Feminist Historiography with special reference of Pandita Ramabai and Tarabai Shinde

Автор: Swati Rajan

Журнал: Revista Científica Arbitrada de la Fundación MenteClara @fundacionmenteclara

Статья в выпуске: 1, Vol. 5, 2020 года.

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In colonial Maharashtra women tried to converse with themselves and the society through biographies, autobiographies, articles in newspapers, journals and they even wrote books, trying to discuss women’s issues that arose from the patriarchal system of society at the time. They criticized social customs and blind faith in religion pertaining women, very intensely. Their writings were theoretical and visionary, and stood out creating a baseline for feminist historiography; here my efforts are to interpret their writings from that point of view. The first part of this paper discusses the efforts of feminist historiography as a whole and the second part is based on the book, ‘The High Caste Hindu Woman’ and ‘Stri-Purush Tulana’ by Pandita Ramabai and Tarabai Shinde respectively.


Feminism, Historiography, Women, Colonial Maharashtra

Короткий адрес: https://readera.org/170163677

IDR: 170163677   |   DOI: 10.32351/rca.v5.117

Фрагмент статьи Feminist Historiography with special reference of Pandita Ramabai and Tarabai Shinde


In this paper I try to explore the writings of nineteenth century women and the possibility of linkages they may have with today’s feminist movement as these writings show the beginnings of many of the values we see amalgamate with feminism today. The historiography we see today is built largely through a chauvinistic perspective and illustrates history through the mindset of a patriarchal system. This is an effort to understand women’s contribution in the evolution of feminism even though this word didn’t exist at the time. Women were cautious witnesses to their changing position in colonial Maharashtra and were also part of the efforts taken by the reformers to improve the condition of deprived and victimized women. Pandita Ramabai and Tarabai Shinde criticized the traditional value system which was imposed on women forcefully and both were initially attached with social organizations; Arya Mahila Samaj and Satyashodhak Mandal respectively.

The literary work put forward by these women was theoretical, visionary and way ahead of their time, my effort here is to interpret this through the point of view of feminist historiography. The first part of this research paper will be on an efforts of feminist historiography as a whole and second part is on these writer’s book namely ‘Stri-PurushTulana’ and ‘The High Caste Hindu Woman’.

Stri Purush Tulana (Shinde, 1882) is an essay of forty pages published in the form of a book in 1882. Initially written as a response to an article on the Vijayalaxmi case published in the Pune Vaibhav, a weekly newsletter which was known to be extremely orthodox (Tharu & Lalita, 1993). Stri-Purush Tulana thus put forth a mature feminist argument which broadened the scope in which the composition of patriarchal society was analyzed.

Pandita Ramabai's book 'The High Caste Hindu Woman’ (Ramabai, 1887) was an empathetic narration of the suppressed and oppressed lives of upper caste Hindu women who came up with a proposal for their emancipation. Considered by Meera Kosambi as the ‘an unofficial Indian Feminist Manifesto’ (Kosambi, 2016) the book sold over 9,000 copies within year of being published in the United States in 1887.

Feminist Historiography

The term historiography derives two basic meanings, first, it refers to a spontaneous and self conscious approach of historical practice: ‘a critical consciousness at work in the writing of history’ (Chandler, 1998) In the second approach (instance), it refers to a theoretical or philosophical exercise that takes a step back from the writing of substantive history, in order to critically examine the deeper underlying conceptual models and imaginaries that inform the kind of histories, and the ways that we use and approach our histories. The term ‘feminist historiography’ means a theoretical meta-reflection, a constant and continuous process of reinterpretation of history, thinking analyzing and observing activities and intellectual tasks. Feminists have constituted and conceptualized histories of feminism. Feminists argue that the power relationship between men and women, between different social classes in understanding social change and to grasp conflicts, multiplicity and complex relationship of society. That leads to a reinterpretation of social movements and ideology in history and opening up new fields of enquiry. Feminism is seen as the conflict against all forms of patriarchal encroachment and aggression. Feminism as the necessary resistance to the patriarchal influence, logically then it is a theory of utopia. La Capra quotes in his book (1985) ‘History and Criticism’ that, ‘the philosophical feminist historiography, intimately linked to rhetorical and ethico-political concerns and discourse’ (Browne, 2013).

Feminism means challenging patriarchal influence and authority and androcentric[1] norms and comparison, the field of feminist history, necessarily overlaps with the field of ‘women’s history’.

