“A creed is a rod And a crown is of night, But this thing is God To be man with thy might, To grow straight in the strength of thy spirit and live out thy life as the light. … I bid you but be. I have need not of prayer; I have need of you free As your mouths of mine air, That my heart may be greater within me, beholding the fruits of me fair.” Hertha. Swinburne.
The aim of this book has been as far as possible to show the Indian woman as she is, living and acting and expanding. But life, properly speaking, cannot be represented. Representation must always be of something that is already past and therefore lifeless and mechanical. It breaks off and pins down, like a specimen in a museum, a mere fragment out of the moving continuity of life. So a photograph for instance, when it impresses a discontinuous moment on the plate, merely fixes something which is artificial and unreal. Perhaps in literature it would be impossible to give vitality to the picture of an Indian woman, unless in the form of poetry or prose fiction. But the picture would then be endowed with personal character and an individual shape. Here it was desired rather to analyse national characteristics and to display the varieties of Indian womanhood and their values. It was necessary, therefore, to embody the typical rather than the personal and to lose something of concrete reality in the effort to generalize usual habits of mind and body. It is, however, true that neither man nor woman can ever be so well known, as through the ideals which they feel. In those ideals, in the spirit with which they meet the incidents of life, consists all that is most real and permanent in their actions. Other desires and emotions, peculiar to the individual, which help to make his whole concrete life, are after all unharmonized and, as it were, accidental. Essential are the thoughts which guide his purposes and the social atmosphere in which he breathes. Regarded in this way, the womanhood of India appears on the whole to be moving in all its million lives towards a more or less similar ideal, more or less clearly recognized as the social class rises or sinks in education and self-consciousness. There are, of course, exceptions. The nobility of Southern India form a social back-water, fed by other traditions from a secluded source. There are wild tribes on whose crude minds the common thought has hardly yet had time to become operative. And the Mussulman population is, at least in name, ruled by an ethic far more rationalistic and liberal. Yet there is not a class which in some form or other, however indirectly, has not had to submit to the supremacy of an ideal which in its purer lines is truly national. With the increased ease of communication and the rigidity given to accepted Brahman custom by the Courts of Law and common education, the movement towards the same ideal throughout the various communities has become more marked and rapid. Peculiarities of caste and race tend to be swamped in the general current. In a few cases, new diversities have come into existence, where, for instance, some of a small highly-educated class have revolted against traditional restrictions or sought a new salvation in the close imitation of European customs without a European environment. It is in the comprehension of these ideals, manifested in typical castes and classes, and of the social atmosphere that any real image of Indian womanhood can alone be formed.
But it is not enough to see a woman in her girlhood and growth, in her love and marriage, and in her relations to her family and society. To grasp her as she really is she should be seen also as a mother. For if love is a duty of womanhood, biologically the function of motherhood is even more important. It is the most decisive of all her functions in a primitive society. As the race advances, it does not lose its place, but beside it ascend other functions, first and most essential that of love or wifehood, and afterwards that of polishing and refining a mixed society. In value to each life and each generation, the greatest of these is certainly love; and the successful wife or mistress ranks higher in art and literature and with the finer spirits and civilizations than even the best of mothers. For the former implies gifts which are not only rarer but also emanate from higher and nobler qualities of mind, while it responds to needs which are felt above all by loftier natures. Maternity, on the other hand, is the instinct of reproduction in action, controlled by intelligent care and affection. It is not peculiar to the human being but is as strong a force in the animal. It is of course essential, like everything else that is primeval in our life; for humanity is broad-based upon the animal. But wifehood is a conception of the creative human intellect, a specialized object of human feelings. The perfect beloved is an ideal form created by a developed intellect and fastidious emotions.
Hence the worth of a nation’s womanhood can best be estimated by the completeness with which they fulfil the inspirations of love and its devotion. And judged by this standard, the higher types in India need fear no comparison. Whenever race and belief have combined to resist the mere negatives of ascetic teaching, there is a rich literature of love, there is a mastery of rapture, and with it the constant service of undying devotion.
