Pratham Pratishruti of Ashapurna Devi: A Feminist’s Representation

Ashapurna Devi, a prominent Bengali novelist, born in 1909, in the colonial India which just got jolted by the wave of enlightenment. All of her writings focused on the existing gender discrimination and the emergence and evolution of middle-class Bengali women-their oppression, position, consciousness and conscientiousness, inspirations and of course their fight. She traces how the female members of her generation were subjected to and differently responded to the patriarchal structures and showed that some would comply while the others would break free the four walls. Pertaining to this, in my work I have tried to visualize Ashapurna Devi, as a feminist through a critical evaluation of her much discussed, much praised and widely read, two awards winning (Rabindra Purashkar,1966 and Jnanpith award, 1971) magnum opus, Pratham Pratishruti (The First Promise).

Feminism is the theory of the political, economic and social equality of sexes. When compared to other systems of inequality, gender has unique characteristics. It is the oldest system of political and economic discrimination, and gender is ubiquitous: it is found in virtually every situation and thus crosscuts every other system of stratification. But gender is deeper still, gender is perceived to impact the way we think and we feel and relate to our self, and gender is the foundation of marriage and family and thus an intrinsic part of how we become human through socialization. Ideas about the equal rights of women first began to emerge during the enlightenment, both in the West and in India.

Pratham Pratishruti of Ashapurna Devi


Born in a very conservative middle-class family of North Kolkata, Devi, all her life was entrapped within the four walls, first at her parent’s house and later at her in-laws. Hence, all her writings have been focused on the internal affairs of the family life and especially the status of women in the family. Regarding this, Pratham Pratishruti is a worth mentioning example of her accumulated repulsion and anxiety that she felt within. In this notion, am here, willing to view Devi as a successful feminist through the character of Satyabati, because, as she herself said : Over the years, great clouds of protest have accumulated, unexpressed in my mind, and Satyabati, the heroine of my novel is the expression of that protest”. Devi was notably known for her strong female characters who were much more than the kitchen milieu. She herself saw life as an action and was the responsible homemaker and a committed writer. In one hand she was devoted towards her social and familial duties and on the other akin to vigorously penning down, protesting against the existing social norms inspiring thousands of women.

Literature Review

  • Feminism: Feminist ideas and social movements emerged in Europe, Great Britain, and the United States in an international context that promoted the migration of people and ideas across national boundaries. Between the publication of Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792) and John Stuart Mill’s The Subjection of Women (1869) ideas, social movements, and individual feminists migrated across land and sea, generating a powerful new context for the advancement of women’s rights. In this era, the terms women’s rights and women’s emancipation were widely used to refer to what we today would call feminism. According to the New World Encyclopedia, the term’s earliest roots lies in its French translation “feminisme” was first used by French socialist Charles Fourier in 1837 to describe the emancipation of women he envisioned for his utopian future. The early feminists included both women and men who advocated greater equality for women in public institutions, such as the church and government, and in the family and household, and the equality of the sexes more generally.  Some of the more radical feminists also insisted on a woman’s right to exercise control over her body, including the right to remain single, to develop sexual relations and to bear children outside of marriage.  Almost all feminists in this period viewed women’s right to higher education as one of their most important demands.

However, the first expression of these issues was Mary Wollstonecraft’s book ‘A Vindication of The Rights of Women’(1792). In it, she clearly linked gender to the discourse of human nature found in the Enlightenment and thus “brought the issue of women’s rights for a short moment in the 1970s into the general debate about civil rights”(Todd, 1993; Allan, 1951: 265). The first wave of Feminism became organized as the result of the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention[1], which called for equal rights for women to vote and own property, to full access to educational opportunities and equal compensation.

The second wave of Feminism grew out of the civil rights movements of the 1960s with the publication of Simon De Beauvoir’s ‘Second Sex’ where she attempts to confront human history from a feminist perspective. De Beauvoir’s primary thesis is that men fundamentally oppress women by characterizing them, on every level, as the Other, defined exclusively in opposition to men. Man occupies the role of the self, or subject; woman is the object, the other. He is essential, absolute, and transcendent. She is inessential, incomplete, and mutilated. He extends out into the world to impose his will on it, whereas woman is doomed to immanence, or inwardness. He creates, acts, invents; she waits for him to save her. This distinction is the basis of all de Beauvoir’s later arguments. And also with the publication of Betty Friedan’s ‘The Feminine Mystique’ (1963) where she  traces the return of women to the domestic life after their pre-war emancipation. She argues that women were socially pressured into becoming homemakers and she concludes that the life of a housewife prevents women from developing full, autonomous identities. She argues that both men and women must reject the feminine mystique, and she encourages women to pursue self-fulfillment through education.

