Preferred Citation: Burton, Antoinette. At the Heart of the Empire: Indians and the Colonial Encounter in Late-Victorian Britain. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1998 1998.

CHAPTER 2 "Restless Desire" Pandita Ramabai at Cheltenham and Wantage, 1883-86


"Restless Desire"
Pandita Ramabai at Cheltenham and Wantage, 1883-86

Nobody continues to remain in the same state forever. There is nothing in this ever-changing world which stays in the same condition from beginning to end.
Pandita Ramabai, Stree Dharma-Neeti (1882)

When Pandita Ramabai died in 1922, the Times of India remembered her as one of the "makers of modern India." A. B. Shah, who published her letters and correspondence under the auspices of the Maharashtra State Board for Literacy and Culture in 1977, argued that she was "the greatest woman produced by modern India and one of the greatest Indians in all history." Her biographers, meanwhile, have called her the "mother" and the "builder" of modern India.1 Historians of Indian women and feminist scholars interested in the origins and history of women's movements in South Asia have been no less extravagant: as Susie Tharu and K. Lalita put it in Women Writing in India , Ramabai was "a legend in her own lifetime."2 Ramabai's life story and her reform work represent a particularly powerful strand in the many traditions of Indian feminism, since she contested both indigenous patriarchy and colonial role through public discourse and institution-building—activities that received India-wide attention from the 1880s until her death and beyond. In part because she devoted her life to the cause of Indian women, she was at odds with nationalist discourse and with some nationalist leaders, especially in western India, who in mm used her reform program as the basis for their critiques of the anglicization of "true"


Indian social reform.3 Like the history of Indian women's social and political work in the modern period more generally, Ramabai's biography is at once parallel to and in collision with the trajectories of "the Indian nation" and Indian nationalism(s) as well.4

If Ramabai is a "national" subject of Indian history and an indisputably gendered subject of Indian nationalism, she is also the subject of an Indian diasporic movement whose contemporary manifestations have received some attention but whose histories have yet to be written. Gandhi's peripatetic youth, and the impact it had on creating, sustaining, and popularizing a nationalist consciousness, would seem to suggest that being a displaced subject of imperial rule was consequential to political action—that there was something about being in temporary or permanent exile that nurtured resistance by changing the terms, the very grounds, upon which the violence of colonialism was enacted. The fact that so many Indian men who came to London to train as barristers were among the founders and leaders of the Indian National Congress, and that a number of Indian women educated in the West were galvanized to take up social reform in India, may also bear out this speculation. Ramabai's time in Britain was certainly not uniquely responsible for the kind of resistant colonial subject she became. She was already well-known in India before 1883 as a woman willing to challenge Hindu custom by marrying outside of her caste, speaking in public, and holding Indian men accountable for what she viewed as the unfortunate condition of Indian women. And yet, the ground Ramabai covered and the distances she traveled as a young, and later widowed, high-caste woman makes her more radical than her conversion to Christianity, her confrontations with Hindu orthodox opponents over her widows' home, or even her opposition to the Government of India over famine relief in the 1890—all of which gained her great notoriety in her lifetime. In some respects her trip to the United States was even more unconventional than travel to Britain in the nineteenth century.5 Meera Kosambi has argued that it was in part "her life of unceasing pilgrimage" that enabled Ramabai to produce some of the most astutely gendered critiques of nationalist reform and the British imperial civilizing mission in the nineteenth century.6 In an era when travel for high-caste Hindu women was considered unsexing and heretical, those who left India seeking support and education in the West were roundly condemned for defiling themselves, their families, and indeed the very category of "Indian womanhood" itself. They became "public women" in the most disrespectable sense, opening themselves up to physical violence, recrim-



Figure 1 Pandita Ramabai and daughter Manorama.


ination, and ridicule and thereby challenging some of the most basic cultural codes of nineteenth-century civil society.7 Making Indian women's activities outside "South Asia proper" visible is, therefore, a constitutive part of what Radha Kumar has so aptly called "the history of doing"—the history of India's women's work since the early nineteenth century.8

The story of what Ramabai did during her travels both in India and outside it is, in other words, as much a part of Indian "nationalist" history as it is of Indian women's history, even though it may disrupt each of their nation-bounded narratives in different ways—and may belong finally to neither. Her sojourn in England is crucial for understanding how she discovered herself as a colonial subject and how she encountered Christianity as a terrain of imperial power. As Kosambi has suggested, Ramabai's feminist consciousness did not emerge fully formed but developed over time and as a result of a variety of influences, the simultaneous struggle "against church and colonialism" being a formative one.9 This chapter argues that Ramabai's encounter with the domestic mission project in Britain prompted her to refine her understanding of the ways in which colonial social relations were being made through theological argument and evangelical institutional practice in Victorian Britain, and to contest the colonizing power of organized Christianity. Ramabai's engagement with and ultimately her refusal of the terms of Anglican orthodoxy in the metropole helped to shape her militance, her reform commitments, and with them, the history of feminism in its world-historical context. To her patrons, her battles offered a mirror of their own colonial investments and provided an opportunity for them to consolidate their particular versions of what "the English Christian mission to India" ought to be—models of "English" colonizing behavior that arguably depended on a recalcitrant "Indian" convert to shape them and give them cultural meaning. Ramabai's letters and correspondence may therefore be read as an ethnography of the colonial reform project as it was being imagined, carried out, resisted, and reformulated in late-Victorian Britain.

In an article in the Cheltenham College Ladies Magazine in the fall of 1884 called "Notes of Conversations with Ramabai," Pandita Ramabai gave an account of her early life in India, her struggles with Christianity, and her quest to come to Britain so that she could study medicine and help improve the lives of her countrywomen in India. This narrative, like the better known Testimony she was to write for a larger, Christian, and


female reform public in 1907, represents her search for spiritual fulfillment as the motivating purpose of her life. It also bears the marks of her struggle with the variety of English people with whom she had been corresponding and interacting over the terms of her conversion since the fall of 1883. Ramabai emphasized to her English readers both the comfort she had found in the theism of the Brahmo Samaj and her continued dissatisfaction with the philosophical "truths" afforded by the kind of Christianity on offer to potential Hindu converts in India. She wrote that although some of the arguments made by Father Goreh (a Christian convert and a Marathi scholar who resided at the Cowley Fathers' Mission House, next to the sisters' convent in Poona) "moved me somewhat, I never showed that they did, and appeared by no means a hopeful subject." She continued to ask "many questions." Even after she began to be persuaded that "Christianity, was the mother of Theism in India," Ramabai could not let go of the "intellectual difficulties" posed by Christian teachings—difficulties she confessed that the missionaries she argued with in India could not help her resolve. "Unsettled as I was in mind," she told readers of the college Magazine , "I felt a restless desire to go to England."10

Ramabai's construction of her youth as a time of "restless desire" for spiritual satisfaction was no doubt an attempt to understand and represent her trip to Britain as part of a providential trajectory in the early months following her Christian conversion. Such a quest for theological engagement and clarification may have been atypical for an Indian woman of her generation, but it was true to the pattern of pilgrimage that characterized much of her life. She was born into "a learned but indigent Brahmin household."11 Her father, Ananta Dongre (titled Shastri), owned rice fields and coconut plantations in Maharashtra but lost his property as a result of trying to maintain a pilgrimage site on the borders of the princely state of Mysore. He and his family—including Ramabai's paternal grandparents—took up a wandering life, moving from place to place as Puranikas, or readers of the Puranic verses in public.12 This vocation, as Ramabai called it, was a means of earning a living without begging. It was also a way of popularizing the stories, gods, and goddesses of the sacred texts. It was thus a very basic livelihood and a holy exercise as well, insofar as its spiritual purpose was the attainment of Moksha, or "liberation from the everlasting trouble of reincarnation, in millions and millions of animal species, and undergoing the pains of suffering countless millions of diseases and deaths," as Ramabai herself explained it.13 The family's migration began when Ra-


mabai was six months old (ca. 1858): her mother later recounted to her that she had been placed in a cane box and carried around from place to place. "Thus my pilgrim life began when I was a little baby."14

Ramabai had a brother and a sister who lived until early adulthood; she had three additional siblings but they did not live that long; she was the youngest.15 Her mother Lakshmibai, who was her father's second wife, had been encouraged by him to learn to read, and she became well versed in the Puranas as well as other sacred texts. In the early twentieth century, looking back on her parents' marriage, Ramabai was keen to stress that her mother's education had not interfered with her wifely obligations: "[S]he performed all her home duties, cooked, washed, and did all the housework, took care of her children, attended to guests, and did all that was required of a good religious wife and mother." In a culture where learning to read was believed to be enough to make women widows—and in light of her parents' tragic death—Ramabai's emphasis on her mother's respectability may be read as an attempt to protect Lakshmibai's reputation as well as her father's memory from orthodox criticism almost half a century after their demise.16 Her mother's literacy brought the opprobrium of local village pundits on Ramabai's father's head during his lifetime. He was summoned to the chief seat of the Madhva Vaishnava sect and compelled to defend his insistence on teaching his wife "the sacred language of the gods."17 According to Ramabai, "[H]is extensive studies in the Hindu sacred literature enabled him to quote chapter and verse of each sacred book, which gives authority to teach women and Shudras." Although such arguments might easily have been deemed heresy, he evidently managed to persuade the guru and the chief pundits before whom he was called that it was not wrong for women and lower-castes to be taught Sanskrit Puranic literature; in any event, they "did not put him out of caste, nor was he molested by anyone after this." That her parents were heroes in Ramabai's eyes there can be little doubt. Their pursuit of religious devotion at the expense of temporal possessions also undoubtedly helped to shape her own quest for a similar kind of spiritual purity and fulfillment. Nevertheless, she regretted that what little money her family had was not used "to advance our secular education [so that] we might have been able to earn our living in some way."18 This was out of the question; the children were totally secluded from non-Hindu practices and people so that they would be "strictly religious and adhere to the old faith." But the wandering life to which Ramabai's father committed his family was a difficult one, plagued by poverty and, by the late 1870s, famine.