Yet fully to estimate the value of her life, it would be necessary also to watch the Indian woman in her performance of a mother’s functions. The strength of her desire for children, the warmth and selflessness of her affection, the extent of her care and teaching, her readiness or unwillingness herself to learn the needs of childhood, above all, the place in her heart that she affords her children--all these are factors which should be not merely weighed or analyzed but actually felt by a creature intuition. But only another woman could have such comprehension or attain such intuition. No man--even in regard to the women of his own country, where he is illuminated by the examples of his mother and his wife--could have the needed sympathy, the necessary similarity of feeling, to comprehend the woman’s emotions to the child she bears and over whose growth she watches. It would be impossible to attempt the task in a foreign country of women by whose side one has not grown from infancy.
Some points, however, which lend themselves to any observation, may be noted, all the more since they have not infrequently led to misunderstanding. It is the case undoubtedly that every Indian woman, whatever her rank or race, has a clamorous wish to bear children, above all a son, for her husband’s sake. “How many children have you?” is the first question every woman asks another. In order to get children they go on pilgrimages and tolerate austerities, they give alms to beggars and are deluded by impostors. A childless woman becomes only too readily the butt of scorn and even of her own self-reproach. Not to have borne a son is to the Indian woman to have missed her vocation and have failed in life. She has a certainty of belief--“She knows” she would say--that it is her function, even hers, to have children; and if she be fruitful, she counts herself blessed. From these data, it has often been inferred that Indian women in all classes have an overpowering desire for motherhood and are especially mastered by the maternal instinct. But that this inference is wholly just, may well be doubted.
In the upper classes at least it must be admitted that the woman wishes for children because of reasoned and intelligible motives, and that these motives are so strong as to overcome any instinctive passions. And a will moved by a mere calculation of reason may be as powerful as and even more effective than an act of will which, really responds to a deep and eternal, unreasoned, self-creating emotion. The Indian woman at any rate has every reason to desire to be a mother, above all the mother of a son. Hindu science and philosophy have never hidden from her that, regarded as a living being merely like any other animal, her primary function is to continue the race. And religion has impressed this teaching upon every mind by the legend that a man’s soul can be released from the torments which follow death only by the prayers and ritual of a living son. Moreover, she fears that barrenness may impose the presence of a second wife, a rival in that love to which, after all, she gives first place. Then, again, the end may prove to be subjection to another woman’s son, heir to his mother’s hatreds. Or at the best there is the pressure of religious faith--to think herself accursed, if she has no child, while even her husband may in time shrink from her as from a being judged by the doom of God. All these are motives which can be weighed by the intellect but which move desire and will-power. Yet their action does not in itself show that the instinct of maternity is strong beyond the usual.
It is true of course that little girls in India in their games are accustomed to play at being mothers and cook for imaginary children and put their dolls to bed, and in a word play as girls do all over the world. But so they play also at being wives and greeting their husbands and bowing to a mother-in-law. When it is considered how early they learn the secrets of life and how few their other games and amusements can be, it is hardly astonishing that motherhood should enter soon in their thoughts and pastimes. But the European child is at least as ready to play with dolls and as fond of mothering her pets with a mimicry to which her instincts call her. Where the European girl differs is that marriage enters little into her thoughts and games, love in any real sense hardly at all; whereas the Indian girl from childhood has her mind filled with glad anticipations, and responds to the name of marriage with a ready and not altogether unconscious emotion. Even from the example of the child, then, the inference would rather be that the instinct for love is quickly developed than that the maternal instinct is stronger than in other peoples.
There are considerations of many kinds which go to show that the desire for love is first in the Indian woman’s heart, at least in the higher and better nurtured classes. In England for instance it is really now the case--largely owing to the defects of a highly artificial education and partly from the evils produced by bad economic conditions--that there are quite a number of women who would desire to be mothers but who actually look upon marriage and love as a distasteful and unpleasant preliminary. Such a perversion of view, it can at once be said, is unknown in India--not only unknown indeed, but even inconceivable. Every woman may wish for a child, but she wishes first and above all for the blessing of a loving husband, and she desires the child mainly to satisfy and conciliate the man to whom she gives herself joyfully.
