Gender and Education in India: A Reader 9781032043579, 9781003191612

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Gender and Education in India: A Reader
 9781032043579, 9781003191612

Table of contents :
Title Page
Copyright Page
Table of Contents
Copyright Acknowledgements
List of Contributors
1. Masculinity and Femininity: Ideas are Real
2. Growing Up Male
3. Through the Looking Glass: Gender Socialisation in a Primary School
4. Bound by Norms and Out of Bounds: Experiences of PAGFB (Persons Assigned Gender Female at Birth) Within the Formal Education System
5. Men, Women and the Embattled Family
6. Strishiksha, or Education for Women
7. Role Models: Educated Muslim Women—Real and Ideal
8. Partition and Family Strategies: Gender-Education Linkages Among Punjabi Women in Delhi
9. Unequal Schooling as a Factor in the Reproduction of Social Inequality in India
10. From Access to Attainment: Girls’ Schooling in Contemporary India
11. Negotiation and Compromise: Gender and Government Elementary Education
12. The Contested Terrain of Reproduction: Class and Gender in Schooling in India
13. Serving the Nation: Gender and Family Values in Military School
14. Chhadi Lage Chham Chham, Vidya Yeyi Gham Gham (The Harder the Stick Beats, the Faster the Flow of Knowledge): Dalit Women’s Struggle for Education
15. Gender and Curriculum
16. Education as Trutiya Ratna: Towards Phule-Ambedkarite Feminist Pedagogical Practice

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Edited by Nandini Manjrekar


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Gender and Education in India A Reader

Edited by N andini Manjrekar Assisted by

Simran Luthra

i~ ~~o~:~:n~~~up LONDON AND NEW YORK


First published 2021 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN and by Routledge 52 Vanderbilt Avenue, New York, NY 10017 Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business © 2021 selection and editorial matter, Nandini Manjrekar; individual chapters, the contributors; and Aakar Books The right of Nandini Manjrekar to be identified as author of the editorial material, and of the authors for their individual chapters, has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe. Print edition not for sale in South Asia (India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan or Bhutan) British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data A catalog record for this book has been requested ISBN: 978-1-032-04357-9 (hbk) ISBN: 978-1-003-19161-2 (ebk) Typeset in Palatino by Arpit Printographers, Delhi


Copyright Acknowledgements Acknowledgements List of Contributors Introduction by Nandini Manjrekar 1. Masculinity and Femininity: Ideas are Real V. Geetha 2. Growing Up Male Krishna Kumar 3. Through the Looking Glass: Gender Socialisation in a Primary School Nandini Bhattacharjee 4. Bound by Norms and Out of Bounds: Experiences of PAGFB (Persons Assigned Gender Female at Birth) Within the Formal Education System Smriti Nevatia, Raj, Shalini Mahajan, Chayanika Shah, Lesbians and Bisexuals in Action (LABIA) 5. Men, Women and the Embattled Family Uma Chakravarti 6. Strishiksha, or Education for Women Tanika Sarkar 7. Role Models: Educated Muslim Women—Real and Ideal Gail Minault 8. Partition and Family Strategies: Gender-Education Linkages Among Punjabi Women in Delhi Karuna Chanana 9. Unequal Schooling as a Factor in the Reproduction of Social Inequality in India Padma Velaskar 10. From Access to Attainment: Girls’ Schooling in Contemporary India Manabi Majumdar 11. Negotiation and Compromise: Gender and Government Elementary Education Elspeth Page 12. The Contested Terrain of Reproduction: Class and Gender in Schooling in India Raka Ray 13. Serving the Nation: Gender and Family Values in Military School Véronique Bénéï

5 7 8 11 29 36 40


67 98 124

156 177 190 206 220 234

4 Gender and Education in India 14. Chhadi Lage Chham Chham, Vidya Yeyi Gham Gham (The Harder the Stick Beats, the Faster the Flow of Knowledge): Dalit Women’s Struggle for Education Shailaja Paik 15. Gender and Curriculum Dipta Bhog 16. Education as Trutiya Ratna: Towards Phule-Ambedkarite Feminist Pedagogical Practice Sharmila Rege

248 266


Copyright Acknowledgements

The essays in this reader have been published as research articles in journals as well as chapters in books. The editor gratefully acknowledges permissions by individual authors and publishers to include copyright material in this reader. Details of copyright permissions are given below. Geetha, V. “Masculinity and Femininity: Ideas are Real”, Reproduced from V. Geetha. 2002, in Gender, Stree, pp. 39-49. © 2015 V. Geetha. Kumar, K. “Growing up Male”. Originally published in What is Worth Teaching, Hyderabad: Orient Longman, (pp. 81-88) 1992. Reproduced with permission from the publisher Orient Longman. Bhattacharjee, N. “Through the Looking Glass: Gender and Socialisation in a Primary School”. Originally published in Culture, Socialization and Human Development: Theory, Research and Application in India (pp. 336-355), Copyright 1991. © T.S. Saraswathi. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder and the publishers, Sage Publications India Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi. Nevatia, S., Raj, Mahajan, S. and Shah, C. “Bound by Norms and Out of Bounds: Experiences of PAGFB (Persons Assigned Gender Female at Birth) Within the Formal Education System”. Originally published in Contemporary Education Dialogue, Vol. 9,

No. 2, pp. 173-196. Copyright © 2012 Education Dialogue Trust, Delhi. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holders and the publishers, Sage Publications India Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi. Chakravarti, U. “Men, Women and the Embattled Family”, in Uma Chakravarti, Rewriting History: The Life and Times of Pandita Ramabai. New Delhi: Zubaan Books, 2013, pp. 200-246. Reproduced with permission from Zubaan Publishers Private Ltd, New Delhi. © author. Sarkar, T. “Strishiksha, or Education for Women”, in Tanika Sarkar, Words to Win: The Making of Amar Jiban: A Modern Autobiography. Delhi: Kali for Women, 1999. Reproduced with permission from Zubaan Publishers Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi. © author. Minault, G. “Role Models: Educated Muslim Women, Real and Ideal” in Gail Minault, Secluded Scholars: Women’s Education and Muslim Social Reform in Colonial India. Delhi: Oxford University Press. 1998, pp. 14-57. Reproduced with permission from Oxford University Press. © Oxford University Press. Chanana, K. “Partition and Family Strategies: Gender-Education Linkages Among Punjabi Women in Delhi”, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 28, No. 14, 1993, pp.

6 Gender and Education in India 25-34. Reproduced with permission from the author. Velaskar, P. “Unequal Schooling as a Factor in the Reproduction of Social Inequality in India”, Sociological Bulletin, 39 (1&2) March and September 1990, pp. 131-145. Reproduced with permission of the author. Majumdar, M. “From Access to Attainment: Girls’ Schooling in Contemporary India”. Originally published in and reproduced from Mapping the Field: Gender Relations in Contemporary India, edited by Nirmala Banerjee, Samita Sen and Nandita Dhawan, Stree, pp. 213-236. © 2011 School of Women’s Studies, Jadavpur University. By permission. Page, E. “Negotiation and Compromise: Gender and Government Elementary Education”. Originally published in Educational Regimes in Contemporary India (pp. 178-196). Copyright 2005 © Radhika Chopra and Patricia Jeffery. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder and the publishers, Sage Publications India Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi. Ray, R. “The Contested Terrain of Reproduction: Class and Gender in Schooling in India”. Originally published in British Journal of Sociology of Education,

Vol. 9, No. 4 (1988), pp. 387-401. Reproduced with permission from the author. Bénéï, V. “Serving the Nation: Gender and Family Values in Military Schools”. Originally published in Educational Regimes in Contemporary India, (pp. 141159). Copyright 2005 © Radhika Chopra and Patricia Jeffery. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder and the publishers, Sage Publications India Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi. Paik, S. “Chhadi Lage Chham Chham, Vidya Yegi Gham Gham (The harder the stick beats, the faster the flow of knowledge): Dalit Women’s Struggle for Education”. Indian Journal of Gender Studies, Vol. 16, No. 2, pp. 175-204. Copyright 2009 © Centre for Women’s Development Studies, New Delhi. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder and the publishers, Sage Publications India Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi. Bhog, D. “Gender and Curriculum”, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 37, No. 17, 2002, pp. 1638-1642. Reproduced with permission of the author. Rege, S. “Education as Trutiya Ratna: Towards Phule-Ambedkarite Feminist Pedagogical Practice”, Economic and Political Weekly, 45 (44), 2010, pp. 88-98. Reproduced with permission.

Acknowledgements Given its theoretical and policy significance, the area of gender and education now finds inclusion in several Masters’ level programmes across the country, offered as a core or elective paper in programmes of Education, Gender/Women’s Studies, Sociology and Social Work. The papers in this volume are a selection of essential readings that form part of such a course, offered since 2006 in the Master’s programme at the School of Education, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai. For several years it has also been offered as a core course in the Masters in Women’s Studies programme at TISS. Teaching this course at both disciplinary locations has come with challenges, since these domains of knowledge do not conventionally converse with each other, yet it has been very enriching and productive. Given that both gender and feminist scholarship as well as education are wide areas of study, and education in particular has critical significance to human and social development, it is unfortunate that a wider range of scholarship could not be included in this reader. Selective as they are, the papers reflect my own understanding gained from teaching students about how we could build conceptual frameworks to understand the linkages of gender and education in the Indian context, frameworks that would necessarily have to bring in work of other scholars. Through the process of putting this volume together, Simran Luthra has been a wonderfully competent student-collaborator. Her attention to detail and timeliness has been

invaluable in navigating the many twists and turns of putting readings from diverse sources together. Thank you, Simran. Special thanks to Sir Ratan Tata Trust for supporting the publication of this reader and my colleague Disha Nawani for coordinating the larger publication project of the School of Education at TISS. My office colleague, Meena Mane helped out with administrative work and thanks are due to her. It is a matter of extreme sorrow that our cheerful Juilee tragically died shortly after completing the typescript of the reader. I hoped I thanked her adequately before she left us. All the authors have been supportive of the project of bringing out this reader, and I am grateful to them. To Anil Saini, a warm thanks for permission to reproduce the late Sharmila Rege’s paper in this reader. I regret that it has not been possible to include many other feminist scholars whose work has been seminal to our understanding, but I owe immense gratitude to them for producing work that has come into classrooms to enrich our debates. I thank Aakar Books and especially K.K. Saxena for being warm and kind always, through the many delays I was responsible for. Over the years, every class of the gender and education course I have engaged was full of learning and sharing. Students ensured that no one left without more questions to bring back to the next class. And so it is they who deserve thanks above all. Nandini Manjrekar

List of Contributors

V. Geetha is a feminist social historian and scholar-activist who has written extensively on issues of caste, gender, education, and democratic rights. She is currently Editorial Director at Tara Books, Chennai. Her notable publications include Towards a Non-Brahmin Millennium: from Iyothee Thass to Periyar coauthored with S.V. Rajadurai (1998), Religious Faith, Ideology, Citizenship: The View from Below co-authored with Nalini Rajan Kita (2011) and Undoing Impunity: Speech After Sexual Violence (2016). She has translated two novels by Tamil writer Perumal Murugan, and is currently researching the writings of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. Krishna Kumar has taught at the University of Delhi and served as Director of NCERT (National Council of Educational Research and Training). He is currently an Honorary Professor at Punjab University, Chandigarh. He was awarded an Hon. D. Litt. by the Institute of Education, University of London in 2011. The same year, he was awarded Padmashri. He has been a Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Modern Oriental Studies, Berlin and at the Centre for the Advanced Study of India, Philadelphia. He is a bilingual author, columnist and writer for children. His major books include Politics of Education in Colonial India, What is Worth Teaching, The Child’s Language and the Teacher, Prejudice and Pride, A Pedagogue’s Romance and Education, Conflict and Peace, Raj, Samaj aur Shiksha, Vichaar ka Dar, Shiksha aur Gyan, and Choori Bazaar mein Larki. The Routledge Handbook of Education in

India edited by Professor Kumar was released recently. LABIA, a queer feminist collective, formerly known as Stree Sangam, is a Mumbai-based voluntary collective of lesbian and bisexual women and transpersons, with a focus on queer and feminist activism. LABIA’s recent work, both in terms of research and advocacy, has been foundational in interrogating the gender binary and its operation in the Indian context that marginalises large sections of people and invisibilises their experiences. Significant publications include Breaking the Binary: Understanding Concerns and Realities of Queer Persons Assigned Gender Female at Birth Across a Spectrum of Lived Gender Identities (2013) and No Outlaws in the Gender Galaxy (2015). They can be reached at labia.collective Uma Chakravarti is a feminist historian and activist. She taught for more than two decades at Miranda House, University of Delhi. Her key research and teaching interests lie in feminist historiography, particularly within the social history of Buddhism, early Indian history, 19 th century history, and contemporary issues. Her key writings include Rewriting History: The Life and Times of Pandita Ramabai (1998), From Myths to Markets: Essays on Gender (with Kumkum Sangari) (1999), Gendering Caste: Through a Feminist Lens (2003), and Everyday Lives, Everyday Histories: Beyond the Kings and Brahmanas of ‘Ancient‘ India (2012).

List of Contributors Tanika Sarkar is a feminist historian of modern India. She recently retired as professor, Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. She has written extensively on the intersections of gender, religion and politics in colonial and postcolonial India, the latter particularly focusing on women and the Hindu rightwing. Her key works are Women and the Hindu Right (edited jointly with Urvashi Butalia, 1995), Words to Win: The Making of Amar Jiban: A Modern Autobiography. (1999), Hindu Wife, Hindu Nation: Community, Religion, Cultural Nationalism (2001), Women and Social Reform in Modern India: A Reader (two volumes, edited jointly with Sumit Sarkar, 2008), Rebels, Wives, Saints: Designing Selves and Nations in Colonial Times (2009), Caste in Modern India: A Reader (two volumes, edited jointly with Sumit Sarkar, Permanent Black, 2013) and Words to Win: The Making of a Modern Autobiography (2014). Gail Minault is a historian of South Asia. She taught for over thirty years at the Department of History, University of Texas-Austin, where she is currently Professor Emerita. Her research interests include 19th and 20th century history of India, Islam in South Asia, and women in Asia. Some of her key works are The Khilafat Movement: Religious Symbolism and Political Mobilization in India (1982) and Secluded Scholars: Women’s Education and Muslim Reform in Colonial India (1997). She edited The Extended Family: Women and Political Participation in India and Pakistan (1981) and co-edited Separate Worlds: Studies of Purdah in South Asia (1982). Her latest work is Gender, Language and Learning: Essays in Indo-Muslim Cultural History (2009). Karuna Chanana retired as Professor from the Zakir Husain Centre for Educational Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. She has published widely in the area of sociology of education and gender. Her expertise is in research, training, and curriculum development related to higher education,


gender, diversity, and social change and equality. She pioneered the teaching of sociology of education, establishing India’s earliest MPhil and PhD programmes. Apart from a wide range of research articles, her books include Socialisation, Education and Women: Explorations in Gender Identity (1988), Interrogating Women’s Education: Bounded Visions, Expanding Horizons (2001) and coauthor of Inclusion and Exclusion: A Study of Women and Men in Delhi Police (2005). Padma Velaskar retired as Professor at the Centre for Studies in Sociology of Education, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. Her fields of specialisation include the sociology of caste, class and gender, the sociology of education and Dalit and gender issues. She has researched and published widely in these areas. She is currently working on manuscripts based on her research on Dalit women and the public education system of Mumbai. Manabi Majumdar teaches at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta, and is also affiliated to Pratichi Institute, Kolkata. Her research interests include the political economy of education, democratic decentralisation, and human development. She has written extensively on the dominant education paradigm and exclusion of the poor from education in India. Among her important publications are Social Exclusion from a Welfare Rights Perspective in India (with Paul Appasamy, S. Guhan, R. Hema and A. Vaidyanathan (1996) and Education and Inequality in India: A Classroom View (with Jos Mooij, 2011). Elspeth Page is an independent consultant with 30 years experience in Africa, South Asia and Europe. She has a doctorate in education, gender and international development from the Institute of Education, London. Her primary focus is a dual approach of inclusive education pursued within an inclusive community development model. Her interests


Gender and Education in India span all stages of learning, formal and nonformal, centralising quality, community and collaboration and focusing on empowerment, voice and choice. Besides some critical journal articles, she has co-edited Exploring the Bias: A Comparative Study of Gender and Stereotyping in Secondary Schools (2005) with Jyotsna Jha.

Raka Ray is Professor of Sociology and South and Southeast Asia Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the former Chair of the Institute of South Asia Studies and the Department of Sociology. Her areas of specialisation are gender and feminist theory, inequality, emerging middle classes, and postcolonial sociology. Some of her key publications include Fields of Protest: Women’s Movement in India (1999), Social Movements in India: Poverty, Power, and Politics (with Mary Katzenstein, 1999), Cultures of Servitude: Modernity, Domesticity and Class in India (with Seemin Qayum, 2009), Elite and Everyman: The Cultural Politics of the Indian Middle Classes (with Amita Baviskar, 2011), The Handbook of Gender (2011), and The Social Life of Gender (with Jennifer Carlson and Abigail Andrews, 2018). Veronique Bénéï is an anthropologist and research director at the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), and currently teaches at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS), Paris. Her work on education in the Indian context, focusing on nation and Nationalism, has been widely acclaimed. Her well known works are Schooling Passions: Nation, History, and Language in Contemporary Western India (2008), the edited volume Manufacturing Citizenship: Education and Nationalism in Europe, South Asia and China (2005) and The Everyday State and Society in Modern India (co-edited with C.J. Fuller, 2001). Shailaja Paik is Associate Professor of History, Faculty Affiliate, Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Asian Studies at the

University of Cincinnati, USA. Her research and teaching interests lie at the intersection of a number of fields: modern South Asia, Dalit studies, gender and women’s studies, social and political movements, oral history, human rights and humanitarianism. Her book Dalit Women’s Education in Modern India: Double Discrimination (2014) examines the nexus between caste, class, gender, and state pedagogical practices among Dalit women in urban India. She is currently working on a National Endowment for the Humanities— American Institute of Indian Studies funded project, that focuses on the politics of caste, class, gender, sexuality, and popular culture in modern Maharashtra. Dipta Bhog is a researcher and writer. She has been associated with the Sadbhavna Trust and is a founder member of Nirantar, a Centre for Gender and Education. Her work is primarily in the area of gender and education. She has served on various policy fora, and is widely known for her research and advocacy work to strengthen feminist perspectives on education. Among her key research projects was a collaborative project, Textbook Regimes, which examined feminist readings of nation and identity in school texts in five states. Sharmila Rege (1964-2013) was an Indian sociologist and feminist scholar who was on the faculty of the Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule Women’s Studies Centre at the University of Pune. One of her significant contributions to the feminist understanding of caste is to have developed the idea of the ‘Dalit Feminist Standpoint’. This has had major influence on thinking and writings on caste and gender. Her key writings include several articles in refered journals and the books, Sociology of Gender: The Challenge of Feminist Sociological Thought (2004), Writing Caste, Writing Gender (2006) and Against the Madness of Manu (2013). Her major writings can be accessed at

Introduction Nandini Manjrekar The diverse and complex linkages between gender and education form part of a wider matrix of inquiry related to the systems, structures and ideologies of education as they have historically developed in India. Provision of educational facilities, access to schools and colleges, continuation through different cycles of education, and what young people learn in classrooms through the mandated or ‘official’ curriculum are critical areas for systematic study. From the viewpoint of social justice, equally important areas to examine are the aims of education in a society, how these have evolved and what shifts they have undergone in history, which sections of society they serve or disprivilege, and the meaning they hold for all those involved in the processes of education-policy makers, teachers, children and communities. The essays in this reader address gender as a category that is critical to all these areas of inquiry. Education is approached as constituting a terrain of conflict and contradiction, of both accommodation to ideologies, but equally of resistance. A common thread running through the essays is a focus on education as an important site for the reproduction of gender relations within a society marked by hierarchy and marginalisation, and also its potential for challenging gender ideologies. The essays here by no means cover the entire domain of inquiry into gender and education in the

Indian context. However, they offer the possibility of understanding gender and its interlinkages with education through the prism of interdisciplinary feminist approaches. Towards this, the papers in this reader are organised to provide critical perspectives on the conceptual, sociohistorical and processual dimensions of gender and education. The reader is divided into four sections, taking as a starting point the interrogation of gender and its relation to schooling: understanding historical moments in women’s experiences of education in relation to discourses of social reform, and institutions of family, community and nation; experiences of gender within schools; and critical perspectives on curriculum and pedagogy. Interrogating Gender Notions of gender are, as we know, ubiquitous; we encounter them every day of our lives—in our families, schools and colleges, workplaces and in all other domains of personal and public life. These notions, or ideologies, are made natural through these institutions. They are prescriptive, sometimes enforced and at other times internalised. The concept of gender, now widely accepted as distinct from biological sex, has evolved since the 1970s, when feminist scholars critiqued the ideologies that maintained interchangeability of the two


Gender and Education in India

terms. In simple terms, gender as a concept refers to the socially and culturally constructed characteristics of women and men which legitimise and sanction modes of ‘acceptable’ social behaviour. Gender is a fundamental element of the everyday representation of self; it is also a lens through which others view us. In a wider sense, notions of femininity and masculinity—what is appropriate and expected behaviour on the part of girls/ women and boys/men—influence decisions about sending children to school, what they should be taught and for what period they should be kept in school; they also influence subject choices and preferences at higher levels of education, and post-education opportunities in the labour market. As feminist researchers have pointed out, gender is equally a political category, critically related to ideology and power in every sphere of human experience. It is within such an understanding that the famous feminist slogan ‘the personal is political’ is framed. Gender, then, can be seen to constitute an integral element of social organisation and stratification, evident in language, social practices, and representation in all spheres of social life. All these are manifested in everyday culture, but as the essays here sharply illustrate, it is important to exercise caution while stressing the importance of culture to constructions of gender. There exist pluralities of cultures, and their constructions of gender vary widely; further, these constructions respond to changing historical conditions. It is important to note that gender forms one axis of a person’s social identity along with other identities of class, caste, religion, region, etc., but that it is a cross-cutting category influencing, along with these identities, social interactions, life experiences and opportunities. Gender relations are essentially relations of power. To understand gender, we need to

understand the structural frameworks underlying relations that assign power and powerlessness, domination and subservience to different sections of women and men. Gender relations are defined by patriarchy broadly defined as the system of social structures and practices by which men dominate, exploit and oppress women (Walby 1990). Patriarchy is based on a system of power relations which are hierarchical and unequal, where men control women’s production, reproduction and sexuality. It imposes masculinity and femininity character stereotypes in society which strengthen iniquitous power relations between men and women. Patriarchy is not constant but fluid: gender relations are dynamic and complex and have changed significantly over different periods of history. Further, the nature of control and subjugation that girls and women experience varies from one society to the other and also by socio-spatial location, suggesting that it is more analytically productive to think of patriarchies, rather than patriarchy as some sort of monolithic category. While the subordination of women may differ in terms of its nature, control over a woman’s sexuality, mobility and labour is common to all patriarchies. This control has developed historically and is legitimised and reproduced by institutions such as family, religion, caste, education, media, law, and the state. It is important to note that in the Indian context (and indeed in South Asia as a whole), access to material resources, such as land, as well as to symbolic resources such as knowledge/ education, are determined by one’s position in relation to the structures of class and caste patriarchy. Gender relations in the Indian context are predominantly related to caste patriarchy. Over a century ago, B.R. Ambedkar (1917) had identified endogamy, or marriage within a caste group, as the basis of the perpetuation

Introduction 13 of caste. Through marriage, women are gatekeepers to caste and responsible for maintaining caste purity, and thereby caste itself. Access to resources like land or ownership of productive resources is related to where one belongs in the caste structure. The large majority of lower castes do not have such resources and here one sees the relationship of caste which is ascribed status, to class as an economic status category. In a stratified social system, it is hardly surprising that the lower castes and adivasis, representing the dispossessed poor and most marginalised sections are those underrepresented in formal education. The constitutionally mandated policy of reservations in admissions to educational institutions and in employment have enabled a degree of social mobility for some from these sections, but educational deprivations due to caste have largely been persistent. This is true for both men and women, but women are doubly disadvantaged on account of both caste and gender. *** How do we develop a perspective on education that privileges an analysis of gender? As scholarship over the past two to three decades has shown, examining gender in educational contexts cannot involve it being seen apart from the real educational experiences, policies and wider sociohistorical contexts within which education is embedded. Moreover, gender is related to the histories of ideas and struggles over the meaning and significance of education itself (Manjrekar and Saxena 2012). Instrumental views about education for girls and women— that education helps them to perform their ‘roles’ in family, community and the nation— have been critiqued by scholars, but continue to exercise considerable hold within the social realm, impacting decisions at the level of family, community and also within schools.

This view is based on an unquestioned acceptance of women as biological and cultural reproducers in society, naturalising dominant notions of family and nation. It does not allow for an understanding of the working of power in society, and to see gender relations as essentially relations of power, impacting both women as well as men. It also does not acknowledge the crucial interconnections between gender and other dimensions of social identity such as class, caste, religion and ethnicity. Informed by such a perspective, curriculum, teaching practices and the overall educational experience cannot help students to challenge existing gender arrangements in society, which should count for an important aim of education. Across the world, emancipation through education has always been a cherished goal for those groups historically excluded from knowledge, where larger forces have kept them in chronic poverty, to face daily discrimination while subjecting them to harsh forms of labour that are disregarded and devalued. Struggles for education for those without social power have been fought not only on grounds of equal rights and opportunities but also for dignity, personhood and emancipation. It is not possible to see a transformation of the way we approach gender and its relationship to education without an understanding of the terrain of gender relations and gender politics on which these struggles have been fought. Gender as a construct, therefore, has to be seen within an understanding of patriarchy. Within the domain of formal education, gender has come to be widely used in educational discourse, generally in relation to the bias, discrimination, stereotyping and inequities faced by girls. Although there is acknowledgement that a patriarchal society produces these effects, what we know less about is how a range of educational processes in themselves—curriculum, pedagogy and


Gender and Education in India

even the physical spaces of schools and other institutions, to name a few—reflect patriarchal perspectives that not only impact girls but also boys and more generally have implications for gender relations in education and the larger social world. Those in charge of children’s education in schools—principals, administrators, and especially teachers—tend to be viewed as non-gendered entities, making gender hierarchies and ideologies within the system invisible (Manjrekar 2013, page, this volume). State policies and programmes for girls’ and women’s education, however wellmeaning, are often seen to be constrained by such perspectives. Rarely do planners and educators consider what girls and women desire from education. Insights from feminist activism show that these imaginations are far removed from the instrumental aims of development-oriented agendas. Women desire lives of dignity and self-worth, freedom from want and violence, good health and education for their children, and justice (Ghose 2002, Ramachandran 2003). The fate of the total literacy campaign (TLC) in Nellore district in erstwhile Andhra Pradesh in the early 1990s is an example of the state’s blindness to such articulations. Mobilising around a lesson in one of their primers, rural neoliterate women launched a state-wide antiarrack movement that brought down the government of the day. Their remarkable acts of courage and exercise of citizenship met with state resistance and the programme was finally whittled to suit the state’s neoliberal agendas (Pappu 2004). The country’s flagship programme for elementary education, the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), has considerably expanded access since it was launched in the early 2000s, but scholars have pointed to lacunae in the way it approaches questions of gender (Sudarshan 2016). To take one example: that of Kasturba Gandhi Balika

Vidyalayas (KGBV). An important gender initiative under the SSA to reach socially marginalised groups in rural areas, through the setting up of residential schools for girls in all districts was backed by budgetary investments on the part of the state. However, studies of KGBVs in some areas point to a stark absence of full learning opportunities and intellectual stimulation, poor infrastructure and a protectionist policy (see Balagopalan 2010, Saxena 2012). Feminist scholarship from liberal, radical and socialist perspectives has enriched our understanding and analysis of the role of formal systems of education in maintaining, reproducing and producing (new forms of) gender divisions in society. Feminists working across a diverse range of disciplinary and activist domains have shown how dominant gender ideologies underpin knowledge and its transaction, and how also such ideologies are resisted at both the individual as well as the collective level. Scholars working within such frameworks are interested in examining the interplay of structure and agency through the processes of negotiating gender in different contexts. Importantly, they address the kinds of changes that need to be put in place to make education responsive to the need for gender equality, to enhance its transformative potential. In V. Geetha’s essay, from her book Gender (2002), from Stree’s Theorising Feminism series, we get an introduction to the practices by which gender intersects with class, caste and religion to produce ideologies and practices that give certain men power over women and also other men in Indian society. It is important to note, as Geetha cautions, the interconnectedness of identities through the ways in which major sites of knowledge like religion and science have acted as bases of power and constitute prisms to understand gender. Critiquing categorical thought, Geetha brings

Introduction 15 out the myriad ways in which contestations to power have also marked these sites. Her critical insights are important to seeing education as a liberatory project, one that bears, for those oppressed and historically excluded from knowledge, the potential to contest and dismantle domination. Learning Gender, Doing Gender Gender is made natural through institutions, education being no different from others like the family, school and wider society. A prevalent assumption is that most children come to school with a fairly well-established sense of gender identity, acquired through the processes of primary socialisation, and that the school experience tends to legitimise this identity. Although schools are significant sites of secondary socialisation, to assume that they merely play this functional role via the agency of adults is to legitimise a transmission ideology of education. Often implicit in ‘gender socialisation’ and ‘gender development’ theories is an assumption of the child as a passive recipient of prescription, if not conscription, into a sex-differentiated social world. The ‘tabula rasa’ image of the child undermines her/his capacities to actively and critically engage with the world of social experience. Several researchers have pointed to the weaknesses of such approaches (e.g. Thorne 1993). Anyon (1983) makes the important point that in schools we rarely see unquestioning accommodation to prescribed gender roles. Neither is there a complete rejection: the micro-politics of gender within schools and classrooms see girls negotiate gender regimes through both accommodation as well as resistance. Raka Ray discusses the class dynamics of these negotiations in her essay (Chapter 12). Is it possible to re-examine gender socialisation in schools from the child’s perspective? As Thorne (1993: 159)

emphasises: Gender is not only a category of individual identity and the focus of symbolic constructions, but also a dimension of social relations and social organisation... The organisation and meanings of gender vary from one social context to another, from families and neighbourhoods to schools, and, within schools from foursquare to scenes of chasing to classrooms... Gender varies in degrees and mode of relevance. When they form separate girls’ and boys’ tables in the lunchroom, kids make individual gender categories highly relevant to their social relations. But when boys and girls get together to work on a classroom project or in situations where age or ethnicity is at the fore, gender becomes less or differently significant. In short, at the level of social situations, gender has a fluid quality. [emphasis added.]

Drawing on insights from Thorne’s ethnography of gender in school (1993), Bhattacharjee (Chapter 3) attempts to looks at the ways in which working-class children negotiate gender in a government primary school. Her ethnographic account of the hidden curriculum of gender, one that is embedded in the totality of the child’s social experience within the school, brings out the dynamic contexts of gender construction within the schooling process. As V. Geetha’s essay sharply brings out, gendered systems of power in society not only act against women, but also against men with less social power, and Bhattacharjee shows how boys from lower caste, working- class backgrounds, within an ideology of schooling that delegitimises their identities and often deems them as uneducable, can be further alienated within schools. The essay ‘Growing Up Male’ by Krishna Kumar (Chapter 2) is perhaps one of the only examples of autobiographical writing on male socialisation through the schooling experience, here, in a small town and in an all-male school. Recollecting his experiences


Gender and Education in India

of growing up in a small town in central India and attending an all-male school, Kumar reflects on how the separation of girls and boys in Indian society is reflected in schools both literally (through segregated schools and protective environments for girls in them) and in symbolic terms (silences around sexual behaviour and treatment of female and male characters in textbooks), influences the ways in which boys experience and claim entitlement to social power through everyday social interactions and how this sense of power plays out within the domain of education. Kumar proposes an agenda of ‘countersocialisation’ for schools instead of seeing them as institutions in alignment with objectives of gender socialisation in communities and wider society. The concept of gender is often seen to be oppositional, in that it sets up dichotomous categories of behaviour for the two sexes, femininity and masculinity. Sex, on the other hand, is regarded as a less ambiguous concept, since it is presumed to have a ‘natural’ basis, possessing the quality of biological immutability. Gender has predominantly been viewed as a binary and the prevailing wisdom of seeing it as such has proved to be extremely limiting and positively harmful to many who do not identify with these fixed categories. Many people across the world live outside the binaries of female-femininity and malemasculinity, and yet heterosexuality is the dominant default sexual orientation and as an organising principle within societies, one that privileges and normalises heterosexual relationships while discriminating against and discouraging all other sexual orientations and relationships. Our understanding of gender has been greatly enriched in the last few decades by queer activists and we are now able to approach gender much more as a continuum rather than a fixed category of either birth or culture. We see the diversity of

experience in LABIA’s study (Chapter 4) of those who are assigned female at birth, but do not identify with this gender. While bullying, name-calling and physical and mental violence are aspects of their experiences in schools, there are also enabling experiences within schools, like supportive teachers and areas of school curriculum like sports, that enable some validation of their self-identity as gender non-conforming. These experiences, especially in a post-377 India, certainly need far greater reflection to influence curricula, teacher training and school cultures that respond positively to gender non-conforming students. The Historical Lens Feminist historians of education have shown how notions of ideal womanhood at different socio-historical junctures influenced decisions about the kinds of education women should receive, and importantly, how women themselves negotiated and transgressed these definitions, carving out spaces of their own, through writing and engagement with the public sphere. For many former colonised countries in Asia and Africa, colonial education introduced new conceptualisations of women’s roles, which were modelled on the emergent roles ascribed to women under the growth of capitalism in Europe as production shifted from homes to factories. Women’s participation in production was invisibilised by normative discourses around their importance as home-makers and producers of children, and discourses of women’s education centred on the cultural values of the social and political elites within class society. Mazumdar (1989: 3) argues for the need to combine historical analysis with an analysis of how educational systems and processes have influenced discourse on the status of women in Indian society:

Introduction 17 ...The critical issue in analysing the interrelationships between education and women’s status is not only the question of access but that of content, values and structures of educational systems... In the case of Asia, this trinity has had to encounter several pressures. The resulting infrastructure, with its content, value orientation and structural mechanisms to regulate access, performance in the generation, transmission, and utilisation of knowledge— represents a compromise between indigenous social systems with their embedded cultural values and the forces emanating from the cultural encounter with the Western world, the economic revolution spearheaded by industrialisation and the spread of science and technology, population dynamics and the rise of anti-imperialist popular movements... The compulsions of economic development very often pushed aside the issues and needs of social development, or the tensions being experienced by the societies from these varied encounters.

The late 19 th and early 20 th century saw consolidation of the formal education system, which faced challenges from the larger forces Mazumdar refers to, as well as contradictory forces emanating from different streams of nationalist discourse on education defining the aims of education for women. We therefore see in this period that formal education for girls and women followed diverse paths for different groups in different regions of the Indian subcontinent. Men belonging to the upper-caste elites, who had themselves benefited from Western education, believed in education for ‘their’ women to better their own standing in colonial society. The aim was to educate women for gentility and companionability to educated husbands. Parallels can be seen in the response of Muslim elites to colonial education and several women worked within (but also moved beyond) the prescriptions of ideal womanhood to access, and spread, both religious and secular knowledge, and forge themselves as role

models (Minault, this volume). We also see in the social reform and nationalist phase abundant romantic imagery of the pre-colonial ‘Indian’ woman, socially respected for her role in upholding culture and tradition, laying out an educational agenda directed at steering upper-caste Hindu women from the corrupting and polluting influence of Western culture and emulate the liberatory (as defined by men) roles offered under a reformed Hindu society (Forbes 1996). Religious sanctions and norms of seclusion kept upper-caste women from acquiring knowledge, and reading and writing were viewed as potential disrupters of castegender arrangements that kept caste patriarchy stable. For Brahmin women, the ultimate curse that could befall them was that of widowhood, and acquiring education, especially scriptural knowledge, invited this fate by religious proscription. Hence in many regions women from the lower castes were able to access formal learning earlier than upper-caste women, because of the work of Christian missionaries. Movements that challenged upper-caste and religious orthodoxy and Brahminical domination in society focused on education for women abandoned by a society upholding the norms of strict caste patriarchy, like young widows. From the mid-19th century, radical reformists in western India like Pandita Ramabai, Tarabai Shinde and Jyotiba and Savitribai Phule saw in education for such women and the untouchable castes a different kind of agenda, one that enabled them to use the lens of knowledge (evocatively termed ‘trutiya ratna’ or ‘third eye’ by Phule) to question the conditions of their domination. Working against tremendous odds, including verbal and physical humiliation by the local uppercaste community, the Phules, along with Fatima Sheikh, set up the first native run school for girls in Poona in 1848. The


Gender and Education in India

Satyashodhak Samaj (The Truth Seekers) founded by Phule in 1873 were critical of the caste arrangements sanctioned by religion that structurally subordinated the lower castes and women and kept them from acquiring knowledge. In Gulamgiri (1873) he dismantled the myths by which upper castes naturalised their dominance over the Shudras and Atishudras, reclaiming their rich cultural history and drawing upon local popular customs and traditions to bring out the inhumanity of their slavery. The liberationist promise of an education that enables speaking truth to power is brought out in the poem, Mang Maharachya Dukhvisayi (About the Grief of Mangs and Mahars) written in 1855 by Mukta Salve, a young Mang girl who studied at one of the schools set up by the Phules in Poona: O learned pandits wind up the selfish prattle of your hollow wisdom and listen to what I have to say. The social reform movements of the 19 th century led by upper-caste educated men, had a considerable impact on ideas about women’s education, although they did not challenge notions of gender roles. Upper-class/caste women had to be ‘schooled’ to be modern and yet modest, companions to their husbands and presentable to colonial masters. The modicum of education they received was towards these ends. The emergence of the ‘rational’ educated man, under the influence of Western liberal 19th century thought, created a cultural schism in conceptualising the aims of women’s education. What would an education for women look like? Would it alienate women from their traditional roles? This schism was partially resolved through the ideal of women’s education as one seemingly aligned with the prevailing agendas of education, but restricted to specially constructed syllabi and

subjects for women, like domestic science. It is only later, towards the beginning of the 20th century, that women started entering the ‘caring’ professions of teaching and nursing, domains where the colonial administration required the services of trained women. These early developments in women’s education in India opened up possibilities for women of the newly emerging middle class to enter the public domain of ‘respectable’ paid employment. Interestingly, a maharani of a princely state, Chimnabai of Baroda, who was familiar with developments in women’s education from her travels in England and Europe, wrote a book in the first decade of the 20th century, outlining various professions Indian women could enter based on their ‘natural’ skills (Maharani Chimnabai, 1911). *** Through the four essays on the histories of women’s education in this reader we gain an understanding of how agendas of women’s education were shaped by certain sociohistorical contexts and shifts both in the colonial and immediate post-colonial period. The family was the institution most impacted by reformist ideas about educating women. In the second half of the 19th century, as upper-caste women were being sought to be ‘recast and refined’ through education as part of social reform under colonial modernity, the family as an institution remained outside reformist discourse, trapped within the framework of Brahminical patriarchy. Education for women brought in new notions of conjugality: married as young girls, educated husbands took over their education. Uma Chakravarti’s paper (Chapter 5), from her book on Rewriting History: The Life and Times of Pandita Ramabai (1998) casts light on the tensions and conflicts in gender relations within households when reformist men sought to educate their wives. Discussing the lives of women who belonged to such

Introduction 19 backgrounds such as Ramabai Ranade and Anandibai Joshi, Chakravarti shows how, towards the second half of the 19th century, ‘schooling’ of women was essential to the creation of an emerging middle-class public sphere. However education had to be contained, so as to avoid ‘ungovernability’ or fitna of educated women that could potentially cause disruption of caste arrangements. Reformist men imparted modern education to their (often very young) wives within their homes, which were shared by other women and men. The family became a space of conflict—between men, between women, and between men and women—with older attitudes and newer world-views regarding conjugality, the place of women and their education reproducing the tensions around these issues in the wider public sphere. As Chakravarti says, ‘Neither patriarchal forms nor cultural practices were satisfactorily settled for the [these] new elites. Gender relations continued to be reworked, dynamically tied to social processes as class and nation were being born.’ (p. 76). While reformist men articulated the need for reforms of traditional controls on women, like child marriage and the ban on widow remarriage, it was women who first articulated the desire for education. There is considerable evidence in the writings of women of the time that access to reading opened up a world of thought and ideas hitherto denied them and enabled a critical consciousness about their place in the social world. It is in women’s writings that we see the desire for acquiring a sense of personhood outside the rigid frames imposed by religious and customary sanctions (Tharu and Lalitha 1992). Education, in the broad sense of being able to read texts, enabled an opening up of a world outside the household to which uppercaste women were confined. However, there was a price to be paid: reading and writing

were associated with immorality and posed the threat of disruption of the social and moral order. Tanika Sarkar’s introduction to her translation of Rashsundari Debi’s autobiography Amar Jibon (My Life, 1868) places this memoir, considered the first of its kind in India, against the backdrop of debates on social reform and women’s education or strishiksha in 19 th century colonial Bengal. Rashsundari, born around 1809, taught herself to read at night by painstakingly tracing her son’s lessons after her daily housework and the responsibilities of caring for twelve children. She writes: I was so immersed in a sea of housework that I was not conscious of what I was going through day and night. After some time the desire to learn how to read properly grew very strong in me. I was angry with myself for wanting to read books. Girls did not read... People used to despise women of learning... In fact, older women used to show a great deal of displeasure if they saw a piece of paper in the hands of a woman. But somehow I could not accept this. (Tharu and Lalitha 1991: 199)

The fears of Hindu orthodox society in Bengal were founded on the belief that education would lead women to transgress boundaries of their private worlds and break the strict codes of morality enforced by seclusion. Rashsundari’s struggle to access knowledge echoes the harsh restraints imposed on uppercaste women seeking to go beyond the minimal scriptural knowledge they were taught within the home. Sarkar discusses the contours of strishiksha in the Bengal of Rashsundari’s times, examining in depth girls’ education in indigenous institutions, discourses of women’s education and socioreligious movements in Bengal that provided its context. The loss of power following British colonial rule and the perceived moral decline of the middle classes led early Muslim male


Gender and Education in India

reformers to write on the need for women’s education to ‘perfect’ women in their roles to preserve the family and community in times of rapid social change. Women’s education emerged as part of an agenda of cultural reform of the Muslim community. The fictional heroines of stories of knowledgeable women had real-life counterparts in women who accessed education and served as role models for Muslim women. Gail Minault’s essay (Chapter 7), from her book Secluded Scholars: Women’s Education and Muslim Social Reform in Colonial India (1998) traces the various strands of reform and provides fascinating accounts of many of these women. Karuna Chanana’s essay (Chapter 8) focuses on a moment in history marked by rupture: the partition of the subcontinent in 1947. Feminist scholars have documented the large-scale violence borne by Hindu, Muslim and Sikh women at the time of Partition, but few have examined the ways in which the upheavals of Partition impacted women’s education. Chanana examines the life histories of three generations of Punjabi women in Delhi, from families that had to flee their homelands in Pakistan. Chanana provides a rich account of the intergenerational changes in gender roles and family strategies in response to the new realities confronted by the community as they sought to rebuild their lives. In the wake of Partition violence, she asserts, physical spaces for women became more restricted, but there was a certain easing of social norms governing parda and caste considerations for marriage, allowing widening of channels of educational mobility and employment for girls and women. Gender Inequality and Schooling Issues of access have dominated policy debates on girls’ education and gender equality in post-independence India. However, scholars have pointed to critical

dimensions of education that impact gender beyond the issue of access—the structure and organisation of schools, curricula, teaching practices, routinised rituals, school cultures, as well as orientations towards expected outcomes in terms of attainment and employment (Nambissan 2006). In a key contribution to understanding the sociology of gender and education in the Indian context, Padma Velaskar (Chapter 9) presents a theoretically and empirically grounded perspective on educational inequality in an unequal society marked by class and caste hierarchy. She analyses the various dimensions of education, including substantive questions around the issue of access, to show how education has acted to mediate and reproduce class, caste and gender inequalities. Asserting that gender differences in educational access and in educational and occupational attainment are not captured by conventional approaches to social reproduction, she employs a feminist materialist approach to analyse the relationship of the educational system to the reproduction of the sexual division of labour, essential to maintaining relations under patriarchy. The unequal distribution of resources and opportunities in a socially stratified society sharpen the tenuous links between education and gender equality. Poverty is directly related to girls’ burden of labour within the home in terms of sharing responsibilities for cooking, cleaning and minding younger children and caring for the aged and sick. Young schoolage girls from poor communities (disproportionately represented by non-savarna, adivasi and Muslim communities) contribute to household survival and sustenance by labouring in wage as well as non-wage work. Opportunity costs towards educating girls are therefore high. A range of factors, including expansion of facilities and policies focused on enhancing the participation of girls under the

Introduction 21 SSA, and increasing social demand for girls to be educated have contributed to reduction of gender disparities. However, in terms of encouraging capacities to exercise agency in taking life decisions, such as future studies, choice of subjects or even marriage, education is seen to play a limited role in changing patriarchal gender relations. Nonetheless, to imagine possibilities for education is to foreground this objective as crucial to social transformation. Manabi Majumdar (Chapter 10) suggests that in order to do this, we need to address both family justice and social justice simultaneously, accounting for feminist critiques of family as a site for the production of oppressive patriarchal practices, and its relationship to the state. Majumdar discusses policy measures directed towards greater participation of girls, pointing to their anomalies and contradictions. Privatisation is one critical shift away from state commitment to ensure universal education that has profoundly gendered outcomes. Majumdar stresses that educational attainment and progression through successive cycles are critical for enabling more positive selfidentities among girls. To enhance possibilities for meaningful education, it is crucial to enhance public activism on educational issues and create spaces of dialogue at all levels— families, communities and the state. Experiencing and Negotiating Gender Regimes in Schools How do we understand the place of gender in school knowledge? There are certain distinct lines of inquiry which warrant such an exploration, and cast the relationship between gender and curriculum as problematic. Firstly, there is the issue of developing gendersensitive curricula ‘relevant’ to children’s social experience. The limitations of such an approach are evident: children inhabit social worlds where gender is an inescapable part

of reality. Cultural relativism is at its most precarious here. Since gender relations are primarily socio-culturally sanctioned, a cultural-relativist position runs the danger of extending processes of primary socialisation to schools, legitimising and consolidating the learning of existing gender roles and divisions in wider society (Khullar 1991). Children do not learn about gender only in schools: they enter schools with a wide social experience from which they have acquired knowledge about gender roles and gender-appropriate behaviour; however, there are continuities as well as contradictions between patterns of primary socialisation and those of school socialisation. As Krishna Kumar states in his essay, for education to make a difference, school curricula would have to play a countersocialising role. School life is permeated by notions of ideal femininity and masculinity. The ‘hidden’ curriculum of gender—mechanisms, arrangements and processes that reflect the wider context of gender relations—set up a gender ‘code’ that students register and respond to. Some of the elements that make up the hidden curriculum are: the socially differentiated structure and organisation of schools, gendered hierarchies within school administrations, the sexual division of labour in task assignment, organisation of physical space, gendered student-teacher interactions, particularly teachers’ labelling patterns of children and subject choices available to students. Discerning and unmasking these taken-for-granted dimensions help us to understand how schooling maintains and reproduces gender relations in society. The three ethnographic essays by Elspeth Page, Raka Ray and Veronique Bénéï lay out the various ways that students experience different gender regimes in schools. Discussing her ethnographic study in two schools in Madhya Pradesh—one located in a


Gender and Education in India

town and the other in a village—Elspeth Page (Chapter 11) describes the wider universe of gendered social relations within which educational policy and public discourse on education and gender equality are framed. In a social environment that is defined by dominant feudal Hindu caste patriarchal arrangements, policy discourses of empowerment through education meet with contradictions, especially with regard to the aspirations and desires of the young. Her study showed that school experiences of girls were at variance with the policy vision of education as empowering for girls. Across caste, class and religion, the idea of a ‘natural’ gender order (Connell 1987) prevailed, with men associated with the public sphere and women with the private. The gender order was less rigidly defined among the very poor since women laboured in the fields, as also in Adivasi communities which were not totally regulated by traditional patriarchal norms. Some young women also challenged the patriarchal order by seeking paid employment. Page’s essay provides a detailed description of the local contexts that contribute to the distance all social actors perceive between professed policy aims for empowerment through education and the real chances of achieving this, as well as those that have enabled some change. The essay points to the need for moving beyond the binary of education as individual attainment/collective gain, by examining the contexts within which school and teachers are expected to carry out policy agendas, where hierarchies and a sense of alienation among teachers, as well as gendered curricula and promotion of nondialogical learning were the norm. It is equally important to examine the nature of incremental changes that occur even in such contexts. The work of critical feminist sociologists

have established that formal education acts to further social reproduction, both structurally (through a stratified schooling system), as well as ideologically, through curricula and teaching practices that emphasise dominant ideologies (Weiler 1988). At the subjective and intersubjective levels, these entail complex processes, not removed from wider sociohistorical, economic and political contexts. Basing her ethnographic research in two schools in Calcutta in the mid-1980s—an upper/upper middle-class school and a lower middle class/working-class school—Raka Ray (Chapter 12) analyses congruences and dissimilarities in the experiences and narratives of girls. Ray develops a typology to understand the complexities underlying resistance to gender regimes represented in the ‘instrumental’ and ‘expressive’ order of the schools, which reflect capitalism and patriarchy in society. Her analysis points to critical intersections of both gender and class in the construction of schooled identities for girls. Veronique Bénéï’s essay (Chapter 13) focuses on nationalism and the making of the male subject in a military school in Maharashtra. Examining the routines and rituals of everyday school life, Bénéï shows how rigid regimentation and disciplining of male bodies are essential to the fashioning of unwavering allegiance to the nation. The nation, as many scholars have pointed out, works on familial metaphors, and Bénéï discusses in some detail how a familial space is reconstructed within the school through creating affective ties, actively demarcating its position vis-a-vis the families of the students. The model of the pure and virtuous male nationalist subject does not exclude femininity, and Bénéï brings out the tensions and ambivalences in processes of gender construction within the school.

Introduction 23 Caste, Gender and School Knowledge The image of the learner is at the core of thinking about educational knowledge. In the case of India, this image is that of the urban, upper caste and male learner. The potential of education to enable historically marginalised first generation learners to critically question the conditions of their own lives and to stir imaginations of social transformation are hampered by this biased and myopic vision of who school knowledge is meant for, and whose realities represent knowledge. All struggles for education for such learners have historically been linked to claiming this space, to assert their legitimacy as knowers in society, and the valuation of their knowledge. Dr. Ambedkar’s campaign to reach education to Dalits and his rallying call ‘Educate, Agitate, Organise’ influenced generations from Dalit communities to enter education. Ambedkar saw in education for Dalit women the liberatory potential to change their own lives and that of their communities (Velaskar 2012). Shailaja Paik (Chapter 14) discusses the struggles of Dalit women to access education and their experiences within educational institutions. The title of her essay is based on the dubiously popular saying that justifies corporal punishment: the stick’s strokes bring knowledge. The ‘chhadi’ is a metaphor for the exercise of multiple power relationships that attempt to regulate, control and discipline the lower castes into abject submission. Discipline of Dalit students in educational institutions takes physical and verbal forms, but also, crucially, psychological: to ridicule, demean and invibilise their existence and rob them of their self-worth. For women, experiences are conditioned by class, caste and gender. Paik’s analysis of oral histories and testimonies of educated Dalit women shows that the ‘chhadi’ operates not only through power within the education

system, but also within families. Paik’s essay also points to the alienating nature of the curriculum and the role it also plays in maintaining the distance between the first-generation learners and ‘school knowledge’, often leading them to drop out of the system altogether. The situation is clearly far more fraught for girls from socially and economically marginalised communities, who have to struggle against tremendous odds to enter, and stay on in, education. Gender is embedded in the content of textbooks and pedagogical practices. A wide range of scholarship has examined some of these aspects in textbooks. Most analyses of textbooks, however, approach gender as a fixed ‘stand alone’ category and work with a simplistic ‘parity’ framework, that would for example, examine whether there are equal numbers of girls and boys in textbook lessons. From such studies we gain a sense of the preponderance of gender stereotypes, bias and exclusions, but not the larger politics of knowledge in society that makes gendered knowledge ‘normal’. How do textbooks deal with intersections of gender with caste, class, labour, poverty, privilege, inequality, underdevelopment? In other words, how do they deal with realities as experienced by learners? How do school textbooks deal with questions of equal citizenship in the nation? Like other modern democracies, India was committed to the freedom and equality of all citizens, irrespective of gender, class, caste, and community. In practice, however, constitutional commitments continue to be fought over, rather than experienced in daily life. This is especially true when it comes to questions of gender—where the right to expression and right to life and liberty constantly have to be contested at the level of families, communities and the state. Gender equality in India therefore is de jure (by law) but not de facto (in practice), and hence the


Gender and Education in India

state’s constitutional commitment to gender equality and the real experiences of women and men are in constant tension and contradiction. Feminist scholars in many societies have pointed to the ways in which the ‘citizen’ is constructed in school texts as the able-bodied, upper-caste privileged male in the public sphere The connections between gender and nation are amply clear in the ways in which the textual and visual representation of the ‘land’, the ‘country’ and the ‘nation’ are figured as the woman-mother, but the citizen who serves and defends the nation is male. A brilliant analysis by Rubina Saigol of Pakistani civics texts shows how the sexual division of labour is generative of this theme (Saigol 2003). In a landmark study of language and social science textbooks in five Indian states by Nirantar, a women’s organisation working on education, used a fine-grained, historically and sociologically nuanced methodological matrix for analysing textbook content (Nirantar 2010). Gender as a category was found to be crucial to the ways in which the nation and nationalist identity were constructed, showing how gender is a core element in socialising the young into ideas of being educated citizens in the nation-state. Dipta Bhog’s essay ‘Gender and Curriculum’ (Chapter 15) focuses on the complexities of analysing gendered texts in the contemporary context, especially when terms like ‘equality’ and ‘empowerment’ have come into both neoliberal and socially conservative discourse. Bhog brings out the anxieties underlying the formulations of the National Curriculum Framework (NCF) 2000, that spoke of the great Indian tradition and value education in schools. Her close reading of the NCF 2000 indicates that women upholding ‘Indian tradition’ are seen as bulwarks against the advance of global technological modernity,

just as they were seen as the essence of the ‘true’ India by certain leaders of the nationalist movement with regard to colonial modernity. Bhog illustrates how at its core the basis of the NCF 2000 lay in older 19 th and early 20 th century formulations about women’s position in society. Discussing her analysis of texts, she finds that despite a commitment in the 1986 National Policy on Education to develop gender-sensitive curricula, textbooks continue to propagate stereotypes and remain malecentric. The reader should note that this paper was written in 2002, prior to the production of the post-NCF 2005 school textbooks that attempted to radically shift these biases in textbooks to represent socio-historical, economic and political realities to students based on progressive liberal principles and sound scholarship. The post-1990s period in India has seen rapid transformation of the economy through structural adjustment policies that have entailed opening out to global markets and privatisation and a stark withdrawal of the state from its social commitments to education and health. It has also seen an increase in social conservativism and cultural nationalism. The negative impact of these fundamental shifts in the economy and society have been contested by campaigns, struggles and movements for equality and social justice. The period is also marked by a new turn in education: the entry of large numbers of students from historically excluded communities, like Dalits, Adivasis and Muslims, from poor areas in cities and towns, rural and semi-rural areas and tribal belts. An education system honed to serve the privileged has been strained to accommodate the needs of students from such backgrounds, and the issue of ‘merit’ has repeatedly been invoked in public discourse to justify exclusions. How do teachers understand the new questions before them as pedagogues? In

Introduction 25 Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970), Paulo Freire critiqued what he termed ‘banking’ education for the poor and spoke of the need for dialogical pedagogy, the importance of listening to the experiences students bring to classrooms, enabling reflection and critique and validating their knowledge, and equipping them to deal with the larger world. How can we think of a critical pedagogy to address the new challenges? In what has emerged as a key text in critical feminist pedagogy from the Indian perspective, Sharmila Rege’s essay in this volume (Chapter 16) locates her discussion within the context of these ‘New Times’ within the university, where the entry of students from historically disadvantaged communities has destabilised traditional authority structures within education and enabled these students to ‘talk/ write back’ to systems of caste oppression and claim their within knowledge. Taking as a starting point a critique of mainstream sociology, Rege shows how the discipline has remained impervious to demands for inclusion of knowledge from the margins, of women, Dalits and Adivasis, and their inclusion in curricula remains piecemeal and superficial. As she says, ‘[Thus] “good sociology” continues to be defined in terms of the binaries of objectivism/sub-jectivism, social/political, social world/knower, experience/knowledge, tradition/modernity and theoretical Brahman/empirical Shudra’ (p. 263). Rege discusses possibilities of critical transformative pedagogies in classrooms that draw on awareness of the historical suppression of knowledge of marginalised communities through dominant language and structures. She draws on the liberationist approaches of Phule, Ambedkar and feminists, who recognised that the organisation of knowledge was complexly related to the interlocking connections of different identities. Their philosophical stance

as well as their action for social change lead them to a nuanced understanding of the relation of experience to knowledge and the central importance of dialogue for education to be the practice of freedom (hooks 1994), through which students and teachers can be ‘truth seekers’. Dialogue and debate about oppression with those who are oppressed pose challenges to teaching and learning, of trust, uncertainty and risk in the classroom, and of critical pedagogues being seen as ‘saviours’. Rege discusses these complex realities in relation to her own classroom experiences. While critical pedagogies have the potential to counter discriminations that have become normalised within education systems and classrooms, and make students feel a sense of power over their own knowledge, their methods and strategies are in need of continuous debate and discussion among teachers and with students. Concluding Comments Education has always been a contested terrain, but in recent years has emerged as a site of intense conflict. Neoliberal policies since the 2000s have seen state withdrawal from the social sector and promoted privatisation of education at all levels, and this has meant a sharpening of stratification in the schooling system and a far more complex social scenario with regard to gendered educational participation at all levels. Social conservatism with the rise of majoritarian politics has seen attempts at refashioning school curricula, with marked repercussions for gender (Manjrekar 2003, Bhog, this volume). A collective ‘educational’ response to these trends was seen in the processes of framing the National Curriculum Framework 2005, that resulted in the production of textbooks sensitive to social realities, and position papers addressing various facets of school education keeping the child in focus. The Gender Focus Group paper


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that formed part of the NCF processes covered a wide canvas of contemporary issues related to gender and education, and students interested in the area would benefit from engaging with this document. The essays in this reader cover a wide range of issues related to gender and education, examining contexts, structures and experiences through a socio-historical lens. They point to the range of sources that can be used to uncover the linkages between gender and education—quantitative data, literature, autobiographies—as well as methods like oral history and ethnography. There are several important dimensions of gender and education of contemporary relevance that are not addressed in this reader. To name a few: young people’s needs for sexuality education, their aspirations and choices, significant intersections of gender and disability, and the impact of neoliberal policies aimed at commercialisation and privatisation on education. It is hoped that the essays here, which approach gender through an intersectional lens, along with caste, class, religion and other identities, provide a foundation to academically engage with the complexity these emerging issues present to our understanding of gender-education linkages. References Ambedkar, B.R. (1916/1979). Castes in India: Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development, Paper presented at an Anthropology Seminar taught by Dr. A.A. Goldenweizer, Columbia University, May 9, 1916, in Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches Vol. 1, 3-22. Anyon, J. (1983). ‘Intersections of Gender and Class: Accommodation and Resistance by WorkingClass and Affluent Females to Contradictory Sex-Role Ideologies’, in S. Walker and L. Barton (eds.), Gender, Class and Education. Sussex: Falmer Press, 1-19.

Balagopalan, S. (2010). ‘Rationalizing Seclusion: A Preliminary Analysis of a Residential Schooling Scheme for Poor Girls in India’, Feminist Theory, 11(3), 295–308. Connell, R.W. (1987). Gender and Power. Cambridge: Polity Press. Forbes, G. (1996) ‘Education for Women’, in Women in Modern India. The New Cambridge History of India IV.2. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Freire, P. (1972) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Harmondsworth: Penguin. Ghose, M. (2002). ‘Literacy, Power and Feminism’, Economic and Political Weekly, 37(17), 16151619. hooks, bell (1994). Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York: Routledge. Khullar, M. (1991). ‘In Search of ‘Relevant’ Education’. Occasional Paper No. 17. New Delhi: Centre for Women’s Development Studies. Maharani Chimnabai II and S.M. Mitra (1911). The Position of Women in Indian Life. New York, Bombay and Calcutta: Longmans, Green and Co. Manjrekar, N. (2003). ‘Contemporary Challenges to Women’s Education: Towards an Elusive Goal?’, Economic and Political Weekly, 38(43), 4577-4582. Manjrekar, N. (2013). ‘Women School Teachers in New Times: Some Preliminary Reflections’, Indian Journal of Gender Studies, 20(2), 335-356. Manjrekar, N. and Saxena, S. (2012). ‘Editorial’, Contemporary Education Dialogue (Special Issue on Gender and Education) 9(2), 139-143. Nambissan, G. (2006). ‘Integrating Gender Concerns’, Changing English: Studies in Culture and Education, 12(2), 191-199. Pappu, R. (2004). ‘Within the Edifice of Development: Education of Women in India’, IDS Bulletin, University of Sussex. Ramachandran, V. (2003). 'Education and the Status of Women' in R. Govinda (ed.) India Education Report: A Profile of Basic Education. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 251-265. Saigol, R. (2003). ‘His Rights/Her Duties: Citizen and Mother in the Civics Discourse’, Indian

Introduction 27 Journal of Gender Studies, 10(3), 379-404. Saxena, S. (2012). ‘Is Equality an Outdated Concern in Education?’ Economic and Political Weekly 47 (49), 61-68. Sudarshan, R.M. (2016). Gender Equality Outcomes of the SSA: A Case Study. New Delhi: National Institute for Educational Planning and Administration. Tharu, S. and Lalita, K. (eds.) (1992). Women Writing in India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Thorne, B. (1993). Gender Play: Girls and Boys in

School. N.J.: Rutgers University Press. Velaskar, P. (2012). ‘Education for Liberation: Ambedkar’s Thought and Dalit Women’s Perspectives’, Contemporary Education Dialogue 9(2), 245–271. Walby, Sylvia (1990). Theorizing Patriarchy. Oxford, UK and Cambridge, Massachusetts: WileyBlackwell. Weiler, K. 1988. Women Teaching For Change: Gender, Class and Power. New York: Bergin and Garvey.

1 Masculinity and Femininity Ideas are Real V. Geetha Before we go on to discuss gender as history, we should perhaps pause and reflect on what we have discussed so far. Ideas of masculine and feminine virtues are not fiction. They are real, they exist in the world we live in and affect our lives in very fundamental ways: the clothes we wear, the food we eat, sexual relationships, our very thoughts. They help us make sense of our experiences, understand and formulate our views on ourselves and others in particular ways. These ideas affect men and women differently. Yet these ideas are not static imperatives which human beings receive passively—they struggle with them, re-work them, subvert some, discard others— in every instance the idea becomes real, becomes an aspect of practice in specific contexts. Secondly, masculine and feminine identities are not the only socially pertinent categories in any society. There are other identities which are important and relevant, and which are as subject to restrictive norms and expectations. Religious strictures, for instance, are as discriminatory against certain kinds of men, as they are with respect to women. For example, in India, only brahmins can claim and perform legitimate priestly functions. Likewise, categorical thought recognizes and defines other sorts of innate characteristics besides masculinity and femininity—it divides human beings on the basis of skin colour and temperament. Thus

in racially divided societies, black people are imagined to be innately crude and primitive. Every society possesses a range of social roles and functions, besides those ascribed to men and women. In India, certain castes are fixed into certain functions—scavenging, washing and so on. They are also expected to perform certain roles, for instance, be official mourners, drum-beaters at funerals. People belonging to these castes fulfil the duties assigned to them, for not only is this linked to their survival, but also others, especially higher castes, consider it their vocation and punish them if they do not carry out their prescribed tasks. It is important to see how gender and other differences intersect and criss-cross in a given social context. Let me explain these two notions with reference to the three sets of ideas I have outlined. Religion as Process Most world religions enable men to attain positions of authority in religious matters. Such men alone are deemed capable of interpreting scriptural texts and laying down rules which other men and all women are to follow. Religious definitions and explanations of sexual difference are often used to justify every kind of discrimination and cruelty against women, including practices such as enforced widowhood, sati, witch-burning. Very few women are allowed to read and interpret scripture on their own. But in most


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religious cultures, women are under greater pressure than men to observe customs and practise rituals and suffer greater punishment, if they do not. When men turn religious zealots, they exhibit their zealotry by forcing women to follow religious strictures in the strictest imaginable way. This may mean observing fasts, wearing a veil, and so on. But religion does not empower all men equally. It is important to keep in mind that discrimination sanctioned by religion is also directed against powerless men or groups of men such as slaves, or in the Indian context, the shudras and the so-called untouchable or dalits. In fact the Manusmriti lumps together animals, shudras and women and considers all of them equally unclean, polluting and fit to be included and controlled by the men of the upper castes. Other world religions, Islam and Christianity, for example, do not consign an entire group of men to the low status they reserve for women, unless these men are nonbelievers, or considered sexually deviant. Homosexuals, for instance, have been castigated as unnatural and sinful. It is clear that women and certain groups of men are both subject to restrictions and deliberately dis-empowered, at the behest of powerful men, who control access, among other things, to culturally significant experiences and resources, such as those to do with religion. But women, nor men, simply receive and accept these restrictions—they react to them, respond in specific ways and, in doing so, alter and transform them. Religious Change In medieval south India, owing to complex historical reasons, several men from the lower castes and a few women understood religion as an existential personal experience of faith. They overlooked and in some cases eschewed the meditations of brahmin priests, responded to the spirit of religious texts, rather than to

their formal significance, defied restrictive social taboos of caste, and most important, yoked a deeply felt devotionalism to notions of liberation. Significantly, women bhaktins transgressed given gender roles and identities —Akkamadevi, a Kannada poet, chose to discard her clothes, grew her hair long, thus deliberately flouting gender norms which require women to be clothed and modest, and sexually contained. Nudity and long hair, in this case, represented a certain disregarding of norms, which Akkamadevi clearly felt to be irrelevant to her existence in a world of faith. Similarly, lower caste devotees transformed their humble status into marks of spiritual into marks of spiritual fervour— they cast away felt notions of lowness and claimed, as Chokamela and Nandan did, the heavens for themselves. It must be pointed out here that religions themselves get altered as they seek to root themselves in specific historic contexts. In the process their structures with regard to gender and morality produce contradictory and, sometimes, unintended effects. Consider the role of Christianity in the Indian context. It came here to proselytize, convinced of the rightness of imperial British rule. But devoted missionaries of faith were anguished by the horrors perpetrated by caste. They felt that the ideology of caste contradicted the spirit and messages contained in the gospel. Thus, missionaries took to educating dalits and other lower castes. In doing so, Christianity, with its schools, hospitals and notions of a common brotherhood in Christ granted to dalits and other despised castes a measure of self-worth. Women who converted to Christianity had access to learning. Besides, they were also inspired by the Christian notion of good work. That is, they could aspire to be of service to suffering humanity, be teachers, nurses. Christianity enabled them to experience a sense of vocation that took them beyond their designated roles as wives and mothers.

Masculinity and Femininity: Ideas are Real 31 Challenging the Basis of Science I argued earlier that the language of science was not particularly critical or objective when it came to the question of sexual difference. As a result, we have scientific notions of male and female beings which more or less reproduce arguments that assert that women are unequal to men. This has led to the sciences remaining essentially male domains, and scientific thought refuses to concede that its own conclusions often rely on unexamined notices of masculinity and femininity. Even those women who pursue science seriously have to work within a system that refuses to acknowledge both the facts of sexual difference, as well as the meanings that we have attached to them. Science establishments demand a degree of concentration and absorption which women cannot bring to their vocation, should they be pregnant or lactating mothers. While maternity leave is granted to women, many demur from accepting long maternity leave and some are known to fill in these hours of rest, writing and researching papers! Women scientists find they have to function in a context where unless they work twice as hard as men, and prove themselves three times as good as them, they are likely to be discouraged. Until recently science has played a role in perpetrating theories of racial superiority and inferiority. For several decades, scientists lent their names and credence to theories which maintained that non-white races are innately irrational and cannot be taught the ways of modern science. Though most of these theories stand discredited today, they exist at the level of commonsense, and are invoked from time to time in the service of things such as intelligence quotient tests or in genetic research. It is surely not accidental that science has remained not only a male domain, but also one dominated by white men.

None of these disadvantages have prevented non-white races and women from engaging in scientific research or theorymaking. While the scientific establishment remains a white male preserve for the most part, women—and non-white men—have challenged the theoretical assumptions of science in different ways: historians and philosophers of science from non-white contexts have argued that science is as much a product of culture as anything else and that Western science reflects the biases of Western culture. They have pleaded for a more inclusive and catholic view of science, and one that accommodates different notions of truth, objectivity and verifiability than those specified in science as most of us know it. A New Politics The idea that women are unequal to men and therefore cannot be granted citizenship rights continues to dominate political thought and action. Today, unlike in the days of the French Revolution, women have been granted equal citizenship and legal rights in most countries. Yet in many of these countries, women are not at all adequately represented in political parties, legislatures or the courts of law. Even if women are admitted into the higher levels of government, they are entrusted with responsibilities which may be characterized as ‘feminine’. They are put in charge of social welfare, mother and childcare and family planning. The few women who find their way into positions of greater authority do so because they have the support of powerful male politicians—usually fathers, husbands, brothers. They are often viewed as wives (or widows), daughters or sisters of eminent leaders and not really as political persons in their own right, Political leaders, legislators, lawyers and others in the public realm continue to think and act, as if women’s sexual


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difference implies that they are subordinate and unequal to men. Modern democracy does not demand that a woman be active in the public realm or that she exercise her rights as a citizen. Most democratic institutions are of a public kind and do not really affect or even attempt to influence domestic and familial life. When they do, it is in the form of laws, which, again, are interpreted through a haze of ideas that have to do with masculinity and femininity. In societies like India and the United States of America which have divided people on the lines of caste and race respectively, lower caste and black men—like women—may be legally equal to all others. Yet only in political formations which are solely devoted to their good, do we find large numbers of these men in prominent or in leadership positions. In socalled mainstream parties, they are almost always consigned to a minority or considered a special interest group. In India, for example, every major political party has a women’s cell, a minority cell and a dalit forum—as if these identities cannot be brought into the central agenda of parties and must be necessarily treated as ‘special cases’. That is, neither women nor dalits, or, for that matter, minorities can claim a representative, public status—in other words, in themselves they do not constitute a legitimate public and become part of one, only when a political party designates them a particular space and identity. Clearly, democracy has defined itself in fairly restrictive terms: it allows for formal equality but obviously this is not enough. The mere granting of rights does not help to alter people’s attitudes and perceptions regarding those they consider inferior, whether these are women, black people or dalits. But the notion of rights has served women and others who do not possess a public voice and identity to demand that their points of view be heard. In

India, for example, the guarantee of formal equality has encouraged dalits and women from claiming equal rights in several ordinary instances. Dalits have demanded rights of equal access to public spaces, have fought against discrimination which follows them, because they are considered ‘untouchable’. Women’s encounter with equality has been equally dynamic. The idea that they are equal to men has led them to demand that they be considered as a significant constituency when politicians and bureaucrats make plans—whether this has to do with the budget, or the census or elections. That is, women do not want to be seen as appendages of or as dependent on their husbands. They are becoming increasingly aware that the work they do at home, or on the family plot of land, constitute productive labour. This is just one instance of how perceptions can alter once a new idea finds its place. In recent years, Indian women have been able to experience a sense of the public, feel themselves an active part of it, because of the constitutional amendments which reserves 33 percent of seats in local government for them. Every panchayat today has a significant number of women—while it is true that many of them are timid, mere alibis for their husbands or brothers, the fact that their presence is required in a panchayat, that they possess the power to decide on village concerns, have enabled the more articulate women actually to participate in the democratic process. It is possible that women’s sense of themselves, their roles and functions may undergo a gradual transformation over the next decade or so, should the system of local government continue to function. Limits of Categorization Categorical thinking about men and women is commonplace and part of our everyday lives. Its effects are to be found in many things

Masculinity and Femininity: Ideas are Real 33 around us. Spaces are sharply divided into masculine and feminine: the space of home is identified with women, and the outside world is considered an exclusively male sphere. It does not matter that women too engage with the outside world, as workers, consumers, citizens; or that men are active in the family and home, as fathers, husbands, decisionmakers. Women’s identity rests on their roles as wives, mothers, as home-makers, whereas male identity is linked to productive work, public visibility and power. This division of spaces reflects the division of work or labour. Women’s work at home, whether for the family or at a task that fetches her money, is not considered work at all. It is instead seen as an extension of her duties as a wife and a mother. By definition, the household space cannot be a site for productive activity. The logic of feminine and masculine spaces works in other insidious ways as well. Most women who work outside their homes are confined to those work sectors such as the export garment and electronics trades. Here low wages are the order of the day. It is assumed that a woman’s work is supplementary to the family’s income, for after all, her real duty is performed at home and anything else she does is gratuitous. Men’s wages alone represent a living wage and their work is ‘real’ work; primary and necessary. A significant number of men, especially from the poorer and more deprived classes, are as subject to low-wages work as women and, like them, are often disallowed from protesting for better wages, but they are likely to be more mobile than women. They also are more likely to learn new skills or upgrade existing ones. More men than women work in the organized trades or the services sector, subject to wage revisions and where the learning and upgrading of skills are important. Though a certain sort of feminism and environmentalism have utilized categorical

thinking to the advantage of women, throughout history, this mode of thinking has worked to keep women away from male preserves: higher education, economically empowering jobs, political visibility and power, intellectual life and art. It has effectively confined women to the cramped spaces of the home, to low-paying jobs, denied their mobility, curtailed their desire to go about the world, meet new people, experience life in all its detail. On the other hand, men have derived a great deal of advantage from the simple and seemingly irrefutable logic of categorization. Being male is a condition that exudes power and confers privilege, even if not all men are powerful or endowed with resources to affirm their claims of masculine prowess. Masculinity is, of course, interpreted differently by different groups of men, and to very different purposes. Yet it is seldom dissociated from expressions, enactments and practices of power. What about racial or caste categorization? Are they as much part of our commonsense as ideas of gender? And do they operate in the same way? Until a century ago, in India, caste divided people up in such a way that they occupied different social and living spaces and remained well within the social roles and work assigned to them. Different castes performed different occupations, and these occupations were arranged in a hierarchy, a system of what Dr. Ambedkar referred to as ‘graded inequality’. Each caste was thought to be of a certain temperament, as if qualities were embedded within the bodies of people born into a certain caste. There even existed different legal systems for different castes—brahmins and shudras, for instance, were not bound by the same laws. Race and caste categorization, however, have received challenges throughout the twentieth century. The doctrine of equal rights as well as the struggles waged by dalits and


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blacks have helped unpack all those assumptions which constitute categorical thought. The epistemological guarantees which once underwrote expressions of categorization no longer exist, or if they do, they are perceived as prejudicial. Categorical thought with respect to men and women continues to endure, though, as we have seen, it has its transformative aspects—when feminine characteristics of empathy and tolerance are invoked during anti-war protests. But these moments of transformation and subversion run the danger of confirming categorization and do not really produce those attitude changes some feminists hope for. Categorical thought with respect to gender remains active even in contexts that have actively confronted other sorts of categorization. For instance, anti-race and anticaste activism have not always recognized the pertinence of gender equality and justice. Dalit men or black men do have a stake in maintaining that as men they deserve privileges and power which women are not to expect for themselves—these demands may not be articulated directly, but they exist in the way men view themselves and women, and in the manner women play out the roles which are defined as theirs. Thus a dalit woman who prefers to remain silent about sexual harassment in the community may defer her anger, because she knows ‘boys are like that, and anyway, they are our boys’. Her maternal role and identity come into play here, though in a transfigured manner. A dalit youth who is angry and sorrows over the rape of dalit women may experience anguish, pain, hurt, but often this is at the behest of an emotion that demands that he, as a father or a brother, avenge or at least mourn, as he should, the dishonour visited on his daughter or sister. Incomplete Socialization Social pressures and expectations—the role

play expected of men and women—have contributed to a hardening of sexual difference. Social expectations—peer pressure, media messages, work options—are subtle and persuasive, as well as direct and forceful. Each of us learns to feel at home in our destined role through negotiation and struggle, and thus confirm its validity. Such negotiations and struggles are different for men and women. For men, the rewards of conformity are: money, status, prestige and celebration of being male. For women, the rewards are less tangible. They gain the love of children, older people, feel virtuous in being nurturing and compassionate. But in concrete terms women practise a great deal of denial: whether it is food, leisure time, questions of health or sexual desire. Women learn to put them by and attend to tasks that await them as wives, sisters, daughters and mothers. In many cases, women are forced into abdicating desire and want. Or, more particularly, forced into subsuming their needs in the needs of their husbands. Domestic violence plays a huge role in keeping women submissive. Social norms that are imposed on, say, dalits in India are of a different kind. They are clearly experienced as impositions, their unjust nature is transparent. They are not explained in functional terms and are usually justified on the basis of religious arguments. The play of power in sustaining these norms is all too evident. Socialization, or the imposition of social roles, though, is never as consistent and seamless as it may appear. In the course of our negotiations with given norms, we are invariably inventive. If, for instance, women are expected to be beautiful in a certain way, there are individual women who bend the rules and push the expected ideal to its very limits. They either flaunt it in a way that makes them alluring and threatening at the same

Masculinity and Femininity: Ideas are Real 35 time; or else they make their own rules which do not alter the idea that women are to be beautiful, but which certainly beg the question, what is beauty. Dalits in modern India wear the marks of their low status proudly—they announce their caste identities boldly, claim a long and gracious lineage for themselves, write out caste histories which glorify what is usually reviled. Summing Up The societies we live in expect us, as men and women, to live, think and act in certain specified ways. But human beings do not merely react to structures, they also respond, invent and subvert rules. The question is whether such struggles and negotiations with a set of given norms help to confirm and perpetrate these norms, grant them a permanence, or whether human action actually helps to unmake and explode norms. The answers to this question, of course, depend on the way we live, the times we live in and our relationship with others, without whose support or opposition, as the case may be, our actions and thoughts remain private. At the same time, we must recognize that there are real, material stakes involved in keeping alive and active norms of sexual and other differences. These stakes also extend to linking these various differences—the sexual and the social, the cultural, the economic and

so on. Clearly, sexual differences exist in the context of other social differences, even as they impinge on and influence these latter. Likewise other social differences are expressed in and through sexual differences. Thus, in the case of Hindusim, a shudra is like a woman— a case of caste identity being feminized in a derogatory sense. Similarly, a shudra, much like a brahmin and upper caste woman, is only fit to serve what lies his salvation. In Hinduism, both untouchables and women are polluting—a menstruating woman is literally an untouchable for the days that her period lasts. Gender and class differences are likewise mutually linked, as we shall see in the following chapter. What grants masculinity power not only over women but also over other men as well? Why and for what purpose is the fact of being born with a particular set of genital organs granted significance? In what follows, I propose to examine the basis for sexual difference—through the reading of key historical texts which attempt to explain how and through what means men gained ascendancy over women. These texts help us see how sexual difference rests on systems of living and working which we have built over a period of time. Needless to say, such systems not only made men more powerful than women, but also some men came to dominate all other men and women.

2 Growing Up Male Krishna Kumar One way for men to relate to the condition of women and their problems is by considering how boys are brought up. Their socialisation as male children is concerned with women, not just in the sense that it involves women as mothers, sisters, and so on, but also in the more crucial sense that in order to become men they have to accept and behave according to a certain predetermined image of women. The data I discuss below are highly local and limited, but they do offer a somewhat unconventional point of entry into the symbolic universe that shapes the male personality in our country. My data are from a small town, an ex-princely state in Madhya Pradesh. Hundreds of such descriptions would have to be acquired in order to place male socialisation in some kind of a broader perspective. In my boyhood, the most significant event that shaped my map of the place of men and women in the world was my entry into a staterun, all-boys secondary school, after finishing the primary grades. Even at the primary school stage, co-education was extremely rare those days. The fact that my primary school allowed boys to sit with girls had something to do with the ethos of basic education.1 Boys and girls not only sat together, they shared all craft-based activities that the school offered— book-binding, paper designing, weaving, embroidery, cooking, and gardening. One got so used to being with girls and to

seeing them as ordinary children that it proved almost traumatic to move up to a secondary school where all children were boys and even the teachers were all men. 2 This sudden separation from girls made no sense at first; a little later it led us to see girls as an enigma; and finally, we accepted it as a protection that society offered us against the danger of coming in contact with a female human before we were ready for such contact. This rationalising took years; it was a tedious process, demanding tremendous amounts of psychic energy; and, of course, we never had access to an adult to ask any questions about the great mystery of girls and their separation from us. Girls went to a school that was designed conspicuously differently from the boys’ school. In the centre of the girls’ school was a courtyard where they played in total seclusion and safety from the outside world. Despite all these years since my childhood, I can still hear the shouts of girls playing games in that courtyard—shouts that we heard from our side of a broken wall, which we often toyed with the idea of climbing over. Enclosed by a ring of classrooms, Ashok trees, and the wall, the girls’ school was legally accessible through a twenty-foot high iron gate that was opened only twice a day—to let the girls in and to let them out. The boys’ school had no such courtyard or major entrance. Our playground was an annexe, just a big space attached to the school, devoid of any symbolism of

Growing Up Male 37 confinement. This architectural difference between boys’ and girls’ schools is an important aspect of our school culture and it has persisted to this day. Every evening we watched those hundreds of school girls in their blue skirts walking home in silent clusters of six or seven, crowding the narrow streets of the small town in a compact, neat style. As they walked they looked impossibly purposeful. We boys used the street for so many different things—as a place to stand about watching, to run a round and play, to try out the manoeuverability of our bikes. Not so for girls. As we noticed all the time, for girls the street was simply a means to get straight home from school. And even for this limited use of the street they always went in clusters, perhaps because behind their purposeful demeanour they carried the worst fears of being assaulted. Watching those silent clusters for years eroded my basic sense of endowing individuality to every human being. I got used to believing that girls were not individuals. ‘By separating the sexes unnaturally for almost ten years after puberty we have invented a social system which defies all physiological, psychological, and cultural logic. It is perhaps one of the major aberrations in the history of mankind.’ When Dinesh Mohan wrote this in an article on university education, it was seen as a little joke.3 I have never come across any other reference to the separation of boys from girls as a factor which influences the culture and achievement of education in our country. To my mind it is a weightier factor than campus politics and the erosion of university autonomy combined. The government has no specific policy guidelines on the question of co-education. Both at the secondary school and the college stage, separate institutions for girls continue to be started in the name of promoting female education. Apart from legitimising the

‘purdah’ system, such institutions perpetuate the tragic pattern of socialisation, of which I have offered a glimpse. I call this pattern tragic because it dehumanises. The boy who learns to perceive girls as objects annihilates his chances of relating to a woman as a friend and of enriching his life with such a relationship. He becomes a victim of his own attitudes. He begins to lead a life in which the desire for sex is transformed into the need to oppress, a point I will discuss below. Our university campuses and colleges are full of such boys. This discussion may suggest that coeducation is the answer to the problem. It may be an answer but it is by no means easy or straightforward. By merely putting boys and girls together, we cannot solve the problem of stereotyping of girls by boys and by male teachers. A student of mine, Bharati Roychoudhury, studied the behaviour of male teachers in mixed classrooms in Delhi schools and concluded that girls were given far less attention, encouragement, and opportunities for responsible action than boys. In England, several educators have expressed the view that co-educational schools offer fewer opportunities to girls than all-girls’ schools do.4 Such a view does not surprise me and I find it extremely important to keep it in mind when we urge the government to move towards co-education in all schools. Unless such a move is accompanied by significant changes in teacher training, the move may end up being counter-productive to girls. I believe that stereotyping of personality on the basis of sex is just as rampantly common among school teachers as it is among other members of society. Teachers will have to be trained to deal with boys and girls in an undiscriminating way if we want to humanise the culture of our schools by making them coeducational. Aggressiveness and the desire to appear


Gender and Education in India

tough, combined with and arising from a deep fear of women, were common among us by the time we came to the final years of the secondary school. Some of the boys who were older talked about marriage as an event that involved tremendous risk and adventure. We had learnt from textbooks, songs, dramas, and lectures about the great celibate saints and poets of the Bhakti period. In the lives and personal development of some of them, we thought freedom from women had played an important role. We had also read some verses written during the Riti period, and some of these, especially the ones we were supposed to read for the undergraduate course in Hindi literature, gave such precise descriptions of the female body that even our teachers felt too embarrassed to read them aloud. To us it appeared that marriage was the only sure means to get close to a woman, and we found it very ironical and cruel that this one means was fraught with an impossible challenge and personal risk. No one seemed to know precisely what the challenge or risk was, but it was unquestioned tacit knowledge that if you did not want to be defeated by a girl you must dominate her. Boasting about one’s strength was extremely common. Some of the older boys were devout worshippers of Hanuman and Shiva—in that order—and they firmly believed that these gods were especially meant for men. In the first part of his autobiography Kya bhooloon kya yaad karoon, the Hindi poet Harivanshrai Bachchan describes in great detail the tremendous anxiety he went through in the months preceding his marriage. It would be wrong to dismiss the anxiety and the behaviour linked with it as a universal phenomenon or to hide them under that amorphous, handy label called ‘human nature’. I think the desire to achieve ‘success’ in one’s sexual life after marriage is a cultural configuration, and at least one of its many

roots can be found in the culture of our schools and colleges. Apart from separation of the sexes, this culture is characterised by total silence on sexual behaviour and by subtle promotion of the ideal of celibacy as a qualification of sainthood. The stereotyping of female—as well as male—characters in textbooks is just one segment of the school culture. Now when stereotyping has come under attack from everyone concerned, it has been happily replaced by cardboard characters that NCERT’s writers are eminently capable of constructing and which seem to satisfy the critics. The agenda of dehumanisation of girls, and, of course, boys too (although it takes place at a different level), has entered a new phase. The crucial part of growing up male was to learn to see girls as objects. I say ‘learn’ because I still remember my perception of girls before I had begun to see them as objects and that my perception then was very different from what it became later. The sources of learning were many, the most important among them being other boys. Our contact with girls was minimal, in the sense that we hardly ever talked to any girl who was not a relative. And, of course, a sister did not count as a girl. On the other hand, we saw hundreds of girls each day of our lives—girls we could never hope to talk to. We saw cinema posters and sometimes films which mostly veered around cardboard female characters. Some of us read books that verged on pornography, where the treatment of the female was like that of a lifeless object that has no capacity to either suffer or enjoy. The conversations we overheard often consisted of references to women as a problem, and some of these conversations were among women themselves. I can recall several conversations among old women referring to girls as temporary property.

Growing Up Male 39 Equally profound was the influence of abusive terms that many boys used all the time and even in the presence of adults, including teachers. These terms were metaphors of sexual intercourse, and the terms mostly referred to different categories of men; so, one learnt to see men as belonging to different types and levels of mettle or perdition, depending on who they had subjected to intercourse. In brief, as a boy I was surrounded by a powerful discourse that delineated girls and women as sex objects, with little or nothing of their own in life in terms of sensation or demand. This kind of discussion leads one to wonder whether socialisation is a closed process. Such a thought is endorsed in the view that the school and community should be complementary to each other in socialising the young. If one accepts this principle of complementariness, then there is no hope of changing the prevailing code of sex-typing through education, which means that there is no hope that education can intervene in the cultural reproduction of entrenched sex roles. Yet, educationists never tire of telling the world that education is an agency of change. How does one get out of this contradiction? I think the way out is to propose countersocialisation as the school’s domain. That is, we need not see the school as an institution working in harmony with the community or the larger society in the matter of sex-role socialisation. On the contrary, we need to perceive the school in conflict with the community’s code of socialisation. This line of thought would lead us to reflect on the ways and means by which the school can act as a counter-socialiser in sexrole learning. If the community believes in segregating the sexes during adolescence, the school must set an alternative example by

mixing the sexes. Similarly, while the larger social ethos offers stereotyped models of the roles of men and women, the school must insist that the adults working in it will not act in stereotyped and stereotyping ways. In the world outside the school, knowledge about sex is taboo; in the school such knowledge must be accessible. Cinema and television cash in on conservative images of women and men; the school’s media—that is, textbooks and other materials—should offer images and symbols that motivate the reader to look at human beings in terms of their own struggle for an identity, rather than as reciting prefabricated conversations. And finally, if acceptance of the prevailing order and its norms is what society demands, then the school should demand the spirit of inquiry and offer opportunities to practise it. If all this sounds an idealistic, tall order, then one must remember that the agenda of changing women’s place and role in society is no different. Notes 1. I am saying ‘ethos’ and not the policy of basic education. Gandhi did not believe in coeducation, nor did other famous basic educators. But, the plan of basic education created an ethos in which all kinds of innovations could take place. 2. The primary school described here admitted boys till the early sixties after which it shed its ‘basic’ character as well as its coeducational policy. It was a government school, and in changing its policy it must have followed the directive of a local officer. The government does not have any clear-cut policy on co-education. 3. ‘Virus on the campus’ in Seminar (293, January 1984). 4. For one such discussion see Co-education Reconsidered, edited by Rosemary Deem (Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1984).

3 Through the Looking Glass Gender Socialisation in a Primary School Nandini Bhattacharjee “A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!” —Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass Little beyond biographical and anecdotal material exists to help us understand how children “learn” gender in Indian schools. Textbooks have been the focus of some research attention, primarily directed at uncovering the invisibility of girls and women and gender bias and discrimination in language and thematic content. However, it is important to note that there are values and norms diffused through schools in addition to those of textbooks. The “hidden” curriculum of schooling encompasses, in addition to the messages embodied in textbooks, institutional regularities, rituals and routines, as well as the teaching process itself (Apple, 1979). The concept of the “hidden” curriculum sensitises us to the fact that these “unintended practices” also contribute to the child’s understanding of the world, and of gender as a dimension of social relations and social organisation in that world. The patterns of practices within the school which construct femininity and masculinity in everyday school life is the backdrop to the hidden curriculum of gender. These patterns constitute a gender “code” (Macdonald, 1980).

The gender code provides the cues for “gender-appropriate” behaviour for all social actors within a particular school setting. For the school child, “clueing in” to the gender code involves reading gender into the contexts of social interaction within the school. The child perceives her/his own gender identity in the institutional “sub-world” of the school through the “gender lens” constructed by the common sense practices, routines and rituals of everyday school life. Gender socialisation can be considered to occur not by passive imprinting of “accepted” gender norms on unwary subjects, but through the active engagement of children with the gender code of the school. Empirical evidence is brought to bear on such a conceptualisation of socialisation in this chapter. Some patterns in the complementary socialisation of girls and boys are described here in the context of one primary school.2 I try to show how, within the specific cultural context of this school, everyday practices and interactions define the contours of the child’s “gendering.” Through description of everyday contexts of school life and children’s responses

Through the Looking Glass: Gender Socialisation in a Primary School 41 to these contexts, I attempt to show how the child accommodates to these contours in order to be perceived as a “normal” competent member of her/his gender category. Children and Teachers Most of the children in the study were firstgeneration urban migrants from the states of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Maharashtra. Their fathers’ occupations were vegetable vendors, carpenters, tile “polishers”, truck drivers, factory workers, watchmen and small traders. Most of the mothers did not work outside the home, except for a very few who worked as domestic servants. In almost all cases, both parents had had a few years of formal schooling; some mothers were unschooled. Many children had siblings in the same school or in a private Hindi-medium secondary school nearby; several came from the same or contiguous residential settlements located 2– 4 km away. For these children there were close linkages in social interaction within the school and in the proximate neighbourhood. The two classes I observed represent two extreme styles’ of teacher-directed classroom management; both, however, were based on the principle of “mob control.” The teacher of 4a, Mrs S, was a proud believer in the ideology of the stick. As she hit the children, she would often recite a Gujarati couplet roughly translated as “the more swipes you earn, the better you learn.” The 4b teacher, Mrs. V., presented a complete contrast. She often admitted that she was “soft” and “felt pity” whenever she “saw the faces of the children.” She was the only teacher in the school who did not keep a stick in the room, and actively discouraged any of the monitors from bringing one. She often told me, and the children as well, that she believed that “hitting made children go bad.” All the children of her class told me that they liked her best among the

teachers because she did not hit them. Interestingly, they also saw this as a weakness, citing it as a reason for the indiscipline in the classroom as well as the lack of “good studies.” Researching these two very different environments seemed impossibly difficult at times: If the experience of observing 4a with its totalitarian ethos of submission and fear is immensely disquieting, sitting in 4b surrounded by a constant whirl of activity and deafening noise is no less disturbing. In both situations, maintaining the stoic distance of the (un)involved observer creates an empty feeling of helplessness... . Shouldn’t I be trying to make learning enjoyable and meaningful for these children instead of arduously taking notes about the physical and symbolic violence they are subjected to day after day in school? (Fieldnotes, 14.10.94)

Both teachers told me that “like mothers, they hit and scold” but also give “affection” to the children. Interaction with the male teachers was different for the children, many of whom had had direct experience of them in their village schools where there were “no teachers, only sirs”. The two male teachers in the school were feared by the children as being very kadak (tough). When any teacher was absent, one of these male teachers would occasionally look in on the class to see, in his words, “if all was going well.” Urgent cues from lookouts stationed in the corridor would usually send the children flying to their places. Organisational Arrangements A typical school day commenced with the morning assembly held in the playground. Girls and boys of each class stood in separate rows facing the portico on which six or seven “older” girls of Std. 7 sang “patriotic” songs. A few boys of Stds. 6 and 7 “minded” the rows of children at the back. The teachers (eleven female, two male) also stood on the portico


Gender and Education in India

talking among themselves while one or two took “turns” to preside over the assembly. The children then went, still in lines to their classrooms. Lines (especially the boys’) rapidly disintegrated when the teachers were out of view, although children with classrooms on the first floor often had to encounter on the landing a male teacher ready with a stick to ensure order. “Settling down” before the teachers arrived in the classrooms followed different patterns in the two classes of 4a and 4b. In both classes, the girl monitors arranged the teacher’s “tools of trade” on her table—diary for “lesson plans”, attendance registers, duster and chalk. Floor mats were arranged by the children. In 4a this was done under the watchful eye of the girl monitor who ensured that children were in their “proper places” before the teacher came in; in 4b, there was a lot of playing with the mats—sliding, hitting, swirling—before the entry of the teacher. Sex segregation was ubiquitous in all organisational arrangements. As mentioned earlier, boys and girls always lined up separately. In the classroom, girls and boys sat separately, an aisle acting as both a physical and symbolic divide between them—a “gender boundary” as it were, Incursions across this boundary were rare, and when they did occur, inevitably based on confrontation: either playful, as when personal belongings were to be reclaimed or to “hit back” when provoked. At times these confrontations were more serious, as when a monitor “crossed over” to chastise an errant child on the other “side.” The motif of “gendered spaces” within the classroom (and playground) pervaded all my observations, as well as children’s interpretations of cross-sex interactions. All organisational arrangements based on sex segregation are mere administrative conveniences, “surface structures” of the gendered social architecture of the school.

They serve, however, to heighten gender distinctions in everyday school life. A particularly significant arrangement is the listing of girls and boys separately on the class attendance register, a pragmatic means to compile the mandatory sex-wise monthly attendance statistics for the School Board. Roll call is taken separately for girls and boys, and they have to account separately for absentees from their own gender category: 4b Teacher (facing boys): Which boys are absent? (A girl stands up and starts calling out the names of the absent girls. The girls who sit near her pull her down). Girl’s partner. Not us. The boys. (...) Teacher: OK. Now the girls.

