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The Awakening of Indian Womanhood

The position of women in the ancient Aryan civilisation was a very noble one. The great majority married, becoming, as Manu said, the Light of the Home; some took up the ascetic life, remained unmarried, and sought the knowledge of Brahma. The story of the Rani Damayanti, to whom her husband's ministers came, when they were troubled by the Raja's gambling, that of Gandhari, in the Council of Kings and Warrior Chiefs, remonstrating with her headstrong son; in later days, of Padmavati of Chitoor, of Mirabai of Marwar, the sweet poetess, of Tarabai of Thoda, the warrior, of Chand Bibi, the defender of Ahmednagar, of Ahalya Bai of Indore, the great Ruler--all these and countless others are well known.

Only in the last two or three generations have Indian women slipped away from their place at their husbands' side, and left them unhelped in their public life. But even now they wield great influence over husband and son. Culture has never forsaken them, but the English education of their husbands and sons, with the neglect of Sanskrit and the Vernacular, have made a barrier between the culture of the husband and that of the wife, and has shut the woman out from her old sympathy with the larger life of men. While the interests of the husband have widened, those of the wife have narrowed. The materialising of the husband tended also, by reaction, to render the wife's religion less broad and wise.

The wish to save their sons from the materialising results of English education awoke keen sympathy among Indian mothers with the movement to make religion an integral part of education. It was, perhaps, the first movement in modern days which aroused among them in all parts a keen and living interest.

The Partition of Bengal was bitterly resented by Bengali women, and was another factor in the outward-turning change. When the editor of an Extremist newspaper was prosecuted for sedition, convicted and sentenced, five hundred Bengali women went to his mother to show their sympathy, not by condolences, but by congratulations. Such was the feeling of the well-born women of Bengal.

Then the troubles of Indians outside India roused the ever quick sympathy of Indian women, and the attack in South Africa on the sacredness of Indian marriage drew large numbers of them out of their homes to protest against the wrong.

The Indentured Labour question, involving the dishonour of women, again, moved them deeply, and even sent a deputation to the Viceroy composed of women.

These were, perhaps, the chief outer causes; but deep in the heart of India's daughters arose the Mother's voice, calling on them to help Her to arise, and to be once more mistress in Her own household. Indian women, nursed on Her old literature, with its wonderful ideals of womanly perfection, could not remain indifferent to the great movement for India's liberty. And during the last few years the hidden fire, long burning in their hearts, fire of love to Bharatamata, fire of resentment against the lessened influence of the religion which they passionately love, instinctive dislike of the foreigner as ruling in their land, have caused a marvellous awakening. The strength of the Home Rule movement is rendered tenfold greater by the adhesion to it of large numbers of women, who bring to its helping the uncalculating heroism, the endurance, the self-sacrifice, of the feminine nature. Our League's best recruits are among the women of India, and the women of Madras boast that they marched in procession when the men were stopped, and that their prayers in the temples set the interned captives free. Home Rule has become so intertwined with religion by the prayers offered up in the great Southern Temples, sacred places of pilgrimage, and spreading from them to village temples, and also by its being preached up and down the country by Sadhus and Sannyasins, that it has become in the minds of the women and of the ever religious masses, inextricably intertwined with religion. That is, in this country, the surest way of winning alike the women of the higher classes and the men and women villagers. And that is why I have said that the two words, "Home Rule," have become a Mantram.