As Ramabai recalled in 1907, "[N]othing but starvation was before us." Her father, mother, and sister all succumbed to the famine within two years of each other, and she and her brother were orphaned by the time she was sixteen.19

Given the fact that famine claimed the lives of her parents and sister, it is particularly poignant that Ramabai often figured her own search for spiritual fulfillment as a hunger needing to be satisfied.20 Indeed, she and her brother became "famine wanderers," as Ramabai was to refer to them in later years.21 For some time after they had lost their parents, Ramabai and her brother, Shrinivas, continued to wander, "still visiting sacred places, bathing in rivers, and worshipping the gods and goddesses, in order to get our desire." In one of her autobiographical fragments, Ramabai claimed that they were on the move because they were persecuted by those opposed to her being unmarried, though this explanation drops out in later accounts of her life story.22 What is consistent, however, is the fact that at this point, the faith of their parents began to fail them both. They continued to adhere to caste rules and to "the conditions laid down in the sacred books," but they began to doubt the efficacy of their prayers and practices and to question the possibility that they would be rewarded by the gods for their efforts to lead pure, devotional lives. "Our faith in our religion," wrote Ramabai, "had grown cold." Meanwhile they traveled everywhere on foot, covering much of the subcontinent in their travels. They went as far north as Kashmir and as far east as Calcutta, where they ended up in 1878. In the brief autobiographical narrative she produced for the sisters at Wantage in 1883, Ramabai claimed that she and her brother traveled for six to seven years and walked two thousand miles—making her, as Kosambi has noted, "perhaps the most well-traveled person among her contemporaries." In the Testimony Ramabai wrote in 1907, she remembered the distance as four thousand miles. The discrepancy is not significant except as an indication of how extensive, how unending, and how exhausting this trek was to become in her memory.23

It was in Calcutta that Rarnabai and her brother first came into contact with Christianity. Although Christian missionaries had "mounted a frontal attack through educational institutions and public proselytization" across India during the nineteenth century, she had apparently had little personal contact with them.24 When they attended a "Christian people's gathering" Ramabai and her brother were thus shocked to find Indian men ("whose names sounded like those of Brahmans but whose way of dressing showed that they had become 'Sahibs'") drinking tea


with English people. Ramabai's account of their first experience of a Christian service reads like a mini-ethnography—with a kind of clinical perspective on the practices of Christianity that was one of the hallmarks of her engagement with Western religion. "We looked upon the proceedings of the assembly with curiosity, but did not understand what they were about. After a little while one of them opened a book and read something out of it and then they knelt down before their chairs and some said something with closed eyes. We were told that was the way they prayed to God. We did not sec any image to which they paid homage but it seemed as though they were paying homage to the chairs before which they knelt. Such was the crude idea of Christian worship that impressed itself on my mind."25 She was given a Bible in Sanskrit but it was incomprehensible to her, not just because it was written in a form of Sanskrit that was different from the Sanskrit to which she was accustomed but because the teachings were so different. "I thought it quite a waste of time to read that Book, but I have never parted with it Since.26

There were, however, many other books to read, and Ramabai spent much of her time in Calcutta studying books of Hindu law, the Dharma Shastras, and the Mahabharata. She had learned to read in the first place from her mother, with her father's approval and encouragement.27 Ramabai was approached by pundits in Calcutta to speak to purdah women on the duties of women according to the Shastras. What began as self-education for the purpose of public lecturing became a series of lessons in the concurrence of all Hindu texts on the question of women's exclusion from Moksha—except through reincarnation as a high-caste Hindu man or, alternatively, through "utter abandonment of her will to that of her husband."28 Nor were women allowed to study the Vedas and Vedanta, an exclusion that also had tremendous spiritual implications, since "without knowing them, no one can know the Brahma; without knowing Brahma, no one can get liberation."29 Ramabai herself was reluctant to read the Vedas, until Keshub Chunder Sen (leader of the Brahmo Samaj) gave her a copy of them, implicitly challenging her conviction that to study them would be "breaking the rules of religion." Echoing the reform projects of Jotirao Phule (1827-90), "the father of the non-brahman movement in Maharashtra," Ramabai insisted upon the link between exclusions based on sex and those based on caste, arguing that "these are the two things upon which all Shastras and others are agreed."30 In retrospect, she claimed that this discovery was an awakening: "[M]y eyes were being gradually opened; I was waking up to my


own hopeless condition as a woman, and it was becoming clearer and clearer to me that I had no place anywhere as far as religion was concerned." Her sense of restlessness continued: "I became quite dissatisfied with myself, I wanted something more than the Shastras could give me, but I did not know what it was that I wanted."31

Ramabai's brother died after their arrival in Calcutta; by 1880, as she told the sisters of Saint Mary the Virgin at Wantage, "I was alone in the world."32 Six months thereafter she married "a Bengali gentleman of the Shudra caste" who had been a friend of her brother's.33 She defended her late marriage (she was twenty-two) on the grounds that her father had seen how miserable her sister was made by early marriage; she defended choosing to marry outside her caste by declaring that she had "lost all faith in the religion of our ancestors." These were themes she took up later in The High-Caste Hindu Woman , where she held the Hindu marriage system, together with caste, responsible for gifts' and women's low status and condition.34 In fact, the question of early marriage had plagued her natal household: her progressive father tried to reverse the pattern of residence by keeping her sister at home when she married, but the son-in-law sued and the court upheld his right in accordance with Hindu law.35 Ramabai's husband, Bipin Behari Das, was an educated man; he had degrees from Calcutta University and was a pleader in the court at Sylhet.36 Because she was prohibited by Hindu law from marrying a Shudra, and because "neither my husband nor I believed in the Hindu religion," they were married under the Native Marriage Act III (1872) in a civil court in June of 1880.37 They lived in Silchar (in Assam), and it was here that she had her first formal tutelage in the principles of Christian faith from a Baptist missionary, Isaac Allen. At this stage, Ramabai recalled, she had lost all faith in her "former religion," and "my heart [was] hungering after something better."38 Her husband, who had studied in a mission school, was not supportive of her interest in Christianity; he did not like the idea of his wife "being publicly baptized and joining the despised Christian community." He actually forbade Allen from coming to the house, and, according to Ramabai, had he lived much longer, "I do not know just what would have happened." Her husband died of cholera within a year of their marriage (1881) and Ramabai was now a widow with a baby daughter, Manorama, at the age of twenty-four.39 Undaunted, she moved to Poona, where she was first schooled in English by Miss Hurford, who was attached to the mission staff of the sisters of Saint Mary the Virgin. Here in Poona she also became involved with the leaders of the Prar-


thana Samaj, which had been founded in the wake of Keshub Chunder Sen's visit to Maharashtra in the 1860s.40

Poona was the center of Maratha Brahmanism as well as the site of social reform activity and controversy from the 1860s onwards. Questions of "womanhood" and especially of widow remarriage had been in the forefront of public discussion when Pandita Ramabai arrived in 1882. A society for the promotion of widow remarriage had been established there in 1866 and several prominent reformers, including M. G. Ranade, tried to put reformist ideas into practice by educating their child wives.41 If some reformers welcomed her, however, the challenges she posed to late-nineteenth-century Hindu tradition, as a woman and as a widow who dared to read the sacred texts, were predictably unpopular among conservative Hindus. As the Times of India put it, "[S]he had before her marriage suffered much persecution on account of her advanced views about female emancipation, while the mere fact of her remaining unmarried was calculated to shock the orthodox."42 To be sure, it was because of their "unused" sexuality that widows had to be marked off culturally and physically; they also had to be "shut off from the male gaze and to shut themselves off from their own sexuality."43 And yet it was not these facts alone that made Ramabai such "a startling and uncomfortable figure." As Rosalind O'Hanlon has noted, "[H]er very public condemnations of the consequences of 'respectable' domestic life for Hindu women caused fury most of all because they hit precisely against nationalist attempts to identify home as a sacrosanct domain for Hinduism's innermost spiritual values."44

Ramabai's reform convictions grew out of a deep personal commitment to improving the condition of Indian women. Her concerns about Indian women's "uplift" were shared by a growing number of late nineteenth-century Indian social reformers, some of whom were women—though few of these were as plain-speaking about either the problems confronting Hindu widows or the urgent need for institutional reform to ameliorate their situations.45 Tarabai Shinde, the Maratha Brahman woman whose pamphlet, A Comparison between Men and Women , offered a blistering critique of gender relations in colonial India, was one among several women in western India contemporary with Ramabai who engaged with Hindu tradition in public before Rukhmabai's trial exploded onto the Indian newspaper scene in the mid-eighties and after.46 Shinde's exposition had been prompted by the case of Vijaylakshmi, the widowed daughter of a Gujerati Brahman family, who was sentenced to hang for killing her newborn, illegitimate baby daughter.47 Ramabai's public pro-


nouncements were motivated by the less sensational but equally moving instances of Indian women's suffering that she had observed in her wanderings throughout the Indian subcontinent. She told the sisters at Wantage that while traveling with her brother she had had "a good opportunity of seeing the sufferings of Hindu women" and was "much touched by their sorrows . . . [T]his made us think of how much it was possible to improve the condition of women and raise them out of their degradation. We were able to do nothing directly to help them but in towns and villages we often addressed large audiences of people, and urged upon them the education of women and children. In order to be able to converse with the different races we were obliged to learn Hindi (as it is a general language in India) and Bengalee." After her husband's death, she spoke at various gatherings and meetings, giving publicity to the cause of female education throughout India.48 Together with likeminded men and women in Poona, Ramabai also helped to found the Arya Mahila Samaj, or Aryan Women's Society, which was committed to Indian women's education and social reform. Ramabai was by no means alone in her concerns about widows. D. K. Karve, who was eleven years old when the first widow remarriage was publicly celebrated in Bombay in 1869, was considered by many to be the father of widow rehabilitation in western India. His widows' home project in Poona, which attracted attention in the closing years of the nineteenth century, did much to prepare Indian women for work, reform, and travel to worlds outside India as well.49 In part because Ramabai was received as such a phenomenon on the Maharashtrian scene, it is worth pausing to remark on her accomplishments up to this point: in the midst of an impoverished and difficult childhood, she had become a Sanskrit scholar as a result of training by her mother, and was versed in a number of indigenous languages, with a smattering of English as well. By the age of twenty she was recognized by the tides "Pandita," meaning eminent scholar-teacher, and "Saraswati," a reference to the Hindu goddess of learning, and had commanded the attention of local and presidencywide reformers in western India.50