All routines associated with the list of names on the register were likewise done on sexsegregated lines, such as distributing examination papers and report cards, oral examinations, etc. Each of these mundane, commonplace events of everyday classroom life reinforced the sexual division of labour in the classroom: girls did the girls’ “side”, boys did the boys’ “side.” Sex-segregated routines are encountered every day by (possibly all) children in coeducational schools. As operational systems based on gender differentiation they serve to legitimise gender distinctions and notions of “genderedness” in children. It is important to recognise that through these routines within the social institution of the school, children “experience” gender in a far more formal and ritualised manner than they do at home. Sexual Division of Labour in the Classroom Yet another mode of legitimation of gender distinctions within the school was the sexdifferentiated system of task assignation by teachers. Most of these tasks were assigned to, and carried out, by the more vocal and

Through the Looking Glass: Gender Socialisation in a Primary School 43 visible children. These children almost invariably came from relatively better-off backgrounds, as coded by their appearance, and “seriousness” about studies (they were usually those who “top” the class); possibly because of this they were viewed by teachers as being more “responsible.” Tasks Boys mind the boys (monitors) run errands outside the school (bring snacks for teachers, things from their houses) carry furniture

serve lunch during midmeal

Girls mind the girls (monitors) clean the classroom, sweep, clean the teacher’s table, blackboard carry teacher’s registers, etc. to the lockers (entrusted with ...keys) take back teacher’s teacups after recess teach both in teacher’s absence and when she’s “busy” read aloud lessons write questions and answers on the board

The sexual division of labour that underpins differential task assignation magnifies the gender dichotomy, centering as it does around the notion of girls as “dutiful daughters” and boys as “roughhousing rogues.” This was expressed several times by teachers in my interactions with them, as well as by their labelling patterns in the classroom. Many children, both boys and girls but mainly boys, expressed confused anguish at not being called upon to do “work” in the classroom, which would undoubtedly increase their “visibility” and establish greater standing among, and power over, peers. Domestication of girls was achieved through assigning tasks which cast them as being dependable, responsible and pliable to adult authority, Closely mirroring patterns of

primary socialisation, especially in late childhood (Anandalakshmy, 1994; Dube, 1988; Kanhere, 1989; Saraswathi & Dutta, 1988), girls were given tasks which restricted their sphere of responsibility to the closed spaces of the classroom and school and kept them under the direct tutelage of the teacher (as in “teaching”) while boys were allowed the freedom to leave the school premises. Areas of responsibility for girls can also be seen to be extensions of those they experience at home. While initially my observations led to an almost congratulatory feeling at seeing matriarchy reigning in these classrooms, with girls at the centre of everyday decision-making and physical (and sometimes symbolic) power and control, it became clear with the passage of time and greater reflection on the observational data, that the “power” conferred on the girls “in charge” was an extension of their domestic responsibilities of household and sibling-care. The girl monitor of 4b, Shanti, was perceived as being “ineffective” by both boys and girls in controlling dhammaal (a leitmotif of the cultural “text” of the school, discussed later), whereas Gagan, her counterpart in 4a, was held up by all teachers in the school and by the children of these classes as the “ideal” monitor. The hidden agenda of domestication is brought out in the commentary of one boy: Our teacher tells the monitor, you are a girl and you can’t keep the class quiet? See Gagan. (Raju, 10; 4b)

Both girls who were monitors were older and physically bigger than the other children, who called them “didi” (elder sister). They were also both the eldest in their families. The “didi’s” role in preserving the “good name” of the class through management of children and her responsibilities in the household as mother’s helpmate and sibling-minder constitutes a sort of “double exposure” of


Gender and Education in India

scenes from these two areas of her life: I sometimes feel like getting another monitor to mind...I teach the whole day here, and then I have to go home and do housework. (Gagan, 12; 4a)

Echoes of primary socialisation can also be heard in the narratives of boys entrusted with responsibility: We get things from the teacher’s house.... Girls can’t cross roads, they (will) have accident, fail down. We are more careful, we have “habit.” (Sanjay, 10; 4a)

Their non-overlapping spaces of power within the classroom were closely guarded by both girls and boys. Although most teacherassigned tasks were done by a few of the “dependable” children, there appeared to be a common sense understanding that these are spaces shared by all members of each gender category. Children’s perceptions of these distinct gendered spaces were reinforced by the verbal and non-verbal communication patterns of teachers in the classroom which signified the gender divide: 4b. Teacher comes in late after recess. She looks around the room disapprovingly: it is littered with paper and scraps of food. T: I came late to the class so you would clean it up. (Faces girls) Why haven’t you cleaned it up?

The tragicomedy underlying the dialectics of power in the gendered culture of the classroom is evident in the following description of an ordinary event, the likes of which occur every day: 4b T (after introducing a lesson) OK, Chandana, you read. Vasant: T, may I read? (T ignores him, goes back to her work. Chandana is barely audible above the noise. The boys are playing and talking among

themselves; girls are talking in their “places”). T (looks up from her work, at the boys.) T (to Rajdeep, who’s sitting on his bench, facing the back of the class): You’ve become impossible... Smita, come here. (T gives Smita some roses she’s brought from home for another teacher.) T (facing girls): She’s reading, and you’re talking... Mandar, you read... (Mandar is caught unawares in the middle of a conversation.} T (to Vasant): You wanted to read? (Vasant comes to the front and starts reading. Not a single child is paying attention. ... Smita returns from her “errand.” She stands near Vasant and peers into his textbook, goes to her own place, brings her own book and opens it to the right page, peers once again to see where he has “reached.” She edges him out both physically and by reading louder than him.) Teacher looks up. T: Smita, you read. (Gestures Vasant to return to his place).

Whether teacher-directed or not, the “cues” of the differentiated system were effectively internalised by the children. My interviews with the children were held in an unused classroom for which a bench had to be found every day. Initially the teachers would tell the boys to find one and bring it in. A few weeks into the interviews and fading from the everyday school reality of teachers, I would often ask the individual child to get one. Only one or two girls apart from the monitors managed to muster the courage to flagrantly violate the gender code and actually be seen carrying a bench; in any case they would almost always be pre-empted by the boys racing around to organise one and selfimportantly deliver it. One girl whom I requested to bring in a bench put up passive resistance by going over to the window and looking out silently. I finally asked her to request one of the children from her class to

Through the Looking Glass: Gender Socialisation in a Primary School 45 get one. She did not budge. Two boys eventually brought one in. I asked her why she did not get one: I don’t talk to them... I’ve never talked to them, that’s why. (Shalini, 8; 4a)

Another girl said, after a boy (her brother) brought a bench in:

denoted disruption and transgression of the disciplinary code. It also appeared to fracture the vision of the teachers in seeing their classes as “wholes”, instead of as operationally consisting of girls and boys. Taking them downstairs to play, for example, involved “managing” them differently, since the boys did dhammaal and so needed to be especially watched:

(Why didn’t you get it?)

4b Teacher: Let’s take the children to play.

I can’t... Nobody gives...My brother said he’ll bring it. (Neela, 10; 4a)

4a Teacher. OK. You take the girls. I’ll take the boys.

All the children told me how the girls are asked to write on the board because their writing was good (the theme of girls as “neat”). I asked Vasant, the monitor of 4b what his “work” was: V: My work is to keep the boys quiet. (You don’t write on the board?)

Boys were the main perpetrators of dhammaal in the eyes of teachers. The “class sub-text” of my observations reveal a shared contempt for the working-class backgrounds of the children, especially the boys, who were perceived as “rough” and menacing. This perception was primarily directed at them through shrill and strident labelling:

V: No. The girls make us write in our books. (Why?)

4a Teacher (to a boy): What is the meaning of nikamma?

V: They don’t let us know (what the teacher has asked them to write.)

B: Bekar (useless).

They tell us to keep the boys quiet. ...Teacher says their writing is good,

Although both teachers told me that there were “children”—both boys and girls—who had good handwriting, it was the girls who were constantly called up to the board: ... . 4b Teacher is writing a “question paper” on the board. T (looks around): Who’s writing is good? You, Chandana, come and write this.

And the ideal norm of good handwriting was a wedge in the gender divide: . 4a T (faces boys). See how nicely the girls have written. Why can’t you!

Dhammaal: Gender and Classroom Culture Dhammaal is a colourful term in the lexicon of the school culture. For the teacher, dhammaal

T: Yes, we say, don’t we, this boy is absolutely nikamma, or this thing is absolutely nikamma...

It was common to hear the teacher of 4b, for all her (genuine) empathy with the children, say to the boys: You go to work, so you know you don’t need to come to school! Why do you come to school at all?

or, in the context of indiscipline I’m telling you, one day you’ll kill somebody!

Because of expectations of good behaviour, girls were often reminded of ideal norms: If you behave like this, what will happen to the class? (4b teacher)

and this found an echo in children’s voices: The girls are better at studies. Their minds are more powerful. They don’t do dhammal and they’re smarter. (Dhiraj, 10 is 2; 4a)


Gender and Education in India All the girls are good at studies. I don’t know why. Teacher says all the girls are good and the boys are zero. (Seema, 10; 4a)

The two classrooms, with their very different cultures, offered strong validation of the pervasiveness of the gender code or “regime” of the school. In 4b, where social interaction was more spontaneous and less teachercontrolled, it was somewhat easier to observe the underlying dynamics of gender. Interestingly in 4a, although children were far more straitjacketed in their gendered spaces, patterns of interaction and indeed children’s perceptions of interactional contexts did not differ from those in 4b. In 4b, girls appropriated the ideology of “soft” maternalism to extend their power and authority in the classroom. Since the teacher’s table was on the girls’ “side” of the room, the girls had more opportunities for informal interaction with her. It was common to see girls vying with each other for her attention as they brought her flowers or small objects they had made: 4b Teacher (looks down at the duster, says aloud to herself). This duster is torn. A girl sitting in the first row: I’ll make one and bring (it) tomorrow.

Appropriation of the maternalistic ideology meant that the girls of 4b could do just as they liked, as long as they were careful not to violate the sanctity of spatial equilibrium so essential to being viewed as a “good” class. Extensive industry flourished in all the girls’ rows—origami, knitting, crocheting, drawing, etc. There is little doubt that these imaginative subterfuges helped them tackle the boredom of every school day. In my informal interviews with teachers, it was evident that they subscribed to the “natural theory” of boys’ behaviour. (The one “nurture” argument they all put forward was that the boys’ fathers were often away and did

not discipline them.) In 4b the boys were able to accommodate to this ideology of “innate” aggressive masculinity. They engaged in a lot of imaginative body-play—jumping on each other, sparring and kicking. It was common to see boys brandishing weapons at other boys—usually pencils, but also nails, compasses, and even blades, brought from home to seek retributive justice for some earlier attack. The one or two quiet boys would often be teased, especially by the more boisterous ones: “We know you play jooa (gambling with cards)”—an activity signifying social deviance. In 4a, under the relentless supervision of teacher and monitors, opportunities for such interaction were limited. Also, since the children were rarely not engaged in studies— meaning writing and more writing—there were limits on time for such “activities.” Nonetheless, the limitless capacity for children to maximise fun even in the most adverse circumstances saw them carrying out their little subversions within their immediate environments, without getting out of their “places”. Apart from drawing and playing with pencils, rulers and paper, there was talking, teasing and hitting. Most of the children’s more “visible” social interactions were with monitors as they went on their rounds: hitting back at them, swearing at them, and resisting “punishment”. Towards the end of the school year, Shanti, the 4b monitor, resisted “standing up” (which denotes a mantle of authority bestowed by the teacher). This was a public admission of her powerlessness in dealing with the dhammaal of the boys: Our teacher doesn’t scold, so nobody sits quiet. Even if she does shout, nobody listens. The boys are all haraami...the girls listen, but the boys don’t. ... They trouble me. They hit me back.

Through the Looking Glass: Gender Socialisation in a Primary School 47 Despite the sanction of the 4a teacher to hit the boys, the monitor of the class had a similar story: Both boys and girls do dhammaal. (Names them: the male monitors, and three girls.) But the girls...the teacher had hit once so they don’t do, but the boys don’t care...the boys make more noise and don’t listen.

In the eyes of the children, in addition to connoting a violation of the disciplinary code, dhammaal takes on other meanings. The gender sub-text of children’s narratives suggest themes which construct gender in everyday classroom life in which dhammaal plays a prominent role. Children’s interpretations of dhammaal show its strong association with cross-sex interaction. All the children told me that it was the boys who did dhammaal and got scolded more by the teachers. “Disobedience” to authority— both the teacher and the monitors— constituted dhammaal in the eyes of children, but it was transgression of the gender boundary that was central to its meaning. Both boys’ and girls’ understandings of dhammaal stressed the sacrosanct rule of spatial equilibrium, which is violated by crossing the gender boundary. For both boys and girls, hitting, pushing, teasing and throwing things across the aisle constituted dhammaal in the classroom; many boys said that by getting “teased”, the girls did dhammaal (this was probably because it called for the intervention of the teacher and/or the monitor). Monitors came in for particularly harsh indictment from the children; from the boys, who expressed anger that the girl monitors favoured the girls and often played among themselves; and from the girls that the boy monitors “stood up” even when they were not asked to. There was agreement that girls contributed to dhammaal by their talking in the classroom. This perception was possibly conditioned by the

teachers’ constant admonition of girls for talking. Several of the boys said that the girls were better at studies because they did not do dhammaal (some said “readily”), that they sat “peacefully”. All the boys do dhammal (What about you?). No. I keep sitting. (Rina, 10; 4a)

“Us” and “Them”: Cross-Sex Interaction in Gendered Spaces Most of the attitudes and gender “positionings” of school children are carried over from the home. However, the total absence of mixed-sex activities and confinement to non-overlapping gendered physical spaces heightened the “us” and “them” orientation of the children, inhibiting opportunities for, and creating new, institution-based taboos and restrictions on, cross-sex interaction. Analysis of children’s observations of peer social interactions revealed this to be the case. All 112 children told me that they only talked and played with same-sex friends. A few children mentioned siblings and neighbourhood children as opposite-sex playmates, although most of them did not talk or play with them in school. The themes underlying these narratives reveal continuities between primary and school socialisation. Interviews with both boys and girls revealed that they viewed cross-sex interaction within a framework of confrontation, strongly associated with crossing of the gender boundary. Within the larger rubric of dhammaal the distinction between “talk” and “play” is blurred. The most trivial of interactions were seen as “talking” and “playing”, such as hitting back at monitors, or retrieving personal belongings from the other “side”, and there was criticism of peers for transgressions of what can be considered the disciplinary sub-text of the


Gender and Education in India

gender code of the classroom. Peer pressure and disapproval played an important role in maintaining the gender divide within the school: I don’t play with the girls in school...the girls skip and we play catch.... My friends say come we’ll go there and play. (Sunit, 9; 4a, who plays with a girl from his class every day in the neighbourhood) I play a lot with Deepu (a classmate who lives nearby), not at school, because he plays kabaddi...1 don’t know how to play and my friend (the female monitor) says come let’s play something else. (Harsha, 8; 4a)

The indignation of the boys—whom I observed taking up much more physical space on the playground—at girls’ transgression on their gender space in school underlines aspects of male socialisation similar to those expressed by Kumar (1986): 1... (Do you play with the girls?) What? The boys will say you don’t have shame you’re playing with the girls? (Prakash, 10; 4b) I play with the girls in my neighbourhood, not in school, because the girls come in the way and then we have to leave the place and go somewhere else...what work do girls have in boys’ play!! (Ramesh, 9; 4a)

Strict gender restrictions in group games are maintained, particularly when teacherorganized, but also by the children themselves. Boys and girls admitted to knowing each other’s games, having learned them from siblings, neighbourhood children, or, as in the case of boys, watching girls play in the teacher’s absence from the classroom. However, on the playground, playing crosssex games was simply not done: In the village school we used to play kabaddi. No one plays here so how can I play alone (with the boys)? (Neeta, 11; 4a)

Parental disapproval and the context of

“talk” can be heard in Charu’s {10; 4a) words: My mother says “Have nothing to do with the boys.” (What does she mean?) . Don’t do this, don’t do that, and no roaming with school I only talk to boys from my society (neighbourhood). (Who?) Deepu. (You talk to him?) No. If he hits me only then. (What do you say?) My friend who sits next to me says why’re you hitting us? (You don’t tell him?) No. I only talk if he hits... (And the other boys? If they hit?) . No. (Why?) I feel shy.

The construction of gendered spaces created a screen which sometimes lifted in the teacher’s absence. No one from the girls does dhammaal. ... No, some do. I don’t know their names but I’ve seen them when the teacher’s not there. (Govind, 8 1/2; 4a) I don’t like to play with girls. My mother says don’t play with girls... (You used to play?) Now I don’t... . There’s too much dhammaal. When Madam wasn’t there we used to play. (Satyen, 9; 4b)

Taking “Sides” Engendered by sex-segregated practices was the construction of “sides”: a fracture in the social interactions of children which heightened the “otherness” of the opposite gender category. Several children brought up the issue of “sides” in the context of cross-sex interaction: I don’t know their (the girls’) names. I don’t pay attention to that side, I pay attention to my studies. (Raju, 10; 4a) Many more children (apart from those she’s

Through the Looking Glass: Gender Socialisation in a Primary School 49 mentioned) do dhammaal. I don’t know their names...we girls sit on one side, those children, the boys, sit on that side.

2–3 boys, I don’t know their names ... the girls’ names I know, many of the boys’ names I don’t. ... I talk to all of them because I’m the monitor...

(You don’t sit together?)

Nowadays there isn’t much dhammaal because “we” (the girls) can see from both sides.

Madam says “you’ll do too much fighting”, and the boys hit us. (Pooja, 10; 4a) We don’t look that side. If I go to see, the boys jump on me. (Deepak, 10; 4b) After Vinay (8 1/2; 4b) was through with his interview I asked him tö send in Mariam, one of the girls. . (Has she come?) I don’t know. (But you were in the class right now....) Yes, but I don’t know their names. (Could you call Shabnam then? Has she come?) Yes. (How do you know?) I saw her in the assembly, (Do you talk to her?) No. (How do you know her name?) (Impatiently) Madam calls the roll, na?!

In the classroom, “sides” were constructed so as to minimize dhammaal³. Boys’ sides were away from the door, which did not really prevent them from running out when restraints were lifted. In a bid to stem the dhammaal in 4b, Shanti, the class monitor, devised along with the teacher, a different pattern of “sides”: The boys used to sit on one side, they’d throw things at the girls, trouble the girls. I thought if I put them in the middle, with girls on both sides, they won’t be able to trouble us. And the girls used to sit with their friends and talk, so teacher said change their place. (And the boys?) ...they’ve gone back to their own places (next to their friends)... the good boys are still sitting in their new places. (Which?)

The reactions to the “new” arrangement of “sides” highlight the association between gender and physical space: I like it a little, don’t like a little... because the boys hit. (Earlier?) We didn’t know them earlier, now jaan pehchaan ho gaye (we know them better). (Leena, 10; 4b) We don’t like them next to us, they fall on us... tomorrow, we’ll sit like before, Madam said. (Amandeep, 10) The girls are hitting the boys and the boys are hitting the girls...they can do more badmaashi now. The teacher can’t see three sides...if the girls are on one side and the boys on the other, teachers can see the boys’ side. (Manisha, 10). - Girls do dhammaal when the teacher’s not there... . sitting like this there’s more dhammaal. (Arvind, 12)

Although I did not witness it during my fieldwork in the school, discussions with teachers revealed that desegregation in classrooms is often used as a form of “punishment”. This was confirmed by the children: When Madam’s not there, this monitor is very bad, she used to make the girls sit next to the boys, one girl, one boy. . (Did Madam also?) No, she doesn’t hit...she doesn’t make boys and girls sit together...I only like to sit with my girlfriends. (Jaya, 9, 4b) In the 3rd, we used to do dhammaal and the teacher used to make us sit one boy, one girl, like that. The girls and boys fight together, but more among themselves...when there was


Gender and Education in India more dhammaal teacher used to make us sit like that, together...the boys run back to their places, sometimes they do dhammaal even if they sit like that. (Rita, 10; 4b)

On the playground, an objective of making/ taking “sides” was to ensure that boys did not leave the school premises. Children said, as well as gesturally indicated, that the boys’ “side” was the one opposite to that of the school gate. The teacher makes the boys play, we make the girls play. (What if you make them all play?). The girls listen but the boys run off. (Gagan, 12; 4a) The boys hit the girls. That’s why teacher makes them play on that side. If we (the boys) play the teacher has to be there. (Deepu, 10½; 4a) The teacher makes us play separately on that side. She says she doesn’t like... . (What?) That boys and girls play together. (Shirish, 12; 4b)

The gender divide in the classroom served to keep levels of attrition low and enabled the teacher to get on with her school day. However, within the particular class context of this school, it was also seen as a necessary “stricture” to avoid “trouble” between the sexes in the future: In ... (a private secondary school to which many of the children go), don’t ask what sorts of things happen. Here we’re very strict, we make sure girls don’t get into any trouble. (Principal)

In conversations with me, as well as with their students, the teachers would often say that boys and girls should “stay” as brothers and sisters. “Equality” is not the cultural message here: sisters have a subordinate position in the power structure of the family. Rakshabandhan, one of several rituals which emphasise the commitment of brothers to protect their sisters,

and sisters to serve them, was celebrated in the school. Between unrelated females and males, Rakshabandhan grants legitimacy to cross-sex interaction, especially for girls: There’s one boy, Paresh I talk with him. (What do you talk about?) Nothing. Nothing else, My friend and I think of him as a brother. We tied a rakhi on him. (Surma, 9; 4b)

This legitimacy was fragile and not without its contradictions, and girls accommodated to it with canny pragmatism: Nilesh (a boy monitor) hits a lot, but the teacher still says treat them as brothers. She told the boys to treat the girls as sisters. I treat the boys as brothers. (Amritkaur, 9; 4a) We think of the boys as brothers. But they hit too much. Then we think: what sort of brothers are they? Then we hit them back. (Shobha, 10; 4a)

Conclusion I have attempted in this chapter to understand the meanings children give to the interactional contexts arising out of everyday school experiences in terms of gender. These interpretations appear to highlight the continuities between socialisation into gender roles within the family/community, and gender socialisation through schooling. An important caveat to be kept in mind is that the specificity of relationships within this school, given its particular class culture, defines patterns of gender socialisation which may not be found in other “types” of schools. It may not be too far-fetched, however, to imagine, and the literature does appear to suggest (Parthasarathi, 1988) that many girls and boys in Indian coeducational schools would be able to identify—in varying degrees—with some of the voices in this chapter. By looking at an “ethnographic particular”, nonetheless, one can attempt to understand the complex ways

Through the Looking Glass: Gender Socialisation in a Primary School 51 in which gender is constructed and interpreted in social institutions like schools. Apart from alerting us to the pervasive presence of gender in the richly textured social experiences of children at school, and constant legitimation of gender distinctions through everyday school practices, the voices heard in this chapter also point to the difficulties in generating theories which can feed into progressive interventions towards more gender-equitable schooling, one that has emancipatory potential for both girls and boys. The poet Wilfred Owen, ruing the scientific study of children, is known to have remarked that we can only understand children when we study them for pleasure (Owen & Bell, 1967). It is true that a great deal of enjoyment accompanies listening to children as they speak of their lives at school. However, these narratives have to be placed within the larger framework of gender relations in Indian society. “An infusion of narrative,” Bromley reminds us, “[s]tories of real people...bring into relief the complexity of everyday life.” (Bromley, 1989). The overlapping of the personal with the social, and the cultural with the political, particularly in relation to normative standards of cross-sex interaction in late childhood, are heard in these children’s voices. Underlying these narratives is a discourse which centres on the “value” of schooling, the differential social meanings in being schooled as a girl and as a boy of a particular social class and caste in Indian society, and differential accessibility to codes of power through formal schooling. Our understanding of gender socialisation in social institutions like schools cannot afford to ignore the complex ways in which this discourse mediates schooling processes and the structures of knowledge by which the child attempts to understand her/his position in society.

Notes 1. This chapter is based on a presentation of preliminary observations from my ongoing doctoral research at the Symposium on Socialisation, Baroda, December 1995. I would like to thank Prof. T.S. Saraswathi for urging me to write this paper, as well as putting up with all sorts of dhammaal in seeing it come to life. I would also like to thank all the symposium participants for their extremely constructive interventions. 2. The data considered here were collected in the course of ethnographic fieldwork in a coeducational municipal primary school of Baroda, Gujarat, over a period of one academic year (1994-95). Participant observation was done in two classes of Standard 4; I [2 children (61 girls, 51 boys; mean age: 10 years) belonging to these classes were interviewed towards the end of the study. Observation in these classes and close interaction with the two teachers as well as the children enabled me to get an insider’s (albeit adult’s) view of the everyday social reality of the schoolchild. The names of the children have been changed in this chapter.

References Anandalakshmy, S. (ed.). (1994). The Girl Child and the Family. New Delhi: Department of Women and Child Development, MHRD, GOI. Apple, M.W. (1979), Ideology and Curriculum. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Bromley, H. (1989). Identity Politics and Critical Pedagogy, Educational Theory, 39(3) 207–24. Carroll, L. (1922). Through the Looking Glass. New York: The Modern Library. Dube, L. (1988). Socialization of Hindu Girls in Patrilineal India, in K. Chanana (ed.), Socialization, Education and Women (pp. 166– 92). New Delhi: Nehru Memorial Museum and Library. Kanhere, U. (1989). Differential Socialization of Boys and Girls: A Study of Lower, SocioEconomic Households Among Gujarati Castes/Communities in Ahmedabad, in M. Krishnaraj and K. Chanana (eds.), Gender and the Household Domain: Social and Cultural


Gender and Education in India

Dimensions (pp. 31-54). New Delhi: Sage. Kumar, K. (1986). Growing up male, Seminar, 318, 24–23, February. Macdonald, M. (1980), Schooling and the Reproduction of Class and Gender Relations, in L. Barton, R. Meighan, and S. Walker (eds.), Schooling, Ideology and the Curriculum (pp. 29– 49). Barcombe, Lewes: Falmer Press. Owen, H. and Bell, J. (eds.). (1967). Wilfred Owen: Collected Letters (Letter 176, January 29, 1913).

London: Oxford University Press. Parthasarathi, V. (1988). Socialization, Women and Education: An Experiment, in K. Chanana (ed.), Socialization, Education and Women (pp. 208-30). New Delhi: Nehru Memorial Museum and Library Saraswathi, T.S. and Dutta, R. (1988). Invisible Boundaries: Grooming for Adult Roles. New Delhi: Northern Book Centre.

4 Bound by Norms and Out of Bounds Experiences of PAGFB (Persons Assigned Gender Female at Birth) Within the Formal Education System Smriti Nevatia, Raj, Shals Mahajan, Chayanika Shah, Lesbians and Bisexuals in Action (LABIA) Introduction At the level of both state policy and independent scholarship, discussions on gender and education have thus far considered gender mainly from the point of view of girls and women. The chief concerns have been about ways of drawing more girls into the formal education system, the changes needed in pedagogy and school systems to help keep them there, and discussions around curricula for girls and boys. In recent years, feminist researchers and scholars have begun to look more closely at marginalisation due to caste, class and geographical location in the sphere of education, and also at the gendered process of knowledge generation itself. However, attempts to understand discrimination based on non-heteronormative sexuality and gender are rare. The perspectives of those who are marginalised because of their choices around gender and sexuality are hardly ever reflected in contemporary discourse. Thus, a whole range of experiences and identities is made invisible. This article focuses on the need to include those missing voices and overlooked concerns. Based on an empirical study conducted by the

Mumbai-based queer feminist collective, LABIA (Lesbians and Bisexuals in Action),1 in the years 2010–12, it draws upon the life narratives of various people marginalised due to their gender and/or sexuality. Their experiences point to, among other things, the significance of educational institutions in shaping their lives for better or for worse, and thus also to the changes that are needed in this sphere. Background The Indian Constitution was framed in 1950 and reflected the hopes and aspirations of the people and the policy makers of a newly independent nation. The Directive Principle of State Policy contained in Article 45 states: ‘The State shall endeavour to provide within a period of ten years from the commencement of this Constitution, free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years’. Social reformers also made fervent pleas for the inclusion of all, especially those marginalised due to class, caste, religion and gender. Dr B R Ambedkar, in particular, emphasised the primacy of knowledge and education in accessing political power:


Gender and Education in India We will not be any better without education or knowledge.... Presently the political reins are in the hands of the higher varnas.... The knowledge that can command such decisive key roles is yet to be possessed by other than high class people.... the political reins will not come into our hands without possessing that knowledge. (Naik, 2003, pp. 111–112)

Reformers like Jyotiba Phule and Ambedkar argued that education for women was a necessary means of social transformation in a deeply casteist and patriarchal society. While there is an indisputable attempt at the inclusion of all into the educational mainstream, there has also been a constant tug-of-war be-tween the notions or principles of equal access to education and equal education. And these debates have been most prominent with regard to women’s education. Policies in the early post-Independence period, while pushing intensively for the education of girls, also made suggestions such as ‘identical curriculum for boys and girls at the primary stage but subjects like music, painting, sewing needlework, simple hand work, and cooking should be introduced to make the courses more suitable for girls’ (GOI, 1959, p. 84). On the one hand, then, the girl child was brought into the educational mainstream despite all kinds of traditional resistance to the idea. On the other hand, the girl child, as often as not, tended to be remoulded into an unquestioned ideal of womanhood, but now equipped with the ability to read and write in addition to her other ‘womanly’ accomplishments. In 1961, however, the committee appointed to look into the differentiation of curricula for boys and girls under the chairpersonship of Hansa Mehta made a clear and radical recommendation that became the basis for policies (at the least) about girls’ education. In the democratic and socialistic pattern

of society that we visualise, education will be related to individual capacities, aptitudes and interests which are not strictly related to sex. There would, therefore, be no need in such a society to differentiate curricula on the basis of sex (Gupta, 2000, p. 148). Since then there has consistently been an emphasis on equal education in policy. The old debate on gender-appropriate education, however, remains unresolved on the ground. That it should persist even now is ironic, but hardly surprising, given our deeply entrenched notions about gender itself. Wherever demands for single-sex educational institutions were made, girls’ schools have been promoted. Co-educational schools have also made available similar curricula and courses for all, but they, too, reinforce gender norms and segregation in multiple ways. Bhattacharjee underlines this point in her ethnographic study of secondary classrooms. Sex-segregated routines are encountered every day by (possibly all) children in co-educational schools. As operational systems based on gender differentiation[,] they serve to legitimize gender distinctions and notions of ‘genderedness’ in children. It is important to recognize that through these routines within the social institution of the school, children ‘experience’ gender in a far more formal and ritualized manner than they do at home. (Bhattacharjee, 1999, p. 340)

The NCERT Position Paper also states: The content, language, images in texts, the curricula, and the perceptions of teachers and facilitators have the power to strengthen the hold of patriarchy. The school becomes an enclosed space, like the domestic sphere where discriminations and violations are not talked about or questioned. (NCERT, 2006, p. 4)

This uncritical reinforcing of gender norms and behaviours is compounded by a virtual absence of meaningful conversations on

Bound by Norms and Out of Bounds: Experiences of PAGFB 55 gender and sexuality, and very limited sexuality education. In this scenario, not only are all students schooled within restrictive societal norms but also any divergence from these norms becomes incendiary or, at the very least, unacceptable. Thus, all those who do not fit into these gender norms or who express non-normative sexual desires find themselves on the margins in such systems. It becomes very important, then, to understand their experiences of the system. None of this is to suggest that children whose gender and sexuality choices are not ‘queer’2 are not affected by these imposed norms, or that their self-expression is not curtailed, but there exist popular as well as academic discourses on the ways in which notions of masculinity and femininity inform and shape our lives. Much less attention has been paid to the experiences of queer people within the system. While in India hardly any research has so far been done in this field, work done in other countries emphasises the need for recognition and intervention, so that children who are ‘different’ might benefit and find support, especially during their early education and also in later skill-building programmes. ‘Breaking the Binary’: A Study by LABIA This article is based on a study called ‘Breaking the binary: Understanding the concerns and realities of queer persons assigned gender female at birth (PAGFB) across a spectrum of lived gender identities’. The correlation between the gender assigned to each person at birth and the kind of biological body that the person may have is generally assumed to be seamless. However, based on our growing awareness of the lived experiences of queer persons, and of discussions within queer and feminist organisations, an understanding is slowly emerging of the multiple ways in which the binary of gender is continually challenged.

And yet, very little research has been done in India on issues of queer PAGFB, especially those who are gender non-conforming. It was this realisation that propelled us to undertake this study. The study was carried out by LABIA, of which the authors are all members. We interviewed 50 people across the country, using life history narratives, and tried to understand the circumstances and situations of those who are made to, or are expected to, fit into the female gender, but who may see themselves as different in terms of their gender identity, perform different gender roles, possess or cultivate different gender attributes from those imposed by society or convention, and who may or may not have a dissonant relationship with their bodies. Table 1 shows the broad gender categories 3 of our respondents. Table I. Gender Identifications Identification Woman Other Man

Total 22 18 10

‘Other’ has been used in this article to refer to those respondents who identified in ways other than ‘woman’ or ‘man’. The ways in which they actually named their own gender were varied, including self-descriptors such as ‘woman from outside but not fully a woman’, ‘gender queer’ and ‘androgynous’. It is important to remember that the categories of ‘woman’ and ‘man’ are not monoliths either, as these are not labels that most respondents used in a conventional manner. The gender expression of respondents in either category was neither uniform nor necessarily similar. We talked to our respondents in some detail about each aspect of their lives: their childhoods; early expressions of gender and


Gender and Education in India

explorations of sexuality; affirmation and violence within natal families, within intimate relationships, in the workplace and in public spaces; and issues of physical and mental health. Their experiences of school and college were, understandably, a significant part of their growing-up years, providing us with rich data that tell us what it was like for these queer PAGFB to be within the formal education system, both the good and the bad. Bound by Norms and Out of Bounds In this article, we look at the varied experiences of our respondents within the formal system of education, and at how our feminisms need to take into account the concerns of queer PAGFB. We draw upon relevant narratives to posit the need for critical interventions in education that range from addressing problematic structures in both gender-segregated and co-educational institutions to awareness-building and changes in syllabi. Besides asking about each person’s level of formal education, we talked to respondents about their experiences of school and college: affirmation and violence to do with gender expression or otherwise, the roles played by teachers, the subjects and activities that had a significant impact on them and early sexual attractions or relationships and their consequences, including being outed. Based on these research findings, we posit that a critique and reform of the formal education system needs to take into account gender above and beyond the norm of the binary. Drawing on the positive and challenging experiences of queer individuals who do not conform to mainstream gender ideals, this article explores the role of schools not only as vehicles of affirmation and as stepping stones to self-sufficiency but also as repressors of sexuality, sites of violence and as a means of a bittersweet escape from other oppressions.

While we are not aware of any other Indian study that looks at the experiences of queer people within the formal education system, some research along similar lines has been done in other countries, which may be useful to consider. Although research regarding the educational experiences of LGBT youth has increased over the last two decades, the specific experiences and needs of transgender students remain largely unexplored by the literature. The small body of existing research on the school experiences of transgender youth demonstrates that schools are not safe places for these students [emphasis ours]. (Greytak et al., 2009, p. 2) We, too, found several instances of school environments proving to be harsh for, and hostile to, queer PAGFB, some of whom ended up dropping out of the formal education system altogether. And we, too, discovered that gender transgression usually meant increased discrimination and marginalisation. Table 2 shows the different levels of education of our respondents. Table 2. Education Levels Education

Woman Other Man Total

Less than Class 10 (school finals) Class 10 to 12 (pre-university) Up to a Bachelor’s degree Beyond a Bachelor’s degree Total





2 8

7 5

2 2

11 15









Table 2 shows that as many as 16 of the 19 respondents who did not complete school at all, or did not go to college, identified as men or as other than women. On the other hand, 18 of the 22 woman-identified respondents were graduates or postgraduates. While the reasons for this high dropout

Bound by Norms and Out of Bounds: Experiences of PAGFB rate among the more gender-transgressive respondents may lie outside of school—for instance, many ran away because of violence at home or pressure to marry—it is equally true that the schools concerned were unable to counter this trend. Indeed, in this respect, schools were no different from other mainstream actors. Having to run away from home almost always meant that respondents had to leave their basic education and training incomplete. This added yet another factor to what we have called ‘the circle of deprivation’—poverty, violence, forced migration, lack of access to education and skill building, limited employment opportunities, physical and mental health issues, all exacerbated by underlying tensions or overt conflicts around gender and sexuality. Yet, while there were intersections between various kinds of marginalisation, based on caste and class as much as due to gender and sexuality, we found that even class privilege was often offset by non-normative gender. The data suggest a correlation between degree of gender transgression and lack of continuing access to education, even among more middle- and upper-class individuals who are less under pressure (other things being the same) to start earning a living right after school. Had they been less transgressive, they would most likely have been encouraged to study further. We are led to speculate that while many queer women may be spurred towards higher education because of their strong need for independence, especially in order to resist familial pressure to marry, individuals who are more obviously gender transgressive (and who obviously have an equally pressing need for independence) appear to lack the same opportunities or access.


Love School, Hate School From the many narratives of experiences of school that emerged in the course of our study, it is useful to begin with the respondents’ reasons for loving or hating school. While many liked school well enough, eight of our 50 respondents clearly preferred school to home because school afforded an escape from, or a contrast to, the oppressive home atmosphere. This does not imply that all other respondents had less oppressive homes, but only that school was not necessarily a happier place for many. The oppressions had to do with grinding poverty, neglect by parents or extended family members, sexual abuse, rigid discipline (with many dos and don’ts), too much housework, beatings and conflicts around non-normative gender expression. Jai,4 22, loved school as a child. Coming as he did from an extremely poor home, school was a heaven. His sister and he were abandoned by their father, who left home after their mother died. Jai’s earliest memory is of hunger and neglect. It was only the midday meal scheme at school that saved him from starvation. He recalls: At home there was nobody to look after me and so I would just go to school without a bath. The teachers would give me soap, give me a bath, and also help me wash my clothes. They were caring about me. I used to get high marks, so they would hug me. I was first in class from the first to the seventh standard.

Yet Jai’s studies suffered and he failed in his final year of school. This is hardly surprising, when he narrates how he and his older sister, thrown out of the house when she was 18 and he 16, tried to kill themselves by consuming rat poison. Eventually, he was forced to run away with his girlfriend because of the threat of violence from both their families. Jai, currently unemployed and in debt, lives with


Gender and Education in India

friends in another city. He regrets not having been able to study further. For some respondents, however, school was a place that negated their very sense of self. Alex, 40, remembers hir days at boarding school when s/he was seven years old. Outside of school, I wore pants, I dressed as a boy.... There was an English teacher who seemed to have left all her other work and decided to dedicate her time to making me wear skirts.... I would wear my skirt over my trousers, and when that teacher objected, I told her you have told me to wear a skirt and you have not said don’t wear pants, so I am wearing a skirt. It was a horrible time when she made me wear skirts. It took up a lot of my mindspace.

Yet several others faced no violence or restrictions pertaining to their gender expression in school. Those who wanted to keep their hair short, or wear a pair of trousers rather than a skirt, or a shirt rather than a blouse, were able to negotiate uniform regulations more or less successfully. True, there were limits, but these were never brutally imposed. Anand, 24, says: I wore trousers but I had to wear the girls’ shoes—you know, those buckle ones?! I had hair till my lower back. My dad wouldn’t let me cut it. He used to say—even when I was five or six—that he liked long hair. I’d say, ‘Then you grow yours, why do you want me to?’ ... I continued with guy’s clothes, though my hair was long, until the eighth standard, when the teacher said, ‘Now you have to wear the tunic’ She was very patient, explained why, and I agreed. I don’t think I had much of a choice.

Anand had the possible advantage of being a bright and dedicated student. Many of our respondents, who faced criticism for their gender non-conformity in other quarters, found that being good either at studies or sports gave them a bargaining chip with which

to negotiate their gender expression in school or college. Sports and Other Enabling Activities The sports arena was liberating for several people who chafed at being constantly chided at home for not behaving like girls should. Being a sportsperson at school was an added point in favour of those wanting to dress differently. Sumit, 35, who identifies as transgender, says: One teacher tried to force me to wear a sari but I did not. I got some leeway because I was a player. I was not good at studies but had won a lot of trophies for my school and so got away with some of these things.... So they did not harass me too much. Even then, one teacher insisted, so I went to the head sir and complained that I was being made to wear clothes that I did not want. My sir replied, ‘Do not worry. Wear what you like.’

Playing fields were also spaces in which early romances, more often than not, blossomed. Monu, 33, recalls that s/he belonged to a group of seven friends who were all in the football team. We had a world of our own. In that football scene, homosexuality is normal and heterosexuality is abnormal. The coaches also knew all about this and would never interfere. They would, in fact encourage us—karo karo achcha hai, lekin khelo achche se!—as long as we played well. So that world was one story, and home was another. Which is why I did not stay much in the house at all.

Other extracurricular activities woven into the fabric of the school’s routine could be enabling as well. Santosh, 35, cared little for studies, but loved the freedom of camp life. I was part of NCC [National Cadet Corps] and used to go for trips and camps ... It was fun. It was because I could be myself there that I joined. I was very happy in the camp—a boy

Bound by Norms and Out of Bounds: Experiences of PAGFB 59 surrounded by ladies! At night the girls wore salwars and nighties, while I wore my male clothes, but not outside the room. Chandni, 34, one of the very few postgraduates among our respondents, grew up in an upper middle-class urban home. Of hir gender, s/he says it is something she prefers to ‘not articulate’. School theatricals were a significant turning point. Hir peers voted for hir to play the male lead in an interhouse play. ‘After that, I had a good career in theatre and playing the guy.... I always played boys’ roles. I never played anything else.’ This was not so different perhaps from Santosh’s heady experience of gender performance in NCC camps. If theatre was a space for gender play and exploration, needlework, crochet and knitting were unpleasant experiences, and Chandni’s mother—and the mother’s friends—had to be roped in to help hir complete hir assignments. S/he says, ‘It would have been fun to do pottery or papier mâché, but these activities were not on offer. Being Outed More than half of our respondents said that they were aware of their sexual desires and feelings at very early ages. For many, their first relationships happened in school. Subsequently, schools became sites of violence for several of them. While violence in schools was based on a variety of factors, the most recurrent reason appears to have been the nonnormative sexuality of the respondents. In particular, there are accounts of being outed in traumatic ways. Prem, 27, comes from a very poor family. S/he recounts how, in the tenth standard, s/ he managed to save some money and buy hir classmate and girlfriend, B, what for hir was a very expensive gift, a lamp in the shape of a heart, worth ` 110.

One day, B’s mother came to school and told me that the principal was calling me. There she showed the gift that I had bought for B. Knowing me and my family’s background, the principal asked, ‘Have you ever bought a banian for your father?’ I wondered why I was being asked this question, but kept quiet. Then we went back to the class and her mother made B give back the gift to me in front of the whole class.

Prem goes on to narrate how another classmate was induced by B’s mother to spy on them. ‘In school, after the lamp episode, we were not allowed to talk to each other or even exchange glances because she would be policing [us].’ The narrative of Prem’s school years is interspersed with references to hir caste and economic status. B’s family being wealthy and of a higher caste seems to have given B’s mother a sense of impunity while castigating Prem. Prem’s is just one of several stories that remind us how necessary it is to be aware of intersecting marginalisations. For some respondents who came from abusive families, school was the only safe space they knew, and therefore the loss of it when they were outed felt that much worse. Nidhi, 20, speaks of how she would wait eagerly for school, and how she felt more at home in school than in her joint-family home where her mother and she were ill treated by her father’s family. Later, she was forced to leave that same school because of a betrayal by her classmates and a vicious public outing in the school assembly. They called me up on stage. I was expecting to be announced captain again. However, my headmistress insulted me in front of all by saying, ‘How can she be captain, as she smooches girls?’ She openly told everyone. I was very hurt. I loved school more than I loved home. School was important to me. I hadn’t expected this at all.


Gender and Education in India

This incident prompted Nidhi to leave the school and join another, without informing her family or her friends. For Sam, 23, as for Nidhi, school had been a place of refuge. ‘School was where I had lots of freedom’, he says. At home, his sister and he lived not only with the fear of beatings by their extremely violent mother, but there were also ‘lots of restrictions about how we should behave as girls. If boys came, then we had to go inside the house.... Everything was strict.’ Sam was suspended from school for three months because a girl to whom he was attracted complained about him to the principal. Also, the love letters he and another girl had been writing to each other were discovered. As he puts it: All that about my sexuality, all [that] about my attraction for girls, all came out at the same time. It was just one bomb that burst in my ninth standard....the headmaster called my family to the school and showed them all the letters.... Then after this, there was house arrest. All my freedom was cut [off].

When he rejoined school, the freedom he had once enjoyed there was gone as well. Sam was now under complete surveillance. He had to be home by 5.00 p.m., and if there were extra classes, someone would be assigned to accompany him home. ‘Teachers were also scolding me, “Because of you the girls will get spoilt.” I got a notice from church too, that I should not go there because I would spoil the girls there. They would become like me.’ His friends, now a year ahead in school, stopped talking to him as well. Eventually, unable to take the policing and isolation, he ran away from home, and that was the end of his schooling. Our study reflects what Smith (2005) concludes in his study of the school experience of gay respondents: ‘At best, the official organisation of the school assumes that all

students are heterosexual; at worst, it implies that it is professionally appropriate to attack and isolate gay students on the basis of their sexual orientation’ (p. 110). Stringent Norms, Traumatic Experiences Most other respondents who identified as male, or as other, spoke (as we have seen) of how they managed to gain the ability or confidence to break gender boundaries in terms of dress, role and overall expression. A certain amount of indulgence and leeway was granted to these respondents at least until puberty hit; it was the potent addition of sexuality to the mix that made it volatile and disruptive. Yet it is not a clear case of gender norms being more flexible than those of sexuality. We have to recognise that gender transgression and non-normative sexuality are linked and overlapping. As Greytak et al. (2009) write: ‘Although sexual orientation and gender identity are distinct concepts, both are affected by societal expectations regarding gender.... LGBT youth, regardless of their gender identity, often face victimization and stigmatization based on both sexual orientation and gender expression’ (p. 1). Not only is it almost impossible to understand sexuality minus gender but it is also evident that violence is not always triggered by the fact of a person’s nonnormative sexuality alone. Rather, a ‘same-sex relationship’ seems to bring the entire transgressive picture into sudden, sharp focus, so that what was tolerated before, perhaps because it was perceived to have a low-threat quotient, now becomes intolerable. This may partly explain why in incidents of being outed, the more overtly gender transgressive person is the one who usually has to bear the brunt of the stigma or punishment, or the burden of ‘reform’. Nowhere in Sam’s narration, for instance, was there any mention of the girls

Bound by Norms and Out of Bounds: Experiences of PAGFB 61 with whom he had been involved being policed or punished in quite the same way. And yet, we cannot assume that genderbased conflicts do not affect those who identify as women. Tuli, 32, was our only woman-identified respondent who did not complete her school education. She chose to drop out when she failed her tenth standard examinations. Tuli does not offer any explanation for why she did badly in that final year of school, but the narrative of her school years provides a substantial clue. It seems to have had nothing to do with school or teachers or subjects— which do not even figure in her story—and everything to do with her vexed romantic relationships. These were all unarticulated attractions on her own part, but intense enough and troubled enough to cause her to change schools when one girl blamed her own poor academic results on Tuli’s friendship with another girl, and to occupy all her waking hours, using up most of her emotional energies. The situation was very likely made harder by the fact that all three girls who fancied Tuli also expressly saw her as male. This, at a time when she was struggling to come to terms with her sexuality, must have added to her confusion. The complete invisibility-cum-stigma attached to same-sex relationships deeply affects many young people in ways they cannot even always articulate, let alone cope with. However, the expression of sexuality in itself is often enough to invite censure and to cause trauma; it does not necessarily have to be about same-sex desire. Neha, 22, whose home environment was deeply troubled and who loved school until the sixth standard, says that going to school turned into a nightmare for her later. She was the only girl in her class who explored her sexuality, with her male classmates. She says:

Some girls found out and called me a slut.... As I walked down the corridor, people would say, ‘There goes the slut.’... It became really difficult for me to be in that school then.... I lost my self confidence. I became very bitter, nasty to friends in school. Lusted to go back home and cry.

Neha recalls how this was also the time she confided in a close girl friend: about how I feel for women, and they went on calling me a lesbian.... At that age, I didn’t identify myself as a lesbian. I was only expressing a fantasy. Earlier, I was more butchlike, and now I was filled with self hatred. I even started shaving the hair from my face with my father’s razor.... I wanted to get out of school.

Neha’s story points to the need for a sensible— and sensitive—sexuality education programme in schools. What we have instead is either a moralistic, fundamentalist opposition to ‘sex education’, with all the attendant fears that this will encourage promiscuity and ‘bad’ behaviour, or some ill-informed substitute. A study on sexuality education in India by Nirantar (2008) found: Adolescence education, or life skills education as it is sometimes still referred to, is also extremely worrying because of the ways in which it seeks to define who a ‘good adolescent’ is. The good adolescent is clearly one who is disciplined, who learns to accept what in life ‘cannot be changed’, who exercises control in all aspects of life, ranging from not reading interesting books before going to sleep, to controlling sexual desire. (p. 6)

Sometimes a lack of sexual expression in such an environment can, ironically, also marginalise one. Sandy, 34, testifies to this: ‘In school, the boyfriend you had was a status thing’. S/he speaks of the immense pressure and isolation she faced in her school, because instead of having a boyfriend like everyone else did, s/he had fallen in love with a girl.


Gender and Education in India

‘You knew it was different and that you had to keep quiet’. The peer pressure to have a boyfriend, to express the ‘right’ kind of sexuality just because one is in a coeducational environment, can be very intense and leads to deep feelings of alienation. Sandy’s experience with the educational system was positively transformed once s/he was in a girls-only space. This allowed hir to continue with hir education. In such a scenario, then, being in an all-girls school can be liberating. However, this was not the case for all the queer PAGFB we met. In the case of Sunny, 27, who identifies as ‘50 percent male, 50 percent female’, attending hir girls-only school was a traumatic experience. The vice principal got after my case. She said she would not let me off and that I had to meet her every day until I started thinking of myself as a girl... She insisted that I wax my hair and wear short skirts... Eventually I left school. Now I feel that I should have left school much earlier.

Teachers and Subjects Like several of their classmates, many queer PAGFB are in the midst of coping with poverty, neglect, violence and abuse at home. Additionally, they are usually struggling to understand and express their non-normative gender and sexuality. At such a time, a teacher who is inspiring and caring, who accepts and appreciates one for who one is, or a subject that answers, in an affirmative way, some of the questions to do with one’s sense of self that, questions that one may still be struggling to articulate, can make all the difference. Greytak et al. (2009) found that: Supportive teachers, principals, and other school staff serve as another important resource for transgender students. Having the support of caring adults in school may have a positive impact on the school experiences for

students, particularly for those who feel marginalized or experience harassment. Eight out of ten transgender students (83 percent) could identify at least one school staff member whom they believed was supportive of LGBT students at their school, yet only slightly more than a third (36 percent) could identify six or more supportive school staff. (p. 41)

Teachers played a positive role in the lives of many of our respondents as well. In some instances, they provided the affection and care that was missing at home. One bathed and fed a perpetually hungry and unwashed child (as we saw earlier). Another took a child who was sad and withdrawn after his mother’s death to her home to play with her own children. Male-identified Kamal, 25, disabled from an early age, might have missed out on education but for a teacher’s direct intervention. One day, when it was raining very heavily, one of the teachers noticed me and asked why I was not coming to school. I told him that I am interested in studying but my parents would not send me. Then the teacher very firmly spoke to my parents and asked them to send me to school and if it was not possible, then he would make arrangements for me to stay in a hostel for the disabled in the district and do my schooling.

For many other respondents, teachers were the ones who bolstered their self-esteem or lent a sympathetic ear. Jharna, 44, had a difficult home life that eroded her self-confidence and made her feel nervous and inferior, but her teachers and her love for certain subjects made up for it in many ways. I still remember one day I wrote something and my teachers were all happy. They picked me up and carried me to the staff room, saying, ‘What you’ve written! Such a small girl!’ After that, the whole thing changed for me. I got very special treatment in my schools. That gave [me] courage to live as I want[ed], with whatever

Bound by Norms and Out of Bounds: Experiences of PAGFB 63 problems. I never surrendered to any situation because my teachers, my educational institutions always helped me a lot.

For Kanika, 23, sociology became hir window to the world. I fell in love with that subject. It helped me to know about myself. Maybe I was searching for this particular discipline. The things I want to learn I did not get from other subjects.... This subject paved the way for me.... I got a clear picture about what is sex and gender. I did not have any problem about my sex and gender though I know I cannot stick to any single gender.... After studying this discipline, I realised I am not a sick person, that I have a support system ... If anyone questions me now, I can give a logical answer.... Sociology is like my friend.

For many of the people we spoke to, special teachers and specific subjects were evidently important in helping to form their nascent world-views or validating their need to live and to love in their own ways. At their best, these individuals and disciplines acted as agents of awareness and catalysts of change. Interventions and Advocacy As is clearly evident, school played a very influential part in the lives of most of our respondents. For some, it was a refuge from an unhappy home, whereas for others, it always was an uncomfortable place. For yet others, it began as a safe, much-loved heaven, a place of escape from home, but became the most violent space as soon as their sexuality became known. Hence, we think that it is crucial for schools to be more open and affirming when it comes to questions of both gender and sexuality. Our findings resonate with the suggestions of the Trans Youth at School Report: Gendered school spaces and policies, such as single-sex washrooms, change rooms, and

uniforms, can compound the social stress of school.... When trans youth begin experimenting with gender, they may face family rejection and homelessness. Because of the discrimination they face elsewhere in their lives, schools have the potential to be the most stable cornerstone in their lives. (Trans Youth at School Report, 2009, p. 2)

Our findings also support the wider, urgently felt need for sexuality education for teachers, administrators and schoolchildren. We have seen that more than half of our respondents were aware of their sexual desires and feelings at very early ages; school is clearly one of the sites where many young people tend to explore their sexuality. As one respondent feelingly said, ‘Children in school should get education on sex, sexuality, and gender. This should be included in the syllabus.’ There is need for more active types of engagement that help make school an affirmative location for young people’s gender or sexuality, rather than a place where they must control their explorations and expressions, or face constant monitoring, shaming and other kinds of violence. The Nirantar (2008) study states: ‘The right to sexuality education should be considered an inherent part of the right to life, health, expression, education and information that have been recognised as fundamental rights under the Constitution of India’ (p. 26). It goes on to link the right to sexuality education with the right to gender equality and sexual diversity, as well as the right to freedom from violence. Apart from a more open climate that enables non-moralistic discussions about sexuality, there needs also to be a de-emphasis on gender within the school structure. This does not mean that gender should be negated. There is still a need for gender-segregated schools, as there are many parents who would deny education to their female children if co-


Gender and Education in India

educational institutions were the only possibility. The emphasis should be, rather, on deregulating gender. For example, uniform regulations make gender boundaries rigid and compel gender definition. Such a gender marker could be erased if there were a greater choice or leeway in the matter of skirts/ trousers, blouses/shirts, etc. We have already seen how several queer PAGFB were able to negotiate their way around these rules and regulations. The next step would be to transform that difficult personal battle, which defeats so many into readily available choices for all, regardless of their birth-assigned sex or perceived gender. However, while most people might accept ‘girls’ in trousers, we are far from being as comfortable with ‘boys’—or PAGMB (persons assigned gender male at birth)—in skirts. Gender-transgressive PAGMB have it that much harder, as they face much more immediate stigma and opprobrium and much greater levels of ridicule. There is a need to study and explore this issue further and to find ways of dealing with it. Similar concerns and recommendations have been echoed in other recent studies. Some of the suggestions made by a Canadian study of trans youth in schools should be possible to implement here and would make a major and positive difference for many queer PAGFB. These suggestions were: to have ‘a school protocol for consistent use of preferred name and pronouns’; the creation of ‘a flexible or gender-neutral dress code’ and a system to ‘ensure that a student has the right to participate in gender-segregated sports and gym class activities in accordance with the student’s gender identity’ (Trans Youth at School Report, 2009, p. 4). An example of how this can be done effectively and meaningfully also comes from across the border, this time from Nepal. A 13year-old PAGFB who dressed and identified

as a boy was forced to drop out of his village school due to constant bullying by male classmates. A queer NGO intervened and got him enrolled in a new school, the Durbar High School in Kathmandu, which is, interestingly, one of the oldest schools in Nepal, under his chosen name and gender identity. The principal put one condition before admitting the teen. ‘Since she looks and dresses like a boy, I suggest we enroll her as a boy’, he said. ‘We don’t yet have provisions to admit a student as a transgender’. This is the first case of a school knowingly admitting a transgender student. (Times News Network, 2011)

Textbooks, too, need to be inclusive of different lived realities, rather than presenting sanitised, homogenised, heteronormative accounts of culture, social realities, histories and families. NCERT (2006) states: Contemporary scholarship in virtually every discipline is now marked by significant research on gender issues. This has had deep implications for what is seen as knowledge, and how learning is viewed. School education should be updated in keeping with such research, and incorporate the critically gendered dimensions of knowledge in each discipline to transform the ways in which all subjects are approached and taught in schools. (pp. ix–x)

Queer groups, child rights groups and educationists need to work together to ensure a modicum of openness in teaching and in textbooks. This would probably need an analysis of gender, sexuality and family in existing school textbooks, similar to the ongoing work on gender and communalism. Apart from textbooks, students should also have access to other kinds of books and materials that are more diverse and inclusive. Another arena in which gender and sexuality converge within formal education is sports. For a large number of our respondents, sports were an important part of growing up,

Bound by Norms and Out of Bounds: Experiences of PAGFB 65 and many recounted incidents in which the sports arena was an affirmative space. Sports offered the scope for physical activity that allowed queer PAGFB to establish a positive relationship with their bodies at a time when the onset of puberty created all kinds of other discomfort, especially for gendertransgressive respondents. While some gender rules are more relaxed within the sports arena, the space itself remains inherently gendered. There is also differential treatment for boys and girls playing sports, or an attitude that certain sports are ‘boys’ sports’. These gender boundaries are explicit as well as implicit, and mimic the boundaries set in other parts of life. One respondent spoke of choosing to pursue a particular sport because all the other sports required girls’ uniforms. To devalue the importance given to gender, and to make these spaces safer for people who challenge gender norms, some sports need to be common and should be played by all. The choice of playing a certain game or not, and of using one’s preferred gender identity, must be left open to the individual. Many respondents expressed their unhappiness at the loss of this space of sports and games once they stopped studying; very few were able to pursue these interests outside school or college. In addition to integrating sports into school curricula as much as possible, opportunities for playing sports that continue for all PAGFB outside of, and after school, should also be made available. Conclusion The stray encounters or the chance opportunities that marked the positive experiences of some of our respondents, whether through a teacher, a sports coach or a subject that reaffirmed their sense of self, need to become elements that we consciously build into the structures and systems of formal education.

Finally, it needs to be said that we are not speaking about breaking the gender binary merely in order to set up another binary—of queer/non-queer PAGFB. Many of the issues faced by PAGFB are common, such as strictly enforced gender rules and regulations, restrictions that become more severe at the time of puberty, policing of sexuality and being raised with cultural notions that mitigate against personal agency and economic independence. If families, and the larger society, are not about to change their attitudes in a hurry, it is really up to the institutions of formal education to do, more sensitively and more actively, what is anyway their stated objective—to educate and equip the ‘girl child’, indeed every child, with the learning, skills, opportunities and understanding they need to be self-sufficient in every way, and to fully realise their potential. Violently enforced gender norms must give way to a more egalitarian and voluntary system of gender. Societies need to transform the existing hierarchical, discrete binary system into a porous, multiple gender system. Whether the world is more or less gendered, gender categories should be less rigid; strict prescriptions for any gender category must be relaxed. When the boundaries between categories themselves are blurred, the decrease in controls and the easing of rules will allow gender boundaries to become much more porous. This will allow individuals greater choice, both of moving across genders and of redefining the categories for themselves. Notes 1. Lesbians and Bisexuals in Action (LABIA), formerly known as Stree Sangam, is a Mumbai-based autonomous, non-funded, voluntary collective of lesbian and bisexual women and transpersons, with a focus on queer and feminist activism. Since our


Gender and Education in India inception in 1995, our foremost concern has been to break the isolation and invisibility around queer lives in multiple ways. To that end, we organise discussions and events in the city for queer and queer-friendly people, consistently interact with students in city colleges on issues of gender and sexuality, run a film club, publish a queer zine and run a phone line for LBT (Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender) persons. 2. In this article, the term ‘queer’ includes both those whose sexual orientation and those whose gender identity are considered nonnormative by societal standards. Despite being two distinct concepts, both gender identity and sexual orientation are affected by societal expectations of gender. 3. While interviewing people who challenge their assigned gender in multiple ways, we have tried to be faithful to the gender identities that they espouse for themselves. All those who clearly identify as men or as women have been referred to by the appropriate gender pronouns ‘he’ or ‘she’. Those who name their gender in ways that resist classification as man or woman have been clubbed together here under the category of ‘other’ and are referred to by the pronouns ‘s/he’ and ‘hir’. 4. The names of all the respondents have been changed to protect their privacy.

References Bhattacharjee, N. (1999). Through the Looking Glass: Gender Socialization in a Primary School, in T.S. Saraswati (ed.), Culture, Socialization and Human Development: Theory,

Research, and Applications in India (pp. 336– 55). New Delhi: Sage. Gupta, M. (2000). Women and Educational Development. New Delhi: Sarup and Sons. Greytak, E.A., Kosciw, J.G., and Diaz, E.M. (2009). Harsh Realities: The Experiences of Transgender Youth in Our Nation’s Schools. New York: Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). Naik, C.D. (2003). Thoughts and Philosophy of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. New Delhi: Sarup and Sons. NCERT (2006). Position Paper 3.2: National Focus Group on Gender Issues in Education. New Delhi: National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT). Nirantar (2008). Sexuality Education for Young People: An Advocacy Document. Nirantar Education Series 1. New Delhi: Nirantar Trust. Smith, G.W. (2005). The Ideology of “Fag”: The School Experience of Gay Students, in L. Weis and M. Fine (eds.), Beyond Silenced Voices: Class, Race, and Gender in United States Schools (pp. 95–114). Albany, New York: State University of New York Press. Times News Network. (2011, July 13). Nepal’s Oldest School Starts Sexual Revolution. Times of India. Available at http://articles.timesof india.india (accessed on January 9, 2012). Trans Youth at School Report. (2009). Y-GAP Community Bulletin. Youth-Gender Action Project (Y-GAP): Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Available at http://www. documents/YGAP_School.pdf (Accessed on 9 January 2012).

5 Men, Women and the Embattled Family Uma Chakravarti This chapter shifts the focus from external processes, shaping gender to social processes which acted directly upon the household, as well as internal pressures which operated within the households of upper castes/classes. Certain elements tied the two processes together. Both external forces in society and internal pressures on the family meant that many levels of social authority were at stake in reformulations occurring during the second half of the nineteenth century; the crisscrossing positions on women that we will see below need to be seen in this larger context. We have outlined the contestatory nature of class formation in Maharashtra, with its double tensions between castes and between different class segments intensifying pressures on the various strata. As Sangari has argued, ‘The conflictual and uneven development of “class” did not make for cultural and ideological coherence—rather it made for a heterogeneity producing contradictory positions and multiple voices,’ sometimes even in the same person. In such a transformatory situation the ‘necessary reconstitution of patriarchies and modes of authority itself acquired an uneven character; conflict between the traditional authority structures and patriarchies with the emerging modified structure with its own attendant patriarchy’ was an inevitable aspect of the period. Problems were compounded because there was a ‘need for the Hindu woman’s

ideality to be measured against caste and class arrangements; from a range of prototypes there had to be a “marking out” of a middleclass private sphere.’ Further, in the reconstitution of authority, the colonial state had its own stake in social and material arrangements. In sum, as the processes unfolded the domestic economy was left intact structurally but modified outwardly both by the state and by middle-class reformers. 1 Nevertheless, the family became a major site for conflict engendered by different worldviews reproducing the conflicts of the public sphere within it. The female world had conventionally been limited to the household, which was the focal point of female reproduction, domestic labour and of kinship relations of upper-caste women in Maharashtra as in other parts of the country. The colonial state and the reformers had found that the domestic arrangements of the dominant classes were not easily amenable to radical alteration by the legal changes introduced in the nineteenth century. The process of generating change within the household thus became imperative and a female constituency to facilitate the process was identified. Such women were to mediate between the public and the private worlds of the emerging class.2 First they would publicly demonstrate their acquiescence in the changes recommended by the male social reformers and then help to disseminate the reformed


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ideas within the female world and also socialise the new generations into the new norms. The ‘schooling’ of women thus was a major platform of middle-class reform. The need to school women make them governable and equip them for wifehood was not new, being a major concern of all extant patriarchies. Brahmanical patriarchy’s fear of an unregulated female sexuality’s potential to subvert the moral and social order underlay the elaboration of codes whose purpose was to make women of the upper castes in particular, governable. Prescriptions in the texts going back to the formation of caste and class structures had dealt with the essential qualities of women—their strisvabhava which is libidinous and the need to get them to perform their stridharma, their social roles, by harnessing their sexuality for acceptable ends3. Ideology and coercion were both used to achieve social control. Processes of ‘schooling’, achieved through Shastric ‘education’, were periodically reformulated and restated as is evident from the eighteenth century text Stridharmapaddhati, a Sanskrit text prepared at the Maratha court at Tanjore and commissioned by Dipamba, chief wife of the Tanjore ruler Ekoji. Prescribing the code of the ‘perfect wife’ whose religious and secular duties converge in service to the husband the text opens its introductory verses with: ‘Obedient service to one’s husband is the primary duty enjoined by the sacred tradition for women.’ The verses outline ‘schooling’ recommending the proper attitude of the wife to her lord, obedience in matters of principle, and diligent and attentive service. Conventional training of upper-caste wives neatly combined the dual actions of religious duties and the daily chores in the household in the formulation: the wife’s service to her husband is her worship of god. Two Marathi works designed for a wider audience were written by the same author on stridharma, the

code by which women were ‘schooled’, one aptly titled Pativratadharma and its underside titled Narakavarnana, written especially to counter what was regarded as a Muslim threat to cultural ideals of Hindu womanhood. Virtuous women, properly schooled, attain a good reputation, immediate happiness in this world; and heaven after death; according to the eighteenth century text4. Most importantly, women schooled into stridharma keep their libidinous natures in check. Apart from Brahmanical patriarchy’s conceptualisation of women’s nature as libidinous, there was the corollary feminisation of evil itself: the latter includes a recognition of women’s agency which is perceived negatively. Women displaying agency as they pursue material and social benefits not ‘due’ to them by employing the instigative method, or through deceit, also need to be schooled. All intrigues attributed to women in the royal household as well as the households of ordinary men are perceived to adopt either incitement or deceit to gain their ends. Women were thus ‘naturally’ more prone to disrupting social harmony, being innately quarrelsome. Historical memory of these qualities was powerfully embodied in the figure of Anandi, who masterminded the murder of her nephew during the Peshwai.5 The power of women to create disorder became a metaphor for ungovernability or fitna, a term which originally meant seducing; it was applied in the context of seducing women to elope with other men. It ultimately came to imply sedition. Suppressing fitna had the highest priority for the Maratha state.6 In its original connotation then, fitna had been peculiarly feminine and had represented ungovernability in the domestic domain. Significantly, disorder in the private domain was the model for disorder in the public domain, rather than the other way around. The schooling of women in the domestic

Men, Women and the Embattled Family 69 domain was as necessary as the governance of the social domain: conceptually the two were linked. Since control over women and the desire for schooled women is primary for any patriarchal arrangement the necessity of tutoring women was not in dispute in nineteenth century Maharashtra; women of the upper castes were already being schooled by ‘domesticity and Shastric injunction’. 7 However, there was a divergence between the traditional elites and the ‘reformed’ elites on various issues, including the inherent nature of women, what was required of them, and the kind of training and cultivation they should receive. Pre-colonial conceptualisations of women, although not static, had been restated rather than dramatically reworked; in contrast, the middle-class reformers both restated and recast notions of womanhood. The reconceptualisation of womanhood in the second half of nineteenth century Maharashtra was ‘embedded in the aspirations of the emergent middle class which [was] required to restructure the family, to produce suitable ideologies for the reproduction of households, to relate patriarchal practices to the emerging forms of stratification, and to align personal with general class interests’.8 In sum there was, because of the special nature of social and economic forces generated by the presence of a colonial state, a need for patriarchies to be reassembled according to the changed circumstances giving rise to various discourses of reform. Thus the colonial encounter was both directly and catalytically mutative for the middle classes. The discourses of reform on women, especially because the legal reforms relating to the excesses of traditional patriarchal practices had reached a dead-end, came to be concentrated on women’s education. The importance of education in order to school

women into their new roles, crystallised around them as companionate wives, good mothers, and class socialisers, and was a key theme in nineteenth century discourser. 9 Evident in the writings of the period is the specific function of education in the case of women for whom it was not an instrumental factor as it was for men. Men were to be educated, especially in English, both in the view of the state and its subjects, for jobs. In contrast, it was only in the last fifteen years of the nineteenth century that education for women was perceived as having an instrumental dimension when the colonial state identified the need for trained professional women to service the sectors of medical care and teaching in order to reach out to the female population.l0 Initially, then, education was a tool to ‘fashion’ a new class of women through appropriate schooling. For the reformers it was also the tool by which women could be converted into moral beings for a changed social order, a new means by which their strisvabhava could be transformed into a suitable variant of the traditional conception of stridharma. The need for education to ‘school’ women was directly tied to a new meaning to be given to the home. While the separation between public and private and a division of labour continued to govern the female world centred around reproduction, the role of reproduction was enlarged to encompass the nurture of a whole class and the creation of a new culture. The residences of the middle classes for the reformers became ‘homes’, an affective and moral unit rather than a space occupied by a conglomerate of individuals, thus acquiring an ‘ideological clarification’. Into this reworked female world, which still corresponded to a broad division between public and private as before, the new project of mothering and conjugality was introduced, whose central actor was the young wife, the


Gender and Education in India

new woman of the present and the future. The responsibility of turning the older household into a ‘home’ and creating an affective unit was that of young wives and it was to prepare them for such a responsibility that education was required. Thus, middle-class reformers were giving women a defined and limited ‘agency’, making them social actors through education for specific purposes.11 This new notion of a home was however an abstraction, as many of the accounts of women writing in nineteenth century Maharashtra suggest. Young men, in whose hands the ideological reins of this venture were firmly held, battled an army of kin who actually occupied the household. From this web of relatives young men tried to create two distinct units—the husband and wife, and the mother and child—the new roles for women thus being those of conjugality and mothering. Ideologically the two units were made to stand separate from other kin in the family.12 In the accounts of Ramabai Ranade, tensions within the home between father and son and between the older women and the young wife were over what husbands expected of their wives. Equally, the process of such an extraction of the husband-wife unit in particular implied that men were battling their relatives to gain full control over their wives so that they could fulil the new missions set for them.13 The roles of women as instruments of nurture and as class socialisers were closely connected. Through women the culture of a whole class of people was to be regenerated; the socialising by proper nurturing of children, especially male children, would lead to organising the culture of both the class and the nation,14 since it was the dominant class that stamped its culture in any case upon the nation. It was for this task that women had to be prepared through proper attention and education. Addressing the Ninth National Social Conference in the last decade of the

century, the well-known but cautious reformer Sir R.G. Bhandarkar outlined the need for women’s education thus: A good many proposals have reference to the condition of the female portion of our society. Gentlemen, one half of the intellectual, moral and spiritual resources of our country is being wasted. If our women were educated they would be a powerful instrument for advancing the general condition of our country. They will bring up every new generation in a manner to perform its duty efficiently and will shed the influence of benign virtues peculiar to them on men and, so to say, humanise them....I5

Since the task of nurturing and class socialising was unique to women, they therefore needed a special education. A carefully chosen, distinctive, syllabus was imperative and women were not to have the same education as men16 (the kind necessary for acquiring jobs). Nurturing required a knowledge of medical care, child care, cleanliness etc., and this required a ‘domestic economy’ type syllabus; religious and moral instruction and literature were necessary to cultivate the self and the personalities of children. Parvati Athavale, a widow who was lifted out of her obscurity and given a place in the reformist agenda (raising funds for the Widows’ Home set up by Karve, her brother-in-law), outlined the features of the new home and the training women required to create it. In a chapter entitled ‘Social Questions’, Parvati dealt with two categories of women, married and unmarried, and then focused on the former, the ‘natural’ state for women. Firmly arguing the need for married women to stay home, never seeking ‘servitude’ outside in the form of employment, she wrote: Women have to remain at home for its protection. In our homes there is not as much effort as there should be to teach children what in English is called ‘good manners’. Our men have little connection with their homes and no

Men, Women and the Embattled Family 71 special relations with their servants and children. So the responsibility for the right conduct of the family and for the right manners falls now on women. As women are the mothers-to-be of this country it is necessary to give them an education suited to their special domestic life. Such an education should include the first principles in medical care, care of children, cooking, care of the garden, how to keep the house clean, the purchase and care of food, singing, and religious and moral instruction, and such like important subjects ... If the mother brings into the home regularity of habits and polite manners, the children and servants will follow her example. The home is a school. The mistress and master are the principal teachers in this school. If the teachers throw aside their dignified position and cease to teach the children that home is sure to be the scene of wild strife.... In many places one sees that the home is to the men merely a place to eat. Men should feel an attraction for their homes as they do in the west. Our children and the man of the house must consider the home his place of joy and comfort. And that this may be so must come from the efforts of the women. Every mistress of the home should know how to beautify the home and how to make the home more healthy. To this end there should be instruction given in all girls’ schools on the management of the home... The advantage of female education must show itself in the reformation of the home, if it is to be of any advantage to the country.17

Education for women, then, was to be a ‘private acquisition’ first to school them and thereafter to create appropriate personalities, familial social relations and households, and in a more general sense, a ‘moral basis’ for the everyday life of the emergent middle class.18 A corollary of women as nurturant mothers and class socialisers in the new domestic ideology of the middle class was the model of the companionate wife marking a break from the traditional notion of the wife

as primarily a ritual and sexual partner of the husband. Like the nurturant mother the companionate wife too needed to be carefully schooled to fit the role. Dayaram Gidumal outlined the means by which the companionate wife could be created: ‘Do not starve women’s intellect, shut them out of the light, opportunities for acquiring self knowledge, self awareness and self control. They will not only become your helpmates but your better halves’. 19 The notion of the ‘companionate’ wife was however an abstraction, and at this point still being constructed. A product of the social needs and the imagination of upper-caste reformers, its contours remained vague, making young wives aspire to live up to such a model but also causing them intense heartache because it was never very clear to them what exactly their husbands expected of them. Men on the other hand were eloquent in their descriptions of the companionate wives they were seeking. Karsondas Mulji, a prominent reformer whose own marriage was far from companionate,20 wrote: Look at the picture of a woman who delights the heart of a man who overpowers him by her pure love; observe her traits: she walks gently, she speaks only melodious words. She is both mild and guileless. She neither sits idly nor wanders here or there. She neither eats or drinks like a glutton, but like a temperate woman. By her good and amiable disposition her smiling face is suffused with love. From her lips only kind and affectionate words come out as from good trees we get only fragrant flowers and sweet fruits. She carries out all her husband’s wishes and passes her time peacefully and happily. In all her work she uses her god given intelligence and tries to remain virtuous in all her deeds. Her heart is fully virtuous and the perennial spring of ardent love ever flows from it.21

The disappointment of the men whose expectation from wives remained unfulfilled


Gender and Education in India

was also eloquently expressed: Where is the Hinduani, wise and pure who can quote Shakuntala and the Merchant of Venice, play the Sitar or Sarangi and sing divinely? Every educated Hindu would like to have such a Kumud [the heroine of the famous nineteenth century Gujarati novel Saraswati Chandra by Goverdhan Das Tripathi], such a lovely maiden for his wife. But where are these phantoms of delight in Hindu society? They exist in the brains of those who have read Kalidas and Shakespeare, but otherwise we know them not (anonymous Hindu male, 1884).22

These are women who are self-consciously fashioned figures, crafted by middle-class men to be the objects of a new notion of conjugality. The major problem about transformed notions of conjugality in the nineteenth century, unfortunately, was the difficulty of making such powerful images of ‘sweet womanhood’ come alive. While men of the reforming elite identified education as the means by which such visions of womanhood could be actualised (women needed literacy especially in order to know what they should embody), the institution of marriage hinged on early marriage, which implied that young wives went to their husbands with very little education, if any at all. It was this major contradiction that led to the phenomenon of the husband as teacher for the first generation of married couples among the reformers. It was a process fraught with many tensions as documented in autobiographies and letters by a few of the first ‘victims’, the young wives themselves. Kashibai Kanitkar for example, wrote that she felt compelled to be educated because she overheard her husband remarking that he could never share a meaningful existence with an illiterate wife.23 Her husband Govindrao, who was sixteen when she was married to him at nine, was from a wealthy family and had an ‘English’ education. Conscious of her plain

looks and humiliated by her rejection, Kashibai began to secretly teach herself how to read and write and received some assistance from Govindrao. The project did not, however, have the sanction of her in-laws (being a private venture to win the affections of her husband), so she had to hide her attempts to acquire her skills. Since young wives lived under extreme surveillance within the household, she would often be caught out and humiliated in public. Bridging the gap of many years of slow learning that men had access to but which was squeezed into a few stolen moments in the case of the young wives, they found that far from being regarded as partners in a companionate marriage their husbands often heaped further abuse and humiliation upon them. Kashibai’s husband dismissed her attempts to learn English remarking that it was impossible for a ‘stone’ to learn anything.24 Sheer grit and the desire for dignity and respect kept Kashibai going and she went on to become a wellknown writer and an intellectual who ultimately outstripped her husband’s writing skills, but there was much heartbreak in the process. But from Kashibai’s example we can see that given the traditional taboos against female literacy and the power relations within the family in extant forms of patriarchy, the male fantasy of a companionate marriage was a new source of power that husbands wielded over their wives. Similarly Anandibai ]oshi,25 who went down in Maharashtrian consciousness as the best known example of an educated, professional female had a hard time in her early years. She was married at nine to a ‘mature’ widower whose erratic and unconventional career was amply expressed in his relationship with his young wife through whom he partly achieved his own ambitions. At one stage his educational demands on his wife led him to leave her to

Men, Women and the Embattled Family 73 negotiate the streets alone in Bombay so that she might attend school while he went out of town. Anandibai recalls that she faced harassment including obscene remarks and gestures from men, forcing her to go back to her parents.26 The case of Ramabai Ranade, whose relationship with her famous husband has been regarded as a model to be followed by all ‘respectable modern’ women,27 is also noteworthy. When she began to receive an education members of the household subjected her to severe harassment which her husband could not, or did not, do anything to stop.28 Part of the tension inherent in the early experiments with educating young wives to be companionate partners was the dissatisfaction of a new generation of men with the existing structures of marriage and the lack of choice that they faced as individuals in a situation of repressive collectivities. The frustrations arising from these institutions were transferred upon the young wife as in the case of Govindrao Kanitkar, Kashibai’s husband, who was disappointed at being ‘saddled’ with a woman regarded as unattractive.29 She was not the kind of woman who was the object of attention of an Englisheducated male sensibility. Further, the nonconsensual marriage combined with prepubertal marriage for girls meant that men old enough to be fathers could be husbands as in the cases of Ramabai Ranade and Anandibai Joshi. A companionate marriage, at least in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, was virtually an impossibility. Nonconsensual marriage also made male desires about finding romantic love difficult to fulfil within marriage. All these elements went into the many contradictions clustering around the notion of companionate wives for which women could be ‘schooled’ through education. The process of extracting a husband-wife unit, who shared a

companionate marriage, out of the larger family structures and social institutions within which the middle-class male was located, remained a non-starter for most of the nineteenth century. The project of education for women faced great opposition from within upper-caste societies since traditional codes and taboos relating to the subject were still very strong. Female education had been viewed as not just redundant (learning being associated in tradition with sacred knowledge, which was a closely guarded preserve) but reprehensible. Its association with widowhood in traditional beliefs is significant as widowhood was the most dreaded state for women. Ramabai Ranade and Kashibai Kanitkar both record this taboo as the reason why they had been kept illiterate in their parental homes.30 There was also a great fear (prevalent across regions) that literacy would give women the means by which they could engage in clandestine correspondence, set up liaisons with men3l or even elope with them and thus cause fitna. Widely-shared fears such as these in the household, given its internal power structure, made many women themselves ambivalent about education and often made it a new source of power between men and women— it was one more way by which women had to please their husbands. It is important to bear in mind that the project of education for women was largely executed within a patriarchal structure in which women were caught as subjects—rarely were they actual agents. When women did not have to pick up education at their husbands’ behest they had to ensure that it remained a secret, to the extent of even mispronouncing words that they knew perfectly well because this would give them away.32 Further, the relationship of education to ‘schooling’ women rather than equipping them to utilise it in any way, or empowering


Gender and Education in India

them, remained the core of the new domestic ideology. In this it was not radically different from the traditional schooling of women to absorb the ideological premises of Brahmanical patriarchy, which was required in order that they accept the sum of social practices that were operating in the nineteenth-century: child marriage, early motherhood, the possibility of co-wives, widower husbands as old as fathers, as well as step-children often as old as them, and also the ever-present recourse to violence against women. Upon this traditional value system which all women were schooled in, the new focus on education was an add-on; the new domestic ideology, even from its best proponents, muted the extreme features of extant patriarchal arrangements bur did not begin afresh since none of the middle-class reformers wanted a major overhaul. Traditional pativrata merely became for example ‘the pure love shining forth’ from the devoted wife. The new wife still accepted the unquestioned authority of her husband. For the reforming elite of Maharashtra the excesses of traditional patriarchy were reprehensible but it was from the field of tradition and its notions of womanhood that new notions were to be forged. Patriarchy was both to be reformed and preserved. Women, educated schooled women, thus ‘became the subjects and the vehicles through whom both the retention and modernisation of newly defined Hindu patriarchal forms were achieved’33 as our examples will show. II I begin an account of the ‘schooling’ of women among certain sections of the emerging professional class with Anandibai Joshi, who became a legend in her own time in western India. Born in 1865 into a high-status Chitpavan Brahmana household, which had been prosperous but was by then in somewhat

straitened circumstances, Anandibai appears to have had a conventional childhood, ‘schooled’ into accepting as natural the traditional Brahmanical patriarchal practices. However, she was permitted access to rudimentary literacy as a school was located within a part of the house she lived in. Being a vivacious and spirited girl, she picked up enough reading to be shown off by her father to visitors, much to their horror. Anandibai clearly missed the presence of a nurturing mother and recalled later her mother’s physical aggression towards her and wrote that, if she had children, she would ensure that they received a loving upbringing.34 In the nineteenth century ‘childhood’ was all too brief in the case of women. Anandibai was married at nine following a period of great anxiety for her parents, very common in the lives of women who have left accounts of their early years. This was because of the Brahmanic injunction that girls must be married before they menstruate. Anandi was a well built girl and the public gaze, which never let Brahmana parents forget that the community was keeping track of the need to uphold social norms, aroused the characteristic fears in the parents.35 (Similarly, Parvati Athavale records that her quick growth and the family’s insecure financial situation led to great anxiety about organising a marriage for her since the women in the village had begun to remark on her unmarried status. Finally a husband was found for Parvati but the man was lame, and only modestly employed.) Being poor added to the general anxiety and finally a match was arranged for Anandi to a widower, Gopalrao Joshi, many years her senior. The rest of Anandibai’s life was dominated by her husband and the travails she experienced, (including physical violence at his hands) have been attributed to Gopalrao’s eccentricity. 37 We suggest, however, that his behaviour was not

Men, Women and the Embattled Family 75 individually idiosyncratic. There are numerous examples dotting the accounts of women in which fathers, husbands, brothers behave like Gopalrao Joshi did. Clearly they were not individual acts of eccentricity but located in the structure of patriarchy which put women under the power and authority of certain men. But at the same time it was also structural in another sense, being an expression of the fragmented, decentred individuals characteristic of the new middle class who often did not know what they wanted. Men of these classes were ambivalent about the norms and values of their traditions without being clear about the changes that were necessary. The only certainty they displayed was the authority they wielded over their wives. Gopalrao Joshi’s ‘behaviour’ suggests that as men found that they had to change they both experimented with women and burdened them with their own contradictions. Anandibai’s biography tells us that Gopalrao had talked about educating his young wife even as the marriage was being settled. 38 Whether he wished this to be a form of schooling that was merely designed to make Anandi a suitable wife or not, Gopalrao exercised his marital rights according to traditional practice. Anandibai had her first and only child at fourteen, but the child did not survive. (She wrote later that a child’s death did not affect the father but that the mother did not want to see it die. This may have been a statement based on her own personal experience of the way the death of her child affected her but did not have the same effect on Gopalrao.39) Although we are told that Anandi was ‘well developed’, and in normal health before she married, she was unable to have more children after this early pregnancy and there are innumerable references that in later years she suffered severe ill-health; she died finally of consumption at the early age of 22.

Gopalrao’s obsessive ambition for Anandibai may have been a consequence of guilt that he suppressed about the early motherhood and trauma that Anandi experienced on his account. By the time she was fifteen Gopalrao had corresponded with missionaries abroad seeking help for his wife’s education in America and finally she left, at the age of 17, to study medicine in Philadelphia. As the first ‘Hindu’ woman to travel to America and to enrol for a course in medicine there, Anandi became visible in India and made a dramatic impact on American women. At around the same time Pandita Ramabai was leaving for England to attempt to pursue a similar course. The two, who were distant cousins, finally met in America when Anandibai graduated. The years Anandi spent in America have been sedimented in public memory as ‘heroic’. Racked by ill-health but sticking closely to traditional customs, Anandibai was the embodiment of Hindu womanhood. This made an impact on American women too, who admitted her courage and traditional virtues.40 Her sponsors do not appear to have been shocked by such views as her defence of child marriage and in India this ensured that she would be regarded as a true daughter of India, an upholder of the ‘national’ culture. Before Anandibai left America to return to India she had been joined by Gopalrao (who in a characteristic instance of middle-class ambiguity now publicly berated university education for women as disruptive of family life).41 Anandibai already had a job waiting at Kolhapur which unfortunately she never took up. She died a few months after her return—a tragic denouement to a life that had come to be celebrated throughout India. Two aspects of Anandibai’s life are striking: the first is the troubled relationship of the husband-wife unit, almost an exclusive


Gender and Education in India

one separated from the usual larger kin group of most upper-caste households. (Gopalrao’s job in the postal department and his mobile existence coupled with his extreme ‘individuality’ may have contributed to the domestic structure.) The second was the way Anandi became an icon for the virtues of ideal Hindu womanhood. Public memory of the very middle class that was investing in ‘companionate’ marriages erased her experiences at the hands of her husband and kept alive only her Hindu womanly qualities. In private correspondence with her husband she refers to the fact that their relationship had witnessed much violence, that even as a young wife of ten she had been hit by Gopalrao with pieces of wood, had chairs flung at her, and had been threatened with abandonment. She bore the violence of one expression of patriarchy to uphold another, writing that she did not leave Gopalrao because it would have tarnished her father’s honour ...Only death could be a resolution to such a stormy existence. At twenty she recalled some of her anguish in a letter to her husband: I pleaded with you to end my existence. There is nothing in the law to stop such things against women. If there are any [laws/rules] they work against women. Therefore I had no option but to bear everything silently. A Hindu woman has no right to speak even a word against her husband or to advise him. She has only the ‘right’ to allow her husband to do what he wants and remain silent.42

Anandibai had been well schooled into internalising the ideology of traditional patriarchy even though she was aware of other norms of conjugality. 43 On her part she continued to evoke female guilt but deployed it as a sort of armour, using it sometimes to soften her critique of Gopalrao’s behaviour and sometimes to sharpen it. Her letters to Gopalrao simultaneously speak of what women suffer in marriage and of her sorrow

at not being able to ‘please’ Gopalrao and make him ‘happy’. What is notable is that she did not exonerate Gopalrao’s violence towards her even as she used the conventional mode of a wife writing to her husband and expressed the usual wifely sentiments in them. While she reminded him of what she had suffered at his hands she did not indict him directly even in private letters, merely letting him know that she had experienced anguish.44 But by using the double mode she helped to construct the image of Gopalrao as an eccentric man rather than a husband who had been violent with his child wife as he had complete power over her. Anandibai’s life exemplifies the point I wish to emphasise: The new educated woman did not, and was not expected to, shed the unique virtues of chaste, suffering, Hindu womanhood. Further, the ‘companionate’ marriage of new domestic ideologies was onesided; it gave the husband the right to have expectations and desires but denied them to the wife. (It is significant that it was roughly at the same time that Rakhmabai was challenging child marriage and declining to accept forced conjugality, thereby rejecting the valorised model of suffering Hindu womanhood. Rakhmabai too demanded the right to a companionate marriage like the new class of men but, as we have seen, this met with hysterical opposition.) For Anandibai Joshi and many other young wives of her generation there was no major transformation wrought by ‘education’. Anandi was so well ‘schooled’ that she made it possible for the contradictions of the new conjugality to be erased. It is not surprising that she should be valorised for being a ‘good wife’ above everything else. When she returned to India she was given a noticeably warm welcome, but when she died soon after, the emotions overflowed; she was given what was probably one of the most honoured and traditional funerals received by a woman in Poona. And

Men, Women and the Embattled Family 77 it was in the characteristic garb of the married woman, and adorned by the signs of the sumangali, that she was cremated. The newspapers summed up public emotion thus: Although Anandibai was so young, her perseverance, undaunted courage and devotion to her husband were unparalleled. We think it will be long before we shall see again a woman like her in this country. We do not hesitate to say that Dr. Joshi is worthy of a high place on the roll of historic women who have striven to serve and to elevate their native land.45

Clearly the native land was honoured in the eyes of the world through its pativrata wives. Even in far-off America her life and death were summed up as a model of Hindu womanhood ‘inspired by the code of Manu’. ‘Until death she was patient of hardship, self-controlled ... striving to fulfil that most excellent duty which is prescribed for wives’.46 Public adulation for Anandibai Joshi is a reflection of the values cherished by sections of the middle classes in the nineteenth century. She had shown that intrinsically there was nothing dangerous in women’s education; rather that it was perfectly possible to reconcile a professional training, overseas travel, and close interactions with western women with Hindu wifely virtues. Before Anandibai left for America she had publicly defended her need to travel abroad for her medical studies, as well as her plans to go alone, without her husband.47 She had also successfully carried out her resolve to leave as a Hindu and return as a Hindu. While in America she had defended the Hindu child marriage system. 48 Anandibai had conclusively proved that well schooled Hindu wives were in no danger of losing their religion or their values. Finally, we may also note that the public adulation for Anandi was a recognition of her defence of tradition and Hindu patriarchal practices even though she herself was one of

its victims. When we recall that at that very moment both Rakhmabai and Pandita Ramabai were in different ways challenging ‘Hindu’ patriarchy, Anandi was a powerful counter to these women: the recalcitrant wife whose ‘education’ was the source of her desire for, a companionate marriage and the disavowal of her conjugal obligations, and the subversive widow who renounced her religion and publicly denounced Hindu patriarchal practices. Anandi’s compliance with Hindu patriarchal practices was balm to Hindu society; Hindu conjugality was being vindicated at the moment of its severest stress. Another, more congenial, example of the companionate marriage valorised significantly by both the reformist and traditional elite was the case of Ramabai Ranade—the most ‘perfectly schooled’ wife who has left an account for us of the process and values that the new Hindu domestic ideologies 49 sought to inculcate into the wife. It began on a tense note, being one of the most unwillingly accepted marriages that have been documented for the region. However, it went on to become one of the most celebrated examples of ‘conjugality’ that middle-class reformers had envisaged for reasons that will be evident in the following account. Ranade had, initially, been one of the most visible supporters of the crusade for widow remarriage in Maharashtra. In 1873 when Ranade was 31, his first wife, whom he had married when he was thirteen, died following a prolonged illness. Immediately thereafter he began to receive telegrams persuading him to marry a widow. It is worth noting that nobody expected him to remain a widower; both the reformers and his family, especially his father, expected him to remarry immediately, the only question was whether the bride would be a young pre-pubertal virgin, or a ‘virgin’ widow. Using a mix of subterfuge, emotional blackmail and moral coercion, Ranade’s father


Gender and Education in India

made sure that his son capitulated and married eleven-year-old Ramabai within a month of the death of his first wife.50 The father had effectively subverted any possibilities of Ranade’s practising his reformist ideals and at the same time facilitated the completion of the traditional requirements for Brahmana males as outlined by Manu: ‘A twice born man, versed in the sacred law, shall burn the wife of equal caste who dies before him. Having thus, at the funeral given the sacred fires to his wife who dies before him, he may marry again ... and dwell in his own house during the second period of his life.’51 Coerced thus, Ranade retreated from the festivities. The reformers however were deeply let down and became the laughingstock of Brahmanical society. Whatever Ranade did thereafter continued to be judged by this early failure to measure up to his ideals.52 This controversial beginning to the marriage also gives us a clue to the relationship between Ramabai and Ranade. Following the ceremony, Ranade retreated without partaking even of the ceremonial dinner and locked himself in his room. After Ramabai’s father left and she went up to Ranade and their ‘room’, her ‘education’ began.53 Much has been made of this event, celebrated in public memory. It has been seen as evidence of the reformist zeal for women’s education. That, however, is only part of the meaning that may be attributed to this ‘extraordinary’ beginning of conjugal relations. But let us stop for a moment and consider the circumstances: the bridegroom is a 31-year-old officer in the courts, the bride is a young, most likely pre-pubertal, girl of eleven. What could a mature prominent man of 31 do with a girl young enough to be his daughter? 54 With a wife too young to understand his confused feelings, share his intellectual and social interests or be the object

of his ‘romantic’ yearnings in any way, short of brutally consummating the marriage what would one do in such a situation except to begin teaching the illiterate wife the alphabet? One agenda for raising women’s status was nullified the other more possible one, that of women’s education, was a natural and almost inevitable substitute. At a more substantive level the circumstances were ideal for the process of ‘schooling’ the young wife. The great difference in age which certainly put the young wife in the ‘authority’ and awe of the husband was an important aspect of ‘schooling’ women to be good wives and ultimately intelligent partners through education. The pair of mature husband and young wife was the only situation in which women could really be ‘schooled’ through education within the household in the nineteenth century. It was not easily achievable with daughters as they were married very young—too young to properly accomplish anything with. Further, one had to consider the potential marital home where the process of education was likely to be abruptly terminated. (Since each marital home was unique, schooling into it was also to be uniquely organised.) In the case of couples closer to each other in age, attempts at educating the wives lacked the ‘authority’ and awe that older husbands had. Since education was in any case not an instrumental need, and further, women’s agency was not the motivating factor, many of the ventures in learning followed a different course. Lakshmibai Tilak (married at 11 to the 18-yearold Narayan Tilak) had her first lessons at 17 at her husband’s hands, abruptly dissolving into an uncontrollable fit of laughter. The first day’s lesson was climaxed by the husband tearing the books to shreds.55 As Lakshmibai describes it, the lesson failed because, first, she was not ‘young’ and, second, Tilak was no

Men, Women and the Embattled Family 79 stranger to her. Reading between the lines it is also apparent that Lakshmibai was laughing at Tilak’s authority as teacher over her. Lakshmibai was never ‘schooled’ and certainly not through education. (Ultimately Lakshmibai learnt not only enough of the alphabet to read widely but also to become one of the most celebrated writers of memoirs in Marathi.) Ramabai Ranade’s awareness of her very vulnerable situation in the conjugal home, given the nature of the conflict over the marriage, would have added to the sense of awe that Ranade aroused in her. Writing about his personality, as recounted to her by women of the household, she described his ‘serious nature’, even in childhood.56 His inability to make decisions about his own life despite his ‘public figure’ status, had made him deeply unhappy and humiliated him in public. There was his genuine grief, which young Ramabai was acutely conscious of (she records that he wept every night for almost a year57), over his first wife’s death. These would have been chastening elements shaping Rarnabai’s own responses in the early months. She had also been well schooled in traditional practices. Born in a high status, very orthodox jagirdar family which was well known (Ranade had insisted that his new wife was to be from just such a family even as he resisted his father’s pressure, for a quick remarriage.58), she had been carefully brought up but guarded against picking up even the basics of literacy. This is because her father’s sister had learnt just enough to read and utter some stotras (such as the Venkatesh Stotra) but was widowed early. The widowhood was attributed to her violating the taboo on women’s learning and it was decided that teaching girls how to read and write brought ill-luck. Ramabai records the horror this example generated among the women. ‘When the women heard of this they came to fear even the thought of reading or

writing so it was inevitable that all our girls should be completely illiterate’.59 It was also no wonder until she herself learnt how to read that the relationship between reading and knowing was a mystery to Ramabai.60 Ramabai started married life with the firm conviction, shaped by her own mother’s belief which had guided all her actions, that to a wife her husband was God. Ramabai recounts the parental relationship which was the model for her own: My father was a person of strong convictions and awesome temper. None in the family dared to utter a word when he was present. My mother suffered a lot in the early days but she won his confidence and pleased him by quiet endurance and modest demeanour. She believed that the husband should be everything to the wife, a god and a guru. She had even taken the guru-mantra from him and used to recite it with great devotion.61

Before she left her parents’ house for her husband’s, Ramabai’s father had taken her aside and reminded her of the patriarchal code — that she must never bring dishonour to her father’s name. He had said: You are my daughter. Let your demeanour be worthy of our family. Put up with everything patiently, however unbearable it might be.... You are fortunate. If you cultivate forbearance, you will rise to your real worth and prove worthy of the family you were born in. Remember my words. If I ever learn that you have behaved contrary to this I shall never bring you back to your mother’s home again.62

After recounting her father’s words Ramabai sums up her own reaction to this powerful message, a violation of which would mean banishment from the mother’s house—the only emotional space a girl had: My father was a man of firm determination. I knew he would do what he declared. His words impressed me deeply. I decided to engrave on my mind’s tablet the principles he


Gender and Education in India gave me and act accordingly. It was not an easy thing.... 63

Armed thus with a positive role model and a set of injunctions, Ramabai was well schooled into the central motif of a woman’s training— pleasing her husband and conforming to his authority. At the same time it may be noted that when Ranade broke the taboo operating in her home against education he was also creating the basis of a relationship with her. Through learning, she thus discovered a way of pleasing him and receiving his attention. The enterprise of education was the new way of bonding between the husband and wife within the traditional marriage practices, especially in the situation prevailing between Ramabai and Ranade. It was the only means by which the husband-wife unit, the ideal of new domestic ideologies, could be extracted from the larger family unit in which both were actually still enmeshed. That Ramabai’s interest in the educational agenda began and survived only as a way of ‘pleasing’ Ranade is evident from her account of its various stages. After about two months of personally devoting attention to Ramabai’s elementary education and unable to devote more than a couple of hours to her education at night, Ranade decided to provide her with a female teacher who would come in during the day and take her through a school curriculum. Since she was still a child in many ways and not enthusiastic about acquiring learning for its own sake, Ramabai’s ‘schooling’ immediately ran into trouble. She writes: And that was the end of everything. Who was going to listen to that teacher? More than half an hour would be spent in looking for the books and slate. The teacher was also a young thing. How could she control me?...64

Six months later Ranade discovered that

Ramabai had made no progress beyond what he had originally taught her. When he upbraided the teacher for failing in her responsibilities she flashed back angrily that all labour was wasted upon Ramabai anyway since she lacked the necessary discipline to learn anything, being a rustic. The teacher also handed in her notice and quit. A thoroughly chastened Ramabai burst into tears at the sight of a humiliated Ranade who merely picked up a book and began to read without saying a word to her.65 Sobered by the event, Ramabai applied herself with more diligence and later offered of her own accord to learn English (of which more later) but continued to tie her learning skills to Ranade’s approving presence. Many years later when they were residing in Bengal and he wished her to learn Bengali she remarked that she would do so only if he taught her.66 Ramabai’s ‘schooling’ extended beyond the formal educational processes. To be the companionate wife of a prominent public figure she had to learn to share his interests and identify with his activities. Significantly, however, throughout Ramabai’s recounting of the activities she shared with Ranade her own enthusiasm for or investment in the issues is never dwelt upon: they are always described as things Ranade suggested or wished her to do. Fairly early on in the ‘companionate’ stage of their marriage, when Ramabai had just graduated to adulthood, she once, and only once, acted on her own in an attempt to seek the approval of the women in Ranade’s family as well as the ‘orthodox’ women of the community. The incident related to Ramabai’s accompanying Ranade to a public session where a woman, Annapurnabai, rendered Puranic stories to a mixed audience. Among those attending the session was Pandita Ramabai, a thoroughly ‘disreputable’ character in the eyes of the orthodox, including Ramabai Ranade’s female kin. Some of the orthodox women

Men, Women and the Embattled Family 81 manoeuvred to make the ‘reformist’ women sit along with men since they were perceived to be fraternising with them anyway. Caught between her husband’s desire for the conjugal couple to go to public meetings together and the disapproval of the womenfolk, Ramabai Ranade pleaded a headache and returned home rather than be publicly ostracised by the orthodox women.67 When Ranade returned home and caught Ramabai out in her lie the matter became a severe test of their relationship. As Ramabai recalls the event, the meaning of ‘schooling’ and the strategies a husband conventionally had recourse to, without using violence, become clear. Ranade communicated his severe disapproval by punishing Ramabai with a studied silence. As Ramabai massaged his feet at night (as usual) she suddenly noticed his rejection of her presence: I felt sleepy as I sat there massaging his feet. When I realised that he was only pretending to sleep and that there was no chance of his talking to me I became miserable. I wept for a long time. Never before had he done this. If I had done something wrong I would beg forgiveness. But [this time] I could not utter a word. The heart may grow all humble; but one’s proud nature still resists supplication [emphasis added]. I thought of all this a thousand times but still could not say a word ... The whole night passed like this. Neither of us could sleep. When dawn broke he got up and went out. I could not bear such punishment and broke down in tears ... 68

Finally a chastened Ramabai begged forgiveness and promised never to do such a thing again. Ranade was silent for a while and then said: You do something silly to begin with and then get agitated. It upsets me too. Can one be happy to see one’s dear behave contrary to one’s inclination [emphasis added]. Once the direction is clear you should keep to it firmly.

