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Read this article to know about the analysis and review of the essay Stri Purush Tulana by Tarabai Shinde.
Stri Purush Tulana by Tarabai Shinde Analysis
A Comparison of Men and Women: Breaking the Glass Ceiling
The Feminist activist and the member of ‘Satyashodhak Samaj’ “Truth Finding Community” Tarabai Shinde rebelled against Patriarchy and Caste system in 19th century India.
In her debut piece of writing “Stri Purush Tulana: A Comparison of Men and Women” which according to Jyotirao Phule calls a “courageous attempt by a courageous writer, original feminist thinker and critic” she has presented to us true reality of patriarchal burden on women and the system of oppression in Hindu culture.
The paper aims to present the role of Tarabai Shinde in the upliftment of Indian feminism and female liberation during the 19th century by fighting for unfair treatment against women and equal authority to both the genders.
Unfortunately, India is a country where society decides the code of conduct. Patricia Waugh in her feminist texts mentions that “Sex is a biological construct whereas gender is a societal construct.” In India women are not only treated as “the man’s other” but are also subjected to discrimination, oppression, violence, and exploitation.
She through the “Stri Purush Tulana: A Comparison of Man and Woman” has questioned the standards set for women by the dominant half which were and still are unfair and the root cause of their marginal and out skirted position in the society.
Even today, after a century-long struggle for the emancipation of women Indian women are still seen as either pativrata (a woman committed to the service of her husband) or in the image of Sita and Savitri who would either go through test of chastity and loyalty towards husband or would fight Yama (the god of death as per Hindu Mythology) for her husband’s life. But why women? Aren’t the women worth fighting for?
Tarabai in her essay questions even the lord – The creator and the destroyer that –
“Let me ask you something, Gods! You are supposed to be omnipotent and freely accessible to all. You are said to be completely impartial. What does that mean? That you have never been known to be partial. But wasn’t it you who created both men and women? Then why did you grant happiness only to men and brand women with nothing but agony? Your will was done! But poor women have had to suffer for it down the ages”
Every day there are different examples of men’s hypocrisy and terrible violence against women in India but every time women are blamed by society, hollow conventions of society and religion supports men and not the women as they are the bread earners of the household and the supposed “bosses” and we have to agree that the boss is always right! The victim never becomes the cause of crime. In India, Feminism, a self-conscious and systematic approach is not a uniquely twentieth-century phenomenon.
In both the nineteenth and twentieth century women in the Indian subcontinent have witnessed forced widowhood, the denial of education, forced marriage, sexual violence within and outside the family, and moralistic definitions of the private and public which disabled possibilities for building solidarity and fragmented common concerns.
“At her pleasure, let her (i.e. widow) enunciate her body by living voluntarily on pure flowers, roots, and fruits, but let her not, when her lord is deceased, even pronounce the name of another man’ (Manu V. 157).
A women’s life at that time was controlled by such rules and regulations that she was not free to do anything from her from the will, not even choosing the right age for her to get married without her father’s permission.
Just as we can notice in Rassaundari Debi’s autobiography Amar Jiban, how she was tricked and married at the age which was meant gather knowledge due to the orthodoxy prevailing in the society to which she testifies herself by saying “the unspoken agony did not lift” and calling marriage a “Bondage and Imprisonment.”
Similar to statement like the aforementioned Shinde in her essay talks of women been called “Adulteress and Acme of impudence” commenting on how without understand a woman’s choice and her needs, she is married off and is thrown into unwelcoming situations which aren’t poverty or misery but the lack of love.
She mentions that “She will suffer hunger or thirst and put up with any harassment for the sake of the man she loves. She will be happy even in the worst circumstances possible. But, she will never, in her remotest dreams, think on her own of commenting that crime.”
Also, what we can see as a courageous step is not only a woman writing and through it being vocal about her innermost agonies but rather her being critical in the treatment of “Shastras” Tarabai mentions how as per the Shatras, if a king dies without leaving a son who could inherit the kingdom, she can select a sage and beget sons from him in order to augment the family and questions this convenient moulding of rules as and when required.
Books are cultural artifacts that are “important vehicles for ideas” and Tarabai Shinde’s essay “Stri Purush Tulana: A Comparison of Men and Women” is unique in them. In the essay ‘Stri Purush Tulana : A Comparison of Men and Women’, Tarabai Shinde, writing in fury over the giving death sentence to a young widow, Vijyalakshmi for Aborting her infant in 1882 and it strikes one of the earliest notes of revolt, a defining moment in the paradigm of the feminist insurgency.
Born in well to do Maratha family, studied Marathi, Sanskrit, English and well-read in classical and modern literature, Tarabai is the first Indian feminist who minutely points out male hypocrisy and women’s secondary status in Indian society. Her essay was written in response to the article published in ‘Pune Vaibhav’ which was based on the immorality of widows. Essay published in 1882 in the second issue of ‘Satsar’, the journal of Satyashodhak mandal, ‘Stri Purush Tulana: A Comparison of Men and Women’ remain unknown until 1975.
Malshe S. G. found this essay and he republished it in 1975 as Phule mentions.
The word ‘Feminism’ refers to an intense awareness of identity as a woman and interest in feminine problems. Feminism in its literary sense is the physical and psychic emancipation of women from the cruel traditional clutches of man. A man is right, being a man. The woman is in the wrong. It amounts to this, just as for the ancients there was an absolute vertical with man and woman. The subjugation of woman is a central fact of history and it is the main cause of all psychological disorders in society.
Feminism is a more concerned for the woman and wants to establish a new identity for the woman to understand the female predicament. Since time immemorial in the world, particularly in Asian countries and in India the social custom and creeds have overall control of man.
