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Abstract

Indian women in the early twentieth century stood at the threshold of changing times. A social reform movement for women’s education came into focus at this time. However, despite efforts to promote higher education by Christian missionaries, the Indian intelligentsia, social reformers, and the British colonial government, there were disparities in its spread. It was still beyond the reach of women in general. Women’s education was not pervasive but reserved mainly for those coming from educationally enlightened families, where their parents and other relatives supported the reforms, offering them access to higher education. Feminist researchers, writing about this period, hold multiple views regarding Indian reformers and their efforts in women’s education. This paper attempts to draw attention to the social status of Indian women through the self-narratives of two accomplished women educationists from North India, Swarup Kumari Bakshi and Begum Hamida Habibullah, both of whom were witness to pre- and post-independence social and political dynamics. They represent two different religious cultures; however, their social background was quite similar. This paper, an oral history, is based on their independent perspectives, personal experiences and self-narratives shared with the author during interviews conducted in 2009. A comparison between the two narratives offers insights into the contemporary social position of women. It also offers reflections on the elitist approach of the social reforms, and the different viewpoints proffered by feminist writers regarding the relationship between the social position of women and promotion of their education by social reformers. The article concludes with reflection on late twentieth century attempts to transform women’s socio-educational status-quo.

Note on the Author

The author completed her Ph.D. on the role of women educationists in higher education in Uttar Pradesh (a northern Indian state), post-independence. She currently is an Assistant Professor in the Inter-Disciplinary School of Science, Savitribai Phule Pune University, India for the B.A. Liberal Arts course. Simultaneously, as an Indian Council of Historical Research postdoctoral research fellow at the Tata Institute of Social Science, she continues to conduct research on the pioneering women educationists of Shrimati Nathibai Damodar Thackersey University, the first women’s university of India in the state of Maharashtra (Mumbai and Pune district) in the pre-independence period.

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