Dr Saptarshi Mallick

Charles Wallace India Trust fellow & Assistant Professor (English)
School of Social Science and Languages
Vellore Institute of Technology


Education facilitates an individual’s mind with an atmosphere of creative activity (The Centre 1, 2, 3). The Serampore Missionaries and Swami Vivekananda though belonging to different spaces of time voiced similar visionary messages towards the emancipation of women through education. They were able to trace the cause of the social degradation – the lack of education. Though education was available among the men, the women have been shunned from the portals of enlightenment through education, being subjected to patriarchal coercion which had stereotyped their existence. Education was the only remedy to this social problem which would enable women to discover and realise their identity in this world, their own selves and develop a voice of their own. Women play a very important role for the socio-cultural development; therefore it is a crime to prevent them from being educated. Besides their birth right as a human being to be at par with the men, they also actively contribute towards the development of the cultural identity of the society. This essay is a comparative discussion that explores the seeds sown by the Serampore Missionaries towards women’s education which got vindicated vehemently by Swami Vivekananda who left no stone unturned to uplift the masses ideologically as well as through his own life and actions. Through their philanthropic actions the Serampore Missionaries and Swamiji believed service to mankind is service to God, and through education the soul is liberated and true liberty is realised which facilitates an individual to move towards the ‘truth’ i.e. righteousness.

Keywords: Women’s education, Women’s emancipation, Social development, Serampore Missionaries, Swami Vivekananda

Education facilitates an individual with an illumination of the world through the process of a living and growing knowledge which inspires an atmosphere of creative activity (The Centre 1, 2, 3). This creative participation should be equal and not subjected to gendered discriminations – it should enable an individual to ‘realize him, transcend the limits of mortality – not in duration of time, but in perfection of truth’ (The Religion 55) as education should be in

full touch with our complete life, economical, intellectual, aesthetic, social and spiritual; and our educational institutions should be in the very heart of our society, connected with it by the living bonds of varied co-operations [as] true education is to realize at every step how our training and knowledge have organic connection with our surroundings (The Centre 3).

Patriarchy had often stereotyped women and gendered education preventing the equal dissemination of knowledge between the sexes. In spite of considering them as ‘an epitome of goodness’ (Selected Essays on Aesthetics 229) the women were often coerced by the social system to emerge as the hallowed ‘other’ – the eastern ‘Lakshmi’ (Dasgupta 11) and the Western ‘Angel of the House’ (Woolf 238) being subjected to patriarchal oppression and exploitations. Such an existence has prevented the women from education and enlightenment disapproving their necessity to have a room of their own, to study and thereby develop a voice and a literature of their own. Negating the concept of a comprehensive educational development of the society patriarchy feared that through education women would be empowered to be ‘the Renaissance seeker of wisdom’ (Fraser 65) – the liberator, zealous spokeswomen and emissaries of social metamorphosis accelerating a creative participation in this world. Though women possesses ‘the potentiality of life’ in the depths of their passive nature necessary for healing, nourishing and storing life (Personality 158, 159), yet she has been subjected to sexual politics which has coerced her to be the ‘second sex’.

The Serampore Missionaries and Swami Vivekananda though belonging to different spaces of time voiced similar visionary message through their ideas for the development of women’s education. The Serampore Missionaries headed by William Carey, Joshua Marshman, William Ward and Hannah Marshman believed in ecumenical pragmatism (Daniel 171), an openness of vision and introduced education among the native masses for the development of the society. Overcoming social obstacles, the Serampore Missionaries were able to open schools for the native girls in order to impart western education to them (Chatterjee 121). In 1809-10 they initiated the establishment of the Benevolent Institution in Calcutta – the primary focus being to provide shelters to the destitute (boys and girls) and impart education to them (Ibid.). The school for these girls was the first of its kind in Calcutta and the joint efforts of the Serampore Trio and Hannah Marshman played an important role for its development. Hannah Marshman left no stone unturned to make the local women realise the necessity and advantages of being educated. Initially she was subjected to immense criticism but soon her arguments began to be accepted. As the missionaries lacked funds for the development of a separate school for the girls so they attained the boy’s school following a separate sitting arrangement.1  The first report on the native schools stated,

In some instances girls have wished and have been permitted to partake of the instruction imparted by the Institution. Under the eye of a teacher in whom peculiar confidence has been reposed, some have been admitted and have gone through their exercises, separated from the boys by a mat partition. More female pupils could have obtained, had it appeared desirable (Hints Relative 11).

