Premchand and Women Discourse in Modern Indian History
| Dr. Meghna Sharma, Thought Leader, Bikaner, Rajasthan - 30 Jul 2020

MUNSHI PREMCHAND - 140TH BIRTH ANNIVERSARY 

 The issue of women's emancipation in India during the colonial period was linked with both liberal and conservative currents of opinion and was the outcome not only of a challenge and resistance to imperialism but also of a movement to reform and strengthen traditional hierarchical structure and ethos. Premchand's stories reflect this complexity and paradox and also the interplay of conflicting emotions, values and ideas about women. Premchand's era was the era of awareness, it was the era of Renaissance, but still society has not changed, at large. Here is a brief analysis of Women in Premchand’s literature, written by Dr. Meghna Sharma on the 140th birth anniversary of Nawab Rai, Dhanpat Rai Shrivastava alias Munshi Premchand, one of the greatest Indian writers of the early 20th century, Exclusively for Indian Observer Post . – Onkareshwar Pandey, Editor in Chief, IOP.  

By Dr. Meghna Sharma, Bikaner, Rajasthan

Modern Indian History witnesses some major revivalist movements which were, Brahma Samaj, Arya Samaj, Deoband Movement etc. The key similarity between these movements was that all of them wanted to change the status quo in the society wherein several deformities, especially for the cause of women, had crept in.

While the reformist movements strived to change the fundamental system and structures of the society through gradual changes within the existing institutions; revivalist movements tended to revive former customs or practices and thus take the society back to the glorious past where women was given total grace and abundant freedom.  

Coming on to social aspects of women discourse in Premchand literature, Premchand has been an ardent portrayer of the marginalised society including women. In fact, if one wants to study the Indian culture then this could surely be achieved by going through Premchand's literature.

We find exquisite portrayal of women who was exploited through the ages. Premchand tried to portray almost every aspect of women's life. It is said that a writer’s pen is influenced, in most of the cases, by his personal experiences in life. This also develops his/her viewpoint towards society. Premchand always missed his mother, as his father had remarried after the death of his first wife and his second wife i.e stepmom of Premchand had always been very torturous towards him.  He himself got married but again his married life was not a success. He got remarried and his second wife Shivrani Devi was the only person who influenced Premchand to produce a creative approach and positive viewpoint towards women.

After his second marriage only, Premchand became neutral. He viewed various aspects of women, observed minutely and emphasized women in his literature especially his novels.

He was determined towards women awareness, was a versatile personality and a person with modern views, analyzed that not everything old is bad and not everything new is good. His lead lady characters were the carrier of Indian culture. Service, humbleness, sacredness, acceptance and sacrifice were those features which characterized the lady leads of his novels. He held responsible men, for the deteriorating conditions of women in society. His lady (character) was progressive and educated. They were modern by thought and not by behaviour and culture.

Premchand has also produced various compositions on inter caste marriage, polygamy and various other aspects of marriage including dowry with serious line of thought. He wanted the bride and the groom both get agreed before tying the knot of marriage.

Premchand's era could be said to be later half of 19th century and early 20th century. This was the era of reforms and Renaissance and very important social reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Swami Dayanand Saraswati, Annie Besant basically focused upon the condition of women who were under the clutches of patriarchy. The novelist's contemporary to Premchand also focused upon these atrocities. Widow Remarriage, dowry, prostitution and child marriage were the major problems of this era. Premchand focused, depicted the problems of women and also provided solutions by being revolutionary sometimes by means of the dialogues of his novels' characters. His major novels could be named as Seva Sadan, Nirmala, Pratigya, Gaban, Karmabhoomi, Godan in which women has been portrayed with all the sympathies of society.

Hindu Widow Remarriage Act was passed by the efforts put in by big names like Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and Shashijay Mukherjee in 1956. This Act legalized Widow Remarriage but the conditions on paper were totally different from those on field practically. Premchand era could be called an Era of Revolution where we find two types of tendencies, firstly old orthodoxy society with all controversies, hollow traditions, superstitions and customs infused in which was not in favour of leaving aside their philosophies.

It could be set that the women before Premchand's era and the women after that age were totally different. Before, woman was the follower of his man while the women, after Premchand started writing, were a counterpart and friend of her man, more than a follower.

Another important point is that the contemporary novelist laid focus upon the women of village and the women of cities with their various aspects in their literature. The particular phenomenon was totally absent in novels before Premchand's era. Premchand demands independence of women, economic as well as social, but he was against the Western influence upon women, where she is denouncing her culture and being uncultured. His love was the women of India who safeguards Indian culture.

The novelists of Premchand's era had a reformist approach and they framed the societal mind, positively towards the issues of women empowerment and awareness programs. It simply showed difference upon the viewpoint of society, as per the women is concerned, not only in prose but also in poetry. Writers brought revolutionary change in women discourse during contemporary times. Another important fact is that although there were constant efforts to bring reforms in the society but impact was not being shown at all levels. But, it could surely be said that Premchand's era was the era of awareness, it was the era of Renaissance, still society did not change, at large.

The biggest problem of Premchand's era was dowry, as much as that Premchand's own daughter was married after giving dowry. So a prominent writer of his own time, who was writing against these evils of the society, had to undergo himself through this phase to get his daughter married as per the norms of society. Premchand was highly influenced by Arya Samaj.

All through his life he denounced every evil custom and his bad effects, bad influence upon societies, through his novels. He had contributed eleven prominent novels to Indian literature; out of those 'Mangalsutra' remained incomplete.

Then, it could be said that Premchand definitely used his pen against the social evils specially those which focused women. He represented women in various aspects, as a mother as a wife and his stepmother, all that what he had personally experienced in his life. In conclusion, it could be said that he was completely successful in portraying contemporary women in Modern Indian History.

Munshi Premchand

Born on 31st July 1880 and died on 8th October 1936, Munshi Premchand was one of the most celebrated writers of the Indian subcontinent, and is regarded as one of the foremost Hindi writers of the early twentieth century.

He was a novelist, short story writer, and dramatist who penned over a dozen novels, hundreds of short stories, and numerous essays. He also translated a number of literary works of other languages into Hindi.

A teacher by profession, Munshi Premchand began his literary career as a freelancer in Urdu.

His novels include Godaan, Karmabhoomi, Gaban, Mansarovar, Idgah. He published his first collection of five short stories in 1907 in a book called Soz-e Watan.

A true patriot, he quit his government job as a part of the non-cooperation movement called by Mahatma Gandhi even though he had a growing family to feed. He was eventually elected as the first President of the Progressive Writers' Association in Lucknow.

Munshi Premchand was an independent minded patriotic soul and his initial literary works in Urdu were replete with descriptions of the Indian nationalist movement that was building up in various parts of India. Soon he switched over to Hindi and established himself as a much loved author with his poignant short stories and novels that not only entertained the readers, but also carried significant social messages.

Munshi Premchand was much moved by the inhumane manner in which Indian women of his time were treated, and often depicted the miserable plight of girls and women in his stories hoping to create awareness in the minds of his readers.

Photo - Munshi Premchand - Image Courtesy - India Today

Author - Dr. Meghna Sharma, Thought Leader, Bikaner, Rajasthan

Assist Professor, History; Director, Centre for Women's Studies;  Coordinator, Rajasthani Dept, SFS at Maharaja Ganga Singh University, Bikaner, Rajasthan; Gold medalist in Journalism and mass comm.; has authored and edited 8 books; Works for Women empowerment and gender equality; Email - drmeghnasharma79@gmail.com


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