Tarabai Shinde – The Feminist Pioneer Of The 1800s Who’s Still Relevant To Us Today

Posted: October 24, 2019

As one of the pioneers of the feminism movement in India, Tarabai Shinde wrote Stripurush Tulana in the late 1880s. Here is why she is such an inspiration even today. 

Born in 1850, Tarabai Shine paved the way for feminism in India. Her work Stripurush Tulana and her ideas, were radically ahead of her time.

Tarabai Shinde was not only a feminist but also a founding member of the Satyashodhak Samaj. She wanted to educate and liberate oppressed groups, including Dalits and women.

These were the days when educating a woman was scorned at and girls’ schools were unavailable. However, Tarabai’s father, Bapuji Hari Shinde, decided not to deprive his daughter of the education that she deserved. He taught her Marathi, Sanskrit and English which helped her be well versed in classical and modern literature.

Tarabai Shinde – a strong feminist of 1880s

In a patriarchal society, she and her husband adopted a different family structure where her husband moved in with her family. Along with that she chose to remain childless and asserted to everyone that her value continued to be the same.

After being affected by an article appearing in Pune Vaibhav, 1881, she decided to publish her notable work Stripurush Tulana, or A Comparison Between Women and Men, in 1882. The article contained the story of a young Brahmin widow, Vijayalakshmi in Surat. Vijayalakshmi had aborted her son in fear of societal disgrace and ostracism. She was sentenced to be hanged.

Her criticism of society’s hypocritical norms

Shinde tried to throw some light on the hypocritical norms and argued for widow remarriage and the abolition of strict behavioural codes for women. Her book questioned and criticised the logic behind the society’s need for a woman to be “chaste.” The text is a critique of upper-caste patriarchy and social inequality of caste.

She also challenged the Hindu religious scriptures as a source of women’s oppression. Tarabai had decided to protest against people’s unconscious biases as well as the deeply ingrained cultural norms and heritage that put women into disadvantage. 

She did her part, and helped guide post-modern feminists like us. In the 1960s and 70s, feminist protests was about forming laws for equality in every hemisphere of our lives. But now in the 21st century, we have the laws. Then why are the women still being called and treated as the “weaker sex?” Because we are no longer dealing with only institutions. We are, instead, still dealing with people’s perceptions and ideas. And we are conducting ourselves in accordance with age-old stereotypes established in our psyches.

Why we need more Tarabai Shindes

We need more Tarabais to embolden the women of our society. Instead of staying mute, it is necessary to speak up for ourselves and against the oppression and misogyny that is so visible in the patriarchal society.

The first step to feminism can be accepting yourself: body, mind and soul. Stop sighing when you look at yourself in the mirror. Introduce yourself to literature with strong female characters, because after all, we create our role models from books and movies.

Stop applying stereotypes to women as well as men. There are many ways in which Shinde might have tried to encourage the feminism in this age and we should try and continue from where she left off. 

Picture credits: IndiaMart

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