1818 – 1820 initiated several social reforms and one of the most important of them was the need to spread the education for the girl child. The Baptists in Bengal and England took an active step in organizing schools for the native girls and established the Female Juvenile Society in Bengal (Chatterjee 122). In 1817 The School Book Society at Calcutta was established with the object of compilation, printing and publication of school books, in Bengali and English. Though circumstances began to develop for initiating women’s education at Calcutta but the society was too conservative to accept the new ideals of education of the girl child fostered by the Serampore Triad, banning all the malicious social practices. William Ward, Joshua Marshman and Hannah Marshman appealed the Home Government to help them with funds in order to establish schools for girls at Serampore as an extension of their evangelical activities (Ibid. 123). William Ward’s appeal to the people at England for supporting the cause of women’s education in India received an ample support from the English women. On receiving this news Hannah wrote to Joshua on February 21, 1821, ‘I am determined to attempt a project for girls on return to India’ (Ibid.) and in 1821, she along with Ward and Mack initiated the development of schools for females at Serampore (Hannah Marshman 87). They adopted the Serampore system of native education, where knowledge in elementary history, science, geography and mathematics was imparted apart from the general 3 R’s i.e. reading, writing and arithmetic – a blend of the traditional and modern, giving special importance to orthography and grammar of Bengali and English languages (Ibid.). The Serampore Missionaries supported one another to spread education among the masses and developed schools for boys and girls. William Carey prepared books like, A Grammar of the Bengalee Language, Iitihaasmala, Kathopokothon, A Dictionary of Bengali Language and the translations of the Bible in Bengali and several other Indian vernaculars for the students to study at these schools apart from the general education on the regular subjects. Vocational education was also introduced in order to make the women self sufficient. The Serampore Missionaries played an important role in initiating a dynamic process in Bengal of educating the women and enabling them to have a voice and an identity of their own.

Though it was difficult at the initial stage but with the passage of time circumstances began to develop, schools for women began to rise and the measures undertaken by the Serampore Missionaries to spread the necessity for women’s education saw the further affirmation in pan India with Swami Vivekananda’s ideals of reforms for the comprehensive development of human beings and the society based on the principle and philosophy of ‘Neo-Vendantism’.

The germs of Neo-Vendantism as also the ratinale and beginning of its practical application are to be found in the life and teachings of Sri Ramakrishna. It was left to Swami Vivekananda to develop them into the philosophy of neo-Vendantism and lay the foundation of practical Vedanta…The main outline of this new Vedanta was drawn by Sri Ramakrishna and it was Swami Vivekananda who filled it in with elaborate reasoning so as to work up a philosophy proper. It has been very aptly said that Swami Vivekananda is a commentary on Sri Ramakrishna. But the commentator with his giant intellect and profound understanding made such distinctive contributions that his commentary becomes itself a philosophy, just as Sankara’s commentary on the Vedanta-Sutra is by itself a philosophy (“Swami Vivekananda’s Neo-Vedantism” 260, 265).

Swami Vivekananda’s idea of ‘Practical Vedanta’ is based on the application of the philosophic ideals to the daily affairs of life. He was of the opinion that real salvation or moksha is obtained when we serve the society selflessly as service to man is service to God, as Swamiji had written in his letter to Mary Hale on July 9, 1897 (Nikhilananda 129, 130).

Swami Vivekananda played an important role in ushering series of dynamic reforms for the development of Indian culture in the twentieth century. His ideals2 gave a limitless leap to all the socio-cultural and nationalistic reforms introduced by the Missionaries before his prominence on the Indian soil. He proved the necessity to bring about an assimilation of the goodness of all cultures in the Indian heart for a better future sowing his ideals on nationalsim and internationalism. S. C. Sengupta in his Swami Vivekananda and Indian Nationalism states

In course of a letter on ‘What We Believe In’, Vivekananda wrote in 1894, ‘We preach neither social equality nor inequality but that everyday being has the same rights, and insist upon freedom of thought and action in every way.’ This statement, clear and straightforward as it is, has to be understood in the light of Vivekananda’s thought in general. The cardinal point of his philosophy is the Absolute as Spirit, which is manifested in everything in the universe, especially in man, whose spirituality finds expression in various ways, not the least in different forms of worship. Although Religion is one, religious may be different, depending on circumstances, and economic, political and even personal necessities (58).

