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Documenting the Role of an Institution

Meenakshi Thapan

By Meena Bhargava and Kalyani Dutta
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2014, pp. 169, Rs. 450.00


This book is about the history of a women’s college and about aspects of the women’s movement in the nationalist period. It is also a book about dreams, aspirations and desires, among young women who sought higher education, their fathers and elders who allowed them to do so, the stalwarts at the forefront of women’s education in India, both women and men, and about colonialism and its legacy, in the curriculum it bequeathed women’s education, in its zeal for civilizing and modernizing the submissive and passive native. The authors provide a fascinating account of the history of Indraprastha College for Women in Delhi and take into consideration the role of colonialists, nationalists and social reformers, and the women’s movement in fostering education for women in modern India. Indraprastha College was the bastion of women’s education in an otherwise arid educational landscape that simply overlooked education for women. It began as a school in 1904, a fact perhaps unknown outside college walls, and was established as the first college for undergraduate education for women in 1924.   In their choice of the college as a case-study, the authors state their objective in terms of understanding the movement for women’s education in India as well as the pioneering role of women in national politics. This twin objective is well realized by the authors through a systematic, and largely historical, examination of various aspects of the movement for women’s education and the role of the college in shaping the relationship between women and politics. The early years of the twentieth century are of particular interest as the ideals for an education for women are drawn out by the authors. These are largely determined by a patriarchal perspective that views such an education essentially in terms of the ‘virtues’ essential for a ‘good’ woman (mother and wife) in a ‘modern’ India, a point made elsewhere by other scholars as well.   The authors point to the origins of the Indraprastha school, by suggesting that the founders ‘must have been inspired by the pioneers of women’s education and social reformers’ such as Ishwara Chandra Vidyasagar, Justice Mahadev Govind Ranade, Raja Rammohun Roy, Pandita Ramabai and others (p.17). Laying the ground for inspiration in perhaps socially more acceptable indigenous sources, Bhargava and Dutta themselves clearly point to Annie Besant as the one ‘who ultimately motivated and galvanized’ the formation of the ...

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