Stri Purush Tulna: Modern India’s First Feminist Text, By Tarabai Shinde
Stri Purush Tulna which translates to ‘a comparison between man and woman’ is touted to be the first modern feminist text of India. Written by Tarabai Shinde in 1882, it was one of the pioneering texts which challenged the caste system and patriarchy after the poetry of the Bhakti movement. The text was originally published in Marathi in 1882, in response to an article in Pune Vaibhav, an orthodox newspaper. When a widow aborted her unborn child, a criminal case was filed against her and she was sentenced to death. Tarabai decided to speak up against this act through her writings.
Who was Tarabai Shinde
Tarabai Shinde, born in the Berar province of Buldhana, was a women’s right’s activist who is known for her defiance of inherent patriarchy in Hindu scriptures. She was a founding member of the Satyashodhak Samaj in Pune. Growing up there were no schools for girls in her village. Being the only daughter of a radical man Bapuji Hari Shinde, she was educated at home and learnt English, Marathi and Sanskrit. She remained a feminist and anti-caste activist throughout her life, working closely with Jyotirao Phule and Savitribai Phule. Until her death in 1910 she strongly opposed patriarchy.
About Stri Purush Tulna
Stri Purush Tulna serves as a critique on the place of women in Hindu scriptures and questions upper-caste patriarchy. It questions the ideological fabric of the patriarchal society, as ‘women everywhere are similarly oppressed’. It analyses the tight rope women must walk between a ‘good woman’ and a ‘prostitute’.
The book starts with Shinde questioning the Gods. “Let me ask you something, Gods! You are supposed to be omnipotent and freely accessible to all. You are said to be completely impartial. What does that mean? That you have never been known to be partial. But wasn’t it you who created both men and women? Then why did you grant happiness only to men and brand women with nothing but agony? Your will was done! But poor women have had to suffer for it down the ages.” The text also questions the caste system, the denial of education to girls, polygamy and ostracisation of widows. Shinde holds that these inequalities are created by society and media and religion acts equally in furthering them.
Printed in 1882 in Marathi with 500 copies worth nine annas each, the book immediately caused turmoil. Anti caste activist Jyotirao Phule called this text “courageous attempt by a courageous writer, original feminist thinker and critic”. In 1885, Jyotirao Phule wrote in defence of Tarabai’s Stri Purush Tulna in Satyashodak Samaj’s second issue of its magazine, Satsaar.
While reception for the book from contemporary society was hostile and it lergely remained unread until its re-publication by S.G Malshe in 1975. Even today, Stri Purush Tulna continues to be a text of reference for feminist scholars and activists throughout the country. Male reformers had already been campaigning for women’s education and rights for more than half a century by the time Shinde wrote her book.
Tarabai Shinde dauntlessly critiqued the role religion and scriptures have to play in creating systems of oppression. She put the gods on trial. And her work along with the other eminent feminists like Ramabai and Savitribai Phule serves as a basis for understanding the intermeshing of caste and patriarchy to this day.
Picture credits: Akshardhara.com
Anureet Watta is an Intern at SheThePeople.TV. The views expressed are the author’s own.