The progression of Asian voices in feminist theology in the recent years has been remarkable. The creative theological reflection of their experiences as women and their missiological contributions are impacting the local and global discussion of the topic.132 However, in order to narrow down the discussion and to make specific exploration of the context of this research, this chapter provides a general picture of education for women in India133 starting from the developments in the secular and social setting. The discussion moves on from there to theological education and the church situation, where women find themselves as adjunct members.
2.1 Women in India Ancient India legitimized discrimination against women through religious texts by which society gained a formal sanction to practice it. Women who aspire to self-development are often looked down upon, while society exalts the sufferings of subordinate women. The status of women, however, is improving in India in the legal and employment arenas. Women are making striking contributions in the field of science too.134 Nevertheless, “For the vast majority of Indian women, the problem is not one of legal equality, but of achieving the educational skills, self-confidence and economic muscle to implement equal rights enshrined in India’s statute books.”135 As the government of Kerala recognises:
Despite religious and regional differences in Indian society, there are overriding customs and traditions which govern most communities and undermine legislative or other gains women may make. While an increasing number of women show interest in being educated or gaining employment, particularly in the urban areas, in the private sphere, independent decision-making by women without the participation of the family, especially decisions regarding marriage, continue to be discouraged. Family and marriage dominate the lives of women from the time of their birth.136
Within the marriage framework the husband and his family control all external relationships. Women are dependent on the goodwill of their husbands and very often they have no independent financial standing. Yet, marriage and the bearing of a son are one way in which the position of the woman can improve; by thus enhancing her position she becomes a participant in the family decision-making process.137 Although the situation is markedly changing in urban areas, the vast majority of people live in rural India, where women’s social and educational status is still extremely low.
The story and history of Indian women are full of complex scenarios. Some notable periods in the history are listed below. The pre-historic Indus Valley Civilization138 of 2500-1500 BC seemed to give women an equal status with men. The widely prevalent cult of the Divine Mother (Mother Goddess) found at Mohen-jo-Daro endorsed this.139 The Vedic Period (generally dated 1500-1000 BC)140 had educated women, highly privileged in family and society. Though the birth of daughters was not desired, women were honoured during that era. But the later Vedic period, according to Majumdar, relegated women to a lower status in the society. Yet, women in the South of India enjoyed more freedom than those in the North.141 Historians recorded that around 600 BC, the life of women had become difficult under the strict rules of marriage and sati (practice of burning a woman alive in the death-pyre of her husband).142 Mauryan imperialism and Graeco-Scythian invasions of 324 BC -320 AD kept Indian women’s religious, personal and social lives glaringly subjugated. The Gupta period (320-600 AD) placed upper class women in significant social roles although widow burning and polygamy became more common practice. History provides little information on women’s status during the medieval period (600-1200 AD) but Altekar recorded that female education received a large set back during this time primarily due to the deterioration of the religious status of women.143 In the Vijayanagar Hindu Empire (1336-1646), women occupied honourable positions in the political, social and literary life of the nation.144 When the Muslim power extended through Deccan Sultanates (or as some argue, the Mughal emperors), their royal women gained active roles in patronizing architecture and had political authority,145 but there was an increase in oppressive social practices such as child marriage and dowry.146 Indian reformers147 such as Raja Ram Mohan Roy (took key role in the abolition of sati), Swami Vivekananda (served the poor through Ramakrishna Mission) and many others are praised for their steps of extraordinary courage and concern for the disadvantaged. The social developments of the first century of the British regime also helped Indian minds to review the existing systems. The laws forbidding sati, female infanticide, child marriage, on women’s inheritance rights, allowing widow marriage could liberalize women’s legal position in British India.
The diversity of women’s status in India has been striking. India had women in the leadership of the nation-Indira Gandhi as the Prime Minister in three consecutive terms from 1966 to 1977, and Pratibha Devisingh Patil, elected as the President in July 2007. In addition, the ‘divine’ is revered in female form throughout India. Women’s movements and Women’s Studies have become much stronger since 1975, the year designated as International Women’s Year. According to Rameswari Varma, there are about 23 women’s studies centres in Indian Universities.148Notwithstanding, the vast majority of women’s life status is insecure, hazardous and oppressed.
