Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Abstract 2014 Jana Tschurenev

Jana Tschurenev, Centre for Modern Indian Studies, Göttingen University


Mothers, Wives, Teachers: Agendas of Female Education in Colonial India

Sociological and historical studies which analyse the nexus between class stratification and education, such as Bourdieu’s concept of reproduction, or Willis’ exploration of “how working class kids get working class jobs”, often center on the question of how education systems tend to uphold the existing patterns of social inequality. The literature on female education, in contrast, tends to foreground questions of social change and individual empowerment. By contrasting different experiments in female education in nineteenth century India, this paper outlines some of the contradictory agendas and effects of female education within and on the colonial social order.

From the 1820s onwards, female education became a prominent site for debates about social reform. In Bengal and Bombay, British missionaries and the novel education societies (such as the Calcutta School Book Society or the Bombay Education Society) started to promote the education of girls and young women belonging to the urban underclass of European descent – which is the first case study this paper focuses on. Lessons in Christian morality and needle work were supposed to prepare them for their role as wives and mothers within “their respective social sphere.” Given the strong Christian agenda, and the promotion of the evangelical model of female domesticity, which was also part of the first efforts of British missionaries to “diffuse” new forms of education among Indian women, female education soon turned into a site of competing visions of social order and the formation of cultural identities. Women’s role as mothers of future generations became increasingly politicized in the course of the nineteenth century.

At the same time, female education became a crucial field for the development of women’s reform activism and women’s professional activities. From the 1820s onwards, British women used the engagement with the imperial “civilizing mission” as a way to enter the public sphere, to go abroad as teachers of female schools and act as missionaries among women. Towards the later nineteenth century, a strong link was formed between feminist activism and the promotion of female education in many countries. In this context, the second case study of this paper focuses on the educational activities of Pandita Ramabai (1858-1922), and the ways in which she linked the education of high caste Hindu widows to questions of the social emancipation of women. Her case is particularly interesting since it reveals the nationalist opposition towards the project of modern public female education, but also the limits of feminist emancipation within the caste frame. Applying an intersectionality perspective on inequality and empowerment, the paper points to the contradictory effects of (women’s engagement with) female education in colonial India.

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