Refuse to be the slaves of your own whims and fancies and the slaves of men. Refuse to decorate yourselves, don't go in for scents and levender waters; if you want to give out the proper scent, it must come out of your heart, and then you will captivate not man, but humanlity. It is your birthright. Man is born of woman, he is flesh of her flesh and bone of her bone. Come to your own and deliver your message again
-M. K. Gandhi
To call them abala is to condemn the inherent strength of women; In my view it is an insult to them. If we pweuse the history
we shall come across marvelous instances of bravery shown by women. They not only exhibited their bravery through arms, but by building up their moral courage they developed immense strength. If women resolve to bring glory to the nation, within a few months they can totally change the face of the country because of the spiritual background (of women).
" My feeling is that if men of the Congress can retain their faith in ahimsa and prosecute the non-violence programme faithfully and fully, the women would be automatically converted. And it may be that there shall arise one among them who will be able to go much farther than I can ever hope to do. For woman is more fitted than man to make explorations and take bolder action in ahimsa. For the courage of self-scarifice woman is any day superior to man as I believe man is to woman for the courage of the brute."
Gandhiji never wrote merely for the pleasure of writing, but always with a purpose and as a guide to action. He always described himself as a man of action. All that he spoke or wrote was meant to be translated into action; and he successfully put it into practice, both in his personal and public life. Every thought, feeling, act of his reflected a life mission; hence the statement "my life is my message".
This quality of his utter honesty and purposefulness has attracted me the most towards him. I must confess that I have not consciously studied his writings, nor am I a 'bhakta' (devotee) of hi, However, I have been able to find answers to my question from him on many occasions in my life.
I realize now that what he spoke or wrote was very India. He used to say. "My ideas are not mine, they are as old as the hills" But he had that receptive, open mind that understood the Indian people, their difficulties, their aspirations. No Indian leader has matched this understanding till now. I believe the source of this deep understanding was his high regard for the people. That is what made him a leader of the masses in its true sense.
He set a unique example amongst Indian leaders by including women among the 'masses' in a most natural way. Women participated in mass movements led by him in a natural course. And this made a big breakthrough in Indian women's lives, for ever. I would say that I would not have been what I am today, if Gandhiji had not made this breakthrough. This fact would apply to every Indian woman of today. His deep faith in women's Shakti (power) came, as he admitted, from his experience of his mother and his wife. He women as human beings, and that is why he perceived women as equal partners in the home and society, not merely as wives and mothers. No wonder he sought the participation of women in the freedom struggles at political. Economic and moral levels.
He was a super strategist, and his strategy to fight for freedom could not ignore women. He had more faith in his women soldiers than the men soldiers, because he really considered women to be superior to men, particularly when the weapons in the struggle were love and non-violence. He believed women to be stronger because their hearts contained, as mothers, qualities of love and peace. No other public leader has ever put such positive confidence in the women of the country. He realized a very strong need for support and participation from women in creating a society based on justice.
Gandhiji did see the exploitation of women in and outside their home. I have always been moved by his statement that no one can be exploited without his/her will or participation. For a long time I would not accept this view but after working for years in SEWA. Our union of Self Employed Women Workers, I find it Gandhiji's most valid statement. Gandhiji had observed his wife and mother quietly resisting their exploitation at home. He learnt the method of satyagraha from them and put it into practice as a major strategy to rebel against exploitation by the British. No fighter planes or tanks can cope with the attacks of love and satyagraha in a fight for justice.
Our demand was just and minimum, i.e. to allow us to earn our living in this market, as we are an integral part of this market for the last 3 generations. As vendors we are providing a useful service to the society, and as our demands were just and minimum we had full support from the general public during our struggle, and therefore the authorities became powerless. I have realized that if I lift a stone to make my point, I lose the public support. It then becomes only an issue of law and order the doors of negotiations are closed and the just cause is lost. Also, as we shift our method from non-violence to violence the local anti-social elements creep in, and our just demands are lost. In settling demands of the poor especially, the general public support is very essential.
In SEWA. All our struggles are in the open. We always inform out opponents of our plans before we take any action. We never cheat or dupe our opponents. I think this way we have been able to establish our credibility in the hearts not only of the public but also of our opponents. Once in a struggle of agricultural workers when we were beaten up by the police our opponents came to the hospital to take care of those who had been injured. One of them donated his blood to one of the injured women workers. In fact our opponents put more confidence in SEWA's reporting than what their own staff reported to them.