When Vivekananada was actively uplifting the masses of the country, the country was rift apart by two ideals i.e. ‘What the western nations do is surely good, otherwise how they became so great?’ (Majumdar 112) and ‘The flash of lightning is intensely bright, but only for a moment; look out, boys, it is dazzling your eyes. Beware!’ (Ranade 58). The Hegelian dialectics validate ‘thesis’ and ‘anti-thesis’, Vivekananda ushered in ‘synthesis’ – Indians must learn science and technology from the West and the West must learn spirituality from India. Swamiji’s ideas of synthesis validate the spirit of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakum’. His suggestions on reforms in the various spheres of life establish his earnest desire to remove evils from the socio-economic, political, religious and cultural lives of Indians and uplift them physically, psychologically and culturally. Swami Vivekananda believed that such evils acted as barriers in the proper development and blossoming of

the spiritual life according to the doctrine of Vedanta; for spirituality is the lodestar of Indian culture to which we must always look for direction (Majumdar 114).

Swami Vivekananda believed

India will be raised, not with the power of the flesh, but with the power of the spirit; not with the flag of destruction, but with the flag of peace and love, the garb of the Sannyasin; not by the power of the wealth, but by the power of begging bowl. But one vision I see clea as life before me, that the ancient Mother has awakened once more, sitting on Her throne – rejuvinated, more glorious than ever. Proclaim Her to all the world with the voice of peace and benediction (Vivekananda IV: 352, 353).

He believed that his dream for India can only be attained if the evils of the society are eradicated and proper measures are undertaken for the development of the masses, especially the women and imparting education to all without any discrimination. ‘In India’, Swamiji believed

there are two great evils: trampling on the women, and grinding the poor through caste restrictions…the uplift of the women, the awakening of the masses, must come first and then only can any real good come about for the country, for India (Chowdhury 400).

Swamiji Vivekananda’s approach to India was sensible and practical. He believed that inequality among human beings, power of concentration, materialistic distinctions are the primary source of the country’s downfall.3 He believed in the Vedantic doctrine of ‘human divinity’ which postulates that ‘religion is the manifestation of divinity already in man’ (Lokeswarananda 41) and therefore upheld his ideas of equality between men and women. Roma Chowdhury states

When you will realise that all-illuminating truth of the Atman, then you will see that the idea of sex-discrimination has vanished altogether, then only will you look upon all women as the veritable manifestation of Brahman (402).

Like the Serampore Missionaries, Swami Vivekananda was apt to decipher the cause of the degradation of the majority of the masses. He realised that the lack of education has degraded the human condition; though education is available among the men, the women have been shunned from the portals of enlightenment through education. The high-handed patriarchy coerced women and stereotyped their existence. Education was the only remedy to this social problem which will enable women to discover and realise their identity in this world, their own selves and have a voice and subsequently a literature of their own.4 Women play a very important role towards the socio-cultural development of the society therefore it is a crime to prevent them from being educated. Besides their birth right as a human being to be at par with the men, they also actively contribute towards the development of the cultural identity of the society as Mary Wollstonecraft theoretically stated in her A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792) and Mary Shelley literally vindicated it through her Frankenstein (1823).

Swami Vivekananda’s ardent desire to spread and uplift the women of the nation is evident through his writings where he embodies the ‘nation’ as the ‘mother land’. His ideas on the power of women and the necessity of empowering women (through education) are well manifested through his poem ‘Kali the Mother’, where the Mother, a woman is the creator and the destroyer,

… For Terror is Thy name,

Death is in Thy breath,

And every shaking step

Destroys a world for e’er.

Thou ‘Time’, the All-Destroyer!

Come, O Mother, come!

Who dares misery love,

And hug the form of Death,

Dance in Destruction’s dance,

To him the Mother comes (Vivekananda IV: 384).

Swami Vivekananda believed in the idea of the new, enlightened and educated women having a voice and identity of their own. His idea of education was based on the development of the soul, the personality i.e. character building, physical culture, cultivation of the arts, study of humanities with special reference to Indian culture, and scientific and technological training. Swamiji stressed upon the quality of ‘chastity, fearlessness and personal contact of a good teacher for good education’ (Majumdar 116, 117; Vivekananda V: 224) for both men and women.

