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Abolition of Sati, Custom of Hindu Religion

Continued from last issue…

Rammohun was not a believer in mere Sastra unless that was verified by experience. When experience proves that truth of Sastra, it became acceptable. It was his firm faith that “By forsaking prejudices and reflecting on Sastra what is really conformable to its precepts, may be perceived and the evils and disgrace brought on this country by the crime of female murder will cease”.

Rammohun carried on his propaganda against the sati in his second tract published in 1819. He examined every argument in detail with the help of authorities and ruthlessly criticised the advocates of the inhuman practice. He condemned the practice in strong language. The practice therefore of forcibly tying down women to the pile and burning them to death is inconsistence with Sastras, and highly sinful. It is of no consequence to affirm that this is customary in any particular country if it were universally practiced; the murders would still be criminal. The pretense that may be followed in matters where no particulars rules are prescribed in the Sastras, is not to be justified by the practice of a few.

The arguments of the advocates of Sati are, the women are by nature of inferior understanding without resolution, unworthy of trust, subject to passions and void of various knowledge. The according to the precept of the Sastras, they are not allowed to marry again after the demise of their husbands and consequently despair at once of all worldly pleasure. Hence it is evident that death to these unfortunate widows is preferable to existence for the great difficulties which a widow may experience by living a purely ascetic life as prescribed by the Sastras, is obvious.

Rammohun had learnt to respect woman and could not tolerate the condemnation of the sex. His reply to argument above was a noble defense worthy the best champion of the rights of woman. “Women are in general inferior to men in bodily strength and energy. Consequently the male part of the community, taking advantage of their corporal weakness, have denied to them those excellent inherits  that they are entitle to by nature and after words they are apt to say that women are naturally incapable  of acquiring more merits. But if we give the subject consideration, we may easily ascertain whether or not, your accusation against them is consistence with justice. As on their inferiority in point of understanding, when did you ever afford them a fair opportunity of exhibiting their natural capacity? How then, can you accuse her of want of understanding? If after instruction in knowledge and wisdom, a person cannot comprehend or retain what has been taught, we may consider them as deficient. But as you keep women generally void of education and acquirements, you cannot therefore pronounce injustice of their inferiority.

You charge the women with want of resolution at which I feel exceedingly surprised. We constantly perceive in a country where name of death makes the male shudder that the female from her firmness of mind, offers to burn with the corpse of her deceased husband and you accuse those women of deficiency in point of resolution.

With regard to their trustworthiness, if we enumerate such women in each village or town as have been deceived by men, and such men as have been betrayed by women, I presumed the number of deceived women could be found ten times greater than that of betrayed men. Men are in general able to read and write and manage public affairs by which means they easily promulgate such fault as women occasionally commit, but never consider as criminals the misconduct of men towards women. Some of them are misled to suffer themselves to be burnt to death.

With respect to women subjection to the passion, may be judged of by the custom of marriage as to the respective sexes. One man may marry two or three or sometimes even ten wives and upwards. While a woman who marries but one husband, desires at his death to follow him forsaking all worldly enjoyments or to remain leading the austere life of an ascetic.

The accusation of woman for want of virtuous knowledge is an injustice. Observe what pain, what slighting, what contempt and what affections their virtue enables them to support. Kulin Brahmin who marry ten or fifteen women for the sake of money, never see the greater number of them after the day of marriage and visit others three or four times in course of their life. Still among those women, most even without seeing or receiving any support from their husband, living dependent on their fathers or brothers and suffering much distress, continue to preserve their virtue. When Brahmin or their tribes bring their wives to live with them, what misery do the woman not suffer? Where a husband takes two or three wives to live with him, they are subjected to mental miseries and constant quarrels. Sometimes it happens that the husband, from a preference of one of his wives, behaves cruelly to others. Even this distressed situation they virtually endure. These are fact every day and not to be denied. What I lament is, that seeing the women thus dependent and exposed to every misery, you feel for them no compassion that might exempt them from being tied down and burnt to death.

In his conversation and in his relations with his people, Rammohun Roy used always to refer to women with highest respect and tried his best to improve their condition. He upheld the rights of woman against the common prejudices of his countryman and for this noble works, he was in risk of his life. In order to continue the subject, give below account of movements leading to final abolition of Sati.

To be continued…

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