By Alice B. Van Doren
India has boasted certain eminent women whom America knows well. Ramabai with her work for widows is a household word in American homes and colleges; President Harrison's sentences of appreciation emphasized the distinction that already belonged to Lilavati Singh; Chandra Lela's search for God has passed into literature. The Sorabji sisters are known in the worlds of law, education, and medicine.
But these names are not the only ones that India has to offer. In the streets of her great cities where two civilizations clash; in sleepy, old-world towns where men and women, born under the shade of temple towers and decaying palaces, are awakening to think new thoughts; in isolated villages where life still harks back to pre-historic days--against all these backgrounds you may find the Christian educated woman of New India measuring her untried strength against the powers of age-old tradition.
In this chapter I would tell you of a few such women whom I have met. They are not the only ones; they may not be even pre-eminent. Many who knew India well would match them with lists from other localities and in other lines of service.
These five are all college women. One had but two years in a Mission College whose course of study went no further; one carries an American degree; three are graduates of a Government College for men. All go back to the pioneer days before Madras Women's Christian College and Vellore Medical School saw the light, and when Isabella Thoburn's college department was small; all five bear proudly the name of Christian; through five different professions they are giving to the world of India their own expression of what Christianity has meant to them.
Home Making and Church Work.
Throughout India there exists a group of women workers, widely scattered, largely unknown to one another, in the public eye unhonored and unsung, yet performing tasks of great significance. Wherever an Indian Church raises its tower to the sky, there working beside the pastor you will find the pastor's wife.
Sometimes she lives in the heart of the Hindu town; sometimes in a village, in the primitive surroundings of a mass-movement community. Eminent among such is Mrs. Azariah, wife of the first Indian bishop, and with him at the head of the Tinnevelly Missionary Society at Dornakal. There, in the heart of the Deccan, among primitive Telugu outcastes, is this remarkable group of Indian missionaries, supported by Indian funds, winning these lowly people through the gospel of future salvation and of present betterment.
It was on a Sunday morning that I slipped into the communion service at Dornakal. The little church, built from Indian gifts with no aid from the West, is simplicity itself. The roof thatched with millet stalks, the low-hanging palmyra rafters hung with purple everlastings, the earth-floor covered with bamboo matting, all proclaimed that here was a church built and adorned by the hands of its worshippers. The Bishop in his vestments dispensed the sacrament from the simple altar. Even the Episcopal service had been so adapted to Indian conditions that instead of the sound of the expected chants one heard the Te Deum and the Venite set to the strains of Telugu lyrics. The audience, largely of teachers, theological students, and schoolboys and girls, sat on the clean floor space. One saw and listened with appreciation and reverence, finding here a beginning and prophecy of what the Christianized fraction of India will do for its motherland.
It was against this background that I came to know Mrs. Azariah. In the bungalow, as the Bishop's wife, she presides with dignity over a household where rules of plain living and high thinking prevail. She dispenses hospitality to the many European guests who come to see the activities of this experimental mission station, and packs the Bishop off well provided with food and traveling comforts for his long and numerous journeys. The one little son left at home is his mother's constant companion and shows that his training has not been neglected for the multitude of outside duties. One longs to see the house when the five older children turn homeward from school and college, and fill the bungalow with the fun of their shared experiences. Mercy, the eldest daughter, is one of the first Indian women students to venture on the new commercial course offered by the Young Women's Christian Association with the purpose of fitting herself to be her father's secretary. In a few months she will be bringing the traditions of the Women's Christian College of Madras, where she spent two previous years, to share with the Dornakal community.
But, though wife and mother and home maker, Mrs. Azariah's interests extend far beyond the confines of her family. She is president of the Madras Mothers' Union, and editor of the little magazine that travels to the homes of Tamil and Telugu Christian women, their only substitute for the "Ladies' Home Journal" and "Modern Priscilla." She is also the teacher of the women's class, made up of the wives of the theological students. A Tamil woman in a Telugu country, she, too, must have known a little of the linguistic woes of the foreign missionary. Those days, however, are long past, and she now teaches her daily classes in fluent and easy Telugu. There are also weekly trips to nearby hamlets, where the women-students are guided by her into the ways of adapting the Christian's good news to the comprehension of the plain village woman, whose interests are bounded by her house, her children, her goats, and her patch of millet.
