Defending Women of One’s Community and Outside: Walsalam Rose

[A noteworthy aspect of the interventions of the representatives of Women in the Travancore and Cochin legislative bodies was that these women were representatives of the women of both their communities as well as of Women in the general sense. There was no contradiction perceived between these two roles them — which came to be perceived much later. Walsalam Rose’s intervention in 1932 in the Shree Mulam Praja Assembly is an excellent illustration. The imagination of the ideal life for women as essentially that of “good mothers, efficient housewives, and responsible citizens,”  bolstered with equal property rights and compulsory education was a dominant strain in early feminist articulations of women’s rights, and this was already being critiqued by other feminists as early as the 1930s]

[Proceedings of the Travancore Sree Mulam Praja Assembly, Session 28, 1932, pp. 224-25]

Mrs Walsalam Rose (Nominated) first represented about the necessity of amending the law of inheritance among Christians as regards the inheritance of daughtProcers and wives. Section 16, 17, 18 and 24 of the Christian Succession Regulation governed the rights of the Christian widow. Under the Regulation, when the widow took the whole of her husband’s estate, she took it absolutely, but when she got only a share of the estate, she took only a limited interest in such share. This restriction on the widow’s right was an anomaly, and the Regulation should be so amended as to give the widow absolute right over immovable properties, even in cases in which she inherited only a portion. Under the Indian Succession Act in British India, the widow took an absolute one-third of her husband’s estate, when he left lineal descendants and half of it when he left none of his father’s kindred. The Nayar Regulation placed no restrictions on the shares inherited by Nayar widows from their husbands. Under the Mahomaden law also there were not such restrictions. The law on the subject should therefore be suitably amended.

Again, under Section 18 of the Christian Succession Regulation, the sons were entitled to have the whole of the intestate’s property divided equally among them, subject to the claims of the the daughters for stridhana, and the stridhana of a daughter was fixed at one-fourth the value of the share of a son, subject to a maximum of Rs 5000. Thus the daughter was not given a right to a share in the assets of her parents when she received her stridhana. Under the Hindu Law as applied to the South Travancore Christians, the daughters were in a better position because they were entitled to inherit their mother’s stridhana properties to the exclusion of the sons. The Nayar Regulation gave equal rights to the sons and daughters. Even under the Mahomedan law,  the daughter got half the share of the son. Under the Indian Succession Act, the daughters and sons inherited equally the parents’ estate. The provisions of the Christian Succession Regulation should therefore be amended to redress the grievance of their daughters.

The member next spoke about the necessity for modifying the curricula of studies prescribed for girls. The same curricula of studies were now prescribed for boys and girls. The curricula of studies for girls should be so adapted as to make them good mothers, efficient house-wives and good citizens. Only 5 percent of the girls receiving education found any use in the existing system of education, while the remaining 95 percent suffered. The question of female education was a very important one and the Government should bestow special attention on it.

A Regulation should be promulgated on the lines of the Sarda Act in British India, to prevent the evil effects of child marriages. This would also frustrate the attempts of the people of India to conduct child marriages in Travancore, in order to circumvent the provisions of the Sarda Act.

Lastly, the member urged the need for introducing compulsory free primary education in the state… A Bill for the introduction of free primary education was introduced in the Legislative Council 17 years back, but nothing came out of it. If compulsion for all was not possible due to financial reasons, compulsory education should be introduced at least in the case of girls. To leave a girl uneducated was more dangerous than to leave a boy illiterate.

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