The Moral Woman and the Urban Punjabi Society of the Late Nineteenth Century
The Satyarth Prakash of Swami Dayananda Saraswati, the founder of the Arya Samaj, was not just a book of Religion. Rather, it was meant to be a moral code of conduct, a guide for the Aryan People to adhere to. As such, the Swami had taken pains to spell out the model character of an Aryan woman, among other things. He had given the 'woman question* a centrality because he perceived women to be the key to the maintenance of caste purity; and because he wished to exploit the reproductive capability of women, so that a judicious sexual union would produce the required Aryan male progeny.
Swami Dayananda Saraswati died in the year 1883. He died too early, his followers felt, without giving them adequate guidance to follow his precepts as taught in the Satyarth Prakash. They, nevertheless, endeavoured to be true to his word, and to make the Satyarth Prakash their spiritual guide. This was especially true of his followers in Punjab, where the number of Arya Samajis grew rapidly. By 1891, their number was 24,458, which increased to 65,282 by 1901.T This was a stupendous growth, if we keep in mind that it was only in 1877 that the Swami had first visited Punjab.
The 'woman question* retained its importance in the post-Dayananda period. Dayananda's followers, the Arya Samajis, took up the question with all the zealousness of a newly created sect. However, their voice lacked the authority of the brahmachari Swami who had the support of a haloed tradition of synyas behind him to carry forth his message. The new Aryas were drawn primarily from a trading-professional and urban class, the Khatris, Suds and Aroras,2 the upper castes of Punjab.
If we take the first eight classes in the Hindu social system, it will be seen that they comprise about 62 per cent of the total numbers of Hindus (in the Punjab), and 98 per cent of Aryas ...3
As such, they were involved in a quest for seeking a new identity for themselves, that would give them' self-respect and recognition in a
Department of History, Sri Venkateswara College Delhi University
Social Scientist Vol. 20, Nos. 5-6, May-June 1992