ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

The Ways of Faith

This paper is an account of the services of the Church of England Zenana Mission Society in Trivandrum during the period 1864 to 1964 based on two documents, The Land of the Conch Shell by Augusta M Blandford, the founder of the mission at Trivandrum and an unpublished document prepared by another missionary D Taylor, who joined the mission in 1964. The two narratives tell the story of a school, built brick by brick and, together form a corpus that gives valuable insights into the making of colonial modernity in a small principality in the south of India. Much can be gained by looking at individuals of minor import, like Blandford and Taylor, whose writings provide valuable archival material for learning interventions in the field of religion in the project of Orientalism. This kind of enquiry, termed "microhistory" is an important component of "new history" and has proved to be of immense value to feminist studies.

The Ways of Faith Zenana Mission in Trivandrum, 1864-1964

This paper is an account of the services of the Church of England Zenana Mission Society in Trivandrum during the period 1864 to 1964 based on two documents, The Land of the Conch Shell by Augusta M Blandford, the founder of the mission at Trivandrum and an unpublished document prepared by another missionary D Taylor, who joined the mission in 1964. The two narratives tell the story of a school, built brick by brick and, together form a corpus that gives valuable insights into the making of colonial modernity in a small principality in the south of India. Much can be gained by looking at individuals of minor import, like Blandford and Taylor, whose writings provide valuable archival material for learning interventions in the field of religion in the project of Orientalism. This kind of enquiry, termed “microhistory” is an important component of “new history” and has proved to be of immense value to feminist studies.


With regard to the residence of a nair girl, Miss...,a 4th Form pupil in HH the Maharajah’s High School for Girls, at the Zenana Mission Quarters, Thycaud, I find that incorrect and untrue versions thereof are published in some of the local newspapers. I deem it necessary to state the facts as they occurred with a view to remove all misapprehensions regarding the incident and the general policy and object of the mission in maintaining the CEZMS School in the Fort.

  • (1) The girl in question left the school at the end of the first year, and she has been since, a pupil of the Government Girls School.
  • (2) According to the registers in the two schools and her horoscope which she showed me, she had completed her 18th year some months before she came to reside at the mission quarters.
  • (3) Miss ... came to the mission quarters on September 9, and stayed on till September 27, voluntarily, and out of her own free will. No sort of compulsion was exercised in the matter by me or any member of the school staff. It is not true that she was baptised on the day she left the mission quarters.
  • (4) Her residence at the mission quarters for 19 days was known to her guardian and other relatives. When she came, she was accompanied by her two cousins, and during her stay she received visits from different members of her family, and on September 21, the day of the Solar Eclipse, she spent part of the day with her people at her own home, and was brought back in the evening by one of her cousins, who spent the night with Miss ... in the mission quarters. During her stay in the mission quarters a nair woman was engaged to cook for her. With regard to the Zenana Mission itself, I desire to say –
  • (1) That attendance at Scripture lessons and religious exercises is not compulsory and has not been so. But we welcome such attendance. It is not my intention to compel the attendance of girls whose parents or guardians object thereto.
  • (2) The school is closed on most of the Hindu holidays. An endeavour will be made to grant all holidays recognised as such by the education department.
  • (3) It is not and never has been our policy to abuse other religions or in any way wound the religious sentiments of our pupils, and this will continue to be our policy.
  • (4) As manager of a girls’ school, I fully realise that women teachers ought to be appointed in the school as far as possible, and for the last few years I have been trying to get qualified women teachers, and when they are available, this defect will be remedied.
  • T
    his is the text of a published statement by A Adamson, manager, Fort Girls’ Mission School, Trivandrum, dated October 5, 1922 [Taylor undated: 32]. It tells the story of a girl, not named, whose connections with the Zenana Mission was the subject of heated debate in the conservative society of Trivandrum in the early decades of the last century. Many issues were raised in the course of the exchanges between the missionaries and the public, issues of attendance at scripture lessons and forcible conversion, respect that is due to other religions and the need to have women teachers at girl’s schools. But the most pressing issue was whether the girl in question had attained majority to take decisions of her own free will and whether she was formally baptised. Therefore, great emphasis is attached to clarifying the point, that “According to the registers in the two schools and her horoscope which she showed me, she had completed her 18th year some months before she came to reside at the mission quarters” and “It is not true that she was baptised on the day she left the mission quarters”. The note emphasises the happy accession of the girl to the ways of faith, with no compulsion of any kind. The following paper is an account of the services of the Church of England Zenana Mission Society in Trivandrum during the period 1864 to 1964, based on two documents, The Land of the Conch Shell by Augusta M Blandford, the founder of CEZ Mission at Trivandrum and the unpublished document prepared by another missionary, D Taylor, who joined in 1964, on the occasion of the centenary celebrations of the Fort Girls’ Mission School, established by the mission at Trivandrum. The two narratives tell the story of a school, built brick by brick, and offer some clues as to names and events.

