Indian Feminism: The High-Caste Hindu Women (Book analysis)

Pandita Ramabai, in her book titled The High-Caste Hindu Women[1]shows her distress over the pre-existing discriminatory Hindu customs and practises. It is brilliant how her work still applies to today’s society, approximately 130 years after she wrote her book. It is safe to say that her work was quite progressive for her times. She starts her book by explaining who is a Hindu and where do they derive their customs from.  She argues that these customs are put on a pedestal in the society and how non conformity to the same could lead to either shunning or complete abandonment from the society. She states that caste originated from the practise of economical division of labour. This escalated overtime to construct the most oppressed societal hierarchy. Inter-caste marriage is seen as an act which may eventually dismantle the carefully constructed caste hierarchy, therefore, it is shunned and looked down upon. 

She states that the gender based discrimination in the society can be traced back to the religious Hindu texts. Manu, the Hindu law provider from India, wrote about how a women should behave and be treated in the Indian society. “― In childhood a female must be subject to her father, in youth, to her husband, when her lord is dead, to her sons; a woman must never be independent‖” It’s appalling to see such discrimination. Women have always been seen as a property, either of their father, their husbands or sons. Moreover, the birth of a female girlchild is seen as bad luck. They are seen as liabilities that the father wishes to get rid off. This in turn leads to child marriage, wherein the girl is married off before the age of majority to a man who’s either twice or thrice her age. 

She describes the grievances of women at length in her book. From being forced to perform ‘sati’ to being sold away to a rich, old man with a lumpsum dowry, the distress of being a women just doesn’t end. She critiques the teachings of the Manusmriti, a discriminatory Hindu text which empowers men to take away the rights of a women. Her book doesn’t just focus on the Upper-caste women but most women who are oppressed by the casteist patriarchal society.

Based on such instances of abuse of power by males in the Indian patriarchal society, Ramabai says that a high caste Hindu woman primarily needs to learn self-reliance and education in order to be able to stand up for herself and deal with the society. In my opinion, her suggestions are primary to a woman’s existence and survival as an active person in the society. This will ensure that women aren’t just seen as passive receptors, but are rather considered a competent and significant part of the Indian society. I feel education would enlighten young girls about the injustices they face, the moral wrongdoings of the cultural and societal norms, and the inequality which should be gotten rid of. Self-reliance would make them strong, independent beings who aren’t dependent on men for their survival. 


[1] Ramabai, P., 1887. The High-Caste Hindu Woman. [online]. Upenn.edu. Available at: <https://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/ramabai/woman/woman.html>%5BAccessed 19 January 2022].

Image Source: Feminism in India

Aishwarya Says:

I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.

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