Our demand was just and minimum, i.e. to allow us to earn our living in this market, as we are an integral part of this market for the last 3 generations. As vendors we are providing a useful service to the society and as our demands were just and minimum we had full support from the general public during our struggle and therefore the authorities became powerless. I have realized that if I lift a stone to make my point, I lose the public support. It then becomes only an issue of law and order the doors of negotiations are closed and the just cause is lost. Also, as we shift our method from non-violence to violence, the local anti-social elements creep in and our just demands are lost. In settling demands of the poor, especially, the general public support, is very essential.
In SEWA, all our struggle are in the open we always inform our opponents of our plans before we take any action. We never cheat or dupe our opponents. I think this way we have been able to establish our credibility in the hearts not only of the public but also of our opponents. Once, in a struggle of agricultural workers when we were beaten up by the police, our opponents came to the hospital to take care of those who had been injured. One of them donated his blood to one of the injured women workers. In fact, our opponents put more confidence in SEWA's reporting than what their own staff reported to them.
Once the demand is made, we stick to it at any cost. Therefore we demand only that which is just. No haggling in settling the demands. I think, this approach very well blends into the women's way of demanding. Once convinced, the women would not bend or bow down, and also needy women remain very firm and ready to suffer the consequences, on their stand. They cannot be very easily bribed by the opponents.
We have also seen that SEWA women, though tradition-bound, have been able to come out of the restrictions based on caste and religion during the times of crisis. During the recent riots in our State, the local SEWA leaders in their streets actually stopped the men of their own family from doing violence and protected the families of the minority community in the mohalla community in the mohalla (neighbourhood) from communal attacks. By working and saying prayers together for a decade in SEWA, they are developing respect for each other's religion and a need to remain together in their fight against poverty. Once, one Devilal came to me in great agitation complaining that his wife (a SEWA member) had the audacity to stop him from what he was wanting to do, viz. to throw stones. As he became more violent, the wife went to the police with the request that her husband should be arrested. "I will tell the police (who is my friend) to arrest her because she is a bad woman", Devilal thus threatened her. She said, "You may call me by had names, I am not afraid."
Chandaben is a local SEWA leader, and often has to go to the police to take up causes of her members, so Chandaben is not a popular person in the police department. Often she has to face humiliations of all kinds. But she says "I enjoy this suffering. These insults do not hurt me they are my pride! I feel stronger when I suffer for my sister" Didn't Gandhiji speak similar words in relation to the humiliations he faced from the British authorities? Each one of us has experienced that a tremendous strength generates from a struggle for justice. 'By participating in struggles, we have been gradually able to liberate ourselves from Purdah and such social taboos
' says Karimabibi, SEWA Vice President.
Actually it is the process of development that excites and enriches us all in SEWA. Often we have debates among ourselves on matters of moral values. e.g. a member engaging in theft. As a union, we inform the employer of the theft and return the stolen goods to the employer with an apology. It is a hard pill to swallow for us but there cannot be any compromise on such matters. Whatever is immoral is immoral. When our demand is just our method to demand also has to be pure and straight because what is there to hide if our demand is just? The strengthens our case in the eyes of the employer, the court and the public.
Gandhiji wanted to build a new society in free India-a society based on social justice and peace. He asked "Freedom for whom? What does freedom mean to millions of people who are so poor and backward?" For him, freedom was a birthright for every nation, as well as every human being. He always included women in his 'human being'. In his vision of social change, a moral character of high order was very important. All along, his most concerted efforts were on re-building of human beings.
Gujarat is the land of Gandhiji and in Ahmedabad Textile Labour Union he experimented his principle of trusteeship. He called it 'a laboratory of human relations'. I worked in this union for 17 years dealing with women's problems. It is here that I look lessons on trade union work, settling disputes by conciliation and co-operation, the theory of demand that it always has to be minimum and just. Here I learnt the methods of civil disobedience in our struggles, and in these struggles realized women's strength in fighting for justice. And thus SEWA was born.
'We may be illiterate but we are knowledgeable in the ways of the world.
Son: Because the boy has to earn money when he grows up, therefore he must study well.
Mother: You are wrong, my son. Women also make an earning for the family. And, there is a lot to learn in housework-house-cleaning, cooking, laundry. By doing housework you will develop various skills of the body and will feel self reliant. In good housework you need to use your eyes, hands and brain therefore these activities are educative and they build your character. Men and women both need to be educated equally in housework because the home belongs to both.
I feel indeed most thrilled and elevated by Gandhiji's writing of primer. Viz., Balpothi, where the mother teaches the son!