By the time she was asked to testify for the Government of India's Commission on Education in 1882 (referred to also as the Hunter Commission), Pandita Ramabai had gained considerable renown for her views on the need for reforms for women and children, not just in India but in Britain as well. She told the commission that India's women needed female teacher training and inspectresses of schools—the personnel and the bureaucratic structure, in other words, necessary to guar-


antee both the permanence of women's educational reform and the government's sustained commitment to it.51 And no doubt to the chagrin of some Indian male reformers, she told the commission that 99 percent of the male population in India was opposed to female education.52 Ramabai also spoke to the issue of "lady doctors" in India, advancing what was to become a central claim in English reformers' arguments about the need for female medical aid to Indian women: namely that native women refused to be attended by male doctors and hence required the services of trained female physicians.53 According to Ramabai's testimony, this want of female doctors was the cause "of hundreds of thousands of women dying premature deaths," and she called on the government to make provision specifically for the medical education of Indian women.54 Her concern for health conditions among Indian women undoubtedly prompted her own desire to become a doctor. In her travels throughout India she had been repeatedly moved by the sufferings of Hindu women; her goal, as she put it, was "to fit myself for a life of usefulness, in order to benefit my countrywomen."55 Like several of her Indian women contemporaries, it was the quest for a medical education that brought Pandita Ramabai to England in the first place, since before the mid-1880s there were no facilities for would-be women doctors to study in India, except in Madras.56 She knew the work of the sisters of the Community of Saint Mary the Virgin (CSMV) in Poona, whose efforts on behalf of Indian women had greatly impressed her, and arrangements were made from Poona for her to stay at Wantage.57

According to several sources, Ramabai wanted assistance but was wary of accepting charity.58 Consequently, she undertook to write a book, Stree Dharma-Neeti , published in 1883, and used the proceeds from its sale to finance her passage to England.59 Ramabai's determination to be self-supporting led Sister Geraldine of Wantage to characterize her as willful and proud, but it is clear from Ramabai's own testimonials that self-sufficiency was the only condition under which she was prepared to accept the generosity of communities like Saint Mary's and Cheltenham.60 Characteristically, when she decided to make a trip to the United States in 1886, she wrote what remains her most famous book in the West, The High-Caste Hindu Woman , in order to underwrite the cost of her own expenses. Ten thousand copies of the book sold out before Ramabai left America in 1888, bringing her a profit of Rs. 25,000.61 What's more, she came to Britain on the understanding that she would teach Marathi to the sisters at Wantage in exchange for being


taught English, with her room and board provided.62 The implication of Sister Geraldine's reading of Ramabai is something I shall return to, but it is worth remarking that her insistence upon financing herself enabled her to become "one of the few nineteenth-century women who were able to support themselves with their writing"—either in India or outside it.63 Ramabai traveled to England in the spring of 1883 with her daughter and a female companion, Anandibai Bhagat, who came to England to do a course in teacher training. Ramabai was baptized with the name "Mary Rama" in the autumn of 1883 at Wantage, with Sister Geraldine of the CSMV acting as her spiritual guide and mother.64

This event evidently surprised the missionary community back in Poona, to whom Ramabai had made it clear that she did not intend to convert. Historians interested in Ramabai's life and in social reform for and by women in India more generally continue to speculate as to why she ended up embracing baptism. The sisters at Wantage believed that her conversion was prompted by the suicide of Anandibai in the fall of 1883, but it seems at least equally likely that her decision was motivated by her admiration for the work that the sisters at Wantage did for working-class and "fallen" women.65 Of concern to us here is not determining with absolute certainty why she converted—which we cannot in any event ever know—but rather what kinds of narratives were produced to explain her conversion, by whom, and for what ends.66 The sisters, for their part, were undoubtedly anxious to represent Ramabai's embrace of Christianity as legitimate and sincere, in addition to having been prompted by the need for emotional support in the wake of her friend's death. Her conversion certainly caused a sensation in India, and later provoked severe criticism of her by certain Indian reformers; as Meera Kosambi has noted, B. G. Tilak "started to openly accuse her of nationwide missionary designs."67 Once she had established her own institutions, like the widows' home in Bombay (1889), Ramabai found herself trying continually to balance the competing claims of religious and secular education for Indian women, at odds with both the missionary and the Hindu communities in India—so much so that she came to refer to herself as a "Christian outcast."68

Shortly after her conversion (that is, by January of 1884), Ramabai was in residence at Cheltenham Ladies' College, under the care and guidance of its head, Dorothea Beale. Over thirty years later, looking back on Ramabai's time at the college, Sister Geraldine (1843-1918) explained that she sent Ramabai to Cheltenham because "I would say that intellectually I was not equipped for such work as instructing" her and


because, although Sister Geraldine had spent time in India, "my work had almost wholly been in a European and Eurasian high school, and so I had had no experience in native work."69 There is no evidence in the correspondence to suggest that the CSMV sisters sent Ramabai to Cheltenham for any other reason except that they wished her to pursue her education.70 It was not theological differences, in other words, which prompted Sister Geraldine to send Ramabai to Cheltenham; these developed after Ramabai left for Cheltenham. Even in their most disputatious moments, Pandita Ramabai and Sister Geraldine kept up a vigorous correspondence that was virtually uninterrupted for several years.71 Their letters, as well as those between Ramabai and Beale, Beale and Sister Geraldine, and each of the women with Anglican clergymen, provide firsthand evidence of how thoroughly grounded the rhetoric of social relations was in the language of colonial theology, as well as how imperial power relations invariably intruded on personal—even and especially "sisterly"—relationships at the imperial center.

At issue initially was the question of whether or not a cross should be displayed on the CSMV premises in Poona.72 In spite of the fact that Father Goreh and Sister Eleanor of the Poona Mission House both wanted it, Ramabai appears to have been against it. Conceding to Sister Geraldine that a cross might be instructive, Ramabai insisted that it be inscribed in Sanskrit rather than in Latin. Her reasoning on this point was as follows: "Do you think that [the] Latin language has something better in it than our old Sanskrit or have you the same feeling for the Latin as the Brahmins have for Sanskrit (i.e. to think it to be the Sacred Language and spoken by God and Angels)? I stick fast to Sanskrit, not because I think it to be sacred or the language of the gods, but because it is the most beautiful, and the oldest language of my dear native land. And, therefore, if I must have a Cross, I should like to see Sanskrit words written upon it instead of the Latin words."73 Ramabai's concern was for the successful transmission of Christianity to Indian soil, and her objection to the Latin inscription was, as she indicates, that most Indians, and Indian women in particular, would be mystified by its meaning. "I do not myself understand the Latin, neither (do) my countrywomen (with some exceptions). And even also Latin is not the mother tongue of the Marathi (people), so our Indian sisters will not find a single word in it that they know or is like to some word that is known to them. Then why should we be kept in ignorance of our professed text?"74 For Rarnabai it was a question of evangelical strategy, as well as a lesson in cultural literacy. She informed Sister Geraldine that she was going to


write and tell Father Goreh that "in some things I cannot agree with him."75 As she did in the case of other theological issues, Sister Geraldine interpreted Ramabai's stance as willful disobedience, telling her bishop that "I . . . tried to make the difficulty which arose an opportunity for showing her that she could not act independently but must defer in her judgment to those in authority."76 Ramabai, in contrast, viewed the cross incident with the intellectual curiosity of an enthusiastic convert. She referred to her own discussion of the inscription as "my argument" and closed her letter to Sister Geraldine with the hope that "you will of course write to me what you think."77

As time went on the doctrinal conflicts became more detailed, more acrimonious, and more polarizing. Ramabai raised objections to the doctrine of the Trinity, the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Athanasian Creed, and the deity of Christ.78 It is important to note that these were not concerns mentioned in passing; nor did they arise casually in the course of epistolary conversation. Both Ramabai and Sister Geraldine wrote pages and pages delineating their respective positions, quoting extensively from scriptural texts, and invoking contemporary theological authorities to reinforce or legitimate their points.79 Their exchanges embody the kind of genuine spiritual anguish for which the Victorians are so well-known, and that at times seems inaccessible to modern sensibilities. For Sister Geraldine the difficulty was particularly acute, since it became clear that Ramabai had been baptized while still in doubt over the nature of the Trinity and (a related issue) the divinity of Jesus.80 Such doctrinal doubts on Ramabai's part were perhaps fueled by her encounter with all kinds of Christian denominations in England—"such a Babel of religions," as she put it.81 Sister Geraldine lectured Ramabai on the dangers of heresy, asking, "[I]s the Church wrong in not allowing into her Communion those whose teaching and practice is not in accordance with that given to us by our Lord?"82 Ramabai's reply was equally direct. "Am I to submit to your teaching that your Anglican Church is the sole treasury of truth and that all other bodies are sinning against the Church and teaching false religion? But I think otherwise. And I cannot hold my peace."83 She even produced her own version of the creed, which she claimed to "derive directly from Christ's teaching."84 As A. B. Shah has written, Ramabai's interpretations struck at the heart of "the Church's insistence on unquestioning uniformity." It was a uniformity to which Sister Geraldine, for her part, unquestioningly adhered. In her capacity as Ramabai's spiritual mother in England, she felt responsibility for her charge's religious education. As she herself readily admitted, "I


will not ask you to take this on my authority," since for Sister Geraldine it was the church and Holy Scripture who together dictated the conditions of faith.85 Ramabai's own spiritual doubts notwithstanding, Sister Geraldine clearly wished to fashion Ramabai's Christianity in her own image.