The Indian women’s movement began in the nineteenth century. Women had begun to form their own organization from the end of the nineteenth century on both the local and national level. In the years before independence, they had two issues;political rights and reform of personal laws to struggle for. Indian women movement based on their participation in the freedom struggle in order to get their rights. Indian women call upon freedom, gender equality and stop violence against women. The movement had begun within a man called “Ram Mohan Roy”. He began to focus on women’s issues like political participation, polygamy, a sexual violation against women and illiteracy.In his opinion, women should have an effective role in all fields of life; political, economically and socially. He put the roots of Indian women as one of the main factors responsible for the state of Indian society. He improved the condition of Indian women that was considered the first step in reform.

  • Portrayal of Mother: Many literary personas have viewed this prodigious work of Devi as a complete depiction of Motherhood. In this notion, Dr. Sangeeta Saha is a worth mentioning name who, in her work “Jononi Vabna” have analyzed all the mother figures mentioned in the novel. Most of the ‘mothers’ as we find is timid by nature, they are extremely loving towards their son but at the same time much atrocious towards their daughters-in-law (Elokeshi- Naba kumar’s mother and Satya’s Seji Pisi).She has also depicted that how mothers have prioritized their social status more than their children (Behula). But at the same time, there are mothers like Bhubaneshwar and Saudamini, who are conformists, dutiful and ardent both to their children and to their in-laws.

In this work, we can see two dimensions of the term “mother”. In one hand it glorified the notion of a heroic motherland, on the other hand, a contrast to actual 19th-century women. (Chowdhury ) In her work ‘Re-defining the Heroic Mother: Representation and Agency in Ashapurna Devi’s Pratham Pratishruti’ Indira Chowdhury, have visualized the common ground between the two groups- “the fallen” and “the chaste” to reconceptualize ‘motherhood’. She has also analyzed ‘motherlessness’, as a simple, uncomplicated relation of mother and daughter was quite impossible in the patriarchal framework of the society.

However, Himani Banerji, in her work “Re-generation Mothers and Daughters in Bengal’s Literary Space” has viewed how mothers have always tried to make this world a better place for their children. She says that we can inherit only those in our character that has been given by our mothers form their reach. In this notion, I believe that the shades that we can perceive in Satyabati’s motherly nature is mostly because of her mother Bhubaneshwari, who was doting towards her only little girl but not blindly, who was proud of her brave daughter but at the same time afraid and anxious about her future. We later find Satya too to be fond of her youngest child Subarna and always tried to give the time and attention towards her that she lacked in her childhood due to this patricentric nature of the society.

  • Gynaeceum- “Kintu stimito Antahpur ar antaralao ki chole na vanga garar kaj?” ( Ashapurna Devi,1964).

Ashapurna Devi, in all her life, has produced a profuse amount of work to address this question. The social division of ‘andar mahal’ and ‘bahir’ were embodied by architectural design indicating segregation of the sex. This ‘andar mahal’ is the world our mothers lived and which then bequeathed to us (Himani Banerji, 2002). This difference between “andar” and “bahir” were based on the division of labour and the women are supposed to work in the kitchen, kitchen is their only domain. Women were considered to be the fragments of a whole, can be added to the spatial allocation of women to “ghar” (the private domain) and inversely the allotment of men to “bahir” (the public domain). She indicated directly towards the dichotomy of ‘public-private’ and she had shown it as distinct yet inter-dependent, in an effort to portray the dilemmas accompanying ‘social transformations’ (Dipannita Dutta, 2015). But the uniqueness of Ashapurna lies in the fact that she showed that men, like women as well, are fragments of this concentric whole.[2] Therefore, the phrase ‘charity begins at home’ can be rightly put in here as the women started their revolt from the Antahpur, where they suffered the ignominy- the basis of all suppression and Feminism according to Ashapurna is traced to the days of the Antahpur culture where women revolted against the injustices of patriarchy and paved the way towards their emancipation. It was a struggle that the women of the West did not have to experience. (Dutta: 2015, 27) Devi has further commented, “I have tried to paint a picture of the constant restructuring of the Antahpur from where the society, generations and the mentality of the masses begin to get influenced.

