You are on page 1of 11

Rhetoric against Age of Consent: Resisting Colonial Reason and Death of a Child-Wife Author(s): Tanika Sarkar Reviewed work(s):

Source: Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 28, No. 36 (Sep. 4, 1993), pp. 1869-1878 Published by: Economic and Political Weekly Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4400113 . Accessed: 13/12/2012 13:10
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp

.
JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

Economic and Political Weekly is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Economic and Political Weekly.

http://www.jstor.org

This content downloaded on Thu, 13 Dec 2012 13:10:23 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

SPECIAL ARTICLES

Rhetoric

againstAge

of

Consent

ResistingColonialReasonand Deathof a Child-Wife


Taiiika Sarkar allpower was on one The historian cannot afford to view the colonial past as an unproblematicretrospect wvhere allaspects of which nationalism, mullti-faceted a account into side and allprotest on the other. Partisanship has to take w4ere complicit withpowerand dominationeven whentheycritiquedwesternknowledgeand challenged colonialpower. This article contends that colonial structuresofpower comprontisedwith-indeed learnt muchfiom-indigenous patriarchy and upper caste norms and practices which, in certain areas of life, retained considerable hegemony. Legislative activity on Hindu marriage issues in the lastfew decades of the centuryforms the discursivefieldfor this exercise. forced a decisive breakin theirdiscourse. It this single source. Each and every kind of I
AT the risk of provokingstartleddisbelief, I propose to place constructions of IHindu conjugality at the very heart of the formative moment for militant nationalism in Bengal.' Ilistorians have adequately noted the centrality of debates around colonial laws on women and marriage in the discourse of liberal reformers. No attempt, however, has been made so far to locate these themes within early IIindu nationalism. Three interlocking themes will be taken up and elaborated simultaneously. In the last few decades of the 19thcentury,a fairly distinct political formation had emerged thatI shall clumsily designate as revivalistnationalist.It wasa mixed groupof newspaperproprietors, orthodoxurbanestate holders of considerablecivic importancewithin Calcutta and pundits as well as modern intellectuals whom they patronised. They usedanexplicitlynationalistrhetoricagainst any formof colonial interventionwithin the Hindudomestic sphere which markedthem off from the broadercategory of revivalist thinkerswho would not necessarily oppose reformismin the name of resisting colonial knowledge. At the same time, their commitment to an unreformed Ilindu way of lifeseparated them from liberal nationalists of the IndianAssociation or IndianNational Congress variety. Needless to say, these groups were not irrevocably distinct or mutually exclusive. Despite considerable shifts and overlaps, however, we do identify a distinctive political formation of nationalists who contributedto emerging nationalismahighly militantagitationalrhetoric and mobilising techniques built around the defence of l-indu patriarchy. The second related theme would explore as to why they chose to tie theirnationalism to issues of conjugality which they defined as a system of non-consensual,indissol uble, infant marriage. And, finally, we need to dwell upon the arguments they fabricated. We find that the Age of Consent issue made it imperative for them to shift to an entirely different terrainof argumentsand images, moving from the realm of reason and pleasure to thatof discipline and pain. The entire exercise, I hope, will widen the context of early nationalist agitations and give them an unfamiliargenealogy. A few words are necessary to explain why, in the present juncture of cultural studies on colonial India, it is importantto retrieve this specific history of revivalistnationalism,and to work with a concept of nationalism that incorporatesthis history. EdwardSaid's Orientalism has fathered a received wisdom on colonial studies that has proved to be as narrowand frozen in its scope as it has been powerful in its impact. Itproceedsfromaconvictionin thetotalising natureof a western power knowledge that gives to the entire Orient a single image with absoluteefficacy. Writingsof the Subaltern Studies pundits and of a group of feminists, largely located in thc first world academia, have come to identify the structuresof colonial knowledgeas theoriginary moment for all possible kinds of power and disciplinary formations, since, going by Said, Orientalismalone reserves for itself the whole range of hegemonistic capabilities. This unproblematicand entirely nonhistoricised 'transfer of power' to structuresof colonial knowledge has threemajor consequences; it constructs a necessarily monolithic, non-stratified colonised subject who is, moreover, entirely powerless andentirelywithoutan effective andoperative historyof his/herown. The only history that s/he is capable of generatingis necessarily a derivative one. As a result, the colonised subject is absolved of all complicity andculpabilityin the makingsof the structures of exploitation in the last two hundred years of our history. The only culpability lies in the surrenderto colonial knowledge. As a result, the lone political agenda for a historiographyof this period shrinksto thecontcstation ofcolohial knowledgc since all powersupposedlyflows from contestation, by the same token, is taken to be equally valid. Today, with a triumphalist growth of aggressively communal and/or fundamentalistic indentity-politics in our country, such a position comes close to indigenism and acquires a near Fascistic potential in its authoritarianinsistence on the purity of indigenous epistemological and autological conditions. It has weird implications for the feminist agenda as well. The assumption that colonialism had wiped out all past histories of patriarchal domination, replacing them neatly and exclusively with western forms of gender relations, has naturallyled on to. an identification of patriarchy in modern India with the project of liberal reform alone. While liberalism is made to stand in for the only vehicle of patriarchalideology since it is complicit with western knowledge, its opponents-the revivalists, the orthodoxy-are vested with a rebellious, even emancipatory agenda, since they refused colonisation of the domestic ideology. And since colonised knowledge is regardedas the exclusive source of all power, anythingthatcontests it is supposed to have an emancipatorypossibility for the women. By easy degrees, then,we reachthe position thatwhile opposition to widow immolation was complicit with colonial silencing of non-colonisedvoicesand, consequently,was an exercise of power, the practiceof widow immolation itself was a contestatory act outside the realmof power reladtons since it was not sanctioned by colonisation. In a country, where people will still gather in lakhs to watch and celebrate the buming of a teen-aged girl assati, such culturalstudies are heavy with grim political implications. We will trytocontend thatcolonial struc. tures of power compromised with, indeed learnt much from indigenous patriarchy and uppercaste norms and practiceswhich, in certain areas of life, retained considerable hegemony. Tlhisopens up a new context against which we may revaluateliberal reform. Above all, we need to remember