    Augusta Mary Blandford was sent out in 1862 by the Indian Female Normal School and Instruction Society to Kottayam. Born in London, she was taught sound evangelical truth from her early years. Her family were members of a congregation worshipping at Percy Chapel, and afterwards attending the ministry of the Rev R W Dibden at the West Street Episcopal Chapel, London. “It was there that she was led at the age of seven to yield herself fully to Christ, who claimed her thus early for His Own” [Taylor undated: 7]. Before long, in her teens, she enlisted

    Economic and Political Weekly April 29, 2006 for active service as a teacher in the Irish Aged School in George Street, Bloomsbury, founded by Charlotte Elizabeth, a wellknown religious writer in the early half of the 19th century. In 1855, god showed her a wider field of service, giving her a longing to engage in Mission work [Taylor undated: 7]. She was definitely led in this desire by John James Weitbrecht, the widow of a German missionary who was born in Germany in 1802, and ordained in England in 1829. Having joined the Church Missionary Society, Weitbrecht went to Bengal in 1830 and laboured there until 1852, the year when the first Normal school was opened in Bengal. On his death, his widow, who had often listened to his plans of bringing enlightenment and freedom to Indian women, took it upon herself to continue his mission, and inspired Blandford to take up the arduous task [Taylor undated: 7].

    Blandford in Kottayam

    Blandford sailed for India on September 15 and suffered shipwreck within a few miles of the port of Madras. Saved miraculously, she went to Kottayam under the direction of the Rev H Baker, Junior. It was her desire to work from Trivandrum, the capital of the native state of Travancore, which later became part of the state of Kerala. Consequently, she was transferred to Trivandrum in July 1864. D Taylor, in her narrative, lists several reasons as to why Blandford chose to work from Trivandrum. The most important was the seclusion of this remote land that was untouched by invasions which convulsed the rest of India, particularly the Muslim invasions. Except for the brief but abortive incursion of Tipu Sultan in 1789, Travancore was spared of disturbances from the outside that might have upset its unique character. What set Travancore apart from the rest of India during those days was the matrilineal organisation of the family among the nairs, also spelt nayars, who constituted the majority among the land owning classes. The customs and practices of Travancore showed little influence of the Dharmashastras and relied heavily on conventions established at the local level. Women enjoyed considerable freedom and Taylor rationalises this as the result of the continual internecine wars, which compelled the men of the nair community to go forth into the field, leaving their womenfolk at home, giving them greater responsibility and importance [Taylor undated: 5-6]. Taylor also mentions the instance of several women rulers of Travancore who evinced great breadth of mind and enacted legislations granting women right to education as another important factor that may have influenced Blandford in her choice of Trivandrum as her place of work. Taylor cites the example of Sethu Lekshmi Bai who ruled Travancore as a regent from 1924 to 1931. During the time of her regency, the government abolished the ‘devadasi’ system, whereby unmarried girls were dedicated to deities. The presence in Travancore of Christians converted by St Thomas, one of the 12 apostles of Jesus Christ, who, according to tradition, came to India in 52 AD, may have been another encouraging factor. Although these Christian women “were far from emancipated in the western sense, the liberal ideas of Christianity and the ability and the ambition of the Christian community, all brought a fresh atmosphere, and encouraged progress in a way that could not fail to be noticed, and even emulated by the Hindu community around them” [Taylor undated: 6].

