Importance of education for women empowerment in Kerala


Vrindha Rajan.S
Research Scholar
Karpagam University

Ayur, Kollam, Kerala


Kerala being one of the outstanding states of India with cent percent literacy and renowned as "God's own country" it is lagging a lot in women empowerment. The highest literate ladies of India belong to Kerala, are still in a shell of inhibition to become free birds to boom in different enviornments.Even different types of movements are initiated but there is no powerful transformations seen in connection with making a lady a fully fledged individual. In this scenario this article tries to irradicate the factors contributing the inhibiting factors among the ladies to move into such a world of difference and the importance of education in empowering her to become a complete personality.

Key words: women empowerment, inhibiting factors, complete personality.


Education has been important aspect of human beings. It is especially so with women because they can then widen their knowledge. It is obvious that without the struggle for education in the early nineteenth century we would not have had Indian English women's fiction at all. According to P.S. Balasubramanian, "By the beginning of nineteenth century women in India were hardly educate"(71). Moreover, there was "a superstitious feeling" among the majority of Hindu families that if a girl was educated she "will soon" "become" "a widow". This was according to a report of William Adam on the state of education in Bengal in 1836. The British government   "was also apathetic towards educational activities for girls in the beginning" (Balasubramanian 71). The progress of women's education in India during the British period was extremely slow, as the British government did not encourage women's education. It was the same in England too in Valerie Hey'sview:

The historical development of education in England in nineteenth century traces the   role of ideologies of femininity and their contestation.

Educational provision was   initially restricted to the aspirant sons of the upper class. The practice confirmed the scholarly clerical tradition of Oxbridge. Despite capitalist expansion stimulating the demand for education, middle and upper class women and their working class sisters  were variously denied access.  The subsequent history of education traces numerous challenges to this exclusion.

Analysis of the literature

Coming back to India, according to Sahab Deena:

In 1819 Christian missionaries opened girl's schools. But many families did not send their children to these schools. The first step in giving a modern education to girls was taken up the missionaries in 1821, but these efforts were married by the emphasis on Christian religious education. The Bethune school had great difficulties in securing students.Themissionary schools had spread to all parts of the country. By the end of nineteenth century, progressive Arya Samajists recognized the importance of involving women in their reform efforts (Forbes 44). "The Bethune school, founded in Calcutta in 1849, was the first fruit of the powerful movement for women's education that across in the 4th and 5th decade of the nineteenth century. While the education of women was not unknown in India, a great deal of prejudice against it existed" (Deena 63). According to Mehtab Giri, "No schools were supported before 1854. Only after 1854 was official/governmental support given in the form of grants-in-aid. The Brahma Samaj too contributed towards women's education in Bengal" (80).

The main hurdle for the growth of women's education in nineteenth century was the role of religious played. Religious Hindu parents were not in favour of sending their girls either out into the world or to schools. Hindu society was a kind of closed society. As opposed to this, Christian Missionaries were in favour of education for women and they did play a role in educating women. The missionaries were aware of the lacuna in the education of women in India. Thus they took up the cause of educating women. The Indian religious reform movements too made some efforts towards encouraging education of girls as can be seen from the following:

The education of women was an area which Indian reformers handled with singular success. By the middle and the end of nineteenth century the Brahmo Samaj, the  Prarthana Samaj, the Arya Samaj etc. were all actively engaged in the education of  women. About this time, around 1860-1870 European liberalism was beginning to  have a strong impact on Indian thinking. (Chitnis 61)The historical fact is that "In 1883, two Bengali Brahma Samaj women became the first Indian women from Bethune College" (Giri 80).

Mehtab Giri gives us "the old maxim": "When you educate a man, you educate an individual, but when you educate a woman you educate a family and a nation is not an exaggeration" (79). I agree with Mehtab Giri as it is generally believed that women take great care of children's education. So it is better to provide education first to girls, then to the family, the village, the town, the district and the state. Thus the country will have better citizens. Superstitious beliefs, ignorance and economic reasons were responsible for the absence of systematic female education at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Moreover, the social evils of child marriage and the purdah system were also responsible for not sending the girls to educational institutions. However, some Christian's missionaries and social reformers like Swami Dayanand Vidhyasagar and P.C. Benerjee attempted to educate girls during this period.