Such a village we visited that same Sunday, when toward evening the Bishop, Mrs. Azariah, and I set out to walk around the Dornakal domain. We saw the gardens and farm from which the boys supply the whole school family with grain and fresh vegetables; we looked up to the grazing grounds and saw the herd of draught bullocks coming into the home sheds from their Sunday rest in pasture. I was told about the other activities which I should see on the working day to follow--spinning and weaving and sewing, cooking and carpentry and writing and reading--a simple Christian communism in which the boys farm and weave for the girls, and the girls cook and sew for the boys, and all live together a life that is leading up to homes of the future.
It was after all that that we saw the village. On the edge of the Mission property we came to the small group of huts, wattled from tree branches and clay, inhabited by Indian gypsy folk, just settling from nomadism into agricultural life. So primitive are they still, that lamp light is _taboo_ among them, and the introduction of a kerosene lantern would force them to tear down those attempts at house architecture and move on to a fresh site, safe from the perils of civilization. It is among such primitive folk that Mrs. Azariah and her students carry their message. Herself a college woman, what experiment in sociology could be more thrilling than her contact with such a remnant of the primitive folk of the early world?
Mother, home-maker, editor, teacher, evangelist, with quiet unconsciousness and utter simplicity she is building her corner of Christian India.
"To-morrow is the day of the Annual Fair and I am so busy with arrangements that I had no time even to answer the note you sent me yesterday." No, this was not said in New York or Boston, but in Madras; and the speaker was not an American woman, but Mrs. Paul Appasamy, the All-India Women's Secretary of the National Missionary Society.
It was at luncheon time that I found Mrs. Appasamy at home, and persuaded her by shortening her meal a bit to find time to sit down with me a few minutes and tell me of some of the opportunities that Madras offers to an Indian Christian woman with a desire for service.
For such service Mrs. Appasamy has unusual qualifications. The fifth woman to enter the Presidency College of Madras, she was one of those early pioneers of woman's education, of whom we have spoken with admiring appreciation. Two years of association with Pandita Ramabai in her great work at Poona added practical experience and a familiarity with organization. Some years after her marriage to Mr. Appasamy, a barrister-at-law in Madras, came the opportunity for a year of foreign travel, divided between England and America. Such experiences could not fail to give a widened outlook, and, when Mrs. Appasamy returned to make her home in Madras, she soon found that not even with four children to look after, could her interests be confined to the walls of her own home.
American girls might be interested to know how wide a range of activities Indian life affords--how far the Western genius for organization and committee-life has invaded the East. Here is a partial list of Mrs. Appasamy's affiliations:
Member of Council and Executive for the Women's Christian College.
Vice President of the Madras Y.W.C.A.
Member of the Hostel Committee of the Y.W.C.A.
Member of the Vernacular Council of the Y.W.C.A.
Women's Secretary for All India of the National Missionary Society.
Supervisor of a Social Service Committee for Madras.
President of the Christian Service Union.
Of all her activities, Mrs. Appasamy's connection with the National Missionary Society is perhaps the most interesting. The "N.M.S.," as it is familiarly called, is a cause very near to the hearts of most Indian Christians. The work in Dornakal represents the effort of Tinnevelly Tamil Christians for the evangelization of one section of the Telugu country. The N.M.S. is a co-ordinated enterprise, taking in the contributions of all parts of Christian India and applying them to seven fields in seven different sections of India's great expanse. The first is denominational and intensive; the second interdenominational and extensive. India has room for both and for many more of each. Both are built upon the principle of Indian initiative and employ Indian workers paid by Indian money.
In the early days of the N.M.S., its missionaries were all men, assisted perhaps by their wives, who with household cares could give only limited service. Later came the idea that here was a field for Indian women. At the last convention, the question of women's contribution and women's work was definitely raised, and Mrs. Appasamy took upon herself the burden of travel and appeal. Already she has organized contributing branches among the women of India's principal cities and is now anticipating a trip to distant Burmah for the same purpose. Rupees 8,000--about $2,300.00--lie in the treasury as the first year's response, much of it given in contributions of a few cents each from women in deep poverty, to whom such gifts are literally the "widow's mite."
