Patroness: H.r.h. The Duchess of Connaught. President: The Hon. Lady Peek.
Chairman: Sir W. Mackworth Young, K.c.s.i. Office: Lonsdale Chambers, 27, Chancery Lane, W.c.
The Need of the Society
The word zenana means the place of the women. It comes from a Persian word, "zan," a woman. It is used to denote that part of the house in which the women live, and which they never leave, except if closely veiled and carried in a conveyance of some kind. Millions of the well-to-do women of both India and China are secluded in this way, although in some parts women are allowed more liberty than in others. In South India, for instance, the Hindu women are allowed to walk in the streets, whilst in the north they may not do so.
All upper-class Mohammedan women are very strictly secluded, and their life is most restricted.
The Effect of the Seclusion
We are told by those who know, by native men and English women, that the "pardah system," as it is called, has an absolutely demoralising effect upon the women who live under it. To quote from the writings of an educated Indian: "The narrator of the present condition of women in India can a tale unfold which would harrow the soul and freeze the blood of every civilised man . . . that marvellous tragedy of existence which is carried on in an Indian zenana." Mrs. Bishop (nee Isabella Bird) says: ' I have lived in zenanas, and have seen the daily life of the secluded women, and I can speak from bitter experience of what their lives are - the intellect dwarfed, so that a woman of twenty or thirty years of age is more like a child of eight intellectually; while all the worst passions of human nature are stimulated and developed in a fearful degree. Jealousy, envy, murderous hate, intrigue, running to such an extent that in some countries I have hardly ever been in a woman's house without being asked lor drugs with which to disfigure the favourite wife, or to take away the life of the favourite wife's infant son. This request has been made to me nearly a hundred times. This is only an indication of the daily life, of those miseries of which we think so little, and which is a natural product of the systems that we ought to have subverted long ago." This is most valuable testimony coming from one who, before she came into personal contact with the women of foreign lands, did not believe in foreign missions.
Orphans at drill, Masulipatam. The frequent and terrible famines of India make the task of caring for orphan children one of supreme importance
Christianity raises womanhood - heathen religions degrade it. Among the Rajputs, when a little girl is born the father announces that "nothing" has been born, and his friends offer their condolences. The Hindu woman is taught that she is "unworthy of confidence and the slave of passion, a great whirlpool of suspicion, a dwelling-place of vice, full of deceit, a hindrance in the way of heaven, the gate of hell." What wonder if she soon becomes so! Her Chinese sister is taught that she has no soul, and is "moulded out of faults," but that if she is virtuous she may pass through eighteen hells after death, and then perhaps be born on earth again as a little boy. She has small opportunity to become virtuous, for, uplifting and inspiring as many of the precepts of Confucius and Buddha are, the practice of the two religions called by their names is unspeakably degrading and demoralising.
We are told that " while Confucianism is the basis of the social life and political system of China; while with images of Buddha abound everywhere in china, all the educated Chinese, theoretically at least, are Atheists or
Fatalists." Professor R. k. Douglas, in his book " Society in
China," tells us that flows through China "a full unchecked torrent of human depravity, a kind and degree of moral degradation of which an adequate conception can scarcely be formed." From India we have equally sad evidence. Much that Id hammed taught was good, but we are told that only those who go into Mohammedan homes can realise the awful wickedness prevailing in them. Christianity alone can lighten the gross darkness which envelops the majority of the inhabitants of India and China.
Only women in either land can reach women, and it is of supreme importance that the women should be reached and raised; for, marvellous as it may seem to us, we are told that in India - and it is the same in China - " the down-trodden and imprisoned woman is, after all, the real ruler of the country. Ever the most devout upholder of Hinduism, from infancy she instils into, the minds of her children reverence for the idols and faith in ten thousand superstitions. She maintains a watchful care over her hus-band, brother, and son, so as to keep them steadfast to the orthodox creed. The family 'pujas,' and other religious ceremonials, are mainly under her control." A high Indian official once remarked to a missionary: "While I am with you I am free, but as soon as I enter my own portals I am not my own; mother, wife, and daughter are all against me." The Bishop of Durham, in a sermon on this subject,says, "No one who is the least accustomed to study the present in the light of the history of the past can well doubt that the next few years will see a great and momentous evolution in the con-dition of the native mind and native life in India."
Think of the enormous importance from this point of view of zenana work. It touches India at its very heart, for it touches it in the homes of its most influential classes; and in India, as everywhere, the home is of enormous potency upon the life of the individual, and so of the nation. Many of us are familiar with accounts of cases in which an Indian man, it may be even with an English University course at his back, and impregnated with the most advanced ideas of Western civilisation, is still under the enthralling and enslaving influence of unaltered, immemorial super stition, held in his home and incarnated and impersonated in the women of his zenana." The position of the vast majority of the women of heathen lands is well summed up in the words of one of them: "We are like the animals; we can eat and work and die. but we cannot think."
Two women working quilts of native design, Bhagalpur
The missionaries of the Church of England Zenana Missionary Society go into the zenanas to teach their fellow-women that they are not like the animals, but were made in the image and likeness of God, and that they can and must use the minds which were given to them as well as to men.
The first Englishwoman to begin the work of educating and teaching Christianity to the women of India was Mrs. Marsham, of the Baptist Missionary Society, in 1800.
To-day there are numerous agencies engaged in this work. The Church of England Zenana Missionary Society alone has 209 women missionaries, 81 assistant missionaries, and about 900 Bible-women and native teachers, and yet there are at least two hundred million women in India and China who have never even heard that such a religion as Christianity exists.
Teaching the deaf and dumb. Palamcottah. This instruction forms one of the many noble works undertaken by the C. E. Z. M. S.
The Fernville Hospital, Trevandrum, India. Medical work is one of the most important factors of missionary enterprise in gaining the goodwill of the native population
A Mohammedan woman, on hearing that Christ's last command to his followers was to "preach the Gospel to every creature," said: "If this, then, is your prophet's command, why do not all your caste obey it? But of so many Christians only you come here once a week to read to us. Oh, they will receive a very great punishment! How is it?" A heathen woman, on her death-bed, cried out to a missionary: "Tell your people how fast we are dying, and ask if they cannot send the Gospel a little faster."
Doors formerly closed are now open on all hands. Where once the missonary begged admittance in vain, she is now an honoured guest. The village, which at one time greeted her advent with a shower of stones, now prepares a welcome - almost embarrassing in its fervour. This being the case, and the fields being now white unto harvest, there is, more urgently than at any previous time in the history of missions, a call for help to the Christian nations of the West from their brethren of the East.
The most pressing needs of Indian and Chinese women to-day, and the way in which they are met by the Church of England Zenana Missionary Society, will be described in subsequent parts of Every Woman's Encyclopaedia. The work may be divided under seven heads:
(3) Medical missions, hospitals, and dispensaries.
(4) The training of natives as assistant missionaries, Bible - women, dispensers, nurses, and teachers.
(5) Industrial missions - homes and classes for teaching various useful industries to widows and destitute women.
(6) Orphanages for foundlings and famine orphans.
(7) Assistance and special classes - the deaf and dumb, the blind, and lepers.