Gandhian Perspective on Women Literacy

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by – Dr. Deepika Sharma, Vol.II, Issue.XXI, October 2016

Dr. Deepika Sharma is an assistant professor in the English department of MGM PG College, Sambhal.



One of the noteworthy results of Mahatma Gandhi’s life-work has been the awakening of women, which made them shed their deep-rooted sense of inferiority and rise to dignity by getting educated. He laid emphasis on women education on two grounds. If a woman is literate, only then she can attain equal rights and position in the male-dominated society, as well as, an educated woman can transform her children into responsible ideal citizens of the country. To bring a revolutionary change in the status of women he put emphasis on the need for their education. As he himself has written in a journal named ‘Harijan’, “I believe in the proper education of women.”

About woman, Gandhi wrote that besides the biological differences, woman is not different from man but religion, customs and laws from times had relegated woman to the backyards of civilization. These customs have been taught women to regard themselves as slave of man. Women from ages have tolerated domination of men in the society. They have suffered an oppressive social-system and became a victim of it. Gandhi pleaded for women by saying that women must realize their full status and play their part as equals of men. In one of his speeches, he said once, “Woman is gifted with equal mental capacities and therefore she has equal rights. However, due to the force of customs; ignorant and worthless men have been enjoying superiority over women.”

According to Gandhi, it is only education which can empower a woman so that she can be able to uphold her natural rights. He had clear notion about the different spheres of men and women. He had an opinion that men and women are complementary to each other. Man is supreme in outward (extra-mural) activities but home-life and domestic affairs (intramural activities) combine to form the sphere of a woman so both of them must have knowledge related to their spheres. Hence, education imparted to both men and women should be according to their preordained stations in life.

Gandhi pointed out that it is not proper for men to deprive women or deny them equal rights on the ground of their illiteracy. Education is necessary for enabling women to uphold their real position in the society. According to Mahatma, “Men and women are of equal rank. They are peerless pair being supplementary to each other, each helps the other. Without one, the existence of the other is not possible, so if anything impairs the status of either of them it will result in the equal ruin of both of them.” Thus, keeping this cardinal truth in mind, education of both the life- partners becomes compulsory. Man needs more extensive knowledge and a kind of education that can help him throughout his life as he is supreme in outward activities. In the case of women, the condition is same. A woman has to bear so many domestic responsibilities such as upbringing and education of her children, so she ought to have more knowledge based on family ideals.

Thus, Gandhi ji had a clear notion about the illiteracy of women. He believed that main cause of women illiteracy is not her laziness or her disinterest in study but her status is the major factor which obstructs her to gain education. In ‘Harijan’ he wrote, “A more potent cause of woman illiteracy is the status of inferiority with which an immemorial tradition has unjustly branded her. Man has converted her into a domestic drudge and an instrument of his pleasure, instead of regarding her as his helpmate and ‘better-half. The result is semi-paralysis of our society.”

Gandhi was of the opinion that women are superior to men in their moral and spiritual strength. They had great power of self-sacrifice and suffering. On this account, women are capable of infinite strength which they only needed to realize through gaining proper education. With the backing of education and the discriminating use of their political rights, women could affect the process of decision making in the nation and could initiate appropriate changes to promote the values of social and economical equality. Gandhi not only exhorted women to undertake the tasks of their own ‘uplift’ by gaining proper education but also to attack the scriptures, social customs and conventions that had devalued their status and upheld women’s social, political and legal equality. As far as his perception of women as instruments of social change was concerned, he felt that women could play a dynamic role in society by contributing through their revolutionary thoughts and actions.

There is something in Mahatma’s ideas that is essentially radical. Gandhian perspective of change was a comprehensive one. Through educating woman, he wanted to bring a surprising change in her social, political and moral position in the Indian society. Thus, Mahatma’s purity of thought and honest intentions about women and their education are highly commendable and true and applicable in today’s perspective as our present Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Damodardas Modi is also much concerned about protection, education and development of the female section of the society. He has started various schemes like ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao Andolan’ for protection and awakening of women so that they can shed their illiteracy and deeply existed a sense of inferiority and rise to dignity and self-confidence. It seems that not only Mahatma, in the past but also Mr. Modi in the present, have spread the same message in our society that, “When woman, whom we all call ‘Abla’ becomes ‘Sabla’ by gaining proper education; all those who are helpless, will become powerful.”

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