The intricate family relationships in India are clearly defined. The degree of authority that can be exercised over relatives, the courtesy and obedience to be extended, the relatives before whom a woman may appear unveiled and whom she is permitted to address directly, are all demarcated.149 However, there were women’s movements in India that have paved ways to women’s emancipation in various walks of life. They worked on the educational, religious and political spheres of women’s lives.
2.2 Women’s Movements in India Manohar provides a brief history of the women’s movement in India, listing the various initiatives and differing attitudes of people towards women’s education. Religion has played an important role in women’s movements. The socio-religious reform movements of the 19th century undertook the task of reforming Hindu society. The view that women’s development in India had begun much before the feminist movements though the revival of Hinduism in the 19th century is also prevalent.150 Reform movements such as the Brahmo Samaj in Bengal, the Prarthana Samaj in Maharashtra and the Arya Samaj in North India were concerned about the status of women. Writing on the orthodox Hindu feeling that women need not be educated as men, Manohar quotes a public speech by a Bengali man in 1856 that illustrates the subservient status of Indian women:
females are not required to be educated by the standard which is adopted for men… woman has but one resource, home. The end and aim of her life is to cultivate the domestic affections, to minister to the comfort and happiness of her husband, look after and tend her children, and exercise her little supervision over domestic economics.151 In this cultural climate there were reformers who valued women and were ahead of their time in this regard. In what was viewed as an invigorating speech on 27th January 1900, Vivekananda exhorted, “No man shall dictate to a woman; nor a woman to a man. Each one is independent. Women will work out their destinies much better too than men can ever do for them. All the mischief to women has come because men undertook to shape the destiny of women.”152 The first half of the 20th century witnessed Indian women stepping into the public arena. Many women participated in the freedom struggles of this era. Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation India stated, “By sheer force of a vicious custom, even the most ignorant and worthless men have been enjoying superiority over women they do not deserve and ought not to have.”153 Gandhi’s national movement gave them opportunities to take part in public activities. Women participated in the Swadeshi Movement (1904-1911), in the Non-cooperation Movement (1918-1923), in the Civil Disobedience (1930-1934), and in the Quit India Movement of 1942. The Women India Association (WIA) was formed in 1917 by Annie Besant, Margaret Cousins and Dorothy Jivarajadasa. These public participations of women brought a greater social awareness of women’s development. The aims and objectives were,
To present to women their responsibilities as daughters of India.
To secure for every girl and boy the right of education through schemes of compulsory primary education including the teaching of religion.
To secure for women the vote for Municipal and legislative Councils on the same terms as it was or might be granted to men.
To secure the abolition of child marriages and other social evils.
To secure adequate representation of women in Municipalities, Taluks, Local boards, Legislative Councils and Assemblies.
To help women to realize that the future of India lies largely in their hands, for as wives and mothers they had the task of training, guiding and forming the character of the future rulers of India.
To establish equality of rights and opportunities between men and women.
To band women into groups for the purpose of self-development, education and for the definite service of others.154
Women’s open struggle for their rights in India could be dated from the 1960s. Within the past four and a half decades, perspectives on women have developed and been evaluated, policy changes have been made, and the educational sphere has incorporated changes placing notable emphasis on women’s issues and scholarship:
From the fervent Feminism of the Sixties to the introspection on the status of women in the Seventies, to women-in-development debates in the Eighties and to focuses on gender issues in the Nineties, forty years may have been a short but nonetheless momentous transition. We’ve travelled from women’s problems to women’s issues, to women perspectives and finally to women studies, reshaping whole paradigms of development along the way.155 For India, the principle of gender equality has been around for at least a century and a half and change in the status and role of women has been remarkable.156 The Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries saw a succession of women’s movements, first around issues like sati, widow remarriage and women’s education, and then around the Freedom Struggle itself. In 1931, the Fundamental Rights Resolution of the Indian Congress adopted gender equality as its guiding principle in line with the promotion of women in the agenda of Gandhi, who said, “The women of India should have as much share in winning the ‘swaraj’ [their nation] as men. Probably in this peaceful struggle women can outdistance men by many a mile.”157 From early in Indian society there has been a symbiotic and mutually complementary relationship between the government, the women’s movement and non-governmental organizations158 although the life situation of a majority of women is still unbelievably pathetic.
