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The Education Of Women In India by M. H.

1877

According to a report sent to our Commissioner of Education at Washington four years ago, there were then in India one thousand girls' schools supported by the government and some five hundred missionary schools devoted to female education. Besides these, there has sprung up during the last few years a new field for the women-educators in that country. This is the teaching of women in their homes. It is called zenana-work. The zenana is the women's apartment in the house—the harem of the Turks. Women have been sent from England and from America for this special object, and their labors are meeting with encouraging success. They are constantly gaining admission to new families, which from caste or other causes are opposed to sending their young women to the regular schools. Some of the zenana-teachers are regularly-educated physicians.

For the government schools each province has a director of public instruction, with inspectors of divisions and subdivisions. These directors are "gentlemen of high qualification and well paid." It is a notable fact that in one of the provinces the office of director is filled by a Christian woman—a foreigner no doubt, though the report does not say.

At Dehra, at the foot of the Himalaya Mountains, there is a high school for girls organized on the plan of the Mount Holyoke Seminary. Here English is spoken, and the pupils are carried through a course of training that may justly be termed high. One of the pupils of this school has lately been appointed by the government to go to England and qualify herself as a physician, under a contract to return and serve the government by taking charge of a hospital and college for training young women as midwives and nurses.

Of course, in a country containing a population of over one hundred and fifty-one millions, one thousand public schools for girls, supplemented as these are by missionary schools of many denominations, are inadequate to meet the needs of the people. There is an increasing demand in all the provinces for schools and colleges; and the native young men especially are eagerly seeking the educational advantages of the colleges and universities, because they know that these are a sure road to preferment. "The government takes care to give employment to those who wish it."

The difficulties in the way of female education in India are well expressed in a late letter from one of the most distinguished native reformers, Baboo Keshub Chunder Sen of Calcutta. "No words of mine," he says, "would convey to you an adequate idea of the great obstacles which the social and religious condition of the Hindoo community presents in the way of female education and advancement. In a country where superstition and caste prejudices prevail to an alarming extent, where widows are cruelly persecuted and prevented from remarrying,where high-caste Hindoos are allowed to marry as many wives as they like without undertaking the responsibility of protecting them, and where little girls marry at a most tender age and sacrifice all prospects of healthy physical and mental development, it will take centuries before any solid and extensive reform is achieved."

Until recently, scarcely one woman in ten thousand learned to read or acquired any of the accomplishments common to women of Christian countries. Occasionally, women of vicious lives in cities, having leisure, became quite learned, and this made learning a shame for women of irreproachable reputation. Moreover, Hindoo husbands declared, and believed, that if you taught a woman to read she would be sure in time to have illicit relations with some one. Ignorance was innocence, the safeguard of both rank and chastity.

The missionaries, who were the first to attempt the amelioration of the people, had to commence with the lowest castes or classes, those having nothing to lose; and even then the teachers had to pay the girls a small copper coin daily for attending school. Even the government schools in some places pay the girls for attending, but they are much more popular than the missionary schools, because, according to the Rev. Joseph Warren in the report mentioned, the parents are not afraid that their girls will become Christians by attending them; and he adds that the government teachers and books are "all positively heathen or quite destitute of all religion." In some parts of the country the government schools secure the attendance of high-caste girls by allowing them to be placed behind a curtain, and thus screened from the eyes of the male teacher or inspector, as all the women of such classes are screened from male visitors. Even the physician sees only a hand protruded from under a curtain, and by the touch of this, with a few unsatisfactory answers to his questions, he is supposed to be able to know what the malady is, and how to prescribe for it.