Again it is striking that the whole long record of Indian literature contains hardly one picture of a mother’s love, and is dumb even about the longing at her heart for a child. Erotic poetry is full and voluminous and the love of man and woman is sung in burning words in thousands of lyrics, while it is also depicted with a more objective grandeur in numerous epics. Hardly any European literature, at least since Alexandria, can vie with this literature of love in volume and intensity. But in the poetry of the West, mother’s love has had its honoured place. In the letters of India it is almost absent.
It is sometimes suggested in India, and it may perhaps be true, that in the castes which allow divorce, a mother’s affection for her child is a passion stronger than her love for her husband. It would indeed sometimes seem in those classes that she would more readily choose to sacrifice the father than the child. But it does not follow that the cause lies in the freedom of divorce, even though it be a factor which co-operates in the result. For in practice the Hindu castes which allow divorce are almost all of the lower class--in some cases not much above the savage, ignorant, of a slow sensibility, unstimulated by the arts and luxuries of civilization. Their passions have not yet much refined above the elemental. For that fine and ennobling love which is the fruit of advanced culture they have not yet developed the capacity. But the maternal instinct remains among them in all its primitive strength. And it has not to divide its sovereignty with the emotions of a later culture. Relatively its force is greater, because undivided.
But, it must be said, in no class does maternal affection arouse, as it should, that persistent and laborious effort to tend and educate, which is its worthiest criterion. The Indian mother is lavish with her caresses and endearments, as in other moods she may fly into fits of uncontrolled anger. But, except for the lengthy period of nursing, sometimes three and ordinarily two years, to which she is willing to devote herself, she shows only too little of that continuous and intelligent care which is expected from a mother. Largely no doubt this is due to ignorance. She has not--one might with justice say she is not allowed to have--the knowledge which is needed to be a good mother. She is unaware of the most elementary requirements of sanitation and health. Worse still, she has not been trained to know the importance of compelling good habits and regular discipline in early childhood. Again, though she is usually an affectionate, she is not often an inspiring, mother. She is probably at her best as she sees her children fed with the food she has cooked herself, giving to each the tit-bits that she can, looking lovingly to their comforts, herself waiting till all are done before she sits down to her own meal. This is the memory that lingers most closely in the Indian’s mind as the man grows older and leans on retrospect. To most European children the remembrance that is dearest is that of his mother stooping over his cot to kiss him good-night, radiant in beauty, clad in silks and laces, with the gleam of white shoulders and precious stones to set off the soft curves of her dear face, before she leaves for a dinner, a theatre, or a ball. He is proud of her looks, so transformed, and of her charm, proud that he belongs to a being so splendid and so wonderful. But to the Indian the picture that recurs is of ungrudging kindly service. And perhaps the prolonged nursing period, bad as in other respects it is--bad especially for the over-taxed mother--serves to draw closer the bond between her and the child, already conscious of its own existence. Certain it is that the Indian son, as he grows up, forbears ever to judge his mother. Of Indian women generally, or of the mothers of other men, he may complain for their ignorance and their disregard of matters which he has taught himself to consider necessary; he may even with some unfairness blame them for a want of steadfast purpose and regularity, which is by no means peculiar to their sex. But for his own mother he preserves a constant respect and loving solicitude.
Yet, all said and done, it is not in motherhood, but rather in her love, that the Indian woman has reached her highest achievement. The devotion and self-sacrifice which are hers form a triumph of the spirit; and she clothes these virtues with sensuous charm and transcendent ecstasy. She gives freely of herself with both hands, by service and surrender, by wistfulness and delight.