Please don’t do this again.69

Ramabai immediately resolved never to do anything against her husband’s wishes. In her own words, ‘I felt that there could be no greater punishment than his refusal to speak to me. And throughout the rest of my life I never gave occasion for such punishment again’.70 She was 21 at the time this incident occurred and had been married to Ranade for 10 years—long enough to realise the place of ‘disapproval’ in their relationship. It is evident that the general ideological direction was continuously reiterated by those in charge of schooling women. The guiding hand made clear that certain forms of activity were given the official seal of approval, others were placed beyond the pale. As Corrigan and Sayer conclude, ‘This had cumulative and enormous cultural consequences for how women identified themselves and their place in the world’. 7l In Ramabai Ranade’s case the ‘schooling’ continued throughout her life in different ways. Her reading was carefully guided; it comprised the publications of the Dakshina Prize Committee, works which were written by Brahmana men focusing on themes approved of by other scholars like them.72 (For example Phule’s ballad on Shivaji with its unconventional interpretation was not accepted by the committee as we saw earlier.73) Later, the reading of the Raghuvamsa is recorded by Ramabai along with the information that Ranade would carefully explain the slokas to her.74 This was clearly the ideal text for the ideal relationship. A noticeable silence on Ramabai Ranade’s familiarity with, or conscious introduction to, radical English works like those Phule was reading or Kashibai Kanitkar was expected to read and comprehend indicates the carefully restricted nature of the ‘schooling’ of wives by husbands within what may appear to be an extended educational agenda.


Gender and Education in India

Ramabai would also accompany Ranade on his tours, where she attended to his personal needs, cooking special savouries, looking after the camp inmates, writing his letters for him, receiving instructions and reporting their completion twice a day, and finally massaging his feet with ghee at night. Sometimes they played chess together while the servant massaged his feet. These special occasions when the ‘schooling’ was uninterrupted by the presence of the other kin, when the husband-and-wife unit was actualised in experience, were the happiest days for Ramabai—cherished more than the days at ‘home’. 76 And in these moments Ramabai experienced also the godliness of her husband, and tears of reverence and love would well up from her heart. In Ramabai’s own words: ‘When I was alone, I often thought that although I regarded him from the point of view of an earthly relationship there was such divine power and godliness in him’. Here then was the perfect example of a woman who regarded the husband as God. The new domestic ideology had pulled off a real feat as a traditional model of womanhood provided a suitable extension into the nineteenth century from a ‘thousand year old tradition’. From the point of view of the domestic ideologies being outlined by the reformers the Pygmalion situation provided by the traditional marriage system with an older husband and a child bride was not a disadvantage; it might even be regarded as an ideal way to shape the ‘perfect’ wife according to the requirements of the emergent forms of patriarchy. It gave men a time when the wife was totally under their’ guidance’ and control, when she was pliant, malleable and obedient. The transition from one set of patriarchical practices to another was eased because it was only the externalia of schooling that were different in the overlapping patriarchies. The

central motif of obedience to the husband and the acceptance of his authority remained the basis of the ‘companionate’ model too. It was the endeavour of the ‘reformers’ to extract consent from women to this new incarnation of patriarchy. Trained to please husbands and approve their actions, ‘new’ women like Ramabai Ranade provided early models of consent for the emerging variations of patriarchy. Ramabai for example accepted Ranade’s norms in every arena of her life (she identified so completely with Ranade that she frequently refers to ‘our party’ when she mentions the reformers).78 She echoed his concerns, executed his suggestions on how to expand the arena of consent by holding meetings of upper-caste women and setting up units of the Arya Mahila Sabha, and finally after his death, by creating the Seva Sadan,79 an institution for women which was launched to train women to fulfil their domestic, social and national responsibilities. She abstained from going beyond the agenda set out by Ranade during his lifetime; thus while others like Kashibai Kanitkar and Pandita Ramabai attended the Congress sessions in Bombay, Ramabai Ranade stayed away as Ranade disapproved of women’s participation in ‘politics’.80 Her first speech in English at a prize distribution ceremony in a girl’s school is a representative example of the very limited agenda. She dwelt on the need for humility in order to dispel the notion that education made women unruly, callous and immodest, and reiterated the need for the educated woman to be ‘all the more gentle and obedient to husband and elders’.81 It is not surprising that Ramabai Ranade was regarded as the embodiment of Hindu wifely virtues by those who inherited Ranade’s political and social mantle. In the foreword of her book Amchya Ayushatil Kahi Athavani (Our life together), Gokhale wrote:

Men, Women and the Embattled Family 83 This is probably the first book written in this manner about a husband by his wife. It is but proper that Vahinibai [Ramabai] should have written it for she occupies a unique position among our women today. She spent twentyseven years as a comrade, inseparable as a shadow of that saintly personality. Her innate lustre was heightened by education and by the ennobling company of her husband. Her mind is forever engrossed in Rao Sahib ... It is important to refer to one or two things which cannot but make a deep impression [on us]. A deep love between husband and wife is often found in western society. That is a relationship of equality. But even when there is a similar deep love, that the wife should devote herself wholly to the service of the husband and consider this as the fulfilment of her life is a special characteristic of women in the East, particularly of India. This characteristic is a fruit of the culture and tradition of thousands of years and here [in Ramabai] we have a beautiful specimen of it. This fundamental characteristic remains unaffected in women like Vahinibai, although the pattern of their life may be modified by new education, new ideas and new environment.82

In Ramabai Ranade’s example the reformers found the model of the new Indian womanhood, schooled so perfectly by her husband that she could reproduce the male voice exactly and was thereby representative of the type of womanhood who could be ‘modern’ without losing the traditional Indian wife’s virtues. Women thus became the means by which newly-defined Hindu patriarchal practices came into being through their acceptance by women who consented to the agendas set by men of their class. There was no essential contradiction between traditional Brahmanical patriarchy and new forms of it, regarding women. Hindu wifely virtues just got a new lease of life. The characteristic quality of Indian womanhood then came to be the ability to survive any modernising onslaught and keep its essence.

III There was another side to the contentious presence of multiple and overlapping forms of patriarchy when they were ideologically opposed to each other in nineteenth century Maharashtra, and that was the manner in which these were expressed within the household, specifically in the female domain. Ramabai Ranade’s account of life with her husband is thus also significant for a latent oppositional narrative indicative of the not so successful slide from the values of traditional patriarchy to the new domestic ideology of a class segment. While this was not her intention, Ramabai Ranade captures also the contradictions and tensions within a family where women of different generations and differing degrees of relationship to the ‘men’ of the house find themselves playing out their relationship to each other in a changing situation. Looking at this suppressed narrative of mostly nameless and some named women (as portrayed by the central figure of the new family, the young wife), one can see that the period as a whole, when the battle between traditional patriarchy and its transformed version was unfolding, was deeply confusing for women—despite the essential similarity of ‘wifely’ virtues in the two forms of patriarchy. It is clear from a range of male writings that many male reformers portrayed the conflict of values as a case of women themselves resisting change; we often come across the familiar ‘women themselves are the oppressors of other women’ theme in such writing.83 This is also how Ramabai Ranade portrays the tension between women in the home, an echo of Ranade himself who sees the conflict as one of women who uphold traditional values and ‘resist’ change through their obduracy.84 A close look at the female domain within the Ranade household


Gender and Education in India

suggests that there were complex issues at the heart of the conflicts. While these conflicts were expressed as ideological, they had, at their base, a fundamental materiality. The major crisis points in the selfconsciously crafted narrative of the conjugal couple in the Ranade household centred round the actions and speech of the female affinal kin of Ramabai. There were ‘eight to ten’ of them who resided in this household, 85 all of whom save three remain hazy as Ramabai does not describe them. The three female kin that she does individualise out of this ‘group’ are all, significantly, widows at the point when the crisis erupts. Among them Durga, the only one of the female kin to be named, is clearly the most powerful. Although she is not in any way the focus of Ramabai Ranade’s account, which is built unambiguously around the great Ranade, Durga succeeds in pressing herself upon the narrative to reveal the underside of patriarchy and the tussles generated by it. She calls for more attention than she gets in passing, mostly in negative terms, from Ramabai Ranade because she does appear to be the third figure in a triangular relationship between Ranade, Ramabai and herself. As portrayed by Ramabai Ranade it is Durga who represents the figure of tension in the necessary transformation of the traditional household into an affective unit, the home of the conjugal couple. The ever-present widowed dependent kin could easily disrupt the creation of the conjugal unit in the eyes of a young wife. But another way of interpreting Durga is to see her relationship to both Ramabai and Ranade as a playing-out of the contradictions inherent in the life of a Brahmana widow in the nineteenth century. Durga was Ranade’s only full sibling, born two years after him. In their childhood she is represented as overtly the brighter and the more lively of the two, even as his opposite in verbal skills and general disposition. Certainly

she had extraordinary ‘natural’ intelligence for it to be regarded as part of family folklore. Indulged by her father and by ‘too much praise’, she was regarded as growing into a ‘termagant’ who was aggressive and dominating.86 There was both sibling rivalry and affection in the relationship, with the two sharing games and a common circle of friends. However, while Ranade went to school, Durga did not: but this did not in any way affect her observation and pragmatic understanding which come through in the narration of Ranade’s childhood. When Durga was nine she was married. The same year their mother had died during her eighth confinement and within eighteen days their father married again. (Her brother was married soon after the father’s remarriage.) We get no glimpse of Durga’s marital household or her life there in Ramabai Ranade’s account, as the narrative is about her brother. (But in a letter to a friend written in 1870, Ranade commiserated with him on family troubles and also mentioned his own distress at a situation in which his poor ‘orphan sister is kept away from me for months together’. Whether this was because she was in her marital home which was repressive and did not permit interaction with the natal household or because Ranade was away from his family home and could not devote any attention to his sister is not clear.87 What is interesting is that while Durga is described as being indulged by her father and clearly sharing a close relationship with him, her brother hardly ever spoke to his father directly, getting things said for him by others.88 As the years proceeded Ranade went to Bombay to be educated, where he did extraordinarily well and thereafter entered ‘service’. During the same period Durga was widowed at the age of 21 and appears to have returned to live in her father’s household. From the fact that she returned to her father’s

Men, Women and the Embattled Family 85 house, less likely if she had a son, and the fact that there are no specific references to children, she appears to have been childless. When Ranade was widowed at the age of 31, Durga was firmly ensconced in her father’s household and a central figure in it.89 This position, possibly as the most important woman in it, may have been facilitated by the presence of a stepmother as young as herself as its nominal mistress. In a household where there were only older female kin who would all have been related by blood to Durga, many of whom would have mothered her, she would be the ‘insider’ in relation to the young stepmother. Taking over the complete reins of the household may also have been easier in the case of widows because their lives were unpunctuated by childbirth and they were therefore always available to perform the full range of female duties in the household. Available thus and uniquely located as an insider where all other women were outsiders, Durga appears to have also become the natural mediator between the various segments of the family, especially in a situation where the father and she did not communicate; she appears to have mediated both between generations and between the male and the female domains. However, it was not merely her structural location but her personality and the circumstances of her life that converted her into a power-broker of sorts. We see something of this in the first crisis referred to by Ramabai Ranade, Ranade’s remarriage, which preceded her own entry into the household. The father’s orthodoxy, the cause of the crisis with Ranade, appears to have been of a very high order; his insistence on Ranade’s immediate remarriage to a young girl and his anxiety about a potential marriage with a widow may of course have also been a strategy of survival. He had a young family through his own second marriage who would have to

be looked after and ‘settled’ by Ranade after his own death. 90 Doing so would become extremely difficult if Ranade pursued his ideals since outcasting was a very real and very powerful weapon that would fall upon the whole family. In the exclusive discussions that preceded Ranade’s remarriage, Durga figured both as a subject and a witness. Although everyone was dismissed by the father to enable a frank discussion with the son, Durga refused to have herself shut out and listened at the door. Significantly, one of the arguments raised by Ranade to stall a remarriage was that Durga had been a widow since 21 and no one considered that she should remarry. As he put it, ‘I am not young any more: I am thirty-two years old. I can certainly lead a life of thought and retirement; Durga is younger than I and has been a widow since she was 21. You do not love her less than you love me, in any way. And yet no one thinks of her. Why am I being urged to marry? If you think it would be good for her to lead a life of restraint it should apply equally to me.91 This is the only record that the family had of the conversation between father and son and it was Durga’s version, passed on in later years to Ramabai Ranade. 92 Whether this allusion to Durga was a serious view of Ranade’s is not clear because there is no evidence to suggest that when he became the head of the household, he attempted to have Durga remarried. In any case it would have been too late by then since she would have been 32 or so and Ranade may have carried a double sense of guilt about her status and his own failure to marry a widow placed in a situation like her. What is interesting is that Durga herself included a reference to the double standards operating between men and women when she passed on the account. In any case Durga continued to lead a life of ‘restraint’ while her elder brother was not


Gender and Education in India

required to, indeed not allowed to. The open acceptance of male sexuality and the denial of female sexuality was a naturalised aspect of the moral order of Brahmanical society. However, whether it was ‘naturalised’ by the women themselves in any simple or direct manner needs to be explored. What we do see in our narrative are two related features; one an expression, fairly frequently stated, of hostility towards men, especially against the master/conjugal partner heading the household. The second was a deep-seated fear of the power of the wife of the head of the household. She, it was felt, would marginalise other women by becoming the premier influence in the life of the master through her sexual and affective power over him as well as the legitimate claim she had to his material assets. All other categories of women, mostly widows in our case, were recipients of his ‘charity’. In such a situation the conjugal duo was quite naturally the object of close scrutiny, even of sustained surveillance. The women of the household made it a point to know what was going on in the private space of the central pair and they did so as a ‘team’. Denied a ‘legitimate’ home, widows like Durga might well attempt to ensure their own place where one could be found. Durga’s forceful character begins to register as Ramabai Ranade’s narrative of her early years with her husband unfolds. She was clearly in charge of the kitchen and the accounts of the household,93 possibly the real mistress of the Ranade household at the time of Ramabai’s marriage. Significantly, she was called ‘Akkasaheb’,94 an index of her special power in the family. Ranade himself relied on her ability to handle crises of various kinds in the household and shoulder a ‘man’s’ responsibility within it, for example, keeping a concerned watchful eye on the grief-stricken stepmother at the father’s death to ensure that she did not commit suicide, and even cope

with the death rituals while he himself stayed away because he could not bear the trauma.95 Finally, the father’s separate household was merged with the son’s and the father’s family shifted to Poona where Ranade was located. It is at this stage that the tension in the household between the women, portrayed as ‘traditionalist and obdurate’, and Ranade, as well as within the female domain between the older women and the young wife Ramabai, openly surfaced.96 It was overtly expressed as a conflict over the young wife’s education, especially her English education, the company she kept and her participation in her husband’s social life.97 But it also had strong overtones of the anxieties generated by the new location and changed dimensions of the household. What power alignments, material arrangements and familial relationships the new situation was going to throw up and how its various components were going to realign themselves were questions yet to be resolved. In Ramabai Ranade’s rendering of the tension between the older women and herself the cause of the disapproval was threefold: the process of the new forms of schooling focused on learning, the learning of English from the mleccha Miss Herford, and finally Ramabai Ranade’s association with the young and infamous Pandita Ramabai, who had crossed the threshold of the home, to which all women and especially widows were confined, and stepped into the public space reserved for men.98 These women, now the representatives of the elders and patriarchs, threw into relief the authority residing in this group as they witnessed but were unable to prevent traditional codes being violated as there was now a new ‘master’ in the house; it was his wife who was violating the codes in order to please her husband. As the women came to recognise their inability to actually dictate what values were going to be upheld they are likely to have noticed the change following the

Men, Women and the Embattled Family 87 death of the father. The deeply patriarchal nature of this change is significant. As long as Ranade’s father was alive the son accepted every expression of his father’s choice, of course, but also regretted inviting Vishnu Shastri Pandit and his new widow-bride to a meal when his father was visiting the son’s home because this action offended him. 99 Now, after the death of the father, Ranade had suddenly taken to doing what he considered ‘right’ because there was no patriarch opposing him—only a bunch of women whom ‘he’ fed and housed, as one of the old widows put it.100 It was Ranade who was the new patriarch now and so could do as he pleased. Ramabai Ranade represents the elder women as blind traditionalists; Durga is described as the most intelligent of the women who knew the value of education but was obstinate, proud and hot-tempered by nature, believing that everything ‘old was gold’; she struggled hard to exert her influence over Ramabai Ranade, alternately cajoling and haranguing her about her activities and frequently comparing her ‘outrageous’ behaviour with the modest and endearing conduct of Ranade’s first wife. The content of many of these sessions, interestingly, was an incitement to Ramabai that men’s authority could be subverted, and even that the wishes of husbands were not sacrosanct: rather it was really family tradition—the Brahmanical code—that was important to a woman. Durga clearly identified with the Brahmanya of the Peshwai.101 The ‘activity’ of education especially its non-instrumental dimension, was in any case seen as frivolous, as was the joint attendance of the husband and wife at public meetings. In Durga’s own words here is the traditional Brahmana woman’s analysis of the relations between men and women: Even if the men want you to do these things

you should ignore them.You need not say no but after all you need not do it. They will then give up out of sheer boredom. Your parents are orthodox and respectable. Your father and mother have a great sense of decorum. It is such a pleasure to look at them. The women of their family are not supposed to learn even Marathi—let alone English. But you—you are outdoing even the European women.102

And since Ramabai continued to act according to Ranade’s expectations Durga complained to the other women: It is she herself who loves this frivolousness of going to meetings. Dada is not so keen about it. Men always say such a lot of things. But should she not have a sense of proportion of how much the women should actually do? If men tell you to do a hundred things, women should take up ten at the most. After all men do not understand these practical things ... What use is the education of women after they are able to read a few sacred books? It’s just a fad of his, that’s all. He was so much after the first vahini (brother’s wife, i.e. his first wife) too about this reading and writing. But she, poor thing, was very docile. She put up with such a lot of scolding from him just to please us. That good woman never turned frivolous like this and never gave up our old ways. That is why this large family of more than twelve people could live together in a respectable way. With not so much as the smallest gesture did she ever indicate that she was the mistress of the household103 [emphasis added].

A power struggle in the female domain within the larger household for the position of mistress is evident from this passage, although there were clearly many other issues at stake. The anxiety and anger about a new mistress is a running theme in the verbal expression of the politics of the household. Older women feared the power of the young ‘second’ wife over the husband and her ultimate ‘enthronement’ as the undisputed mistress of the female domain. The oldest widow in the


Gender and Education in India

Ranade household captured the complex emotions of fear, anger, and hostility about the young wife during a moment of high tension when the latter had asserted her ‘authority’, and unilaterally communicated a family lapse to the master: The widowers’ wives are always tell-tale witches. They always curry favour by taletelling... She is gaining a new trait every day... Two or three ‘nannies’ in the house have now become a nuisance [to her]. Let her drive them out and be rid of them. Then let the Sahib and Memsahib sit together on chairs, books in hand. I have noticed that lately she has come to feel that she is the mistress of the house. The servants should obey her alone.104

And to Ranade who tried to defend his wife’s position by providing her with his protective mantle the old lady said: There is no need to stand up for your wife in this way. She is not being branded is she? If she is so precious and delicate, keep her safe with you; put her on a pedestal and worship her like a goddess. You consider yourself very wise just because you have learnt some English. But this is no wisdom. If you are fed up with us you need not insult us by taking sides with your wife. We would prefer to be told to leave the house.105

It was to some extent the tenuous position of widowed female kin in relation to the wife in any household that generated so much tension about the position of the ‘mistress’. Called upon to be putative mistresses of the household when experienced wives were not available or not free to wield such a position, these ‘stand-ins’ were expected to hand over the reins of authority when they had served their purpose. Anxiety about the mistress would be heightened by the demarcation between categories of women caused by the new type of schooling given to the wife and new forms of conjugality cementing the relationship between the master of the home

and his wife. This accounts for the repeated allusions to ‘mistress’ used pejoratively, to reading and sitting together—described by old Tai Sasubai, the eldest widow in the house, as ‘love which had crossed all limits. Wives must now sit close to their husbands as though their clothes were knotted.’106 Further, the position of the wife as mistress implied the servility of all other women to her—also an anxious thought for elder women schooled in traditional Brahmanical patriarchy who were insecure about what forms of domestic arrangements emergent patriarchies would make in sum, the English-educated mistress was a fearful prospect. As Durga said to Ramabai Ranade when she began to be taught English by Miss Herford: ‘You are turning yourself into a “Madam” by learning English. It would be only fitting to the pomp of a madam that she should have her food upstairs. After all we are here, downstairs, all the slaves and servants of my lady.’107 At the stage that these feelings were expressed Durga would have been forty and Ramabai Ranade around twenty-one. For some years following the relocation of the Ranade household Ramabai alone, as the wife and possibly potential mistress, had been carefully schooled by her husband, an activity that separated this one woman from the rest of the female kin who were left within the ideological moorings of a traditional patriarchy which these older women had been schooled in. Durga’s father for example had been so strict about maintaining the separation between the public and the private domains that he had refused to speak to his wife for days because she had continued to stand in the courtyard when a clerk came in to have a drink of water.108 The domestic ideology of the reformer, by focusing on the young wife and leaving the others to live according to traditional norms, was bound to produce a conflictual ideological situation in the

Men, Women and the Embattled Family 89 household. And we must recognise the difficulties for women schooled in one set of patriarchal norms to suddenly drop them according to the whims of the ‘patriarchs’. The ‘elder’ women may also have been resentful of the change of values required of them with every change of the patriarch heading the household. There were also material arrangements at stake in the division of labour in the household. Since education had no instrumental use for women, although it did have a social value for the new class, it was naturally perceived as fruitless to women who were required to render other forms of labour in the household. Conventionally it was the senior women who organised domestic labour, allotting tasks within it. Apart from the natural resentment against one of its members who could spend time reading and attending meetings while they continued to perform ‘menial duties’, the new domestic ideology also separated women in terms of their worldviews. At least in the Ranade household the embryonic female intelligentsia was not enabling the penetration of new values, which was part of the agenda of female education, into the female domain but producing anxiety and conflict. The tensions in the female world meant also that women were forced to choose between its warring factions; if you had the emotional sustenance of one you lost the other. Even the well-schooled Ramabai, wanting to please her husband but longing also to be accepted in the female world, slipped once with the disastrous results we have already described. On her part she inevitably resolved the conflict by choosing decisively to go with the master of the house, recognising the tacit requirement of Ranade that one whom he looked upon as his ‘own’ should be able to do just what he wished without being told so.109 Once the conflict of interest was decisively resolved and Ramabai Ranade gradually but

inevitably moved into the position of the mistress of the household, secure in the support of her husband, the elder women were edged out and they more or less disappeared from the narrative. Only Durga remained as a character who continued to be mentioned, still called upon in a crisis like Ranade’s critical illness110 (when he was out on tour accompanied by his ‘own’ family), or when the family was faced with social outcasting and she worried about how the shraddha rituals would be conducted for the dead.111 She remained a member of Ranade’s ‘other’ family of stepmother and stepbrothers while Ramabai Ranade presided over his ‘real’ home. There may have then been a natural reconciliation between the women with relationships coming full circle when their respective places were resolved112 and they finally achieved the bonding that had eluded them in early years. The last mention that Durga gets is when Ranade was terminally ill. Durga organised prayers in the temple for her brother while Ramabai silently prayed for her husband. A widow of long standing, Durga then consoled the terrified Ramabai, tormented by her impending widowhood, with traditional codes of acceptance. ‘God is with us,’ Durga said. ‘He will take care: anushthanas are going on in the temple of Ambabai. She will look after all. You should trust in her and be at peace. Don’t lose heart. When you are alert and about, it gives us courage. You are the Lakshmi of the house. You should not let tears soil your eyes at such a moment.’ Since Ramabai Ranade’s narrative ends with her husband’s death we113 do not know how the two women related to each other in their final years. By then Ramabai had not only been undisputed mistress of the household but also the natural heir to Ranade’s mission: As we have already indicated, she completed the task of disseminating the new domestic ideology both


Gender and Education in India

through her own person and through the institution she helped to create. The female protagonists of traditional patriarchal practices had inexorably faded away at least in this one household. One of the notable silences in Ramabai’s account of the politics of the female domain and the figures that inhabited it relates to the experience of widowhood. This appears to be a significant omission, particularly when Ramabai Ranade was mortally afraid of being widowed herself and regarded widowhood as a tragic state.114 It is doubly noticeable because Ranade’s name was at one point synonymous with the widow remarriage movement. Yet at no point do we get a direct reference to the way the widows in the Ranade household perceived and experienced widowhood. We do not know whether Durga, the youngest of these widows, wore the signs of widowhood such as the tonsured head. There is, however, a telling sentence in the account which captures the essence of widowhood and might give us a clue to the politics of the female domain. While journeying to Simla on an official visit the Ranade couple were accompanied, among others, by Durga. At Jaipur the party came upon a number of skilled artisans carving figurines of stone. Ramabai describes how Durga ‘greatly admired a small image of Lakshmi-Narayana’ and then adds with compelling wifely authority ‘which we bought for her’. 115 Ramabai’s association of herself with Ranade as ‘we’, sharing access to his resources from which Durga was excluded, is a powerful reminder of the materiality of relationships within the household and the deep divide between a wife and a widowed kinswoman. The latter may be permitted to ‘manage’ it as Durga had done for many years but was not ‘entitled’ to it. We may recall Ranade’s ruling as judge in a case where a widowed daughter had obviously sought a right to support in her

natal household: while there could be a moral duty on the part of her natal male kin to provide such support, the widow could not claim a legal right to it.116 In a significant essay Sangari argues that women cannot ever name their ‘interests’ in the cultural codes of patriarchy. These may sometimes be expressed laterally but never directly.117 In Durga’s person and through the references, veiled and open, to the ‘mistress’ of the household articulated by the widows in Ranade’s family we have a powerful example of this crucial characteristic of patriarchy—whether traditional or its transformed variant. Tensions in the female domain were not merely personal or ideological but also deeply material. The juxtaposition of different sets of patriarchal practices within a given society may be seen to have produced both conflict and a happy co-existence. While men had a certain choice in opting for one or the other variant of patriarchal codes, or even a blend, women had less choice in the matter even though we can see them asserting themselves within the structure of patriarchal institutions. It would be mechanical on our part to make an easy association of the new woman as relatively ‘liberated’, or less enmeshed by patriarchal structures, or consider that those women who were in traditional structures of patriarchy were more in its stranglehold. From the Ranade household it is possible to discern that the reverse situation could obtain. While the carefully schooled new woman considered her husband a virtual god, Durga, the traditional widow, knew how to carve out a powerful place for herself within existing forms of patriarchy by manipulating its premises. (I use the word ‘manipulation’ rather than ‘subversion’ consciously because actions which do not change the relations and work within patriarchy are not subversive of it. Also, Durga gained a relative advantage,

Men, Women and the Embattled Family 91 not an absolute one.) She was almost contemptuous of male authority even as she proclaimed the need to adhere to its form. She also ‘opted’, in a sense, for traditional patriarchal norms because it gave some women a certain power within the household over other categories of women. It permitted women to ‘arrogate’ to themselves compensatory power within the domestic domain, serving patriarchal ends in the process, because this power had been a way of schooling younger women. Its ideology also gave them more meaning and acceptance of their ‘wasted’ lives. Further, traditional Brahmanical patriarchal practices had in a sense ‘inherited’ the consent of women. The oppressive practices had been invisibilised as aspects of ‘tradition’, ‘custom’, ‘honour’ and religious practice. And most notably we need to recognise that pre-existing patriarchal forms were perceived by both men and women as demarcating upper-caste, especially Brahmana, women from castes below them and thus as being a necessary aspect of class order and social stability: women then would and did resist its reformulation. It was the privileging of the emergent forms of patriarchy over its traditional variants within the same generation and same household that produced intra-familial tensions amongst women and confused them about their ideological position. Durga epitomised the traditional values of her father and had been respected for upholding the Brahmanya, but was an anachronism in her brother’s household which had found new ways of defining ‘respectability’ for elite women. It was only natural that she, and women like her, would resist readily consenting to the new form of patriarchy which in any case concentrated its energy on the wife, who needed to be schooled into becoming a companionate wife and nurturant mother. For the widow who could be neither,

despite all the rhetoric, there was less concern shown by the new domestic ideology except to consider making them wives. The expectation of a quick production of consent among widows requiring them to switch from one articulation of patriarchy to another, was not easy because there was no husband to demand it of them. Since the husband was the pivot of traditional patriarchy as well as its variant, his demand for conforming to one or his disapproval of another legitimised which form of patriarchy the wife must consent to as exemplified by Ramabai Ranade. We must not however conclude from Ramabai Ranade’s example that emergent forms of patriarchy met with no resistance from wives. As we have suggested earlier, the whole business of ‘pleasing’ husbands and living up to their notions of womanhood could well have appeared to be among the visible forms of patriarchy which women might resist and instead prefer to live by tradition where patriarchal practices were rendered invisible within the general framework of religion, custom, and family traditions. While traditional patriarchy had the sedimented consent of women who saw themselves as upholding social and community norms by living in certain ways which marked them off from others below them, the new patriarchal requirements were more difficult to mask, especially in the early stages before women were schooled into it. We have the example of Lakshmibai Sardesai, the wife of the wellknown historian of Maharashtra, G.S. Sardesai, employed in the princely state of Baroda at the turn of the century. She records two attempts at making her do what she did not want to by her husband as part of the new domestic ideology. One was the fad among the new professional class of men to put their wives through a formal course in ‘nurturing’— a nursing and midwifery course which her husband suggested. 118 Clearly, men


Gender and Education in India

considered that a casual and unstructured picking-up of nurturing skills was insufficient for an important feminine task. Fortunately for her, Lakshmibai was required to actually nurture a baby niece whose mother had died, so that gave her an excuse for not conforming to her husband’s plans for her. The second occasion had to do with the ‘fashioning’ of a new self by an emergent class. Sardesai desired that his wife give up wearing the conventional nine-yard sari and take on the creation of an appropriate apparel for the nineteenth century middle-class woman, cutting across regions: the six-yard version of the sari regarded as more modern, more modest and the really respectable way to ‘cover’ the female body. Lakshmibai hated it, and argued vociferously against it with her husband, but finally gave in. However, the mother-in-law was so outraged by the daughter-in-law’s transformation that she threatened to leave her son’s house during a visit and actually left because the son refused to change his position. But a few days after the mother-in-law had gone Lakshmibai Sardesai quietly reverted to her traditional nine-yard sari. In the following postscript to the episode Lakshmibai records: ‘Apparently my husband either did not notice or decided not to say anything’. 119 Earlier she had recorded that she had already disappointed her husband and made him angry by failing to learn English as he desired, since she did not have ‘enough time and energy for it’.120 Using her Marathi effectively, Lakshmibai put into writing her own view of what was happening between husbands and wives in a secret ‘voluminous’ diary which her husband only discovered after her death. Fortunately for us, he had it published, but only as a ‘supplementary’ account to his own autobiography.121 We can see that at least some wives, among other categories of women, did not

fully endorse the view Ramabai Ranade held about women necessarily accepting male authority when she recognised that all women knew that they had to do what men desired in order to please them.122 Schooling to ‘please’ men under the emergent forms of patriarchy was still tenuous and the household remained an embattled space between men, between women and between men and women. It was being subjected to double pressures: from forces in society working externally and its echo within the family working internally. Neither patriarchal forms nor cultural practices were satisfactorily settled for the new elites. Gender relations continued to be reworked, and dynamically tied to social processes as class and nation were being born. NOTES AND REFERENCES 1. Kumkum Sangari, ‘Relating Histories: Definitions of Literacy, Literature, Gender in Nineteenth Century Calcutta and England’, in Svati Joshi (ed.), Rethinking English: Essays in Literature, Language, History, New Delhi, Trianka, 1991, pp. 32-123, pp. 37-40. 2. Gail Pearson, ‘The Female Intelligentsia in a Segregated Society—Bombay, a Case Study’, in M. Allen and S.N. Mukherjee (eds.), Women in India and Nepal, Canberra, Australian National University Press, 1982, pp. 136-54, pp. 136-38. 3. Uma Chakravarti, ‘Conceptualising Brahmanical Patriarchy in Early India: Gender, Caste, Class and State’, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 28, No. 14, 3 April 1993, pp. 579-85. 4. Julia Leslie, The Perfect Wife, pp. 20-21. 5. Sudhanwa Deshpande, ‘Theatre and Nationalism: The Plays of Krishnaji Prabhakar Khadilkar’, M.Phil. thesis under preparation. Also see Kumkum Sangari, ‘Consent, Agency and the Rhetorics of Incitement’, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 28, No. 18, 1993, pp. 867-82, especially pp. 872-77 for an account of Kaikeyi’s agency, represented, and sedirnented, as incitement in public memory.

Men, Women and the Embattled Family 93 6. Sumit Guha, ‘Fitna in Maratha Theory and Practice’, paper presented at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, 15 September, 1993. 7. Kumkum Sangari, ‘Relating Histories’, p. 58. 8. Ibid., p. 56. 9. See for example Himani Banerji, ‘Mothers and Teachers: Gender and Class in Educational Proposals for and by Women in Colonial Bengal’, Journal of Historical Sociology, Vol. 5, No. I, March 1992, pp. 1-30, p. 3. 10. Gail Pearson, ‘Female Intelligentsia’, pp. 13940. In 1884 Ramabai made an eloquent plea before the Hunter Commission for the education of women in order to train them as teachers, nurses and doctors. A few years later the Lady Dufferin Fund was. set up to train women as doctors (Manisha Lal, Ph.D. thesis under preparation, University of Pennsylvania). 11. Himani Banerji, ‘Mothers and Teachers’, pp. 2, 7, 27. 12. Parvati Athavale describes the shift in the structure of families in the early twentieth century thus: ‘Formerly there were large families but now the “king”, the “queen” and the “crown prince” seem to be all that is wanted’ (Parvati Arhavale, The Hindu Widow, pp. 136). 13. Based on a reading of Ramabai Ranade’s Reminiscences. See discussion on pp. 216-24 below. 14. Himani Banerji, ‘Mothers and Teachers’, p. 3. 15. C.Y. Chintamani, Indian Social Reform, p. 178. 16. Ibid. 17. Parvati Athavale, The Hindu Widow, pp. 13436, 141. 18. Himani Banerji, ‘Mothers and ‘Teachers’, p. 4. 19. C.Y. Chintamani, Indian Social Reform, p. 105. 20. B.N. Motivala, Karsondas Mulji: A Biographical Study, Bombay, Karsondas Mulji Centenary Celebration Committee, 1935, pp. 361-65. 21. Ibid., p. 366. 22. Dayaram Gidumal, Status of Women, pp. xcix-c. 23. Y.D. Phadke, Women in Maharasbtra, Delhi, Maharashtra Information Centre, 1989, p. 23. 24. Sarojini Vaidya, Shreemati Kashibai Kanitkar: Atmacharitrani Charitra, Bombay, Popular Prakashan, 1991, pp. 75ff.

25. The information on Anandibai Joshi is derived from various sources. These include Kashibai Kanitkar’s biographical account of the former’s life which also contains letters written by Anandibai Joshi to various persons including her husband Gopalrao Joshi (Kashibai Kanitkar, Dr. Anandibai Joshi: Yancbe Charitra ua Patre, Bombay, Manoranjan Grantha Prasarak Mandali, 1912). A recent biographical novel (S.J.). Joshi Anandi Gopal, tr. and abridged by Asha Damle, Calcutta, Stree, 1992) is useful in reconstructing the ‘legend’ surrounding Anandibai’s tragic life and death. The life of Anandibai as perceived and documented by an American woman who met her in America was published in 1888 and contains useful contemporary material on Anandibai’s American location (Caroline Healey Dall, The Life of Anandabai Joshee, Boston, Roberts Brothers, 1888). The cross-currents that brought Anandibai and Pandita Ramabai together and Anandi’s American sojourn are detailed in Pandita Ramabai’s The High Caste Hindu Woman, Philadelphia, printed by Ramabai Dongre Medhavi, 1888, pp. i-viii, and Sister Geraldine’s Letters and Correspondence of Pandita Ramabai, (A.B. Shah ed.), Bombay, Maharashtra Board for Literature and Culture, 1977. 26. Women’s participation in learning was regarded as a sign of Kali Yuga (Dall, The Life, pp. 85-86; Kashibai Kanitkar, Dr. Anandibai Joshi, pp. 41-42). 27. Sarojini Vaidya, Shreemati Kashibai Kanitkar, p. 163. 28. Ramabai Ranade, Ranade: His Wife’s Reminiscences, translated by Kusumvari Deshpande, Delhi, Publications Division, 1963, pp. 47ff. 29. Susie Tharu and K. Lalitha, Women Writing in India: 600 BC to the Present, Vol. I, Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1991, p. 256. 30. Ramabai Ranade, Reminiscences, p. 38; Sarojini Vaidya, Shreemati Kashibai, p. 20. 31. Kashibai Kanitkar, Dr. Anandibai Joshi, p. 25. Also see Tanika Sarkar, ‘A Book of Her Own, A Life of Her Own: Autobiography of a Nineteenth Century Woman’, History


Gender and Education in India

Workshop Journal, No. 36, 1993, pp. 35-65, p. 57. 32. Sarojini Vaidya, Shreemati Kashibai Kanitkar, p. 75. The traditional prejudice against education continued to be reiterated by fiery nationalists, not just by the older generation of patriarchs, although it was now dressed up in the content of education rather than mere acquisition of literacy skills. Tilak for example mounted an attack on the Huzurpaga school set up by the reformers in 1884. He accused it of following a syllabus which would train women to be clerks rather than to become good housewives and great mothers. All that was required in the case of women’s education were reading and writing skills and study of carefully selected Shastric texts (Y.D. Phadke, Women in Maharasbtra, p. 12). 33. Kumkum Sangari, ‘Relating Histories’, p. 57. 34. Dall, The Life, pp. 17-21; Kashibai Kanitkar, Dr. Anandibai Joshi, pp. 17, 12-13. 35. Ibid., p. 17; S.J. Joshi, Anandi Gopal, pp. 2-3. 36. Parvati Athavale, The Hindu Widow, p. 8. 37. See for example S.J. Joshi, Anandi Gopal, p. vii; Jayant Raghunath Joshi, ‘Anandibai Joshi: Triumph and Tragedy’, Span, December 1988, p. 15; Meera Kosambi, ‘Reality and Reflection. Personal Narratives of Two Women in Nineteenth Century Maharashtra’, in Kumkum Sangari and Uma Chakravarti (eds.), From Myths to Markets: Essays on Gender, Shimla, Indian Institute of Advanced Study. 38. S.J. Joshi, Anandi Gopal, pp. 8-9. 39. Ibid., pp. 103-06; Dall, The Life, p. 32. 40. Pandita Ramabai, The High Caste Hindu Woman, pp. ii-v: Dall suggested that American women could learn from Anandi’s wifely conduct (Dall, The Life, p. 116). 41. Gopalrao publicly stated that higher education for women made them ‘unfitted’ for the domestic duties of wives and mothers (Dall, The Life, p. 123); S.J. Joshi, Anandi Gopal, p. 188. 42. Kashibai Kanitkar, Dr. Anandibai Joshi, pp. 188-89, translated for author by Madhu Malti Deshpande.

43. S.J. Joshi, Anandi Gopal, p. 211; It is significant that Anandibai wrote a long account of Savitri in one of her letters to Mrs. Carpenter extolling her virtues of complete obedience and loyalty to her husband (Dall, The Life, pp. 64-65). 44. Anandibai’s letters, conveying distress at Gopalrao’s volatile behaviour and his expressions of anger in his letters to her, begin and end with wifely and loving phrases. Between the conventional beginning and end Anandibai however revealed other emotions and responded to his accusations, sometimes with a fairly spirited defence of herself and her actions. In a typical letter she began with ‘I am your loyal wife, still I have not been able to give you anything. Since the kind God has sent me to this earth in the form of a woman, I am accepting with obedience and equanimity whatever he has given to me.’ Then she proceeds to take up the substantive issue in Gopalrao’s letter to her where he has been critical of a photograph Anandibai sent him in which she is not wearing the conventional nine-yard Maharashtrian-style sari but the ‘Gujarati’ or Hindustani style. From Anandibai’s letter to Gopalrao it appears that not only has Gopalrao castigated her for changing the manner in which the sari is worn but also because the draping of the pallu has revealed too much of Anandibai for his liking. Anandibai’s response includes disbelief at the fact that he has been unnecessarily critical, and being double-faced for saying one thing to her when she left for America and another when he wrote to her. She nominally ‘concedes’ that she had committed a ‘mistake’ by not telling him in advance that she would change to the Gujarati/Hindustani style, but also makes clear that she had to change into it for practical reasons, and finally that she did what she thought was right. She also pointed out with sarcasm that it was ‘after all our country’s dress’ (emphasis added) and made clear that she did not think it was flashy or

Men, Women and the Embattled Family 95


46. 47. 48. 49.


bad. Then she reverts to the conventional female sentiments towards a husband with phrases like, ‘I am not unhappy for myself but I am unhappy from the depth of my being because you are not getting anything from me. It was not my intention to hurt your dear heart’ (Kashibai Kanitkar, Dr. Anandibai Joshi, pp. 186-89), translated by Madhu Malti Deshpande. Given the double voice she had to use in her relationship with Gopalrao it is not surprising that she considered the summer of 1883, which she spent with her ‘aunt’ Mrs. Carpenter soon after her arrival in America (who was a loving mother figure for Anandibai), ‘as the happiest in her life, living among those who really loved her’ (Dall, The Life, p. 96). While Anandi was critically ill the Poona papers had issued daily bulletins on her condition. Anandibai had reverted to an undiluted Brahmanic ideology, objecting to the maidservant stepping on the mat near her bed (Dall, The Life, pp. 181-83) so it is no wonder that ‘all’ Poona valorised her and prayed for her (Gyanachakshu, 2 March 1887, tr. from Marathi by Pandita Ramabai and cited in the The High Caste Hindu Woman, p. vi). Pandita Ramabai, The High Caste Hindu Woman, p. iv. Catherine Healey Dall, The Life, Boston, pp. 82-91. Ibid., p. 109; Pandita Ramabai, The High Caste Hindu Woman, pp. iii-iv. The discussion on the ‘schooling’ of Ramabai Ranade, the pressures the new domestic ideologies generated among Brahman households, the ‘politics’ of the ‘family’ and the materiality of the ‘politics’ in this section and the next are based on a reading of, Ramabai Ranade’s Reminiscences. This book has been extensively used by other scholars but mainly to describe the focus on women’s education by reformers in the nineteenth century. Ramabai Ranade, Reminiscences, pp. 32-37;

Richard Tucker, Ranade, pp. 78-81. 51. Manu, V, 167-69. 52. We do not know whether Ranade seriously intended to marry a widow or considered the alternative of remaining a widower. It is significant that Ramabai Ranade does not dwell on this dimension of the issue of the remarriage of Ranade. 53. Ramabai Ranade, Reminiscences, p. 37. 54. More than a decade later Karve described his decision to marry a widow as based partly on ‘humanitarian’ grounds but also because he was ‘terrified’ of marrying a girl young enough to be his daughter (D.K. Karve, My Life Story in D.D. Karve, New Brahmans, p. 39.) 55. Lakshmibai Tilak, I Follow After: An Autobiography, tr. by E. Josephine Inkster, London, Oxford University Press, 1950, pp. 65-66. 56. Ramabai Ranade, Reminiscences, pp. 21-23. 57. Ibid., p. 28. 58. Ibid., p. 34. 59. Ibid., p. 38. 60. Ibid., p. 39. 61. Ibid., pp. 29-30. 62. Ibid., p. 49. 63. Ibid., pp. 39-40. 64. Ibid. 65. Ibid., p. 40. 66. Ibid., p. 126. 67. Ibid., pp. 105-107. 68. Ibid., p. 107. 69. Ibid. 70. Philip Corrigan and Derek Sayer, Great Arch, 1985, p. 6, cited in Himani Banerji, ‘Mothers and Teachers’, p. 5. 72. Ramabai Ranade, Reminiscences, p. 47. 73. Rosalind O’Hanlon, Caste, Conflict and Ideology, p. 179. 74. Ramabai Ranade, Reminiscences, p. 92. 75. Rosalind O’Hanlon, Caste, Conflict and Ideology, p. 112; Kashibai Kanitkar was ‘required’ to read Mill’s Subjection of Women by her husband as soon as she was literate in English (Y.D. Phadke, Women in Mabarashtra, p. 23).

96 76. 77. 78. 79. 80.

81. 82. 83.

84. 85. 86. 87. 88.

89. 90. 91. 92. 93.

Gender and Education in India Ramabai Ranade, Reminiscences, p. 91. Ibid., p. 94. Ibid., pp. 54-55 . Ibid., pp. 220-24. In her later years, Ramabai Ranade may have made up for her obedient and pliant behaviour during her husband’s lifetime as she became a supporter of Tilak’s militant stance on nationalism which was a contrast to Ranade’s moderate position (Susie Tharu and K. Lalitha, Women Writing in India, Vol. 1, p. 282). The shift is significant because Tilak in his characteristic style, had even referred to the reformers as eunuchs like Shikhandi (Wolpert, Tilak and Gokhale, p. 37). Ramabai Ranade, Reminiscences, p. 97. Ibid., pp. 10-11. One reformer proclaimed that it was ‘the female that in India, directly or indirectly, offers the greatest resistance to the cause of social reform (Dayaram Gidumal, The Status of Women, p. cviii). Another was of the opinion that it was women who were responsible for early marriage since they were impatient to experience ‘the fun of having festivities’ (Dayaram Gidumal, The Status of Women, p. lxxi). Ramabai Ranade, Reminiscences, pp. 49-50, 76, 89-90. Ibid., p. 47. Ibid., pp. 19-22. Tucker, Ranade, p. 72. Ramabai Ranade, Reminiscences, pp. 24, 41. An important aspect of this text is the conflict between the orthodox father and the reformist son in the Ranade household. The relationship between them was extremely complex and tense and needs further work as a theme since it will reveal a great deal about the relationship between men in a patriarchal context. Ibid., pp. 34-36. Ibid., p. 36. Ibid., p. 34. Ibid., p. 36. Durga had been made literate, along with her

94. 95. 96. 97.

98. 99. 100. 101. 102. 103. 104. 105. 106. 107. 108. 109. 110. 111. 112.

stepmother, by her father partly to maintain household accounts (Reminiscences, p. 47). Ramabai Ranade, Reminiscences, p. 21. Ibid., p. 45. Ibid., p. 47. Ibid., p. 48ff. It is important to note that this was the only area where a difference of values is recorded. There would be little difference in other arenas as the upholding of Brahmanical caste norms and endogamous marriages was never under question by the reformers. In this context Ranade’s statements that one was unconsciously influenced by the traditions in which one was born, by the very milk drunk at the mother’s breast, is an eloquent reminder that there was a common culture that he and the more orthodox Brahmanas shared (Tucker, Ranade, p. 81). Ibid., pp. 48ff, 79ff. Ibid., pp. 40-42. Ibid., p. 100. Ibid., pp. 83ff. Ibid., p. 84. Ibid. Ibid., p. 100. Ibid., p. 101. Ibid., p. 89. Ibid., p. 70. Ibid., p. 88. Ibid., p. 108. Ibid., p. 131. Ibid., p. 138. Ibid., p. 197. Ramabai recounts that when she required surgery, causing Ranade great anxiety, Durga made arrangements for a close friend of Ranade’s to be present to keep him ‘company’. Here she enacts her role as a considerate sister looking after her brother’s emotional needs. At the same time the established nature of the conjugal relationship is taken for granted. Ramabai in turn describes how she agreed to Ranade’s decision on the proper treatment for her because it was a wife’s ‘sacred duty to see that her husband had to suffer nothing on her account ... That was her highest bliss and her

Men, Women and the Embattled Family 97 sacred rule.’ In an extraordinary role reversal, Ramabai Ranade epitomised the new domestic ideologies by concluding that Ranade would not be able to bear the burden of sorrow if she died first. Therefore if one of them had to go it should be him rather than her. Here was a very new way of looking at widowhood (Ibid., pp. 196-97). 113. Ibid., p. 211. 114. Ibid., pp. 120-22, p. 129. 115. Ibid., p. 110.

116. Ibid., Bai Mangal v. Bai Rukhmini, IIR, 23 Bombay 291. 117. Kumkum Sangari, ‘Consent, Agency and the Rhetorics of Incitement’, p. 873. 118. G.S. Sardesai, ‘Excerpts from Mal’s Diary’, in D.O. Karve, The New Brahmans, pp. 120-21. 119. Ibid., pp. 121-22. 120. Ibid., p. 120. 121. Ibid., p. 119. 122. Ramabai Ranade, Reminiscences, pp. 76, 84, 90.

6 Strishiksha, or Education for Women Tanika Sarkar I “Must We Live in Chains?” In her own way, Rashsundari had a great deal to say about what had emerged as a central theme in 19th century reform in Bengal: on women’s education, on the strictures against it in orthodox families, on its growing availability in her later years. She does not, however, refer to the debates among reformists and the orthodoxy as such, even when her own observations come close to the reformist position. Here she stands apart from the 19th century Maharashtrian widow Tarabai, who declares her differences from the reformist agenda even when she wants education for women.1 She also stands apart from the polemical writings of a Bengali predecessor, Kailashbashini Debi, who wrote a whole book on the educational deprivation of Hindu women2. Rashsundari refuses to insert herself openly within an ongoing debate on reform although she was undoubtedly a partisan. The refusal could not have flowed from her ignorance of the issues. In 1865, a little while before her book was finished, as many as seven schools had been set up for girls in the district of Pabna, her birthplace. Bamasundari Debi, a well-known woman teacher, was active in teaching married women in their homes. Faridpur, too, had come to acquire seven schools by the 1860s.

An association of local notables—the Faridpur Suhrid Sabha—was behind the initiative, and in all likelihood, funds would have come from the district landlords—from men of her own class, and, quite possibly, from her own circle of acquaintances. Around 1867-68, the Faridpur school had employed another wellknown woman teacher, Bhagabati Debi, trained by the teachers’ training (Normal) school at Dacca, at the considerable salary of Rs. 20 a month3. Such information had no reason not to reach her, and her eulogies about changing times could well have been inspired by such news.4 At the time of the publication of her book, she was no longer a timid young wife, insulated from information about public events and debates, but had become an elderly matron whose learning was known and welcomed within her family. Rashsundari could not have failed to understand that what she had to say on women’s education plugged into a lively, even acrimonous public debate. In fact, Jyotirindranath’s preface to her book dwells on the controversies. With Rashsundari, however, all reflections needed to be shown as entirely rooted in her own experiences and understanding: that understanding, moreover, must be stripped bare of all external influence except divine interventions. Yet, she does approximate a tone of polemical anger and zeal on this question that

Strishiksha, or Education for Women 99 is surprisingly close to the more explicit reformist advocacies. The 19th century debate on strishiksha or women’s education was something whose terms included far wider social problems and perspectives than the matter of education alone. Rammohan Roy, in an early writing against widow immolation, was one of the first people to question some of the fundamental grounds and implications of the norm that prohibited education for women. He linked it up with an entire structure of regulations that had actively denied moral and intellectual facilities to women and had then naturalised the results of the deprivation by describing the results as the cause: women’s minds were too inferior— so said the conservative opponents of reform —to accommodate serious thinking. Rammohan separated and reversed cause and effect. It is interesting that Mary Wollstonecraft had similarly related differences in women’s intellectual achievements to a difference in opportunities and not to innate nature. Rammohan might not have read her book, but he could have been conversant with the controversies that it had provoked. Later Bengali women, however, made the same point on their own, although in their case, there could be no direct influence at all.5 Rammohun wrote in 1818: “When did you ever test the intelligence of women that you can so easily designate them as foolish creatures? ...You witheld education and knowledge from them, so how do you decide that they are incapable of learning?”6 This was written at a time when the first moves were afoot to provide for women’s education. In each subsequent decade, with the inauguration of new suggestions for strishiksha —whether by missionaries in the 1820s, by the iconoclastic Young Bengal reformers in the 1830s, or by Vidyasagar and sober Brahmo reformers in the 40s and 50s—the debate

gathered new strength and new bitterness. Invariably, the arguments would roll into and interrogate—or defend—the fundamentals of an entire order of upper caste patriarchal injunctions. We find, therefore, yet another relationship with the world of vidhi-nishedha that would, through concrete and partial demands of reform, set up some cracks within the ruling social order. Actually, in the historical context of the early 19th century, the most minimalist plans for education would open up quite a considerable excess beyond sansar and its demands—a potential that would steadily diminish for middle-class women as, very gradually, strishiksha became normalised. Its transformative implications for poor people and poor women, however, still retain some of the older valencies in a country where bare literacy remains a scarce resource. Reformers rarely claimed to do more than loosen up older disciplines a little; they would, in fact, flaunt their limited charter as highlycontrolled and soberly responsible measures. The orthodoxy, however, saw in each venture a definitive beginning of the end. Through the fiery contentions over strishiksha, we shall probe the nature of the fears, as a way of measuring exactly what the reforms could challenge and change. Around the time that Rashsundari’s book went to press, a vital and new dimension had been added to the debate. Women themselves had started writing about the question of their education, and the print medium had incorporated these in the public sphere of debates and arguments. One of the first printed pieces on the matter came from a girl of nine. Proponents of strishiksha, connected with the reformist newspaper Sambad Prabhakar, published a news item on 26 Baisakh, 1256 (May, 1849). They had visited the young girl at her home and had set a test for her. They also vouched for the fact that she had composed the answer in front of them.


Gender and Education in India

She was asked to write a poem on the theme: Girls of this land are not educated How are they inferior to men?

The little girl composed a poem in reply within an hour. It was a highly finished piece, written in a rather erudite style, and the verses rhymed perfectly. Women are kept like animals since they do not get education People call them the weaker sex and they are not respected Since men cannot be born without women Why are women not cared for? Men treat them with contempt just because they are women They do not accept that women, too, have inner qualities.7

The paper reported this at considerable length, for it was a major event. It was proof positive— and proof, badly needed—in a debate where they had tried to argue that education, if impartially distributed, would fetch the same results from a girl as from a boy. Kailashbashini Debi soon came out with an acid critique of Hindu gender norms.8 From 1863, Umeshchandra Datta, a close associate of the Brahmo reformer Keshab Chandra Sen, had started publishing the Bamabodhini Patrika or the journal for the education of women. The first journal devoted to a discussion of gender issues, it invited writings from women, produced material which might help women to educate themselves in slow stages, and it also generated arguments for women’s education and social reform. Its editor was a young man in his early twenties, who could not pursue a medical training because of his poverty. He later published a collection of women’s writings in 1872—Bama Rachanabali —and a book to argue about the necessity of female education—Strilokganer Vidyashikshar Abashyakata.9 From the sixties, then, along with reformist advocacies of strishiksha, there is a

print forum that welcomed women’s opinion on the matter. The new vernacular prose allowed a few women—as yet unable to acquire an English or a classical education— to express their thoughts in books, tracts, articles and in letters in Bamabodhini. Being closer to their everyday speech, the prose of the journal allowed them a more immediate understanding of what they read and what they needed to write. Women’s own writings at this point were, indeed, quite chaste and drew quite a lot from a Sanskrit-based or tadbhaba vocabulary. A tone of deep and pervasive anger was reflected by a number of letters that reached the editor of Bamabodhini Patrika from district towns, including one from “Shrimati Bibi Taherannechha”, a Muslim woman from Boda Balika Bidyalay. It was written in extremely chaste, Sanskritised Bengali and referred extensively to ancient Hindu women of learning.10 Uma Chakravarti has exposed the largely mythicised nature of the notion of the learned ancient Hindu woman. The myth, however, had a wide range of contestatory possibilities, and reform-minded women, even Muslim ones, needed the appeal of a mythicised ancient golden age whose glory included the spread of knowledge among women. 11 It was also, perhaps, a more revealing sign of those times, that 19th century Hindu men preferred to construct a myth about the intellectually strong woman rather than one about the docile, servile wife. Shrimati Soudamini Debi from Bakarganj wrote in 1865: “Why have men kept us in such a low state? Are we not the children of the Great Father? ... How much longer do we stay chained to our homes?”12 Shrimati Kamini Debi wrote from Khaipara in 1867: “It is no exaggeration to say that our women live lives that are no better than that of animals.”13 An anonymous woman wrote in 1868 from Konnagar: “Our father! Must we live in chains

Strishiksha, or Education for Women 101 all our lives, even though we are your daughters? Alas! Were we born in this land only to perform low tasks? ... Why must we live all our lives like caged birds within the home?”14 The words, sentiments, and particularly the motif of the caged bird and the prison-like home, are familiar themes in Amar Jiban. We might infer two things from the similarity, and both could be partly true. Rashsundari could have read some of this before she finalised her autobiography. She does not refer to any modern reading matter at all, but the fact that she claims to have read only some sacred texts might have been a tactical move to underline her general obedience and traditional virtue. In any case, she probably would have read some new prose in order to compose a prose text, inspiration for which could not have come from the sacred verses alone. By the 1860s, when the first version of AJ was being composed, a Bengali journalism had already come of age, and the new postal system had developed well enough to carry newspapers and periodicals into even remote village homes. At the same time, the availability of the new journal for women and women’s writing at just about the time when she wrote her book, might indicate something else. It might take us toward an emergent structure of feelings among upper-caste, rigidly secluded women whose families would be well-off enough to educate them if they had wanted to do so. It would be a desire for a new form of female identity that would reorient domesticity as well as disalign women somewhat from the domestic confines that they insistently described as a prison and a cage. Of course, a lot of these letters might actually have been penned by men, writing under a feminine pseudonym to carry credibility for their suggestions at a time when few women could come up with written and

printable matter. But when we compare them with the few pieces of actual women’s writings, we find little discrepancy. AJ, as an authenticated piece of a woman’s writing, not only intervenes in the debate at its initial stage, although without seeming to do so. The fact that its author was someone who was not connected with reformist circles at all, went a long way to give it status as an autonomous female argument that could not have been mimicking male reformism. Historically, its appearance coincided with a stage in the debate when, for the first time, women could express their opinion within the public sphere of the press and print culture. Rashsundari’s very distance from the centre of that sphere—reformist circles in Calcutta— and her silence and implied ignorance of the public nature and import of the issue, made her book appear as even more the authentic and spontaneously, even innocently, produced article. II What Men Feared About Strishiksha Whereas on her loss of the natal home, she uses the first person singular consistently, on the subject of education Rashsundari generalises, talking about all Bengali women in past and present times—a rare departure for her. She does not usually write in the discursive mode on social matters but translates her general concerns into deeply personal experiences of pain. While talking about women and education, she refers to two distinct phases: the first covers the early years of her childhood and the first years in her new home when she had to keep her thirst for knowledge a secret. The second was a somewhat altered context in the late sixties, when the first part of her book was nearing an end. Even in her mother’s home, where she had picked up some letters from listening to her


Gender and Education in India

brothers’ reading, no one was told about it. After her marriage, when she was fourteen— around the mid 1820s—she began to long to read, but her fears were great about letting anyone know of this desire. Already, male guardians were complaining about “the Queen’s rule” and about how that had encouraged a subversive spread of education among women. Both her desire and the male fears were obviously produced by some beginnings that had already been made to educate women by the early twenties. Rashsundari, however, is a little confused about different moments of time here. Actually, Victoria’s rule commenced a decade after she had turned fourteen and was pining to read. She was, then, conflating the historical moment of the twenties when the debate about strishiksha had just begun, with a situation of the early and mid-thirties when Victoria’s reign had commenced, a few tentative efforts had already been made towards institutionalised primary education for women and very much more was being urged by Christian missionaries and liberal reformers. This would be, in fact, closer to the time when she was twenty-five, and was actually teaching herself to read in secret. Rashsundari’s account carries a vivid sense of the male fears that were whipped up to produce a hardening of orthodox lines at two slightly different junctures. Women’s literacy was virtually an unknown quantity when the 19th century opened. Ward’s Report of 1803 mentioned that nearly all Bengali villages had primary schools or pathshalas but they seemed to have catered to boys alone.15 Adam’s Report described a roughly similar picture in the mid-thirties but, again, pre-colonial educational facilities—well organised as they were for those times— seemed to have offered nothing to girls. It was not simply a question of omission. Girls were expressly forbidden to read in literate, even

well-educated households. Customary injunction had it that literate girls were fated to be widowed. In his Second Report on the State of Education in Bengal, Adam wrote in 1836: A superstitious feeling is alleged to exist in the majority of Hindu families, principally cherished by the women and not discouraged by the men, that a girl taught to write and read will soon become a widow... and the belief is also generally entertained in native society that intrigue is facilitated by a knowledge of letters on the part of females ... when a sister ... is observed imitating her brother’s attempt at penmanship, she is expressly forbidden to do so. These... feelings prevail extensively ... both amongst Hindus who are devoted to the pursuits of religion, and those who are engaged in the business of the world.16

No mere Orientalist sneer, this, since the description resembles, in every particular, Rashsundari’s own experiences. Adam’s Report was prepared between 1835 and 1838, around the time when a twenty-five-year-old Rashsundari was struggling to read in the most fearful secrecy. In his Report, Adam refers to two separate orders of fear that choked off women’s education. One was the fear of sexual intrigues, since a literate woman could write and make secret assignations of an illicit nature. In the early part of the century, Shibnath Shastri, the Brahmo reformer, was taught at home by an exceptional mother who was fairly well-educated. When he went to attend the village school and told his teacher that he was being supervised by his mother, the teacher sent a letter of assignation to this entirely unfamiliar woman through her unsuspecting son, secure in the certain conviction of her immorality.17 The other kind of fear was about the impending threat of widowhood for the educated woman. In one of the first tracts on

Strishiksha, or Education for Women 103 strishiksha, Gourmohan Vidyalankar mentioned the widespread belief that the gods punished the woman who forgot her appointed place by daring to read and write, with widowhood.18 Far later in the century, the same fear is again mentioned in the pages of the Bamabodhini Patrika in 1863.19 We should look at the fears closely, for they indicate what and how much the most minimalist notions of strishiksha, advocated by the most moderate of reformers, would need to overcome. There are two separate dyads at work here—the educated woman and the widow, and the immoral woman and the educated one. They can be run into each other to make up a single, triangulated structure. The two base terms—the widow and the immoral woman—may be merged together to constitute the apex term—the educated woman, who now comes to represent both the base terms. The base terms can be united on the basis of a characteristic impulse of the educated woman which encompasses the states of both the widow and the immoral woman—she, like the two other prototypes, is not defined entirely by her husband’s presence. The educated woman, therefore, shares with the immoral one, an extra marital desire. It makes no difference that in her case, it is a desire for learning—she is not supposed to possess a desire for anything that does not come through, or is not related to her husband. By this act of desiring something else, she has then terminated her need for the husband. The husband, therefore, dies a physical death, leaving her as a widow, since this is a logical culmination of her refusal to be defined solely through her conjugal status. The immoral and the educated women have both symbolically cancelled out the husband: widowhood is a physical embodiment of the consequences. In a farce written in 1897, the connection between adultery and widowhood is transferred from the realm of divine retribution to that of the

active agency of the woman. In a play, whose title may be translated as Educate the Woman, and You are Digging Your Own Grave, the educated woman first turns to adultery, and then murders her husband. The distance between the three categories is completely closed off, and a new fear is offered about a new category of the evil woman: the educated woman as potential husband-killer.20 Education, then, is a double repudiation of the husband. It is, therefore, both immorality and non-conjugality. If we extend the connection a little further, beyond the figure of the husband, we find that the new educated woman is meant to be the opposite term of the domesticated/caste good wife of old times. If the signification is widened out a little more, then education equals the end of the patriarchal marriage system. We thus have here a fundamental kind of binary opposition between two entire ways of being, two gender systems. This puts a weight on the meaning of women’s education—and on social reform in this sphere—that is significantly in excess of the strict programmatic content of 19th century strishiksha. There is a continual overproduction and leakage of meaning that inexorably encompasses the future of Hindu domesticity. Reform, therefore, may appear partial and limited in intent, but to its adversaries—as we shall see—it was necessarily laden with momentous consequences. III On the Educated Woman Very often, Indian reforms, especially those related to education for women, are seen as a simple function of mimicry, of aspirations towards Victorian gentility, for an emulation of companionate marriage.21 This argument shoves the reformed and the educated woman under a doubled servitude—to her husband’s new needs for a more sympathetic wife, and


Gender and Education in India

to western, Victorian standards of patriarchy. I think we need to emphasise very strongly, however, that the normative and moral horizons between the two cultural systems were so very different and distant that plain mimicry was plainly out of the question. Even if the basic digits of self-fashioning look superficially similar—a little education, closeness to the husband’s interests, intelligent housekeeping, educating infants—the processes through which all this would be achieved were so vastly divergent that seemingly similar conclusions would lead up to entirely different experiences and norms. The Victorian lady did not have to hide her literacy, she was not married off in her infancy, her husband could not be formally polygamous and the widow was not customarily barred from remarriage. Nor did she live in virtual seclusion. The reforms that Victorian feminists struggled for were not basic education, end to widow-immolation, legalising widow-remarriage, de-legalising infant marriage. For the 19th-century Bengali Hindu woman, moreover, even the minimalist idea of these reforms would be possible to conceive of only after a very hard struggle against ruling vidhi-nishedha, after a radical break with her own inherited sensibilities. It would come about through a process that was inevitably painful and crisis-ridden. It is a historical fact of immense significance that women articulated an early yet strong sense about non-gendered, inalienable, equal human rights, first of all in the sphere of education; in contrast, abolition of widow immolation, legalising widow remarriage, a higher age of consent and marriage were rights that male reformers initiated. I think that such misrecognition of historical developments arises when we confine ourselves to assessments of finished literary products as the sole gauge for sensibilities of the day: we need to look closely at the concrete

historical processes that went into their making to uncover more hidden breaks, ruptures and challenges that the formal texts do not make evident. It was to cancel out the association between education on the one hand, and widowhood and immorality on the other, that the first women writers carefully underlined the fact that their education was initiated by the husbands. Kailashbashini Debi narrated in her preface, how her husband insisted that she learnt to read and write at night, indicating the appearance of a new kind of conjugal intimacy that, too, had to be secretly performed in the privacy of the bedroom.22 The reformists assumed that the husband would be the teacher, thus trying to overturn the chain of associations that we had looked at earlier. Far from being a transgressive desire that the adulterous woman nurtured to turn away from and cancel out the husband’s presence, this was something initiated by the husband himself: education was thus integrated with conjugality, a change that transformed the scope of conjugality itself. In this sense, Rashsundari’s was a daring departure, since clearly, she had acquired her education without her husband’s knowledge or approval. The only exceptions to the prohibition seemed to have been the rich landlord families. According to Adam, girls of many such families were educated since, in case of widowhood, they were expected to manage the family properties. He also mentions that more than half the landlords at Nattore in Rajshahi were widows. Of them, “Ranees” Suryamani Dasi and Kamalmani Dasi were known to have a good command over Bengali writing and accounts.23 Kailashbashini Debi also mentions the accent on arithmetic and accounts in educating girls from these families.24 Much later, as a senior matron, Rashsundari put her education to practical use

Strishiksha, or Education for Women 105 by writing a plea, in her husband’s absence, on behalf of some of their tenants who were being mishandled by a neighbouring Muslim zamindar. Yet, not all landlords’ daughters could have been educated since Rashsundari herself belonged to such a household and nobody tried to teach her anything. Again, according to Adam, even in zamindari households, the teaching was done in secret.25 It seems that the literate daughter was a social liability that even the wealthiest and most influential families could not declare in public. Secrecy, with its association of hidden desire and transgression, was, indeed, a dominant motif for the entire activity. Rashsundari, therefore, was not an exception. The other known category of women who were literate were those from mendicant Vaishnav orders—the boshtomis from popular, often low class and caste devotional sects, who made an income from teaching women from upper caste households. In the Jorasanko Tagore family, for instance, a “ma gosain” was hired to teach the women.26 Adam commends the fact that “the authors and leaders of this sect had the sagacity to perceive the importance of the vernacular dialect as a means of gaining access to the multitude, and in consequence, their works ... form a larger portion of the current popular literature than those of any other sect ... the subject matter of these works cannot be said to be of a very improving character...” The subject matter, obviously, would relate to the illicit love between Krishna and Radha. Perhaps, for that reason, not every affiuent household would use them to teach their girls. On the contrary, the ma gosains were held to be dangerously immoral themselves. “As a sect they rank precisely the lowest in point of general morality and especially in respect of the virtue of the woman.” Adam mentions that the example of these literate and immoral women might have produced fears about the literate

woman in general.27 For most respectable upper-caste families, the association between boshtomis and literacy itself would act as a counter-model and inhibit the extension of education among their women, since boshtom orders were looked down upon and were suspected of all kinds of sexual peccadillos. Rashsundari’s families were devout Vaishnavs as well as highly educated, but they were strict about withholding education from women. Once Rashsundari was bold enough to make her achievement known, she realised that there were others in her family who were hungry for words and letters. Many other women from these times had similar experiences. Sarada, the wife of the great 19th century saint Ramakrishna, sadly recollected in her old age, how she, as a young girl, was keen to read, and how her treasured first book was snatched away from her hands by an infuriated male relative who rebuked her: “Women are not meant to read. They will end up reading novels and plays.”28 It is precisely this fear of frivolous and immoral reading habits that Jyotirindranath Tagore tries to refute in the Introduction by pointing out that Rashsundari used her education to read sacred texts. It seems that the right to engage in systematic and extensive reading was a privilege reserved for the female asceticrenouncer who had already left the household to join an ashram. Most of Ramakrishna’s women disciples were invariably prolific readers, though the saint himself was illiterate.29 IV Early Schools Christian missionaries began to experiment with schools for girls from about 1819. Ward’s campaign in England resulted in the establishment of the Female Juvenile Society in that year. Mrs. Cooke of the Church


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Missionary Society came to Calcutta in 1821, and managed to set up as many as twentyfour girls’ schools in different parts of Calcutta, attended by four hundred pupils. By 1828, when Rashsundari first starts thinking of the possibility of reading, the number had gone up to thirty schools, visited by six hundred students. The numbers could have been somewhat exaggerated and certainly they declined fairly soon and quite rapidly. Some of these students would later be trained under the Normal or teachers’ training school, set up under the auspices of the Ladies’ Society that inaugurated the zenana or home-based education system. Under this scheme, trained teachers would teach, in seclusion, girls or married women from deeply respectable families, who would not send the women to schools. The scheme was coordinated by Reverend Fordyce and Mrs. Mullens. Special efforts were made by Mrs. Toogood to train teachers who would disseminate education through the vernacular medium, and the efforts bore some fruit in the first few years.30 Very interestingly, the same Mrs. Mullens wrote a proselytising novel in Bengali— possibly the first full-length work of fiction— that showed the educated woman as the leader within the family and community of Christian converts. The new woman is located in a rural, low-income set-up, in sharp contrast to reformist literature.31 In December 1823, Bishop Heber visited one of Mrs. Cooke’s Native Female Schools, founded under the Church Missionary Society. He praised the high levels of progress in reading, writing and sewing among the young students but he did not mention what kinds of readings were prescribed, or what kinds of students were recruited. Looking at the girls with a somewhat voyeuristic gaze, he described their faces and bodies in some detail instead: “It was very pretty to see the little swarthy children come forward to repeat

their lessons ... blushing even through their swarthy complexions, with their muslin veils thrown over their slim, half-naked figures...”32 In 1822 Gourmohan Vidyalankar wrote Strishikshavidhyak to serve a dual purpose. It advocated female literacy, and parts of the book were recommended as possible readings for girl students. It was written not only in vernacular prose, but in an excessively colloquial, conversational mode, in the form of dialogues between women. In later material, produced for women, we find a more chaste language being used that· probably indicates that women had already been exposed to some printed matter. Vidyalankar, on the other hand, needed to make his writing as close to everyday speech as possible, since women were as yet not used to reading formal prose. In the next decade the Society claimed to have taught 500 girls in several districts, but no regular school seemed to have survived.33 In the 1820s, Miss Cooke and the Ladies’ Society for Native Female Education made some progress in Calcutta and neighbouring districts, but Adam reported in 1838, “It is only the children of the very poorest and lowest castes that attend the girls’ schools and their attendance is avowedly purchased.”34 There is some indication, however, that girls of poor families were also eager to learn. Mrs. Cooke had apparently set up vernacular pathshalas only for boys under the School Book Society. She decided to open schools for girls when she found a little girl weeping at its doors since the teacher would not let her in, despite her pleas for over a month.35 Since schools failed to acquire a toe-hold among girls of respectable familes, Radhakanta Deb proposed that they should deliberately target their teaching at poorer girls, while the better-off should be taught at home. Missionary schools in Calcutta did remain largely confined to the depressed areas.36 It would be very interesting to piece

Strishiksha, or Education for Women 107 together a record of early missionary experiences among the poorer and the lowcaste girls, to establish how the latter related to prospects of education. Certainly, Rashsundari’s childhood was not touched by these efforts. She does mention a white woman teacher—probably a missionary—who ran the village school on her home premises, but she seems to have taught only the boys and made no effort to teach Rashsundari. According to a report issued by the Serampore Baptist Mission in 1829, the institution was already running twenty-one vernacular schools in Serampore and in neighbouring areas, while it had also set up seven and eight schools at Dacca and Chittagong respectively. With the rise of high Anglicism in the next decade, the vernacular schools, run by missionaries, fell into disuse. Rashsundari’s home-based school could have been an offshoot of this experiment that was founded on a scheme for vernacular education that Dr. Marshman had initiated.37 Since at this stage only missionaries ran schools for girls, fear of Christian proselytisation merged with the pull of custom and the deep-seated male fears that an educated woman would use her knowledge to write illicit love letters. Prasannakumar Tagore, a prominent Calcutta notable, warned in 1831 against infiltration of Hindu homes by missionaries through their daughters.38 A distinction must be made here between two levels within the debate on education. While the orthodox hardliners opposed the very idea of education itself, the proponents of strishiksha were uncertain about whether school-based or home-based education would serve the best purpose. Again, the division between the hardliners and the reformists on this issue did not always correspond to the larger orthodox-liberal opposition. Radhakanta Deb, who led the agitation in favour of widow-immolation, was,

nonetheless, a pioneer on behalf of strishiksha. Since schools were a public space away from homes, it was unthinkable for most respectable families that their daughters could travel daily beyond their homes. To allay such fears, missionaries had turned to zenana education—teaching women within the safe confines of their homes. That, of course, would have aggravated fears of Christian penetration into Hindu homes. Radhakanta Deb offered his blamelessly orthodox palace precincts as the examination hall for students under the Female Juvenile Society in 1822.39 Obviously, he, unlike most of his orthodox friends, saw in a partially educated woman a source of better and more informed female consent that needed to be generated for somewhat beseiged Hindu patriarchal norms. Bishop Heber narrates a very interesting meeting with Radhakanta Deb at a party that was also attended by several European ladies. “Hurree Mohan Thakoor”, an orthodox Hindu dignitary, remarked that these parties were so much more interesting than any others, for the presence of women lent them much grace. Heber informed him that ancient “Hindoos” ‘also enjoyed such occasions and it was only Muslim rule that put an end to the public appearance of women’. “Radhakanta Deb observed ... ‘it is true that we did not use to shut up our women till the times of the Mussulmans. But before we could give them the same liberty as the Europeans, they must be better educated’.”40 The meeting encapsulates a historical exchange. At first glance, the import seems obvious enough; the Orientalist-missionary passes on a historical self-description as well as a future agenda to the orthodox Hindu and the moment of liberal education, as of communalised historiography, originates from this exchange. Orientalist sahib, Hindu orthodoxy, liberal reform, Hindu nationalism blend into one another, all fulfilling an


Gender and Education in India

originary Orientalist agenda of cultural conquest. If we look closely, however, the moment unfolds more complicated meanings. Instead of assimilating and regurgitating a given statement, Radhakanta shows no surprise at it, he does not indicate that this information as freshly received wisdom. Rather, his quick response could indicate that he himself might have been already thinking on such lines. On the other hand, he immediately makes distinctions within the transmitted message and selects what he can use. He endorses the supposed information about public mobility of ancient Hindu women but he is not prepared to restore the privilege as of now, however attractive it might appear to his friend Harimohan Thakur. He puts it into an explanatory frame that would serve his present purposes better and links it up with strishiksha within domesticity. He thus draws up his own map of social relations and resettles the boundaries offered by Heber. What is interesting is the desire that unites the European and the Hindu: a desire for interesting and public social occasions where women’s presence was essential, even if the Hindu must, for the present, be content with the presence of European ladies alone. A new sense of an ideal sociability is seen to be emerging, even if as a distant, imagined possibility. Again, in Radhakanta’s immediate reply to Heber, the point of real interest would seem to be a replication of the western promise to the Indian intelligentsia: rights would be available to it only after proper education. By transferring it to Indian women, Radhakanta is repeating what was, perhaps, a larger perceived function of the Indian woman. She is, to the colonised Indian man, what he is to the sahib, and, by being that, she offers to him the vicarious pleasure of being a surrogate sahib within the family. This is, however, the tone that Radhakanta uses, a man who combines his pleas for the continued burning

of Hindu widows with the hope of giving Hindu women a little literacy at home while they lived. We must note that he talks not of witheld freedom, of inflicted blindness, of Hindu male guilt as Rammohan does. He talks of Muslim culpability, of intelligent and responsible Hindu male decision-making. If sections of the orthodoxy were prepared to loosen up the restrictions on this one particular sphere of the woman’s existence, the radical, iconoclastic rebels of the next decade, the Young Bengal or Derozian students, bitterly denounced the prohibitions against education in the pages of their journal,· Gyananveshan. They enlarged the conception of education by linking it up with a plea against child marriage, so that girls would have access to uninterrupted learning before they were given away to “strangers” and to unfamiliar homes where their future growth would be beyond the control of their earlier guardians: a fate that Rashsundari had written so eloquently about. This was one of the first systematic arguments for strishiksha that was consolidated into a coherent position and statement in Maheshchandra Deb’s early but cogent statement on the Hindu gender system: his Sketch of the Condition of Hindoo Women came out in 1839.41 Since the young Derozians had struck terror in Calcutta Hindu society with their open and somewhat exhibitionistic attacks and criticisms of Hindu conventions, their advocacy of strishiksha came to look like a part of their reckless rebellion and defiance against Hinduism itself. The fearful comments on education that Rashsundari heard in the mid-thirties be partly related to the association between strishiksha and Derozian iconoclasm. These few, yet immensely risky ventures framed the context within which Rashsundari acquired her education. The meagreness of the efforts against as yet undented custom explains how a daughter of an affluent, leisured class with developed traditions of

Strishiksha, or Education for Women 109 reading within the home and the Vaishnav community, who herself was yearning to learn, could have been deprived of literacy and why her learning needed to be a secret to the world. The male fears that she refers to in her work, were shaped by the strength of dominant custom that begins to apprehend a breach in its rule. It is interesting that as the century advances, we hear less about the prospect of widowhood and far more about the innate immorality of educated women. Rashsundari, in fact, plays a double entendre on the association when she describes her desire to read as a longing for a forbidden pleasure. Rashsundari refers to some anxious speculations among her male guardians, somewhat harshly and rudely worded, about the evil effects of having a female queen. Subjection under a woman monarch was an unprecedented political experience for Bengalis and the immediate reaction seems to have been anxieties about major tribulations in social life, a world turned the wrong side up. Living under the rule of a woman seemed to fulfil old prophecies about the onset of the last and most evil age of all—kaliyug, when women and low caste shudras would lord it over upper-caste men. The sign that accompanied and embodied the new order was, for them, the contemporary movement for educating women. So far, reformers had been able to do little on that score. It is extremely significant that they, too, were beseiged by some of the fears that assailed the orthodox about giving the woman access to something unconnected with pure domesticity. They took care to prove that the two were, in fact, deeply connected. Sumit Sarkar has pointed out how an altered conjugal situation would have inspired reformers, excommunicated by kin groups and society, to overcome their isolation within a shrunken world of human contact, to privilege the woman’s question over other kinds of reform.