  • Women- Myth and Reality: The mythical idea of woman by a poet-

“Your Femininity is half womanhood

Half is the imagination of man.” (Jasodhara Bagchi,1995)

Devi herself, in an inaugural speech on 9th March,1989, stated that women are imposed with womanhood- gentle manners- tenderness, forced away from real world into helpless- dispossessed life and cognized that man is the maker of the world and woman’s duty is to make him home. But the sleep does not last forever and the sense of unworthiness caused her to wake up.

It is the juxtapositioning of ‘real’ with ‘imagined self’ (Indira Chowdhury,2002). As found, it can be said that the ‘good woman’ is the one who conforms to the patriarchal framework and abides by all the male created rules. One, who commands obedience from her sons and demands absolute obedience from daughter-in-laws (Himani Banerji, 2002). Banerji further discussed that a woman, whether she was good enough or not cannot be evaluated until her death. “Urlo meye, Purlo Chai/ Tobe Meyer Gun Gai! (a woman is burnt, her ashes are thrown to the wind/ not until then can we sing her praise). Banerji, thus have scrutinized how a woman’s ‘goodness’ is hence a negative thing, consisting of what she does not rather what she does do.

Howbeit the major reason of this “sleep” was the women themselves. Education indubitably the major means of women’s emancipation, but the ‘Good Women’ of ‘respectable family’ enjoined against learning as they were given the responsibility of upholding the ‘family honour’ (Banerji, 2002). As Devi stated, if only there was enough solidarity, women did not have to run to men for something. It hardly adds to the glory of emancipated women, who don’t depend. She further adds, each one is adrift in her own delicate boat but there is no hardy vessel to carry them together on board. A wordy agitation around the term, ‘woman’s emancipation’ will not emancipate women. (Jasodhara Bagchi, 1995)

  • Social Practices: In this major work of Devi, we find an account of almost all kinds of social practices, norms, and systems prevailing in the rural area. Firstly, Widowed: there is a huge depiction of widow system in her work. There was a different place for the widows to cook and everyone could not enter (Dr. Biswajit Panda, 2011). Religion was usually seen as a male preserve but women encroached into it especially when widowed (Banerji, 2002), obviously so that they could renounce the worldly attractions. Superstition: the women used to follow a number of rituals, special during pregnancy and while in the “aantur ghor”. The articles bought for a person who is likely to die but did not are to be thrown away (Prashanta Halder, 2011). They were to be kept and follow certain ‘Bratas’ for certain purposes, and all those rituals were made to narrow their minds, to fill them up with darkness (Panda, 2011). The significance of life can only be understood if one is married thus making the system of Polygamy valid (Prashanta Halder, 2011).
  • Colonialism: The colonialism is viewed as a contributing factor to the emancipation of women. Women have been a ‘people without History’ until recently. The New woman signifies, ‘what was good for the family is now surpassed and rephrased as what is good for women themselves’ (Banerji, 2002). For example, for thirty years of her married life, Satya provided genuine care to her family members. She did not mind calling a “sahib” doctor to treat her ailing husband(Dutta, 2015).it also brought change in the mindset of some literate men like, Ram Mohan, Vidyasagar, who worked hard to make it a better place for women (Panda, 2011).
  • The conflict between Women and Women: A woman is never given the opportunity that she deserves, the key to all compliments lies in a gentleman’s pocket. The major reason for this is the woman’s lack of loyalty to her own sex, which is not the case for the men (Bagchi, 1995: 22). The world of women also poses a threat of violence- physical and otherwise[3] and an unfair preference towards the ‘sons’. Banerji further stated, the older kin women could punish the younger physically while husbands hold this power as a general prerogative. Devi observed the gargantuan chasm between masculine and feminine values as an agency of separation of the sons and daughters in the society and within the family (Dutta, 2015).She never saw men being the enemy of women, but she further emphasized if women can raise themselves above such pettiness and inhumanity and consider with open minds what is good and desirable for them, some of the problems can be solved. (Bagchi, 23)
  • Phyllis, Granoff, 1985: While viewing the aforementioned reviews I found this one to be of real interest and quite critical towards the work of Devi, unlike others. Phyllis here, viewed the attitude towards women and their possible roles as viewed by Devi. Devi has, like the other folktales, have picturized the cruelty of the mother-in-law towards their daughters-in-law, the barbarism of the patricentric society, but her point of departure was equality, education, self-sufficiency and self-fulfillment of women. But at the same time the repeated theme of her work is women are consummate actresses, they alone know how to conceal and reveal and preserve the delicate balance of family life. Devi’s conception of suitable roles of women is in line with traditional attitudes. Thus Devi’s actress Satyabati, rebels against stifling pettiness of a woman’s life and violations of human dignity.


