Stepping Into the Outer World Women in Politics in Colonial Bengal 1889-1920

Rachana Chakraborty


During the first half of the nineteenth century, Bengal‟s encounter with Westernmodernity, shaped Bengali culture in unique ways. It was the first to witness a culturalrevival along the lines of liberal enlightenment and to address the women‟s question aswell. The new role envisaged for the women of Bengal, however, did not seek to createindependent women who would be self reliant or share equal status with men. However,an interest towards the public domain soon surfaced among a section of women.

The objective of this paper is to trace the first stirrings of political participationof some of the exceptional women of Bengal who dared to step into the predominantly„men‟s world‟ and thereby initiate a struggle against colonialism. The journey whichbegan with Kadambini Ganguly was followed up by Saraladevi Chaudhurani, daughterof Swarnakumari Devi, Hemantakumari Chaudhury, Lilabati Mitra, Kumudini Maitra,Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, Sarojini Naidu, and Begum Ammam Bibi. Women‟sparticipation in the freedom struggle gained a new dimension with the advent ofMahatma Gandhi.

Although in late nineteenth century Bengal, such women were few, yet therewere indeed some exceptions who dared to cross over to the „outer domain‟. The firststirrings of political consciousness among Bengali women were articulated through thefreedom movement. Once this process began, issues of gender inequality came to bevoiced. If not for all, for at least the more sensitive women, participation in the freedommovement initiated a protracted struggle against two different marks of servility:colonialism and patriarchy. The politically conscious women of the first half of thetwentieth century started discussing the issues of gender subordination in moresophisticated terms.

Key words: Bengal, Gender, Politics


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