2.2.1 Committee on the Status of Women in India (CSWI)
The women’s movement in India continuously interacts with and influences government action. In 1971, in response to a request from the United Nations, the government of India appointed a Committee on the Status of Women in India (CSWI) to examine all questions relating to the rights and status of women in the context of changing social and economic conditions in the country. The Committee’s comprehensive report identified a significant change in governmental policies- women were no longer viewed as the targets of welfare policies but as critical groups for development. This was reflected in the 6thFive Year Plan (1980-85) where strategies for women’s employment and economic independence, education, health care and family planning and the creation of a supportive legal and institutional environment were conceived.159 Post-independent India developed educational policies, believing that education equals empowerment for women. The 1986 National Policy of Education’s Program of Action describes how intensive the attention given to the development of women studies envisioning the empowerment of women in India was. The following section looks at the general education setting of women in India with the aim of identifying the specific socio-cultural challenges involved.
2.3 Indian Educational Setting for Women The educational status of Indian women is a scenario full of distinctions. Early Christian missionaries in India played a significant role in inspiring women’s development, mainly through the means of education, by establishing schools exclusively for girls. Through social activities and literature, efforts were made to enhance the status of women in society. Firstly, we consider the reality of institutionalized distinctions.
2.3.1 Sharp Distinctions
The large democracy of India is known for its sharp distinctions in the status of its women. The outstanding female public figures and their unique contributions are not representative of the prevailing situation of the masses of Indian women. Basu explains how women have suffered discrimination in society:
Not only political but even social and economic historians have left out women. Working class has generally meant working men; women are wives, mothers and daughters of working men. Domestic life is treated as a static unchanging backcloth to the world of real historical activity. Women are peripheral both to production and to class struggle. Men and women do inhabit different worlds with boundaries, which have been defined by men-the public world of men and the private world of women, work and home. Exploring the relationship between these two worlds will enrich all social history.160 Basu, through a historical reconstruction method, reasons that as there was little evidence to help us see the true relation between the prescribed normative patterns and the empirical reality, the historian could help sociologists by filling the gaps. However, it is crucial to see what has been done in the way of emancipation of women. Sunderaraj observes that ‘the discrimination against women in India is most evident in the fields of education, nutrition, health care and economics. What is said about India can be said about many Asian countries.’161 With their lower status in society and family women normally feel inadequate to take on any significant role in the social, economic and political spheres. Descrochers and Joseph identified factors such as the cruel combination of over work and under nutrition that results in anaemia, the sluggish growth rate of literacy because of the failures in primary and adult education and the failure in providing free and compulsory education to all children up to the age of fourteen, as significantly affecting the status of women in India. Their study reports,
The third hard fact of the educational situation lies in the massive inequalities still prevailing between men and women…The sad truth is indeed that inequalities in education are structural and institutionalized…All these inequalities moreover have wider implications to the extent education has an impact on the outlook, the self-esteem and the socio-economic and political progress of people.162 However, to what extent education helps people to see the social issues and their resolutions is yet another question of importance.
Indian leaders and reformers of all times have contributed towards the emancipation of women. Gandhi had a very high view of women and their potential to participate meaningfully in society. However, the observation of educators has been that the educational system largely fails to bring about the social changes that are expected from the process. For Spencer, education is to prepare the individual for a meaningful, holistic existence: “The aim of education is complete living, which can be made possible by activities that promote self- preservation, worthy home membership, worthy citizenship and worthy use of leisure time.”163 Culture seems to be exerting control over this process. Madhavan Nair thus discusses Taylor’s thoughts on culture and education,
Culture is that complete whole, which includes knowledge, beliefs, art, morals, law, custom and other capacities and habits acquired by man as a member of society. …Culture is not inborn in individuals; it is formal as a result of interaction with other individuals. …Culture is the behavioural pattern of a group. Education is the process by which an individual modifies his behaviour. Hence there exists an intimate relation between culture and education.164 Education should enable the individual to reach their potential and contribute to the development of the community. Despite the advancements in terms of the cognitive knowledge, some of the educational contexts in India are facing many crises. Madhavan Nair observes thus from the context of Kerala,
Our educational institutions are too weak to bring about social changes. Meagre provision of finance, poor school buildings, poor quality of teachers, poor quality of teacher training institutions, inadequacy of proper in-service education, unrealistic curriculum, politically biased policy decisions, non-adoption of modern educational technology and unscientific evaluation techniques are the main reasons that impede our educational progress.165 A sharp distinction between the ideals and the practices is thus perceptible in India in terms of the status of women. It will be useful to learn how Women’s Studies have contributed to the development of women.
