Tim Allender
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‘Better mothers’
Feminine and feminist educators and thresholds of Indian female interaction, 1870–1932
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As an overlay to colonial intervention was the emerging nationalist side of the story. Faced with a colonial rhetoric about educating Indian females that was no longer credible, the British turned to promoting this cause, instead, claiming a new Indian modernity based on Western female professionalism and, with it, elements of embedded Western feminism. As far as the nationalist cause entered into this dialogue at all, M. K. Gandhi turned these arguments on their head, seeking education to make Indian girls better ‘mothers’ as a signifier that it was traditional Indian cultural spaces that would define their femininity, and with a largely different activism from Indian men in the nationalist struggle. This chapter places developments concerning female learning in this context from the 1870s onwards, embracing questions of Indian citizenship and widowhood. The work of a faction of the Brahmo Samaj in Bengal (East India), the ideology of the Arya Samaj in north India, and activists including the Parsis in Bombay (West India), are discussed. Over this relatively long time period the chapter explores how colonial women teachers responded in different and limited ways, and with different levels of success, to these largely unacknowledged but very strong Indian cultural contexts.

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