In 1865, an autobiography published by a woman from a village called Ramdia in rural
However, to deprive women education, promoting the myth of intellectual inability was not thought sufficient. The other widely promoted myth was that a lettered lady was destined to turn widow, making her in effect, killer for anyone who cared to marry. There were most certainly a few other women before Rassundari Devi, who learned letters under the patronage of fathers that were powerful, influential and doting -- but remained under oath to keep their literacy under total secrecy for the rest of their living years. Girls had to be married off by 10 or 12 and that's where even for the outstandingly privileged, their clandestine encounter with letters would end.
Therefore it is not surprising that Rassundari Devi waited to outlive her landlord husband (her sons were mature men by then), before putting ink to paper. "Her son's palm leaf (textbook) and the fragmentary remembrance (of letters from childhood) were her precious Rosetta Stone. This was her modus operandi (of learning)".* A formidable feat of courage in rural
Written in Bengali, Rassundari Devi's biography reveals her trepidations at the age of 12, on waking up to a boat full of strangers in mid-river, and finding herself dressed as a child bride. And then begins a life of endless ordeals.
What she wrote is a vista to not only to women's life of the late 18th - early 19th century, but also to the contemporary hindu society in general. The theme of this oldest account has been told, retold in many ways through fiction writing over a period of time. In Bengali (beginning with Bankimchandra), Tamil and Marathi, and also culminating in Munshi Prem Chand's writings in hindi. Every major writer focused on addressing the point that was hurting our society the most --- the plight of woman and the injustice to her.