Towards Emancipation through Women’s Studies
The extent to which the status of women has changed through formal education in India has been a much debated issue. Jeyaraj believes that although the secular education liberates women from illiteracy and empowers them to a certain extent to build self-confidence and secure employment; it has not greatly changed their overall status.
While we recognize the positive contribution of education for social change, we have to admit that formal education has not transformed women into empowered individuals. One of the main reasons is that the present curriculum and teaching methods have a patriarchal basis; they lack women’s presence and perspective and do not give much importance to women’s issues. A different dimension is to be emphasized in the field of education today. Women’s perspectives must be included at every level in the content, language and methodology. 166 ‘Women’s Studies’ has emerged as a separate discipline of study, which Jeyaraj defined thus:
Studying the problems of women from a gender-fair perspective,
Understanding the gender, status, nature and role of women,
Recognizing and appreciating women’s contributions historically,
Challenging others to extend their solidarity for the welfare and progress of women167
Women’s Studies devised various strategies for achieving the aim of the true emancipation of women and equality between the sexes via education. The stress was laid on Women’s Studies that would have the four-fold path of teaching, research, training and extension.168 The Research Centre for Women’s Studies (RCWS) was set up at the SNDP University in Bombay in 1974, as a breakthrough that led feminist scholarship in India to take its own pathway to influence the whole sphere of education and reflection. Today Women’s Studies serves a very important function, it helps the resources of feminist theory, literature, history, psychology and philosophy, as it seeks to examine the cultural assumptions about gender, study the traditional disciplines through the eyes of the new gender scholarship, increase awareness of the history and experience of women as half our population, and thereby bring about the empowerment of women by the revelation of a true bias-free gender equality. The RCWS is supported by many national and international agencies, including UNESCO, WHO and ICSSR.169 In addition, many Universities over the nation offer ‘Women’s Studies’ as a certificate subject, thus bringing the aims of introducing women’s perspectives in diverse areas of study and sensitizing various disciplines towards feminist issues and research methodologies.
The University Grants Commission170 started the Centres for Women’s Studies (CWS) by implementation of a scheme called Development of Women Studies in Indian Universities and Colleges in 1986. The Centres have practically succeeded in playing an ‘interventionist role’ by initiating female gender perspectives in many domains in the generation of knowledge and in policy designs and practices. In the context of having laid down national policy, Approach to the X Plan (2004-2007) the empowerment of women now stand on a strong platform for action with definite goals, targets and a time-frame.171 Women’s Studies Centres of UGC focused on well-defined objectives and goals in areas of prime and potential interests, time bound programme plans with well-defined strategic action plans, critical infrastructure and facilities and specific financial implications for each activity.172 It is clear from the descriptions above that beyond all traditional practices and family ties that restrict women’s development, India as a nation has been creatively planning and working out educational programmes to make life better for women. All these educational developments will have implications on theological education for women, which is the subject under investigation in this study. However, both educational settings and the developments had to face the issue of contextualization.
Challenge of Contextual Orientation
A major weakness of the educational system has been its untested following of the Western views inculcated by the system for a long time. Though educationists have a growing awareness of the need to relate education to the local socio-political and economic context, there is still much to be done. Pinto argues that,
Education is indoctrination. It defines what is good and desirable and what is to be rejected and discarded. The values, beliefs and attitudes inculcated by both colonial and market education exalts consumerism, competition, individualism, western mode of life and living, technology, science, and capital while at the same time rejecting indigenous ways of life, folklore and communitarian ways of living.173
The type of education provided for a student will influence the type of a person they will be. The attitudes and values of teachers and the contents of texts used will have great impact on the student.
Education therefore has to work at three-fold level: attitudes, knowledge and skills. New attitudes with right kind of knowledge and skills have to be offered to students to make them aware of the context in which they live and how they can transform the system by contributing to the change of an oppressive system.174 Theoretical knowledge and the cognitive developmental pattern inherited from the Western pattern has been the determinant of knowledge and formation in India for so long. It is necessary to acknowledge the how various educational contexts keep on reviewing and reforming their pattern and to apply the useful elements as appropriate in our context of training. The situation of women in theological education is discussed below.