They needed to recreate women with whom they could communicate and share. 42 The entire concept of the mother as the best teacher for the child at home was, again, a reformist way of domesticating the education of women. Tract after behaviour tract and manual set out to prove that the educated woman managed her home better, was more chaste and modest in her ways, and was a more pleasant and efficient cook, nurse and companion. Reformers were also worried about certain unwelcome fallouts from her literacy—mostly, the “pernicious” habit of reading useless novels about romantic love and illicit passion that the new Battala publishers were churning out in great numbers at cheap rates and were peddling from door to door, to take them within reach of women readers. Fears of learning about immoral ways jostled with fears of wasting money and time, of neglecting housework. To counter this, reformers produced improving reading matter in the form of cheap behaviour manuals and moral tales in large quantities, founded journals full of “useful” things to learn for the educated housewife and drew up rigorous work schedules (for her) to teach her about the management of clock-oriented time. 43 Jyotirindranath’s preface to Rashsundari’s book triumphantly uses it to demonstrate that this woman expended her education not in reading novels but for devotional works. However instrumentalist and tame their approach and resolutions seemed to be (this in itself is an inadequate basis for judging reformist intentions and desires since bold proposals often need to wear a tame and modest face to disarm orthodox suspicion), the very act of seizing upon the written word was a departure that was full of transgressive meanings and possibilities. No matter what would be given to women by way of reading, there was no foolproof way of containing the consequences once a new capability was


Gender and Education in India

created. And this was no ordinary capability. The 19th-century upper-middle class and upper-caste man defined his masculine worth primarily, even exclusively, in terms of his mastery over the written word. If masculinity required, above all, a self-differentiation from the feminine, then recreating feminine subjectivity as literate, as capable of acquiring knowledge, was a dangerous gift. In colonial Bengal, education was the only resource that could fit out the middle class man with a self-image of transformative enterprise. It was the only avenue to some power, to profitable professions, to self-esteem under colonial conditions. By the middle decades of the century, industries, trade and business were virtually closed to those Bengalis who had some capital to invest, but who were disheartened by the series of failures of Bengali enterprises. The higher reaches of the army and the administration were, similarly, closed to Indians. Parasitic landlordism was the only field for profitable investment but rentiership was hardly a sign of masculine vigour and creative enterprise. If to be masculine was to be different from the woman/Other, then a monopoly over education would be the supreme marker of that necessary difference—particularly, for a group of men who were regularly chastised by the colonial masters for effeminacy. The sharing of this supreme capability would then allow the surfacing of the repressed feature that would fatally destabilise culturallyordered sexual difference. In the next decades, as we shall see, women’s education would evoke deep and awful fears about sexual emasculation. Women’s writings, on the other hand, argue that men had conspired to keep them away from some precious resource by positing a basic difference in matters of intellect. There is a pervasive sense of something that they had lost, something that had been cruelly withheld

from them, some inflicted wound that only formal knowledge could heal. Rammohan Roy, once again, made perhaps the first major, systematic statement on the matter. He identified it as the gift of true religious knowledge and he charged brahmans for concealing it from ordinary people.44 Absence of education was taken by him and by 19thcentury women writers, as the basic lack that differentiated male and female capabilities. Unlike the penis envy, postulated by Freudian analysis, however, this was a lack that could be redeemed. Rashsundari speaks of a similar blindness that had been inflicted by the concealment of the sacred truth which can only be gained through learning. In Bamabodhini, a bridge is built between sacred and secular knowledge, and a case is made out for women’s access to both: secular knowledge of the world is translated as knowledge of God’s handiwork, and, therefore, divine in origin.45 The metaphor of the lost inner eye, or the essential blindness that persists even when the physical eyes function, because these eyes cannot see the world properly without knowledge, pervades the writings of Rashsundari as well as the more open advocacies of education among the women who published tracts and letters. V The First Secular School Christian missionaries, the great liberal reformer Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar and the radical iconoclasts of the Young Bengal group had made women’s education a central plank in their reform proposals. ].E.D. Bethune, Law Member in the Governor-General’s Council, gave it a new direction. He had decided by the 1840s that unless the Hindu elites were encouraged to send daughters to school, efforts would be exhausted among reformist families alone. To achieve this, he paid strange prices. He foreswore religious instruction in

Strishiksha, or Education for Women 111 his Calcutta Female School, founded in 1849, and he promised to recruit students only from high caste families. The opening of the school was a major event. It was inaugurated with a musical procession through the streets that was joined by prominent reformist figures. The school bus carried the Sanskrit shloka from the Mahanirvantantra: “Kanyapyeba palaniya shikshaniyatiyatnatah” (Daughters should also be nurtured and educated with great care). The school met for two hours in the morning. An elderly brahman pandit taught Bengali while an European lady taught embroidery.46 It seemed safe and blameless enough. The scope of the early colonial interventions was narrow primarily because the government would not part with adequate funds to build a broad social base for women’s education. Efforts thus needed to be concentrated at the top, hoping for a downward percolation to follow. In the case of Bengal, that percolation remained illusory. At the same time, the effects of concentrating efforts on social elites were also costly in a different way, for they were directed at uppercaste girls, conventionally barred from all education. As soon as the school was founded, it faced a wall of implacable outrage. The school bus attracted much public abuse on the streets and the young girls had to travel in the midst of open and aggressive jeering. 47 Influential leaders of the Calcutta Hindu society enrolled their daughters to pave the way for the lesser folk, and so did some reform-minded brahman pandits: Raja Dakshinaranjan, Madanmohan Tarkalankar, Shambhunath Pandit, Ramgopal Ghosh. Tarkalankar’s two daughters—Kundamala and Bhubanmala—were the first students to be admitted, and he had to face enormous social ostracism as a consequence.48 The more representative sections of landholders and Calcutta notables organised campaigns of

social boycott to coerce supporters of the school into submission. The Landholders’ Association expelled Rasiklal Sen from its ranks since he had sent his daughter to school. Sen was no longer invited to the ritual ceremonies at the homes of other members. The reformist paper Sambad Prabhakar reported as late as 1856 that the Dharma Sabha was sending agents to intimidate parents who wanted to send their daughters to school.49 A good measure of salaciousness and scandal-mongering were used with deadly effect to constitute deterrents to school-going. Doubts were cast on the purity of the lineages of those whose daughters were going to school-an aspersion that would lead to outcasting and to difficulties by way of arranging marriages for their children. Obscene mockery and abuse abounded, functioning as warnings. The journal Chandrika O Prabhakar was fairly smacking its lips: “If respectable Hindu gentlemen want to turn their wives into prostitutes, who can prevent that? Not us, .... on the contrary, we want to visit these schools ... at night and put the girl students to test.” Goaded beyond politeness, the reformist Sambad Prabhakar replied to the aged editor in kind: a somewhat unusual departure for reformers who were otherwise careful to use a rather sanitised language, and who had acquired a reputation for prudishness. The editor is an ancient man, we regard him as our grandfather ... But Time has not eroded his sense of humour, though it has left its marks on his body ... We had mistakenly thought that Grandpa has probably forgotten the calls of youth ... However, the very word ‘girl’ has produced such a delighted surge of youth in him that we are now fairly sure that he has lost nothing of his virility... 50

The word for virility here is veerya which is used both for valour and for semen. Other conservatives warned about sexual


Gender and Education in India

abuse, both at school and on the way to school, expressing powerfully a fear about daily, regular movement in public, about claiming the streets, however carefully the school bus might screen the girls from sight. Samacharchandrika cited Shastric injunctions against school-going and warned against male teachers, however old or pious—for men and women, if thrown together, will inevitably turn to sinful ways. It also sounded dire warnings, composed of real dystopic anxieties about public movement as well as of lubricious fantasisings, of dangers from male lust on the way. If young girls are sent off to schools, they might be deflowered since lust-stricken men would never let them alone but would surely rape them... do tigers spare goats? If rich people send bodyguards to protect their daughters from such dangers, then the guards themselves will deflower the girls, the protectors will ravish them ...51

Fears, at this point, seem to be more about school-going as a non-domestic activity that breaks down the seclusion of women, rather than against education as such, although the obsessive sexual innuendos revive the old associations between education and immoral assignations through letters. VI The Spread of Schools After Bethune’s death in 1851, Governor General Dalhousie undertook the funding of the school and the government formally took over its management after Dalhousie’s retirement. Iswarchandra Vidyasagar, who had been closely associated with the school since its inception, remained the Honorary Secretary. Now began a phase when the government seemed to move for the first time, and, as we shall see, very briefly, into the matter of women’s education. Wood’s Educational Despatch of 1854 had made an

explicit reference to this as an area of government responsibility and from 1857, Lt. Governor Halliday began to draw Vidyasagar into a scheme of expansion of governmentaided schools for girls. As member of the Education Council, Halliday had already submitted a Minute and his views on a broadbased education system drew heavily on Vidyasagar’s “Note on Vernacular Education”. In 1853, Vidyasagar had started a free school in his home village Birsingha in Midnapore which included a girl’s wing. Between November 1857 and May 1858, he set up about thirty-five schools, with a population of nearly 1,300 girls, in Hooghly, Burdwan, Midnapore and Nadia districts in south west Bengal where he functioned as Assistant Inspector of Schools.52 What seems striking is the gap between government aid and interest, and missionary urging and investment. While missionaries had been experimenting with several plans for educating girls since the early twenties, the government made its first formal commitment only in the early fifties. At that point, it chose to work through the agency of the established reformer and educationist Vidyasagar, the Inspector General of Schools, rather than of the missionaries, though they, too, had a long experience in the field of education. Vidyasagar was then left free to work on his own for a brief while. From the beginning, one feature was constant: such schools would not allow for Christian proselytisation. Will it be true to argue, then, that the colonial government had a more hegemonic vision of westernisation that went beyond conversion, that sought to control the Indian woman’s mind more securely through a westernist education through reformist agencies? Do we find that Vidyasagar’s pedagogical ambitions and generous hopes for mass literacy and education that would, for the first time, also include women, were an unconscious tool for

Strishiksha, or Education for Women 113 completing the hegemony of the West? If so, is the history of women’s education exhausted in that description, as it is annexed and subordinated to this grand master-narrative? Such arguments are familiar enough and they have an attractive political edge turned against the imperial agenda while seeming to broaden its scope convincingly beyond mere governance or economic motives.53 They also challenge earlier historical frameworks by inverting the relationship between education as a strategy for imperial political control and education as an instrument of cultural hegemony which now is taken to be the real historical endeavour of the Occident in the Orient. The whole argument will then need to prove a constancy of government effort and investment in one direction alone, towards women’s education and reform of orthodox lifestyle, to wean them away from past traditions and align them to more westernist values. One would need to move away from Macaulay’s own times both backwards and forwards and prove that his intention was true of colonialism throughout its history: that intention being that the government was committed to an Anglicist, elite-based education geared towards cultural conquest through which a middle class of “brown sahibs”—and, in this case, “memsahibs” as well—would be produced who would only feebly mime their western masters. In my other work on social reform I have tried to show that this particular design for hegemony was atypical, temporary, undercut by other strategic plans for power and other social perspectives that felt more at home with orthodox Hindu patriarchy than with the early western feminism of the 19th century.54 The moment of the combined efforts of Vidyasagar and Halliday would seem to disprove my thesis. Let us, then, turn to the fuller history of that collaboration. Before the Bengal Government had

assumed any responsibility for aiding girls’ schools, three applications from local people had come to the Inspector General of Schools for funding for three schools—two in Hooghly and one in Burdwan. Initiative, then, lay with Indians themselves. Those letters formed the basis on which investment plans were made. They gave Vidyasagar an opportunity to move out into the districts, rather than concentrate his efforts in Calcutta. His first school was in Jaugram village in Burdwan and the subsequent ones were in the districts as well.55 It also seems to be his decision to opt for schools, rather than for home-based education for girls. Implicitly, then, his decision was grounded on a conviction that women needed—for however short a time—an extradomestic identity, which would move them physically into the public domain. Schools institutionalised women’s education as a public, non-domestic activity that would take out girls every day beyond the family and attach them to an extra-familial space, identity and collectivity. They would also, for the first time, generate ties and acquaintances among teachers and peer groups that they would form in their capacity as individuals and which would not be tied to their familial and kinship connections. At schools, too, they would be known under their own proper names: Rashsundari has commented in her book that she was deprived even of a name of her own. This, then, was a kind of muddying up of the other strand in the reformist agenda: that education would be home-based, undertaken by male guardians, a familial activity. Now it takes the form of going away from the home, outside the family, however briefly. There is also a conferral of an identity that might be granted under the family’s consent, but that nonetheless was public/nondomestic, as well as individuating. The fanning out beyond Calcutta seems to go back to the early missionary ventures


Gender and Education in India

which had also founded village schools in the twenties. The mission schools, however, were openly tied to proselytisation which required large social and geographical catchment areas from among rural low castes. Government schools, on the other hand, foreswore proselytisation, and Vidyasagar combined his reformism with orthodox brahmanical habits in personal life. In fact, so far as girls’ schools were concerned, he relied on a filtration effect that would work best if the notion became widespread among girls of higher social echelons. There was some truth in this observation. Indeed, among low caste Namasudra peasants, the upper caste example inspired many aspiring improvers to seek social advancement by emulating the reformers, thus turning away from an older model which had made them insist on greater seclusion for their women, in imitation of brahmans.56 Schools were, therefore, founded among high caste clusters in localities like Kulingram in Burdwan.57 So, with women’s education, Vidyasagar came to develop a more slanted vision than what he had about mass level education in general: he seemed to restrict his own thrust here to the upper caste middle class sections outside Calcutta, and thus develop a broader geographical spread, a horizontal expansion, within the same social base. The choice of places, then, seems to be dictated by neither missionary calculations nor by any previous governmental patterns of investment. It ties in with Vidyasagar’s own inclination towards spreading elementary education beyond metropolitan elite reformist enclaves. On 7 September, 1853, Vidyasagar wrote to the Education Council: “What we require is to extend the benefit of education to the mass of the people. Let us establish a number of vernacular schools, let us prepare a series of vernacular class books on useful and instructive subjects ...”58 Women of upper

castes, governed by brahmanical orthodoxy, were a part of the Indian masses who had been systematically excluded from elementary education. And here, traditional prohibitions had been fostered by Macaulay who had ruled against the spread of vernacular and elementary education as suggested by Adam, in favour of a more elitist and Anglicist education for the middle classes. Vidyasagar’s plans to invest in vernacular, elementary education at non-elite levels militates, then, against Macaulay’s vision. It is not the lure of the great English literary tradition but vernacular literacy that emerges as the preferred field of investment. Is mass education then the new strategy of colonial— westernist—Enlightenment mode of domination? Vidyasagar’s moment of success, we must remember, was over before it began. Tied up with the revolt of 1857, and no doubt regretting the possibility that reform might have added its bit to the causes of the uprising, the Government reneged on its pledges. In May 1858, it refused to sanction larger funds that the new schools would require. The schools were kept going on voluntary contributions. In December 1858, after protracted and bitter negotiations, it agreed to honour the expenses of the schools already in existence, but flatly declared that it would make no further commitment to the cause of women’s education. That seemed to be that, and Vidyasagar’s plans for steady expansion were well and truly doomed. Shortly afterwards, he retired, and there was nothing more that he would be required to do for government plans for women’s education. When in the 1860s, Miss Carpenter submitted her plans for teacher training institutions for adult Hindu women, Vidyasagar refused to have anything to do with them. In his letter of 1 September, 1867 to William Grey, Lt. Governor of Bengal, he pointed out why he

Strishiksha, or Education for Women 115 thought the scheme was impractical and counter-productive. More than that, he sounded deeply tired, disenchanted and cynical about official motivation and intervention.59 Women’s education was once again left to Indian private enterprise and to reformist and missionary effort. Colonial investment neither stirred it into being, nor helped it significantly. In any case, even with Indian reformers, the educated woman was a middle-class, upper-caste person, albeit from the mofussil. In the mid-80s, the situation was changed somewhat after the publication of the Hunter Commission recommendations for larger grants-in-aid for girls’ schools.60 Even that would be conditioned by initial Indian private outlay. So, far from women’s minds being a major site for the construction of a westernist modernity for whose actualisation colonial governments existed, women’s education was the first casualty that the colonial government easily and immediately incurred, when faced with a funds crunch and a political crisis. We need to seek the impulse for strishiksha more in the social understanding of Indian reformers and, above all, of women themselves. While schools continued to increase in a limping and uncertain manner, the Bamabodhini Patrika also planned a homebased education, graded along five classes. In a syllabus chalked out for 1869, for instance, we find the first two years were devoted to Bengali grammar, tales and poems and some arithmetic. From the third year, there is also the history of Bengal through questions and answers, geography, hygiene, embroidery and moral readers. In the fourth and fifth years, there is more advanced Bengali literature like Vidyasagar’s Sitar Banabas, history of England, map of India, geography and science. It seems that science was to be read out of specially designed textbooks for women that were

published in a series called Narishiksha. Narishiksha also included moral lessons, biographical material, nature studies, hygiene and poems. It was brought out by the Bamabodhini Sabha, and the first part cost four annas while the second part sold for twelve annas. For other subjects, separate books were prescribed, like Jadugopal Chattopadhyay’s Bharatbarsher Sankhipta Itihas. These textbooks were written for both sexes.61 Most of the textbooks seem to have been illustrated. Far too many of them, however, had been prescribed, and some help from male guardians was necessary to follow the courses systematically. So much required investment in terms of both time and money would have only been possible in the most advanced reformist families of some affluence. The emphasis seems to be on reading and writing perfect Bengali, a notion of tales from various cultures as entertainment, some improving moral matter, and a practical course on hygiene. Apart from that, there is quite a bit on elementary natural sciences, some very rudimentary facts about history, and a fair amount of geography, as also several courses on arithmetic. It seems, on the whole, non-gendered and not particularly geared to domestic needs. What is being offered to women is a sense of the world around them. VII The Meanings of Knowledge All the material that went into strishiksha was in Bengali. In an early piece in Bamabodhini on the necessity of education, the proponent argues that the recent production of Bengali textbooks has paved the way for women’s learning, for all its branches are now accessible in the vernacular. The piece also commends the appearance of print: “So many good Bengali books are now very cheaply published.”62 Learning was no longer confined to foreign or classical languages which had lost


Gender and Education in India

their monopoly.63 There was, indeed, an earlier system of vernacular education at elementary and primary levels in the pathshalas. That education, however, was strictly practical and instrumental, geared to accounts, bookkeeping, arithmetic and spelling and letterwriting.64 The new concept of education that appeals to women, on the other hand, is the notion of formal knowledge without which, they feel, they no longer see their way around in the world. Vernacular prose and printed books made that kind of knowledge available for them. In fact, the very desire for education could have been largely produced by the availability of books written in their mothertongue, in their known prose. Knowledge, freed from the ivory tower of unfamiliar classical or foreign tongues, suddenly ceased to be esoteric. It was even something that they could produce themselves by manipulating a language that they knew how to use. Without a vernacularisation of education, the development of prose and print, such a conviction could not have taken root. In a piece published in Bamabodhini in 1865, a mother tells her daughter: Thanks to the mercy of the Lord, you are born in very beautiful times. You see the spread of knowledge everywhere these days ... So far, ignorant and cruel men had deprived them (women) from such a rare and pleasurable gem that is education ... Still they serve them faithfully like servants.65

Rashsundari praises her own times in identical words. Why is knowledge so beautiful? We have already seen that its primary justification is that it reveals sacred truth which is the true inner eye, real seeing. This looks like a piece of religious piety that is entirely blameless and safe. The way the 19th-century woman used it, however, made it problematic and transgressive for the orthodoxy in three ways. First, no Hindu tradition would insist that

religion is to be reached primarily through the path of knowledge, so far as the householder is concerned. Vaishnavism, being a proselytising religion, did generate a lot of Bengali sacred literature and thus helped mass education. Yet, it criticised the path of knowledge, counterposing against the arrogant learning of the brahman pashandi or sinner, the simple devotion of the lesser folk. Its democratising impulse, then, tended to ground itself on a short-circuiting of knowledge, rather than on its dissemination. In more orthodox traditions, for the woman and the shudra particularly, knowledge is emphatically not the way to dharma. It is, indeed, antithetical to the vidhi-nishedha that regulate their sansar.66 Nor is sacred truth to be confused with modern learning or with temporal issues: the tols or brahmanical institutions of higher learning did not have courses on history, geography, natural sciences. 67 On the other hand, if secular learning was to be included in the courses anywhere, it was supposed to yield immediate practical, usable value. The pathshalas taught some arithmetic and writing even to peasant boys so that they understood the documents they needed to sign, to write letters and to keep accounts. Strishiksha breaks with all these assumptions. It insists that religion cannot be practised without knowledge. By an extension, religious knowledge is made to cover human history in all its facets as well as the natural, physical world, for they are all God’s handiwork. There is thus a new, entirely modern sense of the world, and its relationship to the individual. The first issue of Bamabodhini declared that all varieties of human action— the arts, literature, religion, trade, commerce and industry—would come under this sanctified rubric.68 Secondly, strishiksha insists that all this knowledge is essentially nongendered—that is, in the field of true religion,

Strishiksha, or Education for Women 117 women have the same paths to follow as men of their class and caste. Thirdly, it refuses to link up knowledge with any immediately practical results. There is not yet a demand that education for women can be a means of livelihood—even though the Bamabodhini does mention that “these days, several women are writing good books and they make a profit with that.”69 Rashsundari herself would be an early example of that earning capacity, though she is silent about this aspect of her book. However, that, in itself, would not be a major argument since that sort of income would be limited and uncertain. In any case, no reformer had as yet ventured to forward a case for economic self-sufficiency for the upper-caste woman. Knowledge, at this stage, then, has a more pure function for women than it has for men who, obviously, need it to get by in the world, to earn their living. In the first issue of Bamabodhini, a set of bold defences is formulated: learning for its own sake is desirable for it develops the faculties and opens the inner eye. It is significant that this primary function is being appropriated more for women, since men will use knowledge for practical purposes. For upper-caste men, then, education would not have held out such broad transformative hopes for a radical selffashioning, since the purpose of education would largely be similar to what they would have expected from Persian learning in older times. Secondly, it is stated that this will give confidence to women to use their own judgement and thereby reduce their dependence on men: a bold reason, indeed, and one that bears out all the orthodox fears and anxieties. Thirdly, it will generate selfrespect, for without that they accept the low esteem that men have reserved for them.70 Not economic independence, but independence from men’s opinion, regard, intellectual support. We find echoes of all these arguments

in AJ, most especially, the argument for nonreliance, for self-sufficiency. In contrast to this non-instrumentalist approach to pure knowledge, male education stressed its instrumentalist function, its role in acquisition of power and profits. In an educational tract for women, written in the form of a dialogue between mother and daughter, the mother tells the daughter that without education, she would have to rely on men all her life. As a result, men will convince her that she would find fulfilment in cooking, and caring for them. In another piece, women are urged to harbour sisterly feelings— bhaginibhav—for all women. However, there was an obverse side to all this. The new kind of home that is to emerge out of this was to be a recovery of the happy Hindu homes of old times. Even Keshub Chandra Sen, the noted Brahmo reformer, set up the Victoria College to train good Hindu women.71 In the later decades of the century, growing Hindu revivalism was thus able to inflect the agenda even of sections of liberal reform and to appropriate reformist projects to some extent, for community purposes. VIII Late 19th Century Leaps and Their Limits After the first part of A] came out, Rashsundari lived to see more efforts for more comprehensive schemes for strishiksha. The second part of the autobiography concludes on a very optimistic vein in this respect. Certain new thrusts were developed from the 1870s, as the supervision of education was transferred from central to provincial levels.72 One was the expansion of higher educational facilities for girls, and the other was some provision for the education for adult women through boarding schools—a step that accentuated the move away from familial confines. There is more of English medium education at higher levels, as girls now reach


Gender and Education in India

up to university courses. On the other hand, there is also a movement towards breaching the bastion of male knowledge—the arduous medical degrees and training that, a decade earlier, had been considered polluting and dangerous even for upper-caste men. Finally, schooling had spread far enough to become an option even for girls from the most orthodox of families who tried to combine it with a rigorous training in Hindu rites and domestic skills. As strishiksha strained upwards, there was comparatively far too little that was done to broaden the base at elementary or primary levels, outside towns and cities, among low-caste or poor people. The Brahmo reformer Keshubchandra Sen set up a boarding school for grown up women under the auspices of the Bharat Sanskar Sabha in 1871. The curriculum consisted of regular courses in English, Bengali, geography, maths, science curriculum that was both non-gendered and secular. In 1876 Banga Mahila Vidyalaya began to provide facilities for the University Entrance Examinations. It is noticeable that it was an English-medium school and most of the teachers were English women—a departure that became inevitable since these schools needed to keep in step with boys’ schools. The growing equality with male educational institutions meant a turning away from a broader base among illiterate poor women. In 1878, with some government help, it amalgamated with the Bethune School to form the Bethune English School. In the same year, Dacca started a similar school.73 In 1878, a giant step was taken when two Bengali girls—Kadambini Bose and Chandramukhi Bose—passed the Degree examination and became eligible for graduate courses. This was something that would not be possible for English girls for the next few decades since English universities refused them access to formal university degrees. It is

remarkable that this was allowed in Calcutta which had a much thinner ground- level basis for women’s literacy and primary and secondary education than Britain had, and which was governed by a colonial ruling class that drew its highest recruits from the conservative landed English gentry. It speaks of the force of indigenous reformism that made such combined, uneven development possible. It also speaks of the fact that the colonial government would not see the educated Indian woman as a threat to itself or its male monopoly on offices which the white woman graduate in England could become. The first two Indian graduates had been private students. From 1888, the Bethune School started graduate courses and developed a college wing.74 In 1882, Abala Das and a Christian girl, Ellen D’Abrew, were refused admission by the Calcutta Medical School, and had to seek entry into the more liberal Madras Medical College. That started off a public agitation for change, and the Lt. Governor was persuaded to change the rules to enable girls’ admission the next year. Kadambini Bose was the first woman to receive a full medical degree in 1888.75 The Medical College also offered certificate courses in midwifery which were rather more popular than the full medical training.76 The conservatives at last conceded the unavoidability of girls’ education, and even of schooling. In 1893, Mataji Tapaswini, a woman ascetic with the most unimpeachable credentials in Hindu piety, opened a girls’ school in Calcutta, appropriately named the Mahakali Pathshala. It offered courses in Sanskrit, Bengali, very rudimentary arithmetic, cooking and midwifery. It also taught the girls the proper Hindu female rites and a hefty prize was awarded for offering the most impeccably performed puja. It is significant that however loaded the syllabus was with Hindu domesticity, it needed to be

Strishiksha, or Education for Women 119 taught at school, confirming the wider acceptability of the non-domestic principle that underwrote the activity of schooling itself.77 By the beginning of the last decade of the century, according to an educational report, we have one out of sixty girls “fit for education” going to school, as against one out of four such boys. Fitness was, obviously, decided according to economic ability, which would immediately exclude very large categories. This was admittedly a miniscule proportion although the report registered a threefold increase in the last ten years. While there were five English-medium high schools, and three English medium primary ones, there were 24 middle Bengali schools, 273 upper primary ones and 1,932 lower primary ones. There was also one college that offered courses for graduate degrees. The stream of students was thin and it petered out quite rapidly at the higher reaches. Out of a total expenditure of Rs. 3,51,087 on strishiksha, the Government paid up about Rs. 1,26,520. Education was primarily supported by private bodies, mostly of enlightened landholders who formed reformist associations for that purpose: Uttarpara Hitakari Sabha, Madhya Bangla Samrnilani, Jessore-Khulna Sammilani, Taki Hitakari Sabha, Faridpur Suhridsabha. The preponderance of district associations, and the primacy of efforts from Eastern Bengal are worth noting. 78 The Government made a contribution of Rs. 2,876 for the provision of zenana or home-based education through teachers trained at Normal schools, and the scheme covered about 5,662 students. A far larger number would be taught at home by fathers, husbands, and increasingly, mothers.79 IX End-of-the-Century Blues Predictably, this shift produced deep, mournful dirges, end-of-the-century blues

from the emergent revivalist-nationalists. Their vision of autonomous and authentic Hindu nationhood was firmly tied to an unalloyed, pure, fully-preserved structure of Hindu domestic norms. A shift in its coordinates especially if inspired by liberalism and reformism conveyed by an alien system of power-knowledge—would be the ultimate surrender to colonisation. Strishiksha, that women themselves saw as a means of liberating themselves from older, domestic, regulatory norms, was catastrophic for cultural nationalism.80 At the same time, I do not see that the real issue at stake here is the construction of nation or tradition, that gender is merely the site on which the structure is raised.81 Gender can hardly be a marginal concern that is left behind once the debates take off on the so-called crucial themes of tradition etc. What would be of more real concern to any system of male privileges than movements to alter customary patterns of life? We began this exercise with a close look at the structure of early traditional fears that had prohibited strishiksha with a battery of interdictions. When we look at the altered situation at the close of the century, we find a somewhat different order of fears about the horrible sign of modernity—the educated woman. There is, above all, the terror of inversion—the threat of man turned into woman, the woman rendered male. It is portrayed in terms of physical, biological alteration of male and female species. Women are unable to reproduce, their breasts are flattened out, their milk has dried up. The Vedavyas cited “scientific” data to warn that even the umbilical cord is crippled by education. Reproduction withers away. It is interesting how earlier fears about widowhood are replayed on the new register of loss of motherhood, now that nationalism has come to valorise the mother-figure above


Gender and Education in India

the older preoccupation with the wife. Kedarnath Mandal’s play Behadda Behaya (1894) pushes the masculinised, educated female body into the wrestling arena: as a result of her education, it seems, the woman has sprouted muscles strong enough for wrestling.82 And, of course, the educated woman will develop masculine traits of character, as well as claim masculine privileges and ways. Satire was an excellent mode of commenting upon inversion. Even though strishiksha was enabled by vernacularisation of education, in Radhabinode Haldar’s Pash kara Maag, she will only speak a strange mother-tongue where English words and phrases freely jostle with Bengali. 83 She dominates her henpecked husband who has been rendered meek, nervous and submissive by strishiksha: for it makes women out of men. In Kalighat paintings and wood-cuts, he is dragged along as a tamed, chained animal by his modern wife, he neglects his mother when his wife commands him to do so. Printed cartoons lampooned the husband and the wife who have changed places with strishiksha. In the cartoons in Basantak, in the 1870s, we see the wife absorbed in a book. In the next room, the husband is crawling on the floor, hopelessly trying to light the hearth, nearly blinded by smoke. The wife calls out in irritation: “Why did you not close the door before all that smoke escaped into my room?” The mockery pursued the couple beyond the century. Jatin Sen’s cartoon of the educated woman shows her smoking a huge cigar which is clearly a substitute penis.84 Inversion of physical and social functions is based on a particular economy of gender attributes. Strishiksha transfers something that men possessed, to women. With that transaction, masculinity and femininity change places, bodies. Subordination continues, but now the chains are put on men.

It is as if education is a physical attribute, whose transference to women will physically and mentally masculinise them. Moreover, it is a scarce resource which cannot be shared but can only be shifted. If women have it, then men have to lose it. It thus stands in for male power, male physique: when grafted on women, sexual difference is neatly switched around. We now begin to comprehend what the reformist suggestion of strishiksha—however tame, moderate, domesticated actually involved. In colonial Bengal, for a nonentrepreneurial, passive land-owning and rent-receiving middle class, education was the only resource that fitted out the man with a self-image of transformative enterprise. Divorced from the higher reaches of business and industry by colonial discriminations, kept out of the army and of administration, and perpetually taunted for effeminacy by the master race, education provided a rare and precious opportunity to prove worth, gain esteem, establish initiative in the public realm of men. Even parasitic landlordism seemed threatened and the comforts of assured rentincome breached with late 19th century modifications in the Permanent Settlement. The middle-class, upper-caste man defined his masculine identity primarily in terms of his mastery over the written word. If masculinity required a self-differentiation from the feminine, then recreating female subjectivity as educated was a dangerous gift. It would undermine the supreme marker of the necessary difference and allow the surfacing of the repressed feature that would fatally destabilise culturally ordered sexual difference. Fears were also about the loss of a beloved solace: that of a childlike wife whose innocence is based on ignorance. The satire was a protest against her growing up. For her adulthood, pronounced and established through her

Strishiksha, or Education for Women 121 education, would yet again undermine a necessary sexual difference: the grown man can be sure of his masculinity if the woman remains a child forever. The child-wife also preserved for the man—humiliated and beseiged by the pressures of colonisation—the precious memories of his own happier childhood, a precolonial past. Sumit Sarkar has pointed out the deep nostalgia for childhood and for the past that pervaded the 1870s when the intelligentsia was caught in a hiatus: after the activism of liberal reformers had run into a dead-end, and before the activism of organised nationalism came into its own.85 ‘The childlike wife was at once the recreated early innocence as well as a route back to that experience of blessedness. The protest against strishiksha was a cry for that beloved infant, a demand to repossess the childlike mind. In the 1890s, with the Age of Consent agitation, the Bengali man would make an effort to retain the childish body for himself.86 To possess the child in the woman was to feel like a man in the colonised world. Notes 1. See Rosalind O’Hanlon, A Comparison Between Women and Men: Tarabai Shinde and the Critique of Gender Relations in Colonial India, Oxford University Press, Madras, 1994, Introduction. The Bengali texts that I discuss here, however, precede Shinde’s writing by almost two decades. 2. See Kailashbashini Debi, Hindu Abalaganer Bidyavhyash O Tahar Samunnati, Calcutta, 1878. 3. Shiksha Sankranta Bibaran, 1867-68; Jaistha, 1868. In the collection of extracts from Bharati Ray, ed., Sekaler Narishiksha: Bamabodhini Patrika, 127{}-1329, Women’s Studies Research Centre, University of Calcutta, Calcutta, 1994, p. 65. 4. Shiksha Sankranta Bibaran, Bhadra, 1272 and citations from Martin’s Report on Women’s




8. 9. 10. 11.

12. 13. 14. 15.


17. 18.


20. 21. 22. 23.

Education in Bamabodhini Patrika, ibid., pp. 2830. See Keith Michael Baker, “Defining the Public Sphere in 18th Century France: Variations on a Theme by Habermas” in Craig and Calhoun, eds., Habermas and the Public Sphere, MPP Press, Cambridge, 1992, pp. 203-208. Brajendranath Bandopadhyay and Sajanikanta Das, eds., Rammohan Granthabali, Vol. 3, nd, p. 45. Benoy Ghosh, ed., Samayikpatre Banglar Samajchitra, Vol. 2, Papyrus, Calcutta, 1978, pp. 27-28. Kailashbashini Debi, Hindu Mahilaganer Heenabastha (Calcutta, 1863). See Subodhchandra Sengupta, ed., Sansad Bangali Chartabhidhan, Calcutta, 1976, p. 64. Letter of Phalgun, 1272 (1865), in BP, p. 26. “Whatever Happened to the Vedic Dasi? Orientalism, Nationalism and a Script for the Past” in Kumkum Sangari and Sudesh Vaid, eds., Recasting Women: Essays on Colonial History, Kali for Women, Delhi, 1989. Letter of Baisakh, 1272, BP, ibid, pp. 27-28. Letter of Hadra, 1274, ibid., p. 45. Shrimati S-d, ibid., p. 55. Ramesh Chandra Mitra, Education, 18331905, in N.K. Sinha, ed., History of Bengal, 1757-1905, Calcutta, 1967, p. 419. Section 5, Female Instruction in Second Report on the State of Education in Bengal, 1836, by William Adam edited by Ananthnath Basu, Calcutta University, Calcutta, 1941, pp. 18788. Shibnath Shastri, Atmacharit, Calcutta, 1952, p. 22. Vidyalankar, Strishikshavidhayak: Arthat Puratan O Idanintan O Bideshiya Striloker Drishtanta, Calcutta, 1822, p. 3. Striloker Bidyashikshar Abashyakata: Gyanada a Saralar Kathopakathon, BP, 1863, 1st issue, op. cit., pp. 2-3. S.P. Pal, Meyeder Lekhapara, Apna Hate Dube Mitra, Calcutta, 1897. See Sangari and Vaid, eds, Recasting Women: Essays in Colonial History, op. cit. Introduction. Kailashbashini Debi, op. cit. Adams’ Second Report, op. cit.


Gender and Education in India

24. Kailashbashini Debi, Hindu Abalakuler Bidyabhyash Tahar Samunnati, Calcutta, 1878, pp. 23-24. 25. Adam’s Second Report, op. cit. 26. Debendranath Tagore, Swarachita Jiban Charit, Calcutta, 1898, p. 5. Reprinted in Atmakatha, Ananya Publications, Calcutta, 1981. 27. Adam, Second Report, op. cit. 28. Sarada Debi, Atmakatha. Compiled by Abhaya Dasgupta, Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, Calcutta, 1979, p. 4. 29. See the biographical sketches of login Ma and Gouri Ma in Swami Gambhiranand, Shree Ramakrishna Bhaktamalika, Part 11, Udbodhan Karyalay, Calcutta, 1989. 30. See N.L. Basak, History if Vernacular Education in Bengal, 1800-1854, Bharati Book Stall, Calcutta, 1974, pp. 144-46. 31. Mrs. Mullens, Phulmoni O Karuna, Kanchan Basu, ed., Dushprapya Sahitya Sangraha, Calcutta, 1992, reprint. 32. Entry for 12 December; Mrs. Laird, ed., Selections from Heber’s Journal, in Ballhatchet, Marshall and Pocock, eds., The European Understanding of India: Bishop Heber in Northern India: Selections from Heber’s Journal, Cambridge University Press, 1971, pp. 49- 50. 33. Bamabodhini Patrika, in Bharati Ray, op. cit., pp. 1-5. 34. Adams’ Report, op. cit., p. 453. 35. Shibnath Shastri, Ramtanu Lahiri a Tatkalin Bangasamaj, New Age Publishers, Calcutta, 1956. 36. Sumit Sarkar, “Vidyasagar and Brahmanical Society”, in Writing Social History, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1997. 37. See Basak, op. cit., p. 80. 38. See Romesh Chandra Mitra, op. cit., p. 453. 39. See Mitra, ibid. 40. Ballhatchet, et al, op. cit., p. 68. 41. See Sumit Sarkar, “The Complexities of Young Bengal”, in A Critique of Colonial India, Papyrus, Calcutta, 1985, p. 27. 42. Sumit Sarkar, “The Women’s Question in Bengal”, in A Critique of Colonial India, op. cit. 43. On the significance of a new mode of comprehending time, see Sumit Sarkar, “Renaissance and Kaliyuga: Time, Myth and


45. 46. 47.


49. 50. 51.





History in Colonial Bengal” in Writing Social History, op. cit. See Sumit Sarkar, “Rammohun Roy and the Break with the Past”, in A Critique if Colonial India, op. cit., p. 4. Strilokdiger Bidyashikshar Abashyakata, Bamabodhini fatrika, first issue, 1863. See Bharati Ray, Shekaler Narishiksha, op. cit. Bharati Ray, op. cit., Introduction. Shibnath Shastri, Ramtanu Lahiri, op. cit., p. 172. Chandicharan Bandyopadhyay, Vidyasagar, third edition, Indian Press, Allahabad, 1909, p. 196. Sambad Prabhakar, 10/2/1856, in Benoy Ghosh, Samayikpatre Banglar Samajchitra, 2, Papyrus, Calcutta, 1978, p. 34. Benoy Ghosh, Samayikpatre, op. cit., p. 31. Cited in Sambad Prabhakar, 31/1/1859, Benoy Ghosh, Samayikpatre, op. cit., p. 31. On Vidyasagar and girls’ schooling, see Chandicharan Bandyopadhyay, op. cit., pp. 120-209; Bharati Ray, ed., Sekaler Narishiksha, op. cit., Introduction; Romesh Mitra, op cit; Ashoke Sen. Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar and the Elusive Milestones, Riddhi India, Calcutta, 1977; Sumit Sarkar, Vidyasagar and Brahmanical Society, op. cit. Gauri Vishwanathan, Masks of Conuest: Literary Study and British Rule in India., New York, Columbia University Press, 1989, Introduction. See Tanika Sarkar, “Colonial Lawmaking and Lives/Deaths of Indian Women: Different Readings of Law and Community”, in Ratna Kapur, ed., Feminist Terrains in Legal Domains: Interdisciplinary Essays on Women and Law in India, Kali for Women, Delhi, 1996. See Ashoke Sen, Iswarchandra Vidyasagar, op. cit. Sekhar Bandyopadhyay, “Caste, Widowremarriage and the Reform of Popular Culture in Colonial Bengal” in Bharati Ray, ed, From the Seams of History: Essays on Indian Women, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1995, pp. 8-37. Sumit Sarkar, “Vidyasagar and Brahmanical Society”, in Writing Social History, op. cit., pp. 278-81.

Strishiksha, or Education for Women 123 56. Ibid. 57. Ashoke Sen, Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar, op. cit; Sumit Sarkar, Vidyasagar, op. cit. 58. Geraldine Forbes, Women in Modern India, The New Cambridge History of India, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1966, chapter 2. 59. See Bharati Ray, ed, Sekaler Narishiksha, op. cit., pp. 71-76. 60. Ibid. 61. Op. cit., Vidya Bishayak Kathopakathan, p. 7. 62. See Poromesh Acharya, “Indigenous Education and Brahmanical Hegemony in Bengal”, and Kazi Shahidullah, “The Purpose and Impact of Government Policy on Pathshala Gurumohashoys in Nineteenth Century Bengal”, in Nigel Crook, ed., The Transmission of Knowledge in South Asia: Essays on Education, Religion, History and Politics, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1996, pp. 98135. 63. Ibid., Kanyar Prati Matas Upadesh, pp. 12-13. 64. On the complicated relationships between women and religious learning in Reformation and Counter-Reformation France and Germany, see Natalie Zemon Davis, “City Women and Religious Change” in Society and Culture in Early Modern France, Duckworth, Ll.K.; 1975, pp. 66-84; Also Lyndal Roper, The Holy Household: Women and Morals in Reformation Augsburg, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1989, pp. 260-66. 65. See Dinesh Chandra Sen, op. cit. 66. Ibid. 67. Vidyabishyak Kathopakathan, Bamabodhini, 1863. See Bharati Ray, ed. Sekaler Narishiksha, op cit. 68. Ibid.

69. Narishiksha, Part 2, “Antahpurika 0 Vidyalayastha Chhauiganer Vyavaharartha”, Calcutta, 1884, pp. 135-94. 70. Usha Chakraborty, Condition of Bengali Women Around the Second Half of the Nineteenth Century, Calcutta, 1963, p. 48. 71. Ibid., p. 49. 72. Ibid., p. 50. 73. Ibid., p. 54. 74. Bangadeshe Strishiksha, Baisakh, 1892, Bamabodhini Patrika. 75. Usha Chakraborty, op. cit., p. 52. 76. Bangadeshe Strishiksha, Baisakh, 1892, Bamabodhini Patrika, Bharati Ray, ed, op. cit., pp. 227-29. 77. Ibid. 78. See Tanika Sarkar, “The Hindu Wife and the Hindu Nation: Domesticity and Nationalism in Nineteenth Century Bengal”, Studies in History, 82, ns, 1993. 79. This has been the suggestion made on the earlier sati debates by Lata Mani. See her “Contentious Traditions: The Debate on Sati in Colonial India” in Sangari and Vaid, eds. Recasting Women, op. cit. 80. See Jayanta Goswami, Samajchitre Unabingsha Shatabdir Bangla Prahashan, Calcutta, 1974, pp. 908-63. 81. Ibid. 82. See Partha Mitter, Art and Nationalism in India: 1850-1922: Occidental Orientations, Cambridge University Press, 1994, pp. 171,173. 83. Sumit Sarkar, “Chakri and Kaliyug”, in Writing Social History, op. cit. 84. Tanika Sarkar, “Rhetoric Against the Age of Consent and the Death of a Child Wife”, Economic and Political Weekly, 28, 36, 4 September 1993.

7 Role Models Educated Muslim Women—Real and Ideal Gail Minault When Sayyid Ahmad Khan was growing up in Delhi, he lived in the home of his maternal grandfather, Khwaja Fariduddin Ahmad (1747-1828). This was unusual in a society where wives customarily went to live with their husbands’ families, but Sayyid Ahmad’s father, a religious mystic, was apparently willing to have the main responsibility for his family rest with his wife’s father, a high official in the Mughal Court.1 Azizunnissa Begam (1780?-1857), Sayyid Ahmad’s mother, was the eldest daughter of the household. She had received the basic religious education accorded to upper-class Muslim women of her day: she had read the Quran and some elementary Persian books, recounted her son, and she was a great moral force in his life: [She] was a lady of great ability and intelligence, of a naturally elevated cast of mind...I myself had some lessons on the Gulistan from her, and recited my lessons on many of the elementary Persian books to her. I well remember how, when I was reciting my lesson to her or studying a new lesson, sitting by her side, she used to keep a scourge, consisting of three thongs of plaited thread and a wooden handle, to chastise me with, but although she must surely have got angry with me on many occasions, I was never beaten with those rope-thongs... Her instruction and counsels were of great wisdom and profound influence.2

Since Azizunnissa Begam had studied the Quran, she understood some Arabic.3 Though her native language was Urdu, she knew Persian well enough to instruct her son in the moral tales and maxims contained in Sa’di’s Gulistan and Bustan.4 She was also charitable, pious, and self-disciplined. Her example meant a great deal to her son, who went on to become the greatest educational reformer among Indian Muslims in the late nineteenth century. ‘There is no doubt,’ he said, ‘ that a good mother is better than a thousand teachers,’ seeming to echo a maxim of Victorian pedagogy.5 The point here is less to speculate about direct influence on his thought, which may or may not have occurred, but rather to note that later Mughal and midVictorian societies were undergoing similar processes of embourgeoisement, with consequent increased awareness of women’s value in the household. Azizunnissa was the first of a number of women, usually maternal figures, mentioned in glowing terms in the biographical and autobiographical accounts of Muslim men in this period of rapid change. Sayyid Ahmad Khan came from a family that was a particularly distinguished example of the late Mughal service gentry.6 The family was not only significant in the Mughal administration, but it also performed other duties of the gentry class: devotion to both learning and religion, and patronage of those who perpetuated scholarship. Khwaja

Role Models: Educated Muslim Women – Real and Ideal Fariduddin had served as vazir (prime minister) to the Mughal emperor Akbar Shah II (r. 1806-37) and as a British-appointed envoy to Persia during his long career of service to governments. He was a pious Muslim who continued the family tradition of discipleship to sufis. Fariduddin was also learned in mathematics and astronomy and had served for a time as superintendent of the Calcutta Madrasa, an Islamic school founded in the 1780s under British auspices. As another indication of the family’s high status, Azizunnissa had married a Sayyid, the group peerless among sharif Muslims, claiming descent from the Prophet Muhammad. Her husband and Sayyid Ahmad Khan’s father, Mir Muttaqi, was a disciple (murid) of Shah Ghulam Ali (ca. 1753-1824), a sufi mystic of the Naqshbandi Mujaddidi order and a reformer.7 Azizunnissa Begam, as a woman in Purdah, performed no visible public functions, but her private charities were considerable. She set aside five percent of everything that came into the house, produce from their villages, rents, salary from the palace, and used it for almsgiving. Designating a portion of one’s income for alms was considered obligatory by pious Muslims, such as Azizunnissa. In particular, she aided women, whether from among the servants or her needy relatives, by paying for their daughters’ weddings or by assisting poor widows to remarry. This too could be regarded as a pious act, since widow remarriage is permitted in Islam. Following Hindu custom, many Muslims in India looked upon widow remarriage as sinful, but Azizunnissa felt otherwise. Not to remarry was one thing, she said, but to condemn someone for doing so was wrong. She resembled her father in her devotion to learning, her desire to see her sons properly instructed, and her religious faith. Her son


noted that she too was a disciple of Shah Ghulam Ali. Other sufis might hand out amulets as protection against illness, but not he. Azizunnissa felt that such practices went against the Islamic faith in God’s absolute power: In every matter she put great trust in God and she used to say, ‘God is the granter of health.’ She never made a vow, offering or supplication for anything, and had absolutely no faith in charms and amulets, or in the auspiciousness or inauspiciousness of particular dates and days...What she used to say was, ‘In everything one should pray to God, who will bring what he desires to pass.’8

Faith in the magical properties of amulets, vows and oblations at the tombs of saints, belief in the evil eye and in the auspiciousness of certain numbers, dates and days were very much a part of popular Islam of that day, but pious Muslims of reformist views shunned them as superstitious. Azizunnissa’s piety is reflected in her rejection of such customs, following the teachings of her pir (religious guide), the reforming Mujaddidi, Shah Ghulam Ali.9 Sayyid Ahmad Khan, in recollecting the formative influences upon his life, emphasised those aspects of his grandfather’s and mother’s personalities and beliefs that steered him in the direction of public service, scholarship, and religious and educational reform. None of those influences can be traced to western sources. Sir Sayyid—as he was later known— worked for rapprochement between the British and the Indian Muslim elite, and was sometimes unjustly characterised by his opponents as a British stooge. His formation, however, was that of a Mughal gentleman. Like his grandfather, he possessed a cosmopolitan awareness of, and appreciation for, the outside world. His education derived from the Islamic curriculum and the Persian literary tradition; his faith was a blend of


Gender and Education in India

sufism and orthopraxy; his languages were Persian, Urdu, and Arabic; he spoke no English.10 Sayyid Ahmad Khan may have been an extraordinary individual, but he was also paradigmatic. He shared many characteristics with others of the late Mughal service gentry who had to come to terms with the changing political and economic realities of British-ruled India. His responses to the challenges of the time were conditioned by his faith, his education, and his culture. Just as his grandfather had served the British in various capacities as he had served the Mughals, so Sayyid Ahmad Khan became a servant of the East India Company in the late 1830s. These two men provide examples of the adaptation of the service elite to the change of patrons in changing times. But Sir Sayyid’s accommodation to the British was not one of mere convenience. He remained loyal to the British during the revolt of 1857 and through personal tragedy thereafter. His mother, trapped in Delhi during the siege, died as a result of hardships she had suffered. His reaction was less bitterness than sorrow, and a resolution that such a rebellion should not recur.11 He worked for increased understanding between the former Mughal elite and the British administration on several fronts. He wrote an analysis of the cause of the revolt, which he had translated into English, since the British were his main projected audience. In it, he urged them to consult with Indian elite opinion to avoid future misunderstandings.12 Addressing members of that elite, he urged them to embrace western education, and started the Scientific Society in 1864 to translate textbooks of western science into Urdu. 13 To Muslims among the elite who resisted western education as carrying the contagion of Christianity, he argued: The Muslims have nothing to fear from the

adoption of the new education if they simultaneously hold steadfast to their faith, because Islam is not irrational superstition; it is a rational religion which can march hand in hand with the growth of human knowledge. Any fear to the contrary betrays a lack of faith in the truth of Islam.14

This was the attitude of a man firm in his faith, certain of the rational philosophical bases of his literary culture, and equally certain of the need for the former Mughal service gentry to maintain their high social status and their association with government. The way to do this, he thought, was through education in English and the western sciences, though for Muslims he added training in Islamic theology as well. This was the basic idea behind his founding of Aligarh College.15 Despite—or perhaps because of—the influence of his mother on his early life, Sir Sayyid saw no need for women’s education other than home learning. He opposed starting schools for girls, and in a version of the trickledown theory, preferred instead to emphasize the education of Muslim boys at Aligarh. ‘The question of female education,’ he stated in his testimony before the Indian Education Commission in 1882: much resembles the question of the oriental philosopher who asked whether the egg or the hen were first created. Those who hold that women should be educated and civilized prior to the men are greatly mistaken. The fact is that no satisfactory education can be provided for Muhammadan females until a large number of Muhammadan males receive a sound education. The present state of education among Muhammadan females is, in my opinion, enough for domestic happiness, considering the present social and economic condition of the life of the Muhammadans of India.16

In his view, any thoughts of school education for women were not only premature, but

Role Models: Educated Muslim Women – Real and Ideal might arouse opposition or—at the very least—divert resources away from efforts, such as his own at Aligarh, to educate men. ‘The Present State of Education among Muhammadan Females’

Sir Sayyid’s views on women’s education were consistent with his own cultural formation. His mother had been educated at home and showed that it was possible for a woman in purdah to be literate, pious, and an ethical force in her children’s lives. But what was ‘the present state of education among Muhammadan females’? Azizunnissa’s education may have been exceptional, or— more likely—given the diminished resources of the gentry class, it had become increasingly difficult in the second half of the nineteenth century to maintain the kind of home education that she had received. The education of a young Muslim traditionally began with the bismillah ceremony at the age of four years, four months, and four days.17 The child, coached in advance, would recite the first verse of the Quran, then would be rewarded with sweets, shared by the assembled company. Thereafter, the child began learning verses of the Quran by heart from a tutor (ustad) who came to the house. Daughters as well as sons learned the Quran in this parrot-like manner, taught either by the grey-bearded tutor or by a woman teacher, or ustani. Learning to recite the Quran in Arabic was no guarantee that the child understood a word of it, although the teacher, depending upon his or her knowledge, might explain the essentials. Such teachers were paid a monthly wage plus food, but they were usually long-term family retainers, with the security and status that implied, as opposed to temporary hirelings.18 The young pupils later went on to recite and then read some basic Persian books, including the Amadnama, a guide to verb


conjugations, and moral tales from such works as Sa’di’s Gulistan and Bustan. An example of this kind of tale, inculcating virtuous behaviour, or adab, is the following from the chapter, ‘On the Advantages of Silence,’ from the Gulistan: An intelligent youth possessed an abundant share of accomplishments and discreet behavior so that he was allowed to sit in the assemblies of learned men, but he refrained from conversing with them. His father once asked him why he did not likewise speak on subjects he was acquainted with. He replied, ‘I fear I may be asked what I do not know and be put to shame.’... For what thou hast not said no one will trouble thee But when thou hast spoken, bring the proof.19

Or this, ‘Story of One who had Little Knowledge,’ from the Bustan: A certain man knew something of astronomy and his head, in consequence, was filled with pride. Journeying far, he visited Kushyar, the sage, who turned his eyes from him and would teach him nothing. When the disappointed traveller was on the point of leaving, Kushyar addressed him with these words: Thou imaginest that thou art full of knowledge. How can a vessel that is full receive of more? Rid thyself of thy pretensions, so that thou mayest be filled. Being full of vanity, thou goest empty.20

Such exemplary tales were designed to promote the sort of behaviour befitting a member of the administrative elite: a child who would speak only when spoken to, an adult who was competent but modest, aware of his place in the social and administrative hierarchy, but able to speak when it was appropriate and to learn from experience. These were qualities desirable in courtiers and those who serve the powerful, but who can also wield power when necessary. Interestingly, these were also desirable


Gender and Education in India

qualities in women, who needed to be modest and adaptable as daughters and daughtersin-law, but later, as mothers and mothers-inlaw, needed to be able to wield power, or at least influence, and manage hierarchical household relationships with diplomacy.21 The languages of instruction in the cases noted above were Arabic for the sacred scripture, and Persian for the literary and ethical texts. Urdu, a vernacular spoken in North India and used as a lingua franca by Mughal administrators—regardless of their religion—as far south as the Deccan, began to be used as a language of poetic expression in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but was not considered a fit medium for literary or religious instruction until well into the nineteenth.22 The service gentry spoke Urdu at home, but they were not given formal training in it. The emergence of Urdu as a respectable language of public discourse and literary expression was very much a part of the nineteenth-century colonial encounter. When Persian was disestablished as the language of government in the 1830s, Urdu became the official language of local courts across much of northern India. In the process, vernacular schools were promoted at the lower levels of the colonial education system, and the spoken vernacular began to be printed to communicate ideas across boundaries of region, class, and gender.23 After a few years of basic instruction at home, a boy ventured out to a mosque school, or maktab, or to the home of a teacher (maulvi), pursuing either a religious education in Arabic, or a literary education in Persian, or a combination of the two. A young man whose family calling was to the religious sciences might go on from the maktab to a madrasa, a more advanced school of Arabic and Islamic learning. More often, a boy would move from place to place, reading various books privately with various teachers. It was a flexible and

resilient system, with a long and distinguished tradition that was, however, increasingly threatened in the nineteenth century by the drying up of private patronage for the maulvis, ustads, and ustanis who peopled the indigenous system of learning.24 The reasons for this declining patronage were many, the most obvious being the spread of English schooling among the elite, but another had to do with Islamic charitable endowments, or awqaf (singular: waqf). These awqaf supported such institutions as mosques, public baths, shrines, and schools throughout the Muslim world. A Muslim could set aside a certain proportion of his wealth for the tax-free support of such institutions and their staff in perpetuity. A waqf could be great or small. A widow might set aside money for oil for lighting the lamps of a mosque; a landed official might endow an entire madrasa. Endowments were pious acts, but they also served to keep religious institutions safe from the depredations of the state. Through such endowments patrons helped ensure the perpetuation of Islamic learning in times of political and social instability, and they also —not incidentally— insured tax-free income for members of the donors’ families or retainers who staffed the institutions.25 As the British gradually took over in India and appropriated more and more of its revenues, more Muslims resorted to awqaf in order to preserve some of their holdings for the support of their descendants. The British government, in turn, began to suspect that pious endowments for charitable purposes, when the beneficiaries were related to the donor, might be tantamount to tax evasion. During the late nineteenth century, British courts increasingly sought to define and regulate awqaf. In the process, endowments that had previously been flexible, multifarious and largely independent of state control were

Role Models: Educated Muslim Women – Real and Ideal threatened. Particularly prone to question were family-run, ‘private’ endowments, as opposed to larger charitable institutions for ‘public’ purposes. Private patronage, the life blood of indigenous education, had started to dry up with the spread of English education and the declining utility of Persian learning. With awqaf falling increasingly under government scrutiny, this form of patronage too was adversely affected. Indigenous education that had thrived in thousands of small, private endeavours under the benign neglect of the Mughal state, withered under the more watchful eye of the British Raj.26 Many of these generalisations have to do with the education of boys, but they also apply to the education of their sisters. Girls could participate only rarely in instruction outside the home, as they were kept in purdah from a very early age,27 although one of the earliest references to girls’ schools in North India, noted in a government report of 1845, is of six schools in Delhi, with a total of forty-six students. The schools were all located in one quarter of the city, conducted by Punjabi women, and attended by their daughters and by girls of the ‘enterprising and wealthy merchant families’ of the city. All the students were Muslims, as were the teachers, and the education consisted of memorizing the Quran.28 Most girls stayed at home, however, and they had to rely upon literate relatives to teach them, or upon ustanis, who may have been supported by just the sort of private waqf discussed above. The mention of ustanis in various sources is evidence of the existence of a service group of literate females—probably the wives or widows and daughters of maulvis. It is difficult to characterise their clientele, or the education their students received, since most sources give few details about girls’ education, but the biographical literature contains several individual cases of literate women that permit some


generalisation.29 As children, girls might study the Quran along with their brothers from an aged male tutor, but when the girls grew older, ustanis had to come to the house to teach them, and these women teachers frequently had a limited repertory of literary skills. Many girls received no education beyond memorisation of a few Quranic passages; others learned to read some Arabic during their Quran lessons, and Persian or Urdu from their fathers or brothers. Girls at home had little time for other study, as most of their waking hours were taken up helping their mothers cook, sew, and look after the younger children, or helping to supervise the servants charged with these tasks. In this way, daughters learned what they most needed to know for their future roles as wives and mothers. It was helpful to know a few moral maxims and how to keep household accounts, but the standard wisdom regarded literary education as superfluous for girls. Further, for a woman to know how to write could be dangerous. If women had power over the written word, their capacity to disrupt men’s lives would be increased. As the Qabus Nama, a classic of Persian didactic prose dating from the eleventh century, counseled: ‘If you have a daughter... When she grows up, entrust her to a preceptor so that she shall learn the provisions of the sacred law and the essential religious duties. But do not teach her to read and write; that is a great calamity.’30 A similar message was conveyed in another ethical work, the Akhlaq-i-Nasiri, dating from the thirteenth century. This work, by Khwaja Nasiruddin Tusi, was one of the most widely read works of adab literature in the Persian curriculum in India before the introduction of English education. If Tusi said that teaching women to read and write was a bad idea, elite men trained in the Persian literary tradition would think twice before doing so. The influence of the misogyny of


Gender and Education in India

these classic texts should not be underestimated.31 Among sharif women of the nineteenth century, therefore, knowing how to read was unusual enough, but knowing how to write was very rare indeed. The taboo on writing was based on the anxiety that if a girl knew how to write, she might write letters to forbidden persons—defined as any man, related or unrelated, who might be an eligible marriage partner—and thereby violate the rules of purdah and damage family honour.32 The protection of a girl’s chastity, and hence the family’s izzat or honour, was infinitely more important than the development of her mind. Not until religious reformers began to point out the connection between education and correct religious observance did some families begin to relax restrictions on their daughters knowing how to read and write. Azizunnissa Begam, Sir Sayyid’s mother, was an example of a woman who had acquired a basic literary and religious education thanks to her father. But among women of her generation, Azizunnissa was an exception. More typical was the mother of Munshi Zakaullah of Delhi, a younger contemporary of Sir Sayyid. Zakaullah’s mother married into the family that had served for generations as tutors to the Mughal princes, and yet she was totally illiterate herself. She was nevertheless a woman of great piety and self-discipline, with great respect for learning. On one occasion, when the family was in straitened circumstances, she sold her jewellery to purchase school books for her sons’ education.33 There were other exceptions, but they tended to prove the rule. The Begams of Bhopal, Sikandar Begam (1819-68), Shah Jahan Begam (1838-1901), and Sultan Jahan Begam (1858-1930), belonged to a dynasty that produced no male heirs for three generations, so women ruled this Central Indian state, and

princesses of the house of Bhopal were educated.34 The Begams of Bhopal were also great patrons of education for girls, in their state and elsewhere.35 The third in this line of women rulers, Sultan Jahan Begam, in her autobiography, outlined her daily lessons— all taught by men. The subjects included the Quran, Persian, English, Pushto (the dynasty was of Pathan descent), arithmetic, handwriting, riding, and fencing.36 This was the education of a sharif gentleman of an earlier generation. When a Muslim woman did get a formal education, there was little difference between what she read and the standard books studied by men. Sultan Jahan Begam maintained strict purdah for most of her life, and she herself as well as others pointed to her case as evidence that women in purdah could be well educated.37 While it is true that veiled women could be educated, the Begams of Bhopal were atypical. As ruling ‘princes,’ they had to deal with men every day, whether tutors, religious guides, ministers, revenue officials, or the British Resident. That the Begam wore a veil while attending to official duties did not alter the fact that few other sharif women could match her experience.38 Nevertheless the presence of such women among North Indian Muslims permitted a certain stretching of the boundaries of permissible behaviour, if not for all women, then for some in the upper class. The Begams were living evidence that educated women could be capable administrators, and that their piety and nobility of character were undiminished by a public life. They travelled on trains, made speeches, attended British government durbars, and educated their daughters and granddaughters; but they were also wives, mothers, and pious Muslims. Two of the Begams made the pilgrimage to Mecca; all three patronised religious learning in their realm and elsewhere in India. 39 Adoring

Role Models: Educated Muslim Women – Real and Ideal subjects and British officials alike were prone to draw parallels between the Begams and Queen Victoria. The comparison was apt, though of course Bhopal was an infinitely smaller realm, and the Begams were possibly better educated. Azizunnissa and the Begams of Bhopal were exceptional, but there were other remarkable Muslim women of more modest means who acquired their education against all odds, Abadi Banu Begam (1852-1924), otherwise known as Bi Amman, was lovingly described in the autobiography of her son, Muhammad Ali (1878-1931), a leading politician and journalist. She was from an administrative family in the Muslim princely state of Rampur. She had learned the Quran as a child and thus knew the Arabic script in a rudimentary fashion. She taught herself to read Urdu by asking a nephew to read to her from a book of stories, committing it to memory, and then rereading it herself, partly from memory and partly by sounding out the letters—since the script for Persian and Urdu is only slightly different from that of Arabic. She could read, therefore, and in addition was a great storyteller, but she never learned to write. Abadi Banu Begam was widowed young, with five sons and a daughter to raise. She never remarried, but—following a common theme of self-sacrifice for the love of learning—she pawned her gold ornaments in order to ensure that her sons had a good education.40 Most remarkable of all was Ashrafunnissa Begam (1840-1903), called Bibi Ashraf by her students. Her story of how she learned to read and write is unusual, for it is one of the few accounts by a woman, and it shows the amazing degree of self-discipline and determination required, even in a literate family. A man’s autobiography may idealise his mother for her devotion to learning, but there is nothing idealised about this harrowing


account. Ashrafunnissa came from a family of modest means, but one in which the women were traditionally taught to read, though never to write. They were Sayyids, the highest status group among the ashraf, and devout Shi’as, and had a small landholding in Bijnor district. Her father, a vakil (legal practitioner), was employed in the princely state of Gwalior, so Bibi Ashraf and her siblings grew up in her grandfather’s house. An ustani came to the house to teach the girls to read the Quran, until one day when the teacher, a widow, remarried. Bibi Ashraf was six years old, and only halfway through the sacred book, when this happened. Her grandfather was so shocked by the woman’s remarriage—in spite of the fact that widow remarriage is permitted in Islam—that the woman was banned from ever returning to the house, and the lessons necessarily ceased.41 Although some of the girls in the extended family were able to continue studying with their mothers, Ashrafunnissa—whose mother was sickly and died soon thereafter—could find no one to help her with her reading. Indeed, her desire for further schooling was actively discouraged by several of her relatives. Her grandmother, however, encouraged her to read and reread the sections of the Quran that she had already studied, and by persistent effort she completed the sacred book on her own. She still could not read Urdu and wanted to do so in order to participate in majalis—poetic recitations organised by the family during the sacred month of Muharram to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Husain at Kerbala. She asked a relative for the text of some of the poems offered on such occasions, claiming that she would have them copied so she could practise reading and reciting them. She got the texts and some paper, took some coal blacking from the underside of the kitchen griddle (tava) in order to make ink to copy the texts herself, and then


Gender and Education in India

stole off to the roof at midday—when everyone else in the household was resting— to copy the texts, which she could not understand.42 Then she found a teacher. A male cousin needed help studying the Quran, so she exchanged that service for help in learning to read some Urdu marsiyas, elegiac poems honouring the Imams. After a while, she found that she could also read the poems that she had so painstakingly copied out in secret. Then it was simply a matter of practice, reading everything that came to hand. When her uncle, a stern individual opposed to women’s writing, left home to join her father in Gwalior, the other women in the household discovered that she could write, and she became the scribe who wrote their family letters.43 At the age of nineteen Ashrafunnissa was married to a cousin, Sayyid Alamdar Husain, and moved to Lahore. Her husband, as was increasingly common for members of his generation, had been educated in the colonial system. He had received his education at Delhi College, an institution that taught both Western sciences and oriental literatures through the medium of Urdu.44 He became a Deputy Inspector of Schools in the Punjab, and later taught Arabic and Persian at Lahore’s Government College. They had four children, two of whom died in infancy. Alamdar Husain died in 1870, leaving Bibi Ashraf with two young daughters. She never remarried, but raised her children, educated them, and supported herself, first by taking in sewing and later by teaching at Victoria Girls’ School in Lahore. She was obviously a woman of tremendous determination, sustained by a firm religious faith. When she wrote a description of how she learned to read and write, it was published in 1899 in Tahzib un-Niswan, an Urdu newspaper for women published in Lahore. Following Ashrafunnissa’s death in 1903, the editor of

this newspaper, Muhammadi Begam, wrote a biography based on Bibi Ashraf’s own story that became a source of inspiration to many of her former students.45 Bibi Ashraf, as a high-status but impoverished widow, was the kind of woman who would have been an ustani in the homebased indigenous educational system of her childhood. By the time she died, girls from sharif families were beginning to attend schools such as the one where she taught, and families who sought to hire ustanis found that they were increasingly difficult to find. Part of the explanation for this was the general decline in the indigenous system of education that occurred with the spread of Englishmedium schools, but here too the decline of private patronage was crucial. Many landed families could no longer afford the number of retainers they had once employed. Furthermore, where families of teachers and their home-based schools had been supported by awqaf, it was precisely these ‘private’ endowments that were under scrutiny by the British courts. In a period when working for a salary outside the home was regarded as unacceptable for sharif women, the ustani was disappearing as a result of the decline of traditional forms of patronage. 46 Muslim women’s home education, never very extensive and always confined to an elite, was consequently in decline during the late nineteenth century, threatened by a declining supply of teachers just at the time when the demand for them was increasing.47 Returning to Sir Sayyid’s views, one could argue that he was not opposed to women’s education in principle, only to their education in schools. This was a realistic assessment of opinion among his fellow ashraf in the 1880s. Sir Sayyid felt, as did most men of his day, that women were inherently inferior to men, physically and intellectually. In a reflection not restricted to Indian culture, he complained

Role Models: Educated Muslim Women – Real and Ideal that women were less rational than men, more emotional. What’s more, they were credulous and clung stubbornly to outmoded customs; they made men’s lives very difficult. He compared them to birds, caged from birth, who did not know how to fly. Even though this metaphor could be interpreted as a cultural explanation for women’s backwardness and an argument against seclusion, Sir Sayyid argued otherwise. Women shared human nature with men, but because they were rationally deficient, such caging was necessary. Sir Sayyid, consequently, was a firm champion of purdah. Women should be confined to the home sphere, in order to protect their modesty.48 To his credit, however, Sir Sayyid felt that the custom of purdah, as practised in India, had been carried to extremes. Such isolation, he argued, was the cause of women’s ignorance (a cultural, thus corrigible, phenomenon). In the great days of early Islam, he claimed, women had been educated. They could inherit property and had to be able to manage it. Hence, they needed to know not only how to read the scriptures, but also how to write and figure. Islamic civilisation had fallen on evil days and thus the status and rights of women had been abridged. This was not true Islam, but the result of adherence to bad custom.49 Sir Sayyid’s position may seem contradictory, supporting purdah, yet blaming it for women’s backwardness. This was not so much a contradiction as it was artful argument for change via adherence to a reinterpreted tradition. He did not oppose purdah—since it not only had religious sanction, but also was symbolic of the high status of the women who observed it—but rather its exaggeration in the Indian context. This was similar to his argument in favour of the new knowledge: Muslims’ adherence to bad custom, in this case, betrayed a lack of knowledge of true Islamic practice.


Sir Sayyid’s argument found echoes among other reformers of his generation, younger men who were even more outspoken about the potential benefits of home education for women. Education would unveil women’s minds—if not their faces—break down their isolation, and combat superstition and bad custom that were the chief causes of Muslim moral and cultural decline. This was a line of reasoning heard again and again in the reformers’ discourse. The service gentry, as it evolved into a professional and bureaucratic middle class under the British Raj, thus seemed to accept the British cultural critique that Indian weakness was a result of moral as well as political collapse. 50 But such an argument was present in Muslim discourse well before the East India Company displaced the Mughals. Shah Waliullah in the eighteenth century, and before him, Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi, the founder of the Mujaddidi line of sufis in the seventeenth century, had lamented the loss of religious compass in the Muslim elite and linked it to the loss of political power. Re-establishing the authority of God’s law in Muslims’ lives was thus a prelude to regaining political and cultural ascendancy.51 The point to remember here is that Muslim reformers, while undoubtedly responding to British colonial discourse, nevertheless inherited a similar discourse of moral decline and renewal from their own religious tradition. This may be another example, as Sir Sayyid would have said, of ‘the egg or the hen.’ Fictional Heroines as Role Models: Asghari and Zubaida Khatun In his novel Mirat ul-’Arus (The Bride’s Mirror),52 Nazir Ahmad Dehlavi tells the story of two sisters from a respectable Delhi family: Akbari and Asghari. Akbari, the elder, is uneducated, slothful, and a shrew. She associates with women beneath her station, induces her husband to split with his family,


Gender and Education in India

and is so superstitious that she is easily hoodwinked by a swindler masquerading as a recently returned pilgrim from Mecca. It seems that she was indulged by her grandmother, though the reasons for the contrast between the two sisters is never thoroughly explained. The girls’ father, Durandesh (‘Farsighted’) Khan, seems to have taken over the education of Asghari, the younger, who is the very model of the ideal, modern Muslim woman. Educated at home, Asghari observes purdah and has an arranged marriage—to the younger brother of Akbari’s husband. In spite of her seeming isolation from the outside world, she is skilful in her handling of social relations, wise beyond her years, respectful of her elders, and a model homemaker. She corresponds with her father, whose job takes him away from home, emphasising the importance of literacy in the maintenance of family relations. Early in her marriage Asghari discovers the activities of a dishonest servant who has been ruining her in-laws, exposes her, earns the respect of her father-in-law in the process, and becomes the household manager—all without threatening her mother-in-law. She then reforms her wayward husband and steers him towards a government job by advising him to make himself available at the courthouse, learn the ropes, and thus be ready and able when an opening occurs. This he does, works his way up, and eventually secures a lucrative post, with a little help from family connections. She then has to warn him against sycophants who attempt to corrupt him. Asghari also starts a school in her home for the respectable girls of the neighbourhood. Her students are so devoted to her that she is able to arrange a prestigious marriage for her younger sister-in-law, by using the good offices of two of her students, sisters of the intended bridegroom. Her religious charities include endowing a mosque and a serai for

travellers. 53 Her careful management of human relations also succeeds in bringing her elder sister and brother-in-law back into the household. From triumph to triumph, Asghari never transgresses the rules of purdah society, nor skimps on loyalty to her husband and his family. She is competent to a remarkable, almost incredible, degree. Even personal tragedy cannot break her: when she loses two children at young ages, she does not turn to spells or amulets, but remains firm in her faith in God, knowing that what Allah gives, He can take away. Mirat ul-’Arus had an enormous success when it was published in 1869, and the novel remains one of the classics of Urdu literature.54 Nazir Ahmad (1833?-1912) 55 was a younger contemporary of Sir Sayyid. Born into a family of Islamic scholars in Bijnor district, he received his early education in Arabic and Persian from his father. When he was in his early teens, his father took him to Delhi to live and study with Maulvi Abdul Khaliq, who conducted a madrasa in the Aurangabadi mosque in the Punjabi Katra section of old Delhi.56 As part of his keep he helped the women of the Maulvi’s family by doing chores, such as grinding spices. The women apparently bossed him about mercilessly. The Maulvi’s granddaughter, Safiatunnissa, one of these taskmasters, later became his wife. The marriage was a happy one, but Nazir Ahmad clearly had no reason to feel that women in purdah were either shy or unassertive.57 Nazir Ahmad was on the path to a life of religious scholarship when a chance encounter with the Principal of Delhi College, who was impressed by the boy’s intelligence, earned him a scholarship to study at the college. His father was adamantly opposed to his learning English, so he enrolled in the Oriental section of the college, where he studied Arabic and mathematics, including algebra, calculus, and trigonometry through the medium of Urdu.

Role Models: Educated Muslim Women – Real and Ideal He was one of the brightest students at Delhi College, and one of its most renowned graduates. After leaving the college in 1854, he became a teacher of Arabic in the Punjab, moving up, as a result of his loyal service to the British during the 1857 revolt, to be Deputy Inspector of Schools at Allahabad in the Northwestern Provinces. It was only at this stage of his career that he learned English. In the 1860s he translated the Income Tax Regulations and the Indian Penal Code into Urdu, and eventually became a Deputy Collector in the Revenue Service (hence he is often referred to as ‘Deputy’ Nazir Ahmad). He later served the Nizam’s government in Hyderabad, and retired to Delhi in the 1880s to devote himself to literature and to lecturing on religious and educational topics. He was a staunch supporter of Sir Sayyid’s Aligarh movement, and although he is probably best known as an Urdu novelist, he thought of himself primarily as an educator.58 Mirat ul-’Arus, Nazir Ahmad’s first novel, was originally written as a guide for his daughters, because, he explained, it was not customary to educate women in India, and yet there were respectable families whose women kept up the tradition of reading the Quran. Accordingly, his daughters were taught to read by the older women in the family, and he noted their eagerness to learn. At the same time, he felt that the standard works on religion were not suitable for children. He started searching for a book, in an appealing style, that would give them moral instruction, refine their habits, and stimulate their minds. But though he combed the library, he could find nothing appropriate, so he composed this story, first writing the story of Akbari as a cautionary tale, later adding that of Asghari. The lack of suitable literature for the moral instruction of women is a frequently cited reason among reformers for taking up their pens.59


The story of Akbari and Asghari became very popular with women in his family, and then in the neighbourhood. A copy of the story went with his eldest daughter as part of her dowry. Then, in 1869, the provincial government in Allahabad announced a prize competition, for ‘useful works in the vernacular,’ i.e. Hindi or Urdu. It noted that in addition to the prize money, a thousand rupees, the government would aid the publication of the work by purchasing a number of copies for its educational institutions. The government announcement added: ‘Books suitable for the women of India will be especially acceptable and well rewarded.’ Nazir Ahmad decided to submit Mirat ul-’Arus to the competition and not only won the prize, but the government bought two thousand copies of the book and recommended its adoption as a textbook in vernacular schools for girls.60 The Deputy went on to write many more novels, two of which won prizes in subsequent years, Banat un-Na’ash in 1872, and Taubat unNasuh in 1874.61 Banat un-Na’ash was intended as a continuation of the story of Asghari, though it is not as interesting, lacking the dramatic contrast between the two sisters. It is the story of Asghari’s school, and the training of one of her pupils, Husnara, a spoilt girl from a rich family who mends her ways as a result of Asghari’s tutelage. Husnara learns to read the Quran and to read and write Urdu, and even acquires a fair handwriting; she reads a number of religious books, including the Risala-i-Maulud Sharif (stories of the birth of the Prophet Muhammad), studies arithmetic up to fractions, the history and geography of India, basic science, and she learns to read Urdu newspapers. She is also trained to cook, sew, manage a household budget, and be generous toward those less fortunate. The book lays out Nazir Ahmad’s ideas for a three-year syllabus for girls’ basic


Gender and Education in India

education. The management of Asghari’s school is also worth nothing. It is run by an individual who is above reproach and one of her close relatives (her sister-in-law) in their home. It has a few, carefully selected students and is self-supporting. Asghari is entirely too sharif to charge fees, so the students do fine handicrafts—embroidery, lacework, crocheting—that are sold to meet school expenses.62 Though her family is moderately prosperous, Asghari’s economic resourcefulness reflects the needs of the times. When wealthy patrons are few, and fewer still for girls’ education, greater individual enterprise is called for, but it should not be too obvious. Nazir Ahmad’s interest in women’s education went considerably further than Sir Sayyid’s. He realised that the older, homebased system was no longer vital, and he sought a way to revitalise it, or to evolve schools that maintained a base in sharif homes as an acceptable alternative. His syllabus combined a basic vernacular education, similar to that given to boys, and training in the domestic arts necessary for girls’ future lives. In addition to his novels, he also wrote a series of short textbooks that bear out this generalisation. Chand Pand was a book of useful general knowledge, written for boys and girls, covering everything from personal cleanliness to short biographies of the major prophets; Rasm ul-Khat was a guide to Urdu calligraphy, with examples and exercises.63 Then, to provide a guide to the religious life, he wrote a weighty tome that detailed the rights and duties of Muslims, Al-Huquq wa alFaraiz, a commentary on Arabic texts that he quotes at length. Though the work was written as a guide to believers without regard to gender, it seems clear that it was intended for those who had more than a superficial knowledge of the Arabic sources. His reader, male or female, had to be fairly learned.64 Nazir Ahmad’s attitude toward women’s

abilities was different in degree from Sir Sayyid’s. In Mirat he noted that women might be weaker physically than men, but their intelligence, understanding, and memory— their minds in other words—were equal to mens’. Men made use of their gifts in the outside, professional world, but women did not. Therefore education was, if anything, more important for women than for men, since men could gain knowledge through experience, whereas women in purdah could only gain it through reading.65 In addition, an educated woman could educate her children—not just the girls, but also the boys before they went to school—and provide them with moral guidance and discipline. This was Nazir Ahmad the Deputy Inspector of Schools speaking, echoing the Victorian adage that the home was the most influential source of civilisation.66 The Deputy’s views seem to contrast with Sir Sayyid’s more conventional misogyny, but if thoroughly analysed, the views of the two men have considerable areas of agreement. Both view the women’s quarters (zenana) as a place of isolation, backwardness, corrupt custom, and superstition. On the other hand, both view an educated woman as a potential source of ethical guidance, discipline, and revitalised faith. Neither feels it necessary to abolish purdah as the source of women’s isolation, since the world can be brought into the zenana via education, and the influence of the refurbished zenana can be exercised on the outside world through the women’s influence in their families, especially on their sons. It is only the self-containment of the zenana, and the unhealthy nature of women’s influence, that need to be changed. Muslim reformers were influenced by some notions of Victorian pedagogy—the views of Samuel Smiles seem particularly salient—but their consciousness of the powerful influence of the zenana on men’s lives was very much a

Role Models: Educated Muslim Women – Real and Ideal product of their own experience. Asghari, for example, used her talents to influence events and people on both sides of her family for the good; she managed the family’s finances, arranged jobs and marriages, all without violating the boundaries of seclusion. A less intelligent woman, or a less capable manager, could bring about ruination, as her sister Akbari demonstrated. Nazir Ahmad also pointed out that women who used their time well could direct not only a household, but even a state, as did the Begam of Bhopal, or even the world, as did Queen Victoria.67 Nazir Ahmad’s style, while didactic, nevertheless had great appeal. To a modern sensibility, his characters seem onedimensional: his heroes and heroines without blemish, his villains without redeeming qualities. But in his time they struck a balance between the wholly stereotypical character types of the Persian and Indian traditional tale (dastan)68 and a new literary form coming from the West, the novel of manners. Stories that took place in ordinary middle-class homes as opposed to fabulous palaces or exotic, faraway places were new, as were characters that spoke in conversational style—as opposed to the flowery phrases of the romantic tales. The women in the Deputy’s novels speak the way women in Delhi spoke: in the idioms of Begamati Zuban, the dialect of Urdu spoken by women, which was down-to-earth, humorous, and riddled with homely truisms.69 Like many reformers, Nazir Ahmad portrayed the life he wanted to change, criticising women’s language and customs while re-producing them. Asghari, of course, spoke proper Urdu, not begamati, and she disdained useless customs and rituals, but discussed them in the context of arguing against them. Nazir Ahmad’s novels were windows on the world of women at that time, making allowances for the reformer’s exaggeration of both the evil and the good that he saw in zenana life.


A few years later the poet Khwaja Altaf Husain Hali (1837-1914) created another Muslim female paragon: Zubaida Khatun, heroine of his Majalis un-Nissa (Assemblies of Women), a series of fictional conversations among women of a prosperous, urban Muslim household. As narrated by one of the participants, an old governess who is an outspoken advocate of women’s education, Zubaida Khatun’s story is another example of the triumph of virtue and skill over the multiple trials of family life. She is educated at home by her father, learning to read Arabic, Persian, and Urdu, and by her mother in all the arts of household management. She is taught to be thrifty and pious, to shun unnecessary household rituals, and to reject a variety of superstitious customs. She marries without dowry, giving her open consent to the marriage, as required by Islamic scripture. She raises her only son, Sayyid Abbas, to be pious, restrained, and resourceful. He, in turn, succeeds in life as a result of his discipline, intelligence, and hard work, not as the result of influential connections.70 The message of Majalis un-Nissa is similar to that of Nazir Ahmad’s novels: women should be educated because they are the real managers of the household, the focus of family life, responsible for the early training of the children, and essential for the survival and advancement of the Muslim middle class in a time of rapid change. Like Nazir Ahmad’s novels, the work not only reflects actual conditions at the time but also Hali’s ideas of what should be, derived from his acquaintance with mid-Victorian pedagogy as well as from his sense that the vernacular education system of an earlier day had declined. Majalis is hard to classify as a prose form: It is a work of fiction in that it tells a story and attempts to portray character, though the characters tend to be stereotypes, as do the characters in Nazir Ahmad’s novels. It is a work of social history


Gender and Education in India

reflecting the language, home life, beliefs, and practices of urban middle-class Muslims in the mid-to late nineteenth century. And it is a reformist tract, an eloquent and engaging plea for women’s education and greater recognition of women’s rights within the context of their domestic roles. Like Mirat ul’Arus, Majalis un-Nissa gained recognition from the British Indian government. The Director of Public Instruction in the Punjab recommended it for a prize of 400 rupees and adopted it as a textbook for girls’ schools.71 Its author, Altaf Husain, was better known by his poetic name, or takhallus, Hali. Hali means ‘modern’ or ‘up to date;’ he was a conscious innovator in his life and work. By the early 1870s, when Majalis was published, Hali was clearly more advanced in his thinking about women’s education than was Sir Sayyid, and was comparable in his views to Nazir Ahmad. Their similarities reflect their parallel small-town backgrounds, families associated with religious learning and government service, and schooling and work that brought them into contact with the British at various times in their lives. Hali was born into a family known for its piety and learning, long established in the qasbah of Panipat, some fifty miles north of Delhi. Panipat is best known as the locale of three major battles that determined the fate of the Mughal empire. Hali’s ancestors had served the sultans of Delhi and the Mughals and had been granted properties in the town and environs for their support. Hali thus belonged to the service gentry, a class accustomed to serving the government of the time by means of their pens, and living from government patronage and the proceeds of their lands. His family was at best minor gentry, and by the mid-nineteenth century they were in straitened circumstances. His father, who died young, was the first in the family to serve the British. His mother

succumbed to madness, and so Hali was raised by his older brother and sister. His education included a thorough grounding in the Quran, and then reading with a succession of teachers the standard classical works that were regarded as preparatory to government service: Arabic grammar, Persian literature and composition. English was not yet necessary for minor government service in North India, and Hali never learned it. At the age of seventeen he was married to a cousin by his siblings. They doubtless thought that he would then settle down to a tame government job, but he had other ideas. His desire for further education was so strong that he took advantage of the fact that his wife’s parents were well-off, waited until she was away visiting them, and slipped away to Delhi to continue his studies.72 In Delhi, Altaf Husain enrolled in a madrasa, where he was a charity student for the next year and a half, studying the Quran, hadith, and logic. He also became involved in the active literary life of the Mughal capital, reciting verses at musha‘iras (poetic gatherings), where he met the greatest poet of the age, Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib (17971869). Once, he mustered the courage to show some of his ghazals to Ghalib, a stern critic who was, nevertheless, impressed by the young man’s efforts. ‘I do not usually advise anyone to be a poet,’ he said, ‘but as far as you are concerned, I think that if you do not become a poet you will do violence to your nature.’73 Hali’s growing renown as a poet gave his presence away. News reached Panipat that he had been spotted at a musha’ira in Delhi, and his brother came to retrieve him and take him back to his wife and his responsibilities in the provinces. Hali then took a post as district clerk, a job that ended with the events of 1857. His marriage, which had started unpromisingly, turned out to be a long and fairly happy one. Some of his views on female

Role Models: Educated Muslim Women – Real and Ideal competence and control of the household derived from the character of his wife, Islamunnissa, who by all accounts was a strong-willed manager, though totally illiterate. Eventually, his growing family obliged Hali to seek employment by once again taking the road to Delhi. There he met an old acquaintance, Nawab Mustafa Khan Shaifta, a poet and literary connoisseur who was an intimate of Ghalib, but also a landlord who just happened to be looking for a tutor for his sons.74 Hali spent the next several years in Shaifta’s employ, enjoying his patronage and literary companionship, and perfecting his poetic gift with occasional advice from Ghalib. Hali’s provincial morality was occasionally shocked by Ghalib’s frank references to wine and women in his poetry, and he once admonished Ghalib to say his prayers more often. Ghalib was not amused. During this period, Hali developed a poetic style devoid of flowery hyperbole, more chaste in its references to love than that of Ghalib, and noted for its clarity and simplicity. In 1869, Shaifta and Ghalib both died, leaving Hali again bereft of intellectual stimulation and jobless.75 He then secured a post in the Punjab Government Book Depot in Lahore, where his duties involved revising the style of textbooks that had been translated from English into Urdu for the Education Department. Hali, who knew no English, thus became acquainted, albeit in translation, with a wide variety of materials on English literature and criticism, western philosophy, and pedagogy. This contract with western ideas influenced Hali, and his years in Lahore, 1870-4, were crucial to his intellectual and literary development.76 The process of intellectual influence, however, is a complex one, and one needs to guard against viewing Hali as thenceforth enthralled by western ideas. He was mature by the time he went to Lahore,77


and already a conscious literary innovator. His literary training in Arabic, Persian, and Urdu was thorough, acquired over many years through considerable dedication. His acquaintance with English literature and culture was new and acquired through the imperfect medium of translation, or else second hand, through the mediation of others who could read English. It seems fair to say that Hali was able to pick and choose among the ideas he encountered and integrate only those that were in accord with his own background. For example, Hali had been able to criticise Ghalib’s less-than-pious lifestyle, even though he otherwise revered the older poet and valued his literary advice. His response to nawabi insouciance might be regarded as the influence of mid-Victorian notions of propriety, but at a more profound level it reflects Hali’s religious learning and the reformist strain in North Indian Islam, with its criticism of extravagance and unnecessary customs. More concretely, such attitudes on the part of both Hali and Nazi Ahmad reflect an emerging middle-class consciousness of changing economic fortunes, and their acknowledgement of shifting patterns of patronage. During his sojourn in Lahore, Hali also began writing Urdu prose in a simplified style, avoiding Persian loan words and other ornamentation. This may have been a result of his contact with English prose in translation, but a more likely influence was that of other Urdu writers who were also experimenting with prose style at about the same time. Urdu journalism, featuring a simplified prose, had been developing in Delhi even before 1857. Sir Sayyid, later one of Hali’s mentors, was active in the development of a new Urdu prose before, and especially after, the revolt. Sir Sayyid visited England in 1869-70 and upon his return started his reformist journal Tahzib


Gender and Education in India

ul-Akhlaq (The Social Reformer), modelled on The Spectator, but paralleling a burgeoning number of social reform journals elsewhere in India. Another prose innovator, of course, was Nazir Ahmad, whose novels combined influences from the West with elements derived from the Persian literary tradition, both prose tales and adab, or ethical works. It is worth nothing that the title of Nazir Ahmad’s first novel, Mirat ul-’Arus, recalls the ‘Mirror for Princes’ genre, works of moral maxims and advice that also exist in western literary traditions,78 but that descend from Islamic, if not earlier, prototypes.79 The title of Hali’s Majalis un-Nissa recalls yet another traditional literary form: the Sufi majlis, a religious narrative detailing the advice given by Sufis to their disciples in gatherings or assemblies. The narrative tradition which these new Urdu prose works called upon was thus, to say the least, complex. The influences operating upon Hali, and the uses to which he put them, stem as much from his own cultural tradition, and from his contemporaries who were living through similar intellectual and political transitions, as they do from direct contact with, or copying of, English models. Majalis un-Nissa was published just before Hali left Lahore to become a teacher at the Delhi Anglo-Arabic School. Only at this stage of his life did he meet Sir Sayyid and become a supporter of the Aligarh movement. With Sir Sayyid’s encouragement, Hali wrote his most famous poetic work, Mussadas: Madd o Jazr-i-Islam (The Ebb and Flow of Islam), published in 1879. In it, Hali describes the past glories of Islam and the decay into which his community has fallen, and calls upon Muslims to seek knowledge, and to live up to their great past by taking a prominent place in contemporary history. Sir Sayyid was so delighted by the poem that he claimed that when God asked him, on the day of judgment,

what he had done in the world, he would reply only that he had urged Hali to write the Musaddas.80 In 1887 Hali found yet another patron: the government of the Nizam of Hyderabad offered him a stipend for his services to literature and education, a modest sum which enabled him to retire from teaching and devote the rest of his life to literature.81 Many works of poetry and prose followed, including several biographies, notably the life of Sir Sayyid.82 And he became a patron of learning himself: in his home town of Panipat, Hali started a secondary school for Muslims and raised funds to start a public library.83 Hali’s ideas on women’s education are related in the pages of Majalis un-Nissa, just as Nazir Ahmad’s were contained in Mirat ul’Arus and Banat un-Na’ash. As Zubaida Khatun says in Majalis: ‘You can give a person advice or forbid him to do all sorts of things, and it will all go in one ear and out the other. But if you tell him the same thing in story form, it will make a great impression.’84 The story is told in a colloquial style, which is part of its appeal. Hali has a striking command of Begamati Zuban. The narrative is full of downto-earth examples, proverbs, parables and idioms used only by the women of Delhi and Panipat. One section specifically discusses women’s language, counselling a young boy never to use it, but that does not stop Hali from writing in women’s idiom to get his reformist message across to a female readership.85 Hali has his women characters reflect on the backward condition of the Muslim community, the stagnation of vernacular learning,86 and the need for girls to be educated in order to fulfill their household and family duties. He does not go to extremes, however. The reforms he advocates are justified in terms of women’s traditional roles. There is no talk of a western-style curriculum, nor of higher education, nor of tearing down the curtains

Role Models: Educated Muslim Women – Real and Ideal of purdah. These women are certain of their roles and do not question them; rather they seek to do better what they are destined for: marriage, motherhood, household management, relations with relatives, guests and servants. This seems to the modern reader an extremely limited view of life and its possibilities, but to suggest that a girl in purdah in 1874 should get a full-fledged vernacular education, including learning to write, was very advanced. Majalis, therefore, while a reformist vision, also reflects its times. The structure and functions of family life, the daily routine, ceremonial occasions, the life of women in their separate world, and the real influence that women could wield in that world, are all described.87 The work is divided into two parts, the first, the story of Zubaida Khatun, and the second, the story of Sayyid Abbas, her son. These two stories illustrate the two main points that Hali wishes to make: first, that women who are educated can be better managers, better wives and mothers, and thus a major force in reforming the life of sharif families from within; and secondly, that educated mothers can discipline and train their sons, so that by the time they go to school, they are prepared to work hard and use their brains to advance in the outside world. Summarising Majalis un-Nissa brings out a number of themes that Muslim reformers not only shared among themselves, but also shared with social reformers from other religious communities.88 Zubaida Khatun’s parents head an affluent family, one that does not regard its wealth as all-important (that would not be a sharif attitude), but that nevertheless believes in husbanding its resources, including affection. Children should not be spoiled, and this includes choosing servants who will not indulge them either. This need for restraint in one’s emotional life might be regarded as a typical


Victorian middle-class attitude, and hence evidence of direct British influence on Hali, but on the contrary it is above all an element in sharif culture. One should not be demonstrative about one’s affections, as it is not only undignified but also disrespectful, and if carried to extremes it will lead to a breakdown of hierarchical authority in the family.89This attitude toward social control over individuals’ emotions is qualitatively different from mid-Victorian reserve, which allows for considerable sentimentality between parents and children.90 The idea of emotional control was an essential element in the late-nineteenthcentury Islamic religious reform movement in North India. In the thinking of the reformist ‘ulama, ‘standards of outward observance of (Islamic) Law and inward moral purification and control’ are inextricably linked. To lead a moral Muslim life, self-control and discipline are necessary; reason must control the senses. Hali, though not an alim, did have a thorough training in the scriptures, and would have been attuned to the ideas of certain reformist ulama. In any case, this idea of moral conduct or proper behaviour (adab) was essential to sharif lifestyle and self-definition.91 Zubaida Khatun’s early socialisation also discouraged such vices as loquaciousness, haste, and quarrelsomeness—all representative of a lack of restraint—and encouraged such virtues as modesty, patience, and obedience. These latter qualities might seem to be ‘feminine,’ but one gets the impression from the rest of Zubaida Khatun’s upbringing that her mother and father sought to instill in their daughter qualities that they regarded as ‘civilised’ and hence human in the fullest sense. Harmony was desirable; anger and discord were not. Only in this way can family life, comprising many relationships with both superiors and subordinates, flourish. Hali emphasises this point by this description of a


Gender and Education in India

typical conversation among women: when several [women] get together, they sit around and start complaining. Some complain about their mothers-in-law; others weep about their sisters-in-law. Some poor vitriol on their daughters-in-law; others retail their grievances against their husbands. Some find fault with X’s marriage or joke about the amount of Y’s dowry or cast aspersions on Z’s ancestry. If anyone disagrees with anything another says, they quarrel... Such women abuse and wound each other. They say tasteless things to their husbands. They curse their children for no reason. They grumble and argue with the servants...92

One might dismiss this as just a standard male complaint that women never talk about anything of substance. Hali’s point, however, is that these women lack self-control and decorum. If they were educated, they might still talk about children and relationships, but they might also discuss matters like good health and proper child-rearing, or how to bring literacy to the servants. What was crucial was that educated women would lead pious lives, control their tempers, and not abuse one another, their children, nor their servants gratuitously. Piety, orderliness, restraint, and veracity were all instilled in Zubaida Khatun before she reached the age of five and started studying with an ustani. She then began to learn the Quran in Arabic, plus calligraphy, Persian, and Urdu. Her father taught her arithmetic, Indian geography and history, and gave her a variety of ethical and moral works to read, including Sa’di’s Gulistan and Bustan, Abul Fazl’s Iyar-i-Danish in Persian, and Ghazzali’s Kimiya us-Sa’adat and Kalila wa Dimna in Arabic.93 She also learned to say her prayers regularly and practise ritual cleanliness. At a time when western pedagogical wisdom held that women should be trained for their role in life through a course of study heavy in ladylike

accomplishments and light in classical content, Zubaida Khatun received a classical and vernacular education the equal of any male’s, at least up to the secondary level.94 With her mother, she learned how to sew and cook—though at first she balked at making rotis (one sympathises).95 Her mother further instilled in her a respect for learning, pointing out that the richest gold ornaments are nothing beside it. She emphasised that the greatest poverty is the absence of knowledge, and that in male-female relations the main reason that women are oppressed is their lack of knowledge. Hali thus points to one of the roots of the problem of women’s status and a major way to eliminate it. At a time when men were just beginning to be concerned with ‘perfecting women,’96 Hali emphasises the need for women themselves actively to seek an education. The problem of changing men’s attitudes toward women comes later in the book.97 Zubaida Khatun’s education continues with a discussion of a host of practical matters that reveal women’s daily routine. Her mother notes that men have it easy, because they can pick up useful information in the course of their everyday lives, but women are isolated, and if they have only ignorant persons to talk to, ignorance is compounded—a point also made by Nazir Ahmad. There is a hint here of dissatisfaction with purdah, but only because it abets ignorance. Zubaida’s mother then goes into a long description of women’s superstitions and folk beliefs, ‘a strange sort of faith which you won’t find mentioned in the Quran or hadith’: If two pieces of metal strike together, it is inauspicious... If you stand a cot up against the wall with its legs facing out, it will bring bad luck... If a broom touches your body, you will become greedy for food ... Whenever you give children milk, curd or rice [white things] to eat, give them a slight taste of ashes as well, or the

Role Models: Educated Muslim Women – Real and Ideal evil eye will affect them ... If the veil of a woman whose child has died touches someone, her child will become ill, unless she cuts off the corner of the veil and burns it. If you go to someone’s house for a visit, don’t return on the third day. Don’t go visiting on a Wednesday ... the third, thirteenth, and twenty-third and the eighth, eighteenth, and twenty-eighth are unlucky, so don’t take up new tasks on those dates.98

The best antidote to such foolishness is an education. Hali’s critique of women’s superstitions echoes Nazir Ahmad’s aspersions upon Akbari’s gullibility. Reformers, whether Hindu or Muslim, were involved in a complex process of cultural critique that judged women’s practices as inferior or backward, congruent to the European cultural critique of aspects of Indian culture as requiring a ‘civilising mission.’99 The civilising process that the men envisaged for the women involved an education similar to their own as a means of instilling literary values and scriptural, as opposed to folk, beliefs. The sharing of interests and values would not only break down the isolation of the zenana (without the need to abolish purdah), but would also pose a further challenge to the nawabi style, which reformers deprecated. According to this line of reasoning, if women were educated, not only would they not be misled by false beliefs and practices, but they would also be better companions to their husbands. They could converse with them, share their interests, and be true life partners. Hali seems to be pleading for a kind of marriage similar to the Victorian domestic ideal. Not necessarily. Men would still have to live most of their lives in the competitive outside world, and women would stay at home in purdah. The home would become a haven (or better still, an oasis), so that men would not be tempted to find their


companionship elsewhere—with courtesans for instance. If middle-class women were literate and cultivated—traditionally a role reserved for courtesans—men would be saved from the dissolute life, and the expense that went along with it. Hali here turns an argument against women’s education on its head. This argument held that if women became educated, they would become disrespectful or even immoral, like courtesans. Hali argues that, on the contrary, there will be no further need for courtesans and a tremendous increase in public morality on the part of men, if wives replace courtesans in their husbands’ affections. To be sure, he does not mention courtesans in this text for young girls, but the argument can be deduced from this passage: You should consider the man a thirsty traveller and the woman a spring. If the spring happens to be located in the shade of a tree and there is greenery all around and a nice, cool breeze, then the traveller, after quenching his thirst, will want to spend several hours enjoying the environment. There may be plenty of other springs which do not have such a pleasant atmosphere where he would simply quench his thirst and go his way.100

Such a desirable congruence of values and interests among husbands and wives also involves religious assumptions. Acceptable values involve scriptural knowledge and observance of proper rituals such as regular prayers and fasting. Household and life-cycle rituals are wasteful and riddled with superstition. Many such customs and rituals have to do with subjects central to women’s lives: housework, food preparation and eating, marriages, children, visits, illnesses, and the good and bad omens associated with them.101 Zubaida Khatun’s mother describes a host of folk rituals designed to get rid of the evil eye and exorcise spirits. Such rituals, vows, and oblations are, she implies, worse than useless,


Gender and Education in India

for they waste money unnecessarily and cure nothing: A woman whose children have all died young can try various remedies. In some places, she is covered with ashes, in other places, she is made to bathe. In still others, she is forbidden to cook in a karhai, or to eat eggs, fish, gur, milk, or curds. She should not attend funerals, not the sixth day bathing rites for new mothers ... None of these women realizes that God alone gives life or takes it away ... As for women who have never given birth to a child, in some places fairies are invoked for them, in other places, spirits are summoned. Domnis come and sing all night before those who are possessed by spirits, and they, in turn, shake their heads wildly and demand whatever they like, as if spirits were gyrating and speaking within them ... No one ever asked which spirits bring children and points out that it is in God’s power alone to grant children or not.102

Hali takes the reformist stance that God alone can grant life, children and health, but he goes on to advocate rational and scientific attitudes toward medical cures. He is in favour of western medicine to the extent of advocating vaccinations, but he also mentions yunani hakims 103 as the indigenous alternative to irrational attitudes toward healing. Hali’s discussion, however, betrays a lack of understanding of the psychological stresses of purdah existence. Non-medical ‘cures,’ belief in the evil eye, and exorcism were all functions of an environment in which hostilities often ran high but had to be repressed, and where professional medical help was usually unavailable. Hakims were men and could not see their female patients; feeling a pulse or having symptoms described by a servant did not permit very accurate diagnoses.104 Ill women, or women with ill children, thus relied on household remedies or on cures which at least led to the release of fears and nervous tensions, such as the summoning of domnis: professional women

entertainers and exorcists who only performed before women, did not violate purdah taboos, and provided a good night’s entertainment besides. A woman who was ‘possessed’ could vent her hostilities and frustrations in a socially acceptable manner and feel better for it.105 Quite aside from the scriptural or scientific arguments against such all-female ceremonies, these were arenas over which men had no control, and that made reformers like Hali very uncomfortable. While the reformers wanted to refashion women’s minds and hearts in their own image, they were quite willing to let women continue to run the household. Zubaida Khatun’s mother explains to her all the skills she will need in order to do so. While the surface theme of this section is service to the family, the underlying message is one of competence and self-sufficiency within the woman’s sphere. Upon her skills ultimately depend the survival and the status of the family. Zubaida Khatun’s mother offers her advice on how a woman in purdah can avoid being cheated by her servants who do the shopping. She should cross-check the prices they quote to her against information brought from the outside by women of the itinerant service castes: the miller woman, the bangle seller, and so on.106 She should buy staples in bulk in season; she should vary the servant she sends out to the bazaar; she should never buy on credit. As an additional way to keep the servants on their toes, she should never be a stranger in her own kitchen. Managing servants is only a small part of her day. Hospitality is also an important function: serving guests who arrive unexpectedly, always having enough paan on hand in a paandan maintained with pristine cleanliness, and sending out food on ritual occasions to those who depend on the family. Maintenance of the family’s sharif status depends in part on such obligations of

Role Models: Educated Muslim Women – Real and Ideal hospitality and gift exchange, and upon almsgiving, Zubaida’s mother admonishes her never to let a faqir go away from her door emptyhanded. 107 Hali understands that though frugality is a virtue, some customs and niceties have to be observed. Generosity is a virtue of the ashraf, so even if it is not lavish, hospitality remains an important element of a family’s status. Miserliness is definitely not sharif; thus moderation and foresight are required in the skilful woman.108 Personal cleanliness is also important; so too is the need to keep the drinking water supply pure, floor covering spotless, cooking vessels re-tinned, clothes clean and mended (Akbari’s negligence in this area was one of her many sins). Before the cold weather, quilts have to be restuffed, warm clothing maintained, charcoal burners procured. For the hot season and before the rains, there are other maintenance chores: roofs have to be checked and replastered or rethatched, furniture repaired, cots restrung and kept taut, and so on. There is little time for idling from dawn to dusk, or from one end of the year to the other.109 One is tempted to compare this outlook, with its emphasis on hard work, selfdenial, and the need to be prepared for all eventualities, to the Protestant ethic. There is no need to look so far afield to characterise this ethic. It is intimately connected with the values of restraint and self-control outlined earlier as part of both sharif culture and reformist Islam. Not only that, but the idea that a moral existence on earth, regardless of the rewards in the here and now, will bring paradise in the hereafter, is central to Islam as well as Christianity. Queen Victoria appears in several places in Hali’s Majalis, as she does in the pages of Nazir Ahmad’s novels, as the ultimate role model. She is the exemplary woman, not only educated and skilled at administration, but also a loyal and obedient wife, prolific mother,


and sorrowing widow. In fact, though Victoria is the ruler over her vast realm (as all women are, in a sense, queens in their own realms), the stories Hali narrates about her show the queen to be a woman who cares about her family and about those who are dependent upon her, and who exemplifies compassion and justice in her dealings with others.110 The queen thus provides a model of womanly and wifely behaviour. Hali has patterned Victoria after his own criteria of the ideal woman: competent, intelligent, and patient. The story of Zubaida Khatun culminates with her marriage. Her mother takes her aside and gives her advice concerning ‘what every bride ought to know before going to her inlaws’ house,’ in other words, family diplomacy (the sorts of things that Asghari seemed to know instinctively). She first contrasts the supportive conditions in her own home with those that she will find in her new home. She has been brought up in an enlightened atmosphere, free of superstitions. She may find, however, that her in-laws are still devoted to custom. She must not become discouraged at this state of affairs but must work for change with tact and patience. She has learned self-control at home; at her new home she will be the outsider and hence the one who has to make adjustments. The most demanding task before any Indian bride is getting along with her mother-in-law. It will not be easy, but Zubaida Khatun must make the effort, ‘It takes two hands to clap,’ her mother points out. If she conducts herself properly, she will win the affection of all concerned, mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and of course, her husband. The negotiations leading up to the marriage show the contractual nature of Muslim marriage, and the fact that Indian marriages are arrangements between families, not individuals. They agree not to waste money on mahr, beyond that required by


Gender and Education in India

Islamic law,111 nor upon dowry, nor on undue pomp and ceremony. The father of the prospective bridegroom asks that the marriage be postponed for three years to allow his son to complete his education. His message is against a marriage at too young an age112 before the young people are prepared. Zubaida Khatun may be fully prepared, but she needs to reach the age of discretion, for the bride is supposed to give her consent to the marriage, being fully cognisant of what is involved. This is often not the case, which is revealed at the marriage ceremony itself, when Zubaida Khatun’s father comes to ask her for her consent. He points out that Islamic law requires that she agree to the match. The hold of tradition is very strong, however, and customarily the bride remains mute and shy— indeed the assembled company expects her to remain so—meaning that her consent is simply assumed as she is married off. Zubaida Khatun’s father is a determined opponent of such customs, and he insists that she speak up. She finally does so, in terms sufficiently self-effacing to satisfy the invited guests. Just before Zubaida Khatun leaves with her husband, her father takes his son-in-law aside and gives him some good advice. It has to do with his attitude towards his wife and women in general: ‘It says in the hadith that one should not mistrust women.’ This recalls an earlier point in the story when Hali had emphasised the need for women to seek education and improvement for themselves, but had not dealt adequately with men’s attitudes. Here, he makes up for that. Zubaida Khatun’s father is conscious of women’s rights in Islamic law and is a major force in seeing that his daughter gets her due.113 He points out to his son-in-law that the tradition of the Prophet are in favour of a trusting relationship between man and wife. Trust is not only necessary for a relationship of mutual affection and love, but it also has other consequences.

