‘Women’s Freedom’ by Bharatiyar

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Complied by London Swaminathan
Post No.989; Date :— 19th April 2014.

Also read an article on “The Place of Women by C.Subrahmanya Bharati (1882-1921) posted here on 19-3-14; Post No 918.

This one is a new article he wrote in English on the same subject in 1915.

It is amazing to read Bharati’s views on women. He lived well ahead of his times. To write such things like women’s freedom, liberation etc., was considered blasphemous and anti social in 1910s. Even in the West, we couldn’t see such progressive thinking then. He quotes Maitreyi and Gargi and Andal and Avvai in support of his argument:- swami

(April 30, 1915 – “Commonweal”)

“Ages ago, in Vedic times, our nation has produced women like Maitreyi and Gargi, who were able to take part in the discussions and debates of the highest thinkers of the land. But, today, what is woman’s status in our country? There is no use shrinking from strong language when we have to deal with terrible facts. Our women today are slaves. I am quite aware that we still retain something of the old idea that the mother must be looked upon as a goddess by her children. But every woman is wife before she is mother; and the position of the wife, with us, is that of a petted slave – more slave than pet; she must not speak to strangers; in the North she is not supposed to see men, except the prescribed ones.

When sometimes we are pleased to give our ladies the benefits of ’ education’, we are careful to see that the education scarcely reaches further than enabling them to read a few moral tales and ‘Chastity’ novels and to play some hackneyed tunes on the contemptible harmonium. Cooking is their chief trade and child bearing their only contribution to the life and progress of humanity. And the splendid result of all this, which we sometimes make a matter for boasting, is that women are “ the pillars of orthodoxy and conservatism” – which means they are immensely helpful in maintaining and perpetuating the conditions of slavery in our religious, social, and political lives.

The root evil idea that has almost become instinctive among our men-folk that a woman enlightened and liberated, who can face the world boldly, and treat all as her equals, cannot remain chaste.

Now every intelligent human being will admit that chastity is one of the highest social virtues. But, certainly is not everything in life. Indeed no single virtue may be made to do duty for the infinite realisations of a liberated human existence. But it is sheer ignorance to suppose that freedom will lead women to disregard the virtue of chastity. Was Maitreyi un-chaste? Were Andal the god intoxicated poetess of Vaishnavism and Auvai, the fearless moralist, susceptible to the lures of the flesh? Of course, we cannot expect liberated women to be passively and brutishly submissive and obedient to all the fancies and follies of men. And in modern India there is quite a rage for these blessed virtues of submission and obedience. Inept political leaders, grown old in their ineptitude, are loudly complaining that the younger men are not submissive and obedient.

bharati family
Family picture of Bharati

The Brahmanas – our “Gods on earth” — who have nowadays become famous for making sweetmeats and writing romantic police reports, are waxing indignant that the “lower classes” are gradually losing their “virtues” of obedience and submission. “Heaven-born” administrators and ediors of dull, commercial news papers are wondering why the “natives” are not quite as submissive and obedient as dogs and cows. The police peon wants the whole village to be obedient to himself. The priest wants submission. I wonder which class in India does not worry about itself about the growing disobedience on the part of “our inferiors”.

The situation is nauseating. We are men – that is to say, thinking beings. Our chief work in this world is the understanding and the glorification of God’s ways and not the enslaving of God’s creatures. If any man or nation forgets this, that man or nation is doomed to perdition.

The slave and the slave-driver are equally unhappy, equally accursed. It staggers me to think how humanity has managed so far to be even partially blind to this central, essential, most shining truth of God’s world. Bu I feel it as a special shame that we Indians, with our magnificent Vedas and Upanishads, should still be giving sacred names to despicable forms of slavery.

I am anxious that responsible men throughout the country should give the most serious consideration to this question of woman’s status in India and do something immediately to make Indian womanhood free, enlightened and really human, that is to say, divine.

(Bharati is satirical when he mentions the Brahmins, spies and news paper editors. We will understand the satire better if we knew what happened in 1915:- swami.)

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