    As soon as Blandford arrived at Kottayam, she earnestly began the study of Malayalam, the local tongue. This was in keeping with the tradition of Protestant missionaries who worked at learning the local languages, in part to communicate better with those in their mission field, but above all in order to translate the Old Testament and the New Testament. Protestantism placed great emphasis on individual access to god, wherein each individual should be able to interpret god’s law without mediation from the church, and each individual should have access to the word of god as recorded in the Bible. Blandford gained sufficient mastery of the language and this knowledge of the vernacular helped her greatly in winning the confidence of the local populace. Deeply read in the Bible and gifted in the singing of lyrics, Blandford was much appreciated by the Hindu women she visited. She possessed great eloquence and fire, and was never at a loss when faced by some argumentative person, whether man or woman. She untiringly proclaimed the Gospel in a lucid and interesting manner on every possible occasion.

    During her stay in Kottayam, Blandford must have visited some of the high caste Hindu ladies. She noticed that they were timid and reserved, but that when she showed them English books and pictures, they evinced a keen desire to learn. It may have been thus that she resolved to try and start a school for such ladies [Taylor undated: 13]. This was in keeping with the mandate of the Zenana Mission, which was first formed in 1852 by a woman missionary, Mary Jane Kinnaird. The mission resolved to send women missionaries to India for proselytising the female population of India and maintained affiliation with the Church Missionary Society, founded in 1799 for this purpose. Zenana is a Persian term originating from ‘zan’ or woman. The zenana is basically a Muslim social institution, where an exclusive apartment is assigned to women members and women visitors to the family. Men were denied entry to the precincts of the zenana during the working hours of the day. Women members themselves were also euphemistically referred to as the zenana. The zenana system became popular in Bengal after it came under Muslim rule in the early 13th century. During the Sultanate and Mughal regimes the Muslims strictly practised zenana, and influenced by them, the high caste Hindu families also started practising zenana. By a curious coincidence, under the impact of the Puritan movements which called for the segregation of women, the zenana system was introduced in Britain in the 18th century with the same nomenclature. A number of Zenana Missions were established in Britain to popularise the system. But it did not hold for long and the movement soon gave way to free mixing of men and women both within and outside of the household.

    It was the Christian missionaries in Bengal who first made use of the advantages of the zenana for the benefit of female education. As girls dropped out of school because of marriage at an early age, attendance was poor in schools established for girls. Besides, upper class Hindu and Muslim girls seldom ventured outside the zenana to attend schools. The missionaries, taking stock of the situation, devised the unconventional method of going from zenana to zenana to teach. This gave them access to the upper class women and an opportunity to interact in the informal environs of the house. Greater trust was established between the teacher and the student than was possible in the regular school, which may have provided a conducive atmosphere for religious instruction. Zenana education complemented government and private efforts to spread female education and enjoyed government patronage in the form of grants-in-aid. It is interesting to note that the pioneering work of the Zenana Mission in Bengal prompted Christian missionaries of various denominations to take up zenana education. This they did in their

    Economic and Political Weekly April 29, 2006

    pursuit of conversion, though the education of the girl-child was the stated purpose.

    A School for Girls

    A wonderful chance came upon Blandford in July 1864, when she was introduced to and kindly received by the Maharaja, H H Rama Varma. When she revealed her desire for starting a school for girls in Trivandrum, both the Maharajah and the diwan Sir T Madhava Rao, entered warmly into her scheme [Taylor undated: 13]. The diwan appropriated for her use a large old palace within the Fort, the most sacred enclosure in Trivandrum. The Fort was walled on all four sides with eight gates guarded by soldiers with fixed bayonets. In the centre of the Fort is the Sri Padmanabha Swami temple, where the maharajah continues to worship even to this day. The temple is made of stone and is covered with intricate carvings. The roof rises high, dropping steeply towards the front and the back, with its ends gabled and elaborately carved. Here none may enter save those who are Hindus. One side of the temple gives private access to what is called the ‘valia kottaram’ or the great palace. Just about 100 metres towards the north from the central temple, and in the midst of clusters of palaces and temples, stands the building allotted to the school. To this day, it is locally known as the ‘vadakku kottaram pallikudam’ or North Palace School. Opposite is the palace where the maharajah was born and over the side wall is a little temple. All around are streets of brahmin houses. The houses are in long rows with no sideways and the narrow verandahs at the front are usually flush with the road.