Indian theological education has greatly benefited from a number of consultations and studies. The Lindsay Commission on Christian Higher Education did not make any genuine contribution towards women in theological education, though it had a mention of the provision of supplementary courses for the wives of ‘theological students’ who are all assumed to be men. The International Missionary Council that met in Thambaram 1938 emphasised laity training but lacked a specific focus on women’s issues. The Ranson Report on the Christian Minister in India 1939 limited itself to the training of the ordained ministry, omitting its original intent to include the training of the “lay workers, voluntary workers and women.”175 Both the reports of the Ranson study in the forties and the Harrison study in the fifties “neglected to make systematic enquiry” into the place and role of women in ministry.176 Arles records that in the 1980s theologically trained women began organizing themselves and formed the Association of Theologically Trained Women in India, which was supported by many churches and mainly Serampore affiliated colleges. The Senate of Serampore took women representatives on its Council and Board of theological education.177
Feminist thinking has intruded into Indian society as a whole on various levels. This also contributed to the awakening of issues concerning women in theological education, not just in India but in the broader context of Asia. Women who form the majority in Asian churches have come to theological education relatively late. “Although women make up 50% of all Christians, their voices in theology have not been heard for centuries”178 There has been a feminist awareness and Asian feminism focuses greatly on real-life, relational and contextual issues.179 Generally, the Asian feminist perspective calls for a conceptual and practical balance.
Downgraded Mission Involvement and More Private Learning of the Bible
It was during the 1970s that Indian women began to obtain some credible chance of being theologically trained. Subsequent research about the situation of women in theological education has been confined largely to isolated articles in Christian periodicals. With reference to certain characteristics of churches that affect theological education Samuel and Sugden observe that,
A fourth characteristic of the Indian church is that there has been a steady decline in the participation of women in the church’s ministry since independence in 1947. With the passing of missions and women missionaries, women’s work and ministry have been progressively downgraded in the church’s priorities. Seminaries and training institutions cannot redress this imbalance since the churches have reduced the avenues through which trained women can serve.180 In contrast, alternative educational strategies such as those offered by The Association for Theological Education by Extension (TAFTEE) resulted in more women considering theological education: “The significant percentage of women among TAFTEE students (30 percent) is a clear indication of the potential among women for ministry.”181 Women in India are eager to obtain personal theological growth and spiritual formation as Padmasani Gallup illustrates: “The hunger and solid theological instruction among lay people, and lay women in particular, is amply witnessed in the popularity of courses like TAFTEE and external studies for theological degrees. Lay women are highly literate in the Bible.”182 Yet, it is important to discover if the recent statistics affirm this observation, in which case seminaries might have to reconsider their current practices and the prospects of alternative training styles for women.
The attitude of churches has been identified as crucial in this discussion. Most Asian churches perpetuate inconsistencies as they come across the questions of women’s ministry, while some churches strictly keep quiet regarding the questions raised as they view such issues as unworthy of being discussed. The church, which is expected to be the agent of the transformation of the society, chooses generally to be passive on women’s concerns in ministry.
The socio-economic and political reality of India demands that the churches and theology should foster and promote social transformation. ….Social transformation in the direction of a truly human world is therefore, Rayan argues, essentially a theological
task. ‘Without it theology will be idealistic and hence untrue, both to the Kingdom and to human history’.183 In other words, transformation is the inescapable mission of the church. Some cultural patterns, beliefs and habits that are entrenched in Asia and which inhibit efforts for holistic spiritual formation are identified by Lak thus:
That a woman is often seen as temptress and seducer only; and,
that caste division is God-ordained.184
Whenever women realize that it is too difficult to overcome these deep-rooted beliefs, they either step back or choose to walk on a difficult path. Churches in general confine themselves to the culture of the locality and select biblical verses, teachings of Church Fathers and practices of churches that inhibit the growth of women in ministry. The mission of seminaries to develop their women students seems enormous in this context.