It is in the quality of social charm that the Indian woman is most often lacking. For the man she loves she can command every grace. She can be coaxing, caressing, kind, gentle, tender, submissive, all in one. Even to the stranger, alone in her family as guest or dependent, she shows herself solicitous and kindly, with a pleasing quiet charm that comes from the heart. But she has not the habit of social entertainment or that special training, so much a matter of a quickened intelligence, which is required to set general acquaintances at ease or to lead a conversation which should be at once comprehensive and light. She has no general coquetry and is often without that ease of manner and unconstrained grace of movement in a crowded room, which can hardly be acquired otherwise than by the habitual usage of good society. This lapse from complete achievement marks itself most strongly in the intonations of her voice. For it must, alack, be admitted that the Indian woman’s voice is her weak point. Here are few of those soft, round, low but clear mezzos and contraltos which like bronze bells sound so deliciously in a European drawing-room. The voice in India seems seldom to have that steady control and rounded timbre which is gained from the repression of strained and uneven notes and the modulation of all tones to one easy key. The Indian girl is not even taught to sing and knows nothing of voice production. What little she does sing, untaught or worse than untaught, is more often a scream than a real melody. Good voices are almost the monopoly of the professional dancing girl. Hence even in ordinary conversation, a lady’s speech tends to harsh and abrupt sounds, shrill and not beautiful. Her intonation is only too often an antidote to the charms of her fastidious neatness and her kindly eyes and smile.
Society, it must be said, and social converse had in India ceased to exist some fifteen hundred years ago. It does not happen that a company of men and women meet on easy terms for entertainment with the pleasures of light and familiar conversation, not learned, never, please heaven, didactic or instructive, but clever, witty, illumined by intuitions and swift generalizations, light of touch, and near to laughter. Nor is anything known of that innocent coquetry of well-bred womanhood, which seeks no particular stimulations but appeals for a general admiration, impersonally given to that fine spirited, finely attractive being who is the last word in luxury and taste and womanly moderation.
In India as one knows it--whatever it may have been in the remoter age pictured in the caves of Ajanta--the aspirations of women have taken a different course through a more placid water. Where they steer is no ebb and flow of conflicting purpose and sometimes, as they pass listlessly to the shore, it looks almost as if the roadstead had come to a stagnation. And yet--yet the course is set correctly and the sun is rightly taken. It may be that the horizon is viewed too low and that the profundities of the human spirit are not yet plumbed; but the Indian woman crosses the waters of life on a line true to her nature and her functions.
There is in all the Indian languages which derive from Sanscrit a word whose habitual usage is significant of a whole attitude to life, by whose meaning alone it is possible to understand the position sought by and accorded to womanhood. It is the word “dharma” which has been constantly mistranslated into English as “religion.” But when an Indian speaks of “dharma” he means really the duties, divinely imposed if you like or valid in nature, of his station. Between this “dharma” and that, between the “dharma” of his own class or sex and that of others, he draws a sharp distinction. In England, too, this sense is not unknown and the great landlord, for instance, speaks with right of the duties of his position, contrasting them with a broad distinction to those of the merchant, for example, or the workman. Noblesse oblige is a proverb that has been applied in all countries. But throughout Western thought there runs the idea that duty and morals must at bottom be one and the same for all. It is only, one might say, as a concession that the special duties of each station are recognized; and at most they are referred rather to the accidentals of life, to those supererogatory virtues which may be expected, like magnanimity or liberality from the rich and powerful, or that exceptional patience and humility which many persons seem to expect from the needy and unfortunate. The basic more permanent rules of moral conduct are regarded as something absolute, unalterable, unconditioned. Even the differences of sex are forgotten in the abstract contemplation of fixed moral laws. In practice, of course, facts have often compelled peoples to admit that differences do exist in the application of rules of conduct. Thus, to take a recent instance, in the crisis of war public opinion has allowed that even the supreme duties of citizenship press with divergent force upon married and unmarried men. Similarly it was until recently recognized by all and is even now by the greatest number that there are matters in which the conduct of men and women cannot be the same and that the same rights and duties cannot be applied indiscriminately to both sexes. But the recognition was seldom more than tacit. It was never co-ordinated, at least in England, to a reasoned view of life. It was not built upon a deliberate analysis of natural differences in function and in sensory and nervous force. It tended rather to be a mere concession to passing conditions of life. Thought, when it was explicit, dwelt chiefly upon abstract ideas of equality and equal duties. Some writers even tried to explain away the differences of character between men and women by referring them to mere accidents of environment, to women getting a less thorough education, for instance, or less of a chance in life, as it was called. It was not openly and clearly recognized that the natures and functions of men and women were different in essentials, and that the rules of conduct must in consequence be relative to different needs and purposes.