    The palace given to Blandford had been built for a former diwan, and was of magnificent dimensions. The first room on the first floor was a lofty and spacious one, 45 feet long and broad in proportion, with rows of windows on each side and a door opening on to a balcony at either end. It led into a smaller room which, according to the diwan, would serve as a private sitting room, and should be furnished with a sofa and easy chair, which he proposed that Blandford should purchase and send the bill to him. The large room floor had been already covered with matting, and a few chairs and a table were in the middle of it. This upper story was built entirely of wood, quaintly carved in places; the windows were not glazed, but shuttered, and the view from them into a spacious garden of palms and other tropical plants was refreshing to the eye. The rooms on the lower storey corresponded exactly with the upper ones, but those on the ground floor, being extremely hot and dark, were deemed unfit for use, and returned to the government [Blandford 1904:55].

    The Fort Girls’ Mission School was opened on November 3, 1864, with a daughter and niece of the diwan, a mahratta brahmin, and two little Malayali girls of the nayar caste. A notice published in the government gazette of October 7 states, “With a view to promote the cause of native female education, the Sircar has arranged that Miss A M Blandford (lately come from England) assisted by a competent native teacher, should teach a class of such girls as may be sent from respectable native families” [Taylor undated: 13]. Taylor in her account observes, “As we read her story, we cannot doubt the guiding Hand of god, which led her so quickly and so directly through a door, which already stood open for her. The way into the high caste women’s world and into their hearts lay wide open before her from the very start” [Taylor undated: 6]. Blandford taught the four girls till the following May, when students started trickling in on the diwan’s strong advice to Hindu parents to avail themselves of the advantages offered. She taught them English, drawing, and needlework five days in the week, to which music was added as soon as a piano had been purchased. The elder daughters of the diwan then came in to share the music lessons and to chat and laugh. Blandford records that they soon began to understand each other and became great friends with a very real affection springing up between herself and Ambu Baye, the younger daughter of the diwan, a sweet girl of 10 [Blandford 1904:56].

    Blandford paid her first visit to Lakshmi Baye, ICI, senior rani of Travancore, in 1864, but she was not invited to attend regularly for the purpose of instruction till July 25 of the following year. The senior rani was then a girl of 16, and had been prepared by lessons in English by her husband. She soon acquired a fair knowledge of English, to which she added skills in drawing, painting, and needlework. Blandford soon gained acceptance in the royal household and spent many happy hours in her highness’s little study [Blandford 1904:57]. Blandford reports that this dear lady, the highest in the land, had set an example not only to the women of her family, but to those of her caste and the nation by reading the Bible, and in great measure shaping her life according to its precepts. Her husband, for some unfortunate reason, had incurred the displeasure of the reigning maharajah and had been banished from Trivandrum with no hope of a return to his former station. The young rani, deeply distressed, made a firm resolve to live in widowed seclusion although she was urged by all her relatives to forget him and take another consort. Eventually, her trial ended with the death of the maharajah and the restoration of her husband, after five years of absence, by his successor. Her majesty, the Queen-Empress Victoria, on learning this incident from the duke of Buckingham, then governor of Madras, sent her highness the Order of the Crown of India, a distinction never before granted to any rani of Travancore. The investiture took place in open durbar on June 17, 1881, and was an occasion of public rejoicing. Blandford expresses the sincere hope that it had not been without influence for good amongst the women of Travancore [Blandford 1904:57-58].

    Blandford, in her narrative gives an account of the chequered history of Travancore. She traces it to Marthanda Varma who ascended the throne in 1729 when he was 23 years old. He was a man of great vigour of mind and succeeded in putting down those who rebelled against him and establishing a strong and efficient administrative system. Marthanda Varma reigned 29 years. Twenty-six years after, at the time of his successor Dharma Rajah, Tipu Sultan the great warrior of Mysore collected a large army determined to annex Travancore to his dominions. The Rajah, much alarmed, sent messengers to Lord Cornwallis, then governor of Madras, with earnest entreaties for assistance. This was immediately sent, the tyrant defeated, and Travancore saved [Blandford 1904:22]. Sixteen years later, in 1800, a treaty was made between Travancore and England, and the first British resident was sent to reside in the country. “Since that time a cordial friendship has existed between the English and Travancoreans; and a succession of military and civilian representatives of the British crown, for the most part noble, unselfish men, deeply interested in the welfare of the country and people, have assisted the Rajahs in the government. Many have left amongst us names which are household words, and will never die, and the result of their self-denying labours is seen to this day in the excellent, judicial, medical, and educational institutions which they helped to originate and foster” [Blandford 1904:24].

