Indian society represented a conflicting position of women vacillating between patriarchal and matriarchal extremes. While Sati - the barbarous practise that denied woman life on its own, tying her to the innate presence of her husband even in his life after death - dominated the core of Hinduism. On the other hand emphasis was placed on female goddesses like Laxmi, Shakti and Sati to narrate the stories of courage sacrifice and compassion.The Hindu women became an ideal symbol of the moral order that symbolised India's spirit.
According to Partha Chatterjee, the construction of public and private space allowed them to equate it with the material/spiritual dichotomy. The world, or the public sphere, is a traditionally male-dominated domain that serves as a site of contestation and negotiation with the modernising colonial state.
Beyond colonisation, the home(domestic sphere-women) along with women perceived as the protector and nurturer of the spiritual essence of Indian national identity.
In 1875, the famed Bengal scholar Bankim Chandra Chatterjee wrote the hymn Bande Mataram, which established the nationalistic vision of the country as "motherland" as opposed to the European concept of fatherland. The metaphor of the mother goddess was firmly imprinted in Indian nationalist discourse as a result of this.
Participation across the various movements:
The participation of a woman in the Swadeshi movement was within the accepted gender philosophy, which prescribed the house as the rightful arena of activities for women.They crushed their glass bangles, and observed not cooking days as a protest ritual. Their participation was primarily supporting or indirect, such as providing shelter to fugitive revolutionaries or working as messengers and couriers of communications and weapons. This type of engagement did not violate established feminine behaviour norms.
Women's participation in the public sphere began during Gandhi's Non Cooperation Movement (NCM) in 1920, he mobilised a large number of women. Women's participation to this point was largely passive but comparatively active. However, the degree and intensity of this control or segregation within the domestic sphere varied from household to household, community to community, class to class, and region to region.
Women’s public activities were more pronounced during Civil Disobedience Movement. In Bengal, some women joined the violent revolutionary movement, and unlike in the Swadeshi Movement, where they played a domestic supportive role, they now stood shoulder to shoulder with men wielding guns and shooting pistols at magistrates and governors. Kamla Devi led procession of 15,000 to raid the Wadala Salt works. Gandhi ji visualised a limited role but women demanded more active and pronounced role.
Female activism was most visible during the 1942 Quit India movement, when almost all front-ranking Congress ministers were imprisoned from the start. In such a situation, prominent female leaders took on the responsibility of coordinating the movement in the face of police repression. There were self led initiatives , they formed the “Nari Bahinis” women brigades and resisted the colonial police with whatever weapon they could lay their hands on even a number of women became martyrs.
Gandhi Ji’s views on women:
He accepted women's biological weakness, but turned it into power by extolling the strength of the soul and the courage to sacrifice. Conceptualising the ideal Indian womanhood, he shifted the focus from motherhood to sisterhood, by negating women’s sexuality.
It was in South Africa that he had realised the power of selfless sacrifice that women could offer and decided to harness it in the service of the nation.
Victims of Partition: sexual violence
According to Sumit Sarkar, women and peasants represented the ultimate site of purity that has not been tainted by the modern world or western education. For this reason, women have been viewed as the symbol and repositories of group or communal national identity.
The link between honour and community leads to two types of control over women's fertility, sexuality, and mobility. The first is an internal form of control by their own community, because losing control over their own women is viewed as a threat to their masculinity, family, and community.
Second, women are more vulnerable to violence from other members of the community- regarded as repositories of community's honor so acts like rape, control, and other forms of violence directed at them are regarded as a more effective means of humiliating and subjugating that community. As a result, women are more vulnerable to violence during communal riots.
It was even more visible during the partition. According to Ritu Menon and Kamla Bhasin, they were caught in a "continuum of violence" in which they had the choice of being raped, mutilated, and humiliated by the men of the other community or committing suicide instigated by their own family members and kinsmen to prevent the enemy from violating their community's honour. This is supported by empirical data, which shows that seventy-five to one hundred thousand women were abducted or raped in a matter of months.
The history of the Indian Struggle would be incomplete if the contribution of women was not mentioned. The sacrifices made by them will take precedence. When the majority of men freedom fighters were imprisoned, women stepped forward and took command of the struggle. They fought with true spirit and fearless courage, enduring various tortures, exploitations, and hardships in order to earn our freedom.
Women played critical roles in India's struggle for independence. They held public meetings, picketed shops selling foreign alcohol and goods, sold Khadi, and actively participated in National Movements. They bravely faced the police baton and went to jail. Hundreds of thousands of Indian women sacrificed their lives for the sake of their motherland's freedom.
If we look closely it was a movement within a movement in which they not only fought against the British raj but also stood for their liberty which was long due. They not only gained freedom for India but gained empowerment for themselves.