Gender is decided by cultural, social, political and economic forces, which influence social behavior of men and women. Gender differs from sex, as sex is assigned based on the anatomy of a person, while gender is assigned according to the sexuality of a person. Gender is a historical force also because we find gender bias pre-existent in the society. Indian feminism is influenced by Tarabai’s work.
Simon de Beauvoir suggests “One is not born a woman but becomes a woman.” Tarabai also takes up on this notion and differentiates between being born a woman and becoming a woman and gender bias in Indian society along with being critical over Drag Performativity, even today Indian woman do not dare to write in such language in which she wrote in the nineteenth century.
In the introduction of her essay, she clarifies the purpose of writing,
“God brought this amazing universe into being, and he it was also who created men and women both. So is it true that only women’s bodies are home to all kinds of wicked vices? Or have men got just the same faults as we find in women? I wanted this to be shown absolutely clearly, and that is the reason I’ve written this small book, to defend the honor of my entire sister countrywomen. I’m not looking at particular castes or families here. It’s a comparison just between women and men” (Shinde 1994/1882).
Tarabai Shinde did not focus simply on the oppression of Indian women; she believed that women everywhere are oppressed similarly. “Stri Purush Tulana: A Comparison between Women and Men” is a classic example of a woman’s efforts to reveal the demonstration of gender discrimination recorded during the nineteenth century.
In the beginning of the essay, she directly addresses to the god that you created man and woman and you are omnipotent and impartial blaming God for being partial to women, “you grant happiness to men only and for women agony only”. It is a belief in the Indian society that women are greedy liars, unvirtuous and they always seduce men. Woman is considered and labeled as the symbol of all bad qualities as she has listed-
“theft, incest, murder, robbery, deception, truth to falsehood and falsehood to the truth- do men not do any of these?” (Shinde 1991/1882: 223).
She agreed that a woman also has vices but everywhere and every time she is judged on the basis of vices and the virtues are completely neglected. She said,
“Granted, women are as stupid as buffaloes in the cow pen! They are ignorant and do not grant them even an iota of intelligence? Thoughtless and rash they may sometimes be, but even then they are far preferable to you. Yes! To you who are the bastions of erudition and wisdom! Why one has only to visit a prison to get proof of this!” (Shinde 1991/1882: 224).
She asked in very fiery language that if only women have vices then why all prison is full of men criminals? She has used very persuasive language to describe the condition of women in India. Despite of doing good woman are considered vicious. In case of men they are always ideal for society, Tarabai said, “Everyone there has a wise head on his shoulders and a ‘wise’ deed to his credit!” (Shinde 1991/1882: 224).
The ambiguity in defining women’s position in the nineteenth century is also revealed in the contemporary literature. Both Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and Rabindranath Tagore were not able to provide a respectable life to the widows in their fiction.
When they transgressed the established norms of widows’ lifestyle, their accommodation in the society appeared impossible. Throughout her essay Stri Purush Tulana, Tarabai Shinde argued for women’s equal share with men. She refused to accept the superiority of men in gender relation. She said, “What’s good for a man ought to be good for the woman as well”. Tarabai Shinde found the privileges enjoyed by men too because of the degradation of women.
“This is, of course, not to say that all the women in the world are as luminous as the sun and as pure as the waters of the Holy Ganga. But even if one takes into account the entire female community in the world, it would be difficult to come across more than ten percent of them who, like you, are caught in the whirlwind of such insidious perfidies, though not a single one of you is free of them” (Shinde 1991/1882: 224)
Tarabai asked that one question that fueled a fire in the hearts of women, the one that nobody dared to ask openly: “But do men not suffer from the same flaws that women are supposed to have?” In her work Stri Purush Tulana, Tarabai implores the reader to consider the notion that men might not be the indestructible beings they put themselves out to be, but as flawed as they considered women. In a point by point note, she sets out the flaws women are said to have and refutes them.
The quick-witted repartee exposes the males in society at that time for their hypocritical norms and argues for widow remarriage, the abolition of strict behavioral codes for women, and even criticises the religions (then, Hinduism) that constricted women. At a time when adultery was considered the biggest sin a woman could commit, she shifts the blame onto the husband for not being able to keep his wife happy. Furthermore, she argues that women should have husbands of their choosing in order to prevent adultery.
In defending a widow’s right to remarry, she speaks of the atrocities committed against discarded widows and invokes religious scriptures to solidify her point. On remarriage, she notes that the Shastras allowed for a queen to choose a Rishi of her own liking to beget a child with upon the death of her husband.
A charge against women that she vehemently argues against is their supposed transgressions: she tries to reason out the need to end child marriage and caste/income based marriage. In blatantly calling out the patriarchy for what it is, she is unapologetic in breaking “standards” of womanhood.
Viewing this work (Stri Purush Tulana) in the context of her social milieu, Tarabai was not only a courageous but also an analytical thinker who could look beyond the prejudices that existed and formulated reasoned notions for change.
She was blatant in her allegations against the men around her, causing quite the stir when she published her piece. Importantly, Tarabai was also a satirical writer who engaged with irony and travesty to explicate her arguments. Her language is robust, powerful, and biting.
- Tiffany K. Wayne, Feminist Writings from Ancient Times to the Modern World: A Global Sourcebook and History.
- Tarabai Shinde: Resume.
- Women Writing in India: 600 B.C. to the Early Twentieth Century (CV).
- Images of Women in Maharashtrian Society (205-207).
- Tarabai Shinder’s ‘Stri Purush Tulana : A Comparison of Men and Women’: A Milestone in Indian Feminism.