Methodology generally refers to the rationale for application of particular research methods. There are a wide array of research methodologies and methods, and while there are distinctions amongst these, there can also be significant overlap. Research Methodology can take the form of an experiment based on someone else’s work/works which it is, in this case, therefore making it a Secondary Analysis (practice of analysing data that have already been gathered by someone else, often for a distinctly different purpose).

In this study type, I have followed Content Analysis. It is a research technique used to make replicable and valid inferences by interpreting and coding textual material. I have taken up this methodology as it helps in analyzing traits of individuals, infer cultural aspects and change, provide legal and evaluative evidence.

Therefore I have adhered to Qualitative data analysis, which is, an exploratory research, used to gain an understanding of underlying reasons, opinions and motivations. The idea is to examine the meaningful and symbolic content of qualitative data.


  • To analyze the staunch characters of the novel to view the extent of their contemporariness and/or their conventionalist nature.
  • To perceive how the social situations fettered the women.
  • To reckon Ashapurna Devi as a feminist, anatomizing this inspiring work.

Data Analysis

Social stratification is immensely visible. Even the mangoes are stratified in the society. The best type of mangoes are only for the male members of the society, the medium type mangoes are for the mistresses of the rich families and lastly the pungent mangoes are for the lower class women and children. This only shows how women were further stratified within the family.

Prevalence of polygamy is a normal incidence. “Swami ki monda mithai, je ekla asto ta na khele pet vorbe na,vag hoa gele pran fete jabe?” “Bidhata jokhon prithibi chishti korechilo, tokhon ekta kore beta chele aar dedhkuri kore meye manush gorechilo, a to janish?” – it was the ‘belief system’ thus making the polygamy system legal and women have accepted it without any protest, showing the patriarchal process of socialization of the girl child.

If a girl’s husband dies before marriage then the girl is accused to be ‘glutton’ who is said to have eaten her would be husband up! Therefore, dehumanizing a girl.

“sotin Kantar jala”-is a very interesting point. A girl is taught that having a ‘co-wife’ is a curse and they are also versed some rituals where they pray to god so for not experiencing the pain. On the other hand they are also told a ‘co-wife’ should be treated as a ‘sister’. It is quite a confusing state as on one hand they are told to pray so that they don’t have to experience the pain and on the other they are told to accept the same thing in a friendly manner.

Division of the home structure is perceivable. In a rich family the house is divided into 2 worlds – ‘meye mohol’ (arena of women) and ‘purush mohol’ (arena of men). Thus the private domain withheld women from having an access to the process of development.

A rich house is also divided into ‘arena of the widow’ and ‘arena of the married’.

Further, when a guy leaves home as rejected by her married love and leaves the village it’s the girl’s fault while if the girl leaves village because of the insult by the in-laws she is said to have disgraced the family name. Thus, the women were been scapegoated.

Talking to one’s own husband is a matter of shame and women used to do it secretly. This only shows how the superstitions occluded the human mind.

A girl has to be efficient in daily chores no matter how good she is at handicrafts. Implying kitchen is the ultimate and only area of women.

The fascinating point is the Husband is going to some other woman and when the fact is pointed out the wife gets angry as ‘the husband’ can do what he wants she simply cannot understand that it’s insulting for a woman. This also shows how the patriarchal framework barred the emancipation of woman’s mindset.

