Mr. Lloyd-George questions regarding his attitude on the problem of woman franchise, he is reported as having used such language as, "sorry specimens of womanhood," "I think a gag ought to be tried," "By and by we shall have to order sacks for them, and the first to interrupt shall disappear," "fling them ruthlessly out," and, "frog-march them." At another meeting held in Manchester, February 4th, 1906, where Mr. Winston Churchill spoke, on asking a very simple question, the fourteen year old daughter of Mrs. Pankhurst, Adela, was savagely attacked, thrown down, and kicked by several men. The unwholesome and bitter experiences of the peaceful and gentle suffragettes at the two election campaigns in May, 1907, are described by Miss Sylvie E. Pankhurst as follows:
"After these stormy meetings the police and hosts of sympathisers always escorted us home to protect us from the rowdies. Just as we reached our door there was generally a little scuffle with a band of youths who waited there to pelt us with sand and gravel as we passed. . . . At Uppingham, the second largest town, the hostile element was smaller than at Oakham, but its methods were more dangerous. While Mary Gawthorpe was holding an open-air meeting there one evening, a crowd of noisy youths began to throw up peppermint `bull's eyes' and other hard-boiled sweets. `Sweets to the sweet,' said little Mary, smiling, and continued her argument, but a pot egg, thrown from the crowd behind, struck her on the head and she fell unconscious. . . . "
This is what happened on October 16th, 1909, at an open-air gathering near Dundee, where Mr. Winston Churchill was to speak:
''...Standing in the road were some thirty or forty men, all
wearing the yellow rosettes of official Liberal stewards, and as
the car (containing four prominent suffragettes) slowed, they
rushed furiously towards it, shouting and tearing up sods from the
road and pelting the women with them. One man pulled out a knife
and began to cut the tires, whilst the others feverishly pulled
the loose pieces off with their fingers. The suffragettes tried to
quiet them with a few words of explanation, but their only reply
was to pull the hood of the motor over the women's heads and then
to beat it and batter it until it was broken in several
places. Then they tore at the women's clothes and tried to pull
them out of the car, whilst the son of the gentleman in whose
ground the meeting was being held drove up in another motor and
threw a shower of pepper in the women's eyes. . . . The only
excuse for the stewards who took part in this extraordinary
occurrence is that many of them were intoxicated."
[E. Sylvie Pankhurst-The Suffragette, page 451.]
And the most pitiful part of the business was that such conduct seemed to be regarded by its perpetrators as engaging pieces of gallantry. While a recitation of these incidents might be continued indefinitely, one more will suffice to show with what contempt and dishonor the western world has treated its women. On August 2, 1909, a great Liberal fete was held at Canford Park, near Poole in Dorsetshire. There were sports and games and Mr. Churchill was to deliver an address on the budget. Annie Kenney with three companions attended the fete, and the story of what took place is best told in her own words. She says:
"As we entered the Park together we saw two very young girls
being dragged about by a crowd of Liberal men, some of whom were
old enough to be their fathers. They had thrown a pig net over
them, and had pulled down their hair. We heard afterward that these
girls came from a village near by, but the Liberals suspected them
to be Suffragettes and ordered them out of the Park. . . . , but
they were crowded round us and the language they used is not fit
for print. . . . They were calling out to each other to get hold
of me and throw me into the pond which was very near . . . , but as
soon as my back was turned they started dragging me about in a most
shameful way. One man who was wearing the Liberal colours pulled
a knife out of his pocket, and to the delight of the other staunch
Liberals, started cutting my coat. They cut it into shreds right
from the neck downwards. Then they lifted up my coat and started to
cut my frock and one of them lifted up my frock and cut my
petticoat. This caused great excitement. A cry came from those Lib-
erals, who are supposed to have high ideas in public life, to
undress me. They took off my hat and pulled down my hair, but I
turned round upon them and said that it would be their shame and
not mine. They stopped then for a minute, and then two men, also
wearing the Liberal colours, got hold of me and lifted me up and
afterwards dragged me along, not giving me an opportunity to walk
out in a decent way."
[E. Sylvie Pankhurst-The Suffragette, page 413.]