As Ramabai was quickly to discover, Sister Geraldine was not the only one with an interest in developing Ramabai's religious life. Dorothea Beale was equally involved in shaping her spiritual direction, and she shared Sister Geraldine's concern that Ramabai was being unduly influenced by other religious viewpoints, most notably those of some local "ladies of the Unitarian interest."86 Whether Ramabai's interest in contemporary nonconformity was the product of her own theological inquiries or of the influence of friends in Cheltenham and environs is not easily discernible from the correspondence. It was probably a combination of both. She read widely in nineteenth century theological literature, from Canon Westcott to Max Muller to Rammohun Roy, and she was extremely well versed in scriptural texts as well. What remains certain is that Beale saw herself as the one to step in and clarify Ramabai's views on Christianity. Writing to assuage Sister Geraldine's doubts, Beale assured her that Ramabai would in the end be "firmly established in the Christian faith" and fully able to preach conversion upon her return to India, but only if she could be persuaded to study Christianity "as a philosophy. She cannot," Beale continued, "receive it merely as an historical revelation, it must also commend itself to her conscience . . . If she docs not find someone to whom she can speak freely, she will be silent, and might easily pass into Unitarianism . . . I cannot help thinking that God has given me some preparation of mind and heart to help her with."87 Beale's allusion to her own spiritual crises (to which she made reference more than once in correspondence with Sister Geraldine) was intended to reassure the sisters about her capacity to help Ramabai. She had struggled with her own religious doubts in the 1870s—doubts that had temporarily plunged her into depression and a "fever" of the soul.88 Needless to say, her view of Christianity as a "philosophy" can hardly have comforted Sister Geraldine. Beale later proffered her opinion that it was not prudent "to try to keep her away from people . . . who think differently. She has gone through so much already, and now she has got her feet on a Rock, these currents will not sweep her away, I am persuaded."89 In fact, it was always Beale's position that Ramabai was eminently "teachable." "We must not be anxious," she


wrote, "but really trust God with that wonderful mind and character that He has fashioned for her."90

Ramabai's spiritual education became something of a contest of authority between Beale and Sister Geraldine. Their triangular correspondence is evidence not just of Ramabai's contest of the colonial mission project but of the ways in which colonialism could and did bring colonizers into conflict with each other as well. In the wake of a letter from Ramabai in which she had detailed her difficulties in accepting the doctrine of the perfect nature of the Savior,91 Sister Geraldine wrote anxiously to the Bishop of Lincoln about the effects of Ramabai's time at Cheltenham on the direction of her spiritual life:

Miss Beale hardly recognizes the position she is placing herself in. She is undoubtedly misunderstanding and mismanaging Ramabai—and when Ramabai has thrown us off [as] she is certain to do if Miss Beale continues the attitude she is at present taking with her, Ramabai will at the first rub with Miss Beale throw off her authority too.

This will cause an open scandal, and it will not reflect well on the part Miss Beale has played in the matter. She did distinctly say to me and others [that] she considered a year at Cheltenham enough, and now recalls her words.92

At one point both Ramabai and Beale believed that Sister Geraldine wanted Ramabai to leave Cheltenham on account of their differences,93 despite Sister Geraldine's reassurance to Ramabai that "money is no consideration where your welfare is concerned. We wish only to do the very best for you."94 Beale, for her part, apparently felt threatened enough by the insinuation that Ramabai's experiences at Cheltenham were responsible for her "straying," to write to Canon Butler to dissuade him from making a similar conclusion.95 In any event both Beale and Sister Geraldine felt that their reputations were on the line. At stake in their determination to control and monitor Ramabai's spiritual progress according to their own lights was their authority as "professional" Christian women—as well as the professional reputation of the female-based institutions that they oversaw.

Neither Beale nor Sister Geraldine were, of course, able to act as free agents. Although the all-women communities that they supervised are both examples of what some enterprising English women were able to achieve under the constraints of late-Victorian social and political structures, each one was accountable ultimately to the patriarchal institutions that governed them.96 It might be argued that given the basically secular


character of Cheltenham, Beale was less vulnerable than Sister Geraldine was to her Anglican superiors. At the same time, however, Beale was not without her own worries. In August of 1885, when Ramabai declined an invitation to a retreat at Wantage, Beale regretfully endorsed Ramabai's choice, apparently to avoid a confrontation with her own superior. "I don't think the Dean will enter into her difficulties," she wrote to Sister Geraldine, "and if he expects her to bow down, and she will not, then the breach will be widened. I am so sorry."97 Both women corresponded with superiors in the church, and each was concerned that she might be held responsible for what was considered by 1885 to be Ramabai's virtual apostasy. Their concerns were very real. For as Ramabai's ability to articulate her dissension—her determination to speak in "a voice of my own"98 —became more and more evident, it appeared to those involved that the "eclipse" of her religious faith was endangering what the Anglican Church intended to be Ramabai's true purpose: namely, that she return to India in an evangelical capacity and convert natives in her homeland to Christianity. If the church officials with whom she corresponded understood that her original intention was to become a medical doctor, they had to be reminded of it.99 According to Sister Geraldine, that plan seems to have been abandoned fairly early on in her stay because of Ramabai's deafness. In any event, from the point of view of the churchmen, Ramabai was to be schooled in the correct forms of Christianity. As Eric Hobsbawm has observed, the late nineteenth century was "the classic age of massive missionary endeavor."100 She had to be set straight at least in part because she was intended to be a soldier in the vast missionary army that advanced the spread of Christianity in Britain's empire.101

By the mid-1880s, that army had a number of native converts in its ranks—though not so many that the Anglicans among them who had become missionaries couldn't be listed by name in the Church Missionary Society's history, written in 1899. The CMS's college at Islington had been training Indian, Chinese, African, and Turkish men, and even one Maori chief, since the 1850s; among its graduates was Father Goreh himself. Relatively few native missionaries were women, and many of those, like Cornelia Sorabji's mother, were married to local clergymen.102 Ramabai's celebrity made her a potentially important ally for the CMS, one not to be lost through mismanagement. Hence the bishops of Lahore and Bombay, with whom Beale, Sister Geraldine, and Ramabai all corresponded, were extremely anxious to prevent Ramabai's religious "wanderings" from endangering her evangelical potential in the mission


field.103 Explanations about how Ramabai's "mission" might be placed at risk varied. There were some who from the beginning viewed Ramabai's very presence in England as itself deleterious to the success of evangelization. According to the Bishop of Lahore in England: "I fear there will be an end to her great work as a Reformer in India, if she remains on this side of the water. If she has not the heroic courage I take her to have, she will of course gladly settle down and become an English lady; but my impression is that the wail of her Indian sisters will not suffer her to rest, till she has mingled her tears with theirs, not in the way of sympathy at a distance, but where they can trickle from face to face."104

The Bishop of Bombay feared much the same, warning that too long in England would render Ramabai "spoilt" and "useless for all work in India." In response to news that Ramabai was considering taking up public lecturing on Indian subjects, he wrote the following to Dorothea Beale: "There is not a missionary or a Bishop in India who would not endorse what I say. A native Christian (Anglicised) is ruined for life as far as future usefulness is concerned. I consider that if Ramabai begins to lecture . . . the hope of her doing good work among her countrywomen is at an end . . . Ramabai owes herself to her countrywomen. English girls have not the shadow of a claim on her, and every moment that she gives to them means a fresh obstacle in the way of her discharging what is clearly the one function to which God has called her."105 And, in a line that illustrates some of the institutional pressure Sister Geraldine may have been laboring under, he wrote, "Had I ever dreamt of the Sisters allowing such an arrangement to be made without asking the advice of those to whom it would have been natural that they should look in such a case, I should have warned them how fatal it might prove."106

The question of Ramabai's public lecturing animated much of her correspondence with both the bishops and her various English "sisters" in 1885. Given the radical political meanings attached to English women speaking in public during this period, the bishop may have been anxious about the scandal her publicity might bring upon the Anglican community. An equally likely explanation can be found in contemporary notions about the seclusion of women in India and the efficacy of separate-sphere ideologies for conversion in non-Western societies. In keeping with late-nineteenth-century Christian missionary ideology, Ramabai's usefulness was considered to be directly fled to her personal access, as an "authentic" Indian woman, to the masses of women in India—


"not in the way of sympathy at a distance," as the Bishop of Lahore had put it, "but where . . . [the tears] can trickle from face to face."107 Concerns about Ramabai's "publicity" revolved around the scandal it would cause in India "even among the better sort of native men." Moreover, according to the Bishop of Bombay, "nothing would ever undo the harm it would do her among native women."108 It therefore seemed critical to the Anglican clergy that "we must be careful not to advertise her, or to make too much of her in 'public' . . . it would not be well for her to have anything to do with any but her own sex."109 "Public" here can be taken to mean outside of the all-women's communities of Wantage or Cheltenham. Eager to mould Ramabai into the most efficient instrument for evangelization possible, the Anglican hierarchy invoked the practices of purdah as they understood them as justification for secluding Ramabai from the public eye in England. Contamination of Ramabai by public exposure to mixed audiences would, it was believed, endanger her special access to Indian women—access not afforded to either male or female British missionaries nor even to male Indian converts. The prohibitions placed on her lecturing in public may well have been intended to discipline a willful convert, but they were also part of a set of strategies designed to maximize evangelical success. Furthermore, by dictating the terms of her experience in England, the bishops were intending to shape the methods of her future work in India.