In India, the way in which “dharma” is understood has made such a mistake impossible. From its implications it is believed by all, or has until the last few years been believed, that duty must necessarily be relative to function and must correspond with fitness to inner nature. A distinction so obvious and primary as that of sex can in consequence be ignored by none except a few recent abstract thinkers. The rights and duties of women are defined in relation to the activities which are imposed on them by the principles of their nature; and the ideal which is painted is in harmony with the natural laws of flesh and spirit. Modesty, self-sacrifice, tenderness, neatness, all that is delicate and fastidious, those are qualities which have a natural propriety. To play her modest part in the family household quietly, to sweeten life within the radius of her influence, to serve her children, to please the man to whom she is dedicated, to receive pleasure in her love, and find happiness in the pleasures that she gives, that is a woman’s “dharma”--her fitting performance of function. It is not, of course, that Hinduism does not know that men and women are alike in respect of certain faculties and both alike distinguished from other living creatures. But it has laid more stress upon the differences in function. It has been able to see that the being of each separate man and woman is one and indivisible, and that sex is not a mere distinction added or subtracted but rather the shape in which the whole living, acting human creature is cast and moulded. This, which is the teaching of India’s philosophies, is also the practical wisdom of her peoples. And this it is which has kept Indian women so superbly natural, so calmly insistent on their sex. In Northern Europe, it may perhaps be said, the evolution of womanhood has more rapidly progressed, in response to a quickly developing environment; but in as far as it has rejected nature and inner law, it may the rather tend to be in fact a devolution, a turn or twist from the road and not a progress. In India evolution has been slow, cramped by unnecessary superstitions and arbitrary abstentions, but in its main lines at least it is consistent and natural. Its form is not unsuitable; though it still has to be filled with a larger and richer content.
But the content of life in India is in truth already being enriched. Her women are no mere abstractions, fixed and immovable, to be delineated by thin conventional lines. Rather must they be thought of as a mass of concrete, distinguishable, living human beings, moving as a whole towards a larger freedom. Only a century ago when the greatest of German thinkers, Hegel, wrote his “Philosophy of History” he could with no little truth say that “Indian culture had not attained to a recognition of freedom and inner morality,” and could assert that in the Indian soul there was “bound up an irrational imagination which attaches the moral value and character of men to an infinity of outward actions as empty in point of intellect as of feeling, and sets aside all respect for the welfare of men and even makes a duty of the cruellest and severest contravention of it.” Women of course in all countries are far more conservative than men and are more readily content to sink the needs of personality in a general level of unruffled action. Yet even among the women of India a new spirit of liberation from external limitations is becoming visible and an aspiration to an excellence that shall be from within. In spite of caste distinctions, in spite of the forced rigidity of the marriage system, in spite of all the mental unrest and error of the educated and the practical inertia of the unread, in spite of all this and much more, it would now be far from true to say of them as a whole that they are unconscious of inward freedom and inward law or are blind to the needs of human welfare in the conditions of human life.
