• The women’s question like the untouchability or the communal question emerged during the nationalist movement that had to be solved to give shape to the vision of a
free India. From the 19th century, the women’s question has formed one of the major
issues in socio-political debate.
• In the Indian society, the coming of British rule led to the usage of women’s question’,
which figured prominently in their colonial discourses. The British rule used the
pitiable condition of women in India to their role of civilizing mission’. The colonial
social reforms of the 19th century tried to abolish abuses of social life to usher more
progressive gender relations. This led to the enactment of social legislation by the
colonial government such as abolition of sati(1829), Widow Remarriage Act(1856),
Child Marriage Act(1872) etc.
• Thus, in the early 19th century, the liberal reformers or the revivalists, such as Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Dayanand saraswati, Yidyasagar etc, made women as the recipient of
social change. However, the women’s question and concern for domesticity was far
from being answered by the women themselves. Moreover, despite the fact that these
social reforms were modem, the underlying system of patriarchy wasn’t questioned.
• In the last quarter of the 19th century, the women’s question got increasingly
influenced by the rise of cultural nationalism & revivalism as a counter attack to the
spread of western values in the society. The revivalists, interested in conserving the
indigenous cultural traditions, began to support women’s education on the ground that
it would help to strengthen the hold of indigenous culture through the institution of the
family. Lack of education to women created communication gap, which eroded the
women’s ability to influence men in their family. Thus, the cultural nationalists
projected women as the custodians of traditions & cultural values.
• The advent of the 20th century witnessed the interlinking of women’s question with the
trends of the nationalist movement women engaged with the nationalist politics despite
constraints of social practices such as Purdah system, backwardness and low level of
female literacy. Women participated in the freedom struggle through 2 parallel
(i) Domestication of public sphere- women participated in the streets without
compromising on their domestic values.
(ii) Politicization of the domestic sphere- women handled situations in their
families when nationalism entered household through the activities of the male.
However, despite women s participation, the women’s question & consciousness was
caught in the vertex of political emotions of national movement and still remained
within the subordination of patriarchal structures.
• The women’s question got a new dimension with the advent of Gandhi and growth of
popular politics. Gandhi’s call led to the large scale participation of women in the
freedom struggle. He held that women were ideally suited for the satyagraha’ as
they’re filled with qualities appropriate for non-violent struggle and social uplift
programmer of the congress. A/q to Gandhi, women possess qualities of self-sacrifice
and tolerance and an ability to endure sufferings which are sine-qua-non for the non¬
• Mahatma Gandhi consciously feminized India’s freedom struggle with a dual aim of
fighting against the colonial rule and benefit the cause of women’s liberation in the
country. He evolved the strategy in such a way that not only each activity in civil
disobedience, such as picketing of shop’s, was possible for women to do , but each act
of the constructive action was especially suited to women. Thus, Gandhian satyagraha’
swept aside old taboos & customs and , in this way, proved to be instrumental in
providing a vigor & strength to both the national movement and women’s question in