Women are the repositories of the honour and status of the family, but if they are mistrusted this will lead to their oppression, to a consequent degradation in home and family life, and to a decline in the civilisation as a whole. Women’s treatment as human beings and full-fledged partners is necessary for the reform and advancement of society. Nothing could be more basic. Hali is emphatic that men’s favourable attitude enables women to fulfill their human potential. Majalis then proceeds to tell the story of Zubaida Khatun’s son, Sayyid Abbas, and his early education at home. His socialisation differs in significant respects from hers, described earlier. He has a good deal more independence to go outside: to play with his friends, to go for walks, to ride, swim, and learn to shoot. His mother nevertheless insists on regular lesson and prayer times, and a strict regimen in bathing, clothing, and eating, in order to preserve his health. She also keeps track of his extra-curricular activities, her loyal servants giving her eyes and ears outside the walls. Certain kinds of games (kabaddi, 114 wrestling, running races) are permitted, others (kite-flying) are not. In riding and even calligraphy he has to learn the essentials, but no more. The emphasis, as always, is on doing what is useful and on avoiding extravagance as wasteful of time, energy, and money—no embroidery on one’s collars, no flowery or elaborate calligraphy. These are similar to useless customary rituals and smack of a lack of restraint. Sayyid Abbas’s education, like Zubaida Khatun’s, is both practical and literary. He gets lessons in deportment: restraint in the expression of emotion, moderation in eating, circumspection in manners—doing things in the sharif manner and according to the code of adab. One of the most important aspects of this code is verbal etiquette; he learns very early the proper expressions for showing

Role Models: Educated Muslim Women – Real and Ideal respect to his elders and superiors and selfdeprecation at the same time. Self-vaunting is not sharif, but neither is improper pronunciation nor the use of begamati zuban, all of which betray a lack of proper upbringing. His literary education commences with the Quran and advances through Persian and Urdu reading, and arithmetic. To keep Sayyid Abbas on the job, Zubaida Khatun invites a servant boy to share his lessons, thus introducing a note of competition. She also resorts to frequent drills, quizzes, and occasional exemplary tales to remind him of his duties. None of these stratagems were apparently needed in her case, as a dutiful daughter. Finally, when he had reached his ninth year, knew his Quran, the basic ethical works in Persian, beginning with Arabic, decent calligraphy, useful arithmetic, and some geography and history—all taught him by his mother—word spread in the family that Sayyid Abbas was a ne’er-do-well because he had not yet gone to school. There ensues an epic discussion between Zubaida Khatun and her elder sister-in-law (who is uneducated, but because she is older, Zubaida must respect her wishes) about the pros and cons of Sayyid Abbas’s education. Zubaida Khatun wins the day and convinces one and all that not only is it possible, and even desirable, for a mother to educate her son, but also—by extension—that educating girls is even more necessary than educating boys. Sayyid Abbas subsequently goes to study with a maulvi, whose discipline is lax. His mother chastises him and he reforms, not only continuing his literary education with the maulvi, but also going to a government school to learn English and western sciences. His story ends with a rousing adventure tale, in which Sayyid Abbas goes off in quest of a longlost uncle. He succeeds and prospers, thanks to his wit, self-sufficiency, and willingness to work hard.


Hali’s Majalis un-Nissa, summarised here in some detail, demonstrates major differences between male and female socialisation in North India in the late nineteenth century. Women, in Hali’s ideal scheme, would be educated to realise their human potential. Nevertheless, both their individual fulfilment and social importance were in and through the family. Zubaida Khatun, like Asghari before her, represented the ideal composite of feminine skills: She was literate, a supercompetent manager, the centre of several networks of familial relationships, whether affectionate or hierarchical. Excluded from male society, she still had considerable scope for her skills and for influencing family policies and expenditures. On the other hand, a man in that culture at that time had to develop qualities that would permit him to survive and advance as an individual in an increasingly merit-oriented and impersonal world. The generation of Sir Sayyid, Nazir Ahmad, and Hali made the transition from a world in which a man’s position depended to a great extent on his birth and family connections to one in which individual qualifications counted for more. 115 Of course, that transition was never unequivocal; family and community connections continued to mean a great deal in British India. Nevertheless, by the late nineteenth century, being up to date involved coping with competitive examinations, new professional qualifications, and increased geographic mobility. Men of the service gentry could no longer count on getting ahead simply by finding a patron. There were other ways to advance if one were well educated and willing to try new paths, like Sayyid Abbas. Such men increasingly desired educated wives for themselves or for their sons, and yet the indigenous system of vernacular education was in decline and educated women were hard to find. Nazir Ahmad and Hali were not


Gender and Education in India

the only ones who began to formulate schemes for the improvement of women. Discussion of women’s education and construction of plans to effect it became an obsession among many North Indian Muslim men in the late nineteenth century, as it would provide solutions to a number of problems they faced in both their public and private lives. In this composite reformist view, the desired results of women’s education were twofold: 1. Women would become better companions to their husbands, better mothers to their children and better homemakers. 2. Women would become better Muslims, better moral and ethical guides to their children, more aware of their rights and duties within scriptural Islam, and observant of sanctioned, as opposed to ‘useless’ rituals. In other words, women would become more like Asghari and Zubaida Khatun. Conclusions Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan, Nazir Ahmad, and Altaf Husain Hali were all representatives of the older generation of Muslim reformers, born before 1857, from service gentry and learned backgrounds, educated in the traditional Islamic curriculum. Of these, only Nazir Ahmad knew English, and he learned it as an adult. All three had experienced the effects of British rule on their families’ livelihood, changing patterns of princely and official patronage and employment, and the upheaval of the 1857 revolt. In the late nineteenth century all three were instrumental in articulating an ideology of educational and social reform for their class and community. This ideology represented an effort on the part of the Muslim service gentry of North India to salvage their self-respect and maintain their sharif status in face of a loss of power.116 This loss was increasingly apparent before 1857 but became inescapable thereafter. It was compounded by a sense of relative

deprivation, as those who were accustomed to association with administration were faced with competition from the educated, upwardly-mobile clerical and mercantile classes from the coastal cities. The explanation the Muslim elite offered for their decline took the form of a theory of Muslim ‘backwardness,’ caused by extravagance, impiety, ignorance, and indiscipline. The remedy for this worldly decline, therefore, involved spiritual as well as material regeneration. The cultivation of individual piety, frugality, and restraint, the pursuit of knowledge, and the rejection of superstitious customs were all present in the ethical literature, and in doctrines of tajdid (renewal) and islah (reform), that were part of the Islamic intellectual tradition, reinterpreted to meet the challenge of the new age. An essential element of this ideology involved a critique of the zenana as the locus of both extravagance and ignorance. The literature of adab, such as the Qabus Nama, contained a precedent for this critique, regarding women as the source of fitna: disorder, disruption, the sexually charged, and the chaotic. The disorderly effect of women upon men’s lives could be relegated to the private, walled-off-regions of the houshold.117 This was theoretically a way to keep control over the feminine power to disrupt, but as we have seen, the private and the public realms of men’s lives were not that easily isolable. The solution was a greater regulation of women’s lives by both scriptural piety and intellectual discipline, as prescribed by men. Education for women, as for men, was interpreted as a return to the true, pristine Islam of the Prophet, with his exhortation to both men and women to seek knowledge wherever it could be found. It was a path to enlightenment that included the rejection of the extravagant and the irrational in favour of knowledge of one’s religious rights and duties, not to mention

Role Models: Educated Muslim Women – Real and Ideal sound budgetary practices. Sir Sayyid felt that men should be educated first and that women would follow. Nazir Ahmad and Hali saw the two processes as necessarily simultaneous. The judgment of these reformers concerning women’s practices reflected very real concerns about the decline of the indigenous education system, and the consequent growth of ignorance in the zenana, at the very time that women were needed to play a more active role in educating their children and in enhancing the status of their families. It also represented a ‘civilising mission’ on the part of the men toward their women, at the same time that the men themselves were subject to a similar mission by British educators and administrators. Whether to resist British incursions into their culture and society, or whether to meet them half way, Muslim men found it necessary to exert greater control over the women in their lives. The ideology was patriarchal and the process colonial.118 This is not surprising, nor does it mean that women did not collaborate in the ideology nor in the process. The isolation of the zenana had always been more apparent than real; the coloniser and the colonised were locked in a constant and ongoing dialogue. The next generation, those who were born around or after 1857 and whose education was a combination of Islamic and western, began to act on the ideas of their predecessors. They became the chief advocates of education for Muslim women, the authors of texts, the editors of journals, and the founders of societies and schools that contributed to its realisation. It is to the story of this ‘generation of reform,’ both its ideologues and pedagogues, that we now turn. Notes 1. For further explanation of this anomaly, see Lelyveld, Aligarh’s First Generation, p. 39; and Altaf Husain Hali, Hayat-i-Javed, Eng. tr. By


Qadiri and Matthews, p. 10. 2. C. Shackle, ‘English Translation of Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan’s “Sirat e-Faridiya”, Islamic Culture 46, 3 (1972): 307-36 [SF], quote from p. 330; cf. Sayyid Ahmad Khan, Maqalat-i-Sir Sayyid, ed. M. Ismail Panipati, v. 16, p. 682. 3. The word parhna in Urdu means both ‘to read’ and ‘to study.’ It is unclear from the quoted passage whether Azizunnissa could read the Arabic of the Quran, or whether she had studied it by committing passages to memory. Persian and Urdu share a script that is similar to Arabic; she could certainly read that. 4. On Sa’di of Shiraz (ca. 1200-90), see Introduction to E. Rehatsek, tr., The Gulistan or Rose Garden of Sa’di. For examples of tales from his Gulistan and Bustan, see below, p. 20. 5. SF, p. 331; Maqalat, 16: 684; Sir Sayyid’s sentiments are a virtual translation of Samuel Smiles’ adage: ‘One good mother is worth a hundred schoolmasters.’ See F.M.L. Thompson, The Rise of Respectable Society: A Social History of Victorian Britain, 1830-1900, quote from p. 151. 6. For works that define the Muslim service gentry of North India, see C.A. Bayly, Rulers, Townsmen and Bazaars, pp. 189-93; Idem., ‘The Small Town and Islamic Gentry in North India: The Case of Kara,’ in Ballhatchet and Harrison, (eds.), The City in South Asia, pp. 20-48; and R. Kumar, ‘Changing Structure of Urban Society in Colonial India,’ in Essays in the Social History of Modern India, esp. pp. 27982. 7. SF, pp. 309-20; Hali, Hayat-i-Javed (Urdu); Hali, Hayat-i-Javed, Eng. tr. by Qadiri and Matthews, pp. 2-16; on the Naqshbandi Mujaddidi sufis of Delhi, see Warren Fusfeld, ‘The Shaping of Sufi Leadership in Delhi: The Naqshbandiyya Mujaddidiyya, 1750 to 1920;’ on Shah Ghulam Ali, see Malfuzat-i-Sharifa; on the Mughal court in the early nineteenth century, see P. Spear, Twilight of the Mughals, pp. 13-31. 8. SF, pp. 331-2; Maqalat, 16: 685-6. 9. For discussions of Muslim popular beliefs and customs, many of which derived from the



11. 12.

13. 14.

15. 16.



Gender and Education in India Hindu cultural milieu, see Jaffur Shurreef [Ja’far Sharif] Qanoon-e-Islam, or the Customs of the Mussalmans of India, tr. by G. A. Herklors; Sayyid Ahmad Dehlavi, Rasum-iDelhi; Abdul Halim Sharar, Lucknow: The Last Phase of an Oriental Culture, tr. by E.S. Harcourt and Fakhir Husain; and Hali, Majalis un-Nissa, tr. by Gail Minault in Voices of Silence, esp. pp. 60-5. Sources for the life of Sayyid Ahmad Khan include: Hali’s Hayat-i-Javed; Lelyveld, Aligarh’s First Generation; G.F.I Graham, The Life and Work of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan; Christian Troll, Sayyid Ahmad Khan: A Reinterpretation of Muslim Theology. Hali, Hayat-i-Javed, Eng. tr., p. 56. Sayyid Ahmad Khan, Asbab-i-Baghavat-i-Hind (1858) tr. as ‘The Causes of the Indian Revolt,’ by G.F.I. Graham and A. Colvin (1873), reprinted in Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan’s History of the Bijnor Rebellion, ed. by Hafeez Malik and Morris Dembo, App. A, pp. 113-48; see also W.W. Hunter, The Indian Musalmans; and Sayyid Ahmad Khan, Review of Dr. Hunter’s Indian Musalmans; Hali, Hayat-i-Javed, Eng. tr., pp. 60-4. Lelyveld, Aligarh’s First Generation, pp. 77-81. Sayyid Ahmad Khan to Maulvi Tassaduq, from Sir Sayyid ke Chand Nadir Khutut, tr. and cited in S. Hay, ed., Sources of Indian Tradition, Vol. 2, pp. 188-90. Lelyveld, Aligarh’s First Generation, pp. 10213. Report of the Indian Education Commission, Appendix Vol.: Report for the North-Western Provinces and Oudh with Testimony, p. 300. Bismillah: Lit.: ‘In the name of God,’ the first words of the Quran; figuratively, to begin. The ceremony marking the commencement of a child’s education is described in Shurreef, Qanoon-e-Islam, pp. 27-9. In upper-class families where home education was a tradition, the tutors might have a hereditary claim to the position, after the fashion of Hindu jajmani. For example, the family of Zakaullah of Delhi had tutored princes of the Mughal house for generations. C.F. Andrews, Zaka Ullah of Delhi, p. 47. On

19. 20.







jajmani, see W.H. Wiser, The Hindu Jajmani System. The Gulistan of Sa’di, tr. Rehatsek, p. 176. The Bustan of Sa’di, tr. by A. Hatt Edwards, p. 80. Kushyar was the tutor of Avicenna/Ibn Sina. Ethical or adab literature is discussed in B. Metcalf, ed., Moral Conduct and Authority: The Place of Adab in South Asian Islam, see esp. J.F. Richards, ‘Norms of Comportment Among Imperial Mughal Officers,’ pp. 255-89; on adab literature for women, see discussions of Ashraf Ali Thanavi’s Bihishti Zevar, and Hali’s Majalis un Nissa, below. Annemarie Schimmel, Classical Urdu Literature from the Beginning to Iqbal, Vol. II, Fasc. 3 of History of Indian Literature, pp. 2013-13; M. Sadiq, A History of Urdu Literature, pp. 290-329; Ram Babu Saksena, A History of Urdu Literature, pp. 1-31; D. Lelyveld, Zubane Urdu-e Mu’alla and the Idol of Linguistic Origins, in AUS 9 (1994): 107-17. For discussions of the use of Urdu print to popularise ideas of reform, see Hali, Hayat-iJaved, eng. tr., pp. 123-8; and Metcalf, Islamic Revival in British India, pp. 199-215. For a description of the diffusion of ideas from the literate elite to the illiterate classes via tract literature—in the case, in Bengali—see Rafiussin Ahmed, The Bengali Muslims, pp. 8497. For communication across gender lines, see the discussion of Urdu journalism for women, below, ch. 3. Studies of the transmission of knowledge in Islam are numerous, see e.g. D. Eickelman, ‘The Art of Memory: Islamic Education and Its Social Reproduction,’ CSSH 20 (1978): 485516; and R. Mottahedeh, The Mantle of the Prophet. Waqf is defined in H.A.R. Gibb and J.H. Kramers, (eds.), Shorter Encyclopedia of Islam, pp. 624-8; see also G.C. Kozlowski, Muslim Endowments and Society in British India, pp. 1032; J.Di Bona, ed., One Teacher, One School: The Adam Reports on Indigenous Education in Nineteenth Century India, pp. 18-70. Kozlowski, Muslim Endowments, pp. 32-78; Di Bona, ed., One Teacher, One School, pp. 22-

Role Models: Educated Muslim Women – Real and Ideal




30. 31.


33. 34.

35. 36.

35; G.W. Leitner, History of Indigenous Education in the Punjab, pt. I, pp. 52-4, 64-5. One should not forget that purdah was observed by both Hindu and Muslim elite women. For Hindu purdah, see Malavika Karlekar, Voices from Within, pp. 47-66. Report on Vernacular Schools in Delhi by A. Roberts, the Collector, in Report of the General Committee on Public Instruction, Northwest Provinces, for 1846-47, App. F, pp. xlvii-xlix, IOLR. Roberts further reported that the teachers ranged in age from 30 to 80 years, and the students from 3 to 25 years, and that the pay of the teachers varied from 8 annas (½ rupee) to 6 rupees per month. The account that follows is based on the Adam Reports and upon Hali’s Majalis unNissa, as well as the biographical and autobiographical sources cited. DiBona, ed., One Teacher, pp. 91-3; Minault, tr., Voices of Silence, pp. 33-91. Kai Kaus ibn Iskandar, A Mirror for Princes: The Qabus Nama, tr. by Reuben Levy, p. 125. I owe the reference to Tusi to C.M. Naim, who discusses the Akhlaq-i-Nasiri in ‘How Bibi Ashraf Learned to Read and Write,’ AUS 6 (1987), pp. 112-13; and ‘Prize-Winning Adab,’ in B. Metcalf, ed., Moral Conduct and Authority, pp. 306-7. For further discussions of the disruptive role of women as portrayed in Islamic literature, see the articles in Afaf Lutfi al-Sayyid Marsot, ed., Society and the Sexes in Medieval Islam. This generalisation is based on an interview with Saleha Abid Husain in 1977, borne out by comparisons with textual sources, especially the discussion of the difficulties faced by Bibi Ashraf in trying to learn to write, in Hayat-i-Ashraf, see below, pp. 26-9. Andrews, Zaka Ullah, pp. 52-5; SF, pp. 330-1; Zakaullah’s dates are 1832-1911. Sikandar Begam’s mother, Qudsia Begam (1799-1881) had also served as regent. Kamla Mittal, History of Bhopal State, pp. 18-33. As will be discussed further below. Sultan Jahan Begam, An Account of My Life (Gohur-i-Iqbal), tr. by C.H. Payne, pp. 23-4. Sultan Jahan, born after the 1857 revolt,

37. 38.


40. 41.

42. 43. 44. 45.

46. 47.

48. 49. 50.



actually belongs to the next generation. She is included here because her education resembles the formation of men of the late Mughal service gentry more than that of her own cohort. For example, Sultan Jahan Begam, Al Hijab or Why Purdah is Necessary. Purdah notwithstanding, Sultan Jahan Begam’s autobiography contains photographs of her grandmother, mother, and herself—unveiled. See An Account of My Life, frontispiece and photographs facing pp. 6, 16, 28, 198. Ibid., pp. 12-14, 193-8, 338-52; Nawab Shahjahan Begam of Bhopal, Tej ul-Ikbal Tarikh-i-Bhopal, tr. by H.C. Barstow, pp. 10013; Muhammad Amin Zuberi, Begamat-iBhopal; Idem., Hayat-i-Sultani. Mohamed Ali, My Life, A Fragment, pp. 4-5, 12-17. C.M. Naim has translated and commented upon Ashrafunnissa’s story in ‘How Bibi Ashraf Learned to Read and Write,’ AUS 6 (1987): 99-115. Ibid., p. 107. Ibid., pp. 108-9. For a history of his college, see Abdul Haq, Marhum Delhi Kalej. The history of Tahzib un-Niswan is discussed below. Muhammadi Begam, Hayat-i-Ashraf. I am grateful to C.M. Naim for a photocopy of this publication. Kozlowski, Muslim Endowments, pp. 53-9, 63, 73. See e.g., Aparna Basu, ‘The Indigenous System of Education in the Early Nineteenth Century and its Decline,’ in her Essays in the History of Indian Education, pp. 28-38. Sayyid Ahmad Khan, ‘Hindustan ki Auraton ki Halat,’ Maqalat, V. 5, pp. 188-93. Idem., ‘Auraton ke Huquq,’ ibid., V. 5, pp. 1949. There are numerous expositions of this critique, in both its evangelical and utilitarian aspects. Good summaries appear in Francis Hutchins, The Illusion of Permanence, pp. 3-19; and Gauri Viswanathan, Masks of Conquest, pp. 118-41. Waliullah and his successors are the subject






56. 57.


Gender and Education in India of a voluminous literature. One useful summary is B. Metcalf, Islamic Revival in British India, pp. 16-63; see also Aziz Ahmad, ‘Political and Religious Ideas of Shah Waliullah of Delhi,’ MW 52, 1 (1962): 22-30. First published in 1869, it remains in print in numerous editions. Nazir Ahmad, Mirat ul’Arus, Eng. tr. by G.E. Ward, The Bride’s Mirror. C.M. Naim, ‘Prize-Winning Adab: A Study of Five Books Written in Response to the Allahabad Government Gazette Notification,’ in B. Metcalf, ed., Moral Conduct and Authority, p. 313. For discussions of Nazir Ahmad’s novels, see Iftikhar Ahmad Siddiqi, Maulvi Nazir Ahmad Dehlavi: Ahwal o Asar, pp. 312-70; and Ralph Russell, The Pursuit of Urdu Literature, pp. 929, 114-17. There is disagreement over Nazir Ahmad’s date of birth. The standard biography, Hayat un-Nazir, puts it in 1836. Mujeeb, in Indian Muslims, citing Farhatullah Beg, places it in 1833. Naim, in ‘Prize-Winning Adab,’ and Ralph Russell, citing Iftikhar Ahmad Siddiqi, say 1830, though in another place, Russell says 1836. According to the Education Records, Nazir Ahmad began attending Delhi College in 1846. 1836 is too late a date of birth, and 1830 may be too early. Iftikhar Alam Bilgrami, Hayat un-Nazir, p. 1: M. Mujeeb, Indian Muslims, p. 531; C.M. Naim, ‘PrizeWinning Adab,’ in Metcalf, Moral Conduct, p. 299; R. Russell, Pursuit of Urdu Literature, cf. pp. 92 and 112; Siddiqi, Maulvi Nazir Ahmad Dehlavi, pp. 10-14; Report on Public Instruction for the Northwestern Provinces, 1847-48, Delhi College Report, pp. 47-57, IOLR. Where the Old Delhi Railroad Station is today. Farhatullah Beg, ‘Doctor Nazir Ahmad ki Kahani, Kuch Meri aur Kuch Unki Zubani,’ in Mazamin-i-Farhat, Vol. I, p. 42; Mujeeb, Indian Muslims, p. 531; Khairi family tree, including the lineage of Maulvi Abdul Khaliq, in Savanih-i-’Umri-i-’Allama Rashidul Khairi, Annual Number of ‘Ismat’ (1964): 756-7. In addition to the works by Iftikhar Alam


60. 61.



64. 65.


67. 68.


Bilgrami, Farhatullah Beg, Iftikhar Ahmad Siddiqi, Mujeeb, Naim, and Russell, all cited above for literary and biographical details, Russell discusses Nazir Ahmad’s novel in ‘The Development of the Modern Novel in Urdu,’ in T.W. Clark, ed., The Novel in India, pp. 117-22; as does Shaista Akhtar Banu Suhrawardy (Ikramullah), in A Critical Survey of the Development of the Urdu Novel and Short Story, pp. 41-65. Nazir Ahmad, ‘Preface,’ paraphrased from G.E.Ward’s tr., The Bride’s Mirror, pp. 1-3; Russell, citing Siddiqi, considers that Nazir Ahmad’s motive for writing the work was to submit it to the government’s prize competition. Russell, Pursuit of Urdu Literature, pp. 92, 265, note 27; cf. Naim, ‘PrizeWinning Adab.’ Naim, ‘Prize-Winning Adab,’ espec. pp. 2923, 299-302. Taubat will not be treated in detail here, as it is not mainly concerned with women’s education, as are Mirat and Banat. Naim, ‘Prize-Winning Adab,’ pp. 302-4; cf. Ward, tr., Bride’s Mirror, pp. 120-6; Russell, ‘Modern Novel in Urdu,’ in Clark, ed., Novel in India, p. 121. Nazir Ahmad, Chand Pand; Idem., Rasm ulKhat; cf. Russell, Pursuit of Urdu Literature, pp. 114-17. Nazir Ahmad, Al-Huquq wa al-Faraiz [Rights and Duties], 3 Vols. Naim, ‘Prize-Winning Adab,’ p. 306, citing Mirat ul’Arus, cf. Ward, tr., Bride’s Mirror, pp. 15-16. The adage is again that of Samuel Smiles, cited in Thompson, Rise of Respectable Society, p. 151; cf. Walter Houghton, The Victorian Frame of Mind, pp. 117, 191. Naim, ‘Prize-Winning Adab,’ p. 305, citing Mirat, p. 15; cf. Ward, tr., Mirror, p. 8. For a study of this form, see F.W. Pritchett, Marvelous Encounters: Folk Romance in Urdu and Hindi. Concerning begamati zuban, there are a number of lexicons of women’s idioms and a few linguistic studies. See especially Sayyid Ahmad Dehlavi, Lughat un-Nissa;

Role Models: Educated Muslim Women – Real and Ideal








Muhammad Munir Lakhnavi, Muhavarat-iNiswan o Khas Begamat ki Zuban; Sayyid Amjad Ali Ashbari, Lughat ul-khavatin; Muhiyuddin Hasan, Dilli ki Begamati Zuban; Wahida Nasim, Urdu Zuban aur ‘Aurat; cf. Minault, ‘Begamati Zuban: Women’s Language and Culture in NineteenthCentury Delhi,’ India International Centre Quarterly 11, 2 (June 1984): 157-71; Idem., ‘Other Voices, Other Rooms: The View from the Zenana,’ in N. Kumar, ed., Women as Subjects, pp. 108-24. Majalis un-Nissa was originally published in 1874. I have translated it into English in Voices of Silence. ‘Maulana Hali ki Khud-navisht Savanih-i’Umri’ (Hali’s Autobiography), Ma’arif, 19,5 (May 1927): 344-51; reprinted with an afterword by M. Ismail Panipati in Nuqush: Ap Biti Number (June 1964): 281-6; Saleha Abid Husain, Intro. To Majalis un-Nissa, pp. 5-12. This account of Hali’s life is based on Hali’s autobiography, cited above; Saleha Abid Husain, Yadgar-i-Hali; and Abdul Haq, Chand Ham ‘Asr, pp. 132-51. For useful English accounts, see S.M. Ikram, Modern Muslim India and the Birth of Pakistan, pp. 59-71; Malik Ram, Hali; M. Sadiq, History of Urdu Literature, 2nd edn., pp. 345-58; and Ram Babu Saksena, History of Urdu Literature, pp. 210-19. Ghazal: a lyric poem in the rhyme scheme: AA, BA, CA; Hali’s Autobiography, Ma’arif, p. 348; Saleha Abid Husain, Yadgar-i-Hali, pp. 31-2. On Ghalib, there are innumerable works, but perhaps the most accessible in English are: Russell and Islam, Ghalib: Life and Letters; and Pavan K. Verma, Ghalib: The Man, the Times. Hali’s Autobiography, Ma’arif, pp. 347-8; Saleha Abid Husain, Yadgar, pp. 32-6, 55-7; Idem., Jane Walon ki Yad Ati Hai, pp. 15-16. Hali’s Autobiography, Ma’arif, pp. 348-9; Saleha Abid Husain, Yadgar, pp. 37-40; Laurel Steele, ‘Hali and his Muqaddamah: The Creation of a Literary Attitude in NineteenthCentury India,’ AUS 1 (1981): 7-8. Wahid Qureshi in his Introduction to Hali’s Muqaddamah-i-She’r o Sha’iri, pp. 70-1, as tr.

77. 78.




82. 83. 84. 85. 86.



and cited by Laurel Steele, in ‘Hali and His Muqaddamah,’ pp. 44-5, mentions a number of authors whom Hali had tapped for ideas, such as Milton, Macaulay, Carlyle, and Coleridge, though he notes that Hali had only seen their works mentioned or paraphrased in the works of others, or at best, had seen partial translation of their works. In 1870, Hali was thirty-four years old. Machiavelli’s The Prince and Castiglione’s The Courtier, are well-known example of this genre. For example, al-Ghazzali’s Nasihat ul-Muluk, tr. by F.R.C. Bagley as Book of Counsel for Kings; Nizam ul-Mulk’s Siyasat Nama, tr. by Hubert Darke as The Book of Government or Rules for Kings; and the two works discussed above: Kai Kaus ibn Iskandar’s Qabus Nama, tr. by R. Levy as A Mirror for Princes; and Nasiruddin Tusi’s Akhlaq-i-Nasiri. Saleha Abid Husain, Yadgar, p. 47; Hali, Madd o Jazr-i-Islam, ya’ni: Musaddas-i-Hali; Hali, Musaddas-e-Hali, Eng. tr. The initial amount was Rs.75 per month, equal to his salary at the Delhi Anglo-Arabic School. Five years later, it was raised to Rs.100 per month. Husain, Yadgar, p. 50. This was Hayat-i-Javed, cited above. Husain, Yadgar, pp. 63-4; Idem., Jane Walon, pp. 17, 30-2. Hali, Majalis un-Nissa, 7th Majlis, cf. Minault, tr., Voices of Silence, p. 116. On begamati zuban, see references above, note 69. G.W. Leitner, in History of Indigenous Education in the Punjab, pt. 1, pp. 1-27, flatly blames the imposition of the British system of education for the decline of vernacular educational standards. Joseph DiBona agrees, in his introduction to One Teacher, One School, pp. 1-40. Hali was too respectful of the British to lay any specific blame for this state of affairs, but his characters are outspoken about declining standards, Voices of Silence, pp. 3343. The literature describing life in purdah ranges from an early nineteenth-century account by an English woman married to a Lucknow




90. 91.

92. 93.



Gender and Education in India aristocrat to more recent anthropological studies. See Mrs. Meer Hasan Ali, Observations on the Mussalmauns of India; Shaista Suhrawardy Ikramullah, Behind the Veil; Patricia Jeffery, Frogs in a Well: Indian Women in Purdah; and Papanek and Minault, (eds.), Separate Worlds. Fictional accounts include Rama Mehta, Inside the Haveli; and Ahmad Ali, Twilight in Delhi. See Borthwick, Changing Role of Women in Bengal; Karlekar, Voices from Within; K.W.Jones, Socio-Religious Reform Movements, pp. 1-14; and Idem., ‘Socio-Religious Movements and Changing Gender Relationships Among Hindus of British India.’ Such values are also present in some Hindu extended families where it is taboo for husband and wife to converse, or to show affection for each other to their children, in the presence of their elders. See e.g. articles by Sylvia Vatuk, Doranne Jacobson, and Rama Mehta, in Papanek and Minault, (eds.), Separate Worlds, pp. 54-78, 81-109, 139-63. Houghton, The Victorian Frame of Mind, pp. 341-8. For an elaboration of this reformist ethic, see B. Metcalf, ‘Islam and Custom in Nineteenth Century India: The Reformist Standard of Maulana Thanawi’s Bihishti Zewar,’ Contributions to Asian Studies 17 (1982): 62-78, quote from p. 75; see also the discussion of Ashraf Ali Thanavi and Bihishti Zevar, below, ch.2. Minault tr., Voices of Silence, p. 71. Sa’di’s Gulistan and Bustan were discussed above. The ‘Iyar-i-Danish of Abul Fazl is a Persian version of the Arabic collection of animal fables, Kalila wa Dimna (similar to Aesop’s Fables or the Indian Panchatantra). Ghazzali’s ethical work Kimiya us-sa’adat has been translated by Claud Field, as The Alchemy of Happiness. On the vernacular curriculum, see Leitner, History of Indigenous Education, and G.M.D. Sufi, Al-Minhaj. Roti: bread; any one of a number of individually hand-made wheat cakes— chapattis, paranthas, puris—all labour-


97. 98. 99.

100. 101. 102.







intensive, involving constant preparation while others are eating. This is the title of Metcalf’s translation of Ashraf Ali Thanavi’s Bihishti Zevar, discussed in ch. 2. As discussed below, pp. 52-3. Minault, tr., Voices of Silence, pp. 59-61. K.W. Jones, ‘Socio-Religious Movement and Changing Gender Relationships among Hindus;’ Sumanta Banerjee, ‘Marginalization of Women’s Popular Culture in Nineteenth Century Bengal,’ in Sangari and Vaid (eds.), Recasting Women, pp. 127-79; cf. Partha Chatterjee, ‘The Nationalist Resolution of the Women’s Question,’ ibid., pp. 233-53. Minault, tr., Voices of Silence, p. 63. Shurreef, Qanoon-e-Islam, pp. 226-76. Minault, tr., Voices of Silence, p. 65; karhai: cooking vessel, rather like a wok; gur: coarse brown sugar; domni: (masc.: dom), see below. Yunani: Literally ‘Greek,’ the traditional system of Islamic medicine (yunani tibb); hakim: practitioner of yunani medicine. One is reminded of the episode of the perforated sheet in Salman Rushdie’s novel Midnight’s Children. For a psychological inquiry into indigenous healing practices concerning spirit possession. See S. Kakar, Shamans, Mystics, and Doctors, pp. 15-88. On these groups, see M. Gaborieau, ‘On the Specific Service Roles in Traditional Muslim Society,’ in G. Krishna, ed., Contributions to South Asian Studies 2, pp. 146-63. Gaborieau, p. 157; on status ranking, see D.E. Goodfriend, ‘Changing Concepts of Caste and Status Among Old Delhi Muslims,’ in I. Ahmad, ed., Modernization and Social Change Among Muslims in India, pp. 119-52. Paan: a preparation of betel nut for chewing; paandan: box for keeping betel paraphernalia; faqir: wandering mendicant or holy man. On ways that women contribute to family status, see H. Papanek, ‘Family Status Production: The “Work” and “Non-Work” of Women,’ Signs 4, 4 (1979): 775-81; and Idem. ‘Class and Gender in Education-Employment Linkages,’ Comparative Education Review 29, 3

Role Models: Educated Muslim Women – Real and Ideal (August 1985): 317-46. 109. Minault, tr., Voices of Silence, pp. 69-79. 110. Ibid., pp. 66-8, 86. 111. Mahr: dower; the marriage portion settled, by contract, upon a Muslim bride before marriage; it is payable in part at marriage and partly deferred, becoming payable in the event of divorce, for her support. It is distinguished from dowry, or jahez, money or movable goods given to the bride by her parents at the time of her marriage. Gibb and Kramers, ed. Shorter Encyclopedia of Islam, pp. 314-15; T. Mahmood, Muslim Personal Law, pp. 72-4. 112. Such as Hali’s was. 113. In this respect, Hali is not only up to date but ahead of his time. For a treatment of women’s rights in Islam published somewhat later, see Sayyid Mumtaz Ali, Huquq un-Niswan, discussed below in ch. 2. 114. Kabaddi: an Indian game played by two teams.


For further details, see glossary. 115. Lelyveld, Aligarh’s First Generation, discusses the way that Aligarh College helped mediate this transition for the North Indian Muslim ashraf. 116. For a parallel case of ideological construction among Hindu intellectuals, see Sudhir Chandra, The Oppressive Present. 117. For an exposition of this idea, see Faisal Devji, ‘Gender and the Politics of Space,’ South Asia 14, 1 (1991): 141-53. Cf. With views of women as the disorderly element in popular culture in early modern Europe, in Natalie Zemon Davis, ‘Women on Top,’ in her Society and Culture in Early Modern France, pp. 124-51. 118. For parallel developments of ideal models of womanhood in Victorian society, see Joan Burstyn, Victorian Education and the Ideal of Womanhood; and Antoinette Burton, Burdens of History.

8 Partition and Family Strategies Gender-Education Linkages Among Punjabi Women in Delhi Karuna Chanana

This article revolves around the life histories of Punjabi women who migrated from their homeland after the Partition of India in August 1947 and the consequent effect on changing gender roles and family survival strategies. These Punjabi families have survived the holocaust of Partition and have rebuilt their lives. Their case histories represent Hindu families which did not necessarily suffer from direct loss of life, abduction and rape of their women, rioting and murders. Studies of the Partition of India in 1947 have highlighted the mass migration in the wake of large-scale rioting, looting and killing. Statistics are given on the abduction and rape of women, hopelessness of millions of families, their life in makeshift refugee camps, the lack of financial resources, etc. These had great implications for women. Literary works, especially novels and stories in the regional languages, have highlighted some of these dimensions especially the plight of women. However, social scientists have hardly focused on this phenomenon, in general, and on its impact on the families and on women, in particular. There is need to underscore the point that while migration, uprooting and the consequent trauma were shared by most of the migrating Punjabis, their reactions, responses and the coping mechanisms and

strategies varied. Several factors determined the time and impact of Partition. Although India was divided on August 14, 1947, the decision of the British to quit India and to divide it was taken much earlier. Therefore, long before the event, Punjabis knew that their state would be divided but where exactly the line would be drawn was not known. The important point of speculation was whether Lahore, the social and cultural centre of Punjab, would be in India or Pakistan. Hindus and Sikhs had hoped that it would be in India. Therefore, several people deferred the decision to migrate till the last. The impact of Partition had begun to be felt as early as March 1947 with riots starting in Lahore followed by the rest of Punjab. The intensity increased after August 14, 1947. It forced Hindus and Sikhs to migrate to safer places. Thus migration which had begun much before August 1947 continued till after Partition. Some people migrated in one stage to this side of the border, others migrated in stages, i.e. moving from an interior or far-off place towards and nearer Lahore and then moving across the border after the final announcement of the Partition. Again, location or place from where they migrated was critical, i.e. whether they were residing in areas far from the line of Partition, whether they were residing in a Hindu or

Partition and Family Strategies: Gender-Education Linkages among Punjabi Women in Delhi Muslim majority neighbourhood, village, town or city; the route that they had to follow to cross the line of Partition and whether any refugee camps were set up en route; the kind of (police/army) protection in these camps and en route to the railway stations and to the caravans or trucks; and the route that these trains and caravans took and what happened on the way. Another important factor was availability of information about the impending Partition prior to the actual event. Depending on social contacts and business networks and connections in what was expected to be India, people responded to the new situation. For example, those who had business partners or branches on this side came early. Those who had jobs in firms with branches in other cities of India, tried to get transferred. In addition, liquid assets such as cash were transferred through banks. Social contacts, especially if parents or parents-in-law were living on the Indian side of the expected line of Partition helped in transferring the women and children. Then there were those who were involved in the political movement for independence who willingly sacrificed everything and brought no assets. Experiences during the Partition which impacted on adjustment also varied. There were those who lost family members and those who did not; those who witnessed murder and arson and those whose women relatives were raped, murdered and abducted and those who were spared of those atrocities. Those who killed their women and those who did not have to. Those who lived in the refugee camps and those who did not. Those who lost all material possessions and those who transferred their liquid assets. In this context, comparison with less fortunate compatriots helped them to cope. Those families which migrated with all the members began to view themselves as being very ‘lucky’ and the loss


of material possessions became a secondary importance. This awareness helped them rebuild, cope and adjust. Not that the first generation has forgotten their homeland and their birthplaces, but they have managed to rebuild the present and to look to the future. As a result, the second generation women, even those who were born before the Partition, do not remember much and the scars of their parents do not seem to have affected them much. To the third generation, Partition seems like a distant historical event. This paper demonstrates that there has been change in the dynamics and structure of families as a result of external changes in society and in the economy. As family strategies are often responses to external changes, macro policies and developments influence the options available to them. In recent years, feminists have looked at the linkages between macro-processes and the institutions of family and kinship1. This paper highlights the response to change and the consequences of external developments. It focuses on how ‘Partition’ narrowed the physical spaces and enlarged the social spaces available to women thereby affecting the practice of parda or seclusion, modified the impact of caste and regional culture on marriage arrangements and widened the channels of educational mobility and employment for girls and women. It also explores the interface between the institutions of family and marriage, on the one hand, and of women’s participation in formal education and employment, on the other. It presupposes that decisions regarding access to education are taken within and by the family. They are determined by familial consideration of gender roles and the need for formal education. The latter set of institutions have been traditionally the domains of anthropologists who undertake micro level, in-depth, long-term ethnographic studies


Gender and Education in India

using qualitative tools of data collection. Education and employment, on the other hand, have been the domains of sociologists, economists and educational researchers who undertake macro-level extensive survey-based studies at the local, national and international level. This division of labour is strikingly apparent in the research on education in India and, especially, on women’s education. Until recently anthropologists have shown little interest in the Indian educational system or in potential linkages between women’s educational choices, issues of marriage, family, kinship, sexuality and caste... (They) have been curiously absent from the lively gendereducation discussions of the past decade [Mukhopadhyay and Seymour 1993:2].

On the other hand, issues relating to women’s access to education, its growth and expansion, the type and level of education available to them have been researched without paying attention to the familial context [Chanana 1988]. Educational researchers have generally ignored the need to contextualise the institution of education within the family. This “academic division of labour had discouraged systematic investigation of the potentially powerful interrelationships between women’s involvement in the formal educational system and indigenous traditional social institutions such as the joint family, dowry, arranged marriages, and purdah (sexual segregation)” [Mukhopadhyay and Seymour 1993: 2-3]. This paper highlights the family, education and marriage linkages within the gender education framework. It seeks to contextualise the relationship between gender and education within the family. How do familial considerations of propriety, protection of female sexuality and feminine domain and social roles affect women’s participation in education, its perceived benefits, the reasons for sending daughters to schools, the type and

amount of education received by women? Conversely, the impact of women’s education on family and marriage, i.e. on the age at marriage, the mode of marriage on endogamous arrangements, etc. is also analysed. In other words, does education of women affect or change gender roles? Lastly, were the changes only short-term strategies of adjustment in response to pressures generated by the macro-processes? Punjab: Socio-Cultural Context Punjab was the frontier province of India since it was situated on the main invasion route. Life was, therefore, marked by uncertainty and instability of social organisation. As a result, Punjabi culture has been more assimilative and less caste-ridden. For instance, brahmins did not enjoy socio-economic pre-eminence as in the rest of India. The dominant castes were the merchants and the trading castes, namely, khatri, arora and bania in the urban areas. Jats were the peasants who were dominant in the rural areas. Nonetheless, caste was of crucial significance in all walks of life. Castes were further divided into sub-castes which were the functional units for purposes of arranging marriages. Daughters were taken from and given to families in castes and sub-castes of equal rank. Culturally too, Punjab was divided into sub-regions marked by distinct cultures, language, customs, styles of life, etc. Marital alliances were forged within the region. Coupled with these were the prohibited degrees of kinship relations (‘gotra’) and the practice of village exogamy. Thus, endogamous as well as exogamous restrictions operated simultaneously in forging marital alliances. “Punjabi Hindus and Sikhs have a society based on exogamous patrilineal descent groups where wives are taken and daughters are given” [Hershman 1981:174]. Moreover, a daughter was a debt which had to be

Partition and Family Strategies: Gender-Education Linkages among Punjabi Women in Delhi discharged honourably, she must be married into a caste of equal or higher status, a dowry must be raised [Tandon 1968]. Punjabi women of all religious groups were veiled and secluded. While Muslim girls were veiled around puberty and before marriage, Hindu and Sikh women had to observe parda after marriage with respect to their affines. 2 Nonetheless, the movements of women in affinal homes were closely controlled among all religious groups. My parents-in-law lived in a city in Punjab. I live with my husband in Delhi where he had a job. Whenever we went to visit his parents, we would hire a ‘tonga’, the horse-drawn carriage, from the railway station. The tonga, would be enclosed with curtains, so that no one could see me. I came out of my affinal home only to leave for the railway station on my return journey. Even the neighbours had never seen me and would not have recognised me. I was married into a rich family. There were several male servants in the house. Therefore, very strict restrictions were imposed on us (the daughters-in-law) even within the house. For example, during the winter we could not sit in the sun to dry our hair. Charcoal burners were put in the room where we would dry our hair. We came out of the room only after combing our hair. I was not expected to be seen by male strangers and by the elder male relations of my husband. Once I had washed my hair and was hanging the washed linen on the clothesline at the roof. My husband’s elder brother saw me. A little late when my mother-in-law served him his meal, he refused to eat because his family’s reputation had been compromised by a daughter-in-law who could be seen by others from the roof. To add to that, my hair was hanging loose. You see I did not know that going to the roof was forbidden and that too after washing my hair.

Village exogamy ensured that daughters were married into families from villages far away from home. This arrangement ensured smooth


transition and adjustment of the bride into the affinal home without interference of her kinsmen. The geographical distance plus the unequal relationship in the patrilineal system ensured that married daughters did not get to see their parents too often. Thus parting from the natal home was a sad occasion and is the theme of folk songs which depict the pathos of the situation. The following song is a dialogue between a daughter, the young bride, and her father. She is ready to depart for her affinal home immediately after the marriage ritual. Father, we are like flocks of birds. We shall fly away; Our flight will be long, We know not to which Region we will go. Father, my palanquin cannot Pass through your palace (because the door is too small) Daughter, I shall remove a brick (to enlarge the passage for your palanquin). You must go to your home.

The song continues in this vein. The daughter pleads that there will be no one to play with the dolls and to spin the wheel. The father tells her that his granddaughters (i.e., sons’ daughters) will do so but she must go to her own home. Thus, cultural traditions moulded by an underlying ideology put major constraints on women, namely, the restrictions on their mobility due to seclusion and the gendered division of labour and resource distribution within the family. The control of female sexuality implied restrictions on spatial mobility to protect female chastity, virginity and family honour. This ideology underlying the practice of parda and seclusion prevented girls’ access to schooling. Change in Colonial Context The winds of change had begun to blow


Gender and Education in India

during the colonial period due to several factors. A new middle class was formed as a result of new opportunities such as subordinate administrative jobs in the civil services and the army. These were followed by the professions such as medicine, engineering, journalism and law. Hindus were the first to take to English education and take up jobs in the colonial administration, as well as to join the professions. Khatri Hindus, followed by aroras and banias, were the first to respond to new opportunities in trade, commerce, education, and in the professions. In the early 20 th century, Punjab was caught in the nation-wide movement for independence and reform. Lahore was the centre of social and political activity. Various socio-religious organisations were spearheading the movement for social reform: the Arya Samaj for the Hindus, the Singh Sabha for the Sikhs and the Anjuman-e-Islamia for the Muslims. Their main planks were religious and social reform or revivalism and access to English education for Indians. The Arya Samaj was in the forefront in reforms affecting the status of women. Dayanand’s ideas were received by an urban Punjab, questioning older forms of ordering lives and seeking out a more meaningful existence in the circumstance of ideological conflict with the colonial state. The British came into Punjab with their developed ideas of the ‘barbarity’ of the native society in its treatment of women, and having marked out the areas where change was desirable. Thus, questions of child-marriage, childwidowhood, parda-system were made a target by the state to beat the native society with. The state also undertook a minute study of customs, traditions, castes and tribes of the native society, to formulate the knowledge essential for the ideological hegemony over the colonised peoples. It also encouraged the Christian missionaries to not only spread the

gospel amongst the natives but also among other things, to teach them how to treat their women better. Dayanand’s ideas on the ‘woman question’ were novel in Punjab which had not witnessed intense reformist activity till the 1870s. The new role-models for women, formulated by Dayanand, generated a massive controversy, as they tried to replace existing patterns of women’s lives with ones promising better adjustment to new life-styles. This claim of greater suitability to new circumstances was not accepted by all and alternative role-models were preferred. Thus, women’s issues became the ideological battleground on which varied participants debated the possibilities of forging new identities [Malhotra 1992:35]. The movement for social reform and for education was launched by the Arya Samaj and subsequently by other reform groups and organisations. Women received its special attention. Its most important contribution to lower middle class interests was the creation of schools for boys and girls. Those were funded by subscriptions from liberal commercial groups and newly anglicised Punjabis from the three major merchant castes [Fox 1984]. Mahatma Gandhi’s impact under the auspices of the Congress and the left movement also played a major role. Punjabi men, who were exposed to the new forces, were imbued with the fervour to change the social situation of women. Thus, improvement in the conditions of women, their status and introduction of female education became major planks of reformers of all shades. This process received a boost from and was accelerated by the national movement for independence. Several associations and societies were formed to fight the evil of casteism (e.g. Jaat Pat Torak Mandal), to promote widow remarriage

Partition and Family Strategies: Gender-Education Linkages among Punjabi Women in Delhi (Vidhwa Vivah Sabha), to discourage dowry and ostentatious expense at weddings, etc. Yet, there was no unanimity regarding the status and position of women, nor about the type and degree of change that should be brought about in their lives. Thus social reformers faced a dilemma. “They wanted reforms for women, but only so far as they increased the prestige of the community.... Change had to be limited so as not to question traditional norms and patriarchal relationship” [Malhotra 1992: 43]. In spite of disagreement, the social reform movement focused on the lack of female education. In addition, the attitudes of Punjabi Hindu men also began to change towards parda and seclusion as well as towards the education of their women. For example, social reformers encouraged their wives, sisters and daughters to complete higher education and seek careers. Some wanted educated wives. All these factors pushed girls and women into the field of education. This is how a small number of first generation of educated careeroriented and professional women were born in the second quarter of the 20th century. They received strong vocal and explicit support of their fathers and brothers and the equally strong but implicit and sometimes silent support of their mothers. Thus, the nationwide social reform movement had a positive impact on women who had also come out of their homes to join the political movement. Apart from this macro process, whose impact was limited, the Partition of the country also set forth processes which had far more drastic and widespread effects. We did not want to leave our home. My husband postponed the decision as long as he could. When the riots started in the city, he had to reconcile. Suddenly, there was an exodus of people and there was scarcity of seats in the trains or trucks. So my husband persuaded my father-in-law to accompany our two young


children and me to the other side of the border. My father-in-law wanted his son to leave but eventually agreed. When we reached this side of India, we lived in a refugee camp. As it is, my father-in-law was worried about his son’s safety and also felt guilty. Others in the camp increased his sense of guilt. My husband did not come for a few weeks. Life for me was hell because everyday one heard news of massacres. By the time our caravan reached the safety of the Indian border, several had died of hunger, exhaustion and sickness. We had not eaten for the last few days. The sight of food in the shops cheered us. Those who had money bought the food. Unfortunately, a few overate on empty stomachs and died. The rioters came, all of a sudden, to the neighbouring villages. We knew that our village would be the next target. It could be any minute anytime. We moved to the hurriedly set up refugee camp near the railway station. My aged father-in-law and his brothers refused to leave their home. They said that no one will harm them. The mob reached the village during the night and killed all of them. When we were fleeing to the refugee camp, my husband’s unmarried sister was abducted. Some Muslim neighbours came to the camp and offered to negotiate for her release on payment of gold. We paid the gold and she was brought to the camp the next day. My son was engaged to be married when the news of the Partition was announced, the riots started and we moved to the refugee camp. The girl who was engaged to my son was also in the same camp. Her parents were worried about protecting her in the insecure environs of the camp. Therefore, we decided to marry them there and then. We were absolutely broke. We could not even give a ‘chunni’ (scarf to cover the head) to the daughter-in-law. There was no money for sweets (the husbands began to cry while narrating this.) When news of the riots and the rape and abduction of women spread, our women said that they were ready to be killed by their men than be left to the ‘rakshasas’ (demons). The


Gender and Education in India ovens (used for baking flattened bread) in the courtyard were heated. The jewellery and clothes were set to fire in them. Then the women went inside. They would lie down, face downwards, one by one, and Sant Ram and his brother-in-law killed them with a ‘toka’ (chopper). My mother’s mother jumped into a well as did several other women of our family. Other women in my natal village burnt themselves alive. More than a hundred women died like this.

The push factors generated by this single historical event affected Punjabi families, who were thrown out of their homes and had to seek shelter and live in a new land without the wherewithal or means to do so. This brought a sea-change in the lives of women who had not only to travel for days in caravans but subsequently lived in improvised refugee camps. There was no income and the overriding need to get two square meals a day became crucial. Parda lost its functional utility and symbolic value in this process. “For them this continual living in the public gaze after the shattered life of their homes was most trying” [Anand 1961]. The Study The major source of data for this paper consists of life histories of three generations of 40 highcaste Punjabi Hindu women3 from the upper and middle strata in New Delhi4. They belong to families which migrated to New Delhi in the wake of Partition. Since three generation of women, i.e., mothers, daughters and daughters’ daughters, were interviewed, it is possible to present a diachronic perspective through intergenerational change. All the women in the first and second generations were adults while quite a few in the third generation were rather young. The comparison is, therefore, generally, between the first and second generations unless otherwise specified. The women of the first

generation are referred to as the mothers, of the second generation as the daughters and those of the third generation as the granddaughters. First Generation: Mothers

The women who were interviewed include a 58-year-old woman, seven in their 60s, eight in 70s and five in their 80s. All were married at post-puberty stage. The age at marriage among them varies from 13 to 25 years, with the mean age computed at about 17 years. It is difficult to say that those who were born earlier were also the ones who were married at a younger age. The age at marriage had more to do with social background, e.g. the mother who was married at 13 years of age belonged to a rural farming family. Her daughter (born 1942) was also married at 15 years of age. The other factor that seemed to influence the decision regarding early marriage was the number of daughters one had. All the spouses are two to 10 years older. Eleven women were widowed at the time of interview. Most of the women lived in joint households. Fifteen of them lived with married sons and their children, three with married daughters while two lived with aged husbands in nuclear households. One widow lived with a never-married son5. Two of those living with married daughters do not have any sons. The third woman, living with a married daughter, is very unhappy that her married son and daughter-in-law refused to accommodate her. The number of children varies from three to eight. Sixteen had an urban background while five belonged to rural areas. Two women could neither read nor write, six were literate, seven had studied up to elementary school, three were matriculates, one an intermediate (12 years) while two were undergraduates. In other words, the last three

Partition and Family Strategies: Gender-Education Linkages among Punjabi Women in Delhi women had been to college. Most couples are unevenly matched by education. Among five couples, the difference in education is very high and among seven it is very little. In the former group, a literate woman and one with primary schooling were married to men and with undergraduate or graduate degrees while one, who had five years of education, was married to a medical doctor. Another woman who was not even literate was married to a spouse with 12 years of schooling. Among these whom education is more evenly matched is Juneja-1 who had passed the eighth standard, while her spouse is a matriculate. Sachdeva-1 is illiterate and her spouse is merely literate. Minocha-1 is literate and her spouse has completed primary education. Again, the two graduate women are married to graduate men. Second Generation: Daughters

The age of younger women varies from 31 to 57 years. Three were widows at the time of interview. Their age at marriage varies from 18 to 26 years with the exception of two who were married between 15 to 16 years. The mean age at marriage is computed at 21 years. In contrast to 15 mothers who were married before the age of 18 years, 15 daughters were married after the age of 18 years. All the women of this generation have been to school and illiteracy has disappeared. The length of education varies from primary to graduation (see table). Three had completed primary education, two were matriculates, 10 undergraduates and five graduates. Of the last five, one had a doctorate degree. The couples in this generation tend to be evenly matched so that if the wife is not educated, nor is the spouse very highly educated. In this generation, except for two spouses with five to eight years of schooling, and two with 10 to 12 years of schooling, all others have been to college. Ten of them have professional degrees, three are


graduates and three are undergraduates. The first generation women were merely informed about their betrothal. They did not even ‘see’ their spouses before marriage nor did their spouses see them. Quite a few were betrothed when they were just a few years’ old. One of them (Chugh-l)6 was betrothed so early that she does not remember the event. Her mother had gone somewhere to attend a wedding. The place was too far and the daughter was two years’ old. She was too young to be left in the care of someone. Therefore, she was taken along. The mother of the prospective groom had also come to the wedding. A mutual friend suggested the alliance and it was accepted. The marriage took place several years later. In another case, (Juneja-I) both the families belonged to the same city. The bride’s father was a well known lawyer. The groom’s brother was a well known businessman and his father was known to be a saintly person who had withdrawn from worldly pursuits after his sons took over the business. A mutual friend suggested and both parties accepted it. The daughter (Juneja-2) was also betrothed when she was in the 4th standard but was married seven years later. Her father had gone to attend the wedding of the elder brother of the prospective groom. The father saw this boy and told the groom’s father that “from this day onwards he is my son.” Chandra-1 (born 1916) was married to a widower with a daughter from the first marriage. He was a graduate and an officer in the banking service. She was also a matriculate. The age difference between them was 10 years. She belonged to an activist Arya Samaj family. Her father was chief engineer in the Indian Railways. He generally resided in the civil lines area, which was earmarked for the colonisers and the top ranking Indian civil servants. The marriage was arranged through mutual relatives. She was not even


Gender and Education in India

told that her would-be-spouse was a widower and that there was a daughter from his first wife. She found this only when her aunt (mother’s brother’s wife) told her on a visit to the latter’s house. On being asked by her aunt if she would have any objection, she replied that it was improper for daughters to question the parents’ decision. Table: Respondents Educational Qualifications Education






2 6*

– –

– –

– –

2 6

7 4 2 – 21**

3 3** 9 5 20

– – 5 2 7

1 5 5 2@ 13

11 12 21 9 61

Completed Studying Illiterate Literate Primary & middle school 10th to 12th standard Intermediate graduate Post-graduate Total Notes:

* One had two years of education but was barely literate at the time of interview. ** One did not complete BA. *** In one case, four generations of women were interviewed. @ One of them was married and was preparing for chartered accountancy.

In the second generation, the pattern has changed. All were betrothed after puberty and most of them when they were adults. The bride and groom had ‘seen’ each other in the presence of family members. Brides had been ‘asked’ for their consent. Another area of change concerns rules regarding endogamy. The large-scale migration resulted in the complete breakdown of the caste-based community. The situation was in such a flux that several traditional norms and practices were given up for practical reasons. Whether these undermined the traditional ideology or not is a moot question. What is noteworthy is that village exogamy could not be practised since the villages were no longer there. The other rules of endogamy had also to be given up because the traditional networks of alliances had disappeared.

Marital alliances of the first generation women were within the endogamous boundaries of subcaste and caste. In the second generation, marriages have taken place across subcaste and caste especially between khatris and aroras. But intermarriages between khatris and banias have also taken place. But alliances are with refugee families. In Case Study I (Singhal-2) a bania is married to a khatri. In another case, the sister of Khanna-2, a khatri, is married to an arora. It may be mentioned that all these are arranged marriages. In yet another case, a third generation respondent (Bhasin-3) from an arora family has married a kayastha (the writer caste) from Delhi. This is not an arranged marriage. Yet the families agreed because the respective fathers of the bride and groom were colleagues, close friends and neighbours. What was important was that the family was ‘known’: a factor that received importance even in the other inter-caste marriages (although the degree of ‘knowledge’ about the groom’s family varies in each case). The fear of marrying daughters into families who are not acquainted with the parents, directly or indirectly, and that too in a new location and a new environment seems to reduce the importance of traditional parameters of endogamy. Parents are willing to sacrifice traditional requirements in order to ensure their daughters’ happiness and safety. This fear and concern has only increased in a metropolitan city where community-based social norms and practices are weakened. There are no checks and balances, as it were. Literacy and Attitudes to Education As mentioned earlier the winds of change had begun to blow in undivided Punjab under the impact of social reform movements during the late 19th and early 20th century. Some of the first generation women were affected by this

Partition and Family Strategies: Gender-Education Linkages among Punjabi Women in Delhi directly or indirectly. Their response to literacy and formal schooling is compared to that of the second generation women, most of whom were brought up in New Delhi after Partition. The latter were directly affected by the changes in the family structures, by the weakening of norms relating to seclusion, and by greater access to formal education and schooling. What were the motivations of providing literacy skills or of sending daughters to school? The response to female literacy and schooling is viewed within the familial context or what Mukhopadhyay calls ‘patrifocal family structure and ideology’. (1991). First Generation: Mothers

Most of the first generation women were keen to read and write during their childhood. They acquired literacy at their own initiative but with full support from family members, men as well as women. My mother, who was born in 1900, for example, approached her father when she wanted assistance in literacy skills. Her father readily agreed to send the ‘munshi’7 to the house for teaching her. She was motivated to learn because her brothers were going to school. She was not sent to school because it was located in an ‘unsafe’ and an undesirable neighbourhood. Her brother’s wife who could read and write, used to receive letters and also write to her kinsmen in the parental family. This, too, fuelled my mother’s desire for literacy. Born in 1904, Chugh-1 became a widow at the age of 25 years. She returned to her parents’ home with a daughter and a son. She did not know how to pass her time. She started going to a nearby girls’ school and began to assist the teacher. She developed an interest in reading and writing. Encouraged by the teacher, she took the 4th standard examination in Hindi language. She taught Hindi in the same school for two years. She bought a house in the vicinity of her parents’ house with


savings from her salary. She gave up teaching thereafter. Another respondent learnt to read and write soon after her engagement. A private female tutor was hired to teach Hindi so that she could write letters to her parents after the marriage. Her affinal house was far off. It is interesting that most of the mothers were not only literate but quite a few knew more than one language. Writing skills were not widespread but they could read Gurumukhi or Punjabi and Hindi. Some knew English and Urdu as well. Knowledge of Gurumukhi was necessary because women had to read the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikhs. Since Punjabi was also spoken at home, reading the Granth Sahib provided cultural continuity in terms of language and content8. Gurumukhi was learnt at home or at a Gurudwara while Hindi in general was learnt at school. Hindi seems to have spread after the setting up of formal schools by the reformists, missionaries and the colonial administration. Those women, who were sent to schools were generally from politically active and reformist families. They generally learnt Hindi and were less likely to learn Gurumukhi. It also implies that they read the Hindu scriptures although in some families women read both. One respondent told me that her mother used to read the Hindu scriptures in Gurumukhi. Reading the scriptures, looking after the idols and performance of rituals seemed to be feminine domains until the reformist Arya Samaj movement began. The Arya Samaj disapproved of rituals and idol worship. It prescribed the performance of ‘havan’ which was in the masculine domain. The division into the public and private domain and the learning of languages by men and women seemed to correspond. For instance, since reading of scriptures was in the female


Gender and Education in India

domain, women learnt Punjabi in order to read the Guru Granth Sahib. Urdu, on the other hand, was the official language under the Mughal administration and was replaced by English language during the British rule. These two belonged clearly to the public domain and were mastered by men. Only one exceptional woman, mother of Singhal-1 and grandmother of Singhal-2 (Case Study 1), learnt these languages. She knew Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu and English. She had to learn to speak English in order to ‘mix’ with the wives of colonial administrators. Hindi was introduced in schools under the impact of the reform movement. Yet it was not the official language. It was imparted in the public domain and men learnt it more often than women. It also entered the private domain through its association with the reform movement since female education was it major aim. Looking at the literacy skills and formal education of women, a few points emerge. First, literacy among Punjabi women especially in the urban areas, was prevalent at the turn of the century. Most knew more than one language around the 1930s. Second, the primacy of the private sphere determined which language skills were acquired by women. Third, anxiety about sexuality and reluctance to send girls to schools or to send them alone and unescorted brought about several arrangements for their schooling, e.g., school mistresses would come home (‘zenana’) to teach girls and to taking examinations; self-learning at home while the examination was conducted by the teacher at home or at a school; going to school in covered palanquins or tongas escorted by maids; etc. Fourth, the teachers were motivators and continued to keep the interest of the students alive. Chugh -1, who taught for two years was an exception in her generation. She was encouraged by her teacher to study up to the 4th standard, take the examination and

become a teacher. Juneja-1, born in 1910, studied up to the 7th standard. She used to go along with a few other girls, to the teacher’s house at five in the morning, i.e., before school hours, for extra coaching. The teacher would be busy doing household chores but she would also help the girls with their lessons. After that the girls would return home, get ready and go to school, where the same teacher would teach them. Juneja also received a scholarship for three years (5th to 7th standards) because she had topped the list of girls in the 4th standard. There were 30 girls, of whom only four joined the 5th standard. Juneja discontinued studies after the 7th standard even though her father wanted her to continue. The teachers also came home to teach. Fifth, the content of primary education varied e.g., the respondent who taught for two years specialised in Hindi language. It meant that one could specialise in a language without being loaded with too many subjects, except for the three Rs. Second Generation: Daughters

Illiteralcy has disappeared altogether along with informal acquisition of literacy. All of them have been to a formal school, i.e. outside the confines of the home and, therefore, have stepped out of physical seclusion and parda. While the length of education has increased tremendously, the number of languages known has become almost uniform depending on the medium of instruction in the school. All of them know Hindi, while most know English as well (except a few). What is noteworthy is that this generation of women have lost their grasp over their mother-tongue, Punjabi i.e. they may be able to speak it (in some houses Hindi is the spoken language), they cannot read Punjabi (leave aside write it), a skill that most older women had. The second difference is that a large number of them are not only first generation

Partition and Family Strategies: Gender-Education Linkages among Punjabi Women in Delhi school-goers but college-goers as well. Thus, there is a radical change in the educational qualifications over two generation. This indicates that higher education for women has become socially accepted. In fact, an undergraduate degree is considered as the necessary minimum for the third generation. While this is an indication of a positive attitude, the reasons for imparting education are explored in the context of the ideological underpinnings of the feminine role in Punjabi society. Education, Employment and Status Production Why are daughters sent for higher education? God forbid, if something untoward happens after her marriage and if she is without financial support, she could take up a job. She will not suffer like I did. She must be independent and capable of earning in a crisis situation. She should be better prepared and equipped to face crises than I was. After our deaths, her brother will not help. I was helped by my parents and brothers. I could come back to my brothers then after my husband’s death. I was well looked after. Still, I was dependent and so were my children. It is better to be on one’s own. My widowed sister-in-law (husband’s sister) was given part of the family land by all the brothers when she came back. Which brother will do such a thing nowadays? It is an investment in her future. Education will equip her for her job whenever she needs it. Otherwise, her parents-in-law will decide whether she will work. Of course, she must work after completing her graduation and before her marriage (she is a business woman).

Interestingly, women in general, wanted their daughters to be educated, and with the same or slightly differing motivation. They felt


getting a degree was crucial for this would enable them to get jobs in contingencies. It need not immediately lead to employment. Further, those who had to become economically dependent after Partition were very keen that their daughters should not have to face a similar situation. They argued that daughters were unlikely to get the support of their brothers in the changed social situation when joint families were disintegrating. Therefore, they should be educated to become economically independent to face crises. Again, apart from the disappearance of the family as an emotive unit, financially too, the resources of the family of orientation tend to be limited. Therefore, widowed sisters or sisters-in-law may not get the necessary support. The mothers differentiated between the support received by the daughters from the parents and from the brothers. There were limits to the help extended by the brothers. In a study of the role of education in the lives of women in south and south-east Asia, Jayaweera9 argues that education contributed to the reproduction of the social construction of the productive roles of men and the reproductive roles of women. The roots of this reproduction lie, according to her, in the (a) colonial state which encouraged a distinct perception of gender roles, and (b) in the deliberate use of education in the post-colonial era to strengthen the already existing economic, social and political hierarchy, rather than to promote values of human and gender equality. Mathew10 found that daughters’ education was considered an important family strategy for survival and maintenance. Education was also perceived as an important strategy where its instrumental value was appreciated in terms of income benefits and status production. Desai11 found that her educated respondents felt that their formal schooling had helped them in their relationship with


Gender and Education in India

spouses. Husbands appeared to be less aggressive when their wives were educated. This encouraged respondents to seek education for their daughters. Karlekar12, on the other hand, highlights the role of education in the formation of a particular type of identity. In other words, even women’s wider access to education was unable to overcome the influence of socialisation. While more and more women are receiving higher education, among daughters very few are working. While only one woman in the first generation is self-employed, eight women of the second generation are working, i.e. two are self-employed (one is a chartered accountant and the other is in business). Of the remaining six, four are teachers and one is a university lecturer and two are white-collar workers in the public sector13. The two appended case studies show that education received a high priority for family survival (case study 2). It was also perceived as a crucial strategy in terms of improved employment and for status production (casestudy1). This situation is similar in other countries of the south and southeast Asia. While most women from the first two generations are not working, they are also not planning a career for their daughters (although the daughters are). What is significant is that no stigma is attached to employment and a career, whether it is viewed as a necessity for one’s own daughters or is an opinion expressed in general. But the parameters of change are not radical. The overriding concern is with the domestic role and protection of sexuality. Therefore, “She should work only if the parents-in-law agree.” Why did the second generation women take to employment or follow a career? The two most enterprising women are Kapoor-2, the chartered accountant (CA) and Singhal-2, the entrepreneur (case study 1). The chartered accountant’s husband was a CA and was an

‘enlightened’ person. He wanted his educated wife to become a CA and join him in his consultancy work. Therefore, her training began under her husband. She was working at home because the children were too young. Her husband’s sudden death pushed her into taking charge of his firm. She has since then been looking after it. However, she lives in a joint family with her husband’s elder brother and his family. This is an upper class family. The entrepreneur’s mother (Singhal-1) is in business who was initiated into it by her father. (See case study 1). Sunita’s father had been a political worker before independence and was also active in social reform. He belonged to the moneylenders’ caste, where women were not being sent for education. He found the bride of his choice, i.e. Sunita’s mother, who had completed her undergraduation. Soon after his marriage, he set up his business and initiated his wife into it. She had to sit in a wholesale market where women were rarely seen. Her own mother disapproved of it while the father was reconciled to it. Yet she survived and succeeded. Yet when Sunita, the daughter, joined a local girls’ college, the mother would accompany her daily to the college in a chauffeur-driven car. She was also married without any idea of a career for her. However, Sunita decided to get back to the family business within a few weeks of her marriage in order to avoid friction and also because she did not want to be financially dependent on her mother-in-law who took away the salary from her son. So why not work, she thought? However, another respondent, a graduate in history had to give up a full-time job because of her husband’s disapproval. Sachdeva-2, who is the least educated, feels that girls should go in for learning skills, education, etc. Chugh-2, who is otherwise not keen on employment for her daughter, replied:

Partition and Family Strategies: Gender-Education Linkages among Punjabi Women in Delhi I would very much like my daughter to work before marriage. Her father wants her to step out, and to take an interest in studies. We are not in a hurry to marry her off. Her father wants her to be something, especially if she has the aptitude and the interest.

The college teacher, Mehra-2, who was married into a joint family, decided to take up teaching because, I did not want to sit idle at home or just do domestic work or gossip like other women. I had lived in hostels most of my life and had been used to a different life style. I was the only child of my parents. They wanted to give me the best education. My husband told me that a teaching career will be acceptable to the family. So I approached my husband’s elder brother, a local politician and a college teacher, and requested him to help me in getting a job.

Teaching is preferred because of convenient timing and because it is safe—there are no male colleagues in single-sex institutions. Baluja-1 stated: My son and daughter-in-law work in the same office. Therefore, she is safe. We would otherwise not allow our women to work. Of course, there is no problem with teaching.

Thus there is general acceptance of the norms of gender-appropriate jobs. Although parda has been given up, the ideology underlying restrictive practices such as control of sexuality is used as a distinct family strategy. Parda requires female modesty. Therefore, female labour allocation and control are justified in terms of an imputed need to control sexual morality. This weakens women’s bargaining position and limits their options. It curtails their mobility. Punjabi women who took employment in order to support their families and family structures had seemingly been affected by the new division of labour. Their economic contribution assisted in income distribution


and created a new process of socio-economic differentiation. Yet, practically in all contexts, division regarding women’s labour is not out of choice but due to lack of it. The lack of choice is imposed by the women’s status within the family. In a study of Malay women, working in the export promotion zones in Malaysia, Wazir14 notes that their traditional cultural dependency status and restrictions on their mobility and employment had changed with the advent of export-oriented industries and the demand for young female labour. Yet the study uncovered no perception of the value of women’s work, either by the women or their families despite the fact that it showed considerable female contribution to output. Families dependent on the resources of women tend to cling to their controls over women. Even when women are working they have not gained any real independence in terms of social status. The social prestige attached to the wife-mother role is expected to compensate for the lack of material rewards or opportunities to pursue other occupations. Conclusions This study unearthed examples of family strategies which widened the social space available to Punjabi women who migrated to Delhi from Pakistan after Partition. The most important pressure on cultural traditions has been on removing the restrictions on intermarriage, on the age at marriage, on parda, on women’s mobility and on gender division of labour due to economic crisis. The long-term impact of the crisis has been on raising the age at marriage; on breaking down of the endogamous barrier of caste and sub-caste; and on removing the restrictions on parda. In addition, formal education, especially college education, has become an accepted fact for girls and women. Careers have become available to some of them but


Gender and Education in India

the choice is restricted to feminine jobs, especially teaching. Others have been forced into white-collar jobs out of sheer necessity. The woman who has been different is the entrepreneur in case study 1. In some cases, sheer need for survival left no room for choice of education or of occupation as in case study 2. By and large, education has enabled them to step out in the narrow physical sense and has also enlarged the feminine social spaces yet it has not changed the ideological framework or the expectations from education. Education is viewed as an investment for future utility, not to develop their self-worth or for independence training or to break out of the patriarchal mould. Education has been an enabling factor for women in families where other supports were available. But there too it goes only thus far, and not beyond. In the context of employment too, the constraints of ideology, underlying seclusion and concern with sexuality permit them to work only within the contours of a family. The ideological framework which emphasises virginity, parda, early marriage, dowry, sonpreference, etc, tends to keep women within the home. Even when they go out and the family strategies encourage them to do so, the ideological underpinnings of the seemingly altered family structure have barely been touched. The fact that women fail to perceive this ideological frame as a restricting straitjacket ensures that there is no questioning. Those who have moved out of the straitjacket have done so with the explicit encouragement and support of their husbands and fathers. However, having ‘stepped out’ they are unable to disentangle themselves from the traditional ‘feminine role models’. For instance, the entrepreneur is unwilling to allow her daughter to fight the injustice of the parents-in-law. She is far too conscious of the social implications of this for the prestige of

the family. She is also aware of the handicap of fighting a system which is skewed against women. Her daughter has succeeded to some extent in asserting herself but is unable to move towards resolution of the conflict. The parents-in-law, the judicial system and the social ethos are all ranged against her. In the second case, while our respondent had the opportunities to utilise education for employment, she carried the dual burden for too long. Besides, she never developed any long-term interest in education or in a career. It was something that had to be done. Therefore, she refused to ‘study further’ for a doctoral degree even when her husband was keen on it. She also gave up the supervisory level job as soon as she had the ‘choice’ to leave it. Thus, changes in gender roles seem to be survival strategies in response to the reformist movement but also in order to deal with a crisis situation and tackle new opportunities. These range from giving up parda to investment in a daughter’s education and wage work. However, the division between the domestic and the public domains remain. Literacy and formal schooling of women as desirable attributes for matrimonial alliances or for the reading of religious scriptures are recontextualised within the modified ‘patrifocal family structure and ideology’. APPENDIX Case Studies Two case studies are presented here. The first one is an example where there is involvement of men in political and reform movement, prior to Partition, had already changed the views of families of which our women were members. The changed situation after Partition only broadened the horizons of men and of families, thereby affecting gender roles. The second is an example where political

Partition and Family Strategies: Gender-Education Linkages among Punjabi Women in Delhi involvement was unlikely to affect gender roles. Partition and subsequent setbacks, especially the loss of the head of the family, affected the roles of women. Case Study 1: Story of Sunita and Her Mother Singhal-1, aged 63, belongs to the bania caste of moneylenders and traders. Her father, Gupta, was a deputy recruiting officer in the army under the colonial administration. He was the first person from his caste to get into the army. This became an event to rejoice over. His wife had been to school and had completed primary education. She knew several languages, namely, Hindi, Gurumukhi and Urdu. She learnt English conversation through a private English woman tutor. This was necessary because she had to interact with her husband’s colleagues and officers. According to Singhal-1, for generations, men in her family had been educated. She could recall that her grandfather had received education. All the men were in business. Women had begun to receive education from her father’s generation, i.e. her father’s sisters had been sent to school. The older ones had completed eight years and the younger ones 10 years of schooling. In her generation, girls (i.e. her sisters and first cousins) were encouraged to receive education but no one studied beyond FA (i.e. 12 years of schooling). Gupta had three daughters and two sons. Singhal-1, the respondent, was the eldest. She was sent to college to complete the undergraduate degree. In her own words: “While girls in our family, even of the earlier generation, were generally sent to schools, a college degree was rare. I was the first one in the family and one of the few in our caste to have completed BA. Therefore, it became imperative to find an equally qualified groom for me.” The proposal for her marriage came


through her mother’s sister’s husband who was a classmate of the prospective groom. The groom’s family lived in a village in a backward area. They owned some land and were the traditional moneylenders or ‘sahukars’. The bride was city-bred. Their life-styles were poles apart. However, the groom had lived in Lahore most of the time and was expected to settle there. The considerations that prevailed in settling the match were: same caste and comparable educational qualifications (MA) of the groom, i.e. matching of a social and an individual parameter. Besides, the family was known to be good and ‘sharif’. They were engaged in February 1947 and were married a year later in February 1948. At that time, Singhal was 25 years of age. Her late marriage was due to three factors. First, the parents’ desire to send her to college. Second, to find an educated groom. Third, some parties were interested in negotiating and discussing ‘dowry’, i.e. how much and what will be given. Singhal’s parents were against arranging a marriage with any family which would be interested in discussing dowry. The groom had new ideas about women, their status and role. He wanted his wife to be a companion and to join him in his business. Therefore, he wanted his wife to share in his economic activities. He came to Delhi within six months of partition. He decided to produce public address systems and set up his residence in old Delhi. A portion of the house was used for assembling parts. This was supervised by his wife who remained largely at home, since she had young children. He also set up an office in the wholesale market in old Delhi, an entirely male-dominated area, where Singhal would sit and transact sales. The children, two daughters and a son, were sent to a residential school situated close to their father’s village. This left time for business and children were also not neglected. The daughter, Sunita (Singhal-2), came to


Gender and Education in India

Delhi after finishing school. She joined a local college for women to study BA. After BA, she completed Master’s in Business Administration from Delhi University. All the children were socialised into the family business from an early age since they used to help during vacations. Sunita joined the family business on a full-time basis after her MBA. Singhal died suddenly of heart failure at the age of 65 years. Although his sons had already joined him in business, he was still not fully conversant. The wife took complete charge and managed the business. Sunita was married at the age of 26. Her husband was four years her senior. At that time the father was still alive. The marriage was arranged through mutual relatives. The groom’s family, also refugees, belonged to the Khatri caste. In the changed context, caste considerations were set aside and priority was accorded to similar style of life, socioeconomic status and values. The groom’s father was a top bureaucrat even though the family was a not as wealthy as that of the bride’s. Yet the standard of living was comparable. What mattered was that the family was ‘known’ and all of them were educated. Sunita found out soon from the comments and attitude of her mother-in-law that there was an expectation that she would bring in more dowry, because her parents were wealthy. Second, the mother-in-law, indicated to her that feeding an extra person would cost something. Third, the son was giving his salary to the mother. Because of these reasons and the greedy attitude of her mother-in-law, she decided to go back to her family business. She did not give it up even when her children were born. They lived in a house owned by them in a very exclusive neighbourhood. But after the children were born space became a problem. The parents-in-law suggested that their

daughter-in-law (Sunita) should raise the capital from her parents for constructing an extra unit. She agreed to do this on condition that her children would be given that part of the house constructed with her parents’ money. With the capital raised from her parents, two floors were added. No agreement was drawn up. The daughter-in-law depended on ‘trust’ and ‘understanding’. She, along with her husband and children, set up a nuclear household on the first floor. The parents-in-law lived on the ground floor. The floor was rented out. Although, Sunita was entitled to the rent, she agreed to let her parents-in-law have it. Her father-in-law had retired by then and needed this income. Singhal-1 is a case of a woman who had relatively non-traditional upbringing and was married to a man who was, even by current standards, quite enlightened and modern. He enabled her to transcend traditional boundaries in order to get her to join in his business. The children were quite independent and were given similar training and selfconcept. Yet when Sunita was married, the situation was left fluid. She is not expected to continue her parents’ business. There was no clear-cut idea whether she would work or not. It was her training that helped her to come to a quick decision to get back to work. In addition, the desire or greed of the parentsin-laws for the extra income brought by her made things easier. It is odd that her affinal family could not take a frank position that she could continue to work and that they had nothing against working women. The setting up of a nuclear household after eight years of marriage had a major shock in store for Sunita, who discovered that her husband suffered from depression. This discovery led to several others. For instance, her husband had never stuck to a job for more than two years. His parents would justify this on the ground that the jobs were not good for

Partition and Family Strategies: Gender-Education Linkages among Punjabi Women in Delhi him. Simultaneously, he would be administered drugs by the mother-in-law in the absence of his wife. He was tutored to take them and not reveal to his wife that he had been under treatment even before his marriage. Sunita found the relevant information through a friend of her husband. Then she started his treatment and discovered that he suffered from manic depression. At present along with this, her husband’s older brother is also trying to usurp the whole house. The death of the father-in-law has complicated matters. Sunita, who was feeling very insecure, brought an injunction from the court on grounds of his mental condition so that he would not move up with his wife. She has also taken the property dispute to the court and is fighting two families single-handedly. The location of her household makes it worse. On the ground floor is her mother-in-law and on the second floor is her husband’s elder brother and his family. She is harassed in several ways. Yet she has stood her ground. The case has reached a stalemate. Her mother is very unhappy and depressed. She is scared for the life of her daughter and also finds it difficult to fight back. She is advising her daughter to forget about her rights and leave everything. Why should the daughter waste her energy for a cause which will take a lifetime to settle? The mother feels that marriage within the caste may have been better because the caste-based community may have put pressure on the parents-in-law. In addition, the breakdown of communities and social norms as a result of Partition combined with increasing consumerism and the anonymity provided by a big city have complicated the situation. It is this situation which is ideal for the demand of dowry. Such a situation would not have arisen in pre-Partition Punjab.


Case Study 2: Seth and Her Daughters The Seths lived in Rawalpindi in Pakistan with the husband’s parents. They were Khatris of the highest rank. Their marriage had adhered to the endogamous restrictions. Both of them had about eight to nine years of education. The Seths had two young daughters, the elder one was five years old while the younger was about eight months old at the time of Partition. Mr. Seth was in business and used to get a quota of sugar from the colonial administration for making soft drinks. His business contacts spread as far as Delhi yet it was a medium-scale enterprise. He was just a middle-class man. He was a Congress worker. He used to write patriotic songs for the Congress workers. He had given up a job in the administration and set up his business in order to be active in politics. When he heard about the possibility of Partition, he refused to accept that it would ever happen. However, on being warned by his friends and relatives, he asked his father to accompany his wife and two daughters to Delhi. He and his mother stayed in Rawalpindi. He did not leave even after the Partition in August 1947. But soon his Muslim assistants and workers persuaded him to leave since they could no longer offer him protection. He sold his business establishments for Rs. 1100 but left the house intact hoping to come back. He was among the fortunate few refugees since he had business contacts. He was alloted accommodation in old Delhi which was fairly large. He established his residence on one floor and converted the other floor into a hotel. Things had so far worked out well until a property dispute unsettled him and reversed the process. The property dispute involved the building in which he was living. Another refugee family claimed that it was allotted to them. This dispute went to the court. He was


Gender and Education in India

the only male member to look after everything, whereas the opponents’ family consisted of several brothers, each one more aggressive than the other. They lived in the other half of the building and made a nuisance of themselves for the wife and the young girls. The court case resulted in loss of time and money. In the meantime, two more daughters and a son were born. Thus, he had four daughters and the son was the youngest. His children were sent to school using the facilities of free tuition and uniform, etc., extended by the Indian government to those who had participated in the freedom struggle. He had also set up a general merchandise store. He could not devote time to the general store which was entrusted to the care of a relative. While his health suffered because of the court case, his relatives cheated him and pocketed all the money after selling the goods. The store had to be closed. His mental and physical health deteriorated. He died before the court case was settled. The eldest daughter had been married after completing the 10th standard. His unmarried elder daughter was 16 years and the son was nine years old. There was no regular source of income for the wife, whose elder brother also lived close by. Although, he had a family of his own, he provided financial and emotional support to his sister till her daughter grew up and began to earn. Till then, whenever, he shifted residence (which was just once), she also moved close to his house. On his advice, an out of court settlement was reached and she left the house for which her husband had died. She had begun to feel very insecure with those ruffians who could look into the inner courtyard of their house. Her daughters had to remain confined to the rooms all time. Therefore, she moved to west Delhi along with her brother’s family. Her second daughter, Ramesh (Seth-2), was in school. She started giving private

tuitions to supplement the financial help from her mother’s brother plus whatever her mother could spend from her father’s funds, which were meagre. This way, she completed her MA and took up a job in a public sector organisation. After that Seth was dependent only on the salary of Ramesh. The younger sisters did not have to give tuitions. The marriage proposal of Ramesh came through her class fellow who was the niece of the prospective groom. He also belonged to a refugee family. But they were Aroras. Prior to Partition they belonged to a rural farming family of low middle-class level. They were not even urban. Women in their family had no education, e.g. the mother-in-law was illiterate. Yet the positive factor was that they were simple and unassuming and they had asked for the girl. Once Seth was certain that she was going to accept the proposal for her daughter, she told them that this marriage had to wait for two years until her third daughter could finish her education and take up a job. She was frank in telling them that she would not give any dowry and also that her household was solely dependent on the income of Seth-2. The groom’s family agreed to wait because their own granddaughter had given a certificate of ‘good character and behaviour’ to the prospective bride. Their main concern was that when resources in terms of income and space were limited, the daughter-in-law should be able to adjust in a joint family. The third daughter won a scholarship for B. Lib course. She also worked on daily wages in the All India Radio. She was trying for a permanent (tenurial) job when eventually the marriage date of Ramesh was fixed. As luck would have it, the younger sister received the appointment a month before the wedding. The third daughter worked while the fourth daughter and the son were studying. The fourth daughter undertook training as a

Partition and Family Strategies: Gender-Education Linkages among Punjabi Women in Delhi beautician after BA. Thereafter, she set up her beauty clinic. Then, the third daughter got married. The son, who was the youngest, took up a job immediately after 12th standard so that his sister could be married. He studied for BA through correspondence. The family used education of the daughters for employment, social security as well as for status. However, so far as Seth-2 was concerned, she had no choice. A job was thrust upon her. She had to struggle to receive education and then work because her salary was needed by her mother and later on by her afffinal family. She gave up her job for a few years in order to study. Her husband was keen that she should go in for research and teaching. She completed MPhil but refused to study further for PhD saying that she was not interested. She took up a supervisory-level job as a translator in a government organisation where she worked for nearly two decades. She resigned as soon as she became entitled to a pension and other retirement benefits. In the interim two decades, the couple had invested in two properties. They got rent from there as well as from the house of the parents-in-law. The husband had also been promoted. Therefore, she decided to quit since her salary was not ‘needed’ and she was tired of trying to meet the requirements of the dual role.




Notes [This paper is based on data collected for a United Nations University-sponsored research project on Women’s Work and Family Strategies in South and South Ease Asia, co-directed by Hanna Papanek and Vina Mazumdar, the Indian Council for Social Science Research funded the project. The paper was presented at the conference on changing gender and kinship relations in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, Nairobi, February 1993.] 1. In India feminists have made efforts to contextualise gender studies within the family and the household. There are two notable examples. First, the international



7. 8.


conference on the Women and Household in Asia in New Delhi in 1985. Second, the UN University Project on Women’s Work and Family Strategies in South and South East Asia consisted of several individual research projects. It was based on the premise that there was a close linkage between the family and decisions relating to women’s work. The present paper is also a part of one such project on Family Strategies, Women’s Education and Employment [Chanana 1989]. Among the more recent studies, see Risseeuw (1992). She states that “It is very much part of social science to analyse state formation, large-scale economic change or the effects of colonial rule as if they are disconnected from changes in gender, family and kin relations. This hinders attempts to examine these links and pose questions not only about changes in people’s degree of wealth or poverty, employment or education but also about the nature of their intimate life arrangements and support networks [Risseeuw 1992: WS 46]. The difference in the parda practices of Hindu and Muslim women are discussed in Papanek and Minault. In all, 61 women were interviewed. In most cases, except two, mothers, their daughters’ and daughters were interviewed. The sample was selected through personal contact and snowball technique. The data collected through life histories is supported by personal experience as a Punjabi girl born on the other side of the border but brought up in New Delhi. The total of first generation women comes to 21 because I interviewed four generations in one family. The extra respondents have been clubbed with the first generation. Although the daughter’s surname changes after marriage, I am using one surname for three generations of women for purposes of identification; numerals refer to the generation. All names have been changed. The accountant-cum-shop assistant. The separation of Hinduism and Sikhism, at the level of ideology and practice seems to be a later phenomenon. It is interesting that



10. 11. 12. 13.


Gender and Education in India in most villages, gurudwaras and temples were in the same room or building. In other words, the holy book of the Sikhs and the idols of Hindu gods were kept together. One respondent told me that her family used to maintain the village gurudwara and the temple in their house. She had to clear this every morning. There seemed to be a public building for this purpose. Generally, they were donated by the landlords. Even then the temples and gurudwaras were separated and housed in public buildings, a respondent mentioned that she used to visit both in the morning. All these studies were part of the United Nations University-sponsored research project mentioned earlier. See Note 9. See Note 9. See Note 9. One had just retired from the Indian Railways. The other, Seth, took voluntary retirement in 1990 because she was fed up of long hours of work. Financially, too, the family did not need her salary anymore. (see case study 2). See Note 9.

References Anand, B. S. (1961), Cruel Interlude, Asia Publishing House. Chanana, Karuna (ed.) (1988). ‘Introduction’ in

Socialisation, Education and Women: Explorations in Gender Identity, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, Orient Longman, New Delhi, mimeographed. —— (1989). Women’s Work, Education and Family Strategies in the Context of Social Change and Mobility, Report of Research Project, Indian Council for Social Science Research, New Delhi. Fox, Richard G. (1984). ‘Urban Class and Communal Consciousness in ‘Colonial Punjab: The Genesis of India’s Intermediate Regime’, Modern Asian Studies, 18 (3), July 459-90. Hershman, P. (1981). Punjabi Kinship and Marriage, Hindustan Publishing Corporation, Delhi. Malhotra, Anshu (1992). ‘The Moral Woman and the Urban Punjabi Society of the Late 19th Century’, Social Scientist, May-June, 43-63. Mukhopadhyay, Carol C. and Susan Seymour (eds.) (1993). Women, Education and Family Structure in India, Westview Press. Papanek, Hanna and Gall Minault (eds.) (1982). Separate Worlds: Studies of Purdah in South Asia, Chanakya, Delhi. Rissesuw, Carla (1992), ‘Gender, Kinship and State Formation: Case of Sri Lanka Under Colonial Rule’, Economic and Political Weekly, 27 (4344), WS 46-54. Tandon, Prakash (1968). Punjabi Century, University of California Press, Berkeley.

9 Unequal Schooling as a Factor in the Reproduction of Social Inequality in India Padma Velaskar

That the expansion of educational systems in unequal societies can have at best limited, if any, equalising effects is well-established by the vast and continuously accumulating volume of empirical evidence.1 This has, on the one hand, shattered liberal-functionalist assumptions and notions about the role of formal education as an instrument of individual achievement, equal opportunity and large-scale social mobility. On the other hand, critical perspectives that view education as reproducing social inequality have gained firm ground. The main functions of schooling, according to these latter views, are the reproduction of dominant ideologies and their forms of knowledge, and the distribution of knowledge and skills in a manner that will reproduce the structure of social inequality. The major strands within this larger reproductive model are represented by the economic-reproductive, the culturalreproductive and the hegemonic-state reproductive models. The first, developed around the work of Bowles and Gintis (1976), is basically concerned with how schooling functions to inculcate in students attitudes and dispositions that are required to legitimise the dominant-subordinate relationships in the economic sphere. The main thrust of the second model, of which Bourdieu is the major exponent (1973), is the emphasis on the

mediating role of culture in the creation of class societies and attempts to show how schools are critical in legitimising and reproducing the cultural capital of the dominant strata. The third model, drawing from Gramsci’s formulations of the role of the state in a capitalist society, seeks to analyze and understand the role of state intervention in shaping the reproductive functions of education (Giroux 1983; Sarup 1982). Conventional stratification approaches have failed to provide an adequate understanding of gender differences in educational access and in educational and occupational attainment. The recent feminist materialist approaches seek to offer a fuller explanation of the relationship between the educational system and the reproduction of the sexual division of labour. It is held that such an analysis should involve a full consideration of the sexual division of labour and the uneven and contradictory nature of reproduction of capital (Wolpe 1978). This paper is an effort towards understanding how and to what extent schooling has functioned to reproduce and consolidate caste, class and gender inequalities in India. With this objective in view, the paper weaves together evidences on the varied dimensions of inequality in educational access, performance and outcome, and attempts to


Gender and Education in India

build as coherent a picture of educational inequality as possible. The focus is on examining the school itself as a significant source of inequality. This exercise, tentative and exploratory in nature, is guided by the new theoretical perspectives of schooling outlined above but does not purport to systematically test specific propositions flowing out of these perspectives. This task, besides being one of immense complexity, is necessarily constrained by the quantity and quality of available research evidence. As the paper will reveal, there is a dearth of good research in several crucial areas. In conclusion, the paper assesses our present understanding of the situation in the light of the insights gained. Schooling in India: Unequal Access The Unequal Diffusion of Schooling

At the time of Independence, India’s commitment to education was expressed in the political resolution to gear the education system to the goals of economic development and social justice. However, the two-pronged strategy of democratisation and compensatory discrimination notwithstanding, even the basic minimum goals in education—that of full literacy and universal elementary education—remain unfulfilled. And there appears little possibility of fulfilling them in the near future. It is in fact evident that the distribution of educational opportunity has followed emergent patterns of social differentiation and social inequalities in the country. This pattern, indeterminate and fluid, represents the complex interaction and interweaving of traditional and newly-evolving conceptions of status deriving out of the structures of caste, class, patriarchy, religion and ethnic origin. The following sections reveal how this intricate pattern of social differentiation is reflected in the educational system.