The spending of the money is already planned. In the far north in a Punjabi village a house is now a building and its occupant is chosen. Miss Sirkar, a graduate now teaching in Kinnaird College, Lahore, has determined to leave her life within college walls, to move into the little house in the isolated village, and there on one third of her present salary to devote her trained abilities to the solution of rural problems. It is a new venture for an unmarried woman. It requires not only the gift of a dedicated life, but also the courage of an adventurous spirit. Elementary school teaching, social service, elementary medical help--these are some of the "jobs" that face this new missionary to her own people.
But, to return to Mrs. Appasamy, she not only organizes other people for work, but in the depressed communities of Madras herself carries on the tasks of social uplift. As supervisor of a Social Service organization, she has the charge of the work carried on in fifteen outcaste villages. With the aid of several co-workers frequent visits are made. Night schools are held for adults who must work during the hours of daylight, but who gather at night around the light of a smoky kerosene lantern to struggle with the intricacies of the Tamil alphabet. Ignorant women, naturally fearful of ulterior motives, are befriended, until trust takes the place of suspicion. The sick are induced to go to hospitals; learners are prepared for baptism; during epidemics the dead are buried. During the great strike in the cotton mills, financial aid was given. Hull House, Chicago, or a Madras Pariah Cheri--the stage setting shifts, but the fundamental problems of ignorance and poverty and disease are the same the world around. The same also is the spirit for service, whether it shines through the life of Jane Addams or of Mrs. Appasamy.
With the "Blue Triangle."
The autumn of 1906 saw the advent of the first Indian student at Mt. Holyoke College. Those were the days when Oriental students were still rare and the entrance of Dora Maya Das among seven hundred American college girls was a sensation to them as well as an event to her.
It is a far cry from the wide-spreading plains of the Punjab with their burning heats of summer to the cosy greenness of the Connecticut valley--a far cry in more senses than geographical distance. Dora had grown up in a truly Indian home, as one of thirteen children, her father a new convert to Christianity, her mother a second generation Christian. The Maya Das family were in close contact with a little circle of American missionaries. An American child was Dora's playmate and "intimate friend." In the absence of any nearby school, an American woman was her teacher, who opened for her the door of English reading, that door that has led so many Oriental students into a large country. Later came the desire for college education. To an application to enter among the men students of Forman Christian College at Lahore came the principal's reply that she might do so if she could persuade two other girls to join her. The two were sought for and found, and these three pioneers of women's education in the Punjab entered classes which no woman had invaded before.
Then came the suggestion of an American college, and Dora started off on a voyage of discovery that must have been epoch-making in her life. It is, as I have said, a far cry from Lahore to South Hadley. It means not only physical acclimatization, but far more delicate adjustments of the mind and spirit. Many a missionary, going back and forth at intervals of five or seven years, could tell you of the periods of strain and stress that those migrations bring. How much more for a girl still in her teens! New conventions, new liberties, new reserves--it was young David going forth in Saul's untried armor. Of spiritual loneliness too, she could tell much, for to the Eastern girl, always untrammelled in her expression of religious emotion, our Western restraint is an incomprehensible thing. "I was lonely," says Miss Maya Das, "and then after a time I reacted to my environment and put on a reserve that was even greater than theirs."
So six years passed--one at Northfield, four at Mt. Holyoke, and one at the Y.W.C.A. Training School in New York. Girls of that generation at Mt. Holyoke will not forget their Indian fellow student who "starred" in Shakespearian roles and brought a new Oriental atmosphere to the pages of the college magazine. Six years, and then the return to India, and another period of adjustment scarcely less difficult than the first. That was in 1910, and the years since have seen Miss Maya Das in various capacities. First as lecturer, and then as acting principal of Kinnaird College at Lahore, she passed on to girls of her own Province something of Mt. Holyoke's gifts to her. Now in Calcutta, she is Associate National Secretary of the Y.W.C.A.
It was in Calcutta that I met Miss Maya Das, and that she left me with two outstanding impressions. The first is that of force and initiative unusual in an Indian woman. How much of this is due to her American education, how much to her far-northern home and ancestry, is difficult to say. Whatever the cause, one feels in her resource and executive ability. In that city of purdah women, she moves about with the freedom and dignity of a European and is received with respect and affection.