Though Swami Vivekananda considered Sita as the ideal woman (Majumdar 115) but he was of the opinion not to put any signifier of perfection upon the women, rather wanted them to be educated5 and undertake the journey of life along with men enjoying equality and liberty in life at all levels, as with education women will be able to solve their own problems by acquiring the spirit of valour and heroism (Chowdhury 405). Therefore Swamiji believed that several problems of the society can be removed if they are properly addressed and one is women’s education. He strongly voiced for women’s education, liberty and equal treatment in the society in order to ensure progress and development of life. Through education the ‘perfection’ in women will be ‘manifested’ as ‘strength is life and weakness is death (Vivekananda II: 3). The word ‘manifestation’ implies that something already exists and needs to be explored, nurtured and expressed enabling the hidden ability of the individual to be manifested as knowledge is inherent in man and not acquired from external sources – the stimulus of education causes the friction that ignites the fire of knowledge (Mondal 79, 80). Vivekananda said that with education a man ‘discovers’, by taking the cover off his own soul, which is a mine of infinite knowledge’ (My India: The India Eternal 54) validating the inherent human potential, abilities and talents. Swami Vivekananda defined education as, ‘life-building, man-making, character-making assimilation of ideas’, and not a certain ‘amount of information that is put into your brain and runs riot there, undigested all your life’ (Vivekananda III: 302). Education is not mere book-learning (Vivekananda V: 231), nor passing examinations, not even delivering impressive lectures, it is an ability to think originally, to stand on your own feet mentally as well as practically, interacting with people successfully (Vivekananda VII: 147). Education for him means that process by which character is formed, strength of mind is increased, and intellect is sharpened, as a result of which one can stand on one’s own feet (Mondal 80). According to Swami Vivekananda, education is a development from within, it is the discovery of the inner self i.e. self revelation, not an imposition on the individual of certain borrowed ideas from the external sources, but a natural process of enfoldment of all the inherent powers which lie in dormant condition in an individual (Ibid.).

Swami Vivekananda however did not just emphasise on the need for education he also laid emphasis on ‘preserverence’ and ‘will power’ as the epitomes of progress in the path towards the goal of success based on the nationalistic ideas of:

  • The awakening of the masses who form the nation.
  • Development of physical and moral strength.
  • Unity based on common spiritual ideas.
  • Consciousness of, and pride in, the ancient glory and greatness of India (Majumdar 108).

Besides, ‘conviction of the powers of goodness, absence of jealousy and suspicion and helping all who are trying to be and do good’ (Vivekananda VI: 218; VIII: 299) are necessary to make every individual as well as every nation great.

The Serampore Missionaries and Swami Vivekananda appear at different ‘spaces’ and ‘contexts’ of time in the history of human existence for executing their reformative ideals for the development of the general masses including the need of education among the women for the development of the society. The seeds which were sown by the Serampore Missionaries got propounded and vindicated vehemently by the Hindu monk who left no stone unturned to uplift the masses ideologically as well as through his own life and actions. They believed that through education the soul is liberated and through true liberty human beings move towrads the ‘truth’ i.e. righteousness,

                        Ya êkô varnô bahudhā saktiyogāt

                        varnām anêkān nihitārthô dadhāti

                        vichaitti chānte visvamādau sa dêvah

                        sa nô budhyā subhayā samyunāktu

He who is one, above all colours, and who with his manifold powers supplies the inherent needs of men of all colours, who is in the beginning and in the end of the world, is divine, and may he unite us in a relationship of good will (The Religion 36).

  1. As an alternative sitting arrangement – a curtain was put in between the places where the girls and the boys sat in the classroom. Those girls who were eager to learn and be educated got themselves admitted to the boys’ school.
  2. Swami Vivekananda’s ideals were all based on the scriptures especially the Upanishads. He said, ‘If you look, you will find that I have never quoted anything but the Upanishads, it is that one idea strength. The quintessence of the Vedas and Vedanta and all lies in that one word’ (Vivekananda VIII: 267).
  3. Swami Vivekananda said, ‘The main difference between men and the animals is the difference in their power of concentration. All success in any line of work is the result of this…The difference in their power of concentration also constitutes the difference between man and man. Compare the lowest with the highest man. The difference is in the degree of concentration’ (Vivekananda VI: 37).
  4. The words are taken from the title of Elaine Showalter’s book, A Literature of Their Own. Here Showalter sets out to ‘describe the female literary tradition in the English novel from the generation of the Brontës to the present day, and to show how the development of this tradition is similar to the development of any literary subculture. We are reminded of the term ‘Ĕcriture fêminine’ which refers to women’s writing in French feminist theory. It describes how women’s writing is a specific discourse closer to the body, to emotions and to the unnamable, all of which are repressed by the social contract.
  5. Swami Vivekananda said, ‘We want that education by which character is formed, strength of mind is increased, the intellect is expanded, and by which one can stand on one’s feet’ (Vivekananda V: 342).