    Economic and Political Weekly April 29, 2006

    The British East India Company, the instrument by which British rule was established in India between the mid-18th and the mid19th centuries, had opposed missionary activity in the territories it controlled, for fear of a backlash from both the civil population and the sepoy army. Evangelical pressure on the government in London, to which the company was ultimately responsible, forced it to admit Protestant missionaries from Britain in 1813 and missionaries from other countries in 1833. By then the parliamentary acts of 1813 and 1833 had ended the trade monopoly of the company and a new charter had been drawn up. The missionaries started their work right in earnest, but both the Hindus and Muslims resented their activities. The animosity aroused by their attempts at conversion was a major cause of the Rebellion of 1857. In the aftermath, crown rule was established by the Government of India Act of 1858 and India came under the direct control of the crown. The missionaries too revised their strategy and outright proselytisation gave way to indirect methods of attracting converts, especially through educational work and medical care. They held that such activities represented the genuine ideal of service and wish to improve the conditions of the people of India.

    The interdenominational Indian Female Normal School Society (IFNSS) was founded in the year 1852. Its main aim was to evangelise the women of India by means of normal schools or teacher training colleges, Hindu and Muslim female schools, medical missions, zenana visiting and the employment of Bible women. The society was to work in close cooperation with the Church Missionary Society. The Church of England Zenana Missionary Society (CEZMS) was founded in 1880, when it separated from the Indian Female Normal School Society. In the same year, 1880, when the school was nearly 16 years old, the work was transferred from the IFNSS to the CEZMS and it remained as such until it was merged with the Church Missionary Society in 1957. The chief stations of the CEZMS missionaries were Trivandrum, Palamcotta, Masulipatam and Madras in south India and Meerut, Jabalpur, Calcutta and Amritsar in north India.

    The activities of the Zenana Mission were carried out in the spirit of Evangelical Protestantism. Evangelical Protestantism emerged in Britain during the 1730s. The conversion of John Wesley in 1738 is often regarded as the beginning of the evangelical movement. Evangelicals like Wesley insisted on rigorous standards of personal conduct, frequent examination of conscience, the infallibility of the Bible, detailed Bible study and lay activity. The Evangelical Party of the Church of England flourished from 1789 to 1850, and during that time increasingly dominated many aspects of English life, moral and cultural. It was responsible for popularising many of the attitudes today thought of as “Victorian”. These heirs of the 17th century Puritans believed that human beings are inherently corrupt and need the saviour Christ to save them. They also insisted that god ordained the Bible, of which every word was held to be literally true, according to elaborate codes and signals, particularly in the form of typology, an elaborate system of foreshadowings or anticipations of Christ in the Old Testament.

    Blandford in her account gives a graphic description of:

    A party of women of different ages, followed by an attendant carrying dry cloths and towels, evidently on their way to the large tank where they will enjoy their morning bath, in a corner by themselves, but in sight of men performing their ablutions. They are slightly clothed when in the water, and appear quite unconscious of any impropriety in choosing so public a place; it is sacred, near the great pagoda, and close to the holy stones, before which lights are burned every night – what place, then, could be better, they would argue, for the purification of holy women? [Blandford 1904:30].

    We can see that the puritan in her is shocked at the lightly clad women in the presence of men in public places, but she does try to justify their action by stating proximity to the temple as the reason.

    But this sense of tolerance is absent in her comments on the rigid system of caste that prevailed during those days.

    A man may be guilty of theft and murder, these crimes do not destroy his caste; but let him take a glass of water from a European, in the presence of his own people, and it is at once destroyed. Hindus are tied hand and foot, and are willing slaves of the most intolerant and exacting taskmaster that ever placed a yoke on the neck of man. Women are the chief upholders of caste, and were it not for their strenuous support I believe it would soon die a natural death [Blandford 1904:34].