Susanne Greenhalgh in her article "Growing Up" presents the argument about girls of eighteenth and nineteenth centuries remaining restricted either to home or to employment. As a result, they were deprived of education and were married off. They, thus, did not constitute the category "youth": Youth came to be seen as a period of restless experimentation, a journey of rebellion and self-discovery which ended in acceptance of the demands of society, usually in the form of marriage. Such stories of adventures in search of a "sentimental education" away from home were essentially boy's stories, however. A girl's growing up, based in the home of her family or employers until marriage, largely excluded from education, and often rigorously protected from sexual encounters, did not take the same form, either in fiction or in fact. To a large extent girls were not seen as part of this new category of "youth".

For girls, however, such adolescent attempts to take charge of their sexuality other aspects of their lives conflicted with the socially preferred feminine goals of being careers, dependents and sex objects. These views are relevant in the case of India too. That is why I feel education is a must for all girls irrespective of their nation and country. They should not be brought up in the above manner. They have to be given education in order not to be "careers" "dependents" or "sex objects". In the Indian context, "Pandita Ramabai was truly remarkable as a pioneer in women's education and as a rebel and champion of women's rights. She wrote a book entitled The High Caste Hindu Women (1888). This book is a critique of Hindu customs and traditions of women in terms of caste, marriage, children, duties of a wife and widowhood. In the book she also appeals to all men and women who have sympathy for the high-caste Hindu women to help them by making them aspire for "self-reliance" and providing them "education" and "Native Women Teachers" in order to improve the condition and status of Hindu women in India.

According to the status of women in India: A synopsis of the Report of the National Committee of the status of Women, the nineteenth century social reformers' "aim was to use education to make women more capable of fulfilling their traditional roles as wives and mother and not to make them more efficient and active units in the process of socio-economic or political development. The colonial authorities generally supported this limited view of women's education".

According to K.A. Kunjakkan:"More education gives more intelligence, reasoning power, more I.Q., and such an individual is able to understand and comprehend things around them. They acquire an inquisitive mind and thus able to question things. This is however opposed to Indian view of life, where women are expected to be obedient, disciplined, submissive, chaste and docile"

Inference from the study

The researcher strongly agree with Kunjakkan views about education giving more intelligence, reasoning power, more I.Q., and an ability to comprehend things but the researcher do not agree with the later part of Kunjakkan's ideas about women being expected to be obedient, submissive, and docile. In fact the researcher's work is based on the assumption that "education" can make women more intelligent and comprehend things in a better fashion.

After this brief historical and sociological background to the question of education, let us move on to how education for women has been viewed in the literary world in the nineteenth century. Before the researcher proceed let me make a statement about my choice of novels for study in this dissertation. The researcher is dealing only with selected novels originally written in English from the 1950s to the 1990s by women writers and not translations. This is only for the purpose of convenience and to make the study focused.

The researcher also needs to define who is an "educated" woman. The researcher considers any women with a formal education (from the primary level to the doctoral)"educated" women. Moreover, the researcher has not considered those novels that have no "educated" women characters at all. The novels that the researcher has not considered for instance in the present study are : Kamala Markandaya's A Silence of Desire (1960), A Handful of Rice(1966), The Golden Honey-comb(1977), and Pleasure City(1982); Anita Desai's The Village by the Sea(1982) and Baumgartner's  Bombay(1988); Nayantara Sahgal's Mistaken Identity(1984); Gita Mehta's A River Sutra(1993); Gita Hariharan's The Ghost of Vasu Master(1994) and When Dreams Travel(1999).

The researcher deal with these "educated" women in terms of "marriage", "career" and "Divorce". These three issues are not independent but are inter-connected. Moreover the researcher analysed the novels to see if different decades have any effect on the issues discussed.          


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Vrindha Rajan.S
Research Scholar
Karpagam University

Ayur, Kollam, Kerala

Source: E-mail May 17, 2012


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