The heroism and rare genius of Mrs. E. Pankhurst and her associates in the suffragette movement will be acknowledged by their friends and foes alike. Through their suffrings they have bequeathed to women of the western world the priceless heritage of Freedom, and thus pushed the progress of the human race a long step forward. Mrs. Pankhurst possessed, undoubtedly, a firm character, a lofty mind, a generous heart, strong and vigorous good sense. We shall call the emancipator of English womanhood a great woman, using that word not as a cheap, unmeaning title but as conveying three essential elements of greatness, namely, unselfishness, honesty, and boldness. She who sacrificed everything for the voice of justice and submitted herself and her three young daughters to cruel indignities and hardships of jail life for the sake of her fellow creatures was an unselfish, an honest, a bold woman,-was a great woman-in the best sense of the word. And at this distant time as a proof of our honest affection and admiration for her goodness and virtue, we can afford to express a feeling of mingled sorrow and joy at her prolonged sufferings and final success.
In India, on the contrary, in the development of their wonderful civilization men and women have played an equal part. The two sexes have worked side by side in every branch of their spiritual endeavor, and women have attained the same eminence as men in higher learning. The Vedic hymns mention both men and women as divine revealers of Truth and as spiritual instructors of mankind. In fact, The Rig Veda, the earliest scriptural record of the world, contains hymns revealed by women; and the Hindu god, Indra, is described as being initiated into the knowledge of the Universal Spirit by the woman Aditi. Furthermore, the Upnishads, the philosophical portion of the Veda, frequently mention the names of women who discoursed on philosophical topics with the most learned men philosophers of the times. Women scholars were often appointed arbitrators and umpires in important philosophic debates, and the names of the two women philosophers, Gargi and Maitreyi, are familiar to all students of Hindu philosophy. In other words, the paths of intellectual culture were equally open to men and women, under exactly similiar circumstances. In fact, the very spirit of such equality is inculcated in the minds of the people from both their law and their religion that made no distinction between the sexes in the award of honors for merit. The law-givers of India, taking their lessons from the Vedas, established the fundamental equality of man and woman by defining the relation of the sexes thus:
"Before the creation of this phenomenal universe, the first born Lord of all creatures divided his own self into two halves, so that one half should be male and the other half female."
Not only in the direction of scholarly pursuits, but in the practical business affairs of the world also, the women of India have distinguished themselves eminently as legislators, ministers, commercial leaders, and military commanders. Men, women, and children throughout India are familiar with the story of Queen Chand Bibi, who defended Ahmedanagar during the long siege by the Grand Moghul; poets also have sung of her valor and administrative wisdom. Another instance of the recognition of the ability of women is the story of Nur Jahan (Light of the Universe), the beautiful queen of the Moghul Emperor, Jahangir, who guided the affairs of her husband's vast territories in a highly efficient manner for a period of nearly ten years. Further, and well known to all students of history, is the story of Mumtaz-i-Mahal, Emperor Shah Jahan's consort, who assisted him in his works of administration and in the construction of the famous buildings of his period. This woman, described as a person of unexampled dignity, delicacy, and charm, during her life-time was the "light of his eyes," and after death the perpetual source of inspiration to the bereaved Emperor. On her death-bed, Mumtaz, the beloved companion of his life's happy days and mother of his six children, asked of Shah Jahan that a memorial befitting a queen be placed over her grave. In compliance with this request, and as a token of his unceasing love for the deceased queen, the Emperor constructed on her grave the famous Taj Mahal-a monument which by its beauty has made immortal the love it commemorates. The most beautiful building in the world stands as a memorial to man's love for his wife-an unconquerable love, unbroken and unsatisfied. Says Sir Edwin Arnold:
"He has immortalised-if he could not preserve alive for one
brief day-his peerless wife. . . . Admiration, delight,
astonishment blent in the absorbed thought with a feeling that
human affection never struggled more ardently, passionately and
triumphantly against the Oblivion of Death. There is one sustained,
harmonious, majestic sorrowfulness of pride in it, from the verse
on the entrance which says that `the pure of heart shall enter the
Gardens of God', to the small, delicate letters of sculptured
Arabic upon the tombstone which tell, with a refined humility, that
Mumtaz-i-Mahal, the `Exalted of the Palace', lies here, and that
`Allah alone is powerful.'"