    Understanding the ‘East’

    Blandford states that in ordinary visiting and intercourse with Hindu ladies, no allusion is made to caste as a rule. The visitor is greeted in European fashion, and is invited to take her place by their side as though considered to be equal in caste to them. But Blandford is shocked when she found that after the visit, they would rather die than partake of food without first bathing to cleanse themselves from the pollution caused by the touch of your hand even after long periods of acquaintance [Blandford 1904:34]. To Blandford, caste is a curios custom, which marks a religious and not a social distinction; a man must belong to the caste in which he was born; a brahmin, by neglect of his religious duties, may become an outcast, but no member of a lower caste can ever rise to a higher one [Blandford 1904:33].

    The puritan in Blandford finds the customs of the nayars who form the majority of the population of Trivandrum “revolting” [Blandford 1904:39].

    The first wedding, or Kalianum, takes place at a very early age, and involves extensive preparations and often great expense. A shed is erected in front of the girl’s house and decorated more or less in proportion to the means of the family; a large party of relations and caste friends are invited and much feasting and merriment follows. The chief ceremony consists in the tying of a small gold ornament called a thali, threaded on a thick cotton cord, round the neck of the girl by a boy who is often a Namburi Brahman, but does not become her husband or live with her afterwards [Blandford 1904:39-40].

    To the nayars it only means that the young lady is at liberty to choose her husband as soon as she is grown up, no further ceremony being necessary. Blandford is critical of the practice and comments that to Europeans the rite has no more significance than the acting of a charade [Blandford 1904:40]. She hints that this marriage practice has implications for widowhood too. “A nayar woman, even if her attachment to her husband be lifelong, quickly consoles herself after his death by taking another;” [Blandford 1904:41] in contrast to the brahmin and kshatriya women who live in perpetual widowhood, afflicting themselves by frequent fasts for the good of their husband’s soul. Blandford says that “it is a source of deep regret that amid much that is praiseworthy, a very low code of morals exists, and that licentiousness stalks abroad in the land” [Blandford 1904:53].

    Blandford has interesting comments to make on the brahmins, the dominant caste of the period. The brahmins, who are supposed to have emanated from the brain of Brahma the creator, are worshipped as gods by other castes. Feeding brahmins, observing

    Economic and Political Weekly April 29, 2006

    fasts, scrupulous obedience to the rules of caste, giving alms to beggars, are means whereby merit may be gained and stored up for the benefit of the soul. Blandford says that,

    The religion of the Brahmans appears to me to be one dreary roundof ceremonies, performed with more or less conscientiousness.Ancient songs are chanted in Sanscrit, but no attempt is made toexhort the people to love and fear god, to speak the truth, andto lead good lives [Blandford 1904:42].

    She wonders how they can be moral when the gods they worship are represented in some of their sacred books as looking down from the heights of bliss, laughing at the calamities of men, and enjoying the bodily and mental agonies of sufferers.

    One of the incarnations of Vishnu, Krishnen, a favourite with Malayalam women, whose picture I have often seen decoratedwith wreaths of white jessamine, was so wicked during his lifeon earth that I should find it impossible to read the story of hisacts with my Munshi [Blandford 1904:42-43].

    She is categorical in her observation that any man committing the same crimes would be prosecuted in British India, if not in Travancore. Blandford states that toleration had been practised for years

    towards men of all religions in Travancore. But an old law which had become effete has recently been revived

    – that a convert to Christianity loses all civil rights, and is considered to be dead, the family property being divided amongstthe other relatives, and again that it is a penal act to erect a placeof worship for Christians without the express sanction of government, the penalty for doing so being imprisonment for a term notexceeding two years or a fine [Blandford 1904:53].

    Blandford fears that, when enforced, these restrictions will be a cause of distress and hardship to Christians, and expresses the hope that his highness the maharajah and his diwan, both highly educated and enlightened men, though strict Hindus, will issue a proclamation for the removal of disabilities, and thus allay the uneasiness of a large body of law-abiding, peace-loving people [Blandford 1904:53]. She maintains that the Christians are deeply grateful for the toleration granted them in the past, and earnestly desire that it may be afforded to them in future.