First, the overall figures of the 1981 Census for literacy (36.23 per cent) or school attendance (44.23 per cent of children between 5 to 14 years) in the country mask sharp regional (inter-state and rural-urban) and gender imbalances. For instance, Kerala is way ahead of other states with 70.42 per cent literacy while Rajasthan with a literacy rate of only 24.38 per cent ranks last among the sixteen major states. 2 A similar situation prevails with respect to school attendance.3 Further, there are sharp rural-urban and gender imbalances in each state, with the exception of Kerala. 4 This indicates that expansion of education has favoured urban as against rural residents and men as against women. A further dimension of gross inequality in the diffusion of education is that of ‘social class’. The representation of the dominant strata is disproportionately high at all levels of education and most conspicuously in the higher and elite echelons, in urban as well as rural areas. The dominant strata constitute the upper and middle class Hindu men and, to a much lesser extent, women, who are largely drawn from the higher and middle castes. This implies that caste status continues to be indicative of occupational and economic status. Evidence of this is available from research conducted in several parts of the country.5 Those who constitute the upper and middle strata in urban areas are largely the beneficiaries of uneven capitalist development that has taken place in the country. Besides the numerically small but powerful industrial owners, they include employees ranging from clerical to managerial staff in the professional, technical, administrative and management services, the self-employed in these services, and the owners of small capital. In the rural areas, the dominant proprietary class is that of rich farmers who have gained immensely

Unequal Schooling as a Factor in the Reproduction of Social Inequality in India 179 from the development of capitalist agriculture (Bardhan 1984; Dandekar 1977). Along with the noncultivating landlords and merchants, the rich farmers comprise barely 14 per cent of the rural households but control 70 to 80 per cent of the total land. The middle peasants control most of the remainder. Given this grossly unequal distribution of economic and social power it is hardly surprising that these classes are unequal usurpers of educational opportunities. This is not to say that the lower strata find no place in the educational system. Under the impact of massive expansion, those from the humblest origins—the agricultural labourers, poor peasants and urban proletariat classes living around the poverty line and drawn from the lowest castes—do participate in the school system. They are generally underrepresented, but in some specific contexts (e.g. in the metropolitan cities such as Bombay) they have even managed a fair representation.6 Yet, it is also equally true that the substantial problems of non-enrolment and non-attendance that do exist, mainly afflict the lower classes. Census figures for 1981 reveal that around 61 per cent of the population in the age group 5 to 9 years, and 50 per cent in the age group 10 to 14 years currently do not attend school. On the whole, 56 per cent of children in the 5 to 14 years age group (the elementary school level) is out of school. A sexwise breakdown reveals that 47 per cent of the boys and 65 per cent of the girls in this age group are out of school. Studies have also shown the conspicuous backwardness of the Scheduled Castes vis-a-vis the ‘forward’ sections of society.7 It has also commonly been seen that the representation of women and Scheduled Castes decreases at successively higher levels. Thus, the basic problem in the field of education is that of enrolling and retaining within the system those segments of the lower

strata which have to contend with specific constraints arising out of specific structures of social inequality. There is, for instance, the double burden for the rural girl child as against the boy child. The burden of poverty is borne through hard work on farms or elsewhere, and that of partriarchy through relegation to the lesser occupations, survival on less food, less clothing and more household work in a general atmosphere of subservience, restriction and oppression (Banerjee 1989). The opportunity costs of educating girls are higher than for boys—and together with patriarchal values, they make for a situational finally from which the girl child cannot escape. At another level, the segregation of the Scheduled Castes, particularly if combined with the pernicious element of untouchability, is demonstrative of the independent restrictive influence of caste. In such oppressive contexts, schooling must remain irrelevant and remote. The foregoing is illustrative of how the multiple bases of social differentiation are operative in a transient, plural society such as India. More importantly, they indicate how in the consideration of unequal opportunities, variables such as sex, caste and region are not reducible to, and cannot be subsumed under, notions of ‘class’ or ‘stratum’. Unequal Provision of Education as a Determinant of Unequal Access While structural variables fundamentally affect access to education, it is important to underscore the ubiquity of unequal educational provision—a fact that has been trivialised by the rhetoric of expansion. Despite the loud claims to democratisation, the spread of educational facilities to hitherto under provided regions—remote, interior regions, areas populated by the Scheduled Castes and tribal populations has proceeded at an uneven and halting pace.8 Further, state expansion of education has been


Gender and Education in India

confined largely to the primary level and, to some extent, to the middle level of schooling. The private sector has been mainly responsible for the provision of secondary school education as a result of which facilities at this level are far from adequate.9 In any case, the expansion of private education has largely been motivated by and served vested interests (Baviskar 1980; Rosenthal 1977). The quality of ‘free’ government facilities will be discussed in a following section. However, it could be hypothesised that quantitative inadequacy acts as deterrent to the pursuit of education. It would not be unreasonable to assume that the existence or non-existence of facilities at the subsequent levels would affect an individual’s desire to enroll and complete his/her education at the earlier level. Non-availability of facilities within the vicinity particularly affects potential girl learners. Studies have shown that ‘distance’ as a factor is more significant for girls in that parents are unwilling to send their daughters to distant schools for a number of cultural and practical reasons.10 There is also a parental preference for schools meant exclusively for girls, as well as with women teachers, of which there is a dearth particularly in rural areas. Girls’ schools constitute only 15 to 20 per cent of the total, indicating that most girls study in co-educational schools. It is possible that a greater availability of girls’ schools might lead to greater enrolment. One could extend this argument to the nonavailability of other types of institutions to explain the lower participation rates of girls in different educational spheres. UNEQUAL ATTAINMENT AND THE MEDIATING ROLE OF SCHOOLING It is unfortunate that there is insufficient amount of specific data on the critical issue of inequalities in educational achievement— measured either in terms of years of schooling

completed or academic performance. Research conducted in Western countries shows that home background exerts an independent influence on academic achievement, through a range of social and socio-psychological factors. These include parental education, parental motivation, attitude, aspiration and interest, housing conditions and family culture, values and relationships, life-styles and language. Research in India has indicated the impact of culturally deprived environments on the intellectual development and, consequently, the academic achievement of school children. Psychologists have extensively examined the relationship between economic deprivation and the development of cognitive and perceptual skills and motivational levels. It has been established that the culturally and socially disadvantaged are ‘inferior’ cognitively, motivationally, physically and in terms of personality as a result of environments that are ‘deprived’ with regard to the amount of sensory stimulation, variety of sensory stimulation, verbal interactions and achievement orientation. Comparative studies of Brahmin and Scheduled Caste children have revealed the superiority of the former in terms of several abilities as well as aspiration levels. Culturally, the Brahmin families appeared superior, i.e., better educated, more interested and better oriented towards the schooling of their wards (Sinha 1982). Sharp gender differences in attainment are also evident. There is a far greater proportion of dropout and wastage among girls than among boys. As in the case of non-enrolment, this trend is more marked among the rural poor. Attainment for girls in general is a function of the notion of the ‘appropriate’ level of education for girls that prevails in the different sub-groups.11 There exists little systematic evidence of sex differences in academic performance. It

Unequal Schooling as a Factor in the Reproduction of Social Inequality in India 181 suggests that girls’ performance compares quite favourably with that of boys. Indeed, data for urban girls suggests that their performance surpasses that of boys in all subjects at the lower and higher levels. However, at the secondary stage, there is a tendency among girls to choose the ‘softer’ and more feminine options. Possibly, both home and school processes are at work in the realisation of this stereotyped result (Karlekar 1987). Unequal Schools and Unequal Performance While one could scarcely dispute the contribution of ‘home factors’ in the academic performance of girls or boys, cross-national data has directed attention to the school as a significant variable. Studies conducted in several developing countries including India have revealed a generally systematic pattern: the less developed a society, the less the effect of social status on learning and the greater the effect of school-related variables (Farrell 1982). This finding assumes significance especially in light of the sharp differences in schooling that exist in India. Almost everything about the school system in India—its organisation, the internal structure of individual schools, content and processes of schooling, indeed its total ethos —is structured towards bringing about the unequal outcomes that it eventually does. All existing schools can be broadly classified into a four-tiered system. The top tier constitutes the elite schools which include the exclusive public schools and the unaided private schools. The fees are high, rendering them an exclusive preserve of the upper classes. The next layer comprises government central schools and ‘good’ quality private aided schools. The third tier includes private schools, aided or unaided, of average or indifferent quality. Both types cater largely to the upper

middle, middle, and increasingly the lower middle strata of society. Finally, there is a stratum of provincial or regional government/ local body schools that is meant to cater to the poorer segments. With exceptions, the schools in this last category are considered to be ‘inferior’ in quality to the private schools. Another crucial line of differentiation is the medium of instruction. Within each tier the English medium schools command a higher prestige—not necessarily because they offer ‘superior’ education but because of the primacy given to English in the higher social circles and its value in the job market. A number of studies have documented differences in the quality of schools.12 One of the most vital aspects of polarisation in the quality of schools is the marked disparity between rural and urban schools, even in terms of basic facilities such as blackboards and the number of teachers. In local body schools there is the chronic problem of political interference in schools, where the teacher’s dignity and autonomy are devalued and abused by local politicians. Under such circumstances, education can only suffer. Studies conducted in the urban and metropolitan areas have documented (a) the social class difference in the composition of different types of schools (b) sharp differences in quality in terms of the physical condition of school buildings and classrooms, toilets, size of classrooms, quality of laboratories and libraries, and organization of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities and (c) the importance accorded to, and competence in, the teaching of difficult subjects such as English, Mathematics and Science. 13 Yet, these studies do not really convey the intensity of inequalities that exist. For this, one has only to turn to newspaper reports of the ‘appalling’ conditions of city schools for the poor.14 A system that is so grossly unequal cannot


Gender and Education in India

but function as a central agency of inequality and domination. All the same, the dominant ethic of a just meritocracy governs and legitimises the system. Apart from the exclusive minority of the totally unaided schools and the central schools whose students appear for a separate examination (CSE and AISSCE, respectively), the vast majority of students—whether from aided, government or semi-government schools, English or regional-medium schools—appear for the common Secondary School Certificate Examination. This phenomenon of mass examinations creates a false impression of an open and just competition, while the unequal system ensures that the sorting along class lines remains intact (Kumar 1987). The issue of whether or not there is a gender dimension to this phenomenon has not been separately investigated. Do parents segregate sons and daughters into ‘better’ and ‘worse’ schools by choice? Among the middle and upper strata such discrimination is not overtly visible. It is possible that among the lower strata financial constraints may favour the entry of boys alone to the better schools. The significant differences between schools in academic performance levels of children is evidence of the role of schools as mediators par excellence of social inequality. Studies have indicated that drop-out, wastage and stagnation are largely problems of schools catering to the lower strata.15 Thus, there is a difference in attainment as measured by years of schooling completed. Levels of academic achievement at all stages of education are lower for children from the ‘low strata’ schools as compared to those from ‘high strata’ schools. Some studies of the municipal schools in Bombay have vividly revealed the appallingly low levels of learning—around 50 per cent of the children score very poorly on the most simple skills and abilities expected of them.16 There are, of

course, intra-school differences in performance. However, the implication of such inequality between schools is far more serious for the issue of equity of learning it begs a question of critical importance—how far will these low levels of education take the children from disadvantaged homes? Unfortunately, the question has not even been seriously or systematically raised by the authorities concerned. The disadvantaged, however, show a remarkable awareness of the workings of the system. With the administrators of education caught up in achieving targets of enrollment and retention in government schools, without a thought to the substance, meaning and outcome of the education imparted, we have the phenomenon of many poor parents undergoing great strain to put their children through private schools in the hope that something good will come of this education. It appears, however, that theirs is a losing battle against money power. There exist today socio-economically powerful groups which, in their quest for more wealth and status, can purchase degrees or examination papers at a price.17 Content and Processes of Schooling as Mechanisms of Differentiation It is intriguing how the entire endeavour to understand differences in school attainment has hitherto concentrated on the processes of socialisation within the home, to the virtual exclusion of what goes on in schools. There is now a definite shift of interest. The concern is not merely with school ‘quality’ in terms of facilities and learning achievements with reference to the existing curriculum, but the curriculum itself and the internal processes of schooling have begun to be questioned. Today, this is posed as a central problem— how a society selects, classifies, transmits and evaluates educational knowledge, reflects

Unequal Schooling as a Factor in the Reproduction of Social Inequality in India 183 both the distribution of power and principles of social control. The concern is not merely with ‘knowledge’ but with the ‘hidden curriculum’—normative and dispositional elements that maintain the ideological hegemony of the powerful elements in terms of serving their economic and other interests and also giving meaning to learners’ situations. The question then is how and why are some social meanings rather than others used in the organisation of school life (Apple 1979; Bernstein 1973). In India, we have only just begun to respond to these questions. Krishna Kumar (1983) who points out the large gaps that exist in this crucial area, has also made some pioneering efforts to contribute to it. Focusing on dominant meanings and viewpoints reflected in the curriculum as well as the actual enactment of it as seen in the teacher-student relationship, his study purports to show how the experience of education serves to assist Backward Class children to internalise symbols of backward behaviour. Other studies have referred to the ‘irrelevance’ of the curriculum as one reason for student inability to comprehend what is being taught in the class. Some studies have suggested that teacher preconceptions, teacher biases and teacher behaviour, subtle or deliberate, conscious or unconscious, operate to discriminate against girls, Scheduled Caste/Tribe children, or children from disadvantaged homes. Teachers have been observed to have low expectations of girls and a condescending if not downright abusive attitude towards poor children from slums. Even if a good relationship with the children prevails, teachers do not strive for excellence but for ‘minimum level’ performance from poor children.18 Two studies need specific mention here. The first showed that Scheduled Caste students in a school dominated by caste

Hindus not only perceived the school climate negatively, but their aspiration levels and academic self-concepts were markedly lower than in the Harijan ashram-sponsored school (Pande and Tripathi 1982). The second study (Sinha 1982) showed that within a ‘superior’ school, the difference between Scheduled and non-Scheduled Caste students accentuated with advancing age. Both studies indicate that feelings of discrimination, isolation or alienation neutralise the impact of better facilities. Analyses of the context of textbooks have portrayed a sexist and middle class bias. These works are mainly concerned with showing that schools employ and use predominant forms of discourse. Thus, men’s images are enhanced at the expense of women’s (Kalia 1979). Also, middle class/caste culture is glorified while the culture of the lower classes/castes is negated, devalued and demeaned (Acharya 1987). Inequality in Occupational Outcomes Several questions can be raised about the relationship between education and labour force participation—the extent to which education enhances labour participation and productivity, whether it provides orientations towards work life, how the educational policy is geared to the economy, etc. Since the central concern of this paper is with the reproduction of inequality, the question posed here is: to what extent does education contribute to the dominant social relations of society along sex, caste and class lines in the labour market? The initial years of post-independent ‘development’ resulted in burgeoning employment opportunities in the ‘modern’, particularly the public sector. Apart from the technical positions in the industrial sphere there occurred a vast expansion of white collar and professional opportunities. The period witnessed large-scale education-linked


Gender and Education in India

mobility as the level of formal educational qualifications were specified for different levels of jobs. All segments of the population benefited in varying measures, including rural youth from traditionally disadvantaged homes, women from the middle and upper strata, and the Schedule Castes and Other Backward Classes. The entry of the latter groups was particularly facilitated by the policy of compensatory discrimination which allotted reserved seats in higher education and government employment. Shortly, however, the slow pace of economic growth coupled with exploitative development policies created an employment crisis of grave proportions. In a context of contrasting economic opportunities and the segmentation of labour markets, the role of education was rendered ambivalent. Thus, there arose a situation in which individual mobility through education occurred in perfect compatibility with the rigidity of unequal structures in the face of low rates of aggregate/group mobility. Moreover, given the complete mismatch between the demand and supply of labour at nearly all levels of the occupational structure, ascriptive criteria came to exercise an independent influence on job selection. Basically, the traditional and new elites— urban and rural—remained firmly entrenched in the upper echelons. Not only did they consolidate their own positions, but have also gained an increasing control over the recruitment to the lower echelons (Bardhan 1984). While the issue of gender inequality in employment has been intensively researched, the specific issue of the relationship between educational attainment and women’s labour force participation has not received due attention. Some tentative studies in developing countries suggest that increasing levels of education among women do not

necessarily improve their opportunities for economic participation. Rural educated women with secondary education are displaced from traditional activities without access to alternative avenues (Smock 1981). At higher levels, women’s education has facilitated their entry into the modern sectors. But even for university graduates, the rates of participation differ between the sexes. It is obvious that there is a sex-typing of occupations, with women relegated to the lower rungs across and within occupational categories. Teaching, nursing and clerical jobs are regarded as feminine occupations and there also occurs a feminisation of vocations which women take up. Further, there are sex differences in returns to education in terms of earnings and prospects for occupational mobility (Krishnaraj 1988; Ram 1978; Smock 1981). Similarly, for the Scheduled Castes, education has brought about a measure of mobility but a range of constraints hinder their equality and integration with the rest of society (Chitnis 1977; Tilak 1979). There are 30,131,000 registered unemployed persons in the country today— 50 per cent of whom are educated, including university graduates. Graduates of the arts, science and commerce faculties together constitute over 85 per cent of the unemployed graduates (Jayaram 1988). These are fields in which women, the Scheduled Castes and Other Backward Classes are represented in substantial numbers. It has been generally observed that unemployment ‘strikes from beneath and it strikes particularly at those at the bottom of society’ (Blaugh 1969; Carnoy 1987; Farrell 1982). To an extent, this might have been the reason why rural educated youth fell back on agriculture. Thus, the already overburdened agricultural economy was forced to provide for additional employment—necessarily characterised by

Unequal Schooling as a Factor in the Reproduction of Social Inequality in India 185 low productivity and low incomes—fuelling the impoverishment of the agricultural labouring classes. For a substantial number, however, the ‘educated’ status makes them feel ashamed to participate in what they regard as lowly manual occupations and creates an insatiable desire in them to gain entry into the modern, organised sector. Type of Schooling and Employment There is no direct evidence to show that the unemployed are drawn largely from inferior schools. However, given the linkage between employment and social class, and the social class differences in the type of schooling which has been discussed earlier, the mediatory role of schooling in occupational placement can be inferred (Neelsen 1985). As far as high-prestige occupations are concerned, however, there is a clear linkage between the elite schools and elite occupations. The elite schools, public schools, central schools and the high quality aided schools function as a channel through which entry is assured to the best colleges and prestigious courses and thereon to the top levels in the occupational structure. Children entering public schools seek careers in business and the professions, especially engineering. They are oriented to occupations of high social prestige such as the IAS and the army (De Souza 1974). That they succeed in doing so is suggested by data which shows that representation of those from elite schools in certain prestigious occupations by far exceeds the representation of these schools in the educational system (Karlekar 1983). Studies of students enrolled in professional colleges in cities lend further support to this contention (Jayaram 1977; Sharma 1978; Velaskar 1986). These studies show that there is an increasing representation of students from English-medium private schools. The private institutions also mediate the

emergence of new structures of inequality. It has been observed that the Scheduled Caste and Other Backward Class students who enter professional colleges through reservations are also increasingly drawn from private schools (Velaskar 1986). Concluding Comments It emerges from the foregoing overview that schooling has brought about only a marginal dislocation of traditional structures of inequality. In the process of its expansion, it has created and strengthened new inequalities. Thus, the large-scale entry into the education system of sections of the population hitherto excluded from it has represented a structural change in itself, but not one that has been able to overthrow entrenched structures of inequality. The education system has functioned as a mediator of class, caste and gender inequalities, as summarised in the statements below. It may be noted that not all these statements are based on hard data but are inferences drawn from ongoing research. They are also personal observations on how children from different strata and sexes negotiate classroom knowledge differentially and how the processes of classroom interaction need validations. Thus, schools reproduce inequality through: 1. the denial of the basic minimum facilities to the disadvantaged and dispossessed while actively promoting the expensive and exclusive interests of the minority of new and old dominant sections; 2. a curriculum rooted in ‘technocratic rationality’ and one which places a value on ‘high status’ knowledge such as ‘the hard sciences’ directly serves the need of an emergent, inequitous capitalist economy. The curriculum


Gender and Education in India

also suits the capacity nurtured by the upper strata, thus giving them a ‘head start’ in education. Mental labour is glorified while manual labour in disqualified. 3. imposition of a ‘dominant’ culture curriculum not only projects the knowledge, values, norms, linguistic styles, world-views and meanings of the middle and upper classes, but also projects them as being intrinsically superior and valuable as compared to the culture of subordinated groups. 4. segregation of children in schools of different quality on the basis of class and gender and through providing class, caste and gender specific opportunities and experiences within education. Boys from the lower strata are channelled to ‘low status’ knowledge streams and activities that will correspond to their anticipated futures. Similarly, the myth of female inferiority and ineptitude is perpetuated through the division of knowledge into male and female knowledge and the systematic propelling of the sexes along these bifurcated lines. Channelling actually takes place at the post-secondary level but schools function as preparatory areas. Much more research is needed to assess how inequalities are actually realised through the processes of school education. For instance, the operation of the ‘hidden curriculum’ through which dominant images are accepted, resisted or rejected need to be studied further. It would also be important to identify the ‘dominant interests’ in education, how they conflict with each other, articulate their interests and produce their hegemony. In short, we must know more about the dynamics of the reproduction of inequality

through education. All these insights should be instructive in the formulation and promotion of alternative ideologies and pedagogies. Finally, we have seen that the education received by the lower strata and women does not necessarily bring rewards in terms of economic returns. On the contrary, they experience long periods of unemployment in the ‘reserve army of labour’ and become vulnerable to discrimination in terms of work and wages. Under these circumstances, educational opportunity, even if truly equalised, will not fetch ‘equal’ results. One would do well to always view the educational system within the framework of unequal social relations and processes. Notes 1. For a comprehensive review of this literature are Karabel and Halsey (1977) and Farrell (1982). 2. Apart from Rajasthan, Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa are the most educationally backward states. While Maharashtra ranks second to Kerala, it is still way behind it. Punjab, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu are the other advanced states. 3. Once again, Kerala ranks last with 80.88 per cent of its population in the 5 to 14 age group in school. Bihar ranks last with a corresponding percentage of 32.62. 4. At the all-India level, the rural-urban imbalance in literacy is 27per cent and in school attendance 26.77 per cent. Gender imbalance in literacy stands at 22.07 per cent and in school attendance at 18.18 per cent. Generally, the educationally backward states reveal greater imbalance than the more advanced states (cited in Note 2 above). 5. See, for example, studies by Kamat (1968, 1985) on rural Maharashtra, Acharya’s study of Bengal (1987), Tilak’s study of Andhra Pradesh (1979), studies by Jayaram (1977) and Kumar (1987) and studies cited in the Third

Unequal Schooling as a Factor in the Reproduction of Social Inequality in India 187








Survey of Research in Education (1978-1983), published by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (1986). Some recent surveys (unpublished) conducted by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in the slums of Bombay in 1989 have shown the virtual absence of non-enrolment. See also Di Bona and Singh (1987) and Neelsen (1983). See the periodic reports of the Commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, Government of India. Tilak’s study (1979) examined the relationship between educational facilities and improved access of the Scheduled Castes and concluded that there is an insignificant relationship between the two. See the data in the First to Fourth Surveys of Education in India (1959-1982), published by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), New Delhi. Private aided/unaided secondary schools account for the major share in the total number of secondary schools in most states. Facilities for middle and secondary education are particularly poor in the educationally backward states of Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Uttar Pradesh. See the Fourth All India Educational Survey, 1979, NCERT, New Delhi. See Government of India (1974). The study further revealed marked variations in the attitudes to education among different stratas. For an analysis of the education of girls from poor sections see Government of India (1974). See also Karlekar (1987), Mazumdar (1985) and Velaskar (1988). Poverty is a predominant factor that governs the drop-out rate among girls. There are marked variations in the attitude towards girls’ education between upper and lower classes, the former displaying a more positive attitude for obvious reasons. Several studies have exposed the poor condition of government and semigovernment schools in rural areas. See, for instance, studies cited in the Third Survey of





Research in Education, 1986, published by the NCERT, New Delhi. See also Chitnis and Velaskar (1988) and Kamat (1968). Studies by Britto (1987 and Patel (1983) have extensively documented differences in schools catering to different social classes. De Souza (1974) and Singh (1989) have analyzed the exclusive characters of public schools. See also Chitnis and Velaskar (1988) Three examples will suffice (1) children have to wade through ankle-deep water from overflowing drains to enter a particular school in Bombay. During the monsoon the roof leaks and the classrooms are flooded, forcing the children to sit exposed to the risk of short circuits; the flooded playground is a breeding ground of diseases carrying bacteria. (2) In Pune, a municipal school runs for years together on a budget of Rs. 8 per month. Classes for four standards (I to IV) are held in a small shed (10×30 feet). The roof of the shed had fallen off, but the new roof is also in danger of collapsing. (3) The third is an unauthorised private school in Bombay where more than 1,000 children listen to their teachers under dangerous high-tension electric lines. The school established through the ‘influences’ of an Education Minister, runs on donations which are illegally collected and which have earned quite a fortune for its owners. Britto’s study (1987) showed that of the three Bombay schools selected for investigation, the middle class school did not face the problem of drop-out, whereas the municipal school did. Patel’s study (1983) showed a lower incidence of failure and better performance in a non-slum school as compared to a slum school. The Bombay Municipal Corporation’s study in 1989 of its schools depicts the high rate of wastage and drop out at the primary stage itself (unpublished data). For a review of findings on the alarmingly low levels of educational standards and specific deficiencies in cognitive skills of Indian children from common elementary school, see Kurrien (1983). A series of studies conducted especially to gauge the levels of


Gender and Education in India

learning among municipal school children revealed shockingly poor results in concept formation categorisation, labelling, reading etc. See Chitnis and Velaskar (1988) for a summary of findings. 17. The economy has witnessed a steady erosion in the substance of learning and a growing incidence of misappropriation and fraud. Most disturbing is the fact that examination results are being manipulated by the economically and politically influential. In addition it is very easy to bribe those who set the question papers for examinations. 18. Britto (1987) and Patel (1993) have sorted the phenomenon of low teacher expectations of the academic performance of the poor. Bernsten (1987) has highlighted some specific handicaps encountered by the Backward Class child.

REFERENCES Acharya P. 1987. ‘Education, Politics and Social Structures’, in R. Ghosh and M. Zachariah (eds.) Education and the Process of Change, pp. 64-79, New Delhi: Sage Publications. Apple, M. 1979. Ideology and Curriculum, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Banerjee, N. 1989. ‘Trends in Women’s Employment 1971-81: Some Macro Level Observations’, Economic and Political Weekly, XXXIV (17); WS10-WS12. Bardhan, P. 1984. The Political Economy of Development in India, Delhi: Oxford University Press. Baviskar, B.S. 1980. The Politics of Development Sugar Cooperatives in Rural Maharashtra, Delhi: Oxford University Press. Bernstein, B. 1973. ‘On the Classification and Framing of Educational Knowledge’ in R. Brown (ed.), Knowledge, Education and Cultural Change: Papers in the Sociology of Education, pp. 363-92. London: Tavistock. Bernsten, M. 1987. ‘Obstacles on the Path to School Educational Problems of Backward Class Children’, New Quest, July-August. Blaugh, M. 1969. The Causes of Graduate Unemployment in India, London: Penguin. Bourdieu, P. 1973. ‘Cultural Reproduction and

Social Reproduction’ in R. Brown (ed.), Knowledge, Education and Cultural Change, London: Tavistock. Bowles, S. and H. Gintis. 1976. Schooling in Capitalist America, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Britto, R. 1987. ‘Unequal Schools’, Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis. Bombay: Tata Institute of Social Sciences. Carnoy, M. 1987. Higher Education and Graduate Employment in India: A Summary of Three Case Studies, Pune: Indian Institute of Education. Chitnis, S. 1977. ‘Education and Equality’, in A. Kioskowsks and G. Martinotil (eds.). Education in a Changing Society, pp. 73-106, London: Sage Publications. Chitnis, S. and P. Velaskar. 1988. Education in Maharashtra: Strengths and Weaknesses. A report prepared for the World Bank. Bombay: Tata Institute of Social Sciences. Mimeo. Dandekar, V.M. 1977. ‘Nature of Class Conflict in the Indian Society’. Lecture delivered at G.R. Bharkar Foundation, Bombay. De Souza, A. 1974, Indian Public Schools: A Sociological Study, New Delhi: Sterling Publishers. Di Bona, J. and R.P. Singh, 1987. ‘Modernity of Tradition in Indian Education: The Revival of Indian Languages and Indigenous Systems of Education’, in R. Ghosh and M. Zachariah (eds.), Education and the Process of Change, pp. 225-44. New Delhi: Sage Publications. Farrell, J. 1982. ‘Educational Expansion and the Drive for Social Equality’ in P. Altbach (ed.), Comparative Education, pp. 39-53, New York Macmillan. Giroux, H. 1983. ‘Theories of Reproduction and Resistance in the New Sociology of Education. A Critical Analysis’, Harvard Educational Review, 53(3): 257-293. Goverrnment of India, 1974, Towards Equality, Report of the Committee on the Status of Women, New Delhi: Ministry of Education and Social Welfare. Jayaram, N. 1977. ‘Higher Education as Status Stabilizer Students in Bangalore’, Contributions to Indian Sociology, 11(1), pp. 169-191. —— 1988. ‘The Education Employment Mismatch:

Unequal Schooling as a Factor in the Reproduction of Social Inequality in India 189 A Sociological Appraisal of the Indian Experience.’ Paper presented at Mid-term Conferences of the Research Committee in Sociology of Education, Salamanca, Spain. Kalia, N.N. 1979. Sexism in Indian Education, New Delhi, Likes Publishing House. Kamat, A.R. 1968. Progress of Education in Rural Maharashtra, Poona: Gokhale Institute of Economics and Politics. —— 1985. Education and Social Change in India, Bombay: Somaiya Publications. Karabal, J. and A.H. Halsey (eds.). 1977. Power and Ideology in Education, New York: Oxford University Press. Karlekar, M. 1983. ‘Education and Inequality’, in Andre Beteille (ed.), Education and Inequality: Theory and Practice, New Delhi: Oxford University Press. —— 1987. ‘Education’ in N. Desai and M. Krishnaraj (eds.), Women and Society in India, Delhi: Ajanta Publications. Krishnaraj, M. 1988. Women and Development, Bombay, SNDT Women’s University. Kumar, K. 1983. ‘Educational Experience of Scheduled Castes and Tribes’, Economic and Political Weekly, 17 (36 and 37). —— 1987. ‘Reproduction or Change? Education and Elites in India’ in R. Ghosh and M. Zachariah (eds.), Education and the Process of Change, pp. 27-41, New Delhi, Sage. Kurien, J. 1983, Elementary Education in India: Myth, Reality, Alternatives. New Delhi: Vikas. Mazumdar, V. 1985. ‘Education and Women’s Equality’, New Delhi Centre for Women’s Development Studies. Mimeo. Neelsen, J. 1983. ‘Class Structure, Education and Social Change in India’ in J. Neelsen (ed.), Social Inequality and Political Structures, pp. 8794, New Delhi: Manohar. Pande, N. and P. Tripathi. 1982. ‘Scheduled Class Children in High Caste School: Some

Motivational Consequences’ in D. Sinha (ed.), Deprivation: Its Social Roots and Psychological Consequences, pp. 271-234, New Delhi: Concept Publishing Company. Patel, S.P. 1983. Equality of Educational Opportunity in India: A Myth or a Reality, New Delhi: National. Ram, Patil, 1978. Male-Female Differences in Educational Outcomes, with Special Reference to the Labour Market, Research Report prepared for Ford Foundation, Illnois State University. Rosenthal, D. 1977. The Expansive Elite, Berkeley: University of California Press. Sarup, M. 1982. Education, State and Crisis, London: Routledge and Kagan Paul. Sharma, B. 1978. Elite Education in India, Jamshedpur: Xavier Labour Relations Institute. Singh, R.P. 1989. Educating the Indian Elite, Bangalore: Sterling. Sinha, D. (ed.). 1982. Deprivation: Its Social Roots and Psychological Consequences, New Delhi: Concept Publishing Company. Smock, A. 1981. Women’s Education in Developing Countries. New York: Progress. Tilak, J.B.G. 1979. ‘Inequality in Education in India’, Indian Journal of Industrial Relations, 14 (3):41736. Velaskar, P. 1986. ‘Inequality in Higher Education: A Study of Scheduled Castes in Medical Colleges of Bombay’, Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, Bombay: Tata Institute of Social Sciences. —— 1988. ‘Imbalances in the Spread of Women’s Education in India’, Journal of Education and Social Change, 1(4): pp. 47-78. Wolpe, A. 1978. ‘Education and the Sexual Division of Labour’, in A. Kuhn and A. Wolpe (eds.), Feminism and Materialism, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

10 From Access to Attainment Girls’ Schooling in Contemporary India Manabi Majumdar Introduction A few years ago, in connection with a survey on school education in the town of Bhiwani in Haryana, we met a young girl, Nasreen. Her father is a blacksmith who owns a small roadside shop that doubles up as their home. Upon our request for a writing sample, Nasreen wrote in her beautiful handwriting that for various reasons she could not complete her school education, though she was very interested in her studies. In the course of a similar research in selected rural areas of West Bengal a couple of years ago, we got a chance to meet a little girl, Arpita, in a village primary school. Both her passion and proficiency in studies were clear to us. When we asked about her future dreams, a boy in her class retorted in a rather puzzled tone, ‘But she will get married!’ In rural Bengal a little over 60 per cent of adolescent girls are married off by the time they are eighteen years of age, or younger. In rural India the corresponding figure is 53 per cent. The little boy was just recounting the social reality he was familiar with. Such scepticism and hesitation about girls’ education reminds us of Tagore’s reflections on this issue: Many people have a nagging suspicion about whether educating women will diminish their devotion to god or to their husbands. But the value of daylight is not simply to satisfy our

day-to-day, practical needs, but to fulfil the more profound purpose of awakening. (Majumdar 2005: 201)

In the radiant faces of Nasreen and Arpita, we saw sparkles of an impulse for awakening (Majumdar 2008). Ideally, the immediate and proximate purposes of girls’ education should have an underpinning of such deeper educational imagination. In the Indian policy discourse, at least on paper, ideals of women’s empowerment through education and gender equality in education are presented as lofty goals (Page 2005). In practice, however, not so infrequently these professed aims are frustrated, since policy intentions or actions are not necessarily benign. Rather, these may reproduce within the school system gender injustices prevalent in the larger society. This is, of course, not to ignore the potential of educational policy initiatives in transforming gendered India. However, the policy talk on gender equality in education has to extend beyond the question of girls’ access to schooling and focus on fair educational opportunities for their higher educational attainment. The need is to increase the equality of educational attainment between boys and girls. Put another way, enhancing the ‘school life expectancy’ (UNESCO 2005) of small and adolescent girls, especially those coming from

From Access to Attainment: Girls’ Schooling in Contemporary India deprived sections of society, should be a major social and policy priority, as we try to elaborate below. In this essay, we, therefore, focus on a few political and policy forces and processes that either facilitate or impede girls’ educational transition from mere access to attainment. We concede, at the outset, that female education is a vast topic that has received steady scholarly attention from diverse intellectual perspectives and that we can only attempt to shed light on a few corners of this huge canvas in a necessarily in-exhaustive manner. The essay, in its essence, approaches the subject of girls’ schooling through the ‘prism of justice’: through the dual lens of family justice and social justice. This is not to imply that a given school system is equitable and fair for all social groups, especially for girls. Rather, it is some of the manifest and obvious forms of gender injustices in the school system that we wish to examine in this essay. The diagnosis of injustice is, of course, linked with our interest in its amelioration and hence is our focus on policy actions (or inactions) and broader public activism for greater educational opportunities for girls. There is visible expansion of girls’ schooling opportunities in recent times in the country. But do expansion and segmentation happen together? Are there markers of fresh closures or inequalities in the school system such that at best it offers girl children an ‘unequal inclusion’? Are there contradictions in the current reform regime itself that work to undermine the aim of gender equity in school education? These are some of the questions that motivate this essay. Girls’ Schooling through Prisms of Utility, Identity and Justice At different points of time and from diverse theoretical standpoints, the theme of female education has been discussed in the literature,


either as a subject matter of developmentalutilitarian thinking, a correlate of identity politics and multicultural concerns, or as part of the discourse on rights and justice. Trails of such analytical and conceptual differences and even scepticisms regarding the aims and purposes of female education can be traced back in time to the colonial days, extending through the early period of post-independence India. Indeed, a fleeting glance at the history of women’s education in the country in this period reveals a complex and mixed pattern of social and familial forces that worked to produce both resistance and negotiations on girls’ education, which in turn breathed into the project of women’s education ambivalences and contradictions surrounding questions, for example, of tradition and modernity, of ‘family authority’ versus ‘female autonomy’ (S. Sen 2002) and so on. The continent-like country of India, of course, was (as it is now) differently patriarchal in the sense that constraints on educating women varied from region to region, and between social classes and caste groups. Yet, an overall social apathy in advancing girls’ educational participation was unmistakable. Sen and Forbes present lucid accounts of the ebb and flow of women’s education in different parts of the country during the nineteenth through the mid-twentieth centuries (ibid; Forbes, 2007). In their careful analysis we find details of some kind of a nested neglect of girls’ education, that is to say, a combination of family neglect (as evident through differential attitudes of the family to the education of sons and daughters), social constraints (in the forms of practices of child marriage, early child bearing, girls’ seclusion and segregation, and so on), and above all the ‘unconcern’ of the colonial government with female education. The colonial government relegated this task to ‘unmarried female missionaries’. Interestingly, as both the studies skilfully


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bring out, indifference and resistance to women’s education were dealt with strategically and adjusted in a variety of ways through the efforts and initiatives of a handful of key community patrons and reform societies, as well as a few committed female educators. In order to gain the support of conservative families and communities some of them felt it essential to give an assurance that schools would observe traditional customs and that educated women would uphold these norms and therefore would become better wives, mothers and companions of educated men in a modernising world. The curriculum in many of these ‘new’ schools was designed more as a means to give young girls and widows training in home science and religious tradition rather than to prepare them for employment in the public domain. Thus, the content and the suitable type of education for girls constituted a major point of discussion, which, expectedly, was not free from ambiguous attitudes towards women’s learning. Interestingly, several of the female educators were inspired by bold ideals of gender equality in education, yet the concrete reform initiatives they undertook were often pragmatic and limited in nature and strategically chosen, as these sharp-witted women perhaps sensed that such measured and arguably compromising steps had a better chance of serving the long-term goals of women’s empowerment as compared to those apparently more drastic but foredoomed to fail. In more recent times, the aims of women’s education have increasingly been defined in utilitarian and instrumental terms. For example, better health care, education and nutritional improvement of children and better results in fertility and infant mortality reduction are said to be the proven benefits of educating women. It is, indeed, the case that prominent thinkers have talked about several

‘intrinsic’ and ‘instrumental’ values of education, for the individual as well as for society in general, ranging from economic opportunities, benefits and profitability in the market on the one hand to the broader capacity for democratic citizenship, critical reflection and independent moral thinking on the other (Dreze and Sen 1995). In the current neo-liberal climate of competition, however, ideas of ‘education for market’ seem to dominate the policy consciousness (Nussbaum 2005). As a result, education and its role are discussed more in terms of its instrumental rather than its intrinsic values: as human capital rather than a human capability. Much as it is being recognised as a basic right (e.g. the Right to Education Act, 2010), it is also being showcased, rather forcefully, for its utilitarian values: as inputs for better productivity growth and other developmental targets. Of course, there need not be any ineluctable opposition between pursuits of utility and rights, yet it is arguable that the enterprise of education (girls’ schooling in particular) has broader aims than just boosting market activities or fulfilling demographic targets. Educational opportunities are also seen from an identitarian perspective, as a major source of protecting our cultural identity and rights. Indeed, the politics of identity and the recognition of cultural difference and distinctiveness have often swirled around the issues of curricular content of education, language and pedagogy, and above all representation and inclusion within the idiom of education of subaltern experiences and aspirations (Gitlin 1995; Kumar 1991; Said 2001; Taylor 1995). Contestations have taken place around questions of whose knowledge is counted and included as authentic and official in the school curricula, and whether mainstream schooling, in the name of universal educational rights, foists on

From Access to Attainment: Girls’ Schooling in Contemporary India marginal cultural groups the dominant and hegemonic knowledge system and thus coercively homogenises cultural diversities. At one level, therefore, there is unease and concern about the so-called statist project of bearing the main responsibility for educating children, including girl children and addressing their special needs. This is particularly so when inclusion into the school system may mean learning a curriculum that recounts the experience of the dominant groups and uses the dominant language, to the exclusion of the language and cultural riches of the subaltern groups (Taylor 1995; Kymlicka 2002). For example, does (the uniform and invariant) defence of the recently enacted educational right for all children, for the sake of advancing justice, go against identity rights: rights to remain different? Can Santhali children, for example, seek legal exemption from going to school since what is offered as universal education more often than not ignores their language? These are no doubt vexing issues. However, educational rights claims and claims of recognition of difference need not be viewed as irreconcilable priorities. Minority cultural groups require of a larger society a respect for their distinctness, without compromising their equal rights to avail of mainstream social opportunities. The question of equal educational rights assumes particular importance in situations in which cultural rights come into conflict with gender rights. To state it differently, cultural norms and practices of a community are, not uncommonly, a source of women’s oppression. Thus while group rights are needed to deal with their vulnerabilities visa-vis the larger society, it is essential to ensure women’s rights against intra-group gendered oppression. Consider, for example, the 2009 court case in which Gurleen Kaur and others challenged the denial of their admission into an MBBS course at the Sri Guru Ram Das


Institute of Medical Sciences and Research, Amritsar, a Sikh minority institution supported by the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) on the ground that they plucked their eyebrows and trimmed their hair, violating a fundamental tenet of Sikhism. The Punjab and Haryana High Court endorsed this stand and ruled that the SGPC was justified in doing so (The Times of India 2009), upholding an identity right at the expense of the educational right of a young woman. The concern for gender equality in education makes it important, we therefore argue, to take the debate beyond the politics of recognition and embed it within the politics of justice In debating about girls’ schooling, while we acknowledge the importance of claims of utility and identity, our focal concerns are, as mentioned earlier, those of family justice and social justice. Educating children is conventionally treated as a familial decision, a private matter to be protected and marked off from external or statist intervention. However, feminist scholarship has unsettled the established idea that family is a strictly private and apolitical space of just love, care and bonding. Rather, it has opened up the internal operations of the family to the concerns of justice and showed that it is also a site of oppression and injustice (Nussbaum 1997). The analytical trope of family justice and the ground realities of intra-family distribution of educational opportunities and resources between boys and girls (and dis-crimination therein) therefore constitute an important dimension of our discussion on girls’ education. However, girls’ right to schooling is not just a matter of family or individual choice; it is at once a social choice and a social commitment (A. Sen 2009). The nature, content, institutional structure and the very notion of inclusiveness of the school system


Gender and Education in India

and its key actors are all matters of collective democratic deliberation, decision and action. The challenge is to guide this social choice towards advancing social justice in education. Haimavati Sen (1866-1932), a spirited selfeducated woman in Khulna district of erstwhile East Bengal, recalled her childhood struggle thus, ‘The teacher was very fond of me. I greatly enjoyed listening to the lessons. But I had no right to education’ (as quoted in Forbes 2007). What is essential, we contend, is a kind of collaboration between a just family and a just society to ensure that girl children enjoy rights to quality elementary education. Admittedly, the idiom of justice sometimes fails to take sufficient cognisance of the code of power (especially patriarchal power) of the dominant group in influencing both the idea and practice of education in a manner that tends to thwart emancipatory gender codes. But a sufficiently critical analytical formulation of educational justice may be able to address such concerns. In line with the drift of this argument, this essay holds onto one central idea that echoes Page, namely, that education has the potential to ‘enhance’ and ‘transform’ every life and give every individual a chance to compete for social and economic opportunities, including a girl child (Page 2005). This optimism is, however, tempered by a ready acknowledgement that actualising the potential is a political and policy challenge, since there is no guarantee of inevitable progress. What Schools Can Do The essay primarily focuses on girls’ school education, and within the field of school education too, it only deals with a limited set of issues. It is silent about a host of important themes such as the content of education (e.g. whether women’s experiential account counts) and pedagogy, the perpetuation of gender bias and stereotyping in the curriculum and so on.

More importantly, we do not delve into the issues of classroom environments and girls’ actual experience of school life, that is, an ethnographic account of everyday interactions between teachers and students, and between student friends that is critical to understand what girl children actually gain from attending school. With the exception of a brief mention of an insightful study (ibid) of this nature below, we fail to address this important dimension of girls’ schooling in contemporary India. As we allude to this study later, a kind, sympathetic and motivated teacher can truly excite, inspire and engage young minds, of girls and boys, in the pursuit of knowledge, insight and understanding. Unfortunately, however, classrooms are often a hierarchical setting in which the teacher, keen to control and discipline, is engaged in simply transferring information from ‘the jug to the mug’, that is, to passive and docile ‘receptacles’ called students (Bowles and Gintis 1976). Also, sometimes teachers are neglectful of those students, especially girl students, who belong to the downtrodden sections of society. Above all, the appeal of the emancipatory vision for girls, sounded in ringing notes in numerous education policy documents, do not necessarily capture the imagination of grassroot education actors, of teachers or administrators or of parents. They do not necessarily view school as a site for challenging gender injustice prevalent in the larger patriarchal society within which the school system is embedded. Neither are they adequately sensitised about gender issues through appropriate training (ibid). Research on female education will fetch a significant dividend by paying attention to how gender codes, interlocked with caste and class considerations, are bent in either a positive or a retrogressive direction within the classroom. Admittedly, schools and classrooms

From Access to Attainment: Girls’ Schooling in Contemporary India cannot change patriarchal gender relations alone. After all, we are talking about a society that is historically stratified along class, caste and gender lines. Moreover, there is sometimes a destructive convergence of class, caste and gender inequalities, although the latter are not simply a matter of class or caste. Also, background poverty, social and economic inequality and adverse cultural practices may cause gender inequalities in education and may determine success or failure in school. Besides, the school system may reproduce rather than reduce such background inequalities. Does this mean that equity reforms in schools have no role to play in creating a more gender-just society? We tend to argue the opposite. There are things that can be done in school to unsettle the minds of boys and girls regarding established gender relations, to enable girl children to refashion their self-image and to advance their educational fortunes. In her study of selected schools and homes in Madhya Pradesh, Page finds the home environment of girls to be much more gendered than that of the schools or classrooms (ibid). Thus, while schools cannot enliven the enterprise of female empowerment alone, there are effective, egalitarian, and democratic school reforms that have proven to work (Apple 2001). Hence is our focus on some of the recent policy initiatives in the country introduced to improve girls’ access to education and their survival in school. Contradictions in the Current Education Reform Regime Some apprehensions about ‘statist’ interventions notwithstanding, it is generally believed that state institutions have a crucial role to play in expanding basic educational opportunities for girls. Indeed, it is public and institutional deficiencies rather than private resistances and failings that often determine


the slow progress of female education. To correct such institutional inadequacies, it is necessary for the state to play an active role, via more resources and greater qualitative support, in enabling girl children to experience school life and to survive at least through the cycle of elementary education. A number of new education policies have been undertaken in recent times under the aegis of the central government that indicate some promising results (Majumdar 2009a). For example, the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), launched in 2000, has ‘a special focus on educational needs of girls, Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) and other children in difficult circumstances’ (Kainth 2006). In 2003 a new programme called National Programme for Education of Girls at Elementary Level (NPEGEL) was introduced that professed to further improve the SSA scheme through providing girl child friendly schools, as well as stationery, uniforms, and so on, for disadvantaged girls at the elementary level. This programme is in operation in educationally backward blocks (classified according to the level of female literacy, SC/ST female literacy as well as the gender gap in literacy), as well as in urban slums. A recent national level evaluation of the NPEGEL scheme of the Government of India suggests that targeted provision of cycles to girls living more than two km away from upper primary schools can facilitate girls’ schooling beyond the primary level and also improve attendance and learning (Ramachandran 2009). Another new scheme called Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas (KGBVs) has been launched during 2004-2005 to set up residential elementary schools for girl students belonging to SC/ST, Other Backward Classes (OBC), and minority communities. The scheme presents opportunities for out-ofschool girls to get back to school through


Gender and Education in India

bridge courses and to complete the upper primary cycle in a residential school. Ramachandran observes that in a short period of time the KGBV has become an important element of the universal elementary education programme. Besides, additional monetary incentive would be provided to the girl child who passes through the eighth standard and enrols in a secondary school: an instance of policy encouragement for wider secondary school participation among girls. A sum of rupees three thousand would be deposited in her name, which she would be entitled to withdraw upon reaching eighteen years of age (Kainth 2006). Policy pronouncements have been followed by several concrete measures in the form of, say, establishing new schools, improving school infrastructure, recruiting additional teachers, and above all boosting enrolment and attendance ratios. Fortunately, gender ratios of enrolment have shown promising trends. The progress no doubt is uneven across the country. For instance, gender ratios of enrolment are more inspiring in the educationally forward states (the northeastern states, Kerala and Himachal Pradesh have the highest ratios of female to male students), while Bihar, Uttar Pradesh Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh have far lower ratios. For socially disadvantaged groups, the ratio is more adverse for female students. These overall positive trends in girls’ school participation notwithstanding, it is important to point out that the current education reform regime contains contradictory elements that run the risk of creating new gender divisions in the school system. Here we make a brief reference to some of these anomalies and ambivalences. These include the official neglect of the institutional barriers to girls’ transition to the post-primary level; the current policy fascination with the idea of public-private

partnership in education and its gender implications, and the growing militarisation of a number of newly constructed residential schools meant for enhancing the educational participation of dalit and tribal girls in disadvantaged areas of the country. The enrolment and retention of rural girls at the upper primary stage seems to be a major trouble spot, especially in educationally lagging states. Quite ironically, institutional inadequacies have a lot to do with this snag in the post-primary transition of female students. Simply put, policy hyperactivity in certain educational tasks, for example, in improving access to school, may veil underactivity in pushing the project beyond mere access. Let us dwell on this point a little more. A sizeable proportion of primary school graduates, in many parts of the country, do not make the transition to upper primary level, due to a variety of reasons that tend to push them out of the system. One such systemic shortcoming pertains to the inadequate supply of upper primary schools.1 Since there are not enough upper primary schools, there is bound to be rationing of places/seats at the post-primary level. So a transition bottleneck between the primary and upper primary levels is not just due to students’ personal failings or private choice, but also because of public deficiency, that is, inadequate availability of upper primary schools. Due to a paucity in public supply, quite ironically the system itself cannot afford to encourage or even allow all primary school graduates to make the transition to the postprimary level. The SSA norm for the ratio of primary to upper primary schools is 2:1, while in practice it is 2.5:1 according to the 2005-06 estimates. To actualise the norm, 1,40,000 additional upper primary schools will be needed. Significantly, this aggregate picture gets much more variegated and mixed when we look at the record of individual states. The

From Access to Attainment: Girls’ Schooling in Contemporary India ratio in question is plainly more favourable in some states than elsewhere in the country. The Eleventh Plan Working Group Report, for example, states that the ratio of primary to upper primary schools varies from 1.5 in Gujarat to 5.3 in West Bengal. These deficiencies affect all children no doubt, but these are particularly damaging for girl students whose school life expectancy is already threatened by the widespread social practice of early/child marriage. Again, curiously, the policy regime that has made elementary education a fundamental right for all children (The Telegraph 2010) also talks about a new initiative with a great deal of enthusiasm, namely, the public-private partnership (PPP) in education (The Director of School Education I, Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India). This proposal categorically declares governmental inefficiency and failure in school education and suggests that the lack of capacity in the public sector can be overcome through PPP ‘in constructing school buildings to conducting teacher training to running schools, to discussing appropriate pedagogy and educational delivery mechanism for optimal outcome’. It is as though there is a readiness within the state apparatus itself to ‘abandon’ the public school system rather than to ‘fix’ it. On paper the proposal is not for privatisation per se, but for partnership with private actors. In effect, however, it seems like turning our schools over to a market. The effect of such a move on girls’ schooling is ambiguous at best and harmful otherwise. As a number of studies suggest, a large proportion of children in private fee-paying schools are boys while many more girls are in government schools (Ramachandran 2009). As a recent study on the spread of private schools in some parts of West Bengal (Pratichi 2006) demonstrates, average annual parental


expenditure for schooling a child in a private school is much higher than in government schools. Also, parents are guilty of a clear bias against girl children in allocating household resources for private schooling. Hence, girls’ share in the total enrolment of private schools is much lower than in the government primary schools (ibid). According to another recent district-wise study of private school enrolment in West Bengal carried out by the Bureau of Census, gender bias is clearly evident in the enrolment patterns of private schools. It is arguable that the implicit state sponsorship of privatisation, in the name of collaboration with private players, will likely reinforce the widely prevalent perception among parents and the public that boys should have English-medium education if possible, while vernacular-medium schools are adequate for girls. It is another matter that quality-wise it is difficult to pronounce, without any qualifications, that the so-called English-medium schools are necessarily superior. But what is disconcerting is the underlying assumption or even ready acceptance that it is all right for girl children to settle for ‘lesser’ schooling opportunities. This is the new form of gendered closure in contemporary globalising India. The more general argument is that the expansion of access to schooling for girls under the aegis of the state goes in tandem with the formation, through its own action or inaction, of fresh gender inequalities in the school system. Finally, as mentioned before, under the new Education for All drive, residential schools have been set up in many remote parts of the country for dalit and tribal girls. This is an effort, ostensibly, ‘to reach the unreached’. Many of these are also the areas, however, in which the state and its armed forces are busy in combat with the ‘Maoist’ forces. Ironically, the state’s security concerns and related activities seem to be posing new and quite


Gender and Education in India

unexpected threats to the new educational opportunities that the state has recently provided for certain sections of vulnerable adolescent girls in the country. As Sethi reports in The Hindu recently, children are at risk in parts of Chhattisgarh ‘as schools become barracks in the anti-Maoist war’ (The Hindu 2010). A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed recently in the Supreme Court has made a case against ‘the militarisation of Chhattisgarh schools’. In the absence of any alternative barrack or base, security forces often occupy school land and school premises, especially residential girls’ schools. As Sethi puts it, ‘Soldiers and children ... share the only concrete structure in the countryside—the village school.’ The report quotes Meenakshi Ganguly, the author of a study on the militarisation of schools in Jharkhand, who says: When forces occupy school they blur the line between civilian and military targets and put the children at risk ... Children, particularly girls, begin to drop out as their parents do not want them near the force (ibid; emphasis added).

In Bhusaras in Chhattisgarh, a hostel warden mentioned how she struggled to accommodate fifty girls in two rooms and a veranda after the security forces moved into the girls’ hostel (ibid). In West Bengal too, in the tribal-dominated areas in districts of Purulia, Bankura and West Medinipur, many schools have been reported to be used as police camps in recent times (Bhattacharya 2009). The lack of official imagination and understanding about the difficulty of girls’ schooling under such circumstances raises disquiet about the state’s professed goals to honour the girls’ right to be educated. What is extended with one hand seems to be removed with the other. It is important to uncover such contradictions in the state’s reform efforts such that it does not in effect retreat in the name of reform and

that it genuinely advances educational fortunes of the nation’s womenfolk. It is time now to examine the level of educational attainment of girl children in the country. Educational Attainment of Girl Children On a commuter train we met a woman on her arduous journey back home from work as a domestic help in the city. Unlettered though this woman was, she was working hard to enable her daughter complete school. ‘My daughter’s passing out of school successfully (‘one pass’ as she put it) is all we want’, she said resolutely. This mother’s pledge distinctly echoes a widely-held understanding among scholars that school education is a minimum level of learning and skill training, a kind of an ‘entry pass’, required to enter either the world of work or the higher stage of learning (Majumdar 2009b). Growing aspirations among parents, adjusted no doubt in line with real constraints in life, about their girls’ schooling are reported in several studies on the subject (Page 2005; Shiva Kumar et al. 2009) so much so that the thesis of parental lack of interest in their daughters’ education appears ripe for rejection. To paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr., the arc of family decision is bending towards gender-justice, though given the vicissitudes of a life full of hardships, poor parents do not have great expectations about returns to education of their daughters. (Martin Luther King, Jr., commented on the role of the Civil Rights movement in America thus, ‘The arc of history is bending toward justice.’) Above all, small, young and adolescent girls are, almost without exception, keen to have a taste of school life. The denial of entry into school, or the untimely banishment from there (especially the shutting out of ties with school friends) is a matter of great disappointment for them, the tedium of school notwithstanding (Page 2005). Whoever has listened carefully to the voices of ‘de-

From Access to Attainment: Girls’ Schooling in Contemporary India schooled’ girls will perhaps agree with this claim. The survival of girls through school education, at least through the cycle of elementary education, therefore, is a key challenge before us. More precisely, to deal with gender inequality in education would require addressing the persistence, among girls, of high drop out rates, low transition from primary to upper primary and to high school (Ramachandran 2009). We find that 28.57 per cent of girls drop out before they complete the elementary level and 62.69 per cent leave school before completing secondary level; 62.2 per cent of SC girls and 71.4 per cent of ST girls do not complete the elementary cycle (ibid). Hence, it is understandable that hundred per cent enrolment at the primary and upper primary stages, followed by hundred per cent completion to the end of upper primary, and gender parity in enrolment and attainment at these levels are the professed goals of both the SSA campaign and the Right to Education Act, 2010. We argue here that low educational attainment of girl children is a matter of great concern and that it ought to outweigh our current preoccupation with low level of achievement among boys and girls. Achieving grade-specific competency in all subjects, good test scores in short, is surely something that we justifiably expect as an outcome of schooling. However, the increased focus on standards and the current fixation with learning achievements measured through standard test scores (and the excessive pressure to ‘show results’) tends to direct our attention away from the more basic challenge of stopping the untimely fall of a large number of girl students through the net of schooling. What is more, discussion on learning achievement usually highlights the pupil’s ability and effort (or their lack), whereas the question of attainment prompts us to also


delve into issues of minimum learning conditions in school. Does the school system satisfy the basic learning conditions— sufficient number of schools within accessible distance, enough classrooms, adequate number of teachers who in turn are trained, motivated and supported properly, through decent working conditions and professional training and independence—to enable children from deprived social and economic backgrounds to join school and then make a successful transition from one level to another? In short, whether many girls drop out of school early strictly on account of their personal failings or whether the system too pushes them out due to institutional deficiencies is an important issue to reckon with. Engendering school education will therefore require us to increase equality of educational attainment, that is to say, to reduce the inequality in the number of years of schooling attained by children and adolescents. This imperative stares at our face when we look at the school participation records of dalit and Muslim girls in rural areas in the different states of India. Indian states have remarkably similar and consistently positive records when we look at the enrolment and attainment figures of girls from privileged backgrounds. But their records are highly uneven when we focus on similar data for more vulnerable sections within the female population. Hence, at the risk of being selective, we foreground the problem of a limited school life expectancy of dalit and Muslim girls in rural India.2 In discussing the low attainment level of these girls, we surely agree that attainment and achievement are linked and that the latter therefore is not unimportant. As Carnoy (2004) clearly states, ‘How well students are taught and how much they learn can have a crucial impact on how long they stay in school.’ How


Gender and Education in India

much they learn is usually assessed through examinations and test scores. Those students who fail these examinations are made to repeat grades; and they often drop out of school. Hence, repetition and dropout data are routinely used as an indicator of educational quality. Carnoy, however, perceptibly observes that these could be misleading indicators of the quality of the school system. Suppose there are more than hundred pupils in each of several first grade classrooms; there are: not simply enough or big enough classrooms in the school to accommodate those pupils were a high percentage of them to continue on to second, third, or fourth grade ... The available space in those schools does not permit all students to complete all the grades ... in those ... schools there is an expectation, even a need, to fail pupils. Even in cases where there is room for everyone, there may not be an upper primary ... or lower secondary school ... available in walking distance (Carnoy 2004: 3; emphasis added).

Following Carnoy, it could be argued therefore that school attainment is a better measure of ‘persistence’ even against odds

(ibid). This is not to dismiss the value of test scores altogether. ‘Those who score higher go further in school’. But international findings suggest that it is difficult to increase test scores of average students; the focus, therefore, has to be on improving the educational attainment of low-performing, low-income, and socially disadvantaged children. ‘Keeping them in school for eight years, even if they achieve proficiency of the sixth grade level’ is an important imperative and when realised will undoubtedly be a social achievement. Thus, increasing the number of years that rural children have available to go to school, that is to say, to increase their ‘school life expectancy’ (UNESCO 2005), needs to be taken as a broad gender-justice goal for our country. Following on the above argument, we calculate and sketch out the primary school attainment/completion rates and middle school completion rates among twelvefourteen year aids and fifteen- seventeen year olds respectively.3 We focus on educational attainment of rural Dalit and Muslim girls, as the latter have historically suffered from worst forms of social exclusion (see Fig 7.1).

Figure 7.1 Primary Completion Rate among Rural SC and Muslim Girsl aged 12-14 years, 2001.

From Access to Attainment: Girls’ Schooling in Contemporary India In rural Bihar only 18 per cent of dalit girls in the primary school age seem to have attained that level, whereas in rural Kerala this percentage is as high as 93. This widely yawning gap suggests that in educational fortunes dalit girls in Kerala have marched far ahead of their unfortunate dalit peers in Bihar. Similarly, in Rajasthan only 21 per cent of rural Muslim girls of primary school age have


completed primary education. The corresponding figure for Kerala is 95 per cent. It is as though within the same national boundaries, Muslim girls inhabit two different educational universes. This above all is a statement about strikingly divergent social, political and policy commitments of the constituent states of the Indian Union (see Fig 7.2).

Figure 7.2 Primary Completion Rate among Rural SC and Muslim Girls, 15-17 years, 2001. In general, middle school graduates, among the underdogs of society, are far fewer in number as compared to those finishing primary school. Inter-state variations remain stark. But what is really disturbing is the very low level of middle school completion among young girls of dalit or Muslim origin in quite a few states of the country. In Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, having a sizeable proportion of Muslim population, less than 15 percent of young Muslim girls in rural areas (as also in Haryana) have finished middle school as per 2001 Census data. The all-India average is 27 per cent. On an average dalit young girls in rural areas have fared a little better in that they have survived till the middle level in slightly higher proportions. Still, in five

states this figure remains below 25 per cent. There is no doubt that among the major trouble spots in female education in contemporary India is this issue of a very short school life of girls. And there is reason to believe, as we try to establish with the help of some writing samples of girls that we collected during our field research in two districts in West Bengal, that if girl children are allowed and enabled to survive through the first couple of years in school they, in general, gradually pick up their reading and writing skills at the higher classes of the primary and middle levels. We present below the sample writings of girl children studying in lower (classes 1 and 2) and higher grades (classes 3 and 4) of the primary cycle (Figures 7.3-7.8). There are


Gender and Education in India

clear signs of progress in their writing skills, as they progress through the cycle of primary schooling. It is therefore important to keep them in school at least for eight years and to help them complete the elementary school cycle, as the 2010 education act mandates.

Figure 7.3

labour as well as pressure to marry intensify (Page 2005). But even under these constraints and even with less than ideal proficiency levels, girl children can gain a lot out of school participation (confidence, a positive selfimage, valuable friendships and simply better learning outcomes) if they can stay longer in school. Indeed, for both boys and girls, high school completion appears to be the minimum threshold of educational attainment for them to make a transition into the larger life. The woman we met on the commuter train is after all very wise in thinking that her daughter needs ‘one pass’ (‘ekta pash’ as she puts it, i.e. needs to complete school education).

Figure 7.5

Figure 7.4 On-schedule progression of children through elementary classes and their gradespecific proficiency are important and desirable goals, no doubt. In particular, for girls, grade repetition and slow achievement pose special threats in the current social context, since as girls get older family hardship to continue their schooling increases in poorer households, and domestic demand for their

Figure 7.6

From Access to Attainment: Girls’ Schooling in Contemporary India


back to school in Andhra Pradesh and challenging the validity of their child marriages (Rampal: 2009: 22). Over 14000 girls in the last five years in Ranga Reddy district alone have been supported by the MV Foundation and rehabilitated to resume their studies through special bridgeschool camps.

Figure 7.7

Figure 7.8 Concluding Thoughts Improving the educational attainment level of girls is a policy imperative. But it is more than just a policy burden; it ought to be a public pledge, requiring activism for gender rights and justice at multiple levels, starting from the civil society arena to the inner universe of the classroom. A few inspiring examples of diverse arenas and styles of activism to advance the cause of girls’ educational right keep us alive to the possibility of progress in this regard and suggest the way forward. For instance, gender-justice activism of the education NGO MV Foundation in Andhra Pradesh is an important example of what a civic organisation can do to facilitate girls’ participation and continuation in school. As Rampal informs us, married girls are coming

Such modes of civic educational activism construct new spaces of action and forge coalitions of activists, including networks of some teachers and educators who are critical pedagogues and ‘activist- professionals’. For example, in a district in West Bengal, under the aegis of school teachers and local youth, public tutorials are organised regularly for the school-going boys and girls in the neighbourhood (Pratichi Report II 2009). These provide an added push and boost for them to improve their learning achievement and to stay on in school for a longer period. This is an instance of public action that extends beyond governmental action, pledging collective responsibility to facilitate girls’ school education. School-level and classroom activism in favour of girls’ educational opportunities and the underlying gender goals is perhaps one of the most critical elements of the broader activist initiative, since this provides, on an everyday, face-to-face basis, a chance to hone the change potential of education. The attitudes and practice of teachers committed to gender empowerment are critical here. Surely, not all teachers are keen to change the status of women; not all are inspired by a vision of education that would challenge established gender norms. Also, the day-today task to make children learn the basics and, more importantly, the excessive target orientation (relating, for example, to enrolment, retention, drop out of students) inculcated by the education authorities among


Gender and Education in India

them do not always encourage them to consciously examine the connection between what they do in class and advancement towards gender empowerment goals. But some do have critical insight about how to reform the gendered order of injustice through better schooling opportunities for girls. Page, for example, talks about a few spirited teachers in selected schools in Madhya Pradesh who believed that ‘education was as important for girls as it was for boys and that all could improve their lives by studying’ (Page 2005). To one teacher in particular: Challenging unjust gender regimes came almost as naturally as breathing; ... who reflected deeply on gender issues ... [was] aware of the radical laws on women’s equality and of the education policy statements claiming that education should be an agent of change in women’s status ... Her commitment to gender equality combined with an extrovert and outspoken personality meant that there were almost daily opportunities to challenge repressive gender attitudes and behaviour (Page: 2005 187).

Finally, girls who stay on in school are also participants in gender justice activism in a way. Through their presence and persistence to stay on in school they indeed practise a possibility: a possibility to prolong their school life. Page mentions that in her conversations with girl students, they did not primarily conceptualise schooling in terms of employment or marriage; they conceptualised schooling in terms of their interpretation of wider participation and inclusion ... The girls appreciated school for the freedom it gave them to meet and play with their friends ... Given the obstacles they had to face to get to school and the tedium they had to contend with over there, their determination was amazing (ibid: 192).

They indeed appear to be the carriers of a vision of inclusive, democratic schooling that

questions the established orders of gender injustice. Distilling and disseminating the voices and views of such a diverse group of activists for educational justice certainly constitutes a weighty topic of research on education in contemporary India. NOTES 1. According to the Eleventh Plan Working Group Report, ‘there are 96 districts in the country that had a ratio of primary to upper primary schools of more than 4:1, indicating a very inadequate provisioning of upper primary schools’ (p. 47). 2. The discussion in the rest of this section draws on Majumdar, 2009a. 3. The 12-14 age group (15-17 age group for the attainment of elementary education) includes the ideal age of completion, and the normal range of ages for completion. Our calculations are based on 2001 Census data; to calculate the completed level of education (i.e. at least primary schooling or at least middle schooling) of an age cohort, we use the total reference population as the denominator, and not just those enrolled among them. Therefore, completion rates of ever-enrolled children in reference age groups will be higher.

References Apple, M.W. 2001. Educating the ‘Right’ Way: Markets, Standards, God and Inequality, New York: Routledge. Bhattacharya, S. 1999. School Shiksha kano hawbey na atyabashayawk porisheba? Ananda Bazar Patrika, 28 July. Bowles, S., and H. Gintis. 1976. Schooling in Capitalist America: Educational Reform and the Contradictions of Economic Life, New York: Basic Books. Carnoy, M. 2004. Education for All and the Quality of Education: A Re-analysis, Background Paper for EFA Global Monitoring Report, UNESCO. Dreze, J. and A. Sen. 1995. ’Basic Education as a Political Issue, Journal of Educational Planning

From Access to Attainment: Girls’ Schooling in Contemporary India and Administration, 9, I: 1-26. Forbes, G. 2007. ‘Education for Women’, in Women and Social Reform in Modern India, Sumit Sarkar and Tanika Sarkar, (eds.), Vol. I. New Delhi: Permanent Black. Gitlin, T. 1995. The Twilight of Common Dreams: Why America Is Wracked by Culture Wars, New York: Henry Holt. Kainth, G.S. 2006. A Mission Approach to Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, Economic and Political Weekly (henceforth EPW) 41, 30 (29 ]uIy-4 August): 3288-90. Kumar, K. 1991. Political Agenda of Education, New Delhi: Sage. Kymlicka, W. 200:2. Multiculturalism, in Contemporary Political Philosophy, New York: Oxford University Press. Majumdar, M. 2009a. Universal Elementary Education: Pursuit of Equity with Quality, Education for All, Mid-Decade Assessment, New Delhi: National University of Educational Planning and Administration. –— 2009b. Book Review. Financing of Secondary Education in India, EPW, 44, 26 & 27, (27 June: 10 July): 54-56. –— 2008. Or to Biye Hoye Jabey! Ananda Bazar Patrika, 7 March. –— 2005. Education and Politics: A Third World Retrospective, in Political Sociology, Satybrata Chakraborty (ed.), New Delhi: Macmillan. Nussbaum, M. 2005. Freedom from Dead Habit, The Little Magazine, 6, 1 & 2. —1997. Women’s Studies, in Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defence of Reform in Liberal Education, Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Page, E. 2005. Negotiation and Compromise: Gender and Government Elementary Education, in Education Regimes in Contemporary India, Radhika Chopra and Patricia Jeffery (eds.), New Delhi: Sage. Pratchi (India) Trust. 2009. Pratichi Education Report ll. Primary Education in West Bengal: Changes and Challenges, Kolkata.


–— 2006. Public-Private Interface in the Primary School System, Monograph, Pratichi Research Team. Ramachandran, V. 2000.Towards Gender Equality in Education, in Education for All, Mid-Decade Assessment, New Delhi: National University of Educational Planning and Administration. Rampal, A. 2009. Reaffirming the Vision for Quality and Equality in Education, Education for All, Mid-Decade Assessment, New Delhi: National University of Educational Planning and Administration. Said, E. 2001. Identity, Authority and Freedom: The Potentate and the Traveller, in Reflections on Exile and Other Literary and Cultural Essays, New Delhi: Penguin Books. Sen, A. 2009. The Idea of Justice, New Delhi: Penguin Books. Sen, S. 2002. A Father’s Duty: State, Patriarchy and Women’s Education, in Sabyasachi Bhattacharya (ed.), Education and the Disprivileged: Nineteenth and Twentieth Century India, New Delhi: Orient Longman. Sethi, A. 2010. Children at Risk as Schools Become Barracks in Anti-Maoist War’, The Hindu, (24 March). op-cd/article 285454.ece. Shiva Kumar, A.K., A. De, J. Dreze et al. 2009. Report Card (PROBE Resurvey), Frontline, (27 March). Taylor, C. 1995. The Politics of Recognition, in Philosophical Arguments, Cambridge: Harvard University Press. The Telegraph. 2010. ‘Children can demand Education from April 1’, (23 February). http:/ / sp/ nation/ story_12140342.jSp. The Times of India. 2009. ‘Girl who plucked eyebrow not true Sikh, says HC’, (31 May). http:// HC/ articleshow/459893J.cms. UNESCO, 2005. Education for All: The Quality Imperative. EFA Global Monitoring Report, Paris.

11 Negotiation and Compromise Gender and Government Elementary Education1 Elspeth Page

Indian policy discourse presents schools as sites of modernisation, as institutions that enhance participation in economic, political and social processes, necessary to overcome aspects of gender-, caste- and ethnicity-based discrimination. This chapter discusses ethnographic research conducted in two elementary government schools in Madhya Pradesh, which demonstrated that although schools could be sites of such transformation for provincial girls, many factors intervened in the space between policy discourse and outcome, negotiating and recontextualising the discourse and frustrating policy goals. There was some progress towards policy goals, but far more could have been done to transform aspirations into reality. The primary factor responsible for the frustration of policy goals was lack of local enthusiasm for the vision of enhanced female public sphere participation, compounded by a lack of conviction about the possibilities for the enhanced participation of excluded groups. Equity goals were further frustrated by the superior status, management and accountability of middle schools and teachers, leading to higher teacher motivation and better learning conditions at a stage when large numbers of pupils had already been forced out of school. Although parental indifference is regularly cited for the poor

enrolment and achievement of girls, this chapter outlines the virtuous cycle of appealing provision and enhanced demand that can result from the practice and attitudes of conscientious and concerned teachers—a cycle that can be enhanced by the efficient management, training and accountability of all teachers. Policy Discourse and State Educational Activity Education will be used as an agent of basic change in the status of women. In order to neutralise the accumulated distortions of the past, there will be a well-conceived edge in favour of women. The National Education System will play a positive, interventionist role in the empowerment of women. It will foster the development of new values through redesigned curricula, textbooks, the training and orientation of teachers, decision-makers and administrators, and the active involvement of educational institutions. This will be an act of faith and social engineering. (Government of India 1992: 10, paragraph 4.2)

In Indian government policy discourse, women’s empowerment is presented as a national priority (Government of India 2002: 217, paragraph 2.11.1). A strong relationship is perceived between elementary education and socio-economic development (ibid.: 23, paragraph 2.2.1) and education is valorised as

Negotiation and Compromise: Gender and Government Elementary Education a tool for the elimination of inequalities based on gender, caste or ethnicity (Government of India 1992: 10, paragraph 4.2; Government of India 1997: 4, paragraph 1.1.5: iv; Government of India 2000: 4). In Madhya Pradesh policy discourse, human development is presented as the goal of state development endeavours (Government of Madhya Pradesh 1998: 1). Strategies to achieve the goal are framed within notions of political decentralisation and the enhancement of opportunities and capabilities for democratic participation (Government of Madhya Pradesh 2002c:1). Correcting deprivations faced by Dalit and Adivasi communities is presented as an urgent priority (Government of Madhya Pradesh 2002d: 9), as is women’s empowerment (Government of Madhya Pradesh 2002d).2 Education is valued for its intrinsic contribution in enabling the realisation of human potential and its instrumental contribution in making political democracy ‘full-blooded’ (Government of Madhya Pradesh, 2002c: 3). Initiatives to eradicate adult illiteracy began in Madhya Pradesh in the early 1990s with the Total Literacy Campaign and were revitalised from 1999 through the Padhna Badhna Andolan. By 2001, the 1991 female illiteracy rate of 71 per cent had reduced to 50 per cent (Government of Madhya Pradesh 2002e). State effort towards the universalisation of elementary education began with the launching of the District Primary Education Programme (DPEP) under the Rajiv Gandhi Shiksha Mission (RGSM) in 1994. The success of the Education Guarantee Scheme (EGS) enabled the declaration of universal access to primary education in 1998. Independent data collected from 1998-99 underlined the need to improve primary performance and to address middle school education and social and gender equity at both stages.3 Of the boys between 15 and 19 years of age, 14.8 per cent


were illiterate, 67.8 per cent were literate but had dropped out of school by the end of class 8, whilst only 17.4 per cent had studied beyond. Of girls of the same age, 37 per cent were illiterate, 49 per cent were literate but had dropped out of school by the end of class 8, whilst only 13 per cent had studied beyond (lIPS and ORC Macro, 2001: 22). From 1999, effort was extended to include the remaining 12 districts (of the redefined Madhya Pradesh) and to elementary provision under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA). In 2002, after eight years of state initiative, the government launched the People’s Education Act, committing itself to the provision of quality elementary education as the right of every child. District Background The study was located in Bina district.4 Striking features of the local environment were considerable religious observance and conservatism, and a strong sense of group identity, although the difference between social norms in provincial towns and even villages within walking distance were stark: the latter were even more conservative. The district population was predominantly Hindu, with a small percentage of Muslims, and considerably fewer Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Christians. In 1991, Dalits and Adivasis comprised 41 per cent of the population: 17 per cent and 24 per cent, respectively (Government of Madhya Pradesh 2002c). Whilst caste discrimination and exclusion were major issues, both decreased in relation to improvement in a family’s economic, educational and employment status. In the fieldwork area, however, the poorest and most excluded groups were disproportionately comprised of Dalit, Adivasi and Muslim families, so theirs were invariably the hurdles and disrespect faced by the poorest. The district had achieved relative prosperity


Gender and Education in India

through agriculture, but caste Hindus and OBCs were the main beneficiaries. Caste and kin affiliation structured many dimensions of life, from social gatherings and religious ceremonies to self-help initiatives, business endeavours and marriages. This both reflected and resulted in a deep sense of difference, regularly voiced through discriminatory attitudes towards other groups. Public spaces were male-dominated, a pattern interrupted only by labouring women from poverty-line families, some teachers and very few medical staff. Although deeply rooted values of middle-class, general caste, patriarchal Hinduism seemed to frame dominant discourses, other distinctive (but contradictory) features of the social environment challenged these values. The first was an increasingly tangible generation gap in terms of the values and aspirations of all social groups. This contributed to a sharp sense of dissatisfaction with social progress and the agents and mechanisms of democracy, which was weighted against a sense of development, change and agency and of a strong governmental enabling role in this process. Bina district had a history of governmentled adult literacy activity but had not experienced much school-level intervention beyond the establishment of EGS schools. Various school-based programmes of a nongovernment organisation that had been running in the district for over 15 years were closed in 2002. Based partly on a decision not to overburden teachers with inputs, the district had not been included in either phase of DPEP and, although included in SSA, initiatives linked to this remained in the foundational phase for the duration of the fieldwork. 5 Government data collected between 2000 and 2002 revealed the baseline upon which the SSA would have to build: inferior performance of girls in every social group; poor enrolment of Adivasis at the primary level magnified at the

middle level; gains made by Dalits at primary level reversed at the middle level; and the ‘over-enrolment’ of OBC children in both levels. 6 Of the district child population between 11 and 14 years, only 34 per cent of Dalit girls (and 43 per cent of boys) and 20 per cent of Adivasi girls (and 27 per cent of boys) were enrolled in middle schools (Government of Madhya Pradesh 2002b). The ethnography was based in and around two co-educational (non-EGS) elementary school classes, Vidya Primary School in Nakuur town (the district headquarters) and Sagar Middle School in a nearby village. Ethnographic data were collected over two six-month periods in the town, village, schools and tuition classes from 2001 to 2003. This was supplemented through more structured data sets collected in 200203. This consisted of classroom observations for class 5 and class 8, background data on and interviews with 100 pupils and their parents, and with 19 teachers.7 Much of the ethnographic and most of the more structured interaction in the final phase was with Hindu teachers and pupils: at this time none of the teachers and only four of the pupils were Muslim.8 Data collection, processing and analysis formed an iterative cycle throughout the fieldwork. Data were triangulated and analysed to explore the different values attached to schools by teachers, parents and pupils. The Schools, Classes and Teachers The messages of the school experiences of girls of both classes often did not encapsulate the policy vision of schools as places that would enable their equal participation in economic, political and social processes. The fundamental reason for this was that few people were captivated by the relevance of the vision for girls, due to the dominant gender order (Connell 1987) which, traversing

Negotiation and Compromise: Gender and Government Elementary Education divisions of class, caste, religion and ethnicity, reinforced the superiority of woman’s role as private-sphere wife, mother and carer (Agarwal 2000; Bhogle 1999; Dhruvarajan 1999; Palriwala 1999; Saraswathi 1999). Although poverty-line families were unable to afford the luxury of such domestic arrangements, Adivasi communities traditionally subscribed to less patriarchal ones and some women were challenging the representation through professional employment. Nevertheless, assumptions about the ‘naturalness’ of the male/female, public/private dichotomy remained entrenched (Connell 2002) and most adults visualised that the main purpose of a girl’s education (of whatever level) was to enhance her marriage prospects, and possibly her life once married (Drèze and Sen 2002; Subrahmanian 2002). The contested and sometimes contradictory cosmopolitan visions that had inspired policy emphasis on women’s empowerment and gender equity had caught only a fraction of local imagination, a fraction that was inevitably marginalised. Many women and some men were quick to recognise, describe or bemoan gender-based discrimination and injustices, and some worked to counter their worst practical manifestations. But few adults questioned the social norms defining unjust gender roles and behaviour. Of those who felt uncomfortable with them, many felt guilty about it, and few could imagine alternatives in their conservative area or articulate the reasons for their discomfort. The reflective few who took a considered position challenging gender injustice trod a sensitive, demanding path marked by varying degrees of personal and professional opposition. A second reason for the lack of enthusiasm for the participatory policy vision for girls from labouring or low-income families was the recognition of the huge gap between the vision


and the chance of realising it. Although nearly all teachers and education officials enjoyed greater economic, social and cultural capital than their pupils, they also felt considerable insecurity with regard to their own and their children’s futures and highly pessimistic about the economic returns to their own educational investment, even for their sons. Most of the energies and creativity of all but a few involved in the research were consumed with ensuring the comfort and security of their own and their families’ lives. Most teachers and officials, even if influential in their immediate environments, also presented themselves as individuals disempowered by a highly hierarchical and .patriarchal society, which was characterised by a failure of democratic processes (even to the village and school level) and run by corrupt politicians. Most teachers and head-teachers presented themselves in school as pawns of those in authority with all their initiative drained by a badly managed system.9 Although the accuracy of these assessments was questionable, their felt social disempowerment and insecurity combined with their awareness of the multiple exclusions facing pupils’ families and their negative assessment of education provided in government schools. They had little optimism or even concern for the prospects of families of weaker socio-economic position— especially of the daughters, widely acknowledged as the last recipients of family assets, material or otherwise. Few officials, head-teachers or teachers were enthused or driven by a vision of an education that would usher in the radical transformation in gender values anticipated in the 1986/1992 National Policy on Education (Government of India 1992: 10, paragraph 4.2). Many administrators interpreted their various jobs in terms of satisfying superiors and meeting their targets, possibly not even


Gender and Education in India

considering the policy goals or questioning the relation between their targets and progress towards greater goals. Many teachers focused on the most technically effective ways to transmit a given body of knowledge and deliver the best examination results. Others simply focused on ensuring satisfactory results. No teachers in either school reported any training to sensitise them to government gender and equity aims, or to the specific problems of girls in patriarchal India. District elementary head-teachers, often class-teachers on temporary, unremunerated placements, did not seem to have the mandate to unite or guide staff. The dual consequences of this for the case-study schools were an absence of energising vision and direction, and teachers’ work being focused on the immediate and the achievable: increasingly, the testable. There was a desire to help children master the basics and benefit in some way from being educated, but few great participative aspirations. Of the two school environments, Vidya Primary School was marked by a deeper sense of alienation, division and aimlessness. Some improvement became evident as SSA environment-building initiatives started to have an impact, but much remained to be addressed by the end of the fieldwork. Teachers were obviously not simply passive victims of their environment, but also very influential in shaping it, both negatively and positively. Given the centrality of teacher motivation and attitude to the entire school endeavour, the unchecked pessimism of some Vidya teachers and the lack of group spirit had a deep impact. Without effective management and strong leadership, the negative influences seemed to overpower the positive. In this environment, teachers were undermined, felt overwhelmed by the challenges facing them in the classroom and emphasised the inadequacy of their pupils’ homes. This exonerated teacher failure and heightened the

barriers between teachers and learners. There was a strong undercurrent of caste- and classbased negativity, although blatant acts of caste discrimination were rare: denied by the teachers and reported by 6 per cent of class 5 pupils. Although 60 per cent of all pupils were OBC and ‘other’ pupils, however, the almost constant refrain of explanation for the indifferent atmosphere, poor academic performance and irregular attendance was that parents were ‘poor and low caste, only interested in drinking, smoking and gambling’. Dalit and Adivasi teachers also engaged in this refrain, but they were generally more optimistic about the facilitating potential of education and restricted their references to poverty. The overriding sense of pessimism shaped most aspects of the school environment. At the beginning of the research, Vidya infrastructure was neglected, there were virtually no resources, teacher presence was unpredictable and teaching even more so. Textbooks and annual exams shaped curriculum content, and knowledge was conceptualised as fixed and external, to be transmitted to passive student recipients. Even in the classes of the best teachers, teaching was usually formal, didactic, and based on rote learning, and testing emphasised the reproduction of textbook information. Teaching and learning materials reflected affluent, urban lifestyles and male-dominated public spaces whilst segregated seating, separate tasks and different disciplinary approaches emphasised gender differences. These messages combined with staff power dynamics that reformed the private sphere role of women, or at most their subordinate position vis-à-vis male colleagues. Staff power relations also reinforced the greater efficacy of status and networks than of conscientiousness. Pedagogic links were rarely made with boys’ experience, much less with girls’ experience. Fear of punishment,

Negotiation and Compromise: Gender and Government Elementary Education generally perceived as illegitimate victimisation, resulted in lack of engagement in the learning process: many girls with no home educational support did not engage at all, girls and boys alike resisted asking or answering questions, and many boys reported sustained truancy. Pupils repeated classes, dropped out or were promoted without requisite competency, leading to greater importance becoming attached to certification than to mastery. There were teachers who wanted to believe in the policy vision for their pupils, and this had a recognisable impact on student motivation. But power structures and interests (mostly gendered, but not exclusively) contributed to processes that undermined their effort and initiative. In many cases, the foundational concern and potential of such teachers was also not developed, leading to inadequate professional practice, which both frustrated them and failed their pupils. Regardless of atmospheric realities and of teacher competence, however, the environment was not totally negative. Some teachers were able to create spaces in which school could be envisioned as a site to challenge societal inequality and to lay foundations for pupils’ greater participation in economic, political and social processes than would have been possible for their parents. The presence of women teachers made the possibility of alternative, public sphere female futures real for girls, although the practice of visionary ones would have made it much more so. The mere presence of teachers whose behaviour demonstrated a concern for pupils (almost 40 per cent of the staff) was highly appreciated and motivational, even if they had never been a child’s class teacher, or had been so years previously. Pupils’ appreciation of and loyalty to teachers who combined care with diligence and competence was almost extravagant. One such teacher was Deepak Patodia, a


Dalit para-teacher from a professional family, driven to give his best in whatever he did. He was committed to equal opportunities and the value of education for everyone, although he did not acknowledge much reflection on gender or social issues and was reluctant to articulate any critique of colleagues or the system. His classroom was a space free from gender or caste-based service demands and he encouraged girls and boys equally, regardless of religion or caste. His behaviour and practice articulated his belief in the intrinsic importance of education, that it could enhance every life and that it should be pursued with stubborn determination. Pupil success and thus motivation was much more apparent in the first phase of the fieldwork than the second, when his absence due to government duty for a third of the year had disastrous effects on pupils’ attendance, competence and exam results. He had taught the previous year’s cohort largely undisturbed for three consecutive years, and their impressive and equitable enrolment, attendance and exam results demonstrated what positive results a single committed teacher could bring, even in such a demoralised environment. The environment of the middle school was entirely different from that of the primary one. It seemed owned by the village: it functioned, was well maintained, had an atmosphere of learning, and teachers appeared more professional, engaged and effective. The divisions between teaching and learning communities were also less marked. There was considerable teacher/pupil interaction outside the classroom, with pupils entrusted with different responsibilities. In the first phase of observation, science and social science were taught according to curricula developed by a local NGO. Pupils were encouraged to question knowledge and develop their thinking and problem-solving


Gender and Education in India

skills, and lessons were explorative, based more on developing skills and understanding than on cramming and reproducing information for exams. The text and illustrations attempted to avoid privileging or attaching essentialised and demeaning identities to certain social groups. In the final phase of observation, the NGO textbooks were replaced with state ones, reintroducing a more formal paradigm in which knowledge was conceptualised as something fixed and to be transmitted, not questioned. The content of the new textbooks, although more engaging than those of primary level, was abstract, information-based and dense, making it necessary for teachers to revert to more formal, didactic rote-based approaches. Classroom interaction was disciplined and although often not particularly inspiring, remarkable for its humanity. Despite the lack of teacher training on gender issues, the practice of all teachers appeared to have a positive impact on girls’ enrolment, aspirations and achievements. Teachers’ workplace attitudes and aspirations, although not revolutionary, appeared less gendered than those of pupils’ families. No teacher encouraged girls to aim for unrealistic goals, and none challenged parental marriage aspirations, but they placed them in context rather than giving them overriding priority. All teachers felt that girls who did well at school should be encouraged to aim for any job, and worry about household objections only if they arose. All resisted the traditions of denying girls equal educational opportunities and of making them subservient to the needs of boys. The school ethos was that education was as important for girls as it was for boys, and that all could improve their lives by studying. School and tuition were spaces where girls could escape from their continual subjection to the demands of domestic work and from being told to do things for boys.

Although there was a marked gender pattern in the behaviour of all but the most- achieving girls, school and tuition were also places of apparently non-gendered academic expectation and achievement, which encouraged the participative aspirations of all but the most failing pupils. The character and gender success of the four-teacher school seemed shaped in large part by Rounak Tiwari, not the head-teacher but a dedicated professional for whom teaching was a vocation and to whom challenging unjust gender regimes came almost as naturally as breathing. She was the only staff member who reflected deeply on gender issues and who was able to engage in sustained discussions; the only one aware of the radical laws on women’s equality and of the education policy statements claiming that education should be an agent of change in women’s status. She had taught in the school since the mid-1980s and had been highly involved with NGO and women’s literacy activities. Her dedication and commitment to her pupils provided a constant source of encouragement for them and their parents alike. Her commitment to gender equality combined with an extrovert and outspoken personality meant that there were almost daily opportunities to challenge repressive gender attitudes and behaviour. Due to the nonsegregated school environment, when this happened in school it usually happened in front of the pupils, who registered every occurrence. Given her commitments to teaching, pupils and equality, any situation could be, and many were, exploited to encourage pupils, irrespective of gender, to rethink their attitudes and aspirations. Most pupils valued all teachers for different qualities, but they were virtually unanimous in expressing the respect, inspiration and gratitude the senior female teacher generated.

