Women’s Empowerment through Travel: Abala Bose’s Journeys
Travel has always been an integral part of human life. It provides an opportunity to explore new places, cultures, and people. For women, travel has not only been an escape from domestic life but also a means of empowerment, allowing them to break free from societal norms and carve out a niche for themselves. This essay explores the significance of travel in the empowerment of women during the 19th century, focusing on the travelogues of Abala Bose. It examines how travel allowed women to carve out niches in the intellectual geography of Bengal, empowering them personally and socially.
Abala Bose: A Brief Biography
Abala Bose was a renowned social reformer, educationist, and women’s rights advocate in Bengal during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She was one of the first-generation women students at Calcutta University and spent her whole life advocating for women’s rights and education. In 1910, she was elected as the Secretary of the Brahmo Balika Shikshalaya (Brahmo Girls’ School) and held the position for 26 years. She established around 80 primary schools and 14 adult education centres for women. In 1919, she launched the Nari Shiksha Samiti (Committee for Women’s Education) to spread female education throughout India. In 1928 she formed the Bengal Women’s Educational League, an institution that campaigned for women’s franchise and gender sensitivity in the curriculum. She called for the introduction of self-defence and the Maria Montessori system in the school education system in India. Her three-decade-long foreign travel experiences, between 1896 to 1933, introduced her to the innovative educational approaches and methods there, and back home, she implemented those techniques in the institutions established by her.
Travelling Wives in Bengal
The mid-decades of the nineteenth century in Bengal witnessed a caravan of wives traveling abroad accompanied by their husbands. These women, who had the chance to travel, were changing the course of common assumptions and showing others how the experience of travel helped them arrive at a new position, personally and socially, in polite society. Bose was one of a wider range of nineteenth-century Bengali women determined to elevate themselves through travel. By the end of the nineteenth century, she, along with a number of deviating women, had begun to settle into their pursuit of a ‘life of a mind’. Foreign travel allowed them to carve out niches in the intellectual geography of nineteenth-century Bengal. These women were known as “incorporated wives” whose identity is “an intimate function of their husband’s occupational identity and culture”. Bose was but one of many wives who travelled abroad, but her travelogues are unique in many ways.
Abala Bose’s Travelogues
Bose’s travelogues are a reliable documentation of her husband J. C. Bose’s public achievements in the foreign lands. As the original momentum to travel was not her own, her subjectivity got somehow amalgamated with her husband’s in her travel writings: she was a “participant” wife, who “chose to sublimate her own interests and identify themselves with her husband’s work”
In addition to accompanying her husband on expeditions, Mrs. Bose was also an active participant in scientific research. She collaborated with her husband on several scientific papers, including studies on the effects of electricity on plants and the sensitivity of plants to various stimuli. She also conducted her own research on the education of young children, and published several books on the subject.
Despite her many accomplishments, Mrs. Bose faced significant challenges as a woman pursuing education and intellectual pursuits in a male-dominated society. She often encountered resistance and skepticism from her male colleagues and was frequently dismissed or belittled for her ideas and contributions. However, she persevered and continued to advocate for women’s rights and education throughout her life.
Mrs. Bose’s legacy continues to inspire and empower women in India and around the world. Her dedication to education and her pioneering spirit serve as a powerful example of what can be achieved when one has the courage to pursue their dreams and break down barriers.