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How a Marwari business in the 1890s protected modesty of Kolkata’s women!

27 January, 2020 21:29:29
How a Marwari business in the 1890s protected modesty of Kolkata’s women!

Restoring the modesty of women, and that too way back in 1890s Kolkata! Surprising, isn’t it? In 1890s, the British in Bengal faced a new challenge --- how to restore privacy of women at numerous bathing ghats along River Ganges. Often men were found thronging the open ghats to watch women bathing. This was a serious infringement upon their privacy and even the city magistrate could not stop perverse men from loitering around the ghats. He deployed armed men to keep onlookers at bay. But nothing worked. Meanwhile, the Queen had brought the Puritan Era in Bengal by then. Kolkata being the British capital, was under her watchful eyes and moral policing.

Dilapidated walls of the ghat

The city’s aristocracy chose to follow British etiquettes and manners. Their women even wore gloves, took to dinner tables covered with embroidered table clothes and learnt table manners. When all were going the firang style, the menace of men watching bathing women, was a challenge for the administration. It threatened the British puritan ideology. Women of the Tagore family had the privilege of palanquins being carried to the river. The palanquins with the women inside were dipped into the river, to avoid male gaze. But girls and women of trading communities, both from Bengal and other states, had a tough time saving their women from these onlookers. 

Exquisite architecture of the ghat

To put an end to this atrocity, Ram Chandra Goenka, a businessman from Rajasthan, built the Zenana Bathing Ghat by erecting a boundary wall around the ghat. Goenka’s contribution is praiseworthy, considering he came from a different state, yet helped women of Bengal enjoy a dip in the river without being watched. The Zenana Ghat still exists, along with the plaque, mentioning the name of Ram Chandra Goenka. A visit to Zenana Ghat reinstates a sense of faith in us, as it speaks of a man, who a century and a half ago, thought and acted upon protecting women’s dignity and modesty.

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