[Sir Edwin Arnold-India Revisited, page 211.]
The heroic command of her own forces by the Rani (Queen) of Jhansi during the Indian War of Independence in 1857 is a familiar and more recent example of a woman entering into practical affairs. Clad in a man's uniform, she rode at the head of her troops, and died a brave and patriotic death in the battlefield. The name of Rani Jhansi is mentioned among the renowned heroes of the country, and as a special tribute to her loving memory her picture in a general's uniform is kept in many homes. Indian society is not opposed to the active participation of its women in the higher affairs of their national life. If the positive declarations of a group of western critics to the contrary were true, the action of Rani Jhansi would be condemned instead of being so universally applauded as it is now by even the most orthodox of old Hindu ladies.
Throughout the long history of India, then, women have not been hampered by any man-made restrictions from serving in the country's religious life, from fighting on its battlefields, and from holding power in its councils. In the present generation we find women again taking an active and important part in the affairs of the country. They have the fullest freedom for self-expression, of which they seem to have availed themselves in a highly creditable and fitting manner, without sacrificing the admiration and respect of the men. In times of their country's need they have given proofs of patriotism by self-sacrifice which speaks the language of love and devotion to motherland. With a voluntary desire to cooperate, the men of India have given to the women of the country a large share in its councils, and have invited them to their national conferences of importance. In the inner and more weighty deliberations of its leaders their influence is evident, and on all occasions of national demonstration the women of India are represented.
Shrimati Lajiavati-a frail, delicate figure, but a beautiful model of womanly courage and dignity-has won for herself in the Punjab a place which is closely akin to worship. She founded, and is now managing as its principal, the Arya Samaj Kanya Mahavidyala (girls' school) in Jallundhar City, Punjab. Another example of India's modern women, who stands high in her countrymen's esteem, is Shrimati Ramabai Ranade. Her work as the secretary of Seva Sadhan, a society for social service work among the women of the country, has been amply recognized. During the debate over the women's suffrage bill in the Bombay Legislative Council, one honorable member remarked amid the greatest applause of the season: "There is no Council which would not be honored, graced, and helped by the presence of such a woman as one who is known to us all, Mrs. Ramabai Ranade." Mrs. Margaret E. Cousins, describing her interview with Mrs. Ranade, says:
"I asked her, `What do you think of the future of women in
India? 'It is full of hope and promise', she replied, and in doing
so spontaneously took my hand and pressed it. It touches a
Westerner when her Eastern sister does that. It bridges gulfs and
knits the human sisterhood together. Like Mirabai of the poet's
Wears little hands
Such as God makes to hold big destinies.
"Her hands revealed her soul, for in their touch was soft sweetness and strong vitality which still inspire me, and which promise the blessing of her remarkable powers of service to humanity for years to come."
[Margaret E. Cousins-The Awakening of Asian Womanhood, page 114.]
Where is the Indian whose heart does not beat with joy at the mention of Mrs. Sarojini Naidu? Who does not remember with feelings of proud exultation the name of this beloved and revered sister-she who is the symbol of patriotism and a flower of womanly beauty and culture, from whose elevated soul radiate grace, charm, and affection, and who is the object of her countrymen's adoration? In 1925, in recognition of her manifold virtues, the people of India exalted her to the highest position at their command; she was unanimously elected President of the Indian National Congress. [The Indian National Congress is the largest representative body of the Indian nation, with its ramifications spread throughout the country consisting of thousands of branches. Its meetings are held annually in different parts of the country.] In the entire history of mankind no woman has been more highly honored by her countrymen than has Mrs. Sarojini Naidu. Read her poems and you will find the heart of a woman forever seeking the satisfaction of hungry love:
"Hide me in a shrine of roses,
Drown me in a wine of roses,
Drawn from every fragrant grove!"
Listen to her musical eloquence on the nationalist platform of India, and you will hear the cry of a patriot's heart groaning under the load of its country's humiliation from the merciless foreign yoke.
