TODAY -

International Women's Day: A Hindi tract with feminist ideals from a time before feminism was known

Mrinal Pande *



Seemantini Updesh (A Tract for A Married Woman), is a rare 19th-century Hindi work rooted in what we now recognise as feminist epistemology. The author is an anonymous Hindu woman (ek agyat hindu aurat, the book says), who perhaps lacked the facility to write Hindi in the Devanagari script. So, she dictated the text to one Pandit Rishi Ram Gaur of Ludhiana, a man who understandably had a better grasp of the newly standardised Hindi as well as the script .

In 1882, when the tract was first published, attitudes towards Hindi as well as female literacy and education were undergoing dramatic changes. The British government, to bridge the communication gap between its officials and Indians, sought to develop standardised scripts, grammar and punctuation marks for Urdu and Hindi since common folk had no access to Persian or English.

Given that and the abysmally low number of literate women at the time, the text's first print run of 300 copies is substantial. Seemantini Updesh was first published from Lahore, then the print capital for Indian vernaculars. In September 1988, it was reprinted (published by Shesh Sahitya Prakashan, NOIDA, Uttar Pradesh) by the noted Dalit thinker and activist the late Dr Dharmvir.

The immediate reason for its revival, he said in the preface to the reprinted version, was the Roop Kanwar Sati case – when an 18-year-old who had killed herself in her husband's funeral pyre in Rajasthan in 1987 – that had shaken the nation's conscience. While zealots, in the name of community sentiments, demanded that there must be no probe into what was obviously an illegal death, Dr Dharmvir decided it was time for Indians to re-read Seemantini Updesh, a voice of sanity from our collective past.

The voice of the unknown author who exposes and castigates the hypocrisy and double standards of Hindus is that of a mature woman. It is at once learned and street smart, sassy and philosophical. She bluntly denounces the patriarchal Hindu tradition of the northern plains, which allowed men to treat women as dispensable shoes ("pair ki jooti") in the name of culture and tradition.

It is equally sharp on women who accept their place within the family quietly, without a whimper of protest, as their duty and their Karma.

The author appears be a well-travelled and childless dowager from a prosperous Hindu family in Punjab, influenced by teachings of the reformer Swami Dayanand Saraswati. She had obviously received enough education to be able to quote the saint poet Tulsidas, the Smritis and the Dharmshastras. It is hard to tell if the author was a native Punjabi , but she seems to know lives of women of Punjab and the western Uttar Pradesh, especially the Agra region, well.

She obviously came across English women regularly and admires them frankly for their liberal attitudes towards clothes, education and the relative ease with which they talk to men. She, however, does not urge Hindu women to convert but to adopt their best practices, such as discarding heavy jewellery used by families to buy their loyalty and silence . She also asks Hindu women to rethink their ornate but uncomfortable clothes that only help impede mobility and make them unnecessarily self conscious.

The publisher of this remarkable tract was one Munshi Kanhaiya Lal Alakhdhari of Lahore, who is thanked liberally in the preface as a man who supported the cause of justice. Little else is known about the publisher or even the nature of the interaciton or contract between author and publisher.

There are a few other good men mentioned in the preface, described as rare gems who must be thanked by all Hindu women in need of emancipation: Shiv Narayan Agnihotri editor of Biradar e hind, Rai Novin Chand ji, who authored several books for women and Swami Dayanand Saraswati, the founder of Arya Samaj and its many educational institutions.

Some translated excerpts from the tract:

On jewellery :

"What a woman loves most of all in the world, is not her son, husband, father or brother, but her jewellery. They receive neither education nor the training for any type of remunerative work. They just dream on of a day when they will be married and get to adorn themselves with loads of jewellery. …whatever they get is never sufficient..those that have no jewellery avoid being seen in public and those that have strut about in all social gatherings and take care to be see and admired…

"Oh you wearers of nose rings, who will bore holes in your own bodies to hang gold from, aren't you ashamed of yourselves in the mirror? If you say the nose ring is a sign of your being married, ask yourselves what sign of matrimony do the husbands display? If you say our ancestors willed this, I ask you which Dharmshastra , which chapter in Manu's Smriti, ordains that women tear holes in their noses to wear a nose ring?

