Dr. S. Muthulakshmi Reddi, the well-known social worker of Madras, has written a long letter based on one of my Andhra speeches from which I take the following interesting extract:
Your observations on the urgent need for reforms and for a healthy change in the daily habits of our people, during your journey from Bezwada to Guntur, have appealed to me very much indeed. I may humbly submit that I as a medical woman fully concur with you. But will you kindly permit me to say that if education is really going to bring in its train social reforms, better sanitation, and improved public health, it is going to achieve this result only through the education of our women? Under the present social system, don’t you think that very few women are given sufficient opportunities for education, full development of body and mind, and self-expression?
If the members of the Congress believe that freedom is the birth-right of every nation and individual, and if they are determined to achieve that at any cost, should they not first liberate their women from the evil customs and conventions that restrict their all-round healthy growth, which remedy lies in their own hands?
Our poets, saints and sages have sung in the same tune. Swami Vivekananda has said,
‘That country and that nation, which do not respect women, have never become great, nor will ever be in future. The principal reason why your race is so much degraded in that you had no respect for these living images of Shakti.If you do not raise the women who are the living embodiments of the Divine Mother, don’t think that you have any other way to rise’.
The late Subrahmanya Bharati, the gifted Tamil poet, has echoed the same idea.
So, would you kindly in your tour advise our men to follow the right and the surest way to attain freedom? Dr. Muthulakshmi has a perfect right to expect Congressmen to shoulder this responsibility. Many Congressmen are doing great work in this direction individually as also corporately. The root of the evil however lies far deeper than would appear on superficial observation. It is not the education merely of women that is at fault. It is the whole of our educational system that is rotten. Again it is not this custom or that which needs condemnation, it is the inertia which refuses to move even in the face of an admitted evil that needs to be removed. And lastly the condemnation is true only of the middle class, the town-dwellers, i.e., barely 15 per cent of the vast millions of India. The masses living in the villages have no child-marriage, no prohibition against widow-remarriage. It is true that they have other evils which impede their growth. Inertia is common to both. What is however necessary is to overhaul the educational system and to devise one in terms of the masses. , amelioration of the economic condition of the masses and the like resolve themselves into penetration into the villages, reconstruction or rather reformation of the village life.
Young India, 23-5-1929