"Our arts have degenerated, our literatures are dead, our beautiful industries have perished our valor is done, our fires are dim, our soul is sinking."
A more striking proof of the confidence and respect which the men of India bear towards their women was given during the debates on women's suffrage bills in the provincial legislative councils of the country. The Southborough Franchise Committee, which was formed to study the general conditions in the country with a view to granting the franchise to the people of India, in its report to the British Government of India (1919) had expressed its decision against granting the franchise to Indian women. This decision was upheld by the British Government of India in the statement, "In the present conditions of India we agree with them [the Southborough Committee] that it is not practical to open the franchise to women." To this decision of the Government Sir C. Sankaran Nair, the Indian member of the Executive Council, entered a strong protest, based on the strength of the evidence which was presented before the Southborough Committee in favor of granting franchise to women. Hip contention, furthermore, was upheld by the resolution passed at two successive sessions of the Indian National Congress (Calcutta 1917 and Delhi 1918). This resolution expressed in an unequivocal manner the opinion of the Indian nation on the important question of woman franchise as follows:
"Women possessing the same qualifications as are laid down in any part of the [Reform] Scheme shall not be disqualified on account of sex."
A tremendous agitation was staged in India after the publication of the dispatch of the Government of India, unfavorable to women's rights. As a result of this agitation a provision was made whereby the provincial legislatures were given the power to admit or exclude women from franchise at their individual options. True to their traditions and following the teaching of their ancient as well as their modern seers the majority of the provinces have already granted the franchise to women on the same basis as to men. This experience is unequalled in the entire history of mankind. Everywhere else where the women enjoy any rights to vote or possess property, they have had to fight a battle involving prolonged hardships and outrageous indignities imposed upon them by the indignant and oftentimes barbarous ruling sex. India is the only civilized country of the world in which women in modern times have been granted franchise on an equality with men without a single demonstration of insult or disrespect directed against its aspiring womanhood. If for no other reason, the respect which the people of India have shown to the desire of their women for the franchise, should entitle them to a high place in the scale of civilization.
Mrs. Margaret E. Cousins is an international figure in the woman's suffrage movement, in which cause she has suffered imprisonments in both Ireland and England. She is also the founder and Honorary Secretary of the Women's Indian Association with its fifty branches spread over the country, and has lived for twelve years among the women of India with relations of intimate friendship. Mrs. Cousins is not in any sense of the word addicted to indiscriminate flattery, but she says
"Turning then to India one finds that though the percentage of
education is appallingly low, the tradition of Indian law leaves
women very free to take any position for which they show themselves
capable. No Indian political organisations were at any time closed
to women. Women have at every stage of Indian history taken high
positions in their country's public service. Springing from their
religious philosophy there is fundamentally a belief in sex
equality, and this shows itself when critical periods demand
it. This has been clearly shown during the movement of the past ten
years for self-government. Women have had their share in all the
local Conferences and in the National Congress. No one who was
present can easily forget the sight of the platform at the Calcutta
Congress of 1917 when three women leaders, Mrs. Annie Besant,
President of the Congress, Mrs. Sarojini Naidu, representative of
the Hindu women, and Bibi Ammam, mother of the Ali brothers and
representative of the Muslim women, sat side by side, peeresses of
such men leaders (also present) as Tilak, Gandhi and Tagore, and
receiving equal honor with them."
[Awakening of Asian Womanhood, page 9.]
As a distinct contribution towards the solution of the world's social problems, the East Indians, by allowing woman the exercise of her own free will and the entire responsibility of all her actions, have established the fact that a woman left completely to herself with opportunity to develop freely her instincts and faculties, may equal man in reason, wisdom, and uprightness, and may surpass him in delicacy and dignity.