But this inner freedom and external amplitude need not be sought and will not be gained in the imitation of foreign manners and customs. Such imitation can never be anything but unnatural and inharmonious; and the castes which have tried it have not succeeded in avoiding evil consequences. A better way is to revert to the ancient ideals which still inspire all that is good in later practice. Dark ages of ignorance have pruned and pinched the older, freer spirit, by superstitious and absurd asceticisms and misinterpreted authorities. Only the ruling castes have enlarged themselves from the bondage by their more virile audacities. In general even the primitive and natural classes, as they raise their status and become reflective, succumb to the same narrowing limitations and impose upon their womankind disabilities which are external and mechanical but which they see current in the higher Brahmanized classes. Yet in the older, nobler days, the Indian women had a life larger by far and more rich in fulfilment. To regain this, which after all is still a living ideal, and to ennoble and enlarge it further through that Greek thought--that inspiring humanity and breath of happiness--which is the life-giving element of European science and civilization, that were indeed an end worthy of a fine tradition. To cut away from the bonds of fears and artificialities and non-human hopes and terrors and seek only to be, wholly and fully, in the harmony of nature and function and sane development, preserving the eternal virtues of womanhood, and finely conscious of a proud tradition--by some such purpose surely might it be possible to secure safe continuity and social health while attaining a progressive and extended activity that should not be alien or discordant. But the timidities of crude asceticism must first be overcome. A generation must arise which can comprehend that self-control is not abstention, far from it, but is found only when, a free soul, governing itself by its own laws, seeks its own satisfaction and the development of all its functions in its free activities. To deny human nature, for any price however fanciful, is more harmful by far than the “Fay ce que Voudras” of any Abbaye de Thelème.
Of the narrow and incongruous privations with which the old ideals were overlaid in the later decadence many still remain. Most cruel and least defensible of all is the prejudice, common in all classes except the highest and not unknown even there, against the enjoyment of literature and art. Music is discountenanced, pictures are never seen, even reading and writing is thought unwomanly. When not only the charming likeness drawn of women in old books is remembered, but in actual life also one sees the fine harmony achieved by those ladies, Rajputs perhaps or Nágar Brahmans, who can recite and enjoy poetry and even sing or play instruments--with what far greater happiness to themselves and the men they love!--it should be plain how great is the national loss wrought by this empty deprivation. Of all the European countries, it is in France that women have most nearly attained that final excellence which both accords with the true tradition of Western life and is not out of harmony with their nature. There a sane and wise worldliness has led to an incessant regard to neatness and careful management, an avoidance of all that is wasteful or excessive. And French life of course pivots upon a mixed society, easily mingling in graceful and polished intercourse--an urbane fellowship in a human civitas, a citizenship in whose enjoyment, it might almost seem, lies the last test of civilization. Hence the French woman, for her part, has trained herself or been trained to be the instrument of a symphony of urbanity and well-bred fellowship, giving of her own characteristic qualities to be an inspiration and a standard to the creative art. Yet, with it all, she is emphatic of her sex. From the highest to the lowest class, one may see her, neat, well dressed, choice in adornment, lavish of love. But she is also tirelessly ready to serve, in her house-keeping as in affairs, devoted to the family of which she is the living bond, an affectionate but careful mother who is honoured and loved by her sons with a pure and tender fervour. For in France, in spite of the general European tendency to moral absolutes at least in theory, the balanced sanity and practical wisdom of the people has never failed to recognize the different spheres and powers, qualities and weaknesses, of men and women. And further, Greek thought and an unbroken Roman tradition have kept alive in France the ideal of a temperate and steady fruition of a world that is made for mankind. In India conditions are different and there is no tradition of mixed society with an easy untrammelled exchange of ideas. Yet even within the limits of the family, it might be thought, the added enjoyment and the larger and finer interests that would be gained by some such acquaintance with books and music and paintings, and the nobler emotions thus won, should seem desirable to all who can think at all.
