The Visionary King Rajarshi Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj’s Strategy of Women Empowerment for Social Prosperity


Mr. Sanjay Chavan
Assistant Professor
AISSMS Institute of Management

Shahu Maharaj, during his rule, attempted to liberate the Non-Brahmin class from the gripof baised casteism. He enacted various laws against traditional standing and religionand offered significance to the current position of women in society. Hecommitted himself to the social transformation idea of Mahatma Jyotiba Phule.

Nevertheless, he thought that education could not serve as a tool for the evolution and progress of Non-Brahmins and Dalits. So, he legislated various laws to advance social equality, justice, and value in his rule. Shahu Maharaj resuscitated the ‘Satyashodhak Samaj’ of Mahatma Jyotiba Phule. He was a passionate supporter of ideologies by Mahatma Jyotiba Phule. He understood the importance of education in the life of Bahujan Samaj.

Hence, legislated the Law of free and compulsory primary education. In the initial phase of the 19th century, the social status and economic wellbeing of women was not at all satisfactory in Kolhapur at the time of Shahu Maharaj, as portrayed in the review of education in Bombay state (1855 – 1965).

In the Hindu religion following were the corrupt practices observed in society:

  • Women had barely any property right
  • Child marriages were regular and routine practice
  • Polygamy was permitted and was considered necessary among the higher or wealthy classes
  • Barely any profession or job was available to women

In the higher castes or high-class families, widow marriage, separation and divorce were banned, the social and moral code was exceptionally discriminative against women, the ugly practice of ‘Pardha’ was observed; thus, its recognition had nearly become adifferentiation of higher medieval status.

It certainly describes the lousy state of women. Their life was limited to hearth and child. Theywere stuck in home and family life.Shahu Maharaj initiated the policies to empower women for their holistic development. Heascertained that education might fetch the transformation, i.e. development in the life of women.

Consequently, he formulated and initiated the execution of education policy for the empowerment ofwomen. As per the opinion of Shahu Maharaj, the state was undergoing losses due to a lack ofeducation in Bahujan society, including women.The priests had a hold over the temples, and their impedance needs to be ceased by treating andmaking the schools as the temples. So that knowledge of real religion would get revealed.The stature of women in the society, i.e. in the prevailing caste system and Varna system was worst.

They were abused and misused. Shahu Maharaj observed the situation and genuinely thought aboutimproving the lives of the women in the dominant male society. He assessed the issues of womenand concluded that education is not the only answer. He sensed the necessity of robust andenforceable laws to prevent the exploitation of the women in the current societal caste and varnasystem. His commitment to creating particular laws for women’s empowerment was incredible. They are significant today. The legislated laws by Shahu Maharaj are as follows:

  1. Free and Compulsory Primary Education to All Act, 1917

(The object of the Act which is explained in the preamble is as follows )

All the people of theKolhapur province must be able to read and write and thereby making their development the compulsory education committee is framing this Act of compulsory education. He endorsed anorder on 8th September 1917 to make free and compulsory primary education to all in Kolhapurstate.

  1. Inter-caste and Inter-religion Marriage Act, 1919

During the period of Shahu Maharaj, inter-caste and inter-religion marriages were not acceptableto the society. The girl willing to make such marriage was highly criticized. Shahu Maharaj took the initiative and enacted the Law to give legal permission to the registration of suchmarriages. Of course, at the time of such marriages, the minimum required age of the bride shouldbe above 14 years, and that of bridegroom be above 18 years. This Law enacted on 12th July 1919,in a period when there was a tradition of child marriages.

  1. Widow Remarriage Act,1917

There was freedom of remarriage in backward castes; however, there was a strict patriarchal holdon the section of the upper castes that did not allow the remarriage of widows. In addition tothis, the tradition of removing the hair of widows was practiced in the Brahmin; they had to live a verydeprived, reserved, and isolated life. Shahu Maharaj broke the shackles of such secure patriarchalpractices; he passed the Law related to Widow Remarriage in 1917.

  1. Divorce Act and Security of Women Rights after Divorce Act,1919

Law states, “it is good to make definite provisions in the act to permit the husband and wife todivorce and consequently build their solid relationship.”

  1. The Marriage Registration Act, 1919

This Act legislated in 1919 that provided legal legitimacy to inter-caste, inter-religious marriages, and widow remarriages.

  1. The Prevention of Harassment to Women Act, 1919

Cruelty to women is the physical and mental harassment to women. It comprises insults, abuses,verbal assaults and suspicion of women’s character by men as acts of cruelty.

  1. Rights of Illegitimate Hindu Children and Jogtini Act, 1920

This Act was passed to improve the condition of ill-conceived Hindu children to succeed to

share in the property of their natural fathers and for the termination of the old customs. Thus, itwill protect the rights of girls devoted to religion over 12 years, committed to god or temple asJogtin, Murli, Devdasi, Bhavin. The Act was explicitly done so girls ought not to become Jogtinior Devadasis.Nevertheless, he thought that education could not serve as a tool of evolution and progress of Non-Brahmins and Dalits. So, he legislated various laws to advance social equity, justice and value inhis rule.

The acts legislated by Shahu Maharaj for the empowerment of women are still relevant intoday’s context.Government of India legislated acts for the above-discussed issues after freedom which indicates how visionary was Shahu Maharaj about the empowerment of the women.Shau Maharaj enforced acts as mentioned earlier for women empowerment under the British Rule,although thefundamentalists in the society around were against the security to women rights.Hence British rulers were not ready to support these acts. However, Shahu Maharaj took manybold steps and with much determination, commitment and courage for women rights, he enactedthe laws. He has also executed them wholeheartedly, which indicates his commitment to womenempowerment.


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