Works Cited:

  • Carey, William, Joshua Marshman, and William Ward. Hints Relative to Native Schools, Together With the Outline of An Institution For Their Extension and Management. Serampore: Serampore Mission Press, 1816. Print.
  • Chatterjee, Satishchandra. “Swami Vivekananda’s Neo-Vendantism and Its Practical Application.” Swami Vivekananda Centenary Memorial Volume. Ed. R. C. Majumdar. Calcutta: Swami Vivekananda Centenary, 1963. 260 – 282. Print.
  • Chatterjee, Sunil Kumar. William Carey and Serampore. Sheoraphuli: Sunil Kumar Chatterjee, 2004. Print.
  • —. Hannah Marshman. Sheoraphuli: Sunil Kumar Chatterjee, 2006. Print.
  • Chowdhury, Roma. “Sociological Views of Swami Vivekananda – His Ideas of Social Reform – Uplift of Women and Masses.” Swami Vivekananda Centenary Memorial Volume. Ed. R. C. Majumdar. Calcutta: Swami Vivekananda Centenary, 1963. 347 – 438. Print.
  • Daniel, J. T. K. “Ecumenical Pragmatism of the Serampore Mission.” IJT 2 (2000): 171 – 177. Print.
  • Dasgupta, Sanjukta. Lakshmi Unbound. Kolkata: Chitrangi, 2017. Print.
  • Fraser, Bashabi. Letters to My Mother and Other Mothers. Luarth Press Limited, 2015. Print.
  • Lokeswarananda, Swami. Swami Vivekananda: His Life and Message. Calcutta: The Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, 2003. Print.
  • Majumdar, R. C. Swami Vivekananda: A Historical Review. Advaita Ashrama: Swami Mumukshananda, 2004. Print.
  • Mondal, Ajit and Jayanta Mete. “Swami Vivekananda: Some Reflections on Education.” International Journal of Multidisciplinary Educational Research 3 (August 2012): 79 – 85. Print.
  • Nikhilananda, Swami. Vivekananda: A Biography. New York: Ramakrishna Vivekananda Centre of New York, 1953.
  • Ranade, Eknath, comp. Swami Vivekananda’s Rousing Call to Hindu Nation. Calcutta, 1963. Print.
  • Sengupta, S. C. Swami Vivekananda and Indian Nationalism. Calcutta: Sahitya Samsad, 1984. Print.
  • Tagore, Rabindranath. The Centre of Indian Culture. New Delhi: Rupa & Co., 2003. Print.
  • —. The Religion of Man. New Delhi: Rupa Publications India Pvt. Ltd, 2005.
  • —. Personality. New Delhi: Rupa Publications India Pvt. Ltd, 2007. Print.
  • —. Selected Essays on Aesthetics. Ed. and Trans. Amitabha Chaudhury. New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 2017. Print.
  • Vivekananda, Swami. The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda. 8 vols. Kolkata: Advaita Ashrama, 2000. Print.
  • —. My India: The India Eternal, Kolkata: Ramkrishna Mission Institute of Culture, 2008. Print.
  • Woolf, Virginia. The Death of the Moth and Other Essays. Harcourt Brace and Company, 1970. Print.

     (Dedication:  This essay is for Mr Norman Aselmeyer for his unconditional love, unfailing inspiration and constant support. )

About Drishti: the Sight

Drishti:the Sight is a National refereed Bi-annual Research Journal in the disciplines of Arts and Humanities founded in the year 2012 publishing articles in the subjects of English Literature, Assamese Literature, Folklore, Culture.The journal has been enlisted in the UGC-CARE list (Sr.No. 42) in Arts and Humanities section.The journal is dedicated to the cause of young upcoming scholars of the nation.The journal publishes only authentic research articles. It tries to follow the research ethics to the core.