Controversy has raged fiercely in India round this question of woman’s education. The number of women who can even read and write, if all classes in the whole country are regarded, is a negligible quantity, so small it is; and there are vast tracts in which even Brahman girls remain wholly illiterate. There are many to this day who bitterly oppose even the teaching of letters to girl-children. That this can be the case is of course due to the ignorance of their parents. They have not yet been able to grasp, nor do they know their own ancient history to sufficient purpose, that reading and writing is the birth-right of every human being and a necessary condition of all intelligence and rational development. They are not aware that the ancient ideal contemplated no such renouncement. And quite without cause they fear that instruction for a few years in the elements of education would interfere with the routine of family life and the customs of marriage. They have perhaps never had it clearly put to them how simply this instruction could be fitted in with the usual programme of an ordinary household and how it need imply no departure from existing practice in other matters. But indefensible though this opposition to elementary instruction must be, the objections against further education are unfortunately by no means without excuse. For it must with bitterness be confessed that the modern world, at any rate in Europe, has not yet devised any suitable system of higher education for girls, has indeed rather busied itself with what is unsuitable and injurious. “Advanced thinkers” and “social leaders” have a way of shutting their eyes to scientific results; and facts are hard things which a flabby age prefers to ignore. So girls have been encouraged to emulate boys and young men in every sort of examination within the same curriculum, without heed of their earlier precocity, different method of nervous activity and smaller reserve force, to the detriment of health and natural talents and to their unfitting for their own purposes and functions. It is this which Indian parents, with an eye open to facts when they are so broad and natural as the facts of sex, have apprehended, however dimly, and as it were unconsciously. They have guessed what higher education must in all probability mean in India, as long as European education remained unchanged. And they would not let their girls run the risk of an education which might distort, rather than develop, their sex. Late events served further to deepen this strong and instinctive distrust; and it is indisputable that the excesses of an unhappy section of English women with abnormal aspirations have set back the cause of women’s education in India by many decades.
The misfortune is that in India opposition does not confine itself to a particular and, one hopes, a temporary phase of secondary education; nor does it recognize that in all countries, and especially in India with its universal and early marriage, the question of higher education can affect only a very small number of the total. The feeling of dislike is instinctive and intuitional rather than a reasoned criticism, and it has crept on like a cloud of smoke over the whole field of elementary education. Necessarily it has also obscured all view of a possible, better indigenous method of higher education, which should at once be consonant with the traditions of ancient India and the needs of women in Indian society. Such a system appears now to have been set under way in the wonder-working country of Japan, and with little change might probably be made suitable to Indian conditions. It deserves at least to be studied without prejudice and with a settled understanding of the requirements of the land and of the small classes of women who would directly benefit.
In spite of all obstacles, due partly to the decay of older customs, partly also to imported confusions, it may be hoped that before long it will be admitted that every girl must be taught to read and write. And one may even hope that a higher education will ensue which, without slurring over a woman’s earlier precocity and special talents, without ignoring her specific duties as wife and mother, without forgetting the peculiar needs and excellences of her mind and body, will in addition make her more liberal, better instructed, a worthier companion and a nobler inspiration. In India happily a girl is already allowed to know the facts of life and her emotions are at least natural. But such an education as one foresees would teach her to know more clearly and with scientific truth how to be at once a pleasing and happy wife and a good mother. She, and through her the children whom she trains, would learn the evils of premature or too constantly recurring childbirth and how to avoid them easily. She would know also how to protect her family from uncleanly surroundings and unwholesome habits. She would not unlearn but rather be taught even better the necessary arts of cooking and of sewing, the latter nowadays in many cases almost unknown. But in addition she would also learn to appreciate the beauties of language and of craftsmanship, to hear and understand great poetry, and to feel her whole being thrill to a more glorious harmony in response to the call of the fine arts. She would still--like the Nair ladies of whom old Duarte Barbosa wrote--“hold it a great honour to please men.” Yet she would please not merely by her passion and purity and service, but, keeping these, would also create a higher attraction of the spirit. Thus would the lotus women of India be in truth such that of each it might be said: “She walks delicately like a swan and her voice is low and musical as the note of the cuckoo, calling softly in the summer day.… She is gracious and clever, pious and respectful, a lover of God, a listener to the virtuous and the wise.”
“It may be all my love went wrong-- A scribe’s work writ awry and blurred, Scrawled after the blind evensong-- Spoilt music with no perfect word.” The Leper. Swinburne.