Pre-Colonial Situation of Women Education in Punjab.

Byline: Awais Akhtar and Tahir Mahmood


Education is regarded as the most powerful instrument for changing the women's subordinate role in the society. It not only develops the personality of the individual but also improves their socio-economic status by qualifying them to fulfill certain economic, political and cultural functions. In 1849, indigenous education system was implemented for the education of the natives till the time of annexation of Punjab with the East India Company. The new colonial rulers perceived it inefficient particularly for the education of women this region. Hence,they took steps to develop new education system to replace the prevailed education system in their newly controlled province of Punjab. They decided to use education as an effective tool for social change of women's plight. Therefore, the British government encouraged female education as a remedy to improve the deprived conditions of women in Punjab.

Historical approaches towards the study of women education in pre-colonial Punjab

The present topic has been discussed as a most important research issue in colonial studies by the educationists and historians using various theoretical approaches and methodologies. The purpose of such studies is to emphasize and explore the role of women in modern India.The scholars identified three approaches to investigate this topic including; "the nationalist approach which traces the history of the freedom movement from 1885 to the partition of India in 1947." We cannot understand the role of women in modern Pakistan and India without understanding the system of women education in pre and post-colonial Punjabwhich is still the base of our educational system inherited by the Britishers.

The Nationalist School developed the idea that nationalism was a unified and collective opposition of the Indian nation against the common enemy represented by British colonial rule(Thapar-Bjorkert, 2006). Nationalist discourse, according to Partha Chatterjee, resolved the 'women question' by the end of the nineteenth century (Chatterjee, Sanjari, andVaid, 1989). The indigenous elite leaders led the people especially women from subjugation to freedom and like Mahatma Gandhi who brought the women into public life and motivated them to solve their own problems.

The second approach is of the historian of the 'Cambridge School'. This school views the development in India and the province primarily in terms of the British and colonial elites. This school regards the colonial rule as a boon to India. Colonial historian narrates the civilizing mission of the British as rescuing Indian women from their own culture and society. This school reduces the over-emphasis on and glorification of elite leaders instead projected them as 'middle man' (Thapar-Bjorkert, 2006, p. 41). These middle men took the help of Britishers in cleaning their society from all sort of social evils and tried to emancipate their ladies.

The development of new corpse of historical scholarship in the late 1970s and 1980s that is denotedby 'Subaltern Studies'. The subalterns refused the past historical research and focused on non-elite and marginal groups and highlighted their 'autonomous' resistance at different phasesduring the struggle of independence against the British rule (Thapar-Bjorkert, 2006, p. 42). The subaltern approach discusses the 'history of below' and re-reads history from their perspective. They take into account all magazines, journals, newspapers, books and other edited or written by them. The history by the women is discussed thoroughly,

Research Objectives

  1. To highlight the salient features of the Education-System of Punjab from the Vedic Era till the annexation of Punjab owing to its importance in the history of India.

  2. To explore the system of women education among the Muslims, the Hindus and the Sikhs,which is mostly ignored by the educational historians.

  3. Define the significance of Indigenous system of educationamong the different religious communities of Punjab.

  4. Explore the socio-economic and religious impediments for the growth of female education in Punjab.

Research Methodology

Historical method has been used for analysis in this study. The present research analyzes the published sources in order to draw any conclusion from the identifiedliterature. This study uses descriptive and analytical approach to analyze primary and secondary sources. The study was analyzed the available primary and secondary sources comprising Books, Journals, Reports, Govt. documents and published material about education ofpre-colonial Punjab.

Women educational situation in Pre-colonial Punjab

On 29 March 1849, the East India Company proclaimed the Punjab annexation and all the terms and conditions were settled with young Maharaja Duleep Singh(Bell, 1983). Before its annexation, the Punjab was under the control of the Sikh rulers. The Punjab was an important province of the India which was stretched form the North-West with the border of Afghanistan. Second quarter of the 19th century was very eventful in the history of the Punjab because furious battles were fought between the Sikh and the British forces for the occupation of this fertile land. Ranjit Singh gave first importance to protect his kingdom from the EIC so he spent major sources to increase his military forces and warfare sources which resulted in ignoring the important affairs of the state like the public welfare and education.

This was one of the major reasons why the development of education was put to halt in the Punjab andunsettling the process of education of the contemporary generations in all major spheres and domains linked directly or indirectly to education. Female population of the province completely dependent on their male members of the family due to the low status in the society. They were dependent on their fathers before marriage, after marriage was dependent on their husband's,sons in old age. Due to their subordinate role in the society, women were deprived from even their basic rights, including education. Main duty of the parents was to marry her daughter and she was considered as Paryadhan, means the property of others. Due to this reason it was considered the wastage of money to educate the girls(Malhotra, 2000).

There were social prejudices against the women education because the Punjab was a male dominated society so the people were hesitant to educate their daughter and it was considered a shameful act(Naik and Nurullah, 1951a). Some women were able to read and write, it was difficult for his male family members to admit this reality(Government of India, 1883). Due to their inferior social status in the province of the Punjab, the Punjabi women were entirely dependent on their male counterparts, which resulted their almost complete deprivation of their about formal education. There is very little evidence of girls' education in the official reports. However the Muslims families and wealthy Hindu families had a system to educate their daughters at home(Khanolkar, 1964). Education in the province of Punjab was not in a developed form at the time of annexation.

After the death of Mughal Emperor Aurangzaib the Punjab remained unstable for a very long time so the transfer of power from Mughal to Afghan Duranis and later given to Sikh did not bring any considerable change in the cultural, social oreducational development of the province. It was neither Muslim nor Hindu education systems/institutions that weresurviving on their own in the Punjab. The Sikh education system was not so developedyet and the vernacular education during that era was there for the expression of ideas(Mehta, 1929). Prior to the establishment of the British rule in Punjab, the system of indigenous education was vogue. Traditionally, education was based on sacred religious literature. Members of religious class transfer their knowledge and education to boys and girls(Forbes, 1999). The province of Punjab at the time of Annexation had an ancient, deep routed and wide spread system of education, known as indigenous education system.

The term indigenous is used in colonial educational reports to denote the secular and religious system of education the sub-continent, which has its continuity from centuries. However the "indigenous institution of education is defined as an institution established or conducted by natives of India on native methods"(Commission of Inquiry on Education in India and Hunter, 1883). This system of indigenous education was mostly in the hands of the religious authorities who were independent to draw their educational...

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