    Elaborating Edward Said’s (1979) statement that the historical experience of empire is common to both the coloniser and the colonised, we can see that the study of the accounts left by Blandford and Taylor helps us to understand the significance of exchanges between people in the complex process of colonisation. These Christian missionary women who travelled overseas, interpreted foreign cultures for those back home, and in turn had an impact on the peoples they set out to convert. History is yet to determine the part played by them in the great imperial project – whether they were supportive or subversive. Though in their descriptions the events are always looked at from a personal angle, the interest is in the shaping of public life and civil society. It is different from conventional life writings in the sense that details of the life of the narrator figure very little, whereas societal changes are recorded with meticulous attention to detail. The narratives break down the distinctions between private and public lives on the one hand and literary and historical studies on the other. This is particularly significant, as it was through the arbitrary division between the private and the public, that power was exercised over women during colonial days. In their letters, home and personal diaries and journals, Blandford and Taylor give graphic accounts of life in the colonies as they saw it. Together they form a corpus of high literary quality that gives invaluable insights into the making of colonial modernity in a small principality in the south of India.

    In post-colonial studies attention is now mainly on the process of acculturation that followed the colonial enterprise. Inspired by recent debates on colonialism and nationalism, feminist theorists are attempting to broaden their frames and are making determined efforts to analyse the impact of colonisation on the lives of women. Missionary activities, particularly in the field of education, have come to the notice of scholars as an important factor that shaped colonial modernity. Great interest has been generated on the interventions of women missionaries that paved the way for the education of women, who were otherwise confined to the inner courtyards of their houses. The services of women missionaries who willed their lives to evangelise the women of India, by means of normal schools or teacher training colleges, zenana visiting, medical missions and Hindu and Muslim female schools, are now gaining increased attention. Life stories form a major part of the documents left by these women missionaries and they shed significant light on the life of the times. The little known writings of missionaries like Blandford and Taylor can provide valuable archival material for learning interventions in the field of religion, which formed a major factor in the project of Orientalism.

    Microhistory as ‘New’ History

    Historiography since the 1970s has been marked by shifting paradigms, with interest being concentrated on the study of the past on a micro-level. As the roots of major events are grounded in the actions of lesser individuals, it is now recognised that much can be gained by looking at individuals of minor import, like Blandford or Taylor. Termed “microhistory”, this kind of enquiry is an important component of ‘new history’ and has proved to be of immense value to feminist studies. Life writings form the source of much microhistory and all documents, even small scraps of paper left by an individual, gain value in the context of recording. Parallel with the evolution of microhistory are the other developments in historiography, with critical attention being paid to the methodology and practices of writing history. It demands that we pay close attention to the textuality of history. The main concern here is with the conceptual formulations upon which historians ground their work and the modalities of expression. It questions singular, authoritative versions of history and maintains that there are different ways of determining how history happens. In this context of historiography, the sketches provided by Blandford and Taylor gain the status of constitutive material for documentation and analysis.

    We should also note that factoring in the personal, as is warranted by the study of missionary narratives, has great implications for feminist research methodology. Conventional research methods have always rested on notions of the “objective”, to raise critical questions about knowledge production. The study of women’s stories can demonstrate how we can challenge such assumptions regarding objectivity. The abstract issues of theory can be connected to knowledge of the self and the gendered social experience that one finds in autobiographies. Readings of such narratives can shed light on the complex issue of subject formation, how we become particular kinds of subjects who produce particular kinds of knowledge of the world. Following Judith Butler (1997), the study of personal narratives can trace how gender comes into existence through the way people perform it. Such an emphasis on the performative aspect of knowledge formation can help to modify the instrumentalist nature of much research methodology. Drawing from autobiographies, which have very often been dismissed as subjective and therefore unreliable, feminist research methodology can institute new theoretical and pedagogical paradigms.