The Hindu religion has always stood for the absolute equality of woman with man. In matters religious as well as secular the Hindu woman has been considered the equal of man before the law since the origin of the Hindu nation. The admission of women into American universities began only in recent times, while her partial equality in the sight of law, not yet quite complete, is less than twenty years old. But in India women have enjoyed such rights and many more since the beginning of its recorded history. To the western readers who have been very injudiciously fed upon missionaries' tales about India, with their colorful pictures of the brutality of the heathen towards his women folk, this statement may seem incredible. But it is an undisputed fact of history that since the beginning of Hindu law, woman in India has held more legal rights to acquire knowledge, to hold office, and to possess property than her sisters in America are having today. She was never barred from the national institutions of higher learning because of sex, and in the development of her intellectual, moral, and spiritual qualities she was not hampered by any social or religious laws whatsoever. She has stood before law as an exact equal of man with the same rights to possess property, the same rights to go before courts of justice and to ask the protection of law. The system of co-education prevailed in the ancient universities of Nalanda and Takhshashila. It is a familiar fact known to all western scholars that Sakuntala, the heroine in Kalidasa's drama of that name, pleaded her own case before the court of King Dushyanta. Indian women have fought on battlefields alongside of men, have taken leading parts in their historic and philosophic debates, have revealed spiritual truths for the Vedas, and have received, as personifications of the Deity, the worship from adoring millions. Above all else, the Indian women have ruled over the hearts of their husbands and children throughout the ages with a power that is born exclusively of purity in character, and the spirit of self-sacrifice and love. They have held their dignity with a poise which does the female sex a great credit.
Does Hindu religion sanction, then, the bondage of woman, and is wife-beating permitted in Indian society? Is the Hindu wife considered merely as an instrument of pleasure, and is her whole ambition in life to be a passive and obedient servant of the husband? The maxims which guide the conduct of Hindu society were laid down by the great Law-giver Manu, in the year 200 B. C. He says
"Where female relations live in grief, the family soon perishes;
but that family where they are not unhappy ever prospers."
"A woman's body must not be struck hard, ven with a flower, because it is sacred."
That a nation which regularly listens to readings from epic poems of Ramayana and Mahabharata morning and night on every day of the year, and on whose lips the praises of Sita, the ideal wife (heroine in Ramayana), dance forever, should be carried away by the desire of ill-treating its womankind, as is actually believed by most westerners, is simply inconceivable. Sita's equal as a model of womanly chastity, uprightness, kindness, and devotion has not been known in the history of mankind. The story of her exile with her husband, King Rama, her fidelity, and her spirituality is known to every child born in India; while her character is set as an example before all Hindu women in the country. With such ideals as these constantly before their minds, and the moral influence of the peaceful, chaste family life always around them, women of any nation will develop within themselves a power which it will be impossible for any group of men, however foul and vicious, to resist. And it must be remembered that the men of India, slow as they are in catching the militaristic spirit of the competitive western life, are to an exceptional degree spiritual and religious in their general behavior. Sir Monier-Williams says:
"Religion of some kind enters largely into heir [East Indian]
everyday life. Nay, it may even be said that religious ideas and
aspirations---religious hopes and fears-are interwoven with the
whole texture of their mental constitution. A clergyman, who has
resided nearly all his life in India, once remarked to me that he
had seen many a poor Indian villager whose childlike trust in his
god, and in the efficacy of his religious observances-whose
simplicity of character and practical application of his creed, put
us Christians to shame."
[Sir Monier-Williams-Modern India and the Indians, page 54.]
And again, in describing the general character of the Hindu women and their family life, he writes:
"Hindu women must be allowed full credit for their strict discharge of household duties, for their personal cleanliness, thrift, activity, and practical fidelity to the doctrines and precepts of their religion. They are generally loved by their husbands, and are never brutally treated. A wife-beater drunkard is unknown in India. In return, Indian wives and mothers are devoted to their families. I have often seen wives in the act of circumambulating the sacred Tulsi plant 108 times, with the sole object of bringing down a blessing on their husband and children. In no other country in the world are family affection and reverence for parents so conspicuously operative as in India. In many households the first morning duty of a child on rising from sleep is to lay his head on his mother's feet in token of filial obedience. Nor could there be a greater mistake than to suppose that Indian women are without influence." [Sir Monier-Williams-Modern India and the Indians, page 318.]
II. The Hindu Ideal of Marriage
Table of Contents