I said to Vinabehn Majumdar that I should not write this Foreword as I am not a Gandhian scholar. At her insistence, I have tried to put down some of the ideas that attracted me to Gandhiji, or where I found substance for his ideas in my own life and work. I do believe that writings of Gandhiji will provide an important support to the women's movement in India, if not in the whole world. I am very happy that the Centre for Women's Development Studies thought of putting this volume together, and that the Navajivan Trust agreed to bring it out as a joint publication. If my stray thoughts encourage some readers who are unfamiliar with Gandhiji's view on women to study this volume carefully, I shall be amply rewarded.
Contemporary history of academic interest in problems of women's status, roles and other issues presents many paradoxes in India. On the one hand, there is an increase, even explosion, of research and publications on women's problems, especially since 1975-because of the International Women's Decade, the fillip given to research on women by the publication of the Report of the Committee on the Status of Women in India and the adoption of specific research programmes in this area by the Indian Council of Social Science Research and several other agencies-national and international. On the other hand, several critical areas-which in our opinion could provide basic clues to the paradoxical situation facing women in this country-have clues to the paradoxical situation facing women in this country-have continued uninvestigated. The economic marginalization of the overwhelming majority of women, identified by the Committee on the Status of Women in India, has attracted a great deal of attention from social scientists and even a few policy makers during the last decade. But the failure of political equality to introduce any new trends in women's situation in society or in the political process has hardly attracted a similar kind of interest. The whole issue of power relations within the family the community the economy and the State. Though recognized as a major problem affecting women alongwith large masses of the people, has not really been seriously examined.
Another significant area that has been neglected by scholars in general is the interconnection between the women's question and the whole process of social upheaval that accompanied the birth of the Indian nation. The role of political ideology and that of the national leadership in accepting gender equality as a fundamental principle of the Indian political system continue to be presented in simplistic terms without any serious investigation.
If the acceptance of gender equality was ideologically as complete as many commentators would like us to believe then many things, which have happened in the four decades since independence would make no sense. One may of course say that the rise of revivalist and fundamentalist movements which threaten the fragile structure of women's right is not something unique to India but is part of a global phenomenon. But this does not help to explain why the history of such efforts in independent India presents such a chequered history why some moves were rejected by the Government in office while others succeeded.
The national debate on the Muslim Women's (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Bill earlier this year demonstrated in a very vivid manner how thin is the understanding of either the political roots or imperatives of gender equality, or the close connection between women's rights to equality and the health of the Indian political system.
Another neglected area in our scholarship is the exploration of the views of Indian thinkers on the women's question Mahatma Gandhi's contribution to the philosophy of non-violence is widely known, even outside India. But Mahatma Gandhi's views on women's rights and role in the process of social revolution are little known even to scholars inside the country. The few inadequate collection of Gandhi's writings on women represent the biases and the assumptions of the compilers in their selection.
Gandhi's attitude to women has generally been projected either as a part of his humanism or as a patriarchal compromise, which did not really overcome the restricted views about women's roles which was widely prevalent in his generation. In our opinion neither of these positions is based on a really critical examination of Gandhi's ideas about women and their potential role in revolution. Nor do such studies examine the evolution of Gandhi's ideas over time, and the connection between shifts in his position with his understanding of the political imperatives of the Indian freedom struggle.
Most objective analysts of Gandhi agree on his role as an outstanding political strategist. In the evolution of his strategy for mass mobilization and his vision for a future India, where did the women's question fit in? To what extent did he succeed in communicating his ideas to other leaders. To his followers and to women? To what extent was the confusion, the compromises and the reaction even among Gandhi's followers in later years the result of his failure to articulate fully all that he had thought? To what extent was he himself unable to escape the attitudinal constraints of his background and generation? Or was this failure also rooted in political strategy?
The Centre for Women's Development Studies undertook to compile a comprehensive collection of Gandhi's writings on women in the hope that it will stimulate much more critical research in these areas than we have observed so far. We arranged the writings in chronological order to show that his views were not static but evolved through different stages of his political career and different phases in the Indian struggle for freedom. We offer this to all those who are interested in the Indian revolution, and other who accept the women's question as basically a political one. We hope this volume will help to stimulate closer intellectual collaboration between these two groups who now remain very far apart.
We also hope this will help to stimulate some self-criticism and self-evaluation amongst all those who regard themselves as the inheritors of the Gandhian legacy.
Lastly we hope the volume will provide some assistance to those activists who are seeking for new strategies to mobilize women and men to work for a different kind of social order at the local, national or international level.
Our thanks are due to Pushpa Joshi who patiently worked through the massive collection of Gandhi's writings to compile this volume, to Leela Dubey who suggested the idea of a thematic index, the Navajivan Trust for agreeing so readily to bring it out as a joint publication and to Ela Bhatt for writing the Foreword. I must also thank all other colleagues who contributed to the preparation of the volume through discussions, typing proof reading etc.
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