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Pandita Ramabai: Contesting Patriarchy- Hinduism & Chiristianity | Political Science

Title: Indian Political Thought Pandita Ramabai

Indian Political Thought Pandita Ramabai


  • Pandita Ramabai (1858 - 1922) was one of the greatest women of modern India. Exceptionally learned, Ramabai, an outspoken champion of women՚s rights and social reform, earned the unique distinction of being the sole woman representative in the male-dominated world of - gender reforms.
  • As Ramabai ‘transgressed’ the boundaries and contested patriarchy in her educational and missionary activities, she understandably became the most controversial upper-caste woman of her times, and hence, was consciously ‘erased’ from the modern Indian history for a long period.

Contesting Patriarchy: Hinduism & Christianity

  • Ramabai՚s reading of Dharmashastras made her deeply conscious of the contempt with which women of all castes and men of the lower caste were treated in these texts.
  • Like women, rules did not permit the Shudras to perform the same religious acts as the upper castes. Ramabai rejected this discrimination in her personal life when she decided to accept the marriage proposal from a Bipin Behari, a Shudra, thereby decisively breaking with the tradition. Bipin was excommunicated as it was an inter-caste marriage by civil registration. Just after two years of marriage, Bipin՚s death forced widowhood on young Ramabai at the age of twenty-four. After her initial experiences of oppressive widowhood, Ramabai refused to be confined to the domestic space and catapulting herself into the public arena.
  • Returning to Maharashha, Ramabai experienced her first public encounter with the fbrces of patriarchy when she set up the Arya Mahila Samaj in 1882 in Poona to mobilise women, and aroused instant hostility.
  • She brought out a book in Marathi, Stree Dharma Niti [Morals for Women] with the objective of counselling the helpless and ignorant women. The Kesari commented: “In reality, it is the task of men to eradicate these and other evil customs in our society. Women cannot therefore interfere in it for many years to come - even if they are ‘panditas’ and have reached the ultimate stage of reform. Our women will have to be under the control of men for a long time to come.” Undeterred, Ramabai set up a home for high-caste Hindu widows and made an appeal to the Hunter Commission to provide training facilities to women to become teachers and doctors enabling them to serve other women.
  • However, she failed to connect to the women in Maharashtra and felt alienated as she had no community, no social base and no real emotional bonds to fall back upon. This led to her search for solace in religion and God which could simultaneously accommodate her social agenda as well as her personal quest for religious fulfillment.
  • Thus, she got converted to Christianity by the Anglican Church.
  • Ramabai՚s encounter with the patriarchy of the Anglican Church across the globe was no less harsh. When she was offered a professorship, which would involve her teaching to male students, the Bishop of Bombay protested, or “Above all things, pray believe that her influence will be ruined forever in India if she is known to have taught young men.” Ramabai promptly replied: “It surprises me very much to think that neither my father nor my husband objected [to] my mother՚s or my teaching young men while some young people are doing so.” Thus, the major contestation in Ramabai՚s educational and missionary activities was that of patriarchy.
  • A Christian convert and renowned social reformer, Pandita Ramabai was a scholar of Hinduism who had profound disagreements with its philosophical premises, particularly with regard to women, and later as a Christian convert who rebelled against Christian dogma. Thus, her life was a narrative of complex contestations-that of a woman against male hegemony both in Hindu society as well as Anglican Church, that of an Indian convert against the British Anglican bishops and nuns, that of an Indian Christian missionary against the oppression of Hindu women.


1. Ramabai being a Sanskrit scholar was unable to connect with the lower classes of the masses at her time to an optimum extent because her image was an obstacle?

2. Which Indian social reformer considered the patriarchy among all the religions and caste system is considered as the major problem in the society?

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