The historical task of recovering female pasts and making women visible in history, thereby expelling or complicating androcentric or patriarchal perspectives, is indeed a crucial feminist practice (Lerner, 1979). Feminists have identified the aspects of gender discrimination as the root cause of women’s disappearing status in the hierarchical order of most of the societies. Kate Millet in her one of the critical book ‘Sexual Politics’ describes gender as a Personality, Structure in terms of sexual category (Millet, 1998).

Indian Feminist Historiography

To comprehend and understand the insight of feminism, it is crucial to examine that Indian Feminist Historiography is altogether different scenario. Deep rooted and painful hardship of women, the hard conflict for the acceptance for the equal status in the society, long struggle for basic human rights are some of the visible imprint of the gender discrimination and inequality in India. In the 19th century few literate women tried to overcome these issues. They expressed themselves through their writings. Indian society has always been stratified by the hierarchy within a family age, ordinal position and sex, favorable relationship. Within the society remarking caste genealogy, learning, occupation and relationship with controlling power have been protected very rigorously.

Sangari and Vaid point out the significance of feminist historiography as follows: “Feminist historiography now implies in some sense a more towards the integrated domain of cultural history”. Historiography may be feminist without being exclusively, women’s history. Such a historiography acknowledges that each aspect of reality is gendered, and is thus involved in questioning all that we think we know, in a sustained examination of analytical and epistemological apparatus, and in a dismantling of the ideological presuppositions of so called gender neutral methodologies. A feminist historiography rethinks historiography as a whole and discards the idea of women as something to be framed by a context, in order to be able to think of gender difference as both structuring and structured by the wide set of social relations (Sangari & Vaid, 1998). The literature written mainly by women and concerned to women is called feminist literature. Women’s writing emerged in India as a new site of research and critical studies in the 1980’s, as a result of feminist movement and as a consequence of growing interesting feminist historiography. Feminist historiography which consciously reflects upon the writing of history from a feminist standpoint emphasizes the importance of examining writings by women. Seemanthini Niranjana points out the significance of women’s writings as follows:

“As a discursive practice, women’s writing is situated within the wider cultural context of patriarchy and its structural manifestations. Despite the varying specificity of content under different modes of production, patriarchy can be described in terms of the dominance of the male and a corresponding marginalization of women. In such a circumscribing milieu, women’s writing assumes importance as response to patriarchal relations within patriarchy itself. It may provide a unique record of the systems which shapes and contains the life stories of women” (Niranjana, 1989).

She identifies women’s writing as a site of struggle which involves both dominant perceptions of social reality and the resistances to it (Niranjana, 1989). In this sense, women’s writings become significant documents in the analysis of women’s spaces, which demonstrate the making and remaking of these spaces while recording their resistances to the outside world. Feminist historiography, while deconstructing dominant ways of writing women’s history, considers women’s writing itself as history writing.

The Introduction: Authors and Books

The objective of the research paper is to demonstrate the evolution of woman space that materializes in the writings of Pandita Ramabai and Tarabai Shinde’s books ‘The High Caste Hindu Woman’ and ‘Stree-Purush Tulana’. This study looks at the feminist historiography of both books to trace the linkage and importance of their writing to the today’s feminist agenda. In this research paper, it will be interesting to look at how, at different junctures, the dominant social sphere tried to eclipse it in different ways and how at different crossroads it spoke the language of negotiation in an attempt to appropriate this space.

I draw some instances mainly from Pandita Ramabai’s book ‘The High Caste Hindu Woman’ and Tarabai Shinde’s book ‘Stri-Purush Tulana’. Their writings are based on basic expectations of adverse condition of women, then, which imposed by male dominated society. Tarabai’s writing is more radical than Pandita Ramabai. This study specifically locates both writers’ conscious efforts as a woman, within this tradition of resistance and strives to present, how their writings contribute to the women’s well being through a merging of the public and the private way of life.

Pandita Ramabai and Tarabai Shinde, their experiences of life, courage to resist established social norms and religious unjust, prejudiced practices is exclusive. They had keen interest in the social upliftment of women. They were also aware of their personal space and freedom of life. In this research paper, the emphasis is to understand their writings with a view of feminist historiography. It will be interesting to look into that, how they resisted the ideological imposement of patriarchal values on women. They were both thinking about the adverse condition faced by women to get opportunities to grow themselves. Both posed logical opposition to the dominant values of the chauvinistic society or moved away from those that were excluded from its narrative; this study is thus interesting from a feminist historiography point of view.


Список литературы Feminist Historiography with special reference of Pandita Ramabai and Tarabai Shinde

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