Dorothea Beale, educator that she was, intervened with the Bishop of Bombay to explain the benefits of Ramabai's services to her immediate community. Beale told the bishop that English girls who "in the natural course of things, will go to India" were getting to know "the native mind" through informal sessions and Sanskrit lessons with Ramabai at Cheltenham.110 "Her one desire," Beale reassured him, "is to see some institutions at work for the higher education of her countrywomen, and for delivering them from the evils and utter degradation of many a widow's life."111 Ramabai, for her part, saw the Anglican clergy's objections as a misrepresentation of social practices in India and, ultimately, as an interference with her personal liberty. She railed at the insinuation that English bishops knew India better than she did, and that therefore she should submit to their judgment. To argue such a thing, she told Sister Geraldine frankly, "is plainly saying no less than that the people who are not of that country know India and its people far better than I do, who am born and brought up in it and that you or rather the people who are your advisors, do not trust me and my honour, that they have the authority to decide anything for me, and that I ought not to have a


voice of my own to say anything against that decision . . . I know India and its people . . . better than any foreigners even if they have been staying in India from [a] long time before I was born. If you and your countrypeople do not trust the people of India, it matters little, but for my part, I do trust and love my country with all my heart."112 Over the course of several letters, Ramabai informed Sister Geraldine that she had spoken publicly in India by the invitation of a variety of pundits, and that as far as teaching or lecturing to men or mixed audiences was concerned, her parents had fully approved. It was not, in other words, the break with cultural tradition that the bishops were trying to make it. "You can call some of my countrywomen 'hedged,' "she conceded, "but you cannot apply this adjective to Marathi Brahmin women." Referring to Sister Geraldine's own experiences in Poona, she reminded her that "you have seen yourself that Marathi ladies are neither hedged nor kept behind thick veiled curtains." In what was perhaps a slight against "enlightened" British rule in India, she pointed out that "even in the days of Mussulman rulers they never used to be so."113

In addition to defending her right to do as she chose in England, Ramabai was intent on defining her own concepts of reform in India and, more specifically, what shape her reform work there would take. She assured Sister Geraldine that she was not really particularly anxious to be giving lessons or lecturing to young men, "but I am anxious to do away with all kinds of prejudices which deprive a woman in India of her proper place in society."114 She went on to ask: "Can I confine my work only to women in India and have nothing to do with men? I do not think so. To help women to come forward in the society I must first of all . . . teach men of poorer classes. Then when men arc convinced of the necessity of elevating the condition of their women, I shall have access to their Zenanas. Unless I begin to have regular and pure intercourse with men, I shall in vain hope and try to help my countrywomen."115 Ramabai's vision of how social reform should proceed was dearly at odds with the gender-specific, gender-targeted evangelical strategies articulated by the Anglican bishops—strategies that in fact underpinned the entire ideological apparatus of evangelization in the nineteenth century. What is more, in this passage at least, her reform concerns seem, in the absence of any explicitly evangelical language, to be quite secular.

Finally, Ramabai made it clear that while she would not act against Sister Geraldine's decision, "I do not want to ask or follow the opinion of the bishops before whom you are going again to put this matter." To


Sister Geraldine's accusation that she was abusing her liberty and was in danger of being labeled lawless, she responded fiercely and without equivocation. "I have not acted as a lawless woman," she told her, "and never want to do so. When people decide anything for me, without consulting me about it, I of course call it interfering with my liberty, and am not willing to let them do it. Suppose you were in my place and an unknown bishop were to advise your friends to decide a thing for you without telling you about it, and your friends did so, what would you think of it? Would you feel bound to accept every word or rule which comes from the bishop as the expression of the will of the Most High[?] Perhaps you would. I am not quite sure about it . . .. "As for her conscience, she assured Sister Geraldine that "it does not trouble me in this matter and that is quite enough. It will be impossible for me to follow others in every single act and to be always pleasing them and never think of myself."116 Ramabai understood that this debate over her "publicity" was nothing less than a struggle for defining the terms of Indian women's emancipation, and she saw that struggle as intimately tied up with her own personal battle for self-determination. Here she confided to Beale what she could not say directly to Sister Geraldine: "In such a matter and in all other matters, I shall speak openly and plainly that they have no right to decide anything for me. And I shall not allow anyone to lay hand on my personal liberty. I have taken all matters concerning me in my own hand. Although I am poor and weak in body I have (thank God Who has given me it) a mind strong enough to resist all these meaningless social customs which deprive a woman of her proper place in society."117 That woman was in this case Ramabai herself, and her "proper place" was as a social reformer of her own fashioning in India. In the end, Ramabai was true to her word, and the question of lecturing in England never came up again—though she lectured throughout her tour of the United States and became an influential speaker for the Women's Christian Temperance Union in India.118

Protecting Ramabai's reputation by controlling her movements in other, more intrusive ways had been of strategic concern to the English women involved in her life since the very beginning of her time in Britain. She was originally intended to come under the supervision of Sister Elizabeth, but that plan had to be scotched because Elizabeth was in charge of a rescue home for fallen women in Fulham and it was deemed inappropriate for Ramabai to be living there.119 Limiting Ramabai's mobility was considered essential to safeguarding her respectability. Sister Geraldine worked hard to dissuade her from going by herself to Lon-


don, even though she was hardly unchaperoned: she stayed with Mrs. Gilmore of the CMS—one of the "local ladies" whom Sister Geraldine so distrusted. Gilmore was a member of the Society and had traveled to India in the early 1880s; she would also play a role in Sorabji's experience of domestic missionary reform.120 Ramabai was invited out by Dr. Frances Hoggan as well, a medical doctor who practiced in India and who asked her to see "an exhibition of women's work conducted by women" in Bristol.121 Ramabai visited the memorial to Rammohun Roy while there and spent some time in the company of a single Indian man, a Mr. Rao, whom Ramabai had evidently invited to come to Britain as her escort after her friend Anandibai Bhagat's death. It was an outing that continued to distress Sister Geraldine some forty years after the fact.122

For someone who had been as mobile as Ramabai, these restrictions chafed, especially since her own relatives had not imposed any such limitations on her activities. Nor was she unaware of the importance of decorum for women, having devoted a whole section on the subject in Stree Dharma-Neeti , published in 1882 before her trip to England.123 "It surprises me very much to think that neither my father nor my husband objected [to] my mother's or my teaching young men while some English people arc doing so," she wrote spiritedly to Sister Geraldine in the spring of 1885. "It is true [that Hindu women] do not mix as a general rule with men as you do in England, but you cannot say now some of them do not [do] so. I am one of those 'some' and am not afraid of men."124 Ramabai thereby signaled her rejection of any attempt by the Anglican patriarchs to usurp what they imagined, wrongly, to be the paternal authority of her father and husband in matters concerning her public self-representation. Nor did she fail to use this occasion as an opportunity to challenge directly the authority of the church and its representatives over her: "It seems to me that you are advising me . . . to accept the will of those who have authority, etc. This however I cannot accept. I have a conscience, a mind and judgment of my own, I must think [for] myself and so [do] everything which GOD has given me the power of doing . . . I am . . . not bound to accept every word that falls down from the lips of bishops or priests . . . I have just with great efforts freed myself from the yoke of the Indian priestly tribe, so I am not at present willing to place myself under a similar yoke by accepting everything which comes from the priests as [the] authorized command of the most high."125

Here Ramabai was instructing the metropolitan Christian establishment in the particular stakes and peculiar difficulties of becoming a


Christian convert under colonial rule, by unmasking how implicated the Anglican hierarchy was in the maintenance of imperial power relations through its disciplining of converts like herself. No doubt she understood that her conversion was a kind of "civil death," casting her out permanently from Hindu communities in India and making her an always recalcitrant subject of colonial Christian authority.126 Ramabai's refusal to fall under the "yoke" of either Hindu or Christian orthodoxies may well represent a quest, to borrow from Gauri Viswanathan, for an "uncolonial" space where new forms of resistance could be imagined and articulated.127 But it is equally a declaration of her determination not to be fixed in the space where British imperial power and colonial Christianity were not just contiguous, but completely coincidental. It also reflects her recognition that the challenges her presence represented to colonial reformers was not merely a question of imperial Christian authority or even gender relations, but a matter of how convictions about Indian racial and cultural inferiority could shape the colonial encounter in Britain. Ramabai used Sister Geraldine and Beale as sounding boards for these contests of ecclesiastical-imperial authority, but at the same time she was not shy about confronting the bishops themselves. As she told Canon Buffer, "You have never gone through the same experience of choosing another religion for yourself, which was totally foreign to you, as I have. . .. You, wise and experienced and old as you are, cannot interpenetrate my poor feelings. You will, I trust, not be offended if I say so, for no man is omniscient . . . If a Hindoo theologian—however learned and holy and good he may be—comes and tells you your religion was a false one, and that you were to accept humbly everything that he taught, could you do it?"