    Economic and Political Weekly April 29, 2006

    Consequent to post-structuralism, we have seen the intellectual project of feminism opening out to accommodate the tensions in other fields. Inspired by recent debates on colonialism and nationalism, feminist historians have tried to broaden the frames of reference within which the mechanisms of self and society are analysed. In addition to making determined efforts to analyse the impact of colonisation on the lives of women, they are trying to deconstruct many of the existing assumptions, meanings and methods of critical thinking, particularly on women’s life writing. In this regard, the archive of materials left by British women missionaries in India between 1850 and 1950 forms an important source of information. It affords rich ethnographic details regarding the culture, rituals and practices that prevailed among women during that period and helps us to learn more about the social, political and economic status of women from these accounts. More important, it helps us to gain first hand information on the shaping of colonial modernity and its implications on gender relations and have a better understanding of the cultural politics involved, particularly the responses of women belonging to different strata of society. On a broader level it helps to evaluate the trans-cultural significance of information about missionary activities, as missionary work is common to most of the former colonies and to theorise multi-culturalism, taking in the complexities of national and global cultural formations. Perhaps the most important in the context of feminist historiography is that it would help us to arrive at an anti-foundational theory of gender, allowing scope for differences.

    To conclude: in what way do these theoretical interventions help us to come to certain conclusions regarding the vexed question of baptism raised at the beginning of this paper? The answer is that no definite answers are available in the writing of any history. The conclusions we may arrive at based on one set of evidences will only lead to another set of questions. When we are considering the issue of baptism, we should also not forget that in the 1920s there was a great deal of resistance to women leading organisations, or speaking or praying in public, or challenging sex roles. If at all the baptism did take place, it was an act an empowerment for a woman missionary, signalling her success in her chosen profession. But we should also note that the baptism, purported to have taken place, caused considerable tension at that time, raising questions about the ways used to ensure the acceptance of Christian faith in a Hindu community under the British dominion. Thus, the answers that are available depend on the questions that we ask and the positions we take. This I feel is one lesson that feminist historians can draw from the diffuse images that these missionary narratives throw up.




    Blandford, Augusta M (1904): The Land of the Conch Shell, Church of

    England Zenana Missionary Society, London. Butler, Judith (1997): Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative,

    Routledge, London. Said, Edward (1979): Orientalism, Vintage, New York.Taylor, D (undated): ‘The Story of the CEZMS in Trivandrum’, unpublished



    Sanket Development Group (SDG) is a non-profit organisation that aims to empower people to make informed choices about their own lives and the institutions governing them. Area: Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh

    Position 1: Project Director, Budget Centre

    Job Responsibilities: 1. Setting up, managing and running the Budget Centre, directing and undertaking research and analysis of state budgets. 2. Leading project team 3. Coordinate and participate in advocacy work, reviews and evaluation. Qualifications: 1. Postgraduate qualification in Economics, Statistics or related fields with demonstrated usage of analytical skills. 2. Relevant experience in action research projects. 3. The candidate should not be more than 45 years of age Experience: 10+ years

    Position 2: Programme Executive (Dissemination and Advocacy)

    Job Responsibilities: 1. Prepare a dissemination and advocacy plan. 2. Manage creative and design work for dissemination activities. 3. Manage and run dissemination and advocacy activities. 4. Interact with agencies in the field to build and network to advocate on the analysis from budgets 5. Document activities of the budget centre through different media. Qualifications required: 1. Postgraduate qualification in Mass Communication or related fields, or experience in advocacy and dissemination, using media and performing arts. 2. An understanding of methods in capacity building. Experience: 7+ years in relevant field

    Position 3: Programme Executive, Budget Centre – two positions

    Job Responsibilities: 1. Study processes of budgeting and planning at state and field level. 2. Simplification and demystification of budgets. 3. Action Research on development issues and budgets and their field implications and experience, especially with panchayats. 4. Development of Training material and training on budgets. Qualifications required: 1. Postgraduate qualification in Social Sciences, Economics or related fields. 2. Experience in research and/or field experience in development sector. Experience: 7+ years in relevant field Compensation: Based on experience and qualifications

    Last Date: within 20 days from the publication of this advertisement

    To apply: Send your resume/further queries to: Sanket, E-2/141, Arera Colony, Bhopal-462016 or E-mail :

    Economic and Political Weekly April 29, 2006

    Dear Reader,

    To continue reading, become a subscriber.

    Explore our attractive subscription offers.

    Click here

    Back to Top