Glorious was the Nineteenth century for India, the seed time when several great leaders, visionaries and spiritual luminaries were born to lead Indian renaissance. Among them was Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, the shining star, popularly known as Mahamana (a name given to him by Gandhiji) who was an epitome of Indian spiritual heritage. One of the greatest leaders who shaped the values and ideals of modern India, Malaviyaji was an interpreter and mediator between the civilization of the East and the West. A man of many parts, his genius as an educationist, as a social reformer, as a writer and a legislator has left a deep imprint on our polity and society. A great patriot and a rare visionary, he enshrined a combination of idealism and practical wisdom.
An educationist and social reformer par excellence, Malaviyaji fought for the right and better place for down trodden and backward sections of the society. He ardently favored the idea of social upliftment of women and opined that they should be properly educated he sincerely took up the cause of women education and advocated that girls must be well educated as they will become the true teachers of their children.
Malaviyaji knew that the welfare of household, society and humanity depended largely on girls, ladies and housewives. He, therefore, set it as a mission to free them from backwardness. He was in faouvr of adult suffrage for women and the removal of Purdah. He supported window remarriage and opposed child marriage both for boys and girls. In this speeches and writings he always talked about the equality of men and women in our society. He was firm in his belief that liberty and justice “are birth right of every man and woman”. (The Hindustan Times, Feb. 5, 1932).
He wanted all round development of women in all sectors of life. He was happy to see women participating in the Swadeshi movement and blessed them. A staunch believer in Swadeshi, Malaviyaji launched campaigns for the use of Indian goods to help the freedom struggle. His wife, Kundan Devi, led and presided over the women’s meeting at Allahabad and his daughter-in-law courted imprisonment. The other ladies of his family also attended public meetings.
Malaviyaji emphasized the role of women in social reconstruction. He was firm in his conviction that women should receive education like men so that they could play better role in the day-to-day functioning of their domestic and external lives. He advised them to occupy themselves, specially spinning; maintain good health in order to participate in activities having deep linage with Indian nationalism.
The following excerpt from “Twelfth convocation Address in B.H.U. delivered by Malviyaji explicitly and categorically puts forth his views on the role and functionality of women:
The education of our women is a matter of even greater importance than the education of our men. They are the mothers of the future generations of India. They will be the first and the most influential educators of the future statesmen, scholars, philosophers, captain of commerce and industry and other leaders of men. Their education will profoundly affect the education of the future citizen of India. The Mahabharata says:
“There is no teacher like the mother”. We must, therefore, define the goal of their education and take counsel together and obtain the best advice as to what course will most suit them, how we shall secure to them a good knowledge of our ancient literature and culture and combine with it a knowledge of modern literature and science, particularly biological science, of art and painting, and of music, how we shall secure the physical, intellectual, moral and spiritual building of the womanhood of the country.
This excerpt coupled with the following statement from the same speech makes it amply clear that he didn’t want women to run the same way as men; He lamented over the fact that “we are asking our girls to pursue the same courses which is prescribed for our young men without defining to ourselves the results which we desire to follow from their education.”
As a true visionary, he wanted to visualize beforehand what will be the role of women in the act of national reconstruction. Towards this he made a fervent plea in these word: “Do we want to rear up women of the type of Savtri and Arundhati, Maitreyi and Gargi, Lilavati and Sulabha of old, or the type of administrators like Ahalyabai or of the type of the brave fighter Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi, or women who will combine the best characteristics of the women of the past and of the present, but who will be qualified by their education and training to play their full part in building up the new India of the future? These and similar questions will demand consideration before a national programme for the education of our women will be settled. Statesmen and scholars shall have to sit together to discuss and recommend such a programme”. But, unfortunately, Mahamana’s call for a National Programme for women’s education has remained an unrealized vision till date owing to the lack of commitment and vision on the part of policy makers.
To the mothers, the Mahamana was always reverential and worshipful. He always addressed them as ‘Deviyo’. N.C. Kelkar recounts: “His (Malaviya’s) views on female education and things of that kind are remarkable broad, and whenever I hear him addressing ladies as ‘Deivs’, I feel that the means fully all that is conveyed in that beautiful expression.”
There was purity in Mahamana’s expression and divinity in his look. He would tell the women of the immortal stores of Arundhati, Draupadi, Maitreyi, Gargi, Savitri and Sita and transport his listeners to ethereal realms. The women of India, in return, adored Mahamana. V.A. Sundaram narrates the charismatic appeal of Mahaman in these words:
Who can forget the vast gathering of fifty thousand women, who had gathered on the Bombay beach to hear his soul-stirring address in 1930, during the Satyagraha days when he came out of Bombay Arthur Road Jail. He exhorted the women of India to be brave and fearless and to save their honor in moments of danger and practice methods of self defense. The Mahamana’s concern of the uplift of our womenfolk:
There was, many years ago, a prize distribution at the Kayastha Pathshala at Allahabad where he (Malaviya) and I had both gone. It was presided over by and English judge of the Allahabd High Court, who was accompanied by his unmarried young daughter, who looked the very picture of health and strength. At the close of the meeting Malayaji tuned to me said: “Did you notice anything?” I replied that I was myself thinking of that matter. He excel aimed, “when shall we have such girls in our country?
It is with these objectives in mind that Mahamana was equally keen to set up an institution to cater to the needs of women exclusively. After Banaras Hindu University became a reality, he announced the establishment of the women’s college of the University in 1929. This institution has played a seminal role in the spread of women’s empowerment through education. Its steady growth and development stands testimony to the spontaneous social revolution that has been brought about in the wake of Mahamana’s vision. If the present reality allows us to encounter that dream as actuality, the efforts and vision of that man certainly stand as backbone.
It is altogether a different matter that education today in our country is standing at a cross-road. It has not only lost its heart, it seems to have lost its direction and goal, it is a sad situation, the holistic and pragmatic approach advocated by Mahamana can work as savior. Education should aim at making healthy minds dwelling in healthy bodies instead of just making wealthy careers alone. In view of this, Mahamana will always remain a beacon of light paving us the right path.