“Save the Children”: The Child Welfare Movement of Colonial India, 1919-1929

Priyanka Balwant Kale, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences Calcutta (CSSSC)

This paper examines shifts in the notions and practices of child-care and child welfare in Colonial India. It is argued that the post-World War One or 1920s must be seen as a watershed period in the development of child-welfare activities in various forms throughout India in interaction with the global trend. This paper seeks to study how the Anglo-Indian and Indian middle-class social activists formed different associations and organizations to propagate new ideas of child-care in the society. The child-welfare movement was indicative of the interest of Indian social activists in the expansion of public health measures in the early twentieth century. In the middle-class discourses, the children were frequently depicted as ‘hapless creatures’ and ‘national assets. The child-welfare had a close relation with the national future for Indian social activists because of their demand for self-governance from the British Empire. In relation to children, maternal health became important to these social activists because of their intention of casting mothers in the role of primary care-takers of children. An interesting aspect of this period was the inauguration of spaces reserved exclusively for the children. Spaces like crèche were designed to not only ease the burden of parents but to keep children entertained while their parents were working. The responses of marginalized sections to the attempts of middle-class civic activism are charted in this paper. There were difficulties in materializing the ideals of child-welfare as the modern ideas of child-care were not uniformly accepted and at times contested. The official archival sources are juxtaposed with non-official sources like journals, newspapers, conference papers,etc to capture the social milieu of early 20th India with particular focus on the metropolitan city of Bombay. This paper attempts to write a vivid account of the tensions and complexities of the Child-Welfare Movement in the Indian context.

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 Presented in Session 159. Contestations over Child Rights and Welfare