Women in Seminaries and Women’s Studies Programmes
At the 1987 Vision and Focus of Theological Education Consultation, the BTE-SSC (The Board of Theological Education- the Senate of Serampore College) resolved to enhance the role and involvement of women in theological education in India. The Senate decided to encourage many women to undertake their higher level doctoral degrees and to become theological teachers.185 However, it is essential to note that such initiatives, based largely in cities like Bangalore, did not make any direct impact on women’s status in theological education in the neighbouring Kerala, the specific context of this study. There has been significant shift in the 1990s specifically in terms of the Women’s Studies Programmes. Although women’s theological training and Women Studies programmes are not to be considered synonymous, it is important at this point to note the advancements in both. Many seminaries started training centres exclusively for women while others provided coeducation with the same degrees for men and women. In addition, India now has four seminaries providing Women’s Studies programmes: The Tamilnadu Theological Seminary in Madurai (1988), The Gurukul Lutheran Theological College in Chennai (1993), The United Theological College in Bangalore (1994) and the Eastern Theological College in Jorhat (1997). On the whole topic of women’s theological education, the contribution of BTE-SSC has been commendable for the last three decades. “The BTE-SSC received a substantial report from the Priority Commission on Theological Education appointed in 1978. The Report pointed out the male domination, in terms of students, teachers, and governing board members.”186
According to the report of the Priority Commission of the Senate, the structure of theological education under the Senate is mainly male dominated: 95% theological students, 90% teachers; 94% members of the governing board are men.187 In the late 1980s, BTE-SSC revised the curriculum of theological education at the BD level in the light of new disciplines such as social analysis, communication studies and women’s studies. Tamilnadu Theological Seminary (TTS) was ahead of its time in initiating some of these new thrusts in theological education. The United Theological College (UTC) initiated its women’s studies programme in 1994. Rajkumar contends,
Women’s studies is a necessary discipline, in secular as well as theological studies, if we are to critically evaluate our past and present and to see how far the programmes, content and method of education, pedagogy, value system, ways of functioning, use of power, etc., affirm the dignity and equality of both sexes. A women’s desk is a necessary unit, in every institution, if we are to bring a gender corrective to all aspects of thinking, decision-making, acting, and living.188
‘Women’s Studies’ was not an uncritical gathering of knowledge about women, but the bringing in of a critical perspective that looks at every discipline through the eyes of women. It was concerned about the past, present and future of women. BTE-SSC claims the pioneering position in developing Women’s Studies in India. Gurukul theological college also trains women in their International Network in Advanced Theological Education (INATE) a master of theology programme in Women’s Studies. Although occasional initiatives are made in seminaries to conduct seminars and publish articles on women’s issues in the church and theological education, such activities generally appear superficial and unrealistic consisting of mere ‘pro’ and ‘against’ arguments. Despite some such activities and the fact that the enrolment of women is now higher in comparison with the earlier years of theological training, there are still questions about the quality of their training, the objectives and the expediency of curriculum. A research report on theological seminaries in Kerala in 1999 revealed various gender-based inequalities practiced in the social, academic and ministry dimensions of training.189 In terms of the training of women in theological seminaries, the current situation raises not only the cognitive issues but also questions relating to the real experiences of women in their cultural setting.
Awareness of Marginalization of Women
Practices and structures of marginalization were addressed by Indian women in the 1980s and there arose a movement of women that spoke up for their rights and rightful positions in the church and seminaries.
In the eighties the theologically trained women of India began organizing themselves to represent women concerns to the church leaders and to demand their rights within the church and its ministry. We noted that they formed their Association of Theologically Trained Women in India [ATTWI]. Many Church leaders as well as theological educators in the Serampore affiliated Colleges were open to ATTWI. Senate took women representatives on its Council and Board of Theological Education. Changes are inevitable and already found taking momentum.190 Arles discusses the national study in collaboration with the newly founded ATTWI in the seventies and lists interesting observations such as, the accelerating involvement of young women in theological education, a third of clergy being either neutral or negative on women’s coming to the training for ministry. A commission appointed by the Board of Theological Education in 1984 highlighted the unjust patterns of sex discriminations: “Sex and social origins are two major issues in the current situation of theological education in BTE related Colleges.”191 The situation in 1984 was obviously a male-dominated picture, “95% of students, 90% of the teachers and 94% of the governing board members of Senate affiliated colleges are male; and in several colleges all three groups are 100% male. This is seen as reflecting the situation in Indian societal and church leadership.”192 Arles argues that situations have improved but cannot be measured because of a lack of data from the past. Although current research has not undertaken a rigorous quantitative study, the best guess for the present statistic of women enrolment in seminaries would be 35-45%. However, still “women have only marginal opportunities in the teaching and training programmes.”193 Major liabilities of theological education in India identified by Arles are its institutionalized sexism and institutionalized casteism. Social scientists who involved in the National Study of Theological Education documented the fact that ‘theological education in India is almost exclusively a male domain’, ‘virtually a monopoly of men’, ‘male enterprise producing an almost exclusively male ministry.’ 194 The earlier Ranson Report195 and the Harrison Report196 failed to systematically address the question of women in theological education.
