EDUCATION OF WOMEN
In ancient India
It is very difficult to understand why in this country so much difference is made between men and women, whereas the Vedanta declares that one and the same Self is present in all beings. Writing down Smritis etc., and binding them by hard rules, the men have turned the women into mere manufacturing machines. In the period of degradation, when the priests made the other castes incompetent to study the Vedas, they deprived the women also of all their rights. You will find in the Vedic and Upanishadic age Maitreyi, Gargi and other ladies of revered memory have taken the place of Rishis. In an assembly of a thousand Brahmanas who were all erudite in the Vedas, Gargi boldly challenged Yajnavalkya in a discussion about Brahman.1
Real Shakti Worship
All nations have attained greatness by paying proper respect to women. That country and that nation which do not respect women have never become great, nor will
ever be in future.2 The real Shakti-worshipper is he who knows that God is the Omnipresent force in the universe, and sees in women the manifestation of that force. In America men look upon their women in this light and treat their women as well as can be desired, and hence they are so prosperous, so learned, so free and so energetic.3 The principal reason why our race has so degenerated is that we had no respect for these living images of Shakti. Manu says, ‘ Where women are respected, there the Gods delight, and where they are not, there all work and efforts come to naught.’ There is no hope of rise for that family or country where they live in sadness.4
Education will solve women’s problems
Women have many and grave problems, but none that cannot be solved by that magic word: education.5 What does our Manu enjoin ? ‘ Daughters should be supported and educated with as much care and attention as the sons.’ As sons should be married after observing Brahma-charya up to the thirtieth year, so daughters also should observe Brahmacharya and be educated by their parents. But what are we actually doing ?6 They have all the time been trained in helplessness and servile dependence on others; and so they are good only to weep their eyes out at the approach of the slightest mishap or danger.7 Women must be put in a position to solve their own problems in their own way. Our Indian women are as capable of doing it as any in the world.
Female education should be spread with religion as its centre. All other training should be secondary to religion. Religious training, the formation of character and observance of the vows of celibacy – these should be attended to.8 Our Hindu women easily understand what chastity means, because it is their heritage. First of all intensify that ideal within them above everything else, so that they may develop a strong character by the force of which, in every stage of their lives, whether married or single – if they prefer to remain so – they will not be in the least afraid even to give up their lives rather than flinch an inch from their chastity.10
Sita, the Ideal
The women of India must grow and develop in the footprints of Sita. Sita is unique. She is the very type of the true Indian woman, for all the Indian ideals of a perfected woman have grown out of that one life of Sita. And here she stands these thousands of years, commanding the worship of every man, woman and child throughout the length and breadth of Aryavarta.
There she will always be, this glorious Sita, purer than purity itself, all patience, and all suffering. She who suffered that life of suffering without a murmur, she the ever chaste and ever pure wife, she the ideal of the people, our national God she must always remain. She has gone into the very vitals of our race. Any attempt to modernise our women, if it tries to take our women away from that ideal of Sita, is immediately a failure as we see every day.11
Training in renunciation
Studying the present needs of the age, it seems imperative to train some of them up in the ideals of renunciation, so that they will takeup the vow of life-long virginity, fired with the strength of that virtue of chastity which is innate in their blood from hoary antiquity. Our motherland requires for her well-being some of her children to become pure-souled Brahmacharins and Brahmacharinis.u Even if one amongst the women became a knower of Brahman, then by the radiance of her personality, thousands of women would be inspired and awakened to Truth, and great well-being of the country and society would ensue.13
Brahmacharinis of education and character should take up the task of teaching.14 In villages and towns they must open centres and strive for the spread of female education. Through such devout preachers of character, there will be the real spread of female education in the country.19 History and puranas, house-keeping and the arts, the duties of home life and the principles that make for the development of character have to be taught.18 Other matters such as sewing, culinary art, rules of domestic work and upbringing of children will also be taught.
Japa, worship and meditation shall form an indispensable part of the teaching17 Along with other things they should acquire the spirit of valour and heroism. In the present day it has become necessary for them also to learn self-defence – how grand was the Queen of Jhansi!18 So shall we bring to the need of India great fearless women – women worthy to continue the traditions of Sanghamitta, Lila, Ahalya Bai, and Mira Bai – women fit to be mothers of heroes, because they are pure and fearless, strong with the strength that comes of touching the feet of God.18 We must see to their growing up as ideal matrons of home in time. The children of such mothers will make further proguss in the virtues that distinguish themselves. It is only in the homes of educated and pious mothers that great men are born.20
If the women are raised, their children will by their noble actions glorify the name of the country ; then will culture, knowledge, power and devotion awaken in the country.21