Negotiation and Compromise: Gender and Government Elementary Education The Families With a few exceptions, the home environment of all girls was much more gendered than that of the schools or classrooms. Most parental aspirations for their daughters centred on a ‘good’ marriage, and most home experiences were a preparation for this future. Homes were sites of endless gendered service demands and domestic work that increased with age. Intense concern with reputation created severe restrictions on movement and association, restrictions that increased with the luxury of economic security. The social networks of non-school-going girls were restricted to their families and immediate neighbours. Even labouring girls had few opportunities for positive interaction with others: their behaviour was strictly monitored and they were warned against any interaction. Families wanted their daughters to be obedient, unquestioningly compliant with parental demands and always putting family interests before their own. This included denying all romantic feelings, keeping away from boys and mutely accepting the marriage partner chosen for her. Little frank discussion took place between parents and children, no guidance was offered and the majority of girls had no one with whom they could share their dilemmas. Girls were encouraged to be quiet, obedient and tentative, and to aspire to a future of self-effacing domesticity, serving inlaws and husbands. A few enjoyed familial support for further studies and some received a subtle message that they should do well at school to secure a better husband and to provide a lifeline in case of future difficulties. For all, however, the overriding message was that their future priority should be marriage and that educational aspirations should in no way jeopardise marriage prospects. As girls progressed through school, peer circles grew along with exposure to an ever-increasing variety of attitudes and aspirations. Parents


were suspicious of school environments, not because they feared the effects of an efficient modernising curriculum and or of teachers inspired by progressive gender aspirations, but because of the opportunities coeducational schooling offers to mix with boys. Of the three categories of participants in the research (the families of the primary students, the middle school students and the teachers), the families and homes of all but a few class 5 pupils stood out as the poorest in terms of economic, social, and cultural capital.10 The average annual income of class 5 families was Rs 25,995, roughly half of that of the class 8 families and one third of the average teaching-earned income. 11 Most fathers and one third of mothers worked as daily wage labourers. Two girls and three boys came from Adivasi families, 12 girls and 15 boys were Dalit, seven girls and 12 boys OBC and four girls (a Muslim, a Sikh and two Rajputs) and five boys were others, Fathers averaged 4.9 years of education and mothers (of whom 40 per cent were illiterate) only 1.8 years. Some families did try to support their children’s education, but, in the majority of homes, there was no environment for education, especially families with single parents or where both laboured, where all time and energy was drained by daily survival. Even where mothers were at home, most felt shamed into disinterest by their own lack of education: very few families reported any interest or motivational strategies essential to bolster children’s determination, and only five pupils got support from tuition. In some families, wives or daughters hinted at tension and violence resulting from husbands’ prioritising of drink and bidis (rolled leaf cigarettes) over books or tuition fees, but they were the minority. Class 5 parents perhaps dreamt of schools as sites of modernisation that would enhance their daughter’s marriage prospects and their


Gender and Education in India

son’s opportunities for participation in economic, political and social processes. But most knew that this would remain a dream. They were acutely aware of the inferior education offered to their children and of the vast inequalities of resources, power and even respect between their communities and those of the teachers and educational administrators. If the teachers felt alienated and overwhelmed by societal inequalities, these parents, especially mothers, felt so much more keenly. Like the teachers, they did not have much faith that the combination of what was offered by the school and home environments could produce much transformation for their children. Despite this lack of confidence in any great participative returns to education, however, they persisted in enrolling and trying to make their children attend and achieve at school. The status of being educated, of having passed incremental board exams or at least being able to read, write and calculate effectively was something these families wanted for their children. They adjusted their aspirations in line with the vision of the more committed Vidya teachers: that their children master the basics and benefit in some way from being educated, as opposed to remaining uneducated. The superior enrolment and attendance of boys in the Vidya school was related more to systemic inefficiency and the lack of school appeal than to the discriminatory educational investment priorities of class 5 families. Children’s education was increasingly seen as a marker of social status and most parents wanted their daughters to complete primary school. The gendered aspirations of these ‘just above poverty-line’ families would not have been compromised by primary education had it been effective and completed by the target age of 11 years. Whilst all girls did more daily domestic work than boys, most girls of this age were still considered children, and over

half spent hours each day playing. As the demands of domestic work were relatively minimal, parents were happy for them to go to school and even do homework (although this rarely happened). But this changed radically as the girls got older, repeating classes and remaining in primary school as domestic demands, their grooming as ‘good wives’ and pressure to marry intensified. Regardless of growing tension between school and domestic demands, interest in girls’ educational success was rising in direct relation to increases in boys’ failure, a phenomenon emerging from the combination of inadequate provision, boys’ relative autonomy and certain formations of masculinity. Boys were less socialised than girls to accept situations they did not like. They were able to wander, loiter and even travel undiscovered, and were easily exposed to, and incorporated in, the ‘time-passing’ behaviour of disaffected, unemployed men. Many class 5 boys were so disaffected with school that they had ceased to engage, frequently played truant and relied increasingly on cheating to ensure progression. Daughters were more serious and never appeared even to dream of playing truant away from home, knowing that it would result in immediate withdrawal from school and perhaps marriage. Families wanted at least one family member educated, so giving up faith in their unruly and disrespect-ful sons, they relied on the most ‘gifted’ of their daughters (who was often the youngest with the least domestic demands). Had the quality of education been better, however, boys’ success would not necessarily have resulted in decreased parental enthusiasm for their daughters’ education. Although parents regarded failure as more indicative of fate in relation to their daughters than sons, mothers and fathers could not conceal their considerable pride when discussing highachieving daughters. If the quality and

Negotiation and Compromise: Gender and Government Elementary Education efficiency of accessible education were to improve, girls’ retention to higher levels might also. The families of the village class 8 pupils were (with a few exceptions) more comfortable, ‘village lower-middle-class’, often with minimal education but set apart from the primary pupils’ families by their significant aspirations for their offspring, especially their sons. Four girls and six boys came from Dalit families, 14 girls and 17 boys from OBC and two girls and seven boys were ‘others’: all but one Muslim boy, general caste Hindus. The poorest families from castes with few cases of successful escape from poverty or traditional sanitation work were the least aspirational of the group (Annamalai 2002; Prashad 2001). Even allowing for these families, the average annual class 8 family income was Rs 44,234 and 19 families cultivated their own land, averaging 8 acres. Only five fathers and three mothers worked for daily wages. Fathers averaged 6.2 years of education and mothers (of whom 40 per cent, the same percentage as primary mothers, were illiterate) 3.3 years. There was considerable atmosphere for education in many of these families, with the exception of the poorest. These were not necessarily Dalit households, however, as families from these communities with children enrolled in class 8 were the least poor of their group. Although Dalits and Adivasis comprised 36 per cent and 15 per cent respectively of Sagar catchment area, only 56 per cent of Dalit girls between 11 and 14 (and 70 per cent of boys) and only 6.2 per cent of Adivasi girls (and not a single boy) were enrolled in the middle school, compared to over 100 per cent enrolment for OBC and ‘other’ children (Government of Madhya Pradesh 2002a). Despite their relative economic security, however, the educational environment in all but two of the Dalit (girls’) homes was still less robust than that in the


majority of non-Dalit ones. Most families supported and took a greater interest in their children’s educational endeavours than those of the primary school pupils, and 44 out of the 50 pupils attended tuition. In contrast to the 1999 Madhya Pradesh class 8 completion ratio of 1.95 boys to every girl (IIPS and ORC Macro 2001: 22), the middle school gender ratio was 1.29 boys to every girl, the class 8 2002 ratio 1.27 boys for every girl and the 2003 ratio 1.5 boys. Most Sagar families were keen to insist that they did value education, and that they would educate their daughters up to at least class 12 or even graduation if there were facilities nearby. This position seemed genuine for many families, as did the willingness of some for their daughters to enter employment either before or after marriage. These were families where the father, mother or some respected relative was educated beyond the basic level. A few mothers had had negative experiences that demonstrated how compliance with societal gender norms does not always bring the promised benefits; and they did question the primacy of marriage over education for girls. Many mothers and grandmothers expressed deep sorrow that their daughters would have to leave them and be transferred to their marital homes. They explained educational investments as the best gift they could give their daughter, whilst she was still in their care, to prepare her for the time when they could no longer intervene for her well being. Without a single exception, however, the overriding aspiration of every household was that their daughters marry well. Given the highly gendered and exclusive employment market, most parents felt that the best future a daughter could hope for was to be married into a good family and the primary requirement for this was perceived as a femininity based on subservience, domesticity and dependence, rather than intelligence or


Gender and Education in India

education. These mothers were happy to send their daughters to the local school, but the distance between the village and postelementary provision presented a huge obstacle for them. Families felt that exposing their daughters to the risk entailed in cycling 5 km to the local town would almost be tantamount to irresponsibility and indifference. Yet many parents purchased bicycles for their girls and allowed them to cycle the distance together, an indication of girls’ enthusiasm and the increasing environment for girls’ education in Sagar. Both phenomena seemed closely linked to the diligent and respectful efforts of Rounak Tiwari over the years, and the confidence and trust that she inspired in girls and their parents alike. The Girls The girls of both classes were the most positive and optimistic of all the participants. Although most of the youngest ones in each class made no link between education and increased earning opportunities, some were, conversely, the most confident about the possibility of such rewards. The primary girls were more optimistic than their middle school counterparts about the chance of economic return if they could finish their education, but few believed that they could. But neither set of girls primarily conceptualised schooling in terms of market returns, whether employment or marriage. Rather, they conceptualised schooling in terms of their interpretation of wider participation and inclusion: they wanted to be in school and staying at home was exclusion of the greatest order. Given the obstacles they had to face to get to school and the tedium they often had to contend with once there, their determination was amazing. Most of the class 5 girls recognised the poor standards of their school, that it served only the poorest communities and that their

education was neither a priority for their families (especially those with brothers in private schools) nor for many of their teachers. But most felt grateful to be in school and determined to stay there, although some knew their parents would not allow them to study past class 5, and few thought they would be allowed to study after middle school, despite provision in the town. For most, going to school was their only legitimate opportunity to be away from the vicinity of their homes without family members or relatives. For a significant number of the older girls, school time was the only prolonged period free of domestic work and gendered service demands. The girls appreciated school for the freedom it gave them to meet and play with friends, both before and after school, during break and in the classroom during the teacher’s absence. The long hours in regimented lessons that they might not understand was a price they were willing to pay for this freedom. They appreciated a space where they could be themselves and where they were not related to in terms of their relation with others. In addition, however, some primary girls simply enjoyed the act of learning, of coming to know or gaining mastery; and they were deeply grateful to teachers who did care and who attempted to teach in ways that helped, rather than hindered, their comprehension. Due to their erratic school careers, however, and to prolonged teacher absence in their last year, the final academic performance of class 5 was very poor. In the second phase of fieldwork, most of the girls recognised their academic failure, and, in contrast to girls in the first phase, few cherished dreams of progressing to middle school, much less of futures made brighter by education. Four girls did, however, remain stubbornly optimistic in the face of a highly negative reality: they had potential, but none of their parents supported

Negotiation and Compromise: Gender and Government Elementary Education their dreams and they had no interaction with adults who could have provided encouragement and advice on how to proceed. Three may have been among the lucky ones who were promoted and allowed to go to middle school: one had already been married and withdrawn before the class 5 board exam at the end of the fieldwork. Observation over both phases of data collection demonstrated the inspiration of a humane, competent and regular teacher. The attitude and practice of Deepak Patodia shifted girls’ enthusiasm for school attendance from its emphasis on getting away from home and meeting friends to enjoying learning and success. Sadly, his insufficient para-teacher salary forced him to seek alternative employment. In contrast to the primary school pupils, the middle school girls appreciated their school for many reasons, academic and personal. The atmosphere was generally appealing and friendly; the school was well maintained and inviting; interaction with teachers was encouraging and inclusive; most teachers made an effort to teach competently, and pupils were respected. Pupils reported greater enjoyment of the learning processes in the first phase of observation. Although they had different subject preferences, all were saddened by the closure of the NGO syllabi. The changes in the two new subjects added a heaviness to the school day, whereas before there had been some relief from the constant demands of cramming. Pupils’ perception that the textbooks had been changed in the face of their own and teacher resistance, combined with their awareness of teacher dedication, prevented them from becoming disaffected with their teachers and the new books before their final class 8 board exams. Girls enjoyed the non-gendered academic expectations and the chance to excel without constant interruptions to assist others. School and tuition were the only spaces where this


happened, to the extent that they had to attend tuition to do any schoolwork outside school. Some girls, academically able and with some influence over their parents, were determined to study as far as they could and enter some form of contractual employment. Teaching was the most popular option, although girls also wanted to enter the police and the military. Just like the Vidya girls, all the Sagar girls valued school for the opportunity it gave them to get away from their homes to meet friends and to play. Although the school had very little space, an odd assortment of sports equipment was made available by rota to each class. All pupils loved the chance to play with this equipment, and groups were sometimes mixed. Family abhorrence of teenage relationships was constantly questioned through television serials, films and music that posed a sustained and growing threat to what were perceived as traditional notions of selfdenying femininity. School was a perfect setting for teenage curiosity, attraction and flirtation, although boys as well as girls maintained a polished facade of total indifference. Some girls appreciated school for the opportunity it gave them to meet their ‘boyfriends’, in relationships more like friendships that remained low-key and undetected. Others rejected all involvement and encouraged their friends to do likewise. In contrast to family environments, the senior female teacher acknowledged these tensions, tried to remove the sense of shame surrounding attraction and to help the pupils think about them rationally. As relationships could jeopardise a girl’s reputation, further educational opportunities and freedom, and might result in immediate marriage, she discouraged them and helped boys and girls alike to weigh the situation, stressing the unequal consequences for girls. She tried to help boys and girls interact like brothers and


Gender and Education in India

sisters, so that they may be armed to fend off future disaster. The girls also appreciated the opportunity to discuss anything with Rounak Tiwari, especially sensitive adolescent issues that were deemed taboo subjects in their homes. Conclusions Indian policy discourse presents schools as sites that enable equitable increases in participative freedoms. Although the policy vision had not captured widespread imagination in the fieldwork area, schools did enable some small increases in participative freedoms for girls: increases for which they were grateful and to which they were determined to cling. Given the strong determination of the girls and the inspiring effects of respectful, effective education on them and on parental willingness to educate their daughters, much more could have been done. The study demonstrated the importance of concerted efforts from all involved in the provision of education, but emphasised the central role and impact of professional and engaged teachers who have an understanding of gender injustice and a commitment to its elimination. The creation of a body of such teachers will be a demanding and long-term commitment, but one that is necessary for the pursuit of educational gender equity targets. Notes 1. I am grateful to the Economic and Social Research Council (UK) for funding my doctoral studentship that enabled me to do the research on which this chapter is based. I should like to thank everyone who helped make the research not only possible, but also such a positive experience: the families, children, teachers and officials of Nakuur and countless other people in India and the UK FinalIy, thanks are due to the organisers and participants of the 2003 Neemrana seminar, for helping me to start making sense of the

data one week after finishing the fieldwork. 2. The concern with women’s empowerment does not have as high a profile in the widely accessible state Human Development Reports as in the less accessible policies of the Rajiv Gandhi Shiksha Mission, or those of the Department of Women and Child Development. 3. This is from the Madhya Pradesh data of the second National Family Health Survey; a sample of 5,112 rural and 1,829 urban women from 15 to 49 and their households. 4. All individual and place names have been changed. One of the Hindu teachers chose a Muslim name as her pseudonym. 5. Planning, data-collection, environment-, capacity- and infrastructure-building. 6. This results from the retention of children over the appropriate age for the level. 7. Of the 28 teachers included in the observations, nine were not interviewed. 8. There was one Muslim teacher and more Muslim students in the 2001-02 second phase of the data collection. 9. Some teachers in other schools were radically different, as was the non-school face of some teachers in this school. 10. They were, however, far from the poorest in the town, as the children of the poorest families did not attend school. 11. The exchange rate was Rs 74 to £1 on 01.03.2003.

References Agarwal. B. 2000. ‘The Idea of Gender Equality: From Legislative Visions to Everyday Family Practice’ in Romila Thapar (ed.) India: Another Millennium? pp. 36-65. New Delhi: Penguin Books. Bhogle, S. 1990. ‘Gender Roles: The Construct in the Indian Context’, in T.S. Saraswathi (ed.) Culture, Socialisation and Human Development: Theory, Research and Application in India, pp. 278-300. New Delhi: Sage Publications. Connell, R.W. 1987. Gender and Power: Society, The Person and Sexual Politics. Cambridge: Polity Press. —2002. Gender. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Negotiation and Compromise: Gender and Government Elementary Education Dhuruvarajan, V. 1990. ‘Hinduism and the Empowerment of Women’, in R. Indira and D.K. Behera (eds.) Gender and Society in India, pp. 33-49. New Delhi: Manak Publications. Drèze, J. and Amartya Sen. 1995. Economic Development and Social Opportunity. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Government of India. 1992. National Policy on Education 1986 (With Modifications Undertaken in 1992). New Delhi: Department of Education, Ministry of Human Resource Development. —1997. DPEP Guidelines. New Delhi. Department of Education, Ministry of Human Resource Development. —2000. Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. A People’s Movement for Elementary Education of Satisfactory Quality (Draft for Discussion). New Delhi: Department of Education and Literacy, Ministry of Human Resource Resource Development. —2002. Tenth Five Year Plan: 2002-2007. New Delhi: Planning Commission. —n.d. Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. New Delhi: Department of Education, Ministry of Human Resource Development. Government of Madhya Pradesh. 1998. The Madhya Pradesh Human Development Report 1998. Bhopal: Directorate of Institutional Finance. —2002a. Lok Sampark Abhiyan Village Education Register: Sagar and Amba 2000-2002. Sagar: Sagar School Jan Shiksha Kendra. –2002b. Lok Sampark Abhiyan District Data Extracts:


Bina District. Unpublished. Bhopal: Rajiv Gandhi Shiksha Mission. —2002c. The Madhya Pradesh Human Development Report 2002. Bhopal: Directorate of Institutional Finance. —2002d. Policy for Women 2003-2007. Bhopal: Department of Women and Child Welfare. —2002e. Rajiv Gandhi Shiksha Mission. Bhopal Retrieved from rgm/shiksha.htm on 21 May 2003. IIPS and ORC Macro. 2001. National Family Health Survey (NFHS-2), 1998-99: Madhya Pradesh. Mumbai: International Institute for Population Sciences. Palriwala, R. 1999. ‘Beyond Myths: The Social and Political Dynamics of Gender’, in Naila Kabeer and Ramya Subramanian (eds.), Institutions, Relations and Outcomes, pp. 49-79. New Delhi: Kali for Women. Saraswathi, T.S. 1999. ‘Adult-Child Continuity in India: Is Adolescence a Myth of an Emerging Reality?’ in T.S. Saraswathi (ed.) Culture, Socialisation and Human Development: Theory, Research and Application in India, pp. 213-32. New Delhi: Sage Publications. Subramaniam, R. 2002. ‘Engendering Education: Prospects for a Rights-Based Approach to Female Education Deprivation in India’, in Maxine Molyneux and Shahra Razavi (eds.) Gender Justice, Development and Rights, pp. 204-36. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

12 The Contested Terrain of Reproduction Class and Gender in Schooling in India Raka Ray

Introduction During the last decade or so, there has been a shift away from the overemphasis on structural determinants of action to the more fluid and ideological elements, as evidenced by the increasing sophistication of Marxist theories about the processes of schooling. Theorists have gone from looking only at the function of schooling in the capitalist system (Althusser, 1971; Bowles & Gintis, 1975) to the examination of school processes and culture (Bernstein, 1975); Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977), and now to the analyses of the lived experience of the actors in schools. Until recently, the theories were essentially non-interactive where the ruling classes appeared too much in control, too systematically powerful—thus leaving no room for change and struggle initiated by the dominated classes. But power has never been completely controlled from one point of view (Apple, 1982). Contradic-tions constantly arise, and in these contradiction, we may find space for action. Writers such as Willis (1977), McRobbie (1978), Anyon (1981), Connell et al., (1982) and Griffin (1985) have made these contradictions, conflicts and the resistances of students their starting point, and have highlighted the importance of looking at the ways in which less dominant groups struggle to ‘make sense’ of their experiences in schools—given that

their own experiences at home and in their communities may teach them to see the world differently from the way the school teaches them to. “Trouble making” is no longer thought of as irrational and pathological but as a rational form of resistance to “conventional schooling” (Connell et al., 1982). McRobbie, Valli (1986), Anyon, Delamont (1984) and Griffin have in particular examined the role of gender in schooling, how the girls’ responses and resistances to schooling differ from those of boys, and the ways in which class and gender are ‘interpellated’ in these young girls in school. The problem with many of these formulations of resistances, however, is that in the examples of resistant behaviour provided, there is no reason to believe that the modes of behaviour shown are in fact forms of resistance. If open rebellion, resignation and submission are all resistant behaviours, the concept loses significance. What is needed then is a typology of student responses, including both resistant and non-resistant behaviour, since not all forms of behaviour have transformational capacities. The type of resistant behaviour adopted by students depends both on their subjective states and the limiting social constraints within which they find themselves. Further, the difference between interest in resisting and capacity to

The Contested Terrain of Reproduction: Class and Gender in Schooling in India resist is a crucial distinction that is too often not made. If the ultimate objective of resistance is collective action or some other way out of the situation, we must consider capacity to act. Sociologists like Bernstein help us in this regard by drawing attention to structural factors such as the construction of time, space, of the curriculum itself and pedagogic practices that actually inhibit or enhance the capacity to create a counter-culture. Thus we must look closely at the structure of the school and try to unpack the various elements that affect the students. Yet we must not stop here, but must go into the schools and examine how the students construct their own reality when faced with the school’s attempt to impose a particular pattern on their lives. In this article I will look closely at the creation of and implications of the counterschool resistances amongst both elite and nonelite girls in India—the different ways in which, given the structure of their schooling experience, the girls try to fight against the oppressive elements or to adapt to them. Responses to situations in a given society depend greatly on both the cultural and economic organisations of that society. Individual options are determined by one’s position within the particular configuration of class and patriarchal structures at each point in history. Thus the question I address is: given the capitalist and especially patriarchal structure of the school’s bias in India, how do girls (both elite and non-elite) react to what the school teaches them? I will answer these questions using data from ethnographic investigations carried out in Calcutta in the summer of 1986, when I attended eighth grade classrooms in St. Mary’s Convent, an elite private school for girls, and in Tripti Girls High School1, a governmentaided school for mostly working-class and lower-middle-class girls (see Appendix for more details). Before I proceed to actually


discuss my research, a brief description of the form taken by patriarchal ideology in India and of the Indian education system is necessary to situate the two schools historically and politically. Capitalism, Patriarchy and Schooling in India India has often been described as an “ideologically highly developed nation” (Selbourne, as quoted in Caplan, 1985), as any nation with a history and main religion which has persisted for thousands of years well might be. Today, as the dominant form of patriarchal ideology stands, ancient Hindu myths containing appropriate norms of conduct for Indian women in their roles as mothers, wives and daughters-in law are still told and read; women’s sexuality is still fiercely controlled and feared, and the dichotomy between woman as powerful and life-giving and woman as subservient and domestic is still a key element. Yet, as the Indian economy changes from feudal to capitalist (from caste to class based), new forms of patriarchal ideology are emerging to justify the changing economic reality with its new demands on the labour of both men and women—particularly in the urban middle and working classes, as more and more women go out to support themselves and their families (Maria Mies, 1979; Liddle and Joshi, 1986). Thus women’s education is no longer banned but controlled and women’s seclusion no longer enforced but access to work controlled. But the fear that women might want to develop careers for themselves and neglect of their families is a growing one. Thus in many subtle and not so subtle forms, women are constantly reminded that they are the upholders of sacred values and of orderly society. Simultaneously, western society is held up as a horrendous example of how a society can go wrong and a traditional/


Gender and Education in India

modern dichotomy is created so that the men can go out after material goods in true capitalist spirit, secure in the knowledge that the social order will be maintained by the women (Davidoff, 1986). The school system in India is a perfect site for the playing out of the tension between the old and new forces and between the contradictions that arise between the different roles allotted to women. In Calcutta, the forerunners of the present-day girls’ schools were started in the 1800s by missionaries who felt that The existence of intelligently educated mothers.... is essential to the training of a race of intelligent and high-spirited sons and brothers and husbands (as quoted in Borthwik, 1984: 65).

These schools received a boost when by the mid-1800s the new breed of western-educated young men who were influenced by new liberal nineteenth century ideas found that the condition of their women did not fit with their new-found values. Thus they began to encourage the education of women, and journals of the day made it clear that “women’s education did not mean greater freedom of behaviour, nor did it override a woman’s primary duty to her husband” (Borthwick, 1984:39). Special textbooks appeared geared towards making women more ‘rational beings’ by teaching them mathematics and grammar, while at the same time exhorting women to be good and industrious wives. By the end of the nineteenth century, there was a split in the education system, with one set of girls being trained with renewed fervour to participate in the national struggle for independence—and a smaller set still emulating the British. After Independence (1947), there has been a stated commitment to democracy and to

principles of equality as well as to an industrial capitalist production mode, but the education system continues to be built on the same foundations. Education is very much a state apparatus, governed and directed by either state or central governments. Formal equality is stressed, though the basic (unspoken) principle underlying the system is that boys and girls (as well as girls from different classes) should be trained for different roles in life. The schools with the highest prestige are those established during the colonial era, and which still adhere to the patriarchal standards and elite values of an Eton or Harrow, where command over the English language and proper deportment are of supreme importance. These are the British style public schools which charge exorbitant fees, are residential and are almost exclusively male. There are also quasi-public schools run by religious foundations, business concerns and by the Inter-State Board for Anglo-Indian Education. Under this rubric fall the most elite schools for girls, as well as other less exclusive private, non-residential schools. Within the government’s own school system are special schools for ‘gifted’ children of government employees, children of civil servants and soldiers, ‘model’ or pace-setting schools. The mass of children go to general government or government-aided schools which are either free or require nominal fees. St Mary’s Convent (henceforth abbreviated SMC) is a quasi-public exclusive girls school and Tripti Girls High School (henceforth abbreviated TGHS) is a general government-aided school. SMC was founded in the 1850s for children of the newly created, westernised Indian elite. Over the years it has maintained its elite status, and is the school that all Calcutta elites wish to send their children to. The fees are fairly high (about Rs 100 a month), and because of the fees and other expenses (two uniforms, required charities, etc.), most

The Contested Terrain of Reproduction: Class and Gender in Schooling in India children are prevented from seeking admission to the school. The girls’ fathers are the city’s top professionals and businessmen and many of their mothers have careers. Many of the girls have travelled abroad or intend to do so in the future. They have complete financial security and are fully aware of it. Teachers at SMC aim to teach the girls how to think and how to become ladies—not to become the brightest students, but the most well-rounded. Their students tend to go less to the most highly academic colleges and more to colleges which are in many ways extensions of SMC. Thus their approach is far more to produce a certain kind of person, in the tradition of the liberal western elites, than to teach specific marketable skills. TGHS was founded in 1945. It is a government-aided school (i.e. the government pays the faculty and staff salaries monthly) that does not require fees from its students, but requires them to pay school maintenance costs (Rs 46 a year). Its students wear uniforms, but are not required to buy textbooks, and lunch is provided free for those hwo cannot afford it. Girls who come to TGHS are children of clerical workers, low-grade management and factory workers—children who are sometimes too poor to bring lunch and whose parents might be illiterate. The majority of mothers do not work, and those who do have clerical or school teaching jobs. The mothers have complete responsibility for the house and do not have any hired help, which is representative of the Indian lower-middle class. It is known that the girls have considerable domestic responsibilities and often many brothers and sisters to look after at home, so expectations from them in terms of academics are low. Let us consider the differences between the two schools in terms of their different charters (Meyer, 1970).2 The social charter determines to a great extent the values,


subjects and characteristics that the school attempts to teach its students, and therefore also determines the aspects of schooling and culture that its students react to. SMC’s charter is easier to define than that of TGHS because its clientele is so limited and homogeneous. Most of SMC’s students possess the same ‘habitus’, and are assured of high status either before or from the moment they enter the school. Before entering SMC they have elite status because of whose children they are. SMC provides a clear means to retain their status, and indeed can significantly enhance the status of those on the margins, or for those new middle-class parents who are seeking ways to ensure social and cultural capital for their children. It is not easy to get into SMC. Parents and children have to go through a series of interviews, and a long wait (perhaps as long as two years) before the child is accepted. Just the fact of acceptance automatically confers prestige. This then is SMC’s charter. It is chartered to produce elite women. This involves two things. First, it must produce women who will be the wives of elite men and must therefore have the appropriate domestic and ladylike capabilities. Secondly, as wives of elite men and as elite women themselves, they must have leadership capacities, for they will be the ‘leaders’ of society. If any women are admitted to the male dominated professional spheres, it will be these—female managers and lawyers will come out of this group. What TGHS is chartered to do is to produce women who have the necessary domestic skills—which, in this case must not be just supervisory and decorative, but must involve the most efficient way to perform household chores—and who have the skills they will need on the market—that is, clerical skills or at least the disposition favourable to attaining them. These women must be able to function in the economy as low-paid white-


Gender and Education in India

collar workers, and their likelihood of achieving this increases but is not assured on successful completion of their schooling. The aim of the school, according to the very realistic principal, is to help as many students who can pass the School Board examination at the end of the twelfth grade to do so.3 Clearly, not everyone will pass these exams. Those who will, will have the chance of going to college, and a greater chance of contracting a better marriage (and one in which less dowry will be required because she will have skills that increase her earning capacity). The meritocratic ideology finds its home in institutions such as these. As far as the students are concerned therefore, the school has considerable power over them. Unlike in SMC, just getting in is not sufficient. It is the staying power that counts, and the successful completion of the final examination that will make the biggest status difference to their lives. The school is structured or ‘ordered’ in accordance with its official aim or charter. The ‘Instrumental Order’ consists of the specific skills the school seeks to instil in its students, and includes the structure of the school’s tracking and streaming as well as the curriculum, pedagogic practices and evaluation methods adopted. The ‘Expressive Order’ relates to the ‘conduct, character and manner’ the school wishes to transmit to its students—a moral order which tends to bind the whole school together as a distinct moral collectivity (Bernstein, 1975). TGHS attempts to transmit a fairly straightforward instrumental and expressive order to its students, but stresses the instrumental order more than the expressive. In terms of curriculum, pedagogy and evaluation, actual content of material and thorough knowledge of textbook is emphasized. The teacher’s role is that of an interpreter of the textbook (Kumar, 1986), and

original thought is not demanded. There is a sharp boundary between the commonsense knowledge of the pupil and the uncommonsense knowledge of the school and the boundaries teacher and student are rigidly and clearly demarcated. The students are evaluated primarily in terms of their academic ability, and the aspiration of a few (the ones who, it is felt, will ‘make it’) are developed rather than the aspirations of everybody. Hierarchy and dominance are clear in the expressive order and there is no leadership training whatever. Yet, (and as we shall see later, this is crucial) less of the student in TGHS is available for control, since the school does not set itself out to create a particular kind of woman. Far less do the lives of the TGHS girls revolve around the school than those of the SMC girls. SMC on the other hand treads a delicate balance between open and closed orders. Whereas knowledge boundaries and boundaries between teacher and student are extremely sharply delineated, the teacher do draw the students into discussions and do not selectively pay attention to certain students in terms of ability. In fact, the teachers are conscious of not wanting to encourage much competition amongst the girls. The expressive order celebrates both hierarchy and dominance and participation and cooperation. While some students are given prestigious positions within the school, and prefectship is glorified, so too are cooperation, sacrifice and service. Students in SMC are graded on academic ability as well as on personality traits like responsibility and courtesy. This delicate line needs to be followed because of SMC’s particular social location. It must produce women who are the future elite of society and therefore must have both ‘womanly’ and leadership qualities. The SMC Award is given every year to the graduating senior who is seen best to embody both sets of virtues.

The Contested Terrain of Reproduction: Class and Gender in Schooling in India TGHS’s social location does not require it, indeed does not make it useful, to attempt to transmit such a combination of qualities to its students. Resistance and Conformity at SMC and TGHS Given the structure of the schools and the larger context of patriarchal and capitalist culture, what are the contradictions and conflicts the girls face, and what are their reactions to these conflicts and contradictions?4 It had already become clear to me that I would not find the equivalent of Willis’ lads in the classrooms of either SMC or TGHS. Further, because of the different articulation of capitalism and patriarchy in India, the girls’ sub-cultures and responses were likely to differ from those of the girls studied by Griffin, Anyon and McRobbie. I identified a range of behaviours (both resistant and non-resistant) which was present to varying degrees in both schools, though clear patterns emerged with regard to the modal behaviours in each school. Some of these were similar to Anyon, Griffin and McRobbie’s findings, and some were unique to the Indian or Third World setting. The first behaviour I observed was that which Merton (1957) would call Conformity, an acceptance and genuine belief in both the goals and the methods of the school (representing, as it does, the dominant cultures). Willis calls this integration. This is typified in the SMC belief that it is good to be ladylike, and good to be disciplined because “it is important for a woman to have good manners and get on in society.” Also representative of this kind of behaviour is the anxiety on the part of some TGHS girls because of their faith in the school as the means to a “respectable” job. As one of the girls complained:


I feel like crying because I do my work with so much care and [the teachers] don’t bother to examine it minutely. How can I improve?

Here she had so accepted the importance of education for the future (and of the instrumental order of the school), that she was frustrated because she thought the teachers were not taking their duties seriously enough. Both SMC and TGHS girls considered discipline to be very important, and there was a considerable amount of self-monitoring going on at any point. If the teacher was not in class, several girls would take it upon themselves to remind the class to be quiet. On one occasion, one of the students in SMC actually took down the names of those who were talking and presented the list to the teacher. However, very often, what appeared to be conformity at first glance, could be resistance in various forms. The girls had an incredible capacity to appear to be conforming, and this was not surprising given the emphasis on form in all aspects of their school life. The modal response of the TGHS girls was one of ‘pragmatic acceptance’ or ‘strategic compliance’ (similar to Anyon’s use of ‘accommodation’). This occurs when one settles for something because one feels one has no choice. One may or may not personally believe in the values the school tries to instil in one or in the educational process, but may realise that one would be worse off without it. Many of the girls are in school simply because the alternative is so much worse—not being in school, being forced to work as somebody’s maid, or having to do household chores all day. This is why so many of them are constantly scared that their education will be interrupted, not because they really believe that education is the best thing for them. They know that they cannot afford to be too disruptive and noisy for fear of being thrown


Gender and Education in India

out. In the words of the principal, “our girls never behave very badly with their teachers… they are too poor to fool around.” So they come to school every day, going through the motions of each class sometimes participating, sometimes not, looking forward to free periods where they can be with their friends, putting up with irrelevant material and teachers’ caustic comments, because school is a more comfortable place to be than home. The fact that they do not often complete their homework and are more often than not illprepared for class contradicts the supposed values of the educational system. They do not experience joy in learning, but a profound sense of helplessness and incapacity to act. The TGHS girls are obviously deeply concerned about the way women are treated in India and use strong words to describe their degradation, yet they speak in terms of their hopes of being able to deal with it, not fighting it: “What if I can’t stand the tortures after marriage?” The situation appears very clear to them. They, as women, must get married. They have no choice. As married women they might get a husband or mother-in-law who treats them badly. Again, since they do not choose their husbands themselves, they have no choice. Therefore, what they need to do is to find ways to deal with the situations they might face and to find ways to be happy under difficult circumstances. In school, for example, certain rules cannot be broken—rules of discipline, for one. So the TGHS girls do not break discipline rules, but they do find ways to resist being forced in class to listen to things they are not interested in. They spcialise in what I call ‘withdrawal’ techniques. A typical withdrawal technique is the blank stare. As the teacher teaches them about the physical geography of North America, the girls sit at their desks, looking at her blankly. She asks questions. No one answers. She loses

her temper and speaks sharply to them, and no one responds. She gives up and continues teaching. To all intents and purposes, these are perfect little school girls, well behaved and attentive, but what they are really doing is resisting being fed material totally irrelevant to their lives. They accommodate outwardly the expressive order and resist inwardly the instrumental order. What are they thinking about when they stare ahead blankly? They often day-dream and live out fantasy lives of chivalrous men and romance, of being with tender and caring husbands, of getting married dressed in beautiful clothes and jewellery. In rejecting the official ideology of schooling, these girls replace it with an ideology of marriage and the family.5 Thus there are at the same moment elements of good and bad sense in their actions—a partial comprehension of reality which then gets turned against them as they succumb to the patriarchal myths that pervade the culture. The two most common behaviours I observed at SMC, though they were also present (to a far lesser extent) in TGHS, were negotiation and ‘quiet resistance’. The SMC girls constantly negotiated with their teachers for less work, different work or more interesting work. For example, they tried to bargain with a very demanding physics teacher to give them fewer problems to solve. When they failed to get their way, the whole class simply copied the problems very slowly so that the teacher could not get beyond the fourth problem with them. The girls knew they had that power and used it as far as they could. And when one student suggested a reduction in work or a change in topic, it was usually followed by a barrage of pleas from the rest of the class. This class unity was conspicuously absent from TGHS, a result perhaps of TGHS policy of encouraging competition among the students, and the unintended result of the

The Contested Terrain of Reproduction: Class and Gender in Schooling in India SMC policy of discouraging competition. An amusing and fairly representative example of negotiation was an incident with the PT master, well known for his insistence on discipline, who would never allow the girls to rest if they were tired, but would insist that they run around for the entire class period. One of the girls declared to me that she was not in the mood to have to play for 45 minutes and would try to figure out a way to get out of it. She went up to the teacher and told him she could not play that day because “Sir, it’s my time of the month (here she blushed delicately), you know… my family is very strict about not letting me run around at the this time.” The PT instructor had no choice but to agree. There are many strong superstitions and taboos associated with menstruation in India. A female teacher might have been able to deal with it, but to a man the subject was out of bounds. He could not discuss it with her, and she knew it. When she went back to her friends, she was applauded enthusiastically for her performance. Quiet resistance is clear resistance, but done covertly so that one will not be caught. It is unlike withdrawal to the extent that here, girls are actually engaged in illegal activities, but covertly so that nobody sees them. Withdrawal says to the teacher, I don’t have to listen to you really, as long as I pretend I do. It does not require any overt or covert action. The resistance is purely in the head. Quiet resistance on the other hand says to the teacher, I can get away with disobeying you right under your nose. Your control over me is not complete. The most typical example of this, and one that is rampant, is doing homework during boring classes or during classes taught by teachers known for not being able to maintain discipline. This is not only a clear indication that they did not care about the subject, but also a direct violation of classroom norms.


During one moral science class, the class was divided into five sections, each of which had to discuss such topics as the Gift of Love, the Gift of Beauty (subtopics of Life is a Wonderful Gift). The group I was in talked briefly about the topic and then began to discuss the Wimbledon tennis tournaments (with special emphasis on the “cute” players) that were then being played. Yet when the teacher asked them if they were done, they clamoured for more time. The message was clear. They would play the teacher’s game and give the answers she was looking for, but did not necessarily value it themselves, and would not suppress for long things that were of real interest to them. The behaviours I noticed at SMC and the withdrawal behaviours I noticed at TGHS were distinctly female ways of resisting aspects of the education system which they did not like or which they felt was imposed on them. There were some cases of outright and open rebellion in SMC, but absolutely none at TGHS. There were two extremes: the tomboy, who refused to accept the ideology of feminity and who deliberately mocked those who did try to live up to it; and the extremely femininity and flirtatious, who did no work and talked openly about her experiences with boys—a taboo subject. Needless to say, the flirtatious girls actually held positions of high prestige amongst their fellow students. These types were relatively rare (I saw ony a few in the SMC class I observed) and are thus the outliers rather than the modes found in each classroom (Table I). We need to be very clear about the difference in the resistances observed at the schools for not only are the forms of resistance distinctive, but so too are their causes. It is clear that resistance means a very different thing in the two schools, and has very different implications. The family wealth of the SMC girls will always cushion them, regardless of


Gender and Education in India Table I. A typology of resistant behaviours and their environments

Type of behaviour

Visible alternative to present system

Type of subversion




Pragmatic acceptance

None seen

Internal. Not externalised. Outward form maintained. “You cannot control my mind.” Alternative values unofficially maintained.



Bargaining for more autonomy. Use of ‘common sense’ and ‘partial penetration’ as bargaining weapons.

Quiet resistance


Discovery that control is not total. Formulation of grievances and of actions based on them. Assertion of alternate values. Require more communal action than withdrawal. More direct disobedience, but no desire to be caught by authorities.

Open rebellion


Deliberate flouting of rules and conventions with intention of being discovered. Usually found only where there is support, e.g. in the case of tight subcultures.

what they do. The stakes are much higher for the girls of TGHS (Connell et al., 1982). What are the TGHS girls resisting so silently and yet so persistently? What realisations have they come to that impel them to do so? And what does an act of resistance which is not outwardly manifested mean in such a context? One of the major realisations is that the school is in fact not the great equaliser of opportunity. As one girl said to me of the wealthier girls, “there is nothing to stand in the way of their success”; and of the boys, “we aren’t ever encouraged and given the same opportunities as them.” They know that the girls in SMC and boys in general receive qualitatively different educations from them. They know the value of spoken English in Indian society today and resent the fact that while they are repeatedly admonished to work hard and learn their lessons well, a better knowledge of spoken English which would actually get them further, is denied them. TGHS’s charter does not allow it to automatically confer status on the student at

entrance, as SMC’s does. Therefore the students have much more at stake in being serious in school. They do not have the security that SMC students have, that no matter what they do, they will still be elite by virtue of being able to enter SMC. In order to achieve any degree of social mobility, the girls at TGHS must actually make it successfully through. Both sets of girls are subjected to a great degree to the same Hindu patriarchal myths, novels and songs—to the traditions transmitted and celebrated from generation to generation. Both are taught the virtues of selflessness and sacrifice for the family and the ultimate value of family over individual. But the TGHS girls are simultaneously far more aware of the oppressive aspects of patriarchy and less openly resistant to them. While they articulate their fears and resentments quite openly: What if I am not able to establish myself in this male-run society? What if I can’t stand the tortures after marriage?

The Contested Terrain of Reproduction: Class and Gender in Schooling in India We aren’t free. When we marry we become our husbands. We aren’t cared for, and are insulted and neglected in our society.

Their concerns centre around how best to adapt themselves and how to protect themselves, not on how to get out of the oppressive situation. We have here a situation where, economically, individual action is not really feasible. A female clerical worker or even a primary school teacher would find it nearly impossible to live solely on her salary. Increasingly, in the lower-middle class, it has become necessary for both husbands and wives to work in order to ensure a decent living. As rents soar in the cities and consumer prices continue to increase, the constraints on individual action become tighter still. Since these girls are intimately involved in material production centred in the home, they are far more acutely aware of the financial constraints of households than are the SMC girls, and are therefore more aware of the near impossibility of breaking out of old support structures, however oppressive they might be. While they romanticise marriage and the wedding ceremony itself and often talk about it with their friends, they are simultaneously aware of the problems associated with it, especially if they have older sisters. A primary fear of theirs appears to be lack of control over their lives. Family demands certainly are oppressive to them, and to some extent they know how difficult it will be in the future for them, but they feel they have no choice but to carry on within the present situation and try to carve out spaces of autonomy inside it.6 Structurally then, the best strategy for resistance is in fact the one they have chosen— withdrawal. These girls, when faced with the harsh reality of their future, and with the difficult living conditions of the present, find a mental escape route for themselves in the


world of romance and day-dreaming. Thoughts about other lives and adventures deliver them from the deadly drudgery of their present and future lives. Their highly structured school experience and the tight control over their overt behaviour and physical movements in fact create the perfect situation for withdrawal. TGHS’s closed school system demands that students learn in great detail a narrow range of subjects that they will be tested on. Other aspects of their lives are rarely delved into, unlike in SMC. In other words, the instrumental order is stressed to a great extent over the expressive. The rituals they go through are neither as central nor as glorified as the SMC rituals, and the symbolic order is not as tightly woven. Far less of the individual is therefore open to the school for control. The girls are able to retain a greater degree of distance from and a more critical attitude toward their school experience. They are not as immersed in the school and its values. True, they are unable openly to show their resentment, but it clearly exists. If there were alternatives therefore, i.e. if there were channels through which these girls could express their very real grievances, one would suspect that they would do so. For these very same girls, as they enter the working arena, trade unions and women’s groups that could provide a strong support network as well as channels through which to direct their protests would provide an invaluable service. It is these girls who when they grow up to be working and married women are the most open to counter-hegemonic and radical groups who can actually provide them with alternatives. Labour union participation amongst this class of women is extremely high. It is therefore up to the political activists and leaders to recognise this element in these women and mobilise them actively, for they have a conscious interest in changing the system, but as yet no capacity to do so.


Gender and Education in India

The girls in SMC appear to be far more forthcoming and rebellious than the TGHS girls. They are quick to criticise and quick to defend. Their resistance is mainly to the particular combination of patriarchal and capitalist culture that they are faced with. On the one hand, SMC is chartered to produce ladies—women who are graceful and giving and are successful wives and mothers—thus it stresses the importance of quietness, gentleness and good manners. On the other hand it must stress leadership since these girls are to be society’s leaders both culturally and morally. They are also the only women who will be able to break into primarily male occupations thus supposedly dispelling the myth of exclusion of women from these occupations. To this effect the girls learn that creativity and assertiveness and responsibility are also valued. The fact is that values of leadership and womanhood as they are usually articulated are in direct contradiction to each other. It is very difficult to believe in and try to live out a contradiction. The dual stress on discipline and leadership is often confusing for the girls. When the SMC girls resist, they often resist the restrictions that are imposed on their newly found creativity and energy by the requirements of discipline. Discipline is the most loved and hated word amongst the girls. They resent the amount of discipline imposed on them, yet look down on those schools that do not have the same reputation for producing ‘well-disciplined’ students. They find it difficult to switch roles on and off—to be rewarded for leadership at one point and to be admonished for being too ‘pushy’ and ‘not giving others a chance the next; to be encouraged to write creative answers on the one hand and to have points deducted because they did not draw a line at the end of an answer on the other. The promise of openness so swiftly followed by closure is not easy to

deal with. Yet the girls of SMC are bound up with a powerful status order built around the values of their school and are integrated into a peer structure that reinforces the values of the school (Meyer, 1970). Their interests are in a very real way tied to the interests of the school, and to that extent, hegemony is more successful at SMC than at TGHS. Why is it that for the SMC girls, the oppression of women is so removed? The statistics show that dowry is a middle class/ upper class phenomenon, therefore it should affect the SMC girls equally if not more than the TGHS girls. But both at home and at school, the SMC girls are repeatedly told that they are very privileged and are thus themselves very aware of the fact. Convinced of their good fortunes and pitying of those who have less than them, they cannot see their gender oppressions because of their overwhelming class privileges. They are made conscious of their privileges because they belong to the upper class, while at the same time they are much more blind to their disadvantages as women. Because the girls of TGHS do not have domestic servants in their families, they are acutely aware of the responsibilities of adult women. The SMC girls on the other hand have little idea of what their mothers do. “She doesn’t do anything much… she sometimes cleans the house. The rest of the work is done by the ayahs [maidservants].” Conclusion The girls of SMC and TGHS when faced with the ideology taught to them by the school and embedded in the structures of the school, do not meekly accept what they are taught. They do challenge and resist the school’s assumptions both consciously and unconsciously since often the ideology of the school is in direct contradiction to their lived experiences—to their culture. Given this

The Contested Terrain of Reproduction: Class and Gender in Schooling in India situation, the students try and mediate both sets of experiences and to make sense of both of them. Their perceptions are shaped both by the structure of their school and by their socioeconomic background. The girls of TGHS thus have a greater interest in resisting. The forms of resistance depend on their capacity to resist, which is in turn determined by the economics of the situation and by cultural (patriarchal) norms. Thus for these girls in general, the most common form of resistance takes that of maintaining form and subverting content, for in India’s highly developed ideological apparatus, there are strong negative sanctions for violation of form. This patriarchal supposition transcends specific institutions, and though TGHS and SMC girls in general operate under very different constraints, this constraint is applicable to both of them. However, as we have seen, most of these forms do not in fact threaten the system, but assist in their survival within it. To that extent, they are survival strategies rather than revolutionary strategies. I have thus attempted to elaborate the concept of resistance by creating an historically specific and more nuanced typology based both on the modes of adaptation outlined by structural theories like Merton and Bernstein and on counter-cultural elements and strategies of survival outlined by Anyon, Willis and Connell. If the concept of resistance is to be more than a mere slogan, we must be able to identify the types of resistance and their transformative or non-transformative capacities. This can only be done in a specific historical context through careful and detailed ethnographic research. If collective action is to be the ultimate goal, then the complexities of each situation must be unravelled. We must be sensitive to the influences both of the national political economy and of the structural arrangements of institutions on both the interest in and capacity to act—to conform


or to resist. This communication has attempted to show such a study in the context of the particular configuration of capitalism and patriarchy in India. Acknowledgements I would like to thank the principals, teachers and especially the students of TGHS and SMC who allowed me to get an insight into their lives. Many thanks are also due to Michael Apple and Charles Camic for their invaluable advice. Notes 1. The names of the schools have been changed to guarantee anonymity. 2. The charter is defined as an attribute of an organisation’s—in this case the school’s— relation to its environment, that is, its relation to and its position within the social structure, according to Allen Barton in Organisational Measurement (1961) as quoted in Meyer (1970). 3. These examinations are state-wide, and the degree of success in these exams determines whether you go to college or not, and indeed which college you go to. 4. There are a number of factors that must be mentioned in any discussion of Indian society— caste and regional cultures to name but two—which, however, will not enter my analysis of the girls at TGHS and SMC. Though there are caste differences between students in each school, the caste composition in the two schools is not substantially different. In both schools, the bulk of the students come from the upper and middle castes, and whatever difference there were between them have been largely blurred in the urban context. Given this, I did not feel that caste was a relevant variable in explaining intra-school behaviour or attitude differences. Though the majority of the girls at TGHS are Bengali and at SMC come from a more diverse background, in the urban context, lifestyles and aspirations are dominated by the income category into which


Gender and Education in India

the family falls, rather than which linguistic and cultural group they belong to. 5. Romance, according to Myra Connell (Connell et al., 1981: 155) is something that is supposed to happen to you—something that only fate can bring about. You yourself need take no action, which is perfect because that is how girls have been told they should behave. For these girls, romance is the most easily available individual solution and is in fact both a rational expression of and a solution to material and economic subordination (Connell et al., 1981: 165). 6. It must be remembered that these girls are 14 and 15 years old. They have not as yet experienced directly many of the hardships associated with being a woman in India. Some of their resentments against the patriarchal system are therefore vague and diffused, and it is not clear exactly which aspects of marriage and the family they oppose.

Appendix: Methodology During the summer of 1986, I attended an eighth grade classroom in St. Mary’s Convent and one in Tripti Girls High School for a period of four weeks each. Both schools were familiar to me since I grew up in Calcutta. There were 30 students in the TGHS class and 40 in the SMC class. I attended all their classes with them, as well as many of their extra-curricular activities. During their breaks and in between classes, I talked to the students informally both in groups and alone. We spoke about a wide range of topics—their school and home lives, their interests, and their hopes and fears and for the future. Before I left each school, I handed out informal questionnaires to the students and asked them to write down the things they had been talking to me about for the past few weeks. Most of the girls took the task very seriously and added more information to what they had already told me about their feelings toward the school and their concerns for the future. I also spoke at length to the two school principals and class

teachers. The bulk of my data, however, came from my observations as I sat at the back of the classrooms, watching and listening to classroom interactions. References Althusser, Louis (1971). Ideology and ideological state apparatuses, in Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays (London, New Left Books). Anyon, Jean (1981). ‘Social class and school knowledge’, Curriculum Inquiry, 11(1), pp. 342. Apple, Michael (1982). Cultural and Economic Reproduction in Education (London, Routledge & Kegan Paul). Bernstein, Basil (1975). Class, Codes and Control, Vol. 3, Towards a Theory of Educational Transmissions (London, Routledge & Kegan Paul). Borthwick, Meredith (1984). The Changing Role of Women in Bengal 1849-1905 (Princeton, N.J., Princeton University Press). Bourdieu, Pierre and Passeron, Jean Claude (1977). Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture [London, Sage Publication (English Edn)]. Bowles, Samuel and Gintis, Herbert (1975). Schooling in Capitalist America (New York, Basic Books). Caplan, Patricia (1985). Class and Gender in India (London, Tavistock Publications). Connell, R.W. et. al. (1981). Romance and sexuality: between the devil and the deep blue sea, in A. McRobbie and T. McCabe (Eds.) Feminism for Girls: An Adventure Story (London, Routledge & Kegan Paul). Connell, R.W. et. al. (1982). Making the Difference: Schools, Families and Social Division (Boston, Mass., George Allen & Unwin). Davidoff, Leonore (1986). The role of gender in the first nation, in Michael Mann and Rosemary Crompton (eds.), Gender and Stratification (Oxford University Press). Delamont, Sara (1986). Debs, Dollies, Swots and Weeds: Classroom styles at St. Lukes, in Geoffrey Walford (ed.) British Public Schools: Policy and Practice (London, Falmer Press). Griffin, Christine (1985). Typical Girls (London, Routledge & Kegan Paul). Kishwar, Madhu (Ed.) (1986). Special issue of

The Contested Terrain of Reproduction: Class and Gender in Schooling in India Manushi: a journal about women in India, 36(6). Kumar, Krishna (1986). Textbooks and educational culture, Economic and Political Weekly, 30, pp. 1309-1311. Liddle, Joanna and Joshi, Rama (1986). Daughters of Independence: Gender, Caste and Class in India (London, Zed Books Ltd.). McRobbie, Angela (1978). Working class girls and the culture of feminity, in Women’s Studies Group (Ed.) Women Take Issue (London, Hutchinson & Co.). Merton, Robert (1957). Social Theory and Social Structure (New York, The Free Press).


Meyer, John (1970). The charter: conditions of diffuse socialization in schools, in Richard Scott (Ed.) Social Processes and Social Structures: An Introduction to Sociology (New York, Rinehart & Winston). Mies, Maria (1979). Indian Women and the Patriarchy (New Delhi, Concept Publishing Company). Stanley, J. (1986). Sex and the quiet schoolgirl, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 3(3). Valli, Linda (1986). Becoming Clerical Workers (Boston, Routledge & Kegan Paul). Willis, Paul (1977). Learning to Labor (New York, Columbia University Press).

13 Serving the Nation Gender and Family Values in Military School1 Véronique Bénéï

Anthropologists have documented male initiation rituals across the globe; few, however, have paid attention to the formal schooling environment in which many forms of modern socialisation and initiation take place today. 2 Schooling has yet to be considered a worthy object of anthropological scrutiny. Beyond a difficulty in grappling with new objects of enquiry linked to modern forms of the nation state, of which contemporary educational systems are products, one of the reasons for this neglect by anthropologists may also lie in the anticipated obviousness of the findings: whether in mixed schools or in same sex schools, gender must be reinforced in a variety of ways with which we are all too familiar. Yet, schools arguably are privileged sites for studying the processes of gender construction at play in the making of social persons in a modern nation state. The study of a most extreme form of a same-sex institution such as a military (sainik) school may reveal processes of gender construction to be more complex than expected, particularly in relation to modernity and its many localised versions and narratives. Examining these processes illuminates some aspects of Maharashtrian and Indian modernity as both an ideal and a reality in the making. By taking you to the military school

of Warna Nagar Sainik Academy, I want to ask the question of the gendered production and sustenance of Indian Maharashtrian modernity. How the advent of a new, modern gendered ‘subject’3 can be at all envisaged and made possible in a postcolonial context is interrogated in the present discussion.4 Military Schools in Maharashtra: Mediating Between the Local and the National Military schools in Maharashtra are popular for at least two reasons: first, this type of school encapsulates historical connections with locality and region. These historical relations are largely premised by Maharashtrians on identification with the Maratha warrior past, emblematised by the character of Shivaji, 17th century warrior hero and founder of the ‘Maratha nation’. Second, in keeping with the prominent place occupied by Shivaji Maharaj in the construction of a ‘Maratha nation’, the idea of military schools articulates with a national ideal. Maharashtrians customarily view their martial historical heritage as having a bearing on the Indian nation.5 Consequently, the Maratha/Maharashtrian heritage should be put at the service of the Indian nation. Military schools contribute to such an ideal by producing ‘loving citizens’ and ‘loyal servants’ of the nation, such as future soldiers and administrators.

Serving the Nation: Gender and Family Values in Military School From a sociological perspective, the military schools’ appeal in this part of Maharashtra cuts across occupation, caste, class, age, political affiliation, religion and gender. It is not confined to teachers or educational officers alone; it found favour among families belonging to highly diverse socio-economic backgrounds in Kolhapur. Nor are such optimistic voices the preserve of Hindus, whether Brahmins, Marathas or allied castes. Ex-Untouchables and Muslims—even those bent on nurturing a distinct nonMaharashtrian Muslim identity and embracing Urdu-medium instruction— support the idea, if only out of love of the Indian nation. Combined with love of nation, the notion of discipline (shista) is prominent in the discussion of military schools by ordinary social agents. Whether they have sent their own boys to military schools or not, many parents value this notion highly. Here again, the value attributed to discipline cuts across all kinds of backgrounds. Such valuing may not always have to do with martial heritage as much as with ‘good common sense’: discipline makes better education and docile people, something that ordinary schools in Maharashtra are seen as notoriously lacking. Such a notion of discipline is at the root of the making of a social person at the military school and articulates the modalities of gender construction. The military school I shall take you to is situated in Warna Nagar in Kolhapur district. It was created in 1998 by the local educational society under the auspices of the then rightwing Hindu ‘sons-of-the-soil’ government of Maharashtra state. When I visited the school, in the academic year 2000-01, it was still incomplete and for the fourth year approximately 40 students had been admitted to class 5, after sitting the state class 4 scholarship exams. The highest level was class 8 with a total roll of 189 male pupils aged 10


to 13. The aim was to open one new class each year, up to class 12. Discipline, Routine and Order If discipline is one of the buzzwords in schools in Maharashtra (teachers and parents alike constantly refer to it as an ideal to be attained through schooling, and education more generally), its practical translation is pervasive in the military school. Discipline was buttressed by the establishment of a daily routine strictly followed by pupils. Through such a daily routine, both individual selfdiscipline and collective order were effectively taught and learnt (regardless of the students’ future prospects as military officers). It is doubtful that all students would become the well-trained and disciplined citizens that such a pedagogical project sought to construct. Yet, following a (relatively) tight schedule every hour of the day together with almost 200 other people, which so greatly contributed to the school’s outlook and ambience, would undoubtedly be part of the memory pupils would retain from this collective experience (MacDougall 1999). Lack of space prevents me from going into the details of the routine. Suffice it to say that the boys’ day was sliced throughout into precise temporal slots from the time of rising, around 5.15 a.m., to that of going to bed, at 9.30 p.m. Apart from a few moments of respite provided by bathing and cleaning activities, the rest of the day was firmly marked by half hour periods of occupation, whether of studying or of ‘recreational games’ where their energies were channelled into developing physical skills. Congruent with a military and political project, the body was the focal form through which discipline was taught and learnt. The pupils’ bodies were submitted to a regimentation process through a variety of bodily techniques ranging from developing a ‘proper sense of time’ to others less attuned


Gender and Education in India

to a military project, as will be seen later. All activities strictly followed the set timetable. Whilst most of them involved bodily practices related to sports and hygiene, class teaching was also an occasion where students were taught particular behaviour practices (marching to and fro instead of walking to the teacher’s desk, sitting upright and paying attention to the teacher, raising their hands before being allowed to speak and so on) whilst wearing a military uniform. The various uniforms that a pupil learnt to wear according to the activities and different moments of the day served to mark a sense of the daily passage of time. Schoolboys learnt not only that there is a time for everything, but that there are clothes for everything and every moment: thus, as they got up, they were expected to report to the morning roll call wearing their tracksuit; then a couple of hours later, after having had a wash they were wearing khakhi shorts and shirts, black socks and shoes at breakfast. Back from school to the hostel around 12.40 p.m., they changed clothes yet again: full pyjamas, white and yellow stripes, which they were to wear at lunchtime, during afternoon rest, and at dinner and night. After rest, they changed clothes back into their shorts and shirts to go back to the teaching hall for the supervised study period. Then at 5 p.m. the pupils changed clothes for playing games, before donning their pyjamas after bathing. All in all, the pupils changed clothes 6 times on an average day. The day is marked by this sartorial timing that registers itself on the pupils’ minds and bodies alike. When compared with other, ordinary schools, the extent to which pupils had internalised discipline and order was unique. Even when left without a teacher, the pupils would continue working on their assignments and there would be very little agitation outside and inside the classroom, unlike ordinary

schools. It was as though the pupils at the Warna military school were bridled; as if discipline and order so pervaded the minutiae of daily routine and all the interstices of social and collective life, that it had almost become second nature to them. The best exemplification I ever witnessed took place one afternoon as I was visiting the hostel with the principal (Pal). As we got to the mess, Pal knocked twice on the barred door. The silence behind it was total. After a few seconds, the door opened and revealed an assembly of young boys all sitting at tables and doing their homework without a word, with no noise, although some of them were fast asleep—an amazing sight and vision, almost eerie in the heat of this late February afternoon. For anybody who has seen a boys’ school anywhere and particularly in India, this was a surreal sight indeed—as if these children were already old men, wearing a seemingly grave and sad air on their faces. In any other school with pupils of that age, the exuberant vitality of young boys could not have been similarly contained. Such mastery, such muzzling of liveliness was both impressive and frightening. Whether or not such a second nature was lasting did not matter; this schooling experiment first and foremost demonstrated behavioural and situational plasticity that also built gendered persons, in a predominantly male space. Gender: The Usual Divide At first sight, the military school is an ideal space of masculinity. This space is concretely gender-ordered, underpinned by a hierarchical principle in which male-to-male relationships are particularly cultivated at the expense of male-to-female ones, whether inside the school or outside. Such emphasis on male character was particularly prominent on special occasions. The school’s annual gathering (samårambh) where the pupils’

Serving the Nation: Gender and Family Values in Military School parents are invited is one such occasion. At the gathering that took place in March 2000, the women and children were seated together—though in separate groups— crouching or sitting cross-legged on the ground covered with a plastic sheet. But whilst children occupied the main central space, women were relegated to the periphery of the children of the scene. Meanwhile, the men occupied the rest of the centre, seated behind the children on proper seats, whether plastic or folding metal chairs. The ritual and rhetorical space during the ceremony was prominently male, with an emphasis on father-son relationships. After a puja¯ to the sainik school’s founders and the garlanding of (all but one male) VIPs, an opening speech was made by the principal and welcome song (swa¯gatam) sung by a group of pupils. The military instructor thanked the parents and children for their presence on the occasion, and praised the virtues of military education before distributing sports prizes in each class. A speech by the director of the Kolhapur District Secondary Education Board followed, in which he welcomed and supported the sainik school, expressing his hope for more of these to be set up in the district and the state. It was then the turn of an army Major to express his wish to see all the boys becoming army men. Next a boy’s father spoke for longer than the first three speakers together: he marvelled at and extolled the achievements and the good qualities of the Warna military school for a ‘necessary national preparation’ for war against Pakistan. His speech was loudly applauded, in keeping with the then prevailing sense of insecurity expressed by many informants at a time of heightened diplomatic crisis between the two countries. It was, however, the emphasis on the fatherson-relationship that was the most salient aspect in some of the shows. For instance,


besides a song in honour of the country, the only other song sung at the time was the Hindi one called ‘Mere Pappa’ (‘My Daddy’), from the Hindi movie Pappa the Great (2000). The song in praise of fathers, tallied a list of their almost god-like qualities.6 The choice of a song meant for fathers was particularly noteworthy as it stood in stark contrast with the constant rhetoric of the love for the mother and the motherland embedded in the deshbhakti (devotion to the nation or ‘patriotism’) performed in schools. Congruently, women’s absence from both the rhetorical contents and the speaking scene was particularly striking throughout the ceremony, especially given that they constituted a good two-thirds greater numbers. Contrary to standard interpretations of male initiation rituals (Godelier 1986), women were not praised for producing and giving up their sons for the nation, as is often done in public speeches. It was as if all of these processes— including the sports prize distribution ceremony—had as their main purpose not so much the stripping off of the feminine dimension in the boys as its appropriation, as well as that of the power of mothers over their sons. The obvious emphasis laid on fathers expressed something of a different order, no longer so much an acknowledgement of habitual gender relations as the recognition of fathers as embodiments of the family, as I explain below. Severing Ties from the Family More than anywhere else, the aim of the military school is to fortify a dedication to the school that overrides all other possible sources of allegiance as a means of turning young boys into proper men who will serve their country dutifully. Such an aim involves a shift from family-oriented to nation-oriented allegiance. In ordinary schools, this shift assumes the form of a daily back and forth movement along


Gender and Education in India

a continuum of spheres (from domestic space to the mixed one of school through to the nation) where women play a prominent and visible part (see Bénéï 2002). Here, the schooling space becomes an all male-invested space mediating the nation as well as the family. Links with individual families are made infrequent (even severed) and the schoolboys are expected to shed their attachments to parents and siblings. Parents’ visits were no longer encouraged. From an average of a monthly one until November 2000, they were later simply banned, ‘unless exceptional circumstances demanded it and except at the time of the annual gathering and of the holidays’ (three weeks at Diwali and one- and- a-half months in the summer). The reason given by the Pal for enforcing such a ban was one of disruption of routine and its bearing upon the children. Thus, he explained, when these monthly visits used to take place, three days before, ‘only the children’s bodies (sharîr) were there, but their minds (man) would already be over there, at home’. Upon returning to school, the children would be sick for the next two days, complaining of ‘cold’, heat, tummy-ache, and so on’.7 Interestingly, the Pal’s explanation was radically—and perhaps deliberately—down-to-earth: ‘their mother, their father, or maybe an aunt, etc. will have fed them too many sweets...’ The disruption was therefore not attributed to military school life and its difficult emotional implications of severed ties from the natal surroundings, but to the inadequacy of the ‘other world’ of the domestic space, which must be made alien. Even during the holidays, military school life did not fade: its memory was kept vibrant in the pupils’ minds and bodies in various ways. These ranged from teachers’ recommendations regarding a daily schedule to be followed—getting up at 5 a.m., cold bath, self-cleaning of one’s clothes and cleaning of

the house, eating the full thåli (tray of food) and so or to set homework and assigned ‘projects’, the latter acting as a constant link to and reminder of the school in the child’s family sphere. The projects were of three sorts: parisar vidnyån (environmental science), exemplars of which were to be brought back; newspaper cuttings and photos related to any outing made; learning how to draw rangol∂, sanctioned by a competition upon their return (on which more later). Yet, the Pal acknowledged wistfully, only 10 per cent of the parents actually followed the instructions. The remaining 90 per cent were not interested: they argued that the teachers were already imposing so many constraints on their children that they themselves did not wish to be harsh to them. So, added the Pal, parents tended to indulge their progeny with hot baths and mothers’ washing children’s clothes— with the net result, the Pal bemoaned, that when they came back, the pupils fell ill as they had to get used to cold water again. Such a structural divide between school and home life characterised, respectively, by coldness, strict prophylaxis and household chores, and by warmth, domestic leniency and dietary sweetness, was conceptualised as essential to the school’s pedagogic project. The Pal always took great care to accentuate the contrast in his speech. At the same time, because the second was to become the dominant, overriding space for the construction of male personhood and citizenship, it also strove to appropriate some of these home-ascribed features in order to recreate a family atmosphere within the school environment. Reconstructing a Family Space at School If home was kept separate from school, a ‘home atmosphere’ was sought to be recreated in the school through a network of ties formed with other schoolchildren (pseudo-siblings) as well as with teachers (pseudo-parents and

Serving the Nation: Gender and Family Values in Military School adult relatives). The Pal played a prominent part in this reconstruction, together with his wife who, in the process, drew upon the children’s experiences of home and family. Thus, aided by three or four other women, she would bake puranpolya (a sweet wheaten pancake traditionally stuffed with raw sugarcane) on particular occasions for the pupils. In Maharashtra, puranpol∂ is a treat that children are usually very fond of. Most of all, puranpol∂ is associated with many festivals (evoking Ganapati in particular) and special occasions (guests, school success, and so on) when it is prepared at home. Its association with family atmosphere and rejoicing is very powerful and the fact that the Principal’s wife should choose to prepare such a sweet further strengthens the idea of a family atmosphere (re) created at the military school. The Pal had also instituted a birthday ritual, whereby each pupil’s birthday was acknowledged, if only briefly: it was announced in the evening by the respective pramukh (literally ‘chief’, the pupil in each class who had come first in the previous term’s examinations), after which the birthday boy would stand up and be given an ovation by his fellow pupils. By the same token, the Pal incarnated the figure of the benevolent yet strict parental substitute testified by his interaction with students. He prided himself on a personal and individualised relationship with all the boys, claiming to know the name of each of pupils, their father and their family. This, incidentally, was confirmed to me by a student. During evening study time, the Pal was often surrounded by children showing him their notebooks, poems and so on in his office. To him, this was evidence of the trust-built relationship that he had developed with the pupils. He would console a child if the latter were hurt. For instance, during a horse-riding session that I attended, one of the boys fell off his horse. His back was scarred and he was


rigid with retrospective fright, the Pal sat him under the shade of a nearby tree and massaged his back gently. Such close interaction between pupils and teachers did not, however, sacrifice hierarchy; on the contrary, it enabled a strong sense of respect for superiors to be instilled in pupils, premised on the respect shown to fathers. The staff did not build on fear or awe—possibly because no member of staff had been trained in a military school—but developed a relationship based on trust and respect. Arguably, this was far more efficient in creating a sense of loyalty and devotion on the part of the pupils than any outrageously authoritarian behaviour.8 As proof of his closeness and ability to deal with children’s emotional need, the Pal had many stories to tell, many of which were— interestingly—confirmed by the concerned pupils. Thus he explained how Anil, the best student in the entire school, ‘was very clever but used to cry every night in his first year because he missed his mother so much’. The Pal slept next to him once and since then the boy had settled in. This was confirmed to me by Anil one day. Anil explained that after the extreme happiness at the prospect of joining the school after much hard work put into preparing for the entrance exams, he had cried a lot when his parents left him and had missed them tremendously for a long time. Then he made friends and ‘now I do not mind so much.’ Similar stories were told by other pupils, such as Kishor, also in class 8, the first to have ever been enrolled in the military school, in 1997. Like many of his fellow pupils, Kishor had found it really difficult to adjust to boarding-school life. Initially, he cried his heart out, but, encouraged by the Pal, he had made friends and got reassured about seeing his sisters during his holiday visits. If the young narrators made it a point to appear brave and settled in their schooling environment, they often acknowledged


Gender and Education in India

difficulty in juggling with the two irreconcilable worlds of school and family. Thus, added Kishor, upon his return to school, there were always ‘two or three days’ when he missed his family very hard before things settled in again. (In many cases, these ‘two or three days’ tended to translate into weeks.) In contrast, the Pal’s were all unconditional success stories. Apart from those stories that relate to the pupils’ transformation and successful integration into the school after their arrival, another type specifically narrates the Pal’s handling of difficult students’ families. Rather unsurprisingly, none of these stories describe failure or low achievement on the part of the staff.9 Yet, the very same stories may offer different readings from those for whom they were purposefully narrated. Some of them reveal the difficulty for families and children to accept the disciplining involved in having a child sent to a military boarding school. These stories point to the disturbing experience of children living through prolonged separation from their familiar surrounding at a young age, and the ensuing negotiation on both sides. The stories also indicate the acute parental emotional investment both in the child and in his education, revealing the tension between despair at the consequent ‘loss’ of the child, and resolve to sever the connection for the purpose of the child’s education and fulfilment of a family ideal. Let me illustrate this with two examples. The very first year when the school opened, recalls the Pal, the staff and the pupils were all new, parents used to come and visit their children ‘too often’, in spite of being forbidden to do so. Once when ‘a father’ came for the umpteenth time, the Pal got so exasperated that he called the peon and told him to get the child’s mattres, pillow and belongings and bring the boy down with him.

Then the Pal told the father: ‘Look, this is your son, this is your stuff, now you take both back and leave. If you don’t trust us, then there is no point. You just go with your son and this is the end of it. We don’t mind—it is OK by us’. The father apologised and pledged that the Pal would never see him on the premises again unless called for. Word spread, and from then on, parents gradually stopped dropping by unannounced. At about the same time, ‘a father’ who lived relatively close by would ride past the school every day on his motorbike on his way home. Each time he saw his son watching from a distance, both of them would cry. This went on for several days. One day, the boy was standing on the front ground; when he saw his father ride by he escaped through a hole in the fence and ran home behind his father. The Pal was alerted; he immediately left for the boy’s home. There, the boy’s mother and grandmother held on to the child tightly; nobody would let him go back to the school. He was an only child. At last, the father agreed to have him sent back. The Pal carried the child back with him, holding him tight. He also recommended to the father that he should make a four mile detour to go home, for the psychological benefit of both father and son. The father agreed, and at the time of my visit three years later, the boy was still at the military school. As can be seen from these stories, the relationship between families and sons was predominantly mediated through fathers. Mothers were often absent or powerless; the relationship nurtured in the intimacy of family —in which women undoubtedly play a central role—was projected onto a masculine public sphere that left women as invisible traces of the child’s earlier life. To a certain extent, these emotional displays, primarily between father and son, were given more value as a worthier indication of the ‘sacrifice’ and devotion the

Serving the Nation: Gender and Family Values in Military School parents and families agreed to by giving their sons up for the nation. That a mother should be depicted as devastated by the ‘loss’ of her son might seem too predictable; by contrast, that men should be portrayed as soft and tender with their sons indicated the value and praiseworthiness attached to their sacrifice. In this temporal and social gender role division, therefore, emotions between fathers and sons were publicly expressed both in the name of the larger family bond, and as a personal testimony of masculine recognition, making men the central pillars of the child’s present and future life. The military school perhaps offers a very pronounced yet subtle example of male socialisation. Roles and Experiences of Femininity Cultivation of masculinity may be a definite part of the pedagogic process at the military school. Yet, several elements in this process suggest that the ingraining of masculinity and shedding of female elements are not done as systematically as might be expected from the literature on male socialisation and initiation rituals across the globe (Economou n.d.; Godelier 1986; Hockey 1986; La Fontaine 1985; Read 1952). Rather, there seems to be a tension operating between traditionally ascribed gender roles. If young boys were encouraged to develop their physical and masculine abilities through physical exercise and sports, they were also invited to share in some kind of femininity through performance of femaleascribed roles usually not found among boys their age. For instance, the students would be made to do the daily chores usually reserved to women and little girls. These included washing one’s own personal items of clothing, cleaning and sweeping rooms and corridors, clearing cupboards, polishing shoes, washing up plates and so on. All the boys would be expected to perform these activities, either daily (clothes washing, shoe polishing and


cupboard cleaning) or every four days, in rotation (sweeping floors). In addition to performing most of the daily chores, the pupils learnt an activity usually the preserve of girls and women: rangol∂ drawing. Rangol∂ refers to the coloured powders used for drawing motifs on floors and in front of houses, either daily or on special occasions. It is an activity in which little girls often revel, and is considered part of the social apparatus every woman should master, thereby demonstrating her aesthetic domestic skills. At the military school, boys not only learnt it from (female) staff, but they were even seriously encouraged to learn further motifs back home. 10 The organising of a competition judged by outside guests and sanctioned by prizes also testified to the seriousness in which this activity was held. These elements contributed not so much to blurring a usually sharp gender differentiation, as to enabling appropriation of the feminine. It may be that as the school expands, the daily chores will tend to be confined to the younger classes, thereby making a sharper differentiation between gender roles and progressively reinforcing maleness (as defined by male social activities). At the time of my visits, such daily chores were expected to be performed by all pupils. To be sure, some pupils had developed all kinds of strategies for shirking the daily ‘female duties’. Clothes washing, in particular, was one sphere of activity where, away from the teachers’ gaze, the most reluctant of them could find a way out by ‘forgetting’ to use soap and contenting themselves with a perfunctory soak of garments. Others did not seem to mind so much. Incidentally, Ashok, who at the time of the annual gathering had performed the female member of the couple travelling across the world capitals and unfailingly coming back to praise Delhi and India (see note 6), was one of them. To be fair, so was his male counterpart in the show.


Gender and Education in India

There is another element that unexpectedly brings the schoolboys closer to women’s experiences: that of having to leave their family homes, even though in this case, unlike newly married women, for a limited number of years. The fact that, even today, the usual and widespread pattern of marital residence is a patrilocal one in Maharashtra (as in most of India) means that only women go through this experience of heart-breaking suffering at leaving their familiar environment, coupled with anxious apprehension at the prospect of the unknown. 11 Yet, their rendition of their first experience of married life with in-laws and the adjustment their own natal families tell them they have to make, followed by their resignedly doing so, is strikingly similar to the boys’ experience. Such an analogy struck me whilst listening to the schoolboys’ stories as well as some of their parents’. The very first one among the latter was that of Kesharbai, the mother of 11 yearold Pramod. It was highly reminiscent of the stories I had heard so often, many years ago, whilst conducting fieldwork on marriage and dowry in (mostly) rural Maharashtra. Pramod, just like most young girls to be married, had had no say in the matter and although he did not want to go to the military school and hoped not to be selected, his mother had made sure he would.12 It took him almost two years to come to terms with the idea that his family would not take him back home; finally resigned to his fate, he stopped crying and adjusted willy-nilly. Although the Pal laughed at the analogy with the distinction between maternal and conjugal homes (måher and såser, respectively), he did not altogether reject its possible relevance. Yet, he gave an unexpected twist to the binary ideology. Those who are happy here, he said emphatically, and whose parents do not make them happy—for instance because they fight with each other or because

they have divorced—for these ones, the maher is here. Those who prefer their family home, he briefly contended, this is saser to them. The Pal’s response was interesting in that it tried to engage with the notions of residence that are so crucial to a woman, yet so difficult to relate to for a man. What it seemed to miss out, however, was precisely the point that a successful—or resigned—transition from maher to saser may be expressed precisely in those very terms by a woman, often adding: ‘now, I’ve got used to it’ (‘åttå savay jhåli’), without it necessarily indicating contentment or happiness. Be that as it may, contrary to what might be expected, this military school at least at the primary and secondary levels played much more subtly on a gender dialectics than ordinary schools in Maharashtra, where gender-ascribed roles are much more strictly enforced and adhered to (Bénéï 2002). Gender, Nation State and the Making of a New Citizen Lack of space has not allowed discussion of the prophylactic, health and dietary aspects of the military school’s pedagogy, which also occupied a crucial dimension in the constitution of a future, apt citizen. Suffice it to say that in this school, too, the idea of striving towards inner purity that lay at the convergence of colonial pedagogy and Gandhian education, stood at the fulcrum of personal development conducive to national development (Alter 2000: 55-112; Srivastava 1998: 22-202). Students’ bodies played a central part, both as objects to be disciplined along the lines of a Foucauldian bio-power project, and as the very means by which the nation could be reconstituted and regenerated. The gendered dimension of this modern political project has been the focus of this article. It now needs to be situated within a wider discussion of school and modernity.

Serving the Nation: Gender and Family Values in Military School As seen above, the military school at Warna is a predominantly male space where a highly gendered person is being constructed. Military schools for boys in Maharashtra could first be considered as playing the classical part of socialisation and initiation sites where young boys are initiated into the constraints and expectations of masculinity. The missing link so far has been sexuality. It was hardly possible for me, as a female anthropologist, to broach the subject so frontally with the Pal and his staff, let alone the students themselves. Yet, many indirect elements hinted at a particular sexual construction of the gendered body, at great variance with those in ordinary schools. Prophylactic, dietary and bodily practices certainly played a central part in such a construction: daily consumption of milk at repeated intervals and bathing in cold water (famously known to ‘cool’ the senses), yoga and breathing practices, physical exercise, environmental concerns, and so on. These practices and activities were geared towards fulfilling an ideal of internal disciplining of the mind, soul and body, premised on the overarching rule of self-restraint. In keeping with such self-restraint, the students’ respectful behaviour towards the ladies around (including one member of staff and the anthropologist) was both noticeable and impressive. It appeared far removed from the behaviour so ordinarily encountered among ordinary schoolboys of the age, particularly with respect to the usual concupiscent glance that most ladies passing their way are subject to. Such apparently contrasting behaviours on the part of military school students, together with the special dietary and hygienic regimen they were submitted to, suggests a parallel with Alter’s thesis on celibacy and nationalism. In an earlier work (1993), Alter had explored how physical fitness and nationalism were embodied in the heroically masculine physique of the Indian wrestler. To


Alter, this masculine physique was an embodied statement of masculinity aimed at countering a British colonial and postcolonial argument of Indian effeteness.13 Subsequently focusing on the ideal of brahmåchårya (or celibacy) usually associated with wrestling, Alter (1994) claims that it has become reendowed in the postcolonial period with a particular value: that of counterwesternisation. The brahmåchåri has become the political alternative to the ‘postcolonial libertine’, for whom masculinity is understood as an ideology of domination, self-gratification and control of others. Contrary to such an ‘almost pathologically individualistic’ ideology (ibid: 58) that emphasises waste of bodily fluids, the brahmåchåri offers a model in which ‘gender identity derives from a regimen of self-control, balance, integration of self with natural truth’. Alter sees in this bodily self-restraint the beaconing of celibacy as a ‘persuasive form of embodied opposition to the legacy of colonial sexuality’ (ibid, 58). The military school arguably encapsulates this brahmåchåri ideal within its various and competing vision of postcolonial citizenship as embodied within the future élite citizens of the region and the nation. Yet, as has also been seen, the process whereby male persons were constituted at this new military school was a lengthy one that also involved cultivating ‘femaleness’ at more than one stage. Such appropriation of feminine roles may appear rather ironic, inasmuch as it does not correspond with the expectations of ordinary parents in Maharashtra. To a majority of those interviewed, the purpose of military schools is to develop strong boys and prepare them to play a significant role in the destiny of the nation, whether by embracing a military career or by becoming high officials in various central and regional administrations. In such a scheme of ‘traditionally’ male prospects and possibilities, femininity has, in


Gender and Education in India

principle, no place, at least from the dominant ideological perspective obtaining in this part of the globe as in many other (Ehrenreich 1987). To most parents, the deliberate nurturing of a feminine dimension would appear as a paradoxical statement of masculine modernity, potentially endangering the sustenance in their imaginaries of military schools as utopian projects, encapsulating the cherished values of (masculine) discipline, rigour and bravery. These values, it should be further remembered, also connect with regional and local, social memories and historical narratives revolving around the figure of Shivaji, crucial in the constitution of Maharashtrian/Indian political modernity. In view of the tensions between parents’ aspiration for their sons’ careers and the temptation to indulge them as proof of their affection towards them, however, parents themselves unwittingly thwarted the implementation of this political and pedagogical project. Consequently, no more than ordinary schools can these military schools ever be anything else but tentative projects of modernity, steeped in fantasy dreams of an ideal community of citizens whilst at the same time shot through by irreconcilable realities of parental love and predilection for discipline. To be sure, these schools undoubtedly came closest to the fulfilment of such a quest for modernity. Yet, just as the nation can never be but an incomplete reality, so the project of modernity inscribed in the very existence of these schools may never reach completion. Despite this and even though such femininity might eventually be shed at a later stage, as the school develops into a fullfledged secondary and junior high school, pondering over it at this moment in history allows one to reflect further on the meaning of gender role construction in relation to modernity and the nation state. At present, the

military school is not only functioning as a site where prolonged male socialisation and ritual initiation is taking place. It is also one where the males who are constructed in the process are given an opportunity to ‘transcend the feminine dimension’ within them by performing ‘traditionally’ feminine-ascribed roles whilst developing as full male social agents. It might therefore be suggested that this military school is presently attempting to construct a fuller, more complete social person than is usually allowed by either formal or informal institutions within Maharashtra, Indian society and most other societies (Gilmore 1990). Such a project of gender construction thus stands in stark contrast with those known to have occupied prominent places within the Indian public sphere over the last two centuries. In the latter projects, even when the attributes of Indian femaleness and maleness have been deployed towards a common goal, whether reforming society and building a regenerated Indian/Hindu nation or constructing a secular Indian nation, these attributes have been characteristically dichotomised. Take, for instance, the Hindu middle class polemicists of the United Provinces (today’s Uttar Pradesh) who in the late 19th and 20th centuries sought to fashion a new social and moral ethos: some of them founded a collective Hindu nationalist and reformed identity on disciplined masculinity on the one hand and virtuous femininity on the other (Gupta 2001). By the same token, the study of the modalities of gender construction in ordinary mixed schools in Maharashtra today reveals very sharply defined roles. There, masculine and feminine attributes are learnt, practised, appropriated, constructed and enacted time and again in an infinity of ways—ranging from the most minute, petty and trivial to the most powerfully expressed and ritualised ones.14 In contradistinction to

Serving the Nation: Gender and Family Values in Military School such dichotomous constructions, the military school’s project offers a synthesis—perhaps even an encompassment—of the two gendered qualities of discipline and virtue. Such a synthesis is tentatively effected into a single new social person, the archetype of a new modern—almost godlike—citizen.15 The military school, then, comes across as the site of a modern utopia where gender values may also eventually be reconciled, transcended even.16 Nevertheless, in spite of female qualities being overtly nurtured within the military schoolboys and notwithstanding the pride derived by some pupils from being lauded for their rangol∂ drawings, many of them seemed rather impervious to such ‘female roles’, which they tended to perceive as subaltern. As Sanjay Srivastava (1998) cogently argued against Erving Goffman’s notion of ‘total institution’ (1961) as extended to the schooling context, whether ordinary institutions or military boarding ones, schools cannot be seen as isolated, watertight institutions independent of the wider society. On the contrary, they are part and parcel of society at large, operating as so many key sites where dominant (and other conflicting) sets of values may be appropriated. Given the enduring predominance of a hierarchical male orientation in Indian society and the ambivalence towards the mother caused by fear of both abandonment and absorption (Kakar 1981), the dominant reluctance found among the boys as unproblematically embracing feminine qualities is rather unsurprising. In the final instance, however, the differential transcending of femininity by the pupils also testifies to a degree of agency greater than that usually conceded to individuals, and children in particular. Such degree of agency and autonomy of thinking was also evident in the students’ reflections


on their future careers. Interviews conducted in the absence of any staff revealed a wider diversity of aims, ambitions, hopes, desires as well as utter refusals, than might have been expected judging from the apparent overall uniformity of behaviours. These ambitions and hopes did not only reflect those of the families who had sent the boys to the military school in the first place, or those of the teachers and other adults (most of them army or government officials) who visited them regularly and lectured them on inspiring topics of various sorts. They also testified to these children’s active appropriation, choosing —or refusing—to make others’ expectations about them their own. They further demonstrated their relative autonomy as subjects. For instance, in spite of the many efforts made at instilling in them a sense of national duty and a taste for the military, not even a quarter of the pupils actually showed an interest in preparing for the National Defence Academy. Among the most favoured professions were those of aeronautics engineer, doctor and civil engineer. Children take an active part in the process of gender construction and their active engagement is important on two counts: it emphasises the necessity to look at children as full participants in the life and sustenance of a given social group rather than as passive agents upon whom some form of power would be blindly exerted.17 It also highlights the fact that rather than a given in a social group, gender is a process crucial in the making of social persons. This process is neither a wholly straightforward nor a culturally determined one and may reveal a variety of possibilities even within a given society, allowing individuals some leeway in negotiating it. Further evidence of this was provided in the spring of 2003 by the ‘gay’ parade in Kolkata, the first ever in the South Asian sub-continent.


Gender and Education in India

Notes 1. This article is based on fieldwork material collected over a period of three years from January 1998 to December 2000 and made possible by a generous ESRC grant (R000237530). The present chapter is part of a larger work in progress, which is looking at schooling and nationalism in Maharashtra (India). 2. This is apart from the works of scholars such as Allison James, who is more of a psychologist than an anthropologist (see especially James 1993; 134-66). 3. I use the word in inverted commas as I am aware of its also being part of a dialectics of ‘citizen’/‘subject’, which is being addressed at length in a book in preparation. 4. In keeping with the issue of a gendered subject, that of her/his autonomy has become prominent in the last two or three decades thanks to the converging influences of feminist and subalternist scholarship, and to the socalled ‘cultural turn’ (Grossberg et al. 1992; Hutchinson 1996; Steinmetz 1999). Yet, such influences have not radically reshaped the theoretical focus of studies of (initiation) rituals. The implicit assumption has often remained that subjects have no real agency of their own. The making of a new social person was unanimously supposed to involve culturally determined from the anthropo-logist’s understanding—or ‘reading’—of it (see Bateson 1936 for a remarkably early exception). 5. Cf. Bayly 1998, who looks at the Maharashtrian case for an elaboration of ‘protonationalism’ in India. 6. Another show deserves particular mention, although for an altogether different nationalistic slant: it is one where a ‘couple’ played by two (male) students travels across the world capitals and each time comes back to India. The refrain celebrates the couple’s attachments to India and Delhi and praises their superiority over the rest of the world. The student performing the female part was dressed in a fake sari and wore make up and jewellery. ‘She’ conspicuously displayed her subservience to her husband on their travels by running behind. 7. Note that the site of harm was the stomach,



10. 11.

12. 13.

which in Marathi is often used metaphorically. I can even refer to the national shaming incurred by the loss of a battle that goes ‘undigested’ (apacavlel∂). Furthermore, it is often a primary site mediating children’s pains of various sorts, regardless of their etiology (physiological, organic cause, psychological and so on). The only member of staff who might have verged towards more classical authoritarian behaviour, however, was the military instructor. Obviously, no institution would gladly admit to failure. Consequently, even if cases of outright failure to handle a difficult pupil or a disruptive family do exist, they are not part of the institutional narrative. Interestingly, the designs (flowers, rifle, Ganesh and so on) were comparable with those found in ordinary schools at the time. Of course, the exceptions are many to this rule of hardship: many young women, particularly of rural Maratha background, are married close to their natal homes. Yet, even among these communities, the popular feeling—expressed through numerous songs, sayings, proverbs and poems—is that once marriage has taken place, the sweet days of childhood are gone and a hard toiling life awaits the newly wed in her new home. Furthermore, even though the young woman may go back home on a number of occasions, the ideologically dominant view is one of severed, or at least much loosened, ties. See Bénéï (1996). She coached him relentlessly for the written exams, so that he eventually was among the 40 admitted. In my view, such a statement was more the product of—rather than a reaction to—a dialogue with colonial culture. Indeed, as Alter himself acknowledges, the image of effeteness was only one among other pertaining to ‘the Indian’ and competing in the colonisers’ psyche. Alongside this image, the category of ‘martial race’ or ‘martial caste’ played as crucial a part, if only for practical reasons: martial castes such as those of the Rajputs or the Marathas were not only praised for their warrior qualities, but also largely recruited from to form the battalions of a British Indian

Serving the Nation: Gender and Family Values in Military School

14. 15. 16.


army. In Maharashtra, for instance, the longstanding tradition of wrestling was revived through engaging with colonial power. Although it came to embody a regenerated national virility, it was not necessarily a ‘counter-effeminate’ one. This aspect is examined at length in a book in preparation. See Gilmore (1990) for a discussion of androgyny in Hindu mythology and its relation to the concept of pure manhood. One might object that this is still a masculine project since the synthesis is effected through a male person. A comparison with the military school for girls created at about the same time in Pune would obviously be interesting. Discussions with its headmistress, the wife of a former army officer, suggest a comparable development among female pupils. See also Robert Coles’ work for an application of a proactive approach (Coles 1977; 1986).

References Alter, J.S. 1993. ‘The Body of One Color: Indian Wrestling, the Indian State and Utopian Semantics’, Cultural Anthropology 8, 1: 49-72. —2000. Gandhi’s Body: Sex, Diet and the Politics of Nationalism. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Bénéï, V. 2000. ‘Mother-India at School: Nation,


Family and Gender in Marathi-speaking Schools’. Unpublished manuscript. Edinburgh: South Asia Anthropology Group. Economou, L. (n.d.). The Period of Basic Army Taining. Athens: Panteious University. Ehrenreich, B. 1987. ‘Foreword’, in Klaus Theweleit (ed.) Male Fantasies: Woman, Floods, Bodies, History, pp. ix-xvii. Cambridge and Oxford: Polity Press/Blackwell and University of Minnesota. Gilmore, D.D. 1990. Manhood in the Making: Cultural Concepts of Masculinity. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. Godelier, M. 1986. The Making of Great Men: Male Domination and Power, Among the New Guinea Barua. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Goffman, E. 1961. Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. Hockey, J. 1981. Squaddies: Portrait of a Subculture. Exeter University Publications. Kakar, S. 1981. The Inner World: A Psycho-analytic Study of Childhood and Society in India. 2nd edition. New Delhi and New York: Oxford University Press. La Fontaine, J. 1985. Initiation. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. MacDougall, D. 1999. ‘Social Aesthetics and the Doon School’, Visual Anthropology Review 15, 1: 3-20.

14 Chhadi Lage Chham Chham, Vidya Yeyi Gham Gham (The Harder the Stick Beats, the Faster the Flow of Knowledge) Dalit Women’s Struggle for Education Shailaja Paik

Introduction This paper focuses on the specificities of Dalit experiences of access to and the processes in formal institutions of education.1 Caste, class and gender as issues related to education have not received enough attention from scholars. I venture to untwist this ‘trinity’ in educational processes by engaging with some experiences of Dalit women in Maharashtra (India). Dalit girls2 are often discouraged for attending distant schools, attending technical schools, which are male-dominated, by the problem of gender streaming in education; however, central to my enquiry are the more subtle operations of power in the Dalit context. By Dalits (literally translated to mean ‘crushed’, oppressed’ and ‘downtrodden’), I refer to India’s Untouchables or ‘erstwhile untouchables’, variously also described as magasvargiya jati, achhuts, panchama, Harijans and Scheduled Castes (SCs). Dalits, who comprise about 167 million Indians, have been historically prevented from accessing education as they were socially ostracised. The term ‘Dalit’ is also a term of militant selfassertion, a mark of identity: social, cultural and political identity. At the bottom of the economic ladder, it is only recently that Dalits have begun entering formal institutions of education in great

numbers. This paper looks at Dalit women’s struggles against all odds to venture into the citadel of dnyan (knowledge) that was controlled by the upper castes. I explore how ‘untouchability’ is re-visioned and reproduced within formal institutes of education. I will then unpack my empirical findings and comment on how different kinds of ‘disciplining’ and ‘control’ are at work in schools and in homes. Chhadi lage chham chham, vidya yeyi gham gham (the harder the stick beats, the faster the flow of knowledge) is an old Marathi proverb. It refers to the corporal punishment rampantly practised by teachers and parents in order to discipline children. However, in this paper, I use the term chhadi to signify the disciplining of Dalits through overt and covert means, through methods of verbal, physical and psychological/mental crippling carried out by the larger society. I focus on the subjection of the Dalit body to the chhadi, the discipline, policing, control and regulation by teachers and parents. I will show how Dalits are made ‘visible’ in the precincts of educational institutions and face illtreatment that parallels their social disadvantage. Apart from Karl Marx, scholars like Michael Apple and Pierre Bourdieu have

Chhadi Lage Chham Chham, Vidya Yeyi Gham Gham already argued that social hierarchies are reproduced in educational institutions.3 In this paper, I argue that the matrix of social structures and cultural forces interacted with the system of education to constrain the thoughts and actions of Dalit girls. Despite these impediments, many Dalit girls successfully completed their education at various levels. I look at some of the hurdles they faced in the process. This paper is divided into two sections and the first deals with the details of the methodology that I adopted in conducting my research. This is followed by the second section in which I deal with the actual deployment of the chhadi by teachers and Dalit parents. Entering the Ethnographic Archive/ Breathing in the Dust from the Field Fieldwork was carried out during the years 2000-2002, from May 2004 to November 2004, and from June 2005 to November 2005 in the cities of Pune, Mumbai and Nagpur (Maharashtra, western India).4 Respondents were Dalit women from varied age groups, sometimes three generations of women in the same family, with different levels of education. I selected the city of Pune as it is historically a Brahmanical seat of power and also home to the pioneering movement in the education of the lower castes since the mid19th century. Nagpur was selected, as it has a long history in the Dalit movement, and Mumbai due to its cosmopolitan climate. My residence in the cities of Pune and Mumbai for much of my life has immensely helped my research. I selected my informants on the basis of my contacts with the Dalit community—I had known some informants since my childhood in Yerawada (Pune). I had seen these women fill water from municipal taps, argue among themselves, hide behind their mothers’ padar (veli), walk/run to the stinking


public toilets, sit outside their houses and rub in the dark/brown roasted tobacco powder or Colgate/Promise tooth powder on their teeth. I had watched them walk to school, play hide-and-seek/badminton/lingorcha (a game of hitting a pile of flat tiles and running) in the narrow lanes, and also walk to their jobs with bags dangling from their shoulders. I remember Lalita Randhir, a disabled girl, limping to her office with her head down. I was in complete awe of her. Reflecting on these reminiscences, I deployed the sociological method of ‘snowball sampling’ that sociologist Sachidananda has referred to as ‘the web technique’ (1977:12). I got information from the first few informants in my locality and then from my contacts: social workers, lecturers, teachers, relatives in Pune, and so on. This first batch led me to other Dalit women. After enlisting my informants, I conducted in-depth qualitative interviews as required, in one, two and three interview sessions. I was looking for particularities and specificities, not abstractions. My methodology combined a formal interview schedule to elicit biographical details with a number of informal meetings and participant observation. I began with personal factual and biographical information and gradually prepared the respondent for a deeper involvement in the interview. Since some of them knew me as a school-going girl, we often started with our memories of Yerawada and our familial ties. I encouraged informants to speak at length without any interruptions. My initial literature review revealed that there was little qualitative or ethnographic work among Dalit women in Maharashtra. It was a challenging task to study the ‘everyday’ lives of Dalit women, given the lack of an ‘official’ and ‘non-official’ archive. Further, most Dalit women I listed for my interviews did not possess written histories/accounts of


Gender and Education in India

their past nor had they written their autobiographies. Hence, I embarked on documenting data from oral sources, a necessary condition for creating a history of the non-hegemonic, Dalit categories. Such sources are less necessary for the history of the ruling classes who have had control over writing and leave behind abundant written records.5 In order to write richer and multilayered accounts that include official and nonofficial history,6 we have to seriously engage with oral testimonies and with the Dalits’ own understanding of their past. Dalit histories cannot be captured in archives and we need to develop a view of the critical past through the ‘eyes of the present’. To capture the lifeblood and heartbeat of Dalit women, oral histories are needed to supplement conceptual knowledge (Bhave 1988: xii). I agree with Sumitra Bhave that ‘concepts alone cannot evoke real-life experiences. Equally essential are the real-life experiences of women to be listened to, felt, recorded, considered and understood. Logical structures of knowledge come from these lived experiences and are rooted in them’ (ibid). Such a methodology was crucial: to listen and to understand the experiences of women who were silenced by their caste experiences is to allow one to ask different and difficult questions of history. The collection of life stories provided a way of putting on record the experiences of relatively powerless Dalit women whose ways of knowing and ways of seeing the world have rarely been acknowledged (see Bhave 1988; Karlekar 1982), let alone celebrated. Telling and listening to such stories also created vital links among us participants, providing a powerful and practical instrument of conscientisation.7 Personal narratives of Dalit women offer them a place from which to reflect upon past Dalit experience, to scrutinise Dalit stories which carry agency, meaning and information

about the social and psychological positions Dalits inhabit. And it is also significant to follow up what becomes of these stories. The current popularity of autobiography and narratives in feminist research is a measure of the significance now attached to experience, reflection and psychoanalytic understanding as a counter balance to the kind of public and external evidence which is available in studies in political economy and from historical and structural analysis. Carolyn Steedman exemplified the theoretical genre perfectly, when insisting that, ‘once a story is told, it ceases to be a story; it becomes a piece of history, an interpretative device’ (1986: 143). The Interviews There is a widespread belief among Dalits and non-Dalits alike that the power of caste is diluted in the cities. Surekha Punekar asked me, ‘why are you asking me that [emphasis mine], where do we find casteism these days?’ Indeed, in the Dalit imagination, there is a powerful conception of the city as being caste free, liberating and democratic. It is true that in day-to-day life, discrimination is not practised in such obvious ways in the cities as it is in the villages. At the same time, this could lead to a self-willed blindness to the discrimination that is suffered by many urban Dalits. Surekhatai questioned me again, ‘Don’t you think that you are exacerbating caste differences and causing greater harm by investigating different castes (among Dalits)? You should be working towards diluting such divisions, and such works on caste are in effect ominous.’ At such times, I felt that I was committing violence against informants by inquiring into their caste backgrounds. While some Dalits were vocal about their experiences, some women refused to grant me an interview when they discovered the nature of my research. They did not wish to talk about any such ‘thing’ in their life. What were the

Chhadi Lage Chham Chham, Vidya Yeyi Gham Gham reasons for this ‘unspeakability’ about caste? Often, it was the symbolic or psychological violence that hurt more than physical violence, particularly in the modern urban environment. This ‘symbolic’ or ‘psychological’ violence has escaped the attention of many a scholar and remained largely unexplored. In certain respects, such violence has been more corrosive and harmful than physical violence, as it permeated deep into both the conscious and the subconscious, instilling a sense of insecurity and inferiority. Today, this social and cultural violence is experienced as being more dehumanising than economic exploitation (also see, Chakravarti 2003: 8, 17).8 How then does one write such a history? Some respondents were very angry with me because they thought that I was digging up dead bones and ventilating the stench of the past. A few were aggressive and enquired about my background and my intentions. ‘What do you want to achieve with this?’ they asked. ‘Are you working for some party or NGO’, they questioned. Some respondents did not even stop to think about or find out the nature of my research but began immediately to narrate their experiences of discrimination. Sometimes, the very mention of research on Dalits evoked bitter memories of discrimination. I had to guide such interviews in order to get to the actual content of my questions—educational practices and processes. Sometimes I was directed to the most articulate respondents. One respondent asked me to approach Mrs More, because ‘Mrs More has a lot of stories’. Dalit feminists like Kumud Pawde, Jyoti Lanjewar and Urmilatai Pawar were very eloquent and narrated their experiences analytically. They talked extensively about their lives and the interviews flowed uninterrupted. These Dalit feminists had been in the public gaze; they made speeches, had been published and were


well known for their social activities. However, I consciously made an effort to turn my gaze to other respondents who could not even speak about their experiences. I especially gave space to those who had never been spoken to, or who could not verbalise their experiences, who gave me monosyllabic yes/no answers and toiled from dawn to dusk. Theirs were the lost voices that I have attempted to uncover and ‘re-present’ here. Access to archival sources was also not easy, particularly private ones. One has to have appropriate personal/official contacts to access material at local college or school archives. As I did not always have such contacts, some archives had to be skipped. On one occasion, a college authority refused to hand over the college magazine, a very useful source for my research on Dalit education. He argued that he could not trust me with the information he provided and that he did not want it to be misused. This sort of thing had happened in the past. Only after I haggled with him for half an hour, and convinced him of the nature and purpose of my investigation did I gain access to that particular volume. Historians often encounter such hindrances. Most respondents were curious to know what would become of their stories. What was I going to give them in return? One has to deal with such queries in conducting oral interviews (see Karlekar 1982). At one point, I felt that I should stop my research as I may be doing great harm. Also, I did not have answers to some pertinent ethical questions. But finally, I reasoned that this exercise was a safety valve for the venom that was building up inside these Dalit bodies. As a Dalit woman, I questioned myself about the aims and objectives of my project. I reminded myself that this was an exercise to write Dalit women into history, to narrativise the ignored, contemptible, ‘slave of the slaves’.9 I assured my informants that I was using


Gender and Education in India

their stories towards making some policy changes, be it in the matter of education, women’s empowerment or government strictures on tamasha dancers.10 I also told them that I would publish their stories, turn them into pamphlets (easy for circulation), to engage public attention. Great sensitivity was also required when raising difficult emotional memories. Women cried bitterly when they remembered their grandparents and parents, their siblings, poverty, insecurity, want and vulnerability. I had to stop the interview at such moments. Initially, I did not know how to handle such emotional outbursts; only through months of fieldwork did I learn to deal with such predicaments. I want to clarify my use of the Marathi word tai, or older sister. My experiential knowledge, supplemented by experiences in fieldwork, supported the increasing usage of the word tai. It is easier to call someone tai, rather than address somebody older by her name, which would be regarded as disrespectful. The word tai helped me gain an easy rapport with informants. I also realised that irrespective of caste and class, most women who engaged in social activities addressed each other or older women as tai. This practice finds its parallel in other parts of the country, for instance in the south of India, older women are addressed as akka and elsewhere as didi. Sometimes, the term is used as a respectable form of address even for younger women. For example, the tamasha dancer informants addressed me as tai, although I was their daughter’s age. (Incidentally, it is a recent phenomenon in India—mostly due to the proliferation of women’s studies departments—that students and younger scholars can call some of their respected teachers by their first name.) It is often a difficult task to conduct research when the researcher is both an ‘insider’ and an ‘outsider’ (see M.N. Srinivas’

classic exposition of this position). I underscore what Srinivas has to say in this regard: The very depth of the involvement of the insider in his [and her] society is likely to invest his [or her] work with a relevance and urgency which the outsider’s work is not likely to possess ... The insider’s view ought to give him (and her) a great insight into their behaviour. (Srinivas 2002: 560).