Church’s Attitude towards Women
There was a growing awareness that the purpose of theological education needs to be reviewed. For some, it is only for ordinands. Hence churches which do not ordain men or women see no need for theological education. Those who do not accept women for the ordained ministry see no need for women to enter theological education. This might be partially the problem of having an imported model in theological education. As per the Harrison Report of 1957, 83% percent of the church leaders and 77% of the theological teachers saw Indian theological education suffering from being too Western in structure, content and purpose. However, once the purpose of theological education is clarified as for more than the ordained role, then there develops a greater openness for women to enter the field.197 Churches and clergy tend to take a neutral stand rather than a radical view on women’s issues in ministry. Reflecting on the church leaders’ stand point on women with regard to the church’s concept of ministry, Arles also observed that, “…By their very office they could not be as radical as some theologians and theological educators.”198 It is often at this juncture that women decide to stand together until they achieve their rightful place in seminary and the ministry of the church. Training becomes ineffective when the theological educators make radical statements that support women’s ministry and both the churches and seminaries fail to practically endorse them. If churches deny opportunities to women in ministry by their very definition of ministry and theological training, what still causes the influx of women into seminaries is another issue that requires enquiry.
Somen Das, who studied the status of women in India, reported that the “Church (in India) through the centuries has significantly and systematically marginalized women in its substantive ministry and theological thinking.”199 On the one hand, with a few notable exceptions, the church verbally acknowledges the gifts of women but on the other relegates them to an inactive role by forbidding the use of their gifts. Writing in this regard Wingate describes the familiar case of a women graduate: “The gap between the level of her training and what she has been able to do have been very great. Even male pastors who were former TTS students were not much help. Probably the issue of collaborative ministry between women and men could have been more directly confronted during training.”200 It is significant here to note that the TTS was the first to start a women’s studies programme in India and had always maintained great emphasis in its liberal approach on issues of women and ‘dalits’.201 Women who have gained higher education in theology also are not affirmed by churches in general. This attitude might have some roots in the cultural distinctiveness of the locality.
Compared to the social developments that seek to rectify gender stereotyping, Christian churches in general choose to remain silent with regard to the concerns of women, as Gonsalves observes,
With the start of Western rule in India and the coming of ‘western’ Christianity, equality and brotherhood (still sexist language) were emphasized. Though some definite moves were made for the emancipation of women, we must admit that our deep-seated constraints are facing real issues related to our women.202 “Sexism is glaringly pronounced in the church. Women are denied theological education in some churches. They are asked to be silent because their leadership is not tolerated.”203 Women are realizing that they have no place of respect or dignity in the churches where they want to serve. According to Kumari,
No one can deny the fact that women outnumber men in all activities of the church as passive participants. It is not an exaggeration to say that without women, no program of the church can be successful. Even in such contexts, the church has managed to keep women silent, powerless, discriminated, and with no opportunities to use their talents and abilities.204 The male-oriented communities often want their women to be content with their private spiritual experiences rather than an urge for a public acceptance. Kumari speaks for Indian women in this regard thus, “Though spirituality may be between the individual and her/his God, with which no one can interfere, such spirituality should lead people to contribute to the community, out of the individual’s spiritual experiences. When structures hinder such a commitment to enrich the community, then the problem arises.”205 The attitudes of churches have been described as ‘painful’ and as causing ‘hurts’ by many women who have openly expressed an intention to serve the church. Kumari describes her experience,
Though as a woman, I studied theology just like men in all sincerity with commitment to serve God and God’s people, the church tradition did not encourage me at all. Realizing the reality of the church and responding to God’s call, I took up the responsibility to educate women and men to know God’s greater truths and to go beyond human made barriers, challenging and breaking the patriarchal and other systems that oppress and discriminate against people in the name of God…..Initially I had to face a lot of problems, mockery, anger, insults etc…. But over the years of perseverance, educating people through Bible Studies, re-reading the Biblical passages that were quoted against women to silence them and other various programs; we opened up the understanding of people to see the oppression, discrimination and gender inequalities and the need to redress it. Though it cannot be said that ‘all is well with women in the churches today’, it can confidently be said that there is openness to listen and to some extent willingness to change.206