Economic and Political Weekly September4, 1993

1869

This content downloaded on Thu, 13 Dec 2012 13:10:23 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

that other sources of hegemony, far from becoming extinct, were reactivated under colonialism and opposed the liberal rationalistagenda with considerable vigour and success. The historiancannot affordto view the colonial past as an unproblematicretrospect where all power was on one side and all proteston the other. Partisanshiphas to take into account a multi-faceted nationalism (and not simply its liberal variant), all aspectsof which were complicitwith power and domination even when they critiqued western knowledge and challenged colonial power.

lI
A summary of the most controversial legislative activity on Hindu marriage issues in the last few decades of the century would help to map out our discursive field. The Native MarriageAct III of 1872 was, for its times, an extremely radical package which prohibited polygamy, legalised divorce and laid down a fairly high minimum age of marriage. It also ruled out caste or religious barriersto marriage. Predictably, the proposed bill raised a storm of controversy. Its jurisdiction was eventually narrowed down to people who would declare themselves to be not Hindus, not Christians, and not Jains, Buddhists or Sikhs. In short, its scope came to cover the Brahmos alone, whose initiative had led to its inception in the first place.2 Furiousdebatesaroundthebill hadopened upandproblematisedcrucialareasof Hindu conjugality-in particular the system of non-consensual, indissoluble infant marriagewhose ties were considered to remain binding for women even after the death of their busbands. The polemic hardened in 1887 when Rukma Bai, an educated girl from the lowly carpenter caste, refused to live with her uneducated,consumptive husband, claiming that since the marriagewas contractedin her infancy it could be repudiated by her decision as an adult. She was threatened with imprisonment under Act XV of 1877 for non-restitutionof conjugal rights. The threat was removed only after considerable reformist agitation and the personal interventionof Victoria.3 The issue foregroundedvery forcefully the problems of consent and indissolubility within Ilindu marriage.4 In 1891 the Parsi reformer Malabari's campaign bore fruit in Act l0which TheCriminalLawAmendment revised Section 375 of the Penal Code of 1860, and raised the minimum age of cons-entfor marriedand unmarriedgirls from 10 to 12.5 Under the earlier Penal Code regulation a husbandcould legally cohabit wvitha wife who was 10 years old. The revivalist Hindu intelligentsia of Bengal, now claimed that the new act violated a fundamental ritual observance in the life cycle of the Ilindu houscholder-that is, the 'garbhadhan' ceremony, or the obligatorycohabitationbetween husbandandwi fe which should take place immediately after

