Women became important as readers and writers. Reading habits improved among them. With increase in literacy, women took great interest in reading and writing.
Many journals started emphasising the importance of women’s education. Many magazines and books were specially published for women.
The print culture gave the women some amount of freedom to read and develop their own views on various issues, especially those related to women.
Women novelists such as Jane Austen and Bronte sisters in Europe and Kailashbashini Debi, Tarabai Shinde and Pandita Ramabai in India presented the new type of woman, a woman with the power to think and with the ability to act with determination.
(b) The poor
As the literacy rate improved in Europe as well as in’ India, printed material, especially for entertainment, began to reach even the poor.
In England, ‘Penny Magazines’ were carried by pedlars and sold for a penny, so that even poor people could buy them. Those who could not read, could listen to the stories and folklore. These could be read out to them by others.
Books could be hired on a nominal fee from some book owners. Even in India, very cheap small books were brought to market in 19th century Madras towns, allowing poor people to have an access to print culture. Public libraries were set-up in the early 20th century where poor people could visit and borrow books.
Gradually, even poor people began to read religious stories, books with simple instructions or stories and folklore.
Reformers used newspapers, journals and books to highlight the social evils prevailing in society. Raja Rammohan Roy published the ‘Sambad Kaumudi’ to highlight the plight of widows. This newspaper actively campaigned for the abolition of the Sati.
From the 1860s, many Bengali woman writers like Kailashbashini Debi wrote books highlighting the experiences of women, about how women were imprisoned at home, kept in ignorance, forced to do hard domestic labour and treated unjustly by the menfolk they served. *
In the 1880s, Tarabai Shinde and Pandita Ramabai wrote with passionate anger about the miserable lives of the upper-caste Hindu women, especially the widows.
Jyotiba Phule wrote about the poor condition of the ‘low caste people.’ In his book ‘Gulamgiri’ (1871), he wrote about the injustices of the caste system. In the 20th century, BR Ambedkar also wrote powerfully against the caste system. He also wrote against untouchability. EV Ramaswamy Naicker, also known as Periyar, wrote about the caste system prevailing in Madras.