The woman in India and other patriarchal countries symbolises weakness. She is supposed to live a miserable and dependent life. Our culture has neither given her the right to remain free and independent not to act on her own.
She is considered to be a creature to be commanded. She is transfigured into a cultural sign rather than a material being. In Indian sub-continent, before the 20th century, female emancipation was strictly forbidden.
Educating a girl was considered to be a sin. Her only duty was to deal with the affairs of her home and remain dependent on her husband.
But with the emergence of western education, the society underwent various changes and gradually the views on the women also changed. Towards the end of the 19th century, various social reformers and philosophers tried to uplift the women and give her freedom.
Various movements like Widow-remarriage, Prohibition of Child Marriage, Prohibition of Dowry System etc were introduced to the society that helped in the betterment of women up to some extent.
Women Play Leading Role
In Kanthapura novel, we find that woman plays a leading role. They play an active role than men. Thus. the woman is an inseparable part of the novel.
His choice of the old woman, Achakka, as the narrator shows that he wants the novel to be described from the perspective of the female. This is very rare where history is looked at from the woman point of view as opposed to analytical power-the male view.
Mythical Story of Kenchamma
As the novel begins, we learn about the mythical story of Kenchamma, the female deity, who came from heaven to fight against a demon who was spreading violence in Kanthapura.
In the fierce battle, Kenchamma comes as victorious and the demon is defeated and killed. The blood of the demon makes one side of the hill red. Kenchamma after killing the demon lives with the people of Kanthapura.
Achakka, the narrator tells that the deity has always helped the people of Kanthapura whenever they face the problem. Thus the deity, who is a female, is the symbol of power and might.
Women as Satyagrahis
In the novel, the woman takes a significant role as Satyagrahis. When Moorthy, the protagonist, comes back from the city as a Gandhian man, he goes to women of his village and distributes free Charkhas among them telling that foreign goods have made India poor and hence they (women) can play an important part in the struggle by spinning and using homemade things.
Moorthy like Gandhi knows the importance of women in struggle and hence makes Rangamma, a rich and educated widow, a member of Congress committee saying, “We need a woman for the committee for the Congress is for weak and lowly.”
The women like Moorthy very much, hence follow his advice. Rangamma, plays an important role in the village, being well educated, she reads newspapers regularly.
She is influenced by Gandhian Philosophy and becomes a source of knowledge and inspiration for the women of the village.
In order to get the support of women, she tells the stories of historical figures like Laxmi Bai and Sarojini Naidu, thus encouraging them to take an active part in the struggle.
Struggle of Women
When Moorthy is arrested along with a number of men, the women of Kanthapura continue the struggle. They are molested, tortured, raped and even beaten, but they do not lose hope and bearing all the violence they resist the foreign rule.
After the death of the teller of Hari-Katha, Rachna, a widow becomes the new teller and Rangamma elaborates them. Raja Rao making a female as the narrator challenges the orthodox views that only males should take part in the religious affairs of state.
Thus Raja Rao throws light on the importance of women in the society. He explores through the novel that women can also take part in the affairs of state as well as of religion. Kanthapura is thus a novel criticising orthodoxy of Indian Culture and patriarchy as well.