Background to the author:
The Late Smt. Ramabi Ranade - whose birth centenary was celebrated in
This text describes the marital life of Ramabai Ranade who was married to a progressive, “reformist” justice, Mahadev Govind Ranade. Unlike most women at the time, she was encouraged by her husband to read and write and thus learnt both Marathi and English. This extract from her autobiography presents the conflicts that occurred between Ramabai and the other women in the household who, despite being educated in the same fashion, resent Ramabai’s education and often tease her. Ramabai also recounts an instance wherein she resented the decision of the women of the temple to exclude the wives of the reformists and thus left the temple, thinking she had made a good decision. The extract continues with the description of her husband’s dissatisfaction with that particular decision and their first disagreement.
The extract deals with several themes –
1. Marital relationships – though unconventional, the relationship does display many concrete trends of regular relationships with the submissive wife who tends to her husband’s every whim. An important element of the marital relationship addressed here is that of the reformist relationship where Western-educated men encouraged their wives to be literate. This new dimension raises questions as to whether the status of women was really improved or not.
2. Women and the patriarchal society – the extract represents Ramabai’s conflicts with the other women of the household and this portrays the role of women in enforcing the patriarchal society. The rifts between women in the household suggests that it is the women who represent the more difficult hurdle in marital life, an aspect which is curious considering the accepted notion of the man being most restrictive.
3. Roles of women in society - there are conventionally elements of female responsibilities here, such as cleaning, cooking and serving, as well as the religious element with reference to the temple and the cunning of the non-reformist women. This theme raises to mind questions of whether the roles of women have changed at present from the fundamental roles established in the past.
The story ‘My Studies Begin’ by Ramabai Ranade is set in colonial India. The traditions and customs of the people were more rigid than ever. Many men of that period were being educated in the west and they picked up the western ideas of equality and education for women. They were known as the reformists. Like Ramabai’s husband in this story, some men expected their wives to learn how to read and write. The wives had to do this in addition to the daily household work and they had to bear severe opposition from other members in the family.
The common misconception or superstition around that time was that if women were educated, they would be widowed very quickly. Therefore in order to safeguard their husband’s life they would have to remain illiterate. This was prominent along the same time as Sati and child marriage that were some social evils that people were fighting against. Though there were a few changes being brought about, not everyone welcomed these changes. The women married to progressive men had double the work to do in terms of studying and completing all the household chores on time. As joint family systems prevailed at that time, it was not easy for these women to study without facing ridicule from the rest of the family. Some women could not adjust to the constant criticism and refused to study further while some women adopted certain mechanisms to counter the treatment they received in the hands of other members of the family. Some women lashed out and showed their feelings openly to everyone while some women, like Ramabai, remained submissive and unresponsive. In the story, Ramabai feels that this attitude will discourage the other women and they would slowly stop their ridiculing but it was not always so.
Not only the women in the family, but the women in the society openly rejected the wives of reformist men. This we can see in the story when Ramabai and the other reformist women were not allowed to sit with the women but were made to sit with the men in the assembly hall. This was a great insult to the women which Ramabai could not handle. The uneducated women in society did not like that the reformist women discussed matters openly with men and “pretended” to be equal to them. The patriarchal values that were instilled in these women rebelled strongly against ideas like equality and they made life for progressive women very difficult. They were being pulled from both sides and had to satisfy the wishes of their husbands as well as society. Many women like Ramabai Ranade and Pandita Ramabai faced these obstacles bravely and managed popularize education for women all over India.
1. To what extent have the roles of women changed from those that were established in Ramabai’s times?
According to our discussion, it was established that the roles of women have not changed from the fundamental ones established many years ago. The extract described Ramabai’s roles as cooking, serving food and tending to her husband’s needs and it is understood that even today women still continue with the same household duties. The only change has been the increase in the number of roles women have to juggle as not only must they run the household but some must also work in offices as well.
2. To what extent have the roles of men changed from those that have always been maintained in the past?
Strangely enough, our discussion established that the roles of men have indeed changed as men are now more likely to get involved in the household than they were in Ramabai’s times. Also, we touched upon many instances where the man has taken over the woman’s entire household responsibility and this suggests that there really has been some sort of transformation in the traditional mentality, even though these instances are rare.
3. Would a matriarchal society be more beneficial than our current patriarchal society?
The resulting discussion of this question cemented the fact that a matriarchal society would not be any better than a patriarchal society. Many of the males in our class did not favour patriarchy themselves and everyone agreed that a society where both genders are equal would be most beneficial.
4. Why is there rivalry between women, as displayed in this extract?
The class suggested that it was an ego problem that acted as a barrier between the older women and the younger women of a household, promoting the infamous rivalry between mother-in-laws and daughter-in-laws. In addition to this, the need to enforce superiority also appeared to be a key reason for the tension. Finally, the class decided that the older women feel that their relationship with the younger woman’s husband is threatened with the presence of this new woman in the household and this results in the conflict.