What’s more, it’s okay for the guy to ‘touch’ his second wife rather he deserves it and the ‘first wife’ must understand this simplest thing.- “boli cheletar kothao to vabte hobe? Tar tatkati roilo dhamachapa daoa..” Here, the woman is conceived of only as a body.

Additionally, a girl can never take pride of her father as she is a mere ‘girl child’ hence she doesn’t have the priviledge. Thus, a girl is been commodified and once she is married off she is likely to lose all her rights and position at her parent’s house.

One thing was common in the city life of women and in the village life of women, the egotism of the mistresses but it was more among the city life as with the ego they had money. This shows that the women may not had the self-consciousness but they had enough class consciousness.

The character of Satyabati

Tomboy from the childhood Satya was rebellious and fearless since childhood – from questioning every trivial matter to answer back to everyone irrespective of the age and relation.

Being new-fangled she was loved by her fellow friends and her father who was a rebel himself and at the same time was criticized and despised by all them who were elderly and conventional.

She couldn’t stand the contradictory nature of man. She didn’t understand the whole ‘women community’ when a girl even after beaten up by her husband fondles him.She didn’t understand why a girl would be abused so badly for just not being so efficient in the household works.

Satya was a touch to quick girl. She can’t bear else’s pain especially if that’s for a girl who is reprimanded in her in-laws. And that’s why she doesn’t accept the fact when her sister in law is asked to keep a ritual for her husband’s co-wife.

She protested with her best when her cousin brother says that a girl should never be educated else she’ll become blind. Satya replied with a challenging voice that these all are baseless pseudo facts made to dominate the women.

In addition, when her father said a girl is not needed to be educated she counteracted saying if a girl is not needed to do anything then why are they needed to born? (Eto Jodi na dorkarer kotha to meyemanusher jonmabar e ba dorker ki?)[4]

Satya started studying by the connivance of her father and becomes intelligent, she can right verse, read the epics, and as we have seen once she got to Kolkata she started studying English as well.

However when her in-laws came to take her knowing that she had not reached the required age her father did not intend to send her child but Satya asked permission to let her go. It was because she did not want her father to get insulted in front of the whole society but this shows us that Satya also confirmed to the society for the very first time.

When Satya came to know about the ill-character of her father-in-law she refused to call him “Thakur” and also refuses to touch his feet. Because she believes that a salutation is an act of showing regard which she doesn’t have any more for his “Thakur”.

She lost her first child and therefore addressed as “vanga”, means inauspicious and hence she can’t sit for any propitious ceremony. She was a logical and well-reasoned hence when her husband was in a dying situation she didn’t conform to any superstitious thought.

Satya came to Kolkata, she was cursed with anything but nothing could break her. She once promised her mother that she’d go and after all those years she could keep that but alas, her mother was not there anymore to see it. Though her father was happy and proud. Satya was scared of the new city, new people, conjugal family system and modern way of life. But that fear was just like a ‘bubble’. She was discreet and certainly not shaky. She never lost her own values; even in the new situation, she maintained her values and beliefs.

Satya was a very egoistic person and she did not even mind showing that to her father as well. Moreover, even in the new city, that was completely unknown to her, she gravitated toward continuing her ego with the landlady also as she just could not comply with her ostentation.

However, as Satya had grown up, she got matured, her character got a wholeness. She could then understood that all the situations are not won by debates and argumentation. She has become calm, composed and circumspect.She also became independent as she started teaching women at a school.

She was hugely inspired at the same time regretted for the first time being a woman when she comes to know that Nehru, her cousin brother is now traveling around the world, what she ever wanted, being independent, studying people, gathering knowledge, doing good for the society.

However, at one point we have seen that Satya could not become completely rational, her old values have made her criticize ‘widow remarriage’. It also made her believe the fact that “swami meye- manusher debota” (a husband is divine).

The most rebellious act of Satya was to attempt to get proper justice to Vabini’s sister, who got dead at the age of 10 in the hands of her in-laws only because she did not let her husband to “touch” her as she was afraid of it. Satya goes to the British Police to ask for help. Though the Kolkata city gave her applause for her bravery she was started being feared by her family and lost her husband’s fondness.

