21H.575J | Fall 2006 | Undergraduate

Women in South Asia from 1800 to Present

Study Materials

This section features discussion questions for two of the main readings.

Tarabai Shinde’s Comparison Between Men and Women

  1. Who is Tarabai Shinde? Which region and social class does she come from?
  2. Why does she write this polemical tract?
  3. What are the social and political contexts of 19th century reforms?
  4. What is caste? How and why does it become important in colonial India?
  5. How are women important in maintaining/creating caste identities?
  6. What are the different ‘roles’ for Indian women in the 19th century? What are the normative expectations in each of these roles? How were these prescriptions disseminated?
  7. What are the different characteristics of Victorian models of womanhood? Why do they become popular in the latter half of the 19th century with Indian reformers?
  8. What is marathmola? In what ways does it’s meaning differ between 18th and the 19th centuries?
  9. What is stridharma? How is it defined?
  10. In what ways were women defined in popular literature in the 19th century?
  11. Did colonialism affect Indian women? If yes, then in what ways? What is Tarabai’s opinion on this issue?
  12. According to Tarabai how did colonial rule change the men?
  13. How does Tarabai describe the ‘double standards’ of Indian men? What do these descriptions tell you about masculinity in Pativrata colonial India?
  14. How does she describe the following: child marriage; or virtuous wife; condition of widows.
  15. What is Tarabai’s opinion on the contemporary social reforms?
  16. Would you argue that Tarabai’s tract is more than a critique of patriarchy? How does it compare with Ramabai’s High Caste Hindu Woman?
  17. Are Ramabai and Tarabai feminists? Are they revolutionary or are they peculiar colonial products of their times?

Katherine Mayo’s Mother India

  1. Who is ‘Mother India’? What are her characteristics according to Katherine Mayo?
  2. According to Mayo, what is the root cause of the problems that plague India?
  3. What sources does she use? Do you find her arguments convincing? Why? Why not?
  4. Why does she put forward such a thesis?
  5. According to Mayo, why can’t the British government raise the age of marriage for girls to 14? Do you agree with her contentions?
  6. What is her attitude towards the British Government? Towards Indian nationalists like Gandhi?
  7. Mayo talks a lot about Indian women and their pitiful conditions. Does that make her a champion of women’s rights in India?
  8. In your view that is the most convincing/preposterous description of Indian women in the book?
  9. What is the historical context within which the book was written?
  10. The British hold the majority in the Indian legislature. Then why are there so few legislations to improve the condition of Indian women?
  11. Discuss the different strands of protest against the book? Is Gandhi’s reaction different than those written by early Indian feminists?
  12. According to Mrinalini Sinha, how did the book serve as a platform of alliance between the Indian women’s movement and Indian nationalism?
  13. How can one get out of the ‘Mother India Syndrome’ in the contemporary world?

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2006