Women in Kanthapura
MEG Solved Assignments

Women in Kanthapura MEG 07 Indian English Literature

Raja Rao’s renowned novel “Kanthapura” (1938) chronicles the development of a Gandhian nationalist movement in a little South Indian village named Kanthapura. The tale is told by Achakka, an elderly Brahmin lady who knows all there is to know about everyone in her community. She tells the tale in the form of a sthala-purana, which is a traditional history of a hamlet, its inhabitants, gods, and customs.

The unrecognised and indiscernible core of Indian society, without which the patriarchy would crumble, has always been the woman. Despite never being given a say in the most important areas of life, the woman continues to determine the country’s conventional and cultural limits. When a lady wears jeans or goes to work, a community is described as contemporary. However, she lacks the autonomy to direct or make choices about her own life. Her male guardian’s identity defines her—as someone’s daughter, sister, or wife.

Kanthapura (1938) by Raja Rao is a nuanced examination of the enormous shift that the Gandhian movement of the 1930s brought to the life of the Indian lady while also refusing to allow her to transcend the traditional, so-called feminine limits. The book follows the material and psychological upheaval that followed the emergence of the woman from the dual manifestations of the “devi” and the “dasi” that had captivated the patriarchy’s imagination for centuries. The new women who break norms and spearhead the fight of freedom — Rangamma and Ratna — arise from the polar images of the all-pervading and all-powerful goddess Kenchamma and the Pariah Rachanna’s wife who would spin only if her husband told her to.

As Ania Loomba points out, political mass movements in every nation have differing perspectives on female agency and women’s rights. Machismo was a serious issue for women in Latin America’s political struggles. Some opponents argue that Gandhi’s non-cooperation campaign was feminist in character since it recruited an unprecedented number of women and embraced traits like passivity and occupations like spinning, which are usually associated with women.


Women in Kanthapura MEG 07 Indian English Literature


To some degree, this is true. It is true that Gandhi’s campaign had a significant influence in pulling women out of purdah. Women made up a large portion of the satyagrahis, and many of them took on leadership roles in the movement. As a result, we see Moorthy, the Gandhi of Kanthapura, appointing Rangamma to the Congress Panchayat Committee.

However, Gandhi’s movement was primarily opposed to women’s militancy, and their public positions were just an extension of their home identities, in line with patriarchal family and society ideals. Despite Kanthapura’s allusions to Rani Laxmibai, the ideal lady is presented as Sita, the ever-obedient and forever suffering Sita. It was just a shift from the conventional child bride to the nationalist ideal of the wife as a helper and friend. The memoirs of Ramabai Ranade, who married the well-known scholar and jurist Mahadev Govind Ranade at the age of eleven, gives us a glimpse of this difficult development. She chooses to skip a temple event where she had to choose between sitting with orthodox or reformist ladies, torn between her husband’s insistence that she be educated and the insults of her mother-in-law and other female relatives. Her husband punished her by refusing to talk to her, even after she rubbed ghee into his feet as is customary, and without even informing her what she had done wrong. It was only when she approached him and apologised that the situation was settled.

We witness both the traditional lady, who is not permitted to forget her responsibility to her man regardless of her position in the “Sevika Sangha” (Rao 110), and the modern woman, who courageously confronts attacks and traditionalism in Kanthapura. They fight, march, block shops and study scriptures but sometimes the traditionalism they show is overlapping the modernity: they are not building distinct identities, rather they integrate nationalist ideas in their current identity.  Most women in Kanthapura are referred to as ‘Amma,’ which emphasises the maternal, feminine, and even “Goddesslike” qualities of women. Indians have always distinguished between the Goddess and the whore (Chatterjee 125): women are trained to imitate goddesses in everyday life, thereby dehumanising women and limiting their expression of emotion and sexuality. Mother India (Khan), for example, was a film that embraced this concept. In contrast to males, who, according to Mondal, had to “rise beyond” their libido, women became asexual (Mondal 927). According to Chatterjee, the idea of woman as goddess or mother helped to obliterate her sexuality beyond the house (Chatterjee 131). Women, according to Mahatma Gandhi, have always been asexual. Venkamma chastises Rangamma when she travels to the lawyer’s home in the city for a few days at Kanthapura, faithfully representing the existing dichotomy: Her widowhood turns into a whore or a pervert.  Venkamma exclaims that this widow started to live with her men now openly. . This event demonstrates how tenuous a woman’s connection to society is.

Rao talks on widows (a perpetually disadvantaged and oppressed minority) and other women adopting or assuming the character of the freedom struggler in such a pervasively prejudiced period. He bestows both agency and power on them. In contrast to Moorthy and Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent male political leadership, he constructs a similarly benign and vindictive female goddess (Kenchamma) to protect their community. This goddess, as well as the ladies of the Sthala Puranas, offer strong female role models for widows and other women to follow, particularly when they subsequently participate in their own fight for India. The ladies studied the Sthala Puranas (localised historical stories) (Rao) and the scriptures (first with a scholar, later alone). These tales, which connect to the broader Mahabaratha and Ramayana, enable children to identify with the few powerful women of popular mythology and history, while simultaneously reminding them that power belongs to males. They become reliant on others for salvation as a result of these stories. When women begin to study the scriptures for themselves, however, a shift occurs in which the women grow stronger and more politically aware. The story shifts to include some autonomy for Kanthapura’s women, who choose to participate in the nationalist fight via a logical, deliberate process.

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