Tarabai Shinde & Stree Purush Tulana: Honouring India’s Earliest Known Literary Feminist

One of India's earliest feminists, Tarabai Shinde wrote the pioneering Stree Purush Tulana that challenged religion and patriarchy.

One of India’s earliest feminists, Tarabai Shinde wrote the pioneering Stree Purush Tulana that challenged religion and patriarchy.

But do men not suffer from the same flaws that women are supposed to have?”- Tarabai Shinde

Not one to shy away from asking tough questions, Tarabai Shinde’s published work Stree Purush Tulana (Comparison between women and men) is a searing piece that expresses her deep agony over the discrimination caused because of patriarchy and caste.

One of India’s earliest feminists, Tarabai’s Stree Purush Tulana was published in 1882 in Marathi and posed tough questions that openly challenged Hindu scriptures for its role in women’s oppression.

Her writing that challenged the caste system and patriarchy appeared in the public domain more than six decades before feminist existentialist and activist Simone De Beauvoir’s The Second Sex.

Stree Purush Tulana dared to question the patriarchy

Stree Purush Tulana was written in response to an article that appeared in the conservative newspaper Pune Vaibhav about Vijaylakshmi, a young widow being sentenced to death after she aborted her unborn child. The article in Pune Vaibhav severely criticised Vijaylakshmi of having sexual relations and Tarabai incensed by the insulting piece responded with her own critique of upper caste patriarchy where she refused to accept male superiority and questioned the status quo when she wrote, “What’s good for a man ought to be good for woman as well”.

Replete with questions on core concepts surrounding gender equality and the Hindu scriptures, she asks of the 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?”

Tarabai questions the sheer discrimination that was meted out to girls and women that ranged from no right to education to exclusion of widows from any rights and attacked the manner in which society and media perpetuated these discriminations. The 52 page work of prose asked why such dual standards existed for men and women and shared that she had to write and put forth her views to “stop treating all women as if they had committed a crime and making their lives a living hell because of it”.

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Stree Purush Tulana was severely criticised and caused a furore and remained in the background till the 1970s when it was brought back to life by S.G Malshe who republished it in 1975. Tarabai worked alongside educational reformers like Savitribai and Jyotirao Phule where she became a founding member of the Satyashodhak Samaj.

If one were to read her text in today’s context where we witness statements from across the world of the  supposed “role of women” in society we realize that even after more than a hundred years, women across the world have been subjected to deeply entrenched gender inequality that it we are still constantly being dictated how to live and function!

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Varsha Pillai

Varsha Pillai is a former television journalist who quit the fast lane in media when she moved to the erstwhile 'laid back city' called Bangalore. She earnestly believes that she can ‘write stories that people read more...

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