the wife reachesher puberty.Since puberty was quite likely to occur before she was 12 in the hot climate of Bengal, the new legislation meantthatthe ritualwould no longer remain compulsory. If the wife reaches pubertybefore attainingthe age of consent, then garbhadhancould not be performed. This, in turn, implied that the 'pinda' or ancestralofferings, served upby the sonsof such marriages,would become impureand that generations of ancestors would be starved of it. The argument provided the central groundfor a highly organisedmass campaign in Bengal. The first open masslevel anti-governmentprotest in Calcutta and the official prosecution of a leading newspaperwere its direct consequences.6 The summarymight be taken to suggest, nationalist CambridgeSchool fashion,7that initiative was actuallya mere reflex action, following mechanicallyupon the legal initiatives of the colonial state. Farfrombeing so, however, not only was colonial initiative itself generally a belated and forced surrenderto Indian reformist pressurebut Hindu revivalist reactionagainst both was ultimately constituted by a new political compulsion. It was coterminus with a recently-acquirednotionof the colonised self that grew out of the'1857 uprising, postMutinyreprisals,Lyttoniandiscriminatory policies in the 1870s and the Ilbert Bill racistagitationsin the 1880s. These experiences collectively and cumulatively modified and cast into agonising doubt the earlier choice of loyalism that the Bengali intelligentsia had made fairly unambiguously in 1857. Our understanding of responses to colonial legislation can make only very limited anddistortedsense unless they are located within this largercontext. Whereasearly 19th century male liberal reformers hadbeendeeply self-criticalabout the bondageof thewomen within the household,8the satirisedliteraryself-representation of the Bengali 'baboo' of the later decades recounteda very differentorderof lapses for himself: his was a self that had lost its autonomy and that now willingly hugged its chains. Rethinking about the burdenof complicitywith colonialism hammeredout a reorientedself-critique as well as a heightenedperceptionaboutthe meaningofsubjection. Itis, perhaps,noaccident, that even the economic critiques of drain, deindustrialisation andpovertywouldcome to be developed by the post-1860s generations. Withthegradualdissolutionof faithin the progressive potential of colonialism that accompanied political self-doubt and the failureof indigenouseconomicenterprises,9 therealsodevelopeda disenchantment about the magical possibilities of western education thathadled theearlierreformers to look hopefullyat thepublicshpereasan arenafor the test of manhood, of genuine self-improvement. With the boundariesof activities shrinkinginto the constrictive limits of parasiticpetty landlordismor tenure-holdings andlto mechanical chores within an

andmarginalised clericalexistoppressive inence, the householdof the bhadralok asthesolitary of creasingly appeared sphere autonomy, a site of formal knowledge where-and only here-education would controllable yieldpractical, manipulateable, Settlement hadgenThePermanent results. erateda class-of parasiticlandlords with fixed revenueobligationwhose passivity control was reinforced by uninhibited over their peasants'rent. The gap betweena fixed sum of revenueand a flexible rent in a periodof risingagriculprocurement anexistenceoffairly tural prices, cushioned comfortable tenure holding.TheRentActs of 1859 and 1885, however,breaches that tenant resistance security. Organised of the late 19th centuryled to heightened anxieties and uncertainties amongthe landed gentry.The household,consequently, beandimportant camedoublyprecious as the only zone where autonomyand self-rule 0 couldbe preserved.'0 of household Inthemassivecorpus managementmanualsthat came to occupy a of printed dominant placeinthetotalvolume vernacular of these years, proseliterature was likenedto an enterprise thehousehold tobeadministered, anarmy tobe led,a state to be governed"-all metaphors,rather poignantly,derivedfrom activities from whichcolonisedBengaliswere excluded. UnlikeVictorianmiddleclass situations, afterwork then,thefamilywasnota refuge fortheman.Itwas theirrealplaceof work. Whether in the Kalighat bazaar paintings'2 orin theBengalifictionof the19thcentury, workplace situations remain shadowy, unsubstantial mostlyabsent.Domesticrelations constitutethe axis aroundwhich in sharpcontrast with plotsaregenerated, novels.'3 forexample,Dickensian The new nationalistworld-view,then, the familyas a contrast to anda reimaged of alienrule.Thiswasdoneprimacritique twodifferent versions of rilybycontrasting subjection-that of the colonised Hindu malein theworldoutsideandof theapparwifeathome. Hindu T'he entlysubordinated forcedsurrender andrealdispossession of was counterposed the former to theallegandultimate edly loving,willed surrender of the latter.'4 self-fulfilment It was in the interests of thisintended thatconcontrast jugalitywas constitutedas the centreof around whichthediscursive fieldon gravity itself. All otherrelathe familyorganised one (which tions, even the mother-child would come to take up its place as the dispivotal point in the later nationalist subordinated to it up to course)remained the end of the 19th century.It was the betweenthe husband andwife relationship andrephrased thatmediated within revivalthepolitical themeofdomiist-nationalism, of subjection-renation-subordination, asthelyrical sistance orexistential problem of love, of equal but differentways of loving. The household generally, andconjugality specifically, cameto meanthelastindeSeptember4, 1993

