History of women’s education – From the Vedas to the Independence
Women in India have experienced various statuses since the birth of civilization. Over the past millennium, Indian women have been struggling for equal rights, opportunities and importance as men. The millennium long battle for equality makes India’s history all the more eventful and intriguing, as women weren’t always at the bottom of the totem pole.
The Vedic Period
In ancient India, during the Early Vedic period, women were equal to men. They used to make pivotal decisions and were allowed educate themselves. Women would also choose their own husbands through the ancient system of “Swayamvara”. A woman was respected ...view middle of the document...
Regardless of whether or not these Ancient Indian texts depict what happened in reality, they show the superiority of women over men at the time.
The Medieval Period
Women flourished during the Vedic period. However, their status gradually declined during the post Vedic period. The medieval period saw the influence on India mostly by foreign invasions. Various traders and rulers brought their own culture, tradition and learning process. India imbibed this knowledge and introduced it among the people of the country. The foreign influence resulted in the decline of women’s status in this period. The female literacy rate plummeted and was lower than the male literacy rate. Thus began the “dark age” of women in India. Child wives without education became the norm. Women were introduced to “Purdah”, a veil system introduced by the arrival of the Muslims. Social evil practices like Sati and Jauhar prevailed.
The arrival of the Muslims aggravated the troubles of the women in India. The women were forced to practice “zenana”. Moreover, Muslim women were forbidden equal access to education, due to their religion. During the Muslim rule, women’s education was constrained because Muslim men were also minimally educated. There were a few exceptions, like in the case of Razia Sultan being the only female monarch to rule the throne of Delhi at the time. Also, the Gond queen Durgavati ruled for fifteen years before she lost the battle to Mughal emperor Akbar’s general Asaf Ali.
The Colonial Period
The plight of women escalated further until the colonization of India by the British. As said by a scholar, “The lives of Indian women began to change significantly in the late nineteenth century when the colonial government, critical of the treatment of both Hindu and Muslim women, found allies among Indian reformers. Keen to reform their own society, these men agree that women should be educated and play some role in public life.”
The British government – eager to prove their liberal, ethical and pro-modernity attitude – resorted to the “women question”, the fundamental feminist question concerned with the rights and progress of women. The British denounced the existing insignificance of Indian womanhood, and tried to initiate some feminist welfare activities to show their socio-cultural advancement and Western nobility. They took help of the native indigenous modern minds like Raja Rammohan Roy, Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar and other eminent Indians. “What began as a more or less contest for moral supremacy among the oriental tradition and the Western civilization, was turned into a beneficial move by the benevolent priests of humanism, like Raja Rammohan Roy.”*
The Modern Age
After Independence, the scope for women increased and women’s education in India became more widespread. Highest priority was given to women’s education, as it was a major concern for both the government and the civil society, because educated women can play a vital role...