The second characteristic which strikes one is the fact that Miss Maya Das has remained Indian. One can name various Indian men and some women who have become so denationalized by foreign education that "home" is to them the land beyond the water, and understanding of their own people has lessened to the vanishing point. That Miss Maya Das is still essentially Indian is shown by such outward token as that of dropping her first name, which is English, and choosing to be known by her Indian name of Mohini, and also by adherence to distinctively Indian dress, even to the embroidered Panjabi slippers. What matters more is the inward habit of mind of which these are mere external expressions.
In a recent interview with Mr. Gandhi, Miss Maya Das told him that as a Christian she could not subscribe to the Non-Co-operation Movement, because of the racial hate and bitterness that it engenders; yet just because she was a Christian she could stand for all constructive movements for India in economic and social betterment. One of Mr. Gandhi's slogans is "a spinning wheel in every home," that India may revive its ancient arts and crafts and no longer be clothed by the machine looms of a distant country. Miss Maya Das told him that she had even anticipated him in this movement, for she and other Christian women of advanced education are following a regular course in spinning and weaving, with the purpose of passing on this skill through the Rural Department of the Y.W.C.A.
Another pet scheme of Miss Maya Das is the newly formed Social Service League of Calcutta. Into its membership has lately come the niece of a Chairman of the All-India Congress, deciding that the constructive forces of social reform are better to follow than the destructive programme of Non-Co-operation. Miss Maya Das longs to turn her abounding energy into efforts toward purdah parties and lectures for the shut-in women of the higher classes, believing that in this way the Association can both bring new interests into narrow lives, and can also gain the help and financial support of these bored women of wealth toward work among the poor.
One of Miss Maya Das's interests is a month's summer school for rural workers, a prolonged Indian Silver Bay, held at a temperature of 112 in the shade, during the month of May when all schools and colleges are closed for the hot weather vacation. Last year women came to it from distant places, women who had never been from home before, who had never seen a "movie," who had never entered a rowboat or an automobile. Miss Maya Das's stereopticon lectures carried these women in imagination to war scenes where women helped, to Hampton Institute, to Japan, and suggested practical ways of assisting in tuberculosis campaigns and child welfare. After four weeks of social enjoyment and Christian teaching they returned again to their scattered branches with the curtain total of their results from 88 in Newark to 355 in Madras.
What is Dr. Vera Singhe doing about it? With her two medical assistants, her corps of nurses, and the increasing number of health visitors whom she herself has trained, she has been able to reduce the death rate among the babies in her care during 1920 from the city rate of 280 for that year to 231.
But enough of statistics. More enlightening than printed reports is a visit to the Triplicane Health Centre, where in the midst of a congested district work is actually going on. We shall find no up-to-date building with modern equipment, but a middle-class Hindu house, adapted as well as may be to its new purpose. Among its obvious drawbacks, there is the one advantage, that patients feel themselves at home and realize that what the doctor does in those familiar surroundings they can carry over to their own home life.
Our visit happens to be on a Thursday afternoon, which is Mothers' Day. Thirty or more have gathered for an hour of sewing. It is interesting to see mothers of families taking their first lessons in hemming and overcasting, and creating for the first time with their own hands the garments for which they have always been dependent on the bazaar tailor. For these women have never been to school--their faces bear that shut-in look of the illiterate, a look impossible to define, but just as impossible to mistake when once it has been recognized. With the mothers are a group of girls of ten or twelve, who are learning sewing at an earlier age, when fingers are more pliant and less like to thumbs. Then there are the babies, too--most of them health-centre babies, who come for milk, for medicine, for weighing, over a familiar and oft-traveled road. Fond mothers exhibit them with pride to the doctor, and there is much comparison of offspring, much chatter, and much general sociability.
Back of the dispensary is the milk room, where in an adapted and Indianized apparatus, due to the doctor's ingenuity, the milk supply is pasteurized each day, and given out only to babies whose mothers are positively unable to nurse them, and are too poor to buy.