The great defeat of her life was her own family. Her husband, Nabakumar was off with no moral strength, her elder son Sadhon was literate enough but not a complete human, her younger son, on the other hand, was a bit like her mother but he was not complaining of the ills of the society rather he was full of apathy. And her daughter got married off by her mother-in-law without her consent, to thwart Satyabati’s struggle for women’s emancipation.

The Character of Sarada-

Sarada is another bold character created by Devi. She questioned the whole system of polygamy. Her protest was not in the same way of Satya. She was conforming daughter-in-law but she knew her rights as well and the way to snatch them. She gained a position in the zenana where she was at her best and at the same time she maintained her personality, acting upon and fulfilling her personal wishes.

The Character of Saudamini –

Saudamini is an amazing character portrayed by Devi. She is logical, rational, has her own personality, strong, sarcastical, broad-minded and very understanding. She knows there is no way to escape the society but also knows how to battle them. She is renounced by her husband and therefore the society expects her to be grief-stricken and compliant but she chose to be happy engulfed by daily chores and buffoonery.

The Character of Shankari –

She is a staunch character made by Devi. She was a victim of Child- marriage and widow. She fell in love with one of her cousins, she eloped, she got re-married in Kolkata as widow re-marriage got legalized then, she got pregnant and then was denounced by her new husband. Afraid of the beauty of her daughter she projected her as widow and made her follow all the rituals.


The Character of Mokshada –

Mokshada is a typical traditional woman character cited by Devi, who was a dowager at a very early age and had always been abided by all the social norms. She devoted all her life for others and had not expected anything in return, dies incognito and would meet into oblivion and none would spare even a shed of tear or would care to hold the rituals on her funeral. And this thought drove her to loosing emotional stability.



In this marvelous work, Devi has portrayed the on-going social customs and women’s effort to break through them.

Women and Superstition – They were made to obey a number of Bratas that gave them the sense that they are lesser than the male and they are incomplete without men. Hence, it is their duty to serve them. These Bratas also narrowed up their minds, making them incapable of thinking. They followed blindly what they were told.

Wife Beating– We find a number of examples of this practice. At the very start we find “Jatar Bou” to be beaten up by “Jata” and after some days we find them indulged into a romantic conversation. Wife beating was a socially accepted and normal practice. “Vabini’s sister” got dead by beating up by his husband. But Satya was found to vouch against this practice.

Motherhood– In this work, we find a different notion of motherhood. Here, a mother figure is portrayed as a shadow who is always there but not too close. There was a distance between a mother and a child. Another type of motherhood is shown in the nature of Satya towards Suhas, who was not her own daughter but Satya tried to fulfill all her aspirations through her. She created Suhas, a self-sufficient, post-colonial woman.

Marriage– Devi, in this work has repeatedly reinforced the impression that a woman must marry if they are to find happiness.[5] We found Satya to be a believer in the sanctity of Hindu Marriage System, therefore she could never accept the Widow re-marriage. She has seen marriage to be the ultimate goal of a woman’s life as she believed it gives a notion of completeness. Therefore, she always wanted to find a Suhas a suitable counterpart and so, when Suhas got married to Bhabotosh master, Satya never questioned the huge age gap or the purity of a relationship.

She also has tried to portray the continuity of traditions in the post-colonial India. The colonial rule surely introduced contradictory changes within the society but at the same time, there was the continuum of traditional values and beliefs mixed with the enlightened rationality. The examples would be-

  1. Nabakumar setting up a nuclear family in the city still having the traditional consciousness and conscience.
  2. Satya synchronizing her role as mother and her role as a working woman, both of them were of equal priority for her.
  3. Satya voicing against polygamy but being rigid about widow re-marriage.

Devi further showed that how the socialization process in the city and village varied especially in terms of using abusive languages in front of the children and at the same time permitting them to do the same. It also varied in terms of furnishing them with the values and norms of the society especially those planted on religion.