If this is an assertion of the validity of personal experience over the dictates of the church's teachings, it is also an unabashed attempt to equalize relations between a church canon and a "native" convert. Although candid and confrontational, Ramabai remained eager to demonstrate that she retained no ill will toward her adversaries, typically signing her letters "your humble child in Christ" or "your loving pupil" and almost always using her baptismal name, "Mary Rama"—perhaps as a reminder of her attachment to and sincerity about her new faith. She also sometimes added a postscript, reassuring either Sister Geraldine or the bishops that she intended no disrespect and valued the opportunity to speak freely to them on such contentious issues. Buffer, for his part, was unmoved; after receiving the letter in which Ramabai exhorted him to consider himself in her position, he wrote to Beale lamenting


Ramabai's "vanity" and reasserting that "the real danger to her lies in the courting she receives."128

As these exchanges indicate, Pandita Ramabai's very presence alarmed her correspondents because she was disturbing the natural order of things. In this context the "natural order" was not just the subordination of native willfulness to English wisdom or even of native Christians to British ecclesiastical authority, but potentially of the Anglican sisters' prescribed submission in clerical matters to the male hierarchy.129 The Bishop of Lahore insisted that it was the fact of Ramabai in England that threatened to undermine her potential for missionary work. " As a rule I have protested," he wrote to Beale in May of 1884, "against young Christian being sent over to England, as they have almost uniformly scorned work among their own country men, and become wholly denationalised."130 In the same letter he suggested that Ramabai might be appropriate for his mission station. That he viewed her as a prize in terms of his personal missionary goals in India cannot be in doubt: "I do not wish to covet the advantage such an arrangement would give to the Mission work in my own Diocese," he assured Beale, "but would do my best to promote it, if the opening should occur, and the course of God's Providence should render it desirable."131 His suggestion, however veiled, is that the cost of the English women's carelessness might be the removal of Pandita Ramabai herself from the communities at Cheltenham and Wantage sooner than expected. Ramabai was alternately viewed as damaged goods, as too valuable an investment to be lost, and as the best "native" commodity the Christian church had access to. In all three cases, the quality of her performance in the mission field was seen to depend on the orthodoxy of her religious education. It was this contingency that made control of her spiritual direction—one might also say, of her spiritual life—so essential. There were some who feared that it was already too late. George Hunter, the director of Indian medical work at Oxford, told Beale that "her influence as a fellow countrywoman with Indian natives is utterly at an end. She will have no more access than an English woman." His advice was to bring her up to be as English as may be, and then to "let her go as part of the staff of some English institution."132 Canon Buffer did not necessarily agree, and, in keeping with the contemporary belief that the conversion of women was the task of women, he told Beale that "I think Ramabai's knowledge of Indian ways, etc. will give her a power of influence which no English woman can have." What she badly needed, in his view, was "an English development of her Indian brains."133 The fact that Ramabai


was allowed to remain in England testifies to the power of the conviction that time spent in Britain had its inevitably civilizing effects, and that those effects were divinely ordained. As the Bishop of Bombay later clarified to Beale, "I did not mean to say that I regretted her having come to this country at all. That seems to have been God's providential way of bringing her to the truth."134

For the most part, Sister Geraldine concurred with the bishops' sentiments. She framed the problem as one of disobedience not simply to religious authority, but to imperial authority as well. Of Ramabai's frustration, she wrote to Beale: "She has to learn that as a Christian, she is bound to accept the authority of those over her in the Church. She is a little inclined to take too independent a line, and though this is but a temporal matter [the issue of public lecturing], yet she should be willing even in this, to accept the opinion of those, who from their position in India and from their experience had a right to speak." She moreover urged Beale to use the occasion to "give her a little teaching on submission to authority," in order that Ramabai might derive a "fruitful" lesson from the incident.135 Ramabai's actual deafness may have seemed more than a little ironic to Sister Geraldine, symbolizing for her as it must have the Indian woman's apparent inability to hear the messages of the "true faith."136

Beale's reactions were on the whole more sympathetic. She wrote to Sister Geraldine that she could understand why Ramabai considered her right to public lecturing "a matter of principle." According to Beale, "It seems a matter in which we ought not to bind her conscience, indeed she feels she could not be bound." To Canon Butler however she wrote to apologize for Ramabai's angry tone and to try to present Ramabai's position in the best possible light: "She will never perhaps think exactly as we do, but if she did, she would not so well be a teacher for India. I am now beginning to see, for instance, why she does not so readily accept sacramental teaching as we do. She is afraid of its being confused by native thought with their own pantheism."137 In what was perhaps her most welcome gesture to Ramabai, Beale wrote that "we can object to everything because we can fully understand nothing."138 Ramabai took great comfort in Beale's willingness to engage her in constructive dialogue, and at one point called her "a fellow-labourer with me" for truth.139

Beale, it must be said, had her own priorities: she was as concerned as the Anglican clergy that Ramabai not be spoiled for work in India. Like many women reformers of her generation she believed that Indian


women needed English women's direction; and, again, like many of her contemporaries, she hoped to contribute to enterprises that would help Indian women in India "to lead a life of usefulness . . . instead of the life of degradation and uselessness that makes them regret the times of Suttee."140 She viewed Ramabai's residence at Cheltenham as an encouragement to young college girls interested in working on behalf of Indian women—an interest that Beale was eager to cultivate through the person of Ramabai herself. In a letter to Sister Geraldine in 1885 she said she hoped that Ramabai might eventually found "some sort of college for teaching the widows," presumably prompted by the example of Beale's own establishment at Cheltenham.141 Moreover, gifts from the Royal Bounty Fund and from Prime Minister Gladstone toward Ramabai's stay at Cheltenham gave the college something of a public profile, connecting Cheltenham with the growing philanthropic commitment to Indian women's education, which was of special interest to Queen Victoria.142 None of this suggests that Beale's sympathies with Ramabai's spiritual crises were anything but genuine, only that Beale anticipated that Ramabai's success and happiness in England might have some material benefits for Indian women and, not incidentally, for her own educational institution and its reputation as well. Her biographer Josephine Kamm discerned Beale's investment in Ramabai and represented their relationship as teacher-student, if not mistress/disciple—as when Kamm later recalled that when Ramabai returned to India, "she founded a mission school and a training college which faithfully reflected much of Dorothea's teaching."143

Beale and Sister Geraldine did not necessarily agree on the form of Christianity that Ramabai should adopt, on how to "manage" her, or, for that matter, on what the exact nature of her "mission" to India might be. And yet they both attributed what they perceived as her slippage from Christian orthodoxy to the fact that she was Indian and, more specifically, to her connections with the Brahmo Samaj. Beale felt that a residual Brahmoism had "developed [in her] a feeling against the miraculous clement."144 "A little impatience on our part," she feared, "might throw her back into the Unitarian teaching of the Brahmo Samaj."145 This was a concern shared by Sister Geraldine and may account for their shared paranoia about Unitarian influences in and around Cheltenham. As Sister Geraldine wrote to Reverend Gore sometime in the summer of 1885: "From what I saw of Ramabai during the Easter vacation, I feel that her tendency was to take up an independent line . . . I fear the love of popularity is a very great snare to her, and that she has


been of late in correspondence with some of her old Brahmo friends and has some idea of working with them in the future. A diluted Christianity without Christ is what I feel she is in danger of drifting in to."146 Years later, Sister Geraldine attributed Ramabai's theological "drifting" to a "great want in the Hindu mind": its pantheism makes it "illogical and this lack of logical reasoning doubtless hinders the reception of the thought of the Kingdom of Heaven extending and embracing earth."147 Sister Geraldine was by no means alone in this view. As Eugene Stock, a historian of the CMS and a contemporary of Sister Geraldine's, put it, "Hinduism has never satisfied the more thoughtful Hindus."148 Although Sister Geraldine's mistrust of Ramabai, and her conviction that Ramabai's background was a perpetual threat to her Christian orthodoxy, should be read as concern for her charge's spiritual health, it is also true that Sister Geraldine harbored conventional Victorian notions of what Indian, and more specifically, Hindu, women were capable of.149 As she wrote to Dorothea Beale in December of 1883, "[I]n committing her to your care, we desire to do so from the standpoint that a parent places a child with you for education."150 And again later: "[W]e feel she needs as careful guarding and as much holding in as those who are much younger in point of age than herself."151 As time went on, the twin characterizations of childishness and vanity dominated Sister Geraldine's explanations of why Ramabai failed to embrace certain orthodox precepts.152 She had reason, one imagines, to emphasize Ramabai's essential "Indianness" over the apparent failure of her own spiritual influence. In any event, the more trenchant Ramabai's challenges to authority, the more "native" she became in Sister Geraldine's eyes. Applying her most savage characterization to Ramabai's criticisms of the Indian government's famine relief policies in the 1890s, she labeled her "disloyal,"153 "childish, sensational and seditious."154

Such allusions to the childishness, untrustworthiness, and vanity of Indians arc typical instances of late-nineteenth-century European orientalism and are thus Perhaps not surprising in this context. That said, they clearly structured Sister Geraldine's entire relationship with Ramabai. Because she could only view Ramabai's informed resistance as prideful and vain—the tantrums of an ignorant child—she dismissed Ramabai's doctrinal quarrels as "fictions residing in the manifold recesses of . . . [her] fertile brain."155 This was precisely the attitude that eventually alienated Ramabai from Wantage and, finally, from Sister Geraldine herself. Most significantly, these orientalist prejudices, reinforced by the belief that Hinduism constituted a continual temptation to Indian


Christian converts on their native soil, ultimately prevented Sister Geraldine from having much confidence in Ramabai's abilities to work at what the church intended to train her for—evangelization of one sort or another in colonial India. For a time, Sister Geraldine seemed to think Ramabai's willfulness in matters theological might be cured. Thus she wrote to the Reverend Gore in 1885: "I think England is better for Ramabai in her present state of mind. Were she now to return to India, Christianity would, I fear, lose its hold of her entirely."156 Gradually, however, she began to have less faith in Ramabai's potential as an instrument of Christianity, in India, possibly because she began to realize that Ramabai's tendency toward spiritual independence was not temporary. Ramabai's estimable reform career in India would compel Sister Geraldine later to admit that Ramabai's "independent mind has brought her into . . . prominence with the whole civilized world."157 In the 1880s, however, she confided to Dorothea Beale that while Ramabai might be capable of organizing missionary efforts in India, she was not capable of running a mission herself.158

As Sister Geraldine's correspondence with Ramabai suggested time and again, she believed that willfulness in doctrinal matters presaged disaster in the mission field and might even endanger the whole British missionary enterprise. What is revealing here is not so much Sister Geraldine's convictions—they arc what one might expect of a late-nineteenth-century Anglican nun—but rather the authority that she claimed, and that she attempted to exercise, over Ramabai herself. Though she readily ceded doctrinal authority to scripture, and her own authority to that of her ecclesiastical superiors, she was not willing to relinquish what she believed to be her final authority on what Ramabai's apostasy meant. The following passage, extracted from a letter to Ramabai, underlines precisely what Sister Geraldine believed to be at stake in Ramabai's challenges to Anglican orthodoxy:

