You are here:
ARTICLES > WOMEN > Mahatma and Women in India-Miles to go
Mahatma and Women in India-Miles to go
By Jitendra Aherkar & Sagar Poojari*
"To call woman the weaker sex is a libel; it is man's injustice to woman. If by strength is meant brute strength, then, indeed, woman is less brute than man. If by strength is meant moral power, then woman is immeasurably man's superior: Has she not greater intuition, is she not more self-sacrificing, has she not greater powers of endurance, has she not greater courage? Without her man could not be. If non-violence is the law of our being, the future is with woman. Who can make a more effective appeal to the heart than woman?"
-Mahatma Gandhi

Abstract
Gandhi is forever remembered in history, for he stood up for Indian civil rights, and has made a big difference for people in India today specially women. Women are God's greatest gift to humanity. She has the power to create or destroy. is a saying that behind every successful man there is a women Similarly, Gandhi was influenced by his mother Putlibai and wife Kasturba. As Gandhi has said: "The outstanding impression my mother has left on my memory is that of saintliness”. Gandhi's attitudes towards women were as much shaped by his innate sense of comparison and justice as they were by the patriarchal albeit benevolent conservatism that was the sheet anchor of his cultural and social discourse. The contradiction between his liberal feminist pronouncements, his egalitarian, loving and respectful concern for women, and his belief in their role in politics and in society are sometimes difficult to reconcile. Yet Gandhi, more than anyone else, struggled with these paradoxes in the existing social milieu. Comparing his vision of women with the current status of women and the ongoing struggle for women's empowerment will provide a measure of what has been achieved. The ultimate goal of empowerment of women based on Gandhi's vision is Sarvodaya the welfare of all through cooperation and trusteeship in the economic sphere, equal participation in the political sphere, and mutual aid in the social sphere without regard to caste, or class or gender. Thus, empowerment of village women cannot be imposed from above, it must grow from the bottom upwards. This paper gives a brief idea on Mahatma's vision for Indian women for success and progress of society in all walks of life.

Introduction:
Gandhi had long believed that women had special capacities for sacrifice and for leadership in peace building. He thought that the world had been too long dominated by "masculine" aggressive qualities and that it was time that the "feminine" qualities came to the fore. He wrote: "Nonviolence is woman's inborn virtue. For ages together man has been trained in violence. To become nonviolent they will have to generate womanly qualities in them. Women are accustomed to making sacrifices for the family; they will now have to learn to make an offering for the country. I am inviting all women... to get enlisted in my nonviolent army." Thousands of Indian women from all walks of life did respond to his call in the 1930s and 1940s to become actively involved in India's struggle for independence. Many left home and many refused marriage in order to dedicate themselves full time to the movement. Yet, after independence the momentum behind the encouragement of women's advancement and leadership in political and social arenas dwindled.
Gandhi respected traditions of the society, but not at the cost of loss of individual dignity. His practical and dynamic advice was "It is good to swim in the waters of tradition, but to sink in them is suicide". He never hesitated to criticize the evils which had gripped the Indian society, and tried to mobilize public opinion against such evils. He realised that there were deep-rooted customs hampering the development of women, and women's freedom from such shackles was necessary for the emancipation of the nation.
According to Gandhi, the role of women in the political, economic and social emancipation of the country was of overriding importance. Gandhi had immense faith in the capability of women to carry on a non violent crusade. Under his guidance and leadership, women shouldered critical responsibilities in India's struggle for freedom. Women held public meetings, organized picketing of shops selling foreign alcohol and articles, sold Khadi and actively participated in National Movements. They bravely faced the baton of the police and even went behind the bars. Gandhi's urge to women to join India's struggle for independence was instrumental in transforming the outlook of women. Swaraj uprooted age old taboos and restrictive customs. Through their participation in Indian struggle for freedom, women of India broke down the shackles of oppression that had relegated them to a secondary position from time immemorial.

Objectives:
  • To understand Gandhiji's vision for Indian women.
  • To study the functions of Mahila Shanti Sena.

Status of Women in Pre Independence India
Indian women suffer many disaliblites and injustice in the society. To understand in depth the role that Gandhi played in improving the position of women in society, it is essential to look at women's status, prevalent at that time. When Gandhi emerged on to the political scenario, social evils like child marriage and dowry system were rampant When he came to the stage of Indian struggle for independence then the average life span of Indian women was 27 years and only 2%women were educated this shows what a Herculean task it was to bring the women of India who was not getting her basic rights to fight for the cause of the nation. But it was due to his efforts that so many women like Sarojini Naidu, Vijayalakshmi Pandit, Aruna Asaf Ali, Sucheta Kriplani and Rajkumari Amrit Kaur came forward. He spread the message of equality of the gender to the masses and criticized the desire of Indian people to have male child instead of a female. Gandhiji was strictly against the child marriage and favoured widow remarriage. He urged the youth to come forward and accept young widows as their life partner. He said that the girls are also capable of everything boys can do but the need of the time is to give them opportunities so that they can prove themselves to understand Gandhi's views on women in the context of social, economic and political issues.
The patriarchal nature of the society confined women to the status of an inferior sex subordinate to their male counterparts. The purdah system was in full vogue in Northern India. Unless accompanied by their male guardians, the women were not permitted to venture out on their own. Only a handful few could avail of education and attend schools. It was in such a dismal milieu that Gandhi took the responsibility of shouldering a social crusade that led to a major reorientation of the common notion of women in the Indian society.