Satya- Through this character, Ashapurna has called for the self-sufficiency that all women should have. One may say that through Satya, she tried get the answers of the questions she all her life tried to find. Satya was staunch protestor, unique, rebellious, candid, practical, factual and scientific. She was more like snail who was quite tough from the outside but from inside she was extremely sensitive, empathetic and exceptionally compassionate. And that’s why she was often called by her daughter “Raag ar Thakur” (goddess of anger).All she fought for was to improve the social system through self-correction. She refused to compromise or negotiate with the existing social structure. And so in the post-colonial India, she finally set out to find the answer to whether are not in the newly free country, are women “truly free”? She has emancipated herself truly as she could break through the physical barrier and moved towards the city life which for her was ‘freedom’. Freedom from the unrealistic rules and norms, irrational superstitions, illiteracy, and unenlightenment. Especially from illiteracy, as her prime focus was equality of education between man and woman. For her educating oneself can never be a sin, especially when Devi Saraswati herself is a girl. She even started teaching girls at “Sarbamangala Pathsala”. However, in certain instances, she also could not escape the rigidity, be it the unacceptance of widow-remarriage or perceiving marriage and motherhood as the sole purpose of life. But the marriage of her daughter left all her dreams unfulfilled, not destroyed but unadorned.

Devi, as a Feminist

“Being independent is related not only to familial need; associated with this is the question of self-esttem.”- Navaneeta Devsen.[6]

The women of the family have always held the central role in her magnum opus Pratham Pratishruti and through them Devi has enrooted the fact that emerging as a significant voice in the only way to change their status. The power relation within the family in the patriarchal framework has condemned women to domesticity, illiteracy and blind ritual practices and hence, she has kept on saying that women should fight for their rights and overcome the fear of censure of community through practical reasoning, as did she herself. Her fearless reasoning towards freedom and equality, between male and female is where her lasting voice lies. The women of Pratham Pratishruti are a strong indicator of Ashapurna’s feminism, whose perspective of the role of a woman differs from that of the West. She has perceived her women to be goddess Durga, who can manage the family lived in one hand and the outer world with the other, preserving the Sree of our traditional cultural values, as a complete Bhartiya (Indian) Nari (Woman). She was arguing for what Sangari and Vaid call ‘an objective gender-neutral method of inquiry’. Through the voice of her protagonist, Satyabati, she has claimed freedom of thought and practice of equal justice that is their fundamental right as being a human. Moreover, she set out to remind the world that a woman is a human being as well. However, she was a realistic and empathetic feminist, who never really wanted to be called feminist and did not see men as the enemy but she saw them as a compatriot in need of rising of consciousness. According to her, women must think more realistically and prove their worth and capability to the world and bring about social change by conquering the rampant commodification.[7]


“Nari ke apon vagya joy koribar

Keno nahi dibe odhikar

Hey bidhata!”

-Rabindranath Tagore

This is the question that had been addressed in all Ashapurna Devi’s work and Pratham Pratishruti is a facsimile of her own life. She believed that all the protests and revolutions start from home and she hence has acknowledged the title ‘kitchen writer’.

The novel, was indeed a cutting edge one as it criticized all aspects of the social life, not only the situation of women but also the social situation, the colonial life. It covered all the sections. However, for me, Ashapurna Devi could not come out of the fact that a family life is obvious to the women. She could make Suhas (Suhasini, daughter of Satya’s sister-in-law Shankari) independent and not married. Somewhere it was her belief that it’s a severe need for the women to get married, it’s an unavoidable truth of life, whereas, being nonmarried was prevalent at that time. And I do not comply with the ending of the novel, where Satya leaves her family and children in utter repugnance. Satya, when lost her mother could realize the pain of motherlessness, we found her remorse over the fact she could not get her mother’s presence enough or rather didn’t give her enough time. But in the end she did the same to her children as well. She could deny the marriage of Subarna which would have added to her rebellious character, or she could accept the marriage and send her back to the in-laws once it’s time.

However, Satyabati’s promise to herself and her younger generation of a life of knowledge and ethical judgments, in short, the emergence of women with the greater social agency is thus a generational project[8] which made this ground-breaking novel at that particular time quite an example of doughtiness.


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[1] The Seneca falls convention was the first women,s rights convention, held in Seneca Falls, New York, July 19-20, 1848.

[2] Dutta, Dipannita:2015

[3] Banerji, 195

[4] Devi,1964

[5] Phyllis, Granoff:1985

[6] Dutta,2015:98

[7] Dutta, 2015

[8] Banerji: 190

Submitted by: ANTARA SAHA, University of Calcutta

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