You think the Church uncharitable because it does not allow that those who have broken away from her are still to be accounted as part of her. But look at the question from another point of view. Take for example a corporate body of any kind. It may be either a nation, a municipality, a regiment, school or anything you like to name. It must have its rules, officers and disciplines. If any member, or members, refuse to submit to its officers or otherwise set discipline at nought, they would be free to give up the rights and privileges of membership and go elsewhere. Now the Church is an indivisible Kingdom and delegated Government. Christ is its King, and the Government which He has ordained for His Kingdom is that of Apostles


or Bishops. We as members of Christ's Kingdom's arc not free to choose any other form of religious Government than this.159

As her choice of language indicates, Sister Geraldine saw in Ramabai's "heresies" a threat to the entire imperial order—a "corporate body" bound together by rules apparently agreed upon through a consensus that was both foreordained and legitimated by the church. For Sister Geraldine Christ's earthly kingdom was coterminous with British government worldwide; Rarnabai's challenges to one signified disobedience to both. As such they were literally untenable—which is to say, Sister Geraldine invested so much time and energy in trying to refute Ramabai's arguments because she could not conceive of a world in which they might logically exist. For Ramabai, on the other hand, spiritual independence was never a matter of willfulness or pride, but rather a question of "the inner voice which is so strongly and loudly speaking to me." It was a voice that, in Ramabai's own words, "nothing can ever silence."160 Despite Ramabai's protestations to the contrary—despite her attempts in fact to read her own resistance as respectful if tenacious difference rather than as rejection or disobedience—Sister Geraldine insisted until the end of her life that Ramabai had been wrongheaded and prideful and that consequently her time in England remained one of the most "painful episodes" in the conversion of India. Long after Ramabai's international reputation as social reformer was well-established, and in marked contrast to the hagiographic outpourings about her life by British, American, and Indian evangelicals, Sister Geraldine produced a critical view of her as a quasi-successful Christian missionary, insinuating that she remained vulnerable to "native" influences in India and was easily manipulated as a "cats-paw" by a variety of self-interested parties.161

To be sure, Ramabai's attitudes did imperil the imperial missionary cause as Sister Geraldine understood it, especially where the submission of native converts unquestioningly to ecclesiastical hierarchy was the defining requirement of evangelical work. She also offered to her benefactors an unflattering picture of their own religious authority—one that arguably depicted her as the truly engaged Christian struggling to reconcile her own doubts with scriptural teachings. There can be no clearer declaration of Ramabai's intention to make her own way—or of her determination to link her self-reliance to that inescapably Christian principle, conscience—than this passage: "I must be allowed to think for myself. God has given me a conscience, not to accept everything


slavishly . . . but 'hear and see' for myself."162 As she wrote to Beale over the public lecturing debate, "[O]ther people may call me an infidel if they like, but I trust in Him alone who is God, Father, and Guide, and [who] will surely show me His ways."163 This was not mere argumentation for Ramabai; she believed that her very spiritual life was at stake. "Religion is such an awful matter," she wrote to Canon Butler, "that both parties are responsible for what they say or prove. It is not a rule of Arithmetic, Algebra or Chemistry that we may prove it by experiments." Like other "native" women who encountered the coercive power of British imperial rule, Ramabai was determined not to be the "experiment" upon which the success of colonial Christianity was tested.164 Adherence to this conviction was indeed the condition upon which she agreed to stay in conversation, in dialogue with her superiors. "So if you agree not to be a lawyer but a searcher after truth in all your arguments," she continued, "I will most gladly bring my difficulties before you."165

Well might Sister Geraldine grieve, as she did in the fall of 1885, "that one of India's daughters whom we hoped God was training to carry a ray of light back to that benighted land should be returning to that darkness without the light of Truth."166 Ramabai's unwillingness to conform was not simply the rebellion of an individual convert; her critiques threw the "Englishness" of the Anglican mission model into bold relief for metropolitan observers. But Sister Geraldine's real anguish stemmed from the fact that "you seem to be following a self-chosen path."167 That choice, that autonomy upon which Ramabai insisted, struck at the heart of Sister Geraldine's authority to claim the universal truthfulness of Anglican Christian orthodoxy and, by implication, Britain's moral and cultural hegemony as well. In this sense, Ramabai's independence may also be read as an indication that the languages of English individualism were open to scrutiny, to co-optation and reformulation. It goes with out saying that Sister Geraldine's authority itself was one that depended entirely on cosmology of Christian imperialism, which she described above. To balk at it, for whatever reason, was to reject the spiritual authority of the Mother Church, of the Mother country, and, not least of course, of Mother Geraldine herself. It is in this context, the context of a church and an empire that were both conceived of as feminine, if not maternal ("those who have broken away from her ," "the Mother country," etc.),168 that Ramabai's experience of "sisterhood" during her time in England must be grounded. These arc the terms that dictated—although in the case of Ramabai, they did not necessarily determine—


the contours of sisterhood between Indian women and English women in the late nineteenth century. If nothing else, Ramabai's insistence on following her own path helped to unmask the cultural presumptions of their ostensibly universal, providential mission—even as she compelled them to declare their investments in the "English" way of doing things. The relationship between Sister Geraldine and Ramabai, and to a lesser degree between Dorothea Beale and Ramabai, was, in short, less a question of sisterhood than a struggle for authority—authority over which version of female reform would prevail in India. It might be even more accurate to say that sisterhood itself in this historical particular instance became a contest for authority because of its imperial context. Solidarity between women of different nations, religions, and cultures was not given by virtue of a common gender but could be, as Ramabai's own eloquence attests, the product of self-determination, personal integrity, and negotiation.169

As time went on, and Ramabai felt her interpretations of India, of social reform, and of her role in it resisted in England, her doubts about the truths of Anglican doctrine multiplied. By 1885 she regretted that "I cannot induce myself entirely to believe the miracles of the Bible" or the Apostles' Creed.170 She told Beale, "I have no doubt that Jesus is raised by God from the dead; but I doubt the resurrection of his earthly body."171 Ramabai's challenges to Anglican dogma were no less forcefully articulated than her attitudes in the controversy over public speaking. As in that instance, these too were framed around the question of authority: Ramabai tended to privilege the word of scripture over the dicta of the church, a disposition that Sister Geraldine rightly viewed as a challenge to distinctively Anglican precepts. Ramabai's objection to the sacrament of confession is exemplary of the kinds of conflicts she had with orthodox Anglicanism:

I see and understand, you and Canon Butler are much displeased with me because I do not go to confession. I must tell you I shall in no way do anything which is not satisfactory, to my mind; not that I shall say that every religious duty must be satisfactory to me , but I mean that it must be proved from [the] Bible that people cannot obtain salvation unless [they] do such and such [a] thing. From [the] Bible I can derive the necessity of confessing sins or faults to one another and to GOD , and not to a particular priest . . .

I do not like formalities as you know very well . . . I am bound to do things which are commanded by our Saviour as necessary for salvation and to please GOD , and these I will do by GOD 's help, as I have promised on the


occasion of my baptism, as much as it lies in my power, but I shall not do [anything] which is not necessary, and which it passes my power of doing . . .

It is very wrong of the Canon to say [I am under the Devil's influence] . . . only because I differ with . . . [him] in certain things . . . I am one of the least, but one of Christ's disciples. I shall hear him and others, when their advice agrees with His Own direction.172

What Sister Geraldine never fully comprehended was that Ramabai's suspicion of priests, like her opposition to the cross at the Poona mission, stemmed in part from her concern that the trappings of Christianity might be confused with those of Hinduism by recent Indian converts. In Ramabai's view, priests and "idols" were the hallmarks of Hindu religious tradition and as such she feared that an overemphasis on them in the Christian context might "lead my fellow (Indian) Christians into wrong ideas."173 "It is all right with you, who are Christians from generations," she wrote Sister Geraldine," . . . but I am just plucked down from (as Indians say) Hinduism and Brahmoism, so I know very well and sympathise with their feelings."174 As her doctrinal doubts became more acute, she felt less and less comfortable confiding in Sister Geraldine. She experienced the sisters at Wantage as a community whose "whole tone is that they are right . . . and if I ask a question they arc apt to say: 'You sin against such and such commandment of God.'"175

Debates about the basic sincerity of Ramabai's conversion or about her fundamental desire to understand and embrace the message of Christianity are not especially germane here. Her insistence on following her will and her instincts must be read in the context of her overarching belief that even and especially her own will was subject to the authority of God.176 Contrary to Anglican teachings, however, she also believed that "yet we have the great gift from God, i.e., our own free will. By it we arc to decide for ourselves what we are to do, and fulfill our intended work." For Ramabai it came down to a question of whose authority was to determine her spiritual direction. "Is Christianity the teaching of Christ or the teaching of a certain body of men?" she asked Beale in one of the last letters she wrote her in England. "I should like to know. If it is taken as the teaching of a certain party, I can with good conscience say that I have never believed in that teaching, and am not bound to accept it."177 What her questions reveal is her sensitivity to the coercive aspects of Anglican (and for that matter, of any) orthodoxy. Given that such orthodoxy was considered to be the formula for the civilizing of


India, Ramabai's rejection of it was, as Sister Geraldine sensed, a challenge to the whole Christian imperial project. Let us be absolutely clear on the implications of this gesture. Ramabai did not merely question the rationale for Britain's imperial presence; her critique was much more radical than that. By articulating resistance to the authority of the church in matters doctrinal and matters Indian, she pointed to the orientalist basis of the church's social mission. And, by demonstrating that she was not prepared to work within its parameters, she contested the church's claim to exercise a monopoly on evangelical and social reform strategies in India. Pandita Ramabai recognized that, in the struggle for reform in India, evangelical orthodoxy was a metaphor for imperial authority. Her "apostasy" was, in a very real sense, the grounds for constructing an alternative female reform consciousness in the context of late-nineteenth-century imperial Britain.