"…I also ask you what use are glass bangles that often cause would when they break?…when a husband dies the widow must have her glass bangles removed. Does marriage lie in glass bangles then?…Married women in Punjab or in England never wear glass bangles, does that kill their husbands?…I am told this is a tradition created by our family elders. Ask yourselves, were they not ordinary mortals too? Were they born through some other means and not through the usual channels?

"In Mahabharata and the Puranas they frequently break tradition to make their lives easier. Why not accept that tradition from our past?…Remember these are shackles. And until you remove them yourself, you will not be able to liberate yourselves. The western women who wear no bangles or toe rings as mark of being married, also have loving husbands who wait on them. And once he dies, they are free to remarry. You, who have marked your arms and legs with gashes and wounds with your so called Suhag jewellery, are destined to remain a tearful widow forever once you lose your husband.

"Try, to substitute your husband for these trinkets you hug close to your heart so he shall not go astray…Even a labourer after his day's work is over, goes to bed in easy to wear clothes whereas you, my rich sisters, carry your gold chains and baubles on your back like a slave. Think about it!"

On traditional clothes :

"A long skirt, a short top and a scarf, this is what all women from 'good families' are permitted to wear…If someone were to say the flyaway skirt exposes more than it covers when there is a breeze or when we climb up stairs, they are told Pyjamas are only worn by Tawaifs, not housewives. That means those who are shy must dress shamelessly and those who wish to display their bodies must look coy? What is this? If you say these skimpy tops do not cover us well, why cant we wear Kurta or Kurtis? We are told Kurtas are worn by the traders and if you wish for the Kurtis that Christian Mems wear, you must become a Christian.

"So what is Hinduness? If covering your bodies better is Christian, is being a Hindu opting for nakedness?…If our men have opted for suits and boots like the Christian men, why must we be denied western clothes?

"Most women wear what they are given to wear. Their approval is neither sought nor asked for. Men buy what they wish for their wives, usually cheap stuff. They change their clothes three times a day but expect wives to change may be 12 times a year.


* Mrinal Pande wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on March 13, 2017.


* Comments posted by users in this discussion thread and other parts of this site are opinions of the individuals posting them (whose user ID is displayed alongside) and not the views of e-pao.net. We strongly recommend that users exercise responsibility, sensitivity and caution over language while writing your opinions which will be seen and read by other users. Please read a complete Guideline on using comments on this website.




LATEST IN E-PAO.NET
  • Nongmai Kainou Chingsomba #1:: Gallery
  • Governor Cup Polo tournament #2:: Gallery
  • World TB Day @JNIMS :: Gallery
  • Manipur Highway: Lifelines or Death-lines
  • Chanu Creation contribution to skillful India
  • Manipur & democracy of the "others"
  • Extend your support to your Ministers
  • Indo-Naga Talks 2017 :: News Timeline
  • 4th WIM CUP 2016 [rescheduled]
  • Manipur titular king gets guard and escort
  • NSCN-IM silent on Centre's reaction
  • Compelling need to study outside
  • Tragic, but a wake-up call
  • Hangmila Shaiza: First Woman MLA
  • 'The Wishess' @Tanglei Festival :: Gallery
  • Cheiraoba : Great festival of the Meiteis
  • Stop Saying-Manipur not have resources
  • JRF position at Pachhunga Univ, Aizawl
  • Governor Cup Polo Tournament Concluded
  • Inner Line Permit (ILP) Demand :: Timeline
  • Solar Lights presented to Longdi Pabram
  • Understand history to resolve issues of NE
  • Rise in crime worries citizens
  • Mary Kom eyes comeback at Asian C'ship
  • Reaching out to the Naga community
  • Towards sustainable self-reliance
  • Mix Media Festival #3:: Gallery
  • Khurumjei eethou eekan :: Radio e-pao
  • Shaheed Manoranjan football :: Gallery
  • Birth Anniversary of Maharani Dhanamnjuri
  • Buddha advised to follow the moderate way
  • A hope of second meeting with dear mum
  • Sadar Hills Demand 2011-2017 : Timeline
  • Killing Culture in Manipur
  • Lingering allure of lotus after polls
  • 30 mn trafficking victims worldwide: CJ
  • Tough for some to be out of news
  • Manipur Sangai Festival 2016 #3 : Ooba
  • Yaoshang Sports #3 (Mar 16) :: Gallery
  • Eyek Tamba :: Learn Manipuri script
  • Glimpses of Puppets in India
  • NE important part of 2nd World War
  • Strategic place branding of Manipur
  • Non-biodegradable solid wastes mgmt
  • Skill oriented vocational training
  • No pact on integration of Naga areas
  • Nobody is a fool, introduce Lok Ayukta
  • Khoupum Valley Expedition #5:: Gallery
  • 36th World TB day Rally :: Gallery
  • Veteran Cricket Tournament :: Gallery
  • And thus she became a fast learner
  • Coalition Government & its periphery
  • Know your test: Uric acid
  • No compromise on territorial integrity
  • Ten meritorious students sponsored
  • Anti Corruption Cell to be set up
  • Centre, State: Put RIMS back on track
  • Minister promise on Imphal Jiribam road
  • Students for HSLC Exam :: Gallery
  • Governor Cup Polo tournament #1:: Gallery
  • Blast of Md Kora & his shadows
  • A Drunken Dream :: Poem
  • Downfall of Congress party in Manipur
  • Corruption a part and parcel in our society
  • Hangkhanlian, Radheshyam, Nemcha ...
  • Lecture on TS. Eliot's contribution
  • Naga integration via FA: Game of word play
  • Almost perfect team...missing "Lok Ayukta"
  • Miss Manipur Queen 2017 #2 : Gallery
  • Yangkholet, Somatai, Mangaleima :: eMing
  • N Biren sworn-in CM #3 :: Gallery
  • Lanmei Thanbi Re-imagining the Light Spirit
  • Did we glorify the UNC highway blockade?
  • Career penchant in Anthropology
  • The formation of new BJP-led Government
  • The Killing Fields :: News Timeline
  • Nagas safe under Framework : NSCN-IM
  • New fish species discovered in Assam
  • Making Manipur bandh & blockade free: Guv
  • Politicking the politics
  • Photo : Governor with all Elected MLAs
  • Day 3: @ Bamon Leikai #3 : Gallery
  • Yaoshang Day 3 activities #2 : Gallery
  • Kanchan Soibam in Femina Miss India 2017
  • RIST talk 28-Transition in amorphous solid
  • Formation of Gender Champions @RGU
  • Free spectacle distribution at Loktak Station
  • Naga history of transition stands unique
  • Delhi warn NE against shady land deals
  • Screen kids' films in NE languages
  • Looking at the pre-poll promises of BJP
  • State govt- perceptions & premonitions
  • MLAs took oath of office : Gallery
  • SundarGopal Condolence @Ghy : Gallery
  • Yaoshang Thabal at Pune #2 :: Gallery
  • Yaoshang: Journalist Sports #2 :: Gallery
  • What Term of Negotiation btn GoM & UNC?
  • Class 12 marks may decide your college..
  • N. Biren led Govt won the floor test
  • Job @ VK NRL Hospital at Numaligarh
  • Cycling from Jessami to Mantripukhri
  • Lifting the longest ever blockade
  • Hope amid the hesitations
  • Tenwa Chandrasakhi :: Funga wari
  • Yaoshang Day 5: Sports #2: Gallery
  • Day 3: Yaoshang activities #1 : Gallery
  • Day 3: @ Bamon Leikai #2 : Gallery
  • Drinking bottled mineral water culture
  • Condolence meeting for friend of Assam
  • Food Outlet at DM Community College
  • APFEJ urges Delhi to be respectful to media
  • TSA Ceremonial Rite to its Former SG
  • Statistics not telling the whole story
  • Kangleipak Kang Trophy #1 : Gallery
  • Day 5: Yaoshang Activities #4: Gallery
  • N Biren sworn-in CM #2 :: Gallery
  • Insurgency as reflected in Chagi Khuji
  • Yaoshang Meithaba @Uripok: Gallery
  • Women Empowerment
  • Construction as career choice
  • Condolence meeting for Sundar Gopal
  • Manipuri group to stall trains
  • Manipur State Archery Championship
  • Miss Manipur Queen 2017 #1 : Gallery
  • Yaoshang Halankar celebration : Gallery
  • 2nd phase Polling @Nungba #2 :: Gallery
  • Art of Lamangdong's stone bowls & Toupokpi
  • Yaoshang Day 1: Mei Loukhatpa #2: Gallery
  • Pabung Sunder Gopal funeral at Mandalay
  • Emotional integration of all communities
  • Training on Traditional Snacks
  • How to take along disparate parties
  • Yaoshang Day 5: Sports #1: Gallery
  • Meetei Pokpi :: Radio e-pao
  • Day 3: @ Bamon Leikai #1 : Gallery
  • Yaoshang Day 1: Mei Thaba #4: Gallery
  • Letter: Manipur Public Service Commission
  • Career as Chef
  • HQ IGAR celebrates 14th Raising Day [upd]
  • N Biren sworn-in CM #1 :: Gallery
  • Yaoshang Thabal at Pune #1 :: Gallery
  • Mix Media Art exhibition #2 :: Gallery
  • Yaoshang: Journalist Sports #1 :: Gallery
  • Nongthombam Biren sworn-in CM, Mar 15
  • Glaucoma Week : March 12 - 18, 2017
  • Annual Yaoshang Thabal 2017 at Pune
  • Course in Butterfly Studies at BNHS
  • Yaoshang- with DJ @Sekmai :: Gallery
  • Kangleipak Football Trophy 2017 :: Gallery
  • Thabal chongbagi Peisa khaiba #2:: Gallery
  • Yaoshang Day 1: Mei Thaba #3: Gallery
  • Cue card for the new Chief Minister
  • International Rivers Day at Tamenglong
  • What kind of Nagaland are we moving..
  • Yaoshang Day 1: Mei Loukhatpa #1: Gallery
  • Yaoshang Day 1: Mei Thaba #2: Gallery
  • Election: Counting & Winnners #2:: Gallery
  • Holi Pala performance at Raj Bhavan
  • Yaoshang Day 1: Mei Thaba #1: Gallery
  • Yaoshang Day 1: AMWJU Sports : Gallery
  • 2nd phase Polling @Chandel :: Gallery
  • Bangladesh Meetei leisabi at Sylhet
  • Churchill Brothers vs Shillong Lajong
  • Election: Counting & Winnners #1:: Gallery
  • Mamliba maikeise :: Radio e-pao
  • Saroi Khangba #3 : Gallery
  • Yaoshang :: A flash presntation
  • UNC in Manipur Electoral Politics #3
  • The Election Trap :: Poem
  • Mix Media Art exhibition #1 :: Gallery
  • Mountain Division Polo #2 : Gallery
  • Breast Cancer Conference :: Gallery
  • Saroi Khangba #2 : Gallery
  • Featured Photo for 2017 #1 :: Gallery
  • Exam Centers for HSE 2017 : Download
  • 'Thammoi Tahoure' : Muslims' musical
  • Gita-Govinda- Dance Drama #2: Gallery
  • Rahul Gandhi @Imphal #2: Gallery
  • PM Narendra Modi #3: Gallery
  • Maphou Dam :: 360 View Panorama
  • Laisram Birendra Kumar: PadmaShri Award
  • Trekking to Dzukou Valley #2: Gallery
  • Biju Ningombam (Photos) #3 :: eRang
  • Laihui @Tanglei Music Festival :: Gallery
  • Landscape of Manipur #5: Wallpaper
  • Wareppa Naba :: Profile of Theatre Actor
  • Meiteilon Folk & Tangkhul duet : Ooba
  • Khunung Eeshei/ Ema Emoinu #3 : Radio
  • SPONSORED ADS