Belonging to the same community brought me very close to the informants. I knew some of the stories floating about in the community, as I had read Dalit literature, heard my parents and relatives talk about atrocities, about want and insecurity, about ‘passing’, and had heard them deriding the upper castes and the ‘Baman’ (derogatory term for Brahmans), and so on. At the same time, I was an outsider, an academic studying my own community. I often had to delicately balance these two roles. Scholars may argue for/against one of the approaches; however, I certainly benefited from being in both roles. As an insider, I wrote about nuances which may escape the attention of scholars and as an outsider, I was armed with the necessary scholarship to study the community. This exercise helped me understand myself and my role better, and get back to my community to establish my relationships. The question of ‘representation’ has been widely discussed and I do not wish to enter into it here. I also do not want to essentialise and say that only ‘a Dalit can write a Dalit history’, or can understand Dalit pain and suffering. Some middle-class, upper-caste fieldworkers/investigators/interlocutors/ even translators often enter the field, attempting to understand, study and present the worldview of another, and an abstract one at that. They try to adopt a framework ‘which must be applicable to both their structuring of society and to others. This also implies a sharing of beliefs and the ability to penetrate

Chhadi Lage Chham Chham, Vidya Yeyi Gham Gham beneath the skin of respondents in Srinivas’s sense of the term’ (Karlekar 1982: 18). Such investigators also agree that without empathy, fieldwork will be nothing more than a series of statistics backed up by the subjective generalisations of the investigator. I applaud the work of researchers who struggled with their initial inhibitions and a different milieu. However, I emphasise that unlike the middle-class upper-caste experience of studying marginalised groups, my fieldwork was an attempt to establish strong links with my own community, to understand women’s worlds and experiences as one of them, a Dalit woman. Instead of acquiring knowledge in the field, I was sharing my life with them as one who had faced a similar set of problems. We talked and tried to understand the meaning of our experiences of discrimination in villages and schools as well as the attitude of the upper castes, middleclass Dalits, Dalit men, and so on. My fieldwork was my life itself, the experiences of growing up as a Dalit in Pune, and it strengthened my Dalithood. Through this research, I have gradually learnt to stand up for myself; it has enhanced my self-esteem and self-respect. It has helped me reinvent my selfhood and look critically at my personhood and at my community. What Dalits need is not sympathy or emotional favours, but dignity and honour which has been missing from the entire discourse. As I went along, I found differences in tone and speech though we spoke the same language—Marathi. I could easily identify these differences. I have retained the original language as it was used by lower-class or middle-class Dalits. Most of the time, my informants used the collective terms aaplyat (in our community), aapan (we), aapla samaj (our community), thus, talking to me as one of them. Being a Dalit woman certainly helped me easily ‘intrude’ into their private lives and engage with them


fully. It also required me to seriously take into account the question of experience through which the deconstruction and reconstruction of history can take place so as to develop critical knowledge and a critique of knowledge itself.11 My first interviewee was my grandmother who asked me why I was questioning her. Why was I speaking about caste to her? Why did I want to know about her degraded life in the past? She did not want to remember how she carried carrion on her head, holding the ghamila (an oval pot) with one hand, constantly waving her other hand to shield the meat from eagles and flies. However, after some persuasion, she reflected on her life in the village of Takali (taluka Kopargaon, Ahmednagar district). I argue that to some extent the Dalit experiences of pain, their suppression and oppression, their ideologies of protest and liberation constitute new knowledge that can lead to a Dalit epistemology, and potentially a Dalit pedagogy. Such efforts are necessary in pedagogical practices, in order to transform educational institutions radically (see also Rege 2006: 6). Let me now turn to the second section of the paper— teachers and parents who operated the chhadi. Wielders of the Chhadi—Teachers and Parents Most of the women I interviewed were firstgeneration learners, the first from the Dalit community to enter schools. In the past, education was out of bounds for most Dalits. Meena Mahajan’s mother12 had never been to school, but she remembered her brother sitting in the corridor outside while the teacher taught inside the classroom: The Brahman sat in front, then the Maratha, finally the Chambhar, Mahar and the Mang in the dust, at the doors of the school. Outside [...]. ‘Kai aaiku yenar o yevhadya lamba, tumich sanga kasa shikaicha ann kay shikaicha?, mulinna


Gender and Education in India tar baher jayala manai, ghar kaam phakta! [How and what could a student hear from so far? You tell me how to study and what to study? Moreover, girls were not allowed to go outside, they were to work at home].

Meena’s mother confirmed the prevalence of the ‘feminised’ ‘private’ domain by the norms of which Dalit girls were not allowed to be educated. She also explained ‘caste rows’— rows in the classroom along caste divisions in rank order. Most Dalits talked about this and I also read about this segregation in the autobiographies available. Students were strictly categorised on caste lines, said Meena’s mother. Caste determined capability and rank: the highest caste would be the first benchers who were the most ‘intelligent’, thus mirroring the social hierarchy, and the lowest castes, the pests, the vermin, seated at the back of the classroom, or even outside it were the least intelligent. Thus, schools and classrooms (within/without), were arranged in order to regulate the social divisions so that there could be no ‘infiltration’ on an individual or collective scale. If and when Dalit bodies were made ‘visible’, the upper-caste pupils perhaps felt more privileged, and denigrated Dalit students. In these circumstances, how could Dalit girls find emancipation through education? For the majority of the population, Dalit and non-Dalit, the teacher was likened to God, who would impart knowledge in order to ‘open’ their eyes. Thus, the operation of power leads to the reproduction of conditions of inequality, where the upper-caste Brahman teacher is bhudeva or God on earth, and the lower caste, an ‘untouchable’. In any case, no Dalit or non-Dalit student would question the teacher. Attitude and Quality of Teachers The Dalit community’s/girls’ earlier

imaginings, curiosities, bewilderments and questions about the nature of education were satisfied when they gradually won the right to attend school. It was a new experience for them to mix with children of other castes and be taught by a high-caste teacher—who was often a Brahman. In interviews, women talked about their schooling as often a very troublesome process, in which discrimination took multiple forms. I myself observed that some teachers enjoyed their position and power and did everything possible to maintain their exalted position. They refused to befriend the students and made every effort to present the image of a strict disciplinarian. They thought that, like the elders in a family, it was important to be aloof to command respect. Those who gathered enough courage to ask a question were reprimanded ferociously, being shouted at and insulted. The very demeanour of some Brahman and upper-caste teachers silenced the pupils. Although this is a common experience for both boys and girls in many Indian schools, Dalit girls suffered more, because they had to fight both caste and gender oppression. In interviews, the Dalit women showed that they were keenly aware of the ways in which such relationships of power operated. One common complaint was that the teachers were not particularly good at their jobs, forcing pupils to learn lessons by rote rather than by trying to help them understand a topic. Indeed, they wondered whether the teachers themselves grasped what they were teaching. Snehlata13 said: I disliked geometry. It was in class eight when we dealt with some geometric theorems. The teachers just copied them from the books to the board, one after the other and told us to copy [...]. Nobody asked how the teacher derived the proof. The teachers did not explain it ... Nobody dared ask questions. However, I asked

Chhadi Lage Chham Chham, Vidya Yeyi Gham Gham once; but, with the response I got then, I never dared to ask anything after that. They did not reply properly and only insulted us. No one asked any queries and we just learnt everything by heart. We barely scraped through this subject most of the time.

The rigid learning machinery perpetuated disciplinary tendencies; Dalit girls were at a greater disadvantage and could not voice their opinions in the class at all. It would be blasphemy for a Dalit girl, the ‘slave of the slave’ to question the upper-caste teacher. Jyotsna14 who attended a municipal school reiterated Snehlata’s remark that her teacher did not teach properly. She further noted: Sometimes, if they were new, they were not able to teach properly. Some were least bothered about whether the class understood their lessons or not. Some of the college teachers were irresponsible. They sometimes did not complete the prescribed syllabus. They also did not know much or could not explain well. So, we had to join [other] classes.

These memories underscored the Gramscian and Freirean concept of ‘banking education’.15 Instead of stimulating the intellect of students, specifically Dalit students who were new to knowledge and education, teachers merely conserved and poured data into the ‘student container’, so that the student would reproduce it at a particular opportunity. Thus, the teacher-pupil relationship was rarely critical, dialogic and reciprocal—the teacher remained the teacher and the pupil the pupil, always. There was hardly any active participation in schools by Dalit girls. Why did Dalit girls not participate in classroom interactions? Were they academically inferior or did they lack the necessary encouragement and support? In her interview, Kumudtai Pawde16 laughed and remembered how her teachers compared the students to the boulders of the Narmada (river), and caned them frequently.


Such qualitative information is relevant to understand the humiliation that Dalit students face in school and to critically analyse the reason for rising drop-out rates of Dalits rather than just blame them for their non-attendance in schools or question their merit. Such children are very often persuaded by their upper-caste teachers and sometimes by their parents to believe in their lack of aptitude for education. Some teachers were prejudiced and placed children from ‘better’ homes from upper-caste and middle-class backgrounds at higher academic levels and Dalits at a lower level. Furthermore, even if Dalits were neatly dressed, there was no equal chance of their being treated well. Their neat and clean uniforms were not enough to erase their dirty background. In fact, donning clean clothes would be looked upon as Dalit arrogance by members of higher castes, even leading to verbal, physical and psychological abuse. Mrs Hirabai Kuchekar17 was reminded of a Brahman teacher while she was in Class VII: ‘He was really harsh. He asked me, “what are you going to do with education”?’ He further continued, “These people will never improve. You will never understand maths; it is not meant for you.”

On the other hand, some informants like Champabai Bhalerao,18 vociferously denied such discriminatory experiences and said that none of ‘that’ existed and they did not face any of ‘that’. Can we take this at face value? Or is it that they choose to forget the shameful memories? While I do not deny that some escaped caste discrimination, we can also interpret their silence as a refusal to remember their past, to relate to their ‘untouchable’ background. Some teachers identified Dalits before the class. One anonymous respondent said: I studied in a small English-medium school in


Gender and Education in India Pune. I distinctly remember the overt caste discrimination from class seven to ten. A clerk frequently visited the class and asked: ‘Will the SCs stand up? I have to check the list.’ The few SC students in the class stood up and the rest of the class looked at us. I felt like vanishing and burying myself somewhere when I saw him approach the class. I simply half-stood with my head hung, pretending to work on something in my books. I felt insulted, but I could not voice it. Why could I not voice it? The system had oppressed me so much that I felt that this was just a minor incident. I have to be prepared for more similar or worse experiences. Further, I asked myself ‘why did he have to come twice a year to do this marking? Why is it not sufficient that the official records had our names ...’?19

The school maintained separate registers for Dalit students; such records were required to identify Dalit students for grants, scholarships, concessions, reservations and routine checks. Dalits were marked through a periodic roll call, and the concessions given to Dalits were publicly announced, thus insulting them further. How could Dalit girls attend school under such humiliating circumstances? Schools could be more discreet instead of making Dalit pupils ‘visible’ in the class. Some predominantly upper-caste teachers were, as a rule, extremely ignorant about Dalit culture and nurtured many stereotypes. They had a negative image of Dalits in general, and low expectations of their Dalit pupils. In this way, the caste system indirectly constrained the educational opportunities of lower-caste children in India despite constitutional guarantees of equality. Some scholars have argued that teachers discriminate in such ways unconsciously (Khan 1993: 216), but my research shows that the teachers were often consciously discriminative. Bharati told me of how she was frequently scolded by her teacher for her ‘dirty’ uniform. She possessed only one uniform and could not wash it frequently for

fear that it would be worn out. The teacher made fun of her, and the school peons and other pupils taking the cue mocked her similarly: ‘They said that I was from a “dirty caste” and so should stay away from them. They hid my bag and stole my only pen. So I did not like to go to school.’ But this rare woman fought back and attended school, eventually gaining her Masters degree. She believed that only schooling could help her out of caste oppression.20 Some upper-caste teachers practised discrimination while grading pupils; moreover, they encouraged only upper-caste students. Monica Tapase 21 was troubled because despite fetching higher grades her teachers encouraged the ‘others’ (upper-caste students), not her. She said, ‘In my case, they never acknowledged that I was doing well. I did not like it, but still I studied to prove myself.’ These Dalit girls were rarely encouraged for the efforts they were making. They were ignored. Thus, these respondents needed to fight more than one battle to prove themselves in class. Very few aspired to do so, but Monica was one of them. It is clear that although Dalits are permitted to enter the education system, they are prevented in many cases from taking full advantage of it. Some teachers from a highcaste background are often anxious about the threat to their status posed by Dalit selfassertion, and so do all they can to perpetuate their superiority. All this raises questions about the very nature of citizenship for Dalits in independent India. Irrelevant School Curriculum and Imposition of an Alien Culture In an excellent article, Mohammad Talib represented the experience of working-class children in a school located in an urban village on the southern outskirts of New Delhi. He observed that the teachers always said, ‘[...]

Chhadi Lage Chham Chham, Vidya Yeyi Gham Gham this child was deficient in the ruchi (interest) necessary for aspiring to education of any kind’. One student said,‘my teachers have always told me so. They told me that my head does not contain brain but bhoosa [dry grass]. They said so because I do not understand the lessons in the class’ (Talib 1998: 201–03). Convinced of this, he dropped out. In this manner, some teachers discouraged students. Some Dalit students had difficulties in following the middle-class teachers and middle-class-oriented textbooks unlike the middle-class, upper-caste child. Did the school curriculum relate to Dalit society and culture? Scholars have argued that in most cases, the school curriculum selectively depicts the world of the dominant and strong, ignoring the marginalised. Scholars like Ramanamma and Bambawale (as cited in Karlekar 1983: 240), 22 Karlekar (1983), Talib (1998), Muralidharan (1997) and Nambissan (2000) argue that the curricula do not resonate with Dalits. They contend that there is a disjunction between the content of school textbooks and the culture and environment of lower-caste children. Talib observes that the life of the oppressed, such as the quarry workers’ children from the SCs, did not find expression in the life and thoughts of the privileged in society. He states: ‘The marginalised internalised and evolved complex cultural strategies to ignore and forget pedagogic knowledge presented to them at school— ”certified degrada”’ (Talib 1998: 201). Geetha Nambissan (2000) reports that SC– ST (Scheduled Caste-Scheduled Tribe) students found their language and culture different from the supposed standard or mainstream language and culture. Very often, the subject matter is totally irrelevant to the everyday existence of these children. Karlekar also notes that some teachers were often unsympathetic to the special needs of such children who have problems in following


lessons (1983: 216). 23 The practice of differentiation and discrimination against the SCs (and other subalterns) across a range of social institutions and practices, including curricula and distribution of knowledge, pervaded the system of education. Further research is essential into the role of the teacher and curricula which alienate Dalit children from the school system. Teachers who were primary agents in the process of superimposing a new culture believed that speaking and understanding the language of the upper castes and adopting their social manners were essential for the children’s general advancement.24 Historically, teaching has been dominated either by the Brahman or by other upper castes who discriminated against the lower castes. Initially, these were the teachers recruited by the government, and hence, we find more caste discrimination in government schools. The majority of teachers who were drawn from the upper castes inevitably imposed their ‘sanitised’ culture, ideas, dress code, language, food habits, and so on, onto the lower castes, thus, delegitimating their lives and culture. According to the Hindu shastras, as well as ‘common sense’, upper-caste privileges like reading the scriptures and engagement in education are considered superior to lowercaste skills like carpentry, blacksmithy, and so on. Upper-caste vegetarian food habits were considered superior to the lower-caste tradition of beef/meat eating. One should not forget that even if the upper castes ate beef, they were not polluted like the lower-caste Dalits. Dalit children were ‘disciplined’ to adopt higher-caste values; those who were unable to adapt to this essentially alien, uppercaste culture were treated as potential failures. Further, teachers rewarded the ‘good’ language, and ‘style’ of students from an upper-caste background who were considerably privileged.25 I have experienced


Gender and Education in India

and observed this since childhood, when my mother and some upper-caste acquaintances and teachers asked me to say the upper-caste ‘ho’ instead of my lower-class/caste ‘ha’ for ‘yes’. Dalit language and culture are different from the standard Marathi, and Dalits are constantly erasing the ‘ha’ vocabulary. Mr K.V. Sarawade reflected on his school experiences in his essay in which he remembered how a Brahman teacher thrashed him hard to make him pronounce the word vyombi— (fresh raw wheat from the fields) correctly. He says: I used to follow my cousin to school. I did not have clothes to attend school. My mother asked a pair from someone and I wore that. I had a feeling of inferiority when I went to school with the well-dressed students. I used to sit in a corner. I had a Brahman teacher. Whenever he was angry he used to call us, ‘dhedgya, mangatya’.26 If we did not wear caps, he used to yell ‘you haramkhor [bastard], are you Ambedkar’s heir? But that won’t work here.’ He used to use bad words and cane us thoroughly. He used to make other children laugh calling us names, ‘dhedraje’ [King of Dheds], ‘maangraje’ [King of Mangs]. All children laughed at us. We were tortured immensely when he used such caste names for us. He used to ask us to leave the class for want of a topi [cap]. He used to beat us up thoroughly and some Dalit boys left school due to this. (Sarawade 1996: 13)

Upper-caste teachers thus used their power to humiliate and make visible Dalit students in the classroom. They deployed a psychologically corrosive language, encouraged the making of Dalit ‘Pygmalions’27 and exercised power through corporal punishment (beatings). Urmila Pawar28 remembered how her teacher slapped her hard for refusing to clean the classroom. Urmila refused to attend school after this episode; however, after the intervention of her mother, she continued her education.

Many high-caste teachers did not consider low-caste pupils ‘worth teaching’. They were unconcerned with the progress of pupils who merely advanced from one grade to the next automatically year after year. Draupadi,29 Sandhya’s mother, talked of her experience in a government school: ‘We were just pushed from one class to the other. No grades/marks, dhaklat jaicho (we were just pushed from one class to the next), no standards.’ Most informants agreed that the municipal schoolteachers left pupils with something to scribble while they chatted among themselves. How did Dalits respond to such a chhadi of discriminatory systems? Some Dalit girls rebelled; some consented/submitted, while others escaped by ‘passing’ as upper-caste girls. Some Dalit girls hid their caste background. Meena Mahajan30 reflected: In school I told my friends I was a Maratha. I had a terrible complex. I thought that ‘they’ would not talk to me if I revealed my caste. Once when I was in class ten, one teacher loudly asked me ‘tu Hindu-Mahar na ga’? [you are a Hindu-Mahar right?].31 I felt so bad, I stood with my head down. I was the only one (Dalit) in that class.

Dalits could not afford the luxury of attending private schools which demanded higher fees. Nor did they have the time to travel to schools that were distant from their vastis.32 Inequality and teachers’ incompetence were the lot of Dalit children who attended ‘poor’ government schools characterised by dilapidated buildings, lack of drinking water or toilet facilities and prone to pest infestations. Furthermore, the staff suffered from lethargy, apathy, absenteeism and no accountability. Some respondents said they were not given any information regarding facilities and scholarships. Dalit girls suffered more because such municipal schools closer to home were their only choice of school as parents did not allow them to travel long distances.

Chhadi Lage Chham Chham, Vidya Yeyi Gham Gham Thus, the chhadi operated in numerous forms, discouraging Dalit students from seeking an education or staying on in school. Apart from teachers, upper-caste classmates too discriminated against Dalit girls. Sadhana Kharat 33—now herself a teacher—stated, ‘Upper-caste girls used to tuck their skirts in so that they would not touch mine when we sat on the benches. They had separate groups and stayed away [from us]. I never had friends from the upper castes.’ Thus, students congregated in caste groups. Dalit girls found it difficult to infiltrate other caste groups, and kept their own caste company. Although verbal abuse, discrimination, degradation and contempt were pervasive, there were exceptional teachers as well as students. Some teachers played an important role in the lives of Dalits. Ambedkar’s 34 Brahman teacher who gave Ambedkar his last name is one such example. Poonam Rokade,35 an engineer, praised her teacher: During my school days, my teacher did help me in Mathematics. He spent extra time to coach me and did not take any fees. He asked me to solve previous question papers and to get them reviewed by him. I followed his advice and succeeded.

A few teachers took keen interest in and counselled Dalit students on further opportunities. Sandhya Meshram36 attributed her interest in social work to her teacher who advised her to pursue a Masters in Social Welfare, advice that Sandhya was happy to follow. These respondents have different experiences of teachers at different levels of schooling. Occasionally, a few teachers were innovative and implemented pedagogic changes to interest and benefit their students — they asked them to teach in class or to help other backward students.


Indirect Costs of Education Sometimes, students were not allowed inside the classroom for want of certain accessories. Some of the first-generation and some of my second-generation informants dropped out of school for want of books, bags, and so on. Bharati was not allowed to sit for her school examination for want of ribbons for her two plaits. The school authorities wanted all the girl students to look smart with oiled and braided hair, decorated with ribbons. Can all Dalits afford oil and ribbons? Bharati’s mother tore a piece of cloth to make two ribbons for her. The teachers would not have treated an upper-caste girl this way. I agree with Karlekar (1983: 198) that free schooling (for the poor and lower castes) is only part of the picture.37 Dalits are not only untouchable, poor and badly treated but also burdened with the cost of books and stationery. The ‘Magic Wand’ of Education and Parental Policing of Dalit Girls Despite such adverse circumstances, some Dalit girls continued to educate themselves to the extent possible. Most of the informants believed that education was ‘good’ for them, and that they were privileged to get an education, however little. They believed that ‘education was a magic wand’ which would bring about their advancement. They believed in the human-capital approach to education: that is, ‘if they invested in education, they would be investing in techniques which would help them to better their life-chances’ (Karlekar 1983: 185). In the parents’ view, education is a valuable asset and, of course, part and parcel of the modernising process. Many Dalit parents were illiterate and lacking experience in school culture, so they were unable to provide much useful help to their children in their studies. Despite this, there was a general valorisation of education among Dalits, who


Gender and Education in India

saw it as a means for upward mobility. Many Dalit parents had imbibed the prevailing highcaste attitude towards learning, seeing it as something to be forced on reluctant children through strict discipline, including physical beating to make them memorise their lessons. They believed, like the high-caste teachers, that learning can be acquired through formulaic verbal repetition, reminiscent of the shlokas chanted by Brahmans. Alaka and Rani38 recalled how: My mother used to work outside. As soon as she came home in the evening, she would get ready to sit near the stove. She used to make us sit near the chul [a mud stove] beside her. Eka hatana bhakri thapayachi, ann dusaryana kalvan karayachi [She used to beat the bhakris, with one hand and stir the curry with the other hand]. She used to continuously ask us to read the lessons aloud. She said that the louder we read the lessons, the better we would memorise and hence we had to read aloud. She also beat us occasionally to make us study.

Dalit parents were happy if their children could read like upper- caste children. Most of the time, it was the mother who had to shoulder the responsibility, in the absence of the father, of overseeing the children’s homework but getting to school was hard. Village children had to walk miles, sometimes crossing oscillating river bridges to get to school. These experiences have been vividly described in the Marathi Dalit literature. The stories depict children enjoying their walk to schools, running on roads/pathways, playing pranks, stealing mangoes, guavas and berries on their way to school. This was more fun than school. In rural areas, children seem to accept quite long walks to school and regard it as normal. Even now, in remote parts of India where there are few or no modes of transportation, this is the case. Since village schools do not teach beyond class four, or at times, class seven, children

have to go to the town to attend higher classes. Many girls were discouraged from travelling such long physical distances for reasons of ‘safety’, and lack of transportation. The parental chhadi expected girls to be saat chya aat gharaat (literally be home before dark/7 pm). Further, the absence of women teachers results in parental reluctance to send girls to school. Parents who sent their sons to prestigious schools which demanded higher fees rarely sent their daughters there. It was thought that money spent on a girl’s education was a waste because she would leave them for her in-laws’ house, whereas sons were ‘vaunshacha diva’, the ‘light of the lineage/family’, who would support parents in their old age. I observed that in most cases, the eldest daughter in the family was raised to assume the role of a mother so that she could stand in whenever the mother was away from home. Eldest daughters tended to suffer particularly badly in regard to access to education. Some Dalit parents sought to impose a particular ‘middle-class’ notion of female domesticity on their daughters, prioritising gruhini (lady-like) ideals over education. They focused on training their daughters to do housework—cleaning utensils, washing clothes, rolling ‘round’ chapattis, learning arts and crafts, decorating the home and adopting a respectable demeanour towards their future husbands. Alakatai, laughing sarcastically, recalled her mother, ‘She wanted us to be capable on all fronts. She asked me to first engage with housework and study later.’ Many Dalit parents insisted on ‘domesticating’ their daughters; impeccable housework was the primary qualification to turn them into respectable women. Many respondents were considered unsuited to education, and were given minimal encouragement to study. If they then failed, rather predictably, at school, they were heaped with insults and abuses. Relatives

Chhadi Lage Chham Chham, Vidya Yeyi Gham Gham would join the parents in blaming the victim and in calling the girl a dullard. They said that being a girl, her brains would not work properly and that she was not fit for further studies. Faced with such pressures, many girls lost their interest in education, and once again, the chhadi reigned supreme. Some Dalit parents held a very low opinion of their daughter’s calibre and aspirations. Poonam Rokade’s father did not want to spend money on giving her a sciencebased education and told her that she should take up Arts or Commerce, which would cost him less money. He also thought that the disciplines of science and engineering were for men and were no good for girls. ‘What were girls going to do with science and engineering?’ he asked. In this particular and exceptional case, Poonam’s mother supported her decision to take up the subject of her choice. Alaka’s 39 father considered that the arts, drawing, painting and crafts were best suited for girls. Teachers also often believed girls to be less capable than boys in subjects such as mathematics; consequently, they failed to use teaching techniques that might have improved the achievement of girls in particular subjects. Girls thus tend to be channelled into domestic science, handicrafts and biology, while boys are directed towards chemistry, mathematics and vocational subjects. As is well known, separation of spheres in education and activity is a universal phenomenon. On the other hand, some Dalit parents wanted their children to reach great heights unknown to the community in the past. Manini, Malavika40 and their brother were under constant pressure to perform better. All three were coerced against their wishes by their parents, who wanted their children to be doctors, towards the science stream. When I asked their mother about this, she said: There was no doctor or any other professional


of that high rank in my house. Most of them were in clerical services or were teachers. Both of us, my husband and I, were earning and we thought that we could afford the education of our children. We wanted our children to avail of this opportunity and do their best. We had no facilities or choices, but we could bestow them upon our children. In those times, we could think of making them doctors or engineers and so we pushed them towards that. However, we did not take into consideration the children’s choices. Also we did not think about their non-English background and how they would have to fight the English world. Those were different times, we acted in a craze.

The two sisters were critical of their parents even after 14 and 16 years. In families which believed in education, schooling was compulsory for girls as well. Urmilatai did not like school but attended it because she was afraid of her father. Kamaltai41 said, ‘my father saw to it that I was never at home, never missed school’. Conclusion Caste and the education system have worked ruthlessly to discourage Dalit entrants but Dalits have set great store by education. This in itself provided a counterweight to the discrimination practiced in schools, and by sheer hard work and perseverance, significant numbers of Dalits were able to obtain educational qualifications that opened up new jobs and worlds. Dalit girls faced double discrimination; 20 to 30 years ago as we have seen, they were often not encouraged by their parents to excel in their studies. This raises questions about practices of patriarchy among the Dalits themselves. There were of course exceptions. Change will not come through movements for Dalit assertion—as is the case in the battle with the higher castes—but through the assertion of Dalit women against the men of their own community.


Gender and Education in India

Notes 1. This paper is based on my dissertation which focuses on Dalit women’s experiences of formal education in post-colonial Pune (western India). 2. I use the terms ‘girls’ and ‘women’ interchangeably. Most of the informants interviewed were married women; responding to my questions they were transported into their past, their childhood (as girls) when they boarded the school bus. 3. Marx, Antonio Gramsci (1971), Bourdieu and Passeron (1977), Giroux (1997), Apple (1995, 2004) and many others talk about this crystallisation of hierarchies in the education system. 4. I conducted 180 interviews with some predominant SC communities in the city of Pune. These were women from Mahar, Mang, Chambhar, Valmiki, Khatik and Dhor castes. (Presently, I do not want to enter into the difference among these castes.) I interviewed three generations of women mostly belonging to the same family. From this sample, I have selected only a few interviews for the purposes of this paper. Of this larger sample, the majority were above 26 years of age, three were below 20 years, while 15 were between 20 and 25 years. Most of the first-generation respondents were illiterate and had never been to school. Most of the second and almost everybody from the third generation were literate and had attended school. Their minimum education was class seven; though 60 per cent of them had entered college, only five went to the university. Therefore, the respondents had completed different levels of education. Most of the women I interviewed were employed and some were self-employed. Hence, I had to schedule interviews according to their availability and convenience. I have maintained anonymity for some of the respondents who did not want to be identified or changed their names. 5. I am drawing on the works of Alessandro Portelli (1990, 1997) and Massey (1994: 4–6). 6. I am drawing upon some excellent exercises in oral history. Some of these are Atkinson


8. 9.




(1998), Bhave (1988), Hardiman (1987, 1995, 1996), Lalita et al. (1989), Omvedt (1980), Thompson (1978: 88–90) and Thompson (2000). This refers to the concept of ‘critical consciousness’ (Freire 1970: 12) that implies learning to perceive social, political and economic contradictions and to take action against the oppressive elements of reality. For Phule, Marx, Gramsci, Ambedkar, Freire (1970, 1974) and others, this means the ‘awakening of the slave to the idea of his slavery and thus leading to a rebellion’ (Freire 1970: 12). I am also drawing on Thompson’s insightful work on working-class women’s education in England. See Thompson (2000) and Allman (1999). Chakravarti is also concerned with symbolic violence as being more corrosive. I am referring to Dalit women who are slaves to Dalit men, who in turn are slaves of the upper castes. Tamasha dancers are mostly Dalit women who perform the traditional folk dance form called tamasha. It includes singing, dancing, acting in skits, and story telling. As a lower g e n r e of art, it has become a vulgar dance form and tamasha dancers are considered loose and are stigmatised. However, the women dancers I interviewed were economically well off and proudly declared that they could feed a troupe of 150 artistes. Currently, tamasha is not merely public entertainment but incorporates social messages, touching upon contemporary issues and debates. Tamasha dancers are harassed by both the state and the local mafia, political as well as nonpolitical. These artists are demanding security and different kinds of concessions from the government. I am planning to write a paper on tamasha women in the near future. See Mohanty (1994). Also see Ilaiah (2002: xi– xii). Drawing upon feminist methods, Ilaiah emphasises that narratives of personal experiences are the best contexts in which to compare and contrast social forms. I do not have the name of this mother. I had just started talking to her but she had to leave in order to attend to her bhajichi gadi, her

Chhadi Lage Chham Chham, Vidya Yeyi Gham Gham









21. 22.


vegetable cart. She was a vegetable/golya (sweets)/biscuit vendor and had to get back to her cart, which was her source of livelihood. Mrs Snehlata Kasbe, a senior administrative officer, studied until B.A., interviewed on 15 June 2001, Pune. Jyotsna Rokade, a senior officer with the Sales Tax Office (Mumbai), a Commerce graduate, interviewed on 8 and 15 August, 2004, Yerawada, Pune. Paulo Freire (1970) refers to ‘banking education’ meaning that education has become a one-way process in which instructions and teaching are from the teacher to the student. It is never the other way around. Antonio Gramsci (1971) also calls for a two-way process of education between the educator and the student for a healthy give and take of knowledge. Unfortunately, this is rarely practised even at the higher echelons of education. Professor Kumud Pawde, a Dalit feminist writer, interviewed on 16 October 2005, Dhantoli, Nagpur. Mrs. Hirabai Kuchekar, Class XII, Diploma in Education, interviewed on 8 January 2002, Sinhagad-Road, Pune. Champabai Bhalerao studied until Class VII. She was interviewed on 20 May 2000 at Yerawada, Pune. Bama refers to similar discrimination in schools in her autobiography, Karukku. See Bama (2000). Bharati Kale, Masters in Marathi literature, interviewed on 18 June 2002, University of Pune, Pune. Monica Tapase, Masters in Social Work, interviewed on 13 February 2000, Pune. In the mid-1970s, Ramanamma and Bambawale found that while an urban child in Class 1 comprehended on an average 96 per cent of the curriculum, the SC/ST or rural child comprehended only about 60 per cent. As children progressed up the school ladder, this lack of comprehension heightened (cited in Karlekar 1983: 240). Apple (1995), Steedman (1986), Torrey (1973),








31. 32. 33.



Willis (1977) underline this misfit between middle-class teachers and lower-class children. I am drawing upon a study by Jane Torrey about a Harlem ghetto that argues that teachers were systematically imposing white values, culture and language on black children. Such studies helped understand a parallel process in education on Indian soil, where teachers imposed Brahmanical norms. See Torrey (1973). My experience, observation and argument are analogous to Pierre Bourdieu’s in his most insightful ethnographic observations about French schooling showing how French school teachers reward good language style, especially in essay and oral examinations, a practice that tends to favour those students with considerable cultural capital who in general are from privileged family origins (Bourdieu 1999: 48–81). See also Swartz (1997: 75–78). Derogatory/contemptuous words for untouchable castes like Mhardey for Mahars, Dhedgya for Dheds, Mangtya for Matangs and so on. I am principally drawing on Rosenthal and Jacobson’s excellent work which is very provocatively titled, Pygmalion in the School (1993) and which dwells on teachers’ attitudes that make or mar students. Urmila Pawar, Masters in Marathi literature, interviewed on 5–7 September 2004, Borivili, Mumbai. Draupadi Nagare, Sandhya Meshram’s mother, Class 7, interviewed on 11 September 2004, Ramtekdi, Pune. Meena Mahajan, studied until Class XII, interviewed on 29 April 2002. Her mother was present during the interview. Mahar is a dominant SC community in the state of Maharashtra. Here, I am using vasti to mean ghetto/slum. Sadhana Kharat, Diploma in Education, interviewed on 11 April 2002, Bibwewadi, Pune. I am referring to the great leader Dr B.R. Ambedkar who is considered a ‘messiah’ by


Gender and Education in India

Dalits. 35. Poonam Rokade, Bachelor in Engineering, interviewed on 15 August 2004, Mundhwa, Pune. 36. Sandhya Meshram, Masters in Social Work, interviewed on 11 September 2004, Ramtekdi, Pune. 37. The Education Commission observed that ‘in fact, the greater financial burden is not so much tuition fees as these other [books, stationery] costs’ (cited by Karlekar 1983: 198). 38. These two are sisters. Alaka Kamble, B.Com., and Rani Kamble, Class 12, Tadiwala Road, interviewed on 30 October 2001, Pune. Indian Journal of Gender Studies, 16:2 (2009): 175-204 39. Alaka Kale, Buddhist, M.A., Lecturer, Karve Road, Pune, interviewed on 1 July 2002. 40. Malavika Pawar, Masters in Education, and Manini Pawar, Bachelor of Science, interviewed 5–6 September 2004, Borivili, Mumbai 41. Kamal Jadhav, B.A., interviewed on 16 September 2001, Kasba Peth, Pune.

References Apple, Michael. 1995. Education and Power. New York: Routledge. —— 2004. Ideology and Curriculum. New York: Routledge. Allman, Paula. 1999. Revolutionary Social Transformation. Westport: Bergin and Garvey. Atkinson, Richard. 1998. The Life Story Interview. London: Sage Publications. Bama. 2000. Karukku (translated from Tamil by Lakshmi Holmstrom). New Delhi: Macmillan India Limited. Bhave, Sumitra. 1988. Pan on Fire: Eight Dalit Women Tell Their Story (translated by Gauri Deshpande). New Delhi: Indian Social Institute. Bourdieu, P. and J.C. Passeron. 1977. Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture. London: Sage Publications. Bourdieu, Pierre. 1999. The Weight of the World: Social Suffering in Contemporary Society. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Chakravarti, Uma. 2003. Gendering Caste. Calcutta:

Stree. Freire, Paulo. 1970. Pedagogy of the Oppressed (translated by Myra Bergman Ramos). Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. ———. 1974. Education for Critical Consciousness. London: Sheen and Ward. Giroux, Henry. 1997. Pedagogy and the Politics of Hope: Theory, Cultures and Schooling: A Critical Reader. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. Gramsci, Antonio. 1971. Selections from the Prison Notebooks (edited and translated by Quentin Hoare and G. Nowell Smith) London: Lawrence and Wishart. Hardiman, David. 1987. The Coming of the Devi: Adivasi Assertion in Western India. Delhi and New York: Oxford University Press. ———. 1995. ‘Community, Patriarchy, Honour: Raghu Bhangare’s Revolt’, The Journal of Peasant Studies, 23(1): 88–130. ———. 1996. Feeding the Baniya: Peasants and Usurers in Western India. Delhi and New York: Oxford University Press. Ilaiah, Kancha. 2002. Why I am Not a Hindu: A Sudra Critique of Hindutva Philosophy Culture and Political Economy. Calcutta: Samya. Karlekar, Malavika. 1982. Poverty and Women’s Work: A Study of Sweeper Women in Delhi. New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House Pvt Ltd. ———. 1983. ‘Education and Inequality’, in A. Beteille (ed.), Equality and Inequality: Theory and Practice, pp. 182–242. Delhi: Oxford University Press. Khan, S.R. 1993. ‘South Asia’, in E. King and A. Hill (eds.), Women’s Education in Developing Countries: Barriers, Benefits and Policies, pp. 211–28. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. Lalita, K., Vasantha Kannabiran, Rama Melkote, M. Uma, Susie Tharu and Veena Shatrugha. 1989. We Were Making History. New Delhi: Kali for Women. Massey, James (ed.). 1994. ‘Indigenous People, Dalits, Dalit Issues in Today’s Theological Debate’, pp. 4–6. Delhi: Indian Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. Mohanty, Chandra T. 1994. ‘On Race and Voice: Challenges for Liberal Education in the 1990s’ in Henry Giroux and Peter McLaren (eds.),

Chhadi Lage Chham Chham, Vidya Yeyi Gham Gham Beyond Borders: Pedagogy and the Politics of Cultural Studies, pp. 147–66. New York and London: Routledge. Muralidharan, V. 1997. Education Priorities and Dalit Society. New Delhi: Kanishka Publishers. Nambissan, Geetha. 2000. ‘Dealing with Deprivation’, Seminar, 493, http:// , accessed 14 April 2004. Omvedt, Gail. 1980. We Will Smash this Prison: Indian Women in Struggle. London: Zed Press. Portelli, Alessandro. 1990. The Death of Luigi Trastulli and Other Stories: Form and Meaning in Oral History. Albany: State University of New York Press. ———. 1997. The Battle of Valle Giulia: Oral History and the Art of Dialogue. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. Ramanamma, A. and Usha Bambawale. 1978. ‘Sociological Implications of School Dropouts in Maharashtra’, Social Change, 8(2), as cited in Malavika Karlekar. 1983. ‘Education and Inequality’, in A. Beteille (ed.), Equality and Inequality: Theory and Practice, pp. 182– 242. Delhi: Oxford University Press. Rege, Sharmila. 2006. Writing Caste, Writing Gender: Narrating Dalit Women’s Testimonies. New Delhi: Zubaan. Rosenthal, R. and L. Jacobson. 1993. Pygmalion in the School. New York: Irvington Publishers Inc. Sachidananda. 1977. The Harijan Elite: A Study of Their Status, Networks, Mobility and Role in Social Transformation. Haryana: Thomson Press. Sarawade, K.V. 1996. ‘I, We, and Our Social Responsibility’, in V. Wagh (ed.), Sugava Ank: Deepavali Special Ank, pp. 13–15, November– December (translated by Shailaja Paik). Pune: Sugava. Srinivas, M.N. 2002. Collected Essays. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Steedman, Carolyn. 1986. Landscapes for a Good Woman: A Story of Two Lives. London: Virago. Swartz, David. 1997. Culture and Power: The Sociology of Pierre Bourdieu. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


Talib, Mohammed. 1998. ‘Educating the Oppressed: Observations from a School in a Working Class Settlement in Delhi’, in S. Shukla and R. Kaul (eds.), Education, Development and Underdevelopment, pp. 199–209. New Delhi: Sage Publications. Thompson, Jane. 2000. Women, Class and Education: Introduction, Among Many Others. London: Routledge. Indian Journal of Gender Studies, 16:2 (2009): 175–204 Thompson, Paul. 1978. The Voice of the Past: Oral History. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Torrey, Jane. 1973. ‘Illiteracy in the Ghetto’, in Nell Keddie (ed.), Tinker, Tailor… The Myth of Cultural Deprivation, pp. 67–74. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. Willis, Paul. 1977. Learning to Labour: How Workingclass Kids Get Working Class Jobs. Farnborough, England: Saxon House.

Interviews Mrs. Lalita Randhir, Masters in Commerce, a bank officer, interviewed on 13 January 2001. Mrs. Snehlata Kasbe, B.A., a senior administrative officer, interviewed on 15 June 2001. Mrs. Jyotsna Rokade, Commerce graduate, a senior officer with the Sales Tax Office, interviewed on 8 and 15 August 2004. Miss Bharati Kale, Masters in Marathi literature, a telephone operator, interviewed on 18 June 2002. Mrs. Champabai Bhalerao, housewife, Class 7, interviewed on 20 May 2002. Mrs. Sadhana Kharat, Diploma in Education, teacher, interviewed on 11 April 2002. Miss Monica Tapase, Student, Masters in Social Work, interviewed on 13 February 2000. Mrs. Meena Mahajan, housewife, Class 12, interviewed on 29 April 2002. Mrs. Poonam Rokade, engineer, Bachelor in Engineering, interviewed on 15 August 2004. Mrs. Sandhya Meshram, social worker, Masters in Social Work, interviewed on 11 September 2004. Malavika Pawar, researcher, Masters in Education and Manini Pawar, Bachelor of Science, interviewed from 5 to 6 September 2004.

15 Gender and Curriculum Dipta Bhog The National Curriculum Framework (NCF) introduced by the government on November 14, 2000 has raised considerable debate and controversy regarding the content of social science textbooks. More specifically, the NCF has been accused of adopting a communal and brahmanical view of history and of seriously undermining the historical method of inquiry through bureaucratic and political interference. While the primary focus has been on the question of history and the deletions that have been mandated by the NCERT, what has not been put under scrutiny is how the NCF jeopardies the government’s own commitment to providing gender-just education. Despite its reiterations regarding equality, fundamental rights and quality education for all, a closer reading of the document points to a move towards ensuring that women learn to play out their “traditional” social roles as good mothers, wives and daughters within the family and the nation. This article is divided into two sections. The first one looks at how the core thrust of the NCF might impact on the likely content of future education. It argues that the emphasis on Indian tradition and the collapsing of value education with religious education puts on hold the possibility of education emerging as an enabling tool for women’s empowerment. Comparing the NCF with 19th century debates in colonial India about women’s education

reveals that the new discourse is, in a substantial measure, no more than a restatement of old anxieties and equally antiquated solutions. As a counter point to these debates, the second section revisits, albeit briefly, the vision and policy framework of the New Education Policy of 1986 with regard to women’s education. More concretely, it will analyse the ‘trickle-down’ effect of progressive policy rhetoric on the actual writing of school textbooks, particularly those relating to language teaching. As the review points out, the decade following the 1986 policy refinements did not yield any significant positive yield in the manner in which gender was dealt with in the texts. The uptake of this analysis is clear: even as one must critique the NCF for its regressive views on women, there is no reason to believe that progressive rhetoric alone can change the entrenched gender stereotypes in school curricula. Unless the policy framework can deal with issues of actualisation of alternative images and representation for women, no real progress can be made. I Burden of Tradition As is well known, the 19th century saw the emergence of women’s education as a significant issue in colonial India. It witnessed the setting up of institutions of learning for women and girls by social reformers and the

Gender and Curriculum British government. Throughout the century, but particularly in the latter half, questions regarding the nature and content of women’s education became a subject of heated debate— within the broad parameters of a nationalist consciousness—between the so-called liberalprogressive elements on the one hand and conservative-revivalists on the other. Transcending the differences between the two camps were some common points of agreement. First, both sides concurred that the contemporary absence of education amongst women—regardless of what might have historically contributed to such a situation— was a sign of India’s lack of civilisation, an indicator of its low position in the evolutionary spiral that was history. The corollary was straightforward: If India had to catch up with the west in terms of its material achievements, then the nation’s women had to be urgently educated. At the same time this education could not be left to the alien colonial state or the missionaries. Because, if in the process of being educated, the native woman did no more than refashion herself in the image of her white, western counterpart, then it could create a new crisis of identity for native society or the incipient Indian nation. In formulaic terms, the debate is easily summed up: a resounding yes to women’s education but an equally emphatic no to unregulated, western education. The anxiety about the content of education was not just in terms of threat to native identity. It was also powered by fears of a modernist onslaught, based on the rationalisthumanist message of Enlightenment, on the existing social order, overturning hierarchies of power—relating to caste ethnicity or gender—and leading to a state of anomie. Not surprisingly, there was an increasing preoccupation with defining the kind of education that would be suitable for Indian women.


Thundered the Mahratta in its comment on the Female High School in Bombay in 1887: “Nothing can be gained by anglicising our girls or teaching them to ape the ways of men.” Schools must not create an “aversion to our domestic life.” It was ‘most reprehensible’ that lessons inculcating the “high principles of ancient Aryan religious morality” were conspicuously absent from the girls’ curriculum” and so was “advice to young women with regard to chaste wifely conduct.”1 The seemingly ‘reactionary’ tone of the Mahratta was not exceptional. The most celebrated ‘progressive’ face of Indian nationalism in the late 19th century, Dadabhai Naoroji, voiced the same anxieties in a more sophisticated garb. “The time will come when natives generally will see the benefit of female education as a great social necessity to rise in civilisation and to advance social happiness and progress; and will understand that women had as much right to exercise and enjoy all the rights, privileges, and duties of this world as men, each working towards the common good in her or his respective sphere. But that time has not come yet…Good and educated mothers only will raise good and educated sons.” In 1916, K.B.V. Krishna Rao, a zamindar of Cocanada, wrote, “The education of girls requires to be improved in various directions to suit the conditions of the various classes of girls and make them well equipped so as to enable them to become good housewives and good mothers…it would not be wise to impart such kind of education as would implant in them tastes which they would have no opportunity of gratifying in their after life (sic).” The intent is unambiguous: women’s education was not so much an end as it was a means to an end—the betterment of the family and the nation. While Naoroji does mention


Gender and Education in India

that women have the right to enjoy all the rights available to men, there is no mistaking the familiar note of women raising sons for the nation. Nor can one ignore the fear about “anglicised” Indian women discarding their own culture and tradition and moving towards acquiring ‘tastes’ that Indian men will be unable to fulfil. Intrinsic to this creation of a new nationalist patriarchy, was the intellectual labour which went into distinguishing oriental from Western women. As Ram Mohan Roy had put it nearly half a century earlier: Hindu women were “infinitely more self-sacrificing than men”, and their “exemplifying wifely devotion and spiritual strength” was their distinguishing feature as oriental women. The NCF harks back to the 19th century. Its overarching concern too is to locate the curriculum within a self-evident and unproblematised Indian tradition. In an embarrassingly faithful echo of the earlier debate, the refrain of “Indianising” the curriculum so as to maintain the best qualities of Indian womanhood and prevent anglicisation in the face of technological modernity—runs through the framework document. Predictably, there is a deep anxiety about contemporary Indian society distancing itself from its ‘religio-philosophical ethos’. However a sizeable segment of the contemporary Indian society, seem to have distanced itself from their religio-philosophical ethos, the awareness of the social design and the understanding of the heritage of the past. Influenced by the alien technological ethos, the parents and the educational institutions emphasise the acquisition of high grade technoinformative knowledge alone. However, the impact of Westernization has been limited to only the elite members of society, leaving the masses unaware of these developments. This has brought into sharp focus the rural-urban, the agrarian-industrial, the affluent-destitute

and the literate and the illiterate divides. In this way the structure of the authority of the Indian agrarian society has been disturbed. An individual in the formal work system could exercise authority over those who were otherwise his superiors in age and in societal structure. In the agrarian society, successive generations followed the occupation as well as the goal sets of the family or the caste at large (Context and Concerns, p. 3).

In other words, the trope of tradition is invoked to contain the potentially destabilising influence of education. The NCF desires to relocate education where it traditionally belonged—in maintaining and reproducing power relations within traditional caste society. It views contact with western civilisation as a source of undesirable social conflict and turmoil and singles out westernisation, defined simply as a challenge to established authority, whether at the level of family or community, as a grave danger. This forms the crux of the fear that pervades the NCF—bow to embrace the fruits of “an alien technological ethos” without abandoning the “high principles of ancient Aryan religious morally” as desired by the Mahratta. Needless to say, forgotten in this anxiety is the definition of education as a force for change or liberation. Nowhere in the document does the NCF envision education as a tool for empowerment or as a means to achieving social mobility or an egalitarian society. Interestingly the section on ‘Education of Girls’ comes under the broad heading of Education for Social Cohesion (rather than say change or progress) in the framework document. The dilemma presented is remarkably similar to the one emphasised by Naoroji’s statement on women’s education. And so is the form; it begins with a large and abstract statement of gender equality and then quickly reduces itself to emphasising gender specific roles.

Gender and Curriculum Equality among sexes is a fundamental right under the Constitution of India. Besides making education accessible to more and more girls especially rural girls, removing all genderdiscrimination and gender-bias in school curriculum is absolutely necessary. Moreover it will be most appropriate thing to recognise and nurture the best features of each gender in the best Indian tradition. After all, India gave her women the right to vote without any prolonged battle for it, unlike in the west. There is a need to develop and implement gender inclusive and gender sensitive curricular strategies to nurture a generation of girls and boys who are equally competent and are sensitive to one another, and grow up in a caring and sharing mode as equals and not as adversaries. (Context and Concerns p. 9)

Where it differs from Naoroji is in its acute awareness of the potential social conflict that education and notions of gender equality can engender. Hence, the conceptual positioning of education for girls under the rubric of social cohesion. And the idealised strategic roadmap which would ostensibly lead to women’s equality, beginning with massive negation of the relevance of agitation politics. Unlike the west where the demand for women’s rights has resulted in the breakdown of the family, women in India need not protest for their rights because, as in the case of the right to vote, they would be granted their legitimate dues in the natural course by the evergenerous Indian patriarchs. The NCF resonates with facile dichotomies between western civilisation and the Indian tradition, mistaking secular social trends as a marker of essential cultural difference. Witness, for instance, the following laments: “In contrast to the joint family and the extended family, the society is now witnessing the phenomenon of nuclear families, single parents, unmarried relationship and so on…” The irony is as pathetic as it is profound:


Even as the Indian state proclaims its progressive credentials by legislating against domestic violence and sex-selection technologies, it shuts the door on any critique of the family as an institution—something that the women’s movement in India has been fighting for long to legitimise. Religious Instruction as Value Education In collapsing the distinction between value education and religious education, the document raises new questions regarding the objectives of educating women and girls in our society. Value education and education about religions would not form a separate subject of study or examination at any stage. These would be so judiciously integrated with all the subjects of study in the scholastic areas and all the activities and the programmes in the coscholastic areas, that the objectives thereof would be directly and indirectly achieved in the classroom, at the school assembly places, playgrounds and other such places. (Chapter 2, p 35)

In a society where women have carried the exclusive historical burden of upholding tradition and religious identity, the NCF aims at accentuating the bias. It ignores the subordinate position that women occupy in different religions. Contrast this with the National Education Policy of 1986: “Education will neutralise the accumulated distortions of the past.” In actual fact, the NCF does worse than going back on the bland promise of its policy predecessor: it expands the agenda of reaffirming religious identities from the confines of the classroom to the very fabric of social interaction. What’s worse, it introduces a vague and ill-defined concept, that of spiritual quotient or SQ, as an indicator of educational achievement. Not surprisingly, the document remains unconcerned about how this new-


Gender and Education in India

fangled intellectual sophistry might be given practical shape. It remains silent on how SQ, even assuming it has a determinate, objective content, will be evaluated and by whom. Could it be that women would have to prove their selfless, sacrificing and devotional qualities in order to score high marks? Alternately, how will those who break with tradition be judged? II The NCF is without doubt a huge step backwards from the National Education Policy (1986). The latter saw education as, “an agent of basic change in the status of women.” “The National Education System”, it argued, “will play a positive, interventionist role in the empowerment of women.” But we need to assess the impact of its progressive policy rhetoric on the actual making of the textbooks. Did it really “neutralise the accumulated distortions of the past?” Did gender get portrayed in a manner that was significantly different from past representations of women and girls? The following is a brief look at the NCERT’s language textbooks for classes 3, 5 and 8, in the decade following the formulation of NEP. 2 The rationale for focusing on language textbooks is that language is a key issue in feminist pedagogical practice. It is a powerful site for the construction and communication of gender identities and for reinforcing power relations. Stories/narratives create meaning in all cultures. By ordering and describing our experiences, they enable us to make sense of the world. The power of language derives from its power to reify that which is constructed—precisely at the point where this construction is most questionable—into something that appears natural and selfevident. In one word, language serves to naturalise gendered inequalities.

In the preface to the language textbooks, it is claimed that the objective is to expand the horizons of the child, to increase her ability to think and to inculcate values within her. The values that are described in the preface are: determination, helping others, bravery, discipline, timeliness, the importance of hard work, social service and love for the nation. The preface suggests that the teacher tackle language teaching through methods that facilitate discussion and interaction in the class as a whole. By encouraging children to undertake role-plays, for instance, it is possible not just to elicit the active participation of the students but also to raise their confidence to communicate. However the content and the presentation of the lessons leave one with serious doubt as to whether the teacher would be able to achieve these aims, particularly with regard to the girls in her class. Consider the following statistics based on a review of 75 lessons from the textbooks mentioned earlier: — In as many as 34 lessons, that is nearly 50 per cent of the aggregate, men and boys were the only actors in the texts. There were no female characters in the narratives. — In 10 lessons, the presence of women was either mentioned in passing or confined to traditional roles – i.e., as mothers, sisters, etc. — No fewer than 23 lessons were in the category of information dissemination: didactic pieces on ‘the exploding population’, the virtues of healthy eating, and such like. In this category, were also lessons comprising ‘dohas’ (couplets) and other poetic forms which might be, prima facie, seen as having no gender bias. 4. About one in ten lessons—eight to be precise —sought to represent women and girls ‘in a different light’. Among

Gender and Curriculum them, there is one chapter on swimming which includes references to women who have achieved excellence in that sport. In another such lesson, a girl writes to a friend about her visit to the zoo. A third describes a sports day celebration which has girls as active participants. In addition, there are three others which make a genuine attempt to represent women in a different light but even these scanty offerings are not without their own problems. Of the three, two are biographic accounts of Rani Laxmibai and Madame Curie while the third is an account featuring discrimination experienced by a girl in the village. They Were Born Great Men!

For the purposes of critique, it is important to look at how men of honour and achievement are represented in these narratives. The texts in question comprise biographical profiles, childhood experiences, letters or anecdotes from the lives of great men. They cover, largely, ‘the usual suspects’—Mahatma Gandhi, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Rajendra Prasad Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar, Edison, Chandrashekhar Azad, Vikram Sarabhai, Veer Abhimanyu, Jagdish Chandra Bose, Baba Amte, Arjun. The narratives of their lives and achievements are very much in the public realm. No details are given of their family life or their homes. There is, in Baba Amte’s life history, a mention of the impact that his mother had on him but this is an aspect of the customary supporting role that women have to play in the lives of great men. Minor events in the lives of the men are imbued with great meaning—for example, in the case of Lal Bahadur Shastri, his stealing a rose from a garden and the consequent words


of admonition from the ‘Mali’ are supposed to change his life, motivating him to become a great leader of the future. Apart from the careless myth-making of it, there is something of interest in what the Mali actually tells the little Lal Bahadur. “You don’t have a father! Your behaviour ought to be unimpeachable. You should try and please everyone—just like this rose.” Not having the presence of a father in his life would no doubt have serious implications for the life of a boy. But does that mean that he has to please everyone? Only if the absence of a father is also understood as an absence of moral authority, not to mention the absence of a credible figure who might protect the boy against the temptations of the world. Equally, the boy is also expected, in time, to take over the role that his father has prematurely given up. In other words, to assume the mantle of responsible male leadership in the family. In the minutiae of men’s everyday lives— preferably the early years, since the presumption seems to be that you are either born great or achieve greatness first thing in the childhood—lie grand moments of revelation, of courage, strength, determination and struggle. That’s What Girls Are For! Contrast this seamless valorisation with the somewhat muted accounts of the two valiant women who are mentioned in the texts. Rani of Jhansi is no doubt a great rider and fighter but she is vulnerable too—prone to depression (at the death of her son and husband) and doubt (the Rani often finds refuge in prayer and withdrawal from the world). Even when she comes back to fight the British, she has to take recourse to spiritual fortifications—she is said to pray every morning—before commencing on worldly matters. No such doubts plague great men in their lives, they face all challenges with calm


Gender and Education in India

assurance and self-certainty. If it is not doubts that assail women, then there are other equally important ‘distractions’. In the case of Madame Curie, for instance—even as she busies herself in the laboratory, surrounded by chemical fluids, test tubes and complicated experimental equipment not to mention her scientisthusband—we are informed, “Maria used to do all the housework herself. She would clean the house, wash clothes, cook food and wash dishes. After two years of marriage, Maria gave birth to a girl child. This increased the work load on her but did not affect the quality of her work.” Fine words to describe the double burden of women! Apart from making a not-so-subtle case for how it is eminently possible for women, if they so choose, to both work at home and make a ‘contribution’ to the larger cause of humanity. Ultimately, however, these digressions into the domestic duties of eminent women has a different meaning and purpose. They are meant to be narrative devices which render these women ‘normal’ for the average reader. In other words, the idea is to ‘tame’ them, to contain the ‘dangers’ they pose to the existing order as different women. This provides a stark counterpoint to the lives of great men, where the emphasis is on larger-than-life mythmaking and deification, to render the subjects as distant and towering as possible. The achievements of Rani of Jhansi and Marie Curie need to be reined in, to be ‘normalised’ through their participation in cooking, washing, cleaning and praying. They are tamed into not being too out of this world, too different, too challenging. Madame Curie’s account is strikingly different to the biographies other male scientists like Vikram Sarabhai and Jagdish Chandra Bose. Here the men were not just clear about what they were doing or what they wanted to achieve—a momentous self-certainty which they share

with other great men—but they were also serenely free of any domestic clutter, not to mention any doubt or depression about their chosen vocations in life. The concluding line from the Rani Jhansi story is instructive: “By her sacrifice the Rani proved that if called upon [in the rather extraordinary circumstances no doubt], Indian Woman too could give the enemy a tough time.” Of Boys and Men

This raises questions about the role models that these texts place before the girl child. Her exclusion becomes all the more evident from the way young boys dominate other narratives. Boys are invariably shown as striving for the higher virtues of morality and character—of courage, hard work, grit and determination in the face of all odds (like being blind, parentless) and limitless intellectual inquiry. (But what is the meaning of learning for girls?) Equally, boys in all three textbooks exhibit greater mobility, travel to various places on their own and crucially, possess the ability to comment on and describe new experiences. Where women feature in these travels, they are shown to lack in understanding or knowledge. For example in the lesson ‘Tamil Nadu Ki Yatra’, Dinesh is visiting Chennai for the first time. His friend goes to pick him up from the station. Even before they leave the station Dinesh begins to tell his friend about the geographical details of the state. His friend’s wife, Maya, who has lived in Chennai all her life comments: “Bhai sahab, I am hearing these special facts about my state for the first time. How do you know so much?” We move on further in the travel and Dinesh’s wife is shocked at the amount of fish the fishermen have caught in their nets. She exclaims: “Chi! Chi! O god, how heartless! These fishermen are killing all these fish. What wrong have these fish done to these fishermen!

Gender and Curriculum ...These mean fishermen catch the fish (at night) while they are asleep.” On hearing her comment, says the narrator, “We all collapsed with laughter, holding our stomachs.” The question is: Who gets to tell the narrative and to whom? How are women positioned within these narratives in relation to others? Despite being a grown woman, Maya is not only lacking in information about a place where she has lived all her life, but her responses are typically naive and innocent— not to be taken seriously. Throughout the lesson the voice of the male narrator dominates to give us all the descriptions about what is worth knowing about Tamil Nadu. Women as They Are?

Women come in predominantly in their role as mothers—maternal love flows unquestioningly in her in the poem ‘Kadamb ka Pedh’. At other places, they inspire their sons to grow up in the service of the nation, much like the idealised women of the freedom struggle, the mothers of the nation’s current and future generations. But what constitutes the feminine and the masculine emerges most significantly through stories and poems. The feminine is what is close to nature, a matter of habit, while the masculine is cultural, a matter of struggle and accomplishment. For instance, birds are the embodiment of the feminine, when they sing their sweet song and dance with the fairies and buzz around flowers that dance in the garden: soft, tender and vulnerable. There is a story in the third standard language text—titled ‘For the Sparrow’—that spells out for little children the attributes of masculinity and femininity. His name was Balram. The name of his village, Pokhari. His work was farming. The difficulty was that he was not interested in farming. All his ancestral land was lying uncultivated. What


ought he to do. He did feel hungry every day. He would go to the forest and survive on the fruits. When fruits were not available he would collect dried pieces of wood and exchange them in the village for some bread. He would somehow fill his stomach. At times he would consider tilling his ancestral land but farming was not his forte. One day Balram was in the forest collecting firewood. Suddenly his hand came in contact with something very soft. He could hear a faint sound. Balram looked with interest and found a small sparrow there. Balram picked up the sparrow. She was weak and sick. He felt that the bird was saying something to him. He thought the bird must be thirsty and therefore he gave her a few drops of water. He gave her a fruit to eat. He kept the bird on his shoulder all day long. In the evening he went to his neighbour and in exchange for the wood he bought back some grain. Balram gave the grain to the bird and said, “Look dear bird, stay in my house. When you are better you can fly away.” The bird was happy in Balram’s house. Every day she would perch herself on his shoulder and go to the jungle. On the way she would sing him sweet songs. In the evening she would come back with him. Balram would take a lot of care of the sparrow. Now he would go every day to get wood and from selling this he would get food for himself and the sparrow every day. Both would chat with each other. Slowly Balram started to love the bird. He found a companion. As the bird recovered, the possibility of her leaving became real. Finally Balram started to work on his unproductive land. He worked very, very hard. The bird in all this kept flying around him. In some time the crop was standing in the field. When the crop ripened then the house was overflowing with grain. Balram showed this to the sparrow and said, “this is all for you. Now you need not go anywhere. Now you stay with me always.” On listening to Balram the sparrow started singing with joy! [emphasis added]


Gender and Education in India

Is this just a sweet, innocent story about a young boy and a bird becoming friends or does this communicate something else? The sparrow made an honourable and responsible man out of Balram, while he made sure that she gave up her instinct to fly (away) forever. All she needed was the security of the grain to insure that she had a reason to stay. Just like a lot of women in their ‘marriages’, with men the breadwinners. In another story involving a black deer being captured by a prince, his companion— the female deer—cries in front of the prince. The prince is so moved by the intensity of the female deer’s love for the male deer that he takes the decision to leave the deer. The dramatic strength of the story is parasitic on the supposedly natural love and affection (mamta) that is part of women’s nature. Clearly, the women’s entreaties to the prince are not in the nature of an achievement. It is in the female deer’s nature to cry for her mate. What counts as achievement is something that involves struggle, detachment from conflicting emotions, and finally, perseverance. To wit, the prince, subsuming his desire to catch the deer and proactively, taking the decision to free the deer, is the real hero. The female deer’s emotional outburst pales in contrast to the difficult moral decision that the prince is required to make. Both stories are indicative of how norms ascribed to men and women can be articulated through seemingly apolitical and innocent descriptions. Whether one is talking of nature or of human relationships with animals or simply about events that involve an interface between the two. Conclusion It is quite clear from the analysis of the

language texts that despite an explicit policy commitment from earlier governments to provide an empowering education for women and girls, the situation on the ground did not improve a great deal. Traditional meanings of the masculine and the feminine continued to persist along with the oppositional, dichotomous categories of active-passive, emotional-rational, nature-culture and dependent-autonomous. Clearly, gender-sensitive material at the primary and secondary levels require inputs from those who have struggled to bring women’s voices, narratives, experiences and worldviews into the academic mainstream. Without this knowledge-base, those charged with rewriting texts will restrict themselves to superficial tinkering: either by increasing the number of times girls are visually or verbally represented in the books or by facile rolereversals. The fact that those who have contributed to the creation of knowledge regarding women have had little to do with the writing of text books might be, in the end, an extremely important reason why we have not, despite a decade-and-a-half of rhetoric, moved beyond the stage of pious policy pronouncements. Indeed, why instead of moving ahead, we might be in the midst of a severe regression. Notes 1. Quoted in S. Bhattacharya’s ‘Introduction’ in S. Bhattacharya, J. Bara et al (eds.), Development of Women’s Education in India: 1850-1920. JNU, Kanishka Publication, 2001. The citations from Naoroji and Krishnarao that follow are also from the same source. 2. The text books in question are Bal Bharati-Part III, February 2000; Bal Bharati – Part V, 1994, Rpt 1999 and Saras Bharati-Part 20, 1998, Rpt 2001.

16 Education as Trutiya Ratna Towards Phule-Ambedkarite Feminist Pedagogical Practice Sharmila Rege

O learned pandits wind up the selfish prattle of your hollow wisdom and listen to what I have to say. —(Mukta Salve, About the Grief of Mahar and Mangs, 1855) Let me ask you something oh Gods!...You are said to be completely impartial. But wasn’t it you who created both men and women? —(Tarabai Shinde, A Comparison of Men and Women, 1882)1

I begin this paper with words written by Mukta Salve, a 14-year-old, a girl student of the Mang caste in Jotiba and Savitribai Phule’s school, and Tarabai Shinde, a young Maratha woman trained in the Satyashodhak (Society of Truth Seekers) tradition. For these words of fire with which students talked back to the injustice of their times are embedded in writings and practices that addressed the complex relations between culture, knowledge and power and sought not only to include girl students and students from the exuntouchable castes but also to democratise the very processes of learning and teaching. This paper in many ways is a collection of “stories”; of our classrooms, relationships between students and teachers and the political frameworks which constitute these stories. Like all narrators, I have selected some and ignored or postponed other stories, interpreted them in one way rather than another. These stories, I imagine, are a

dialogue with fellow teachers on addressing caste and gender in the metropolitan classroom. The present set of stories has been put together from regular diary notings made on teaching, discussions with colleagues and students, notes written by students of their experiences—often in moments of disruptions or departure, comments made on formal course evaluation sheets, the comments they half scratch out from these sheets, questions raised in class and those asked hesitantly outside the class, their silences that one rushes past in the business-as-usual mode during peak periods of the semester and gestures that defy narrative expression. “New times” in the university are marked by narratives that bemoan a “decline in plurality and standards” especially in places where a new generation of scholars and students from historically disadvantaged sections in Indian society are posing challenges to the social homogeneity of the classroom, boards of studies and other academic bodies leading to obvious frictions on issues related to a decline in standards and merit. A new generation of dalit scholarship following the Thorat Committee Report on the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, the suicide of Rajani (a dalit girl student who committed suicide because the banks did not find her creditworthy for a student loan) and


Gender and Education in India

Senthil Kumar (a dalit PhD student whose fellowship was stopped) has raised questions both about the accessibility of higher education and the limitations in making it enabling for those who struggle to gain entry into it.2 This has enabled an open debate on the absence of transparency in higher education and the nexus of networks of exclusion that operate formally and informally on campuses to reproduce caste inequalities in the metropolitan university.3 While there are at present several efforts at “talking/writing back”,4 I would like to mention a few by way of examples—Insight: Young Voices, a journal published by students and researchers from Delhi, the work from Hyderabad of young research scholars like Murali Krishna M. who employs his autobiography to theorise educational practices, Indira Jalli, Swathy Margaret, Jenny Rowena who bring caste to the centre to interrogate feminist practices in the academy, the film Nageshwar Rao Star which starts with reflections on the star/asterisk, the marker of caste identity in the admission list and moves to reflect on and recover new knowledge on the Tsunduru massacre, Out-Caste an informal, public wall-journal which looks at caste as a category that structures both exclusion and privilege, discussions on caste on campuses on several list-serves like ZestCaste, and ongoing MPhil and PhD theses across campuses in India. Closer home, in Pune University, mention may be made of Dilip Chavan’s caste-class critique of the debate on reforming the University Grants Commission’s (UGC) National Entrance Test (NET), the efforts of the Sajag (conscious) students’ research group to reinvent the relationship between social movements and the academia and the “Research Room Diaries” put together by researchers in women’s studies reflecting on their diverse histories of hidden injuries and privileges

experienced as students.5 These and several other efforts are seeking to challenge disciplinary regimes of caste, opening up new ways of looking at the present of our disciplines and pedagogical practices and suggest that critical teachers should be “listening” rather than bemoaning the loss of better times. I wish to argue that these are “new times” in the university, the suicides and other forms of “routine” pedagogical violence notwithstanding. Men and women from excluded castes and classes are entering higher education for the first time and those for long considered “unteachable” are talking/writing back. This makes it possible to throw back the gaze of the students who have long been “invisible” and “nameless” in the classrooms on to disciplinary and pedagogical practices. These new times interrogate the confidence and certainty of the teacher which comes with acknowledged expertise in an area outlining how expertise may embed us in certain kinds of arguments so that we foreclose other possible ways of looking and listening.6 This paper is an exercise that is both restitutive and exploratory; reflecting on one’s own teaching practices which ferret out inconsistencies in stories offered by students, I seek to re-listen, reflect and assign new value to “stories” and “voices” ignored and discarded earlier as also to present recent experiences from the classroom for exploration. Recently, a dalit doctoral student and colleague narrated to me his experiences of the school and the university, the ways in which the curricular, extracurricular and academic success (lesson on Ambedkar in the textbook, elocution competition, becoming a UGCJunior Research Fellow (JRF) scholar) were all instances that reproduced caste by reducing him to a “stigmatised particular.”7 Pointing to a paradox, he asked “why do even sociologists whose ‘object of analysis’ is caste, believe that caste identities do not matter in academic

Education as Trutiya Ratna: Towards Phule-Ambedkarite Feminist Pedagogical Practice 277 practices”? I wish to take his question for consideration in the next section, reframing it a little provocatively to ask—Why are “we” afraid of “identity”? Why do we assume neutrality when it comes to identities of caste, ethnicity, and gender and presume that they do not affect the content and practice of our discipline? Do we disavow caste—say it does not exist in our context and talk of it in other terms and codes—like standards, language and so on? It is common for many of us teaching in state universities and colleges not only to categorise our students into neat categories of English and Marathi medium or English and Gujarati medium but also reduce these students to this singular identity (for instance in a local college where I taught it was customary to ask students to add an EM (“English medium”) or MM (“Marathi medium”) when they introduced their names in any gathering). However, we may not always be open to discussing the different and contradictory identities of teachers, students and other players in the social relations of teaching and learning. In the next section, I want to explore this issue of medium of instruction—the “language question” so to say, and fear of identity on the grounds of a more established discipline, namely the practice of sociology and seek suggestions from this experience for the newly emerging teaching programmes in women’s studies. Hidden in the ‘Language Question’: Tracing the Fear of Identity8 The hierarchy of standards between central and state universities, it might help to recall, draws not only on superior infrastructural facilities but also on English being the medium of teaching and research in the former as against the local/regional language in the latter. As teachers in state universities and local colleges, we may counter this logic through an opposition that assumes all social

science practised in English to be elitist and that in the vernacular to be more down to earth. At other times, we may respond to the “language question” through efforts to find quality reading material in Indian languages and develop English language proficiency through remedial classes. Interestingly, this “language question” appears quite prominently in some of the discussions that sociologists have had on their discipline being in “crisis.” Sociologists, more than other social scientists in India, have from time to time described and reflected upon the crisis in the discipline, with a more concentrated debate happening in the 1970s and 1990s. If we revisit some of the articulations of “crisis in the discipline” in the 1970s, it is apparent that the “language question” is strongly implicated in the salient features, causes and solutions suggested to the crisis. The crisis is described in terms of unrestricted expansion of sociology at the undergraduate level and in Indian languages, market-driven textbooks and takeover of “pure” pedagogies by politics. The script is one that narrates the story of expansion of sociology at the undergraduate levels and in regional languages as “provincialisation” of higher education in general and sociology in particular. Rereading this debate one is struck by two rather paradoxical anxieties of the sociological community. On the one hand is the angst with academic colonisation (why do we not have “our own” theories and categories), while on the other is the apprehension about the new and diverse “expanding public” (what will happen to “standards”, if teaching and learning is no longer to be done in English). The new “publics” of sociology are denigrated and assumed to be “residual”, those who are in sociology, not because they want to but because of a politically imposed expansion of regional universities/colleges.


Gender and Education in India

The calls of “crisis” in the discipline surface again in the 1990s with comments on the increasing number of students registered in doctoral programmes and their ignorance of elementary facts and concepts. It comes to be argued that both teaching and research are in a deplorable condition because most of our universities and other centres of higher learning have become cockpits for caste, regional and linguistic conflict and intrigue. As the enrolment rates of the “upper caste”,9 middle class metropolitan students mark a relative decline and the sociology classroom comes to be more diverse in terms of caste, region and linguistic identities, the anxiety about the expanding “public” turns into a script of accusation. The accusation operates at two levels; the upsurge of identities in Indian society and politics is seen as causing the demise of merit and any appeal to questions of identity and language on the campus and in the classroom comes to be viewed as part of interest group politics. In times of Mandal, these narratives of a decline of the discipline from its golden age have to be contextualised in the battle between the pan-Indian English educated elite and the new regional elites moving on the national scene. Interestingly, it is practitioners located on the institutional and organisational margins of “national” sociology who shifted the axis of the debate from standards to questions of equality; inquiring into the legitimacy of sociological knowledge and the pronouncements of decline. Further, the 1990s were marked by prominent “national” sociologists lending support to the anti-Mandal position which dominated the middle class urban perception of the issue. Additionally, the debate on dalits joining the Durban Conference against discrimination based on race and caste underlined the ways in which sociologists in the name of objectivity valued the opinion of experts while rejecting

perspectives emerging from the lived experience of caste and the horror of atrocities. If in the 1970s, as seen earlier, “national sociology” described the expansion of sociology in regional languages as provincialisation of the discipline, in the 1990s the claims of “national” sociology stood “provincialised.” “National” sociology was “provincialised” as it failed to say anything beyond popular commonsense on the Mandal controversy though its identity hinged upon theorisation of caste; as also because several questions came to be raised about nation as the “natural” unit for organising sociological knowledge and about selective processes that equated happenings in the elite set of institutions in Delhi to Indian sociology. So if we go back to my colleague’s question with which we began—why do even sociologists assume that these identities have no consequences for the content and practice of their discipline? Why was there an expectation on his part that sociologists would be different from other social scientists? Probably because caste, gender, and ethnicity are explicitly stated objects of inquiry and they have been the first to include courses and modules on women, dalits and tribals in the sociology curriculum? Yet as we just saw, it is sociologists more than others who seem to be afraid of any claims to caste or gender identities. They appear to assume that avowal of gender and caste identities will lead to feminification of theory or demise of merit— in other words to “pollution” of academic purity. It might help here to focus on the ways in which sociological knowledge and practice are organised by the professional bodies and the curriculum. Women, dalits, adivasis, may be included as substantive research areas of sociology and in optional courses but this inclusion keeps the cognitive structures of the discipline relatively intact from the challenges posed by dalit or feminist knowledges.10 Thus

Education as Trutiya Ratna: Towards Phule-Ambedkarite Feminist Pedagogical Practice 279 “good sociology” continues to be defined in terms of the binaries of objectivism/subjectivism, social/political, social world/ knower, experience/knowledge, tradition/ modernity and theoretical brahman/empirical shudra. So every time the problem of expansion of the discipline in Indian languages or the language question comes to be discussed, we gloss over the several layers of identities and assume simplistic binaries of sociology practised in English being national and rigorous, and those in Indian languages being provincial and simplistic. Alternatively, indigenists and nativists assume sociology practised in English to be elitist and incapable of grasping “our culture” and that in regional languages down to earth and applicable to “our culture.” While the former position seeks to resolve the tensions through remedial English courses, translation of textbooks or a simple commitment to bilingualism, the latter proposes teaching and writing in Indian languages as a “cultural duty”. These positions though they seem different are similar in that they see language only in its communicative aspects as if separable from power relations and the cultural and symbolic effects of language. In contrast, dalit imaginations of language wedge open the symbolic and material power of language. In the next section, I shall bring to centre some dalit imaginations of language to underline ways in which caste and gender identities remain hidden in what we discuss as a “language question.” Dalit Imaginations: Wedging Open the ‘Language Question’ Now if you want to know why I am praised— well it’s for my knowledge of Sanskrit, my ability to learn it and to teach it. Doesn’t anyone ever learn Sanskrit? …That’s not the point. The point is that Sanskrit and the social group I

come from don’t go together in the Indian mind. Against the background of my caste, the Sanskrit I have learned appears shockingly strange. That a woman from a caste that is the lowest of the low should learn Sanskrit, and not only that, also teach it—is a dreadful anomaly …. —(Kumud Pawade 1981: 21) In a word, our alienation from the Telugu textbook was more or less the same as it was from the English textbook in terms of language and content. It is not merely a difference of dialect; there is difference in the very language itself. …What difference did it make to us whether we had an English textbook which talked about Milton’s Paradise Lost or Paradise Regained, or Shakespeare’s Othello or Macbeth or Wordsworth’spoetry about nature in England, or a Telugu textbook which talked about Kalidasa’s Meghasandesham, Bommera Potanna’s Bhagvatam….We do not share the content of either; we do not find our lives reflected in their narratives. —(Kancha Ilaiah 1996: 15) Through his initiatives, Lord Macaulay was to re-craft a new intellectual order for India which threatened the dominance of the brahmins and questioned the relevance of the Varna/caste order. This was to give dalits a large breathing space … Should we know our past the way we like to, or we know the past as it existed? Or should there be any distinction between History Writing and Story Telling? Those who condemn Lord Macaulay for imposing a ‘wrong’ education on India do never tell us what kind of education system which Macaulay fought and eventually destroyed. —(Chandra Bhan Prasad 2006: 99 and 115) While giving calls of ‘Save Marathi’, the question I am faced with is ‘which’ ‘Marathi’ is to be ‘saved’? The Marathi rendered lifeless by the imprisonment of the oral in the standardised written word? The Marathi with its singular aim of ‘fixing meaning’ which loses rhythm, intonation, emotion, Rasa? The Marathi that generates inferiority complex in those speaking ‘aani-paani’?11 The Marathi that forms centres of power through processes of


Gender and Education in India standardisation of language? …. Or the Marathi sans the Word that keeps the bahujan knowledgeable? —(Pragnya Daya Pawar 2004: 45) ……I dream of an english full of the words of my language. an english in small letters an english that shall tire a white man’s tongue an english where small children practise with smooth round pebbles in their mouth to the spell the right zha an english where a pregnant woman is simply stomach-child-lady an english where the magic of black eyes and brown bodies replaces the glamour of eyes in dishwater blue shades and the airbrush romance of pink white cherry blossom skins…………………… an english that doesn’t belittle brown or black men and women an english of tasting with five fingers… –(Meena Kandaswamy 2007: 21)12

Kumud Pawade’s story of her Sanskrit, Kancha Ilaiah’s comment on the sameness of the English and Telugu textbook, Chandra Bhan Prasad’s counter commemoration of Macaulay, Pragnya Daya Pawar’s interrogation of the power of the printed word over the spoken word and Meena Kandaswamy’s dream of a global English in small letters offer immense possibilities for wedging open the “language question.” Kumud Pawade, a dalit feminist intellectual in her testimonio “Thoughtful Outburst” (1981), reflects on her journey into Sanskrit, teasing out in the process the complex character of the “language question” in our academia. Kumud Pawade foregrounds memories of her schoolteacher Gokhale Guruji, a prototypical brahman dressed in a dhoti, full shirt, a black cap and the vermilion mark on his forehead, who she expected would refuse to teach her Sanskrit. However, expected responses stand interrogated as he

not only taught her but also became a major influence in her life. People in her own community often discouraged her from pursuing a master’s degree in Sanskrit arguing that success at matriculation need not embolden her to this extent. At college the peons as also the higher-up officials usually commented on how “they” were taking strides because of government money and how this had made them too big for their boots. At the university, the head of the department, a scholar of fame, took great pleasure in taunting her. She would find herself comparing this man apparently modern in his ways to Gokhale Guruji. However, on successfully completing her master’s in Sanskrit achieving a place in the merit list, her dreams of teaching Sanskrit received a rude shock as she could overhear the laughter and ridicule in the interview room about people like her being “governmentsponsored” brahmans. Those passing these comments, she recalls were not all brahmans, many of them were from the Bahujan Samaj who thought of themselves as brahman haters and even traced their lineage to Mahatma Phule and yet the idea of a Mahar girl who was a part of this Bahujan Samaj teaching Sanskrit made them restless. After two years of meritorious performance at the master’s level, unemployment and her marriage to Motiram Pawade, a Kunbi Maratha, she finally got an appointment as an assistant lecturer in a government college and in later years went on to become a professor in her alma mater. However, a thought continues to trouble her —it was “Kumud Pawade” and not “Kumud Somkuvar” who got the job. Pawade’s critical work of memory unfolds the complex gender and caste parameters in the “language question” and lays bare the dynamics of a dalit woman acquiring an authorised tongue. Importantly she underlines the operation of language as a marker of subordination and

Education as Trutiya Ratna: Towards Phule-Ambedkarite Feminist Pedagogical Practice 281 exclusion in our academia and thus the impossibility of viewing the “language question” as a matter of communication separable from power relationships and cultural and symbolic effects of language. Ilaiah comments on the sameness of Kalidasa and Shakespeare, despite the former appearing in the Telugu textbook and latter in the English. He draws attention to the difference between brahmanical Telugu and the Bahujan renderings locating the difference in the latter emerging from production-based communication. He argues “the communists and nationalists spoke and wrote in the language of the purohit. Their culture was basically sanskritised; we were not part of that culture. For good or ill, no one talked about us. They never realised that our language is also language, that is understood by one and all in our communities…” (p. 14). Ilaiah further underlines the sameness of the English and Telugu books in being “alien” to the bahujan; their only difference being that one was written with 26 letters, the other with 56. Ilaiah’s reflections problematise the secular vernacularist position, underlining the complete domination of Hindu scriptures and Sanskritic cultures in vernacular education. Any easy equation between English as alien and Telugu as “our language”—yielding “our categories” of analysis stands interrogated. Further, Ilaiah suggests that the question of culture mediates between the axis of equality and the academia and the “language” in which education takes place is an epistemological issue more than a matter of mere instruction. Prasad’s celebration since 25 October 2006 of Macaulay’s birthday and installation of a “dalit goddess of English” to underscore the turn away from tradition, has been brushed aside often as an attention-seeking gimmick. This counter-commemoration of Macaulay has significance for destabilising the hegemonic memory of Macaulay as the

“villain” who declared that a single shelf of Shakespeare was worth more than all the Sanskrit and Arabic literature of the East. Prasad re-reads “Minutes on Education” to underline Macaulay’s argument about the British having to give scholarships to children to study in Sanskrit and Arabic, even when they were ready to pay for English education. This re-reading disrupts the ongoing processes of collective remembrance of language and education in colonial India. Prasad’s act of counter-commemoration renders Macaulay’s argument as not directed against the vernaculars; but against the outmoded literature of the Vedas and Upanishads, and thus an important moment in the history of dalit access to education. It is important to note Prasad’s comments on discovering the top secrets of the language politics of Macaulay in his explorations into the tensions between history writing and storytelling, thereby suggesting that an engagement with the “language question” is also essentially an engagement with “reinventing the archive”— the very methods of knowledge. Pragnya Daya Pawar (2004) talks back to those giving calls in Maharashtra to “save Marathi”; asking them the pertinent question “which Marathi?” and teases out the collusion of state and elites in framing the “language question.” Interrogating the processes of standardisation of the language, she points out to the homogenisation of meaning constituted by the processes of standardisation. She draws attention to the efforts of the Maharashtra state to empower Marathi as a language for science and technology which freeze and de-root the diversity of words into the singular “Word.” Standardisation on the one hand brutalises/ marginalises/fails the dalit Bahujan who bring into the system the “non-standardised” language practices. On the other hand, more violently, it wipes away the epistemic value of all oral forms of knowing of the Bahujan.


Gender and Education in India

She recalls that the dictum of the liberal humanists “society will improve when its people gain wisdom from education”—was first called into crisis in India by Jotiba Phule. That a Bahujan struggling against all forms of cultural colonisation, should have been the first to call this liberal agenda into question— she observes “is logical and not coincidental.” The “language question” thus opened up, traces the politics of internal fragmentation and hierarchisation of the vernacular in postcolonial Indian states and sees these processes as inseparable from those that monitor the differential epistemic status of different knowledges—particularly of the printed and the oral. Meena Kandaswamy in “Mulligatawny Dreams” dreams of an “English” full of words selected from her language, an “English” that challenges both the purity of standardised vernaculars and the hegemony of English. It is an “english” in small letters, a language that resists imperialist racism and casteism of both English and the vernacular. Such hybrid formations of language are seen as enriching English by opening it up to appreciate brown bodies, black eyes and eating with five fingers. English as the language of modernisation is disrupted suggesting that in the present conjuncture spread of English has gone beyond the worldwide elite thus opening up possibilities of challenging the hegemony of imperialist English with many resisting “Englishes.” Further, “the dreams of English” point to the limitations of framing the language question in terms of proficiency in English language, leaving little space for playful radical innovations in pedagogy. It is not coincidental that dalit imaginations engage with the power relations that are glossed over in debates on the “language question” discussed earlier and thus wedge open and interrogate not only the right wing and state agendas of the “language question”

but also that of the liberal humanists. We can see that the liberal humanist fear of identity, of decline in standards comes from a commitment to a particular idea of democracy. It is not as if those who complain of a decline in standards are opposed to including “all others” in their system of knowledges—be it the university or the cognitive structures of the discipline. Within this idea of a democratic university, the masses will have to wait until they receive a degree of formal training (learn to “speak like us”) to comprehend requirements of a plural and democratic university. However, since the 1990s, those considered incapable of comprehending democratic requirements have come to the fore to defend democracy, even as it pertains to the knowledge of democracy, while the imagined champions of democracy began moving away from processes that inform it.13 “All others” are entering the university with new vocabularies and moral economy, and, as the dalit imaginations on language suggest, are interrogating the assumed hierarchy of different knowledges, archives and methods of knowledge. For critical researchers and teachers fear of identity and masses can no longer be an option as the radical instability of the many languages of the subaltern citizens of mass democracy calls for careful “listening.” If we as teachers are to participate in the “new times”, exercises in re-imagining the content and methods of knowledge becomes inseparable from those in reinventing pedagogical practices. In the next section, I argue for reinventing pedagogies through Phule-Ambedkarite-Feminist (PAF) perspectives, asking why these perspectives came to be excluded in debates on education in postcolonial India. Phule-Ambedkarite-Feminist Pedagogies: Location and Exclusion Having neither the expertise nor the intention

Education as Trutiya Ratna: Towards Phule-Ambedkarite Feminist Pedagogical Practice 283 to draw a set of guidelines for PAF pedagogies, what I seek to do in this section is to historically map the “difference” of PhuleAmbedkarite perspectives on the project of education and the probable reasons for the exclusion of these from imaginations of “alternative” perspectives on learning and teaching. If following Paulo Freire14 we see critical pedagogy as contesting the logic and practices of the “banking method” for a more dialogical and transformative project of education, then PAF pedagogies, simply put, may be seen historically as constituting one school of critical pedagogy. Historically, we can read in the colonialist and nationalist discourses on Indian society, a battle over the function and nature of knowledge. While the colonialist project represented India as the spirit of Hindu civilisation and therefore distinct and disjunct from the west, the regime of classification and categorisation of “Indian tradition” created norms for colonial rule enhancing the status of brahmans as indigenous intellectuals. While, colonial knowledges were structured on binaries that distinguished India from the west, the orient from the occident; the nationalists imagined alternate knowledges by reversing the claims of superiority of the west, locating the superiority in the Vedas. Thus, though the colonialists and nationalists contested the function of knowledge in colonial India, for both, the nature of knowledge of India was essentially Hindu and brahmanical. After the second world war, social science discourse refashioned the binaries of Orient/Occident through the tradition/modernity thesis or indigenous approaches, both of which glossing over the structural inequalities in Indian society normalised the idea of knowledge and the educational project of/ in India as Hindu and brahmanical.15 Phule and Ambedkar in different ways, by weaving together the emancipatory non-

Vedic materialist traditions (Lokayata, Buddha, Kabir) and new western ideas (Thomas Paine, John Dewey, Karl Marx, for instance) had challenged the binaries of western modernity/Indian tradition, private caste-gender/public nation and sought to refashion modernity16 and thereby its project of education. Phule and Ambedkar in several writings and speeches but more particularly the former in Gulamgiri (1873), and the latter in Annihilation of Caste (1936), The Riddles in Hinduism (compiled and published in 1987) and The Buddha and His Dhamma (1957) undertake a rational engagement with core analytical categories emerging from Hindu metaphysics which had been normalised as “Indian culture and science.”17 Throughout the text of Gulamgiri, Phule stresses that Hindu religion is indefensible mainly because it violates the rights and dignity of human beings. He turns the “false books” of the brahmans on their head by reinterpreting the “Dashavataara” of Vishnu to rewrite a history of the struggles of the shudras and atishudras. He moves swiftly between the power and knowledge nexus in everyday cultural practices, myths and history. In his “Memorandum Addressed to the Education Commission” (1882) for a more inclusive policy on education and in his popular compositions like the short ballad on “Brahman Teachers in the Education Department” (1869), Phule demonstrates how state policy and dominant pedagogical practices are intrinsically interlinked. He comments at length on the differential treatment to children of different castes and the collusion of interests of the Bombay government school inspectors and teachers. He calls for more plurality in the appointment of teachers and the need to appoint those committed to teaching as a truth-seeking exercise. Ambedkar in Annihilation of Caste (1936) argues against the absolute knowledge


Gender and Education in India

and holism idealised by brahmanical Hinduism and critiques the peculiar understanding of nature and its laws (karma) in the Shastric texts. Both Phule and Ambedkar underline the preference for truth enhancing values and methods through an integration of critical rationality of modern science and the scepticism and self-reflection of ancient non-Vedic materialists and the Buddha. It is clear both in and through their works that they see organisation of knowledge as complexly related to the interlocking connections of different identities. This leads them to value-situated knowledge but such that they do not collapse all experience into knowledge but do highlight how certain experiences (oppression based on caste, gender) do lead people to certain kinds of knowledges. Phule in the first modern Marathi play Trutiya Ratna draws complex linkages between religious-cultural and educational authority and reimagines education therefore as the Trutiya Ratna (third eye) that has the possibilities to enable the oppressed to understand and transforms the relation between power and knowledge. Ambedkar in a speech in Nagpur in 1942 at the All India Depressed Classes Conference, advises the gathering to “Educate-Agitate-Organise” (a motto that became central to the Ambedkarite movement and community) arguing that this was central to the battle for freedom. Phule’s conscious adoption of the dialogical form of communication and Ambedkar’s insistence in the Bombay University Act Amendment Bill (1927) to move beyond the examinationoriented patterns of learning and teaching underline their conviction