Speaker: C. Chandra Sekhar (Sri Avarinda Sathajanthi College)

This paper aims to determine how Mary Wesley, Martha Reuben and Bathsheba, the first three Bible women from marginalized communities in Rayalaseema, one of the Telugu speaking regions of the Madras Presidency, emerged as new leaders of social change in the context of colonial modernity and Christianity in Rayalaseema. The emergence of a modern profession of Bible woman for Dalit women in the 1870s was transformative, opening the doors of education and turning them into local leaders. Mary, Martha and Bathsheba played a pivotal role in the history of the Dalits, of gender and of missions by shaping the life and community of Dalits and spreading Christianity in Rayalaseema.  They moved against the caste and male dominated culture to create an identity of their own by seizing the opportunities of missionary education and by associating themselves with women missionaries. Despite their arduous mission work among native women, their voice is silent in mission accounts. Strangely, neither the social science literature of Rayalaseema history, nor Christian mission history noticed their efforts to reform the cultural and social life of women in the region. Therefore, the paper also attempts to recover the voice of those three Bible women by analysing their contribution to the change of gender roles and patriarchal structures among the people in Rayalaseema society.

IHR Seminar SeriesChristian Missions in Global History