Of some of the difficulties encountered Dr. Vera Singhe will tell in her own words:
"The work of the midwife is carried out in the filthiest parts of the city among the lowest of the city's population, both day and night, in sun and rain ... A patient whose 'address' was registered at the Triplicane Centre was searched for by a nurse on duty in the locality of the 'address' given, and could not be found. Much disappointed, the nurse was returning to the centre, when to her bewilderment she found that her patient had been delivered in a broken cart."
Of some of the actual cases where mothers have been attended by untrained barber women, the details are too revolting to publish. Imagine the worst you can, and then be sure that your imagination has altogether missed the mark.
Of the reaction upon ignorance and superstition Dr. Vera Singhe says, "In Triplicane dispensary as many as sixty cords around waists and arms and variously shaped and sized pieces of leather which had been tied in much trust and confidence to an innocent sufferer with the hope of obtaining recovery have been in a single day removed by the mothers themselves on seeing that our treatment was more effective than the talisman."
Weighing, feeding, bathing, prevention of disease, simple remedies--knowledge of all these goes out from the health centres to the unsanitary homes of crowded city streets. So far one woman's influence penetrates.
In a Hospital.
It was on a train journey up-country from Madras, some twelve years ago, that I first met Dr. Paru. She and I shared the long seat of the small second-class compartment, and in that close neighborliness I soon fell to wondering. From her dress I knew her to be a Hindu, yet her jewels were few and inconspicuous. She was most evidently of good family, yet she was traveling unattended.
Presently we fell into some casual talk, the inconsequent remarks common to chance acquaintance the world over. More intimate conversation followed, and before the end of the short journey together, I knew who Miss Paru was. The oldest daughter of a liberal Hindu lawyer on the Malabar Coast, she was performing the astounding feat of taking a medical course at the Men's Government College in Madras, while systematically breaking her caste by living at the Y.W.C.A. I almost gasped with astonishment. "But what do your relatives say?" I asked. "Oh," she replied, "my father is the head of his family and an influential man in our town. He does as he pleases and no one dares to object."
That was twelve years ago. Yesterday for the second time I met my traveling companion of long ago. She is now Dr. Paru, assistant to Dr. Kugler in the big Guntur Women's Hospital, with its hundred beds, managing alone its daily dispensary list of one hundred and fifty patients, and performing unaided such difficult major operations as a Caesarean section for a Brahman woman, of whom Dr. Kugler says, "The patient had made many visits to Hindu shrines, but the desire of her life, her child, was the result of an operation in a Mission Hospital. In our Hospital her living child was placed in her arms as a result of an operation performed by a Christian doctor."
How did Dr. Paru, the Hindu medical student, develop into Dr. Paru, the Christian physician? I asked her and she told me, and her answers were a series of pictures as vivid as her own personality.
First, there was Paru in her West Coast Home, among the cocoanut palms and pepper vines of Malabar where the mountains come down to meet the sea and the sea greets the mountains in abundant rains. Over that Western sea once came the strange craft of Vasco di Gama, herald of a new race of invaders from the unknown West. Over the same sea to-day come men of many tongues and races, and Arab and African Negroes jostle by still in the bazaars of West Coast towns. Such was the setting of Paru's home. During her childhood days certain visitors came to its door, Bible women with parts of the New Testament for sale, little paper-bound Gospels with covers of bright blue and red. The contents meant nothing to Paru then, but the colors were attractive, and for their sake she and her sister, childlike, bought, and after buying, because they were schoolgirls and the art of reading was new to them, read.
The best girls' school in that Malabar town was a Roman Catholic convent. It was there that Paru's education was given to her, and it was there that prayer, even in its cruder forms, entered into her experience. Religious teaching was not compulsory for non-Christian pupils, but, when the sisters and their Christian following gathered each morning for prayers, the doors were not shut and among other onlookers came Paru, morning after morning, drawn partly by curiosity, partly by a sense of being left out. Never in all her years in that school did the Hindu child join in the Christian service, but at home, when father and mother were not about, she gathered her sister and younger brothers into a corner and taught them in childish words to tell their wants and hopes and fears to the Father in Heaven.
The lawyer-father was the abiding influence in the daughter's growth of mind and soul. A liberal Hindu he would have been called. In reality, he was one of that unreckoned number, the Nicodemuses of India, who come to Jesus by night, who render Him unspoken homage, but never open confession. A man of broad religious interests, he read the Hindu Gita, the Koran, and the Gospels; and among them all the words of Jesus held pre-eminence in his love and in his life. When in later years he found his daughter puzzling over Bible commentaries to clear up some question of faith, he asked impatiently, "Why do you bother with those books? Read the words of Jesus in the Gospels and act accordingly. That is enough." Father and daughter were wonderful comrades. In all the years of separation when, as student and doctor, Paru was held on the opposite side of India, long weekly letters went back and forth, and events and thoughts were shared. When the hour of decision came, and the girl ventured into untried paths where the father could not follow, there were separation and misunderstanding for a time, but that time was short. The home visits were soon resumed and the Christian daughter was once more free to share home and meals with her Hindu family. And when one day the father said, "If a person feels a certain thing to be his duty, he should do it, whatever the cost," Paru rejoiced, for she knew that her forgiveness was sealed.
Dr. Paru's entrance into the world of medicine was due to her father's wish rather than her own. He was of that rare type of social reformer who acts more than he speaks. Believing that eventually his daughter would marry, he felt that as a doctor from her own home she could carry relief and healing into her small neighborhood. Paru, to please her father, went into the long grind of medical college, conquered her aversion for the dissecting table, and "made good." What does he think, one wonders, as, looking upon her to-day with the clearer vision of the life beyond, he sees the beloved daughter, thoughts of home and husband and children put aside, but with her name a household word among the women of a thousand homes. Ask her what she thinks of medicine as a woman's profession and her answer will leave no doubt whether she believes it worth while.
Actual decision for Christ was a thing of slow growth, its roots far back in memories of bright-covered Gospels and convent prayers, fruit of open confession maturing only during her years of service at Guntur. Life in the Madras Y.W.C.A. had much to do with it. There were Indian Christian girls, fellow students. "No," said Dr. Paru, "they didn't talk much about it; they had Christian ideals and tried to live them." There was a secretary, too, who entered into her life as a friend. "Paru," she said at last, "you are neither one thing nor the other. If you aren't going to be a Christian, go back and be a Hindu. At least, be something." At Guntur there were the experiences of Christian service and fellowship. Finally, there were words spoken at a Christian meeting, "words that seemed meant for me"; and then the great step was taken, and Dr. Paru entered into the liberty that has made her free to appear outwardly what she long had been at heart.
Such are a few of those Indian women whom one delights to honor. They broke through walls of custom and tradition and forced their way into the open places of life. Few they are and widely scattered, yet their influence is past telling.
To-day Lucknow, Madras, and Vellore are sending out each year their quota of educated women, ready to find their place in the world's work. It gives one pause, and the desire to look into the future--and dream. Ten years hence, twenty, fifty, one hundred! What can the dreamer and the prophet foretell? When those whom we now count by fives and tens are multiplied by the hundred, what will it mean for the future of India and the world? What of the gladness of America through whose hand, outstretched to share, there has come the release of these latent powers of India's womanhood?
But what of the powers not released? What of the "mute, inglorious" company of those who have had no chance to become articulate? There among the road-menders, going back and forth all day with a basket of crushed stone upon her head, toils a girl in whose hand God has hidden the cunning of the surgeon. No one suspects her powers, she least of all, and that undeveloped skill will die with her, undiscovered and unapplied. "To what purpose is this waste?"
Into your railway carriage comes the young wife of a rajah. Hidden by a canopy of crimson silk, she makes her aristocratic entrance concealed from the common gaze. Her life is spent within curtains. Yet she is the descendant of a Mughal ancestor who carried off and wedded a Rajput maiden. In her blood is the daring of Padmini, the executive power of Nur Jahan. With mind trained and exercised, she would be the administrative head of a woman's college. Again,--"To what purpose is this waste?"
Who dares to compute the sum total of lives wasted among the millions of India's women because undiscovered? Will American girls grudge their gifts to help in the discovery? Will American girls grudge the investment of their lives?
Only like souls I see the folk thereunder,
Bound who should conquer, slaves who should be kings,
Hearing their one hope with an empty wonder,
Sadly contented with a show of things.
Then with a rush the intolerable craving
Shivers throughout me like a trumpet call;
Oh, to save these! To perish for their saving,
Die for their life, be offered for them all.
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