Gandhi's Perception of Women
According to Mahatma Gandhi, “If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate an entire family.” Our predominant patriarchal system doesn't provide enough chances for women to have higher education even if they wish. Girls should be motivated to take up higher education. Universal education for all below 14 years should be strictly implemented. There is an urgent necessity of framing gender sensitive curricula at all stages of primary education to address sex-stereotyping menace.
Women should be allowed to work and should be provided enough safety and support to work. Legislatures such as Equal Remuneration Act, Factories Act: Constitutional safeguards such as maternity relief, and other provisions should be strictly followed. Poverty eradication policies need to be implemented. Macroeconomic policies would help in this drive. Through economic empowerment women's emancipation could be realized.
Gandhi realised the miseries of widowhood for a woman as "men have ordained perpetual widowhood for women and conferred on themselves the right to fix marriage with another partner on cremation-ground itself". For him, "Voluntary widowhood consciously adopted by a woman who has felt the affection of the partner, adds grace and dignity to life, sanctifies the home and uplifts religion itself. Widowhood imposed by religion or custom is an unbearable look and defiles the home by secret vice and degrades religion. He believed that it is better for a widow to remarry openly rather than commit sin secretly.
As Gandhi respected widows who dedicated themselves to the service of humanity, he had great regard for women who chose the path of staying single to serve society and the nation. In his opinion, not every Indian girl is born to marry. There are many girls willing to dedicate themselves to service instead of servicing one man.

Mahila Shanti Sena
The MSS is founded in 2002 in cooperation between NGO Shrambharati (India) and Centre for Peace Studies McMaster University (Canada) in Vaishali (Bihar).It is a Gandhain social movement whose mission is involved in working for the rights and dignity of women through peaceful means. The peace work program of MSS consist of providing rural women training in the Gandhain principles of peace and non violence Today, MSS has trained over 50,000 women in Bihar and the northeastern states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Tripura. These groups of women deal with issues ranging from every day village disputes to peaceful resolution of insurgency problems. The training camps have met with unusual acceptance and enthusiasm and there are demands to conduct these sessions in Kashmir and elsewhere. MSS volunteers engage in developmental work, settle inter familial disputes, educate and empower women to participate in democratic processes, peacefully resolve disputes over land and water, fight social evils like drinking and gambling. In 2005 Unnayana a Bhubaneswar based NGO, started several SHGs (Self Help Group) that were formed by women. It also initiated a MSS training camp and has conducted several training camps for trainers, several workshops and regular consultative meets for women.
The Mahila Shanti Sena was started with the following objectives:
  • To motivate and organise women from grass roots level for peace, social solidarity, social justice,
  • Creating of a value based society through working in close association with Panchayats.
  • To develop leadership among women for securing their rights,
  • to undertake responsibilities for civil society empowerment and to overcome the barriers to women's development
  • To bridge the gap between social and economic discriminations and¬†gender preferences .
  • To form women's units at the grassroots level and developing their linkages to form federations that would work as pressure groups and advocacy fronts at various levels.
  • To organise large meeting and public hearing on issues concerning women and for propagation of Gandhian philosophy and social values addressing women's liberation from subjugated role to political responsibilities
  • To create a consultative forum to review women's issues at the grassroots and find suitable means for their empowerment.

Conclusion
Gandhi reigns in the hearts of millions of Indians as The Father of the Nation, for the path breaking role that he played not in the Indian struggle for independence but for moulding the national character and the lives of the Indians alike. At a time when the fabric of the Indian society was tearing apart, he accomplished the Herculian task of unifying the nation. Thus, the emergence of Gandhi, as a national leader, as a humanist, as a visionary, as a social and political reformer and most importantly as a spiritual leader has been critically instrumental in shaping a new India, firmly rooted in its historical past and at the same time welcoming the progressive trends of modernity.' With Gandhi's death, women had lost one of their key champions. The linkage between women's advancement, a country's development and the achievement of a culture of peace was obscured. So let us bring back his practices and principles in all walks of life for the upliftment of women.

References:
  1. Alka Arya, Women's Force for Peace (www.indiatogether.org).
  2. Anne M. Pearson, Mahila Shanti Sena: New Womens' Peace Movement (www.peacemagazine.org).
  3. S.V.Prabrath (2010),Gandhi Today,Serials Publication New Delhi .
  4. http://myseeds.home.comcast.net/~myseeds/projects/MSS/MSSReport-062007.htm
  5. http://api.ning.com/files/g4uwOmFeoZdadKAZ7-jP1H07TkZRfrY8G1Vt2ryKR5-EY61PHwdd11QtwzdkVXkKnYiwp0EVM0L7qk0bzmV3biRUqcXGfmLX/MSSNewsletter_June_2011.pdf
  6. http://www.gandhi-manibhavan.org/activities/essay_breakingshackles.html
  7. http://www.mkgandhi.org/articles/articleindex.html
Courtesy: This article has been reproduced from the ISBN Publication - Gandhi in the New Millennium - Issues and Challenges' published by Khandwala Publishing House.

* Jitendra Aherkar is a Asst. Professor, Tolani College of Commerce, Mumbai and Sagar Poojari, Tolani College of Commerce, Mumbai.