Female Education in India

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Female Education in India  (1870) 
by Keshub Chunder Sen
Delivered 13th May 1870.

Speech delivered at the East India Association, London.

(Mary Carpenter addressed the East India Association on her work for the promotion of female education in India. C.Wren Hoskyns, M.P., was in the chair. Carpenter referred to her three journeys to India, taken with the object of showing sympathy with, and learning the wants of female education in India.

Having referred to several native gentlemen who had suffered religious persecution for their efforts to emancipate their ladies from the social customs of India, she detailed the mode which she adopted to bring about to bring about an improved system of instruction by native female teachers, and the valuable assistance which had been rendered by the English ladies.

At present girls were taken from school at eleven years of age, partly because it was not considered proper for them to remain under male teachers after that age. After reviewing the state of female education in Bombay and Madras presidencies, she spoke at length on Calcutta, referring to the efforts of John Drinkwater Bethune. She said, “I regret to say that I saw in Calcutta extremely little effort for female education among the natives; in fact, I am not aware of any school (at any rate of importance) established by the natives themselves in Calcutta.

Referring to Raja Ram Mohan Roy she said, “He first broke the bonds of superstition; he was persecuted by his family, and exiled from his home; but he succeeded in establishing the worship of the One True God in Calcutta, where he founded and endowed a place of worship for One True God.”

She said that she need not enter into an account of that because “the gentleman is present who may be regarded as the head of it, Baboo Keshub Chunder Sen.” She added, “In Calcutta, then, among the Brahmos and Theists, I found an advance in many respects beyond what I had seen in other parts of the country.”

Dadabhai Naoroji, honorary secretary to the East India Association, spoke at some length in complimentary terms of the good influence which Miss Carpenter had exercised in India.

The chairman thanked Miss Carpenter and introduced Baboo Keshub Chunder Sen to the meeting.)

It gives me great pleasure to bear my humble testimony in England, as I have done more than once in India, to the noble work of which Miss Carpenter had done for the promotion of female education in India. The warm and philanthropic interest she has evinced in that work, the readiness with which she risked her life and health and exposed herself to many inconveniences and hardships, entitles her not only to the lasting gratitude of the Indian nation but to the sympathy and respect of all in England who appreciate useful work.

When the first important public female school worthy the name was established by the late Mr. Bethune in the metropolis of India, during the administration of Lord Dalhousie, it evoked a feeling of discontent, throughout the country, and excited great opposition and bitterness; but in spite of a large number of conservative and orthodox men saying, “Thus far shalt thou go, and no farther,” the advancing waves of progress went on till at last, not only in the large cities and presidency towns, but even in the small provincial towns and villages, small school after school rose up, and, in the course of a few years, not only were there scores, but hundred of little girls coming day after day in order to receive instruction in vernacular literature, in arithmetic and in writing. In carrying out the work of female education great impediments, some of them of an almost insuperable character, had to be overcome, and many defects had to be rectified.

In a country where little girls became mothers when they would hardly be supposed in civilized countries to have attained the marriageable age, and where they became grandmothers when perhaps they ought to think of marrying; girls could receive education only for three or four years at most in a public school, their education stopping at a time when they ought to begin. This custom of premature marriage was pernicious, not only physically, but intellectually and morally considered; for the work of education was arrested when little girls, having become mothers, began to talk with ridiculous gravity of the duties they owned to their children. It was, therefore, absolutely necessary to supplement this deficient system of education of native girls with zenana instruction.

As soon as that want was felt, many kind-hearted ladies, both in India and in England, took the matter with an amount of earnestness which was very creditable to them. They combined in order to get funds, and sent out trained governesses to visit native ladies in their own houses. Zenana instruction was indispensably necessary for the real welfare of the country. So long as the system of seclusion prevailed, which would prevail for a considerable length of time.

Another want which was deeply felt was the want of female teachers, and just at the time when that want was beginning to be felt, Miss Carpenter arrived in India. Her advent was cordially and enthusiastically hailed by those who were directing their efforts towards the improvement of education of females in India. They knew she would help them, and she did help them. She saw the want with her own eyes. At once she saw that without a large number of well-trained native female teachers it was impossible to make female schools really useful. She, therefore, represented the matter to several distinguished native gentlemen in Calcutta, in Bombay, and in Madras. Many, of course, did not show their appreciation of the usefulness of the scheme. They were backward in the matter; a few , however, stepped forward manfully, and assured her of their warm interest in the scheme, and their readiness to do all in their power to help her.

She was then obliged to lay the matter before the Government. Unfortunately, the Government also had serious misgivings as to the feasibility of the scheme, not that they were unwilling to educate native women, but they felt it might interfere with the prejudices, and shock the feelings of the native population if they went too far in such a delicate matter; and it was not till instructions were sent out by the Secretary of State for India, that the Government began to really in earnest about it. It was then that the Government sanctioned a liberal grant for the purpose of establishing and supporting normal female schools in each of the presidency towns.

In Bengal, hardly anything has yet been done towards the establishment these normal schools. As Miss Carpenter has already very justly said, Bombay is far ahead of Bengal in the matter of female education. I have visited some of the best schools in Bengal and Bombay, and I can say from my own experience that there are a larger number of girls receiving public education in Bombay than in Bengal; but while Bengal has not come up to Bombay as far as regarded extent of education, Bengal is not behind Bombay in the matter of solidarity and depth. Already several books have been published by native ladies of Bengal of a really valuable character; among others a drama, a beautiful story, and some charming verses on the beauties and sublimities of creation. A periodical is also published in Bengal, to which Bengali ladies send very often sent most charming contributions, mostly verses, which native ladies take great delight in composing. Some of the best theistic hymns are from the pen of Brahmo ladies. This shows that native ladies are not slow to learn.

The Government having come forward with a liberal grant, it is the duty of the natives of India to cooperate with the Government in a friendly and harmonious manner, in order to give effect to the noble scheme which Miss Carpenter had suggested, and which, through the instrumentality of Government has been realized in at least one of the presidency towns. If full effect can be given to this project, if a sufficient number of schools can be can be brought into existence, not only in the presidency towns, but in the chief provincial cities in the North-West, and in the Punjab, India would be supplied with that which it most wants at the present time.

I hope and trust that the English ladies who are present, would well weigh all that has been said by Miss Carpenter, and that they will be stimulated by her example. I fully agree with Mr. Dadabahai Naoroji that we must not too sanguinely look forward to actual and viable and tangible results, but we must look beneath the surface, in order to see whether or not Miss Carpenter’s visit to India has produced a lasting impression on the native public mind, and on the minds of all those who were really interested in the work of female education in India.

(Source: The speech and other details were published with the title Female Education in India in The Brahmo Samaj: Keshub Chunder Sen in England by Brahmo Tract Society, 78 Upper Circular Road, Kolkata in 1915.)