As I have suggested, Sister Geraldine, Dorothea Beale, and the Anglican bishops were evidently correct when they discerned that Ramabai's experience in England was endangering their plans for her evangelical work in India. What they did not realize was the extent to which their own insistent exercise of authority prompted her doctrinal challenges and pushed her toward what was, in the end, an eloquently articulated critique of the liberal-imperial social reform program. This is not to say that Ramabai's critique was simply the product of her conflicts with the ecclesiastical hierarchy. Rather, it suggests that she used the clashes over religious orthodoxy as an opportunity to contest the terms of Western Christian colonial reform and to free herself from the authorities, both religious and cultural, through which her English friends were trying to discipline her. That she exploited the discourses of evangelical Christianity does not diminish the incisiveness of her critique. Significantly, Ramabai was not prepared to break with either the community at Wantage or at Cheltenham simply because she did not agree with the particular brand of orthodoxy that the Anglican Church required of her. Although she was troubled by the rifts that her own doubts caused, especially in her relationship with Sister Geraldine, she recognized that members of the clergy were as compelled by their own consciences as she was by hers, conceding to Beale that it was "quite natural" that the sisters at Wantage "should think anyone who questions the truthfulness of their beliefs is sinning."178 What altered her relationship permanently with Sister Geraldine was not doctrinal differences per se but a conflict over the fate of her daughter, Manorama. Sometime in the fall of 1885,179 Ramabai began to express concern that the sisters at


Wantage180 were taking over Mano's religious education. As her letters indicate, she clearly feared that they were trying to instill in the daughter the orthodoxy that they had been unable to effect in the mother. In particular, Ramabai was wary of the Athanasian Creed, evidence of which she thought she could detect in Mano's prayers. Also of concern was the doctrine of the Trinity, with Ramabai making it quite dear to Sister Geraldine that since it was not a doctrine to be found in scripture, she did not want her child brought up a Trinitarian.181

Without minimizing the substantive theological import of these disputes too much, it is possible to interpret the dispute involving Mano as another clash over authority. This one was to prove final. For Ramabai's objection was not just to Sister Geraldine's teaching Mano how to pray; she also resented the nun's telling her daughter that her mother's prayer ways were not necessarily the best, since Ramabai herself was still in the process of learning them.182 This was a clear breach of Ramabai's maternal authority, and it marks the turning point in her relationship with Sister Geraldine. Ramabai left Cheltenham and returned to Wantage to supervise Mano herself but not before, according to Sister Geraldine, she marked up Mano's books and requested that the sisters teach her daughter only "a theistic religion."183 It was not long after this she left England for North America, wearied by her struggle with "professional missionaries" and eager to launch her own reform schemes for Indian women in India. To Sister Geraldine she wrote: "[A]s I know you arc doing right according to your faith, I cannot blame you . . . And if I were to take my child with me to stay at Cheltenham, a great confusion would befall my study; besides there is a great scarcity of time and money. Then when I am caught between two impossibilities, there remains but one thing for me . . . and that is to leave Cheltenham. I shall be very sorry, to do so, for it is my greatest happiness to study under Miss Beale. But my duty to my God and to my child is greater than any of my own happiness."184 Sister Geraldine's response was equally uncompromising: she told Ramabai that she was "spiritually not in a condition to judge in spiritual matters for your own child." Her concern was real since in her view on this particular question of authority rode Mano's salvation. "You say Mano ought to obey you," she wrote to Ramabai. "God grant that you may never give her cause to feel that your authority is contrary to that of her Heavenly father."185 Ramabai's concerns were of course equally real. She wanted Mano's final authority to be her own mother and her God, it is true, but she also wanted it to be India itself:


[M]y heart is full of gratitude to those who have been kind to us, but dear Ajeebai, I cannot make up my mind to leave Mano in England . . . I want her to be one of us, and love our countrypeople as one of them, and not as a strange or superior being. We are not as refined and lofty as the English people are, and if she is brought up in England, she will surely be an Englishwoman. Even if she comes to me in after days, she will be a foreigner and can never occupy the same place in our countrypeople's hearts as if she had been one of them. I do not want her to be too proud to acknowledge that she is one of India's daughters. I do not want her to blush when our name is mentioned, such being often the case with those who have made their homes in foreign lands.186

If this was an acknowledgment of the power that Sister Geraldine—together with English culture and evangelical Christianity—might have on Mano and her mother, it was also a statement about the power that Ramabai herself possessed to contest the reach of that authority, at least at this moment of crisis. And, given Mano's later role in her mother's reform projects in India, it may be taken as further indication of Ramabai's determination to control the agenda of female reform in India in the next generation.187 Ramabai's correspondence suggests that she was already considering a trip to North America when the discussion about Mano occurred; and, as Meera Kosambi's translations of Ramabai's Stree Dharma-Neeti suggests, she had long considered motherhood one of women's most important duties.188 I would not like to overstate the significance of the conflict over Mano, but it represents, I think, another expression of how theological, personal, and cultural tensions manifested themselves in Ramabai's encounters with her British benefactors. The realities of single motherhood in the nineteenth century meant that Ramabai continued to depend on the sisters at Wantage for Mano's education and care: though Ramabai took Mano to America she sent her back after a few months, in July 1886, while she traveled west in the United States.189

Ironically, for both Sister Geraldine and Ramabai the battle for Christ and for "civilization" was ultimately also a battle for personal authority.190 As for many women reformers concerned about India in the late nineteenth century, it was a battle with gendered meanings, one that revealed that the "family" dynamics between English women and Indian women in the imperial context were shaped as much by maternal authority as sisterly solidarity, if not more so. Ramabai clearly recognized not just the stakes of authority, but also of authorship itself. Speaking of Christian apologists, she remarked that "they all more or less fall into


the same mistake, namely when they want to establish the doctrine which they think is right, they will give any text a meaning which perhaps was not meant by the author."191 Although she was here referring to scripture, this might be taken as a comment on Ramabai's own experience in England. She understood that experience as a story whose meanings she wished to interpret, against the various meanings that were being read onto it for her. Just as she fought to author the history of her time in England, so too she authored her own explanations about the methods and the purpose of women's reform for women in India. Hers was a useful ethnography of the conditions under which the conversion and reform of India were being carried out for any who cared to read it. "Missionaries who want to convert the Hindoo to their own religion," she wrote, "would do well to take care not to call themselves the only inheritors of truth, and all others 'the so-called false philosophers,' for the Hindoo as a rule will not be content to look at or hear only one side, and it is quite natural that they should not."192 It was perhaps as didactic in its own way as the instruction sanctioned by the church, but it was nonetheless a reading that challenged the efficacy and the disinterestedness of the imperial power relationships in situ in India that Ramabai herself had resisted during her time in England.

She also, tellingly, worked to author her own resistant reading of international sisterhood. Despite the fact that after she left England in 1886 she only returned once, in 1898, she remained grateful to both Beale and Sister Geraldine for all they had taught her.193 Among the convictions that were strengthened was that "the religious belief of each individual should be independent of anyone's teaching, and that no one has a right to load an infant mind with things that even the teacher cannot understand."194 For Ramabai, the articulation of her differences with Sister Geraldine, although painful on both sides, did not signify either personal disobedience or the rejection of her person. For Ramabai it meant that differences could coexist, and that those who differed—over doctrine, creed, or life choices—might too. "We may more than a thousand times differ in our opinions and must be separated by unavoidable temporal difficulties," she wrote to Sister Geraldine, "but it does not in anyway follow that we must be enemies of or indifferent to each other."195 In the end, as Ramabai's departure from England indicates, peaceful coexistence was not in her case possible at close proximity. That she chose to leave and seek support elsewhere is not evidence of failure, but rather of informed and critical resistance—a gesture remarkably free of bitterness or recrimination on her part. It is also ar-


guably an example of what ethnographers call the refusal to be a subject, at least under the terms offered by colonial Christianity in Britain.196

Ramabai's attempts to negotiate sisterhood within the confines of imperial culture in Britain, to determine her personal role, and to respectfully differ with the terms outlined by Christian imperial and feminine authority constitute in no small measure a self-conscious reworking of an imaginative geography of the world of women. As Meera Kosambi has noted, Ramabai's motto was "self-reliance for women."197 It was a maxim whose value she no doubt came to appreciate at least in part because of her struggles for autonomy at Cheltenham and Wantage—struggles that dramatized the tension between her desire to bear witness to God, on the one hand, and her determination to control her own destiny, on the other. Ramabai's time in England thus demonstrates that feminist consciousness can develop not only within the context of "sisterhood," but often does so in spite of it. Her particular history is equally compelling evidence that in the geopolitical context of imperialism, even and perhaps especially encounters between women could not, and indeed cannot, be totally free of its ideological effects. Although she may have initially believed herself to be free to wander "all over the map," she could not comfortably remain in the imperial metropole. Imperial England proved to be inhospitable ground for Ramabai's developing female reform consciousness. The United States, where she went after England to raise money for the widows' home she established in Bombay in 1889, was more hospitable, at least where financial support for her reform projects were concerned. Her travels from Philadelphia to San Francisco to Boston continued her pilgrimage and are a part of her biography yet to be fully historicizcd.198 Meanwhile, this particular segment of her story is equally compelling evidence that the field of power laid out by imperial culture, whether in the metropole or in the colonial possessions, was historically and remains today an eminently contested and continually contestable terrain.


CHAPTER 2 "Restless Desire" Pandita Ramabai at Cheltenham and Wantage, 1883-86

Preferred Citation: Burton, Antoinette. At the Heart of the Empire: Indians and the Colonial Encounter in Late-Victorian Britain. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1998 1998.