The spread of English education hammered at the root of Indian orthodoxy. Indian women, after centuries of subjugation awoke, into a new life. Dalhousie declared widow remarriage as legitimate. The reform movements in the 19th and 20th centuries galvanised the process of women awakening. With the gradual march of time women received education and became conscious of their rights, privileges and status.
In 1903, a ladies section was incorporated in the Indian National Social Conference. Under its auspices, a women conference was held in 1910 and Mrs. Sarala Devi Chaudhurani became its secretary.
In 1927 a Bill was introduced by Har Bilas Sarda which was passed in 1927 and it came into force in 1930. This created provision to penalise parties who would solemnise a marriage in which the girl was below 14 or the boy was below 18.
Of course, the introduction of a Bill by Vithalbhai Patel for inter-caste marriage in 1918 and Hari Singh Guru’s Civil Marriage Bill of 1922 were not passed. In the Act of 1929, the son’s daughter, the daughter’s daughter and sister got their natural place in the order of inheritance.
In 1937, the Hindu Women’s Right to Property Act was. Passed which authorised a Hindu widow a share in her husband’s property. It also provided widow the right to demand partition. The constant effort to make Hindu marriage monogamous and the provision of divorce failed stupendously. However, the Act of 1925 extended to devadasis and made traffic in minor girls a criminal offence.
Right from the days of Lord Dalhousie who permitted the widows to marry again, efforts were made to improve the condition of the Widows. For achieving that end, Widows’ Home in Mysore, Mahila Silpasrama in Calcutta, Mrs. Dutta’s Widows’ Home at Dacca, Brahmin’s Widows’ Hostel in Madras etc. were established between 1906 and 1912. Widows’ Home founded by Prof. D.K. Kadve ran a Girls’ High School and a Social Service Centre. These three institutions were recognised into a women’s university in 1916 for promoting higher education among the women.
For promoting education among the women in India, the Sevasadan in Bombay did commendable works. It established training centers to train women workers and to provide them with “the facilities of classroom teachings in English, Sanskrit and Civics, to supply medical aid and to-provide work-rooms. The reformers wanted to impart education to women.
For that reason, Sadler Commission was set up which recommended that priority should be attached to women education. So a gradual expansion of the schools and colleges for girls was made inside the country and by 1944-45, it was reviewed that women education had advanced tremendously in India.
Abolition of dowry and limitation ‘of marriage expenses were some steps for the promotion of the lot of Indian women. The self-immolation of Snehalata, a Bengali girl in 1914 agitated the youths who demanded immediate constitutional reform to oust this ugly Practice. The Purdah system was done away with.
The role of Mahatma Gandhi in uplifting the women was certainly commendable. He wanted to involve the women folk of India in her long march for struggle. In the Non-Cooperation Movement, the women came forward to take part in picketing.
In the Civil Disobedience Movement, several women took part in the famous Dandi march. The Banara Sena came forward under the leadership of Indira Gandhi to further the cause of Indian freedom struggle; the role of Sarala Devi.
Rama Devi, Sarojini Naidu, Kuntala Kumari Sabat, Malati Chaudhury etc. in the freedom struggle can never be relegated to distant background.
After independence, women have matched ahead hand in hand with men. In education, social reform, protecting their rights, participation in politics and several other affairs, they have marked their distinctions. The Mahila Commission, reservation of seats in the election and job etc. are the pointers in the direction of the upliftment of women in the post independence era.