Sir Syed Ahmad Khan on Education of Tawaifs’ (dancing girl) Children

(In a letter written in 1879 to the secretary of the Government of North West Provinces and Aoudh, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan expressed strong reservations on the admission of the children of Tawaifs )




The secretary,

To The Government,

N W P & Audh


With reference to yours No 4 dated the 8th January 1879 I have the honor to state that I have perused and considered the papers on the subject of the admission of children of Tawaifs (prostitutes) into Government and aided schools, and beg to make the following suggestions.

As far as I know I think there is no class of dancing girls (tawaifs) in the N W provinces that is not practising prostitution also by which it may be concluded that there is only one class of these women in the N. W. Provinces, viz, the prostitutes.

I would never favour the admission of children of these prostitutes into Government or aided schools, and have much reason to believe that almost the whole native community in these districts whether Hindus or Mahomedans are entertaining the same opinion. In saying so I am not influenced by any prejudiced idea, as to the meanness of their race or caste or to their claims to the advantages of education, but I fear the mingling of these children with their schoolmates may tend to contaminate the latter and produce demoralizing effects.

All the boy-schools in the N. W, Provinces require special attention to the moral education of the pupils. With regard to boys of virtuous families I regret to say that the benefit of the moral education they get in School a few hours a day is counteracted by their home influences. I do not mean by these home influences any vicious or immoral effects, but simply their somewhat uncivilized modes of life, and their contracting the bad habits of their playmates. Much less can the children of prostitutes, who have nothing but vice and immorality at home, be expected to derive any benefit from their education in school. They are on the other hand most likely to communicate those vicious and immoral effects to some extent to their more virtuous school mates, and which will admit no remedy. When I strongly advocate the necessity of imparting instruction to boys of respectable families apart from their homes as the only means by which they could secure the advantages of good education, I can never view with favour the association of boys of infamous homes with those of virtuous and respectable families in the same schools.

As to the admission of girls to prostitutes, I hold the same opinion. In the first place the girl schools in the N W. Provinces are not viewed by the native gentry with satisfaction. I think the girl schools have as yet been able to secure but a very small number of pupils of gentle blood even of the poorest parentage. Under such circumstances the admission of girls of prostitutes will only tend to the growth of distrust among all castes and races and will discourage the admission of girls of gentle blood I cannot agree in the belief that girls of prostitutes can scarcely be expected to be acquainted with the immorality practised by their mothers at homes, as they will leave the schools at the age of eight or ten years and that their company will have no demoralizing effect on their schoolmates, as some gentlemen have supposed. 

I am of the opinion that when these girls will mingle with one another they must talk of the matters going on at their homes although with the purest intention and simplicity of heart and It will of course lead to the origination of vicious ideas in the minds of the hearers. The hope that the girls of prostitutes may derive some benefit from education is completely frustrated on consideration of the age at which they will be removed from school to join the ranks of their profession.

It is admitted that prostitutes aspire at the education of their girls, and that there have been, and perhaps may be some of these girls who may have acquired learning to some extent and may have derived a practical advantage from education. But the prostitutes have been actuated by sending in their children to schools by different motives and to subserve a special interest. They view education as a means to improve their trade and as a most attractive accomplishment.

It is a great pity that several schools in Madras possess girls of no other class except those of prostitutes, which is a fact deserving the gravest consideration. 

I have the honor to be,


Your most obedient servant,



dated 13th March, 1879


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Mahino Fatima

Dr. Mahino Fatima is a young scientist by profession and a writer by passion. Her research fields are neurobiology, genetics, environmental sciences etc.

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