1870

Economic and Political Weekly

This content downloaded on Thu, 13 Dec 2012 13:10:23 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

into courts of law after due ritualpurification of the space.2"Tlheintroductionof i limited jury system between the 1860s andthe 1880s in Bengal further strengthened the voice of local Ilindu notables, and, consequently, of local usages and norms. An official recommendationof 1890 curtailed the powers of the jury in many other directions but left the powers of settling marriagedisputes intact in their hands.22 Nor did colonial legislators and judges form a unified, internallycoherentbody of opinion on properHindu norms and practices which they would then try to freeze. A substantial debate developed over a proposal in 1873 to transferthe cognisance of cases connected with marriage offences, especialy adultery, from criminal to civil courts. While Simson, the Dacca Commissioler, recommended the repeal of penal provisions against adultery, Reynolds, the Magistrate of Mymensingh strongly de"Ihave always observedwith great murred: aversion the practice of the English law in giving damages in cases of adultery and seduction, and wanted it to remaina criminal offence."' About cases of forfeitureof propertyrightsby 'unchastewidows', there was a cleardivision between the highcourts of Allahabadon the one hand and those of Bombay,Madrasand on theother.24 Calcutta The divisions reflected the absence of any monolithicor absoluteconsensus aboutthe excellence of English legal practices as a model for Indian life. dience, to local Hindu opinion.'7 Towards These decades in England had gone the end of the century, a strong body of through profound changesin women's rights Ihindulawyersand judgescame tobe formed in propertyholding, marriage,divorce, the whose conformity to Ihindu practices rights of prostitutes to physical privacy.25 (Ilindutva)was often takento be of decisive Englishmen in India were divided about importance in judicial decision-making, theirdirectionand a significant section felt even thoughtheirprofessional trainingwas disturbedby the limited, though real, gains in westernjurisprudence,and not in Hindu made by contemporaryEnglish feminists. law.'7, There was, moreover, an implicit They turned with relief to the so-called grey zone of unwrittenlaw whose force was relative stability and strictness of l-lindu nevertheless quite substantial within law rules.The Hindujoint familysystem, whose courts.'8Take a Serampore Court case of collective aspects supposedly fully sub1873, for instance, where a I-linduwidow merged and subordinatedindividualrights was suing her brothers-in-lawfor defraud- and interests,was generally describedwith ing her of her share in her husband's pov- warm appreciation-2 They found here a erty by falsely charging her with system of relatively unquestionedpatriar'unchastity'.Herlawycrreferredfrequently chal absolutism which promised a more to notions of kinship obligations, ritual comfortable state of affairs after the bitter expectationsfroma Hinduwidow andmoral struggleswith Victorian feminism at home. normsand practicesof high castc women.'9 The colonial experienceitself mediatedand Clearly, these arguments were thought to reorientedcontemporary debateson conjuhave value in convincing the judge and the gal legislation in England. There were imjury, even though, overtly they had little portant controversies,forinstance,between legal significance. Farfrom laughing pecu- John Stuart Mill and James Fitzjames liarly Hindu susceptibilities out of court, Stephenon issues of consensus vs force and English judges, even the Privy Council, authority as the valid basis for social and seriously rationalised them. Referring to human relations. Stephen, drawing on his the existence of a flindu idol as a legal military-bureaucratic apprenticeshipin Inperson in a different law suit, an English dia, questioned Mill's premise of judge commented: "Nothing impossible or complementarity and the notion of the absurd in it ...after all an idol is as much of companionatemarriage.2' Nor was there a a person as a corporation."' Legal as well stable legal or judicial model to import. as ritual niceties about the properdisposi- Prior to the JudicatureAct of 1873 there tion of idols were seriously and lengthily were four separate systems of courts in debated and sacred objects were brought England,eachlapplyingits own formof law

pendent space left to the colonised HIindu. This was a conviction thatwas both shaped and reinforced by some of the premises of colonial law. English legislators andjudges clearly postulated a basic division within the legal domain. British and Anglo-Indian law had a 'territorial'scope and ruled over the 'public' world of land relations, criminal law, laws of contract and of evidence. On the other hand, there were Ihinduand Muslim laws which were defined as 'personal', covering persons ratherthan areas, and ruling over the more intimate areas of human existence-family relationships, family property and religious life.'5 Early nationalists chose to read this as a gap between the territoryor the land colonised by an alien law, andthe person,still ruledby one's own faith-a distinction that the Queen's Proclamationof 1859, promising absolute non-interferencein religious matters, did much to bolster.'6 Even in subjected India, therefore,therecould exist an interiorspace that was as yet inviolate. Farfrom tryingtohegemonise this sphere and absolutising its control, colonial rule, especially in the post-1857 decades, triedto keep its distance from it, thus indirectly adding to the nationalist conviction. The earlierzeal for textualisationand codification of traditionallaws was gradually replacedby a recognitionof the importanceof unwrittenand varied custom, of the inadvisability of legislation on such matters, and of urgingjudicial deference, even obe-

often in conflict with cach other.2> In any case, the prolonged primacyof case law and common law procedures within England itself made English judges in India agree with Indian legal and nationalist opinion that customs, usages and precedents were far more valid sources of law than legislation.29 A general consensus about the differentiated natureof colonial law, then, postulated a fissure within the system wherein Hindus could insert their claims for a sectoral, but complete autonomy, for a pure space. The specific and concrete embodiment of this purityseemed to lie more within the body of the Hinduwomen, ratherthanof the mana conviction shaped, no doubt, by the growing self-doubt of the post-1857 Hindumale. Increasingly, irony and satire, a kind of black humour, became the dominant form of educatedmiddle class literaryself-representation. There was an obsessive insistence or the physical manifestation of this weakness. The feeble Bengali male physique became a metaphorfor a largercondition. Simultaneously, it was a site of the critique of the ravaging effects of colonial rule. "The term Bengali is a synonym for a creatureafflicted with inflammationof the liver, enlargementof the spleen, acidity or headache." Or, "Their bones are weak, their muscles are flabby, their nerves toneless."'"Or, "Bengal is ruined.Thereis not a single really healthy man in it. The digestive powers have been affected and we can eat but a little. Whereveronc goes he sees a diseased people.32 Through the grind of western education, offic9routine33and enforced urbanisation,with the loss of traditional sports and martial activities, it was supposedlymarked,maimedandcompletely remade by colonialism. It was the visible site of surrender and loss, of defeat and alien discipline. The woman's body, on the other hand, was still held to be pure and unmarked, loyal and subservient to the discipline of shastrasalone. It was not a free body by any means, but one ruled by 'our' scriptures, our custom. The difference with the male body bestowed on it a redemptive, healing strength for the community as a whole. An interesting change now takes place in the representationof the Hindu women in the new nationalistdiscourse. Whereas for the liberal reformersshe used to be the archetypal victim figure, for nationalists she had become a repository of power, the Kali rampant,a figure of range and strength.34 What were the precise sources of grace fortheHinduwomen?Sheattaineditthrough a unique capacity for bearing pain and discipline that were exercised upon her body by the iron laws of absolute chastity extendingbeyond the deathof the husband, throughan indissolube, non-consensualinfantform of marriage,throughausterewidowhood, andthrougha provedpastpapacity for self-immolation. All of them together imprintedan inexorable disciplinary regi-

Economic and Pol'-:al

Weekly

September 4, 1993

1871

This content downloaded on Thu, 13 Dec 2012 13:10:23 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

men upon her person that contained and the Hindu order, was a double-edged defined her from infancy to death. Such weapon: once it was raised,sooner or later, discipline was not entirely confined to the the question of mutuality was bound to normative or conceptual sphere. Bengal, come. Was it equally bindingon botb partwith the exception of the CentralProvinces ners? If it was not so, since hlindu males and Berar, and Bihar and Orissa,-had the were allowed to be polygamous, could its highest rateof infant marriages-a custom jurisdictionon thewomen be anythingmore that cut across caste and community lines than prescriptive?Particularly, if -marriage and did not markedly decrease even after was imposed on her at infancy without a the Act of 1891.31Before it was banned, as question of her consent or choice? we know, Bengal had also been the heartNothing in the Hindushastraswould conland of the practice of sari. The Ilindu firm the possibility of mutually monogawomen'sdemonstratedcapacity foraccept- mous ties. To redeem the past absence, for ing pain and harshi discipline thus became the first time in the history of Hindu marof hope and greatness fora riage, a wave of polemical literatureapthe last measuate doomed people. BankimChandralinked up peared that valorised, inideed,insisted on sati with national regeneration:"I can see male monogamy: "We find tracts that adthe funeral pyre burning, the chaste wife vise widowers never to remarry."' Some sitting at the heart of the blazing flames, manualsthatadvocate self-immolation for clasping the feet of her husbandlovingly to theadultwidow, simultaneouslyadvise that her breasts. Slowly the fire spreads, de- child widows should be remarried.They stroying one partof her body and entering could have no obligationtowardsa husband another. tier face is joyful ...The flames whom they had not, as yet, come to love.4" burn higher, life departs and the body is Not just sacred texts but custom, too alburintto ashes. ...When I think that only lowed a very wide spectrum of castes to some time back our women could die like makea second marriagefor men possible if this, then new hope rises up in me, then I the first wife was barrenor bore no sons.42 have faith that we, too, have the seeds of In theabsence of a shastricorcustom-based greatnesswithin us. Women of Bengal You injuniction against polygamy and given the arethetruejewels of thiscountry."3 Bankim reluctanceamong Hiindu revivalist-nationhad plenty of reservations for other aspects alists to invite ref'ormistlegislation, male of llindu conjugality,37 but he seemed to chastitywas fatedto remain normative rather identify with it at its most violent point of than obligatory, while the woman's chastermination, through a highly sensualised tity was not a function of choice or willed spectacle of pain and death, a barely dis- consent. Tlhiswas a compromise that beguised parallel between the actual flames came fundamentallydifficult to sustain. destroying a feminine body and the conThrough much of the 1880s we find a suming fires of desire. studied silence on such uncomfortablepotential within Hindu marriageand a selfIII mesmerising repetition of its innately.affective qualities.The infant-marriage ritual There were two equally strong compul- is drenched in a warm, suffusing glow of sions and possibilities of construction of loveability. "People in this country take a Ilindu womenhood-love andpain-which greatpleasure in infant-marriage. The little produced a deep anxiety within early na- bit of a women, the infantbride, clad in red tionalism. silk, her back turnedtowardsher boy husThe accent on love, had, from the begin- band...Drumsarebeating,andmen,women ning, underlined acute discomfort about and childrenare runningin orderto have a mutuality and equality. Pandit Sasadhar glimpse of thatface... from time to time she Tarkachuramani, the doyen of Hinduortho- breaks forth into little ravishing smiles. She doxy, argued that a higher form of love looks like a littlelovely doll"' (italics mine). distinguished between western and Hindu T'he key wordsherearelittle, lovely, ravishmarriages. While the former seeks social ing, pleasure, infant, doll." They are carestability and order through control over fully inserted at regularintervals to make sexual morality, the latter apparently as- the general account of festivities draw its pires only towards "the unification of two warmthfromthis single majorsource-the souls. "Mere temporal happiness, the be- delightful and delighted infant bride. The getting of children are very minorand sub- communityof "men,women and children" ordinate considerations in Hiindu mar- formed round the occasion is bonded toriage.""The revivalist-nationalistsegment getherby a deeply sensuous experience,by of the vernacular press, polemical tracts greatvisual pleasurc,by happiness;happiand manuals translatedthe notion of mar- ness is the operativeword. We need to note riage of souls as mutual love, ensured and thatthe radiantpictureof innocentcelebraproved by a lifetime of togetherness since tion is rounded off through the cleverly infancy such a uniquely Ilindu way of lov- casual insertion of one phrase: 'boy husing anchorsthe woman's absolute chastity, band'. Infantmarriage,however, was preextending beyond the husband's death, in scriptive for the girl alone and the groom at mutual desire alone." Yet the very emphathe side of the 'lovely doll' could be, and sis on love, so necessary as a critique of frequentlywas, a mature,even elderly man, alien oppression and misunderstandingof possibly muchz-marriedl already.A strategic

andorganisingsilence lies at the heartof the projected image of desire and pleasure. Even if the quality of Ilindu love was assumed to be a higherone, Hindumarriage was still placed firmly within mainstream developments in the universal history of marriageswhich had supposedly troddena uniform path from the 'captive' stage to fairly permanent, often sacramental systems. Any consent-based alternative, whether in ancient Indianor in class-based modem western traditions,were dismissed as aberrationsor minorvariations.45 A long editorial, significantly entitled The Bogus Science, questioned thesources andauthenticity of reformistknowledge: the natureof their evidence, of deduction, of arrangement, of proof.6 The powerful eugenicsbasedargumentagainstinfant-marriage (infant marriages produce weak progenies) was countered by a climatic view of history:47 irrespective of the age of parents,a tropicalclimate was bound to produceweak children. Reformerswere accused of casuistry or weak logic. Since the Penal Code had earlier laid down 10 as the minimum age of consent, how would raising it to 12 ensuregenuine consent? "A girl of fourteen or sixteen is not capable of legally signing a note of hand for 5 rupees and she is ipso facto a great deal more incompetentto give herconsent todefile her personat twelve."'8 It was also considered to be more than a little dishonest to place such importanceon the woman's consent in this one matter since within post marital offences, "in the case of the wife the point does not turnon consent, for, if that had been the case, there would have no such offence as adulteryin
the Penal Code."49 A high premium was

thus placed on the rule of rationalityin the defence of Hindu marriage. Hindu rationality was represented as a
more supportive world view than reformist or colonial projects. Given the physical and

economic weakness of women, an indissoluble marriage tie had to be her only security-a contention thatonce againconveniently overlooked the fact, that, in a polygamousworld,indissolubilitywasbinding, in effect, on the women alone. A cleareyed kulin brahminwidow haj remarked: "People say thatthe seven ties thatbind the flindu wife to the husband do not snap as they do with Christiansor Muslims. This is not true. According to Ilindu law, the wife cannot leave the husband but the husband may leave her whenever he wants to."'' It was also maintained that consent was immaterialsince parentswere betterequipped to handle the vital question of security than an immature girl.5"Security also largely depended upon perfect integrationwith the husband'sfamily, so the sooner the process began, the better it was for the girl.52 lIindu marriage, in the ratherdefensive discourse of the 1880s, tlhen, was more pleasurableand more beautiful, kinderand safer, more rational and guaranteed by a soundersystem of knowledge. In any case,

1872

Economic and Political Weekby

September 4, 1993

This content downloaded on Thu, 13 Dec 2012 13:10:23 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

devIl- unambiguous. "The Brahmin caste occua partof universal it wasessentially opments in the history of civilisationrs. pies the highest position and all laws and Differencesin marriagesystem between ordinances have been formed with special the Hinduand the non-Hindu,therefore, reference to that. All the other castes conwere, so far played down, if not obliter- duct themselves after the fashion of the Brahminicalcastes."58 Or, "it is true that ated. Bai episodeof 1887 madeit divorce obtains among some low caste TheRukma of people andthe governmentshould be really thenarrative at lastto rewrite imperative in the language of force. doing an important duty as a ruler if it love andpleasure beenrup- should make laws fixing and negotiating Theearlierlyricismhadalready and the uncertainand unsettled marriagecusturedfrom time to time to underline recuperate the basic logic of non- toms of the people."'9 Ata meeting atthe convened consensuality. The debate prised open the imagined Raj,Rajendralal community along the lines of caste and palaceof theShovaBazar "init [Hindu hadinsisted: Mitra marriage] genderanddelineatedthe specific contours agenda.Itcould there is no selection, no self-choice, no of the revivalist-nationalist consenton the partof the bride.She is an no longer base its hegemonistic claims on articleof gift, she is givenawayeven as a its supposed leadershipto the strugglesof a chattel." cow oranyother Laughter greeted whole subjected people for autonomy and andhewenton: self-rule in their 'private' lives. Its nationhisexposition approvingly idea alism became morepreciselydefined as the nottheremotest is in Hinduism "There Its rationalany small ruieof brahmanicalpatriarchy. of choiceandwhoeverchanged RukmaBai's ity was one of forced andabsolutedominapartof it was no Hindu."53 the sexual tion of upper-caste,male standards,not one action violentlyforegrounded and madea mockeryof of universal reason leading towards freedoublestandards the notion of the loving heartof hlindu dom and self-determinationfor the disposA lot of the debatecentred sessed. If it aspired to detach Hindus from conjugality. aroundthe vexed question-whether a a colonised reