Women in National Life
December 30, 1915 — Indian National Social Conference, Bombay, India
Mr. President, Brother-Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen, — This resolution that I have to propose, although it came third on the list of resolutions had to be changed for my personal convenience; it is a happy thought to have put it first because it embodies a resolution that deals with the most important problems of our social progress, and that is the education of our women. As I was listening to that inspiring and stirring address by our reverend President a little while ago, it seemed to me that no woman could have pleaded the cause of women with a greater conviction of her rights and her privileges and her destiny in the future as an unbroken historic tradition from the past; and whatever I might say speaking as a woman, and an Indian woman, for my sisters, cannot possibly carry the same weight with you, because it will not go from me with that tradition of sacrifice, that living reality of daily service in the cause of women which Prof. [Dhondo Keshav] Karve has embodied in his life. But when I look around me to-day and consider that ten years ago in Calcutta from the platform of the Social Conference I pleaded for the education of women, there was not a gathering of women quite as much as the gathering present here to-day, and that itself is sufficient to prove that within the last ten years not only the men, but those more intimately and essentially concerned the women themselves, have begun to realise the cause of a new spirit which is nothing but a renaissance of the old spirit which gave to India those Gargis, Maitrayis, those Savitris and Sitas of whom Mr. Bhupendra Nath Basu spoke a little while ago. And if I speak to you to-day in favour and in support of this educational policy for our women, for amore liberal grand from the authorities, for more co-operation from our men, I will demand from my sisters not merely that liberality of endowment that we ask from Government, not merely the co-operation from our brothers, but from them their pledge of individual and personal consecration to this great cause; I will demand from every sister of mine her personal dedication to this cause, because it is not from Government or even from the co-operation of the manhood of the country that the solution of this question will come. It is not from them that you will get the impetus to wipe off the stain from our national history, but rather from the womanhood of India which is suffering from a wrong. My reproach is to the women of India, and though I make it in their presence I do it as a woman speaking to women, and do it with the fullest realization of what I am saying because I feel the voices of millions of my sons crying out from one end to another end. Let the womanhood of the country wake and work. Let us strengthen the hands of our men. Those prayers that we prayed, those thoughts that we uttered in the thousands gathered together year after year, passing resolutions, are but the sincerest desire of every member of the society that has the interest of the country at heart. When I was in Europe a little more than a year ago after 15 years of absence from the continent of progress, during my last visit to Europe, what struck me in that great content of rapid change, of evolution on on at a rate that one can hardly calculate by the hands of a clock, that it was the full womanhood of Europe that had begun to realize the full measure of its strength, the full height of its responsibility, the full sanctity and seriousness of its duty in the nation-building of Europe. Everywhere I found that women of all classes that had been considered luxury-loving had become transmuted into servers of the country’s good. Women, whose chief assets 15 years ago might have ben the jewels or the ornaments, had for their asset now that living sympathy, that personal service to the poor, that share of responsibility in solving the great problems of the generation, every nation is called upon to solve. And when I came back to India a year ago, the first thing that struck me after nearly two years of absence was that the womanhood of India was beginning to wake in an unmistakable way. I have come in contact with thousands and thousands of women in every part of India and the same message comes forth that unity of Indian womanhood, if it is desired to achieve it, is to be found in the national service. When I was in the Kistna and Godavari districts it surprised me to find how in that country where there is a new movement to re-establish a national consciousness, the women stood side by side with their men in every detail, and not merely in the abstract ideals of achieving that regeneration, that renaissance of the Andhra country. Everywhere I found that wherever there was a school to be started or a mission for social service, wherever there was a movement to bring back to the Indian consciousness that sense of national dignity that sense of national responsibility, the women of the Andhra country stood side by side with their men. In Bengal, I found in that sweet country, where the very educational ardour is transmuted in devotion for the country, there I found man and woman ready to bring his or her life like a lotus flower in consecration to the feet of Bharat Varsha. In this Presidency where every community is represented not in minorities but in equal proportions, of strength and of prosperity, where there is that wholesome stimulus for every good work, I find the spirit of the womanhood of this Presidency, the women of the Maharashtra, the women of the Zoroastrian community and the women who say Yah Allah, Yah Allah of Muhammadanism, though they are divided by race and creed and religion, they are yet indivisible, one by the realization of their common womanhood, and they are one by the consciousness of their common duty which is the duty of every woman whose destiny it is to create the generation of the citizens of to-morrow, and if this resolution comes into a Conference like this it comes with the whole-hearted support of this great gathering of women who, though great with their numbers, are still only a fraction of that large majority who are thinking and desiring and hoping and struggling to bring ack to India that dignity, that liberty, that deliverence (sic) from evil, that freedom of all social laws which comes of education. They are trying here, as elsewhere, as all true women must, to relise (sic) that their share in co-operating with their men is the only condition of national regeneration. They are beginning to realize that it is not only by having large ideals that this service is to be achieved but rather by analyzing those great ideals into their component practical parts, and every one taking up a little share of practical service, and all those ideals and all those visions of tomorrow are centered round this supreme question of the education of women. Other national questions come and go. They are the result of the changing time-spirit, but the one question that has never changed since the beginning o time itself, and life itself, is the duty of womanhood, the influence of womanhood, the sanctity of womanhood, the simple womanhood as the divinity of God upon earth, the responsibility of womanhood in shaping the divinity into daily life. Friends, two nights ago I was speaking in Poona at the All-India Muhammadan Educational Conference, and I was the one representative of my sect in the midst of hundreds of Muhammadan men, and I was asked to thank on behalf of those women who are separated from their men, not merely by virtue of sect, but rather divided from them by tradition and custom. It was I who said, Oh men, unless and until you give to your women all those equal privileges that form the highest and noblest teaching of your great nation-builder and Prophet you will not attain that regeneration of your race that renaissance of Islamic glory, and to-day in the presence of this great gathering chiefly of Hindus, I say, Oh friends, Oh brothers, Oh sisters, look back to the past and look forward to the future, and let your future draw its diffused inspiration, its highest vitality, just from those living traditions that are our greatest inheritance. We ask for nothing that is foreign to our ideals, rather we ask for a restoration of those rights, the rights that are the immortal treasures. We ask only that we may be given that chance to develop our body and spirit and mind in that evolution that will re-establish for you ideal womanhood, not an impossible womanhood such as poets may dream of, but an ideal womanhood that will make noble wives who are helpmates, strong mothers, brave mothers, teaching their sons the first lesson of national service.
Source: Speeches and Writings of Sarojini Naidu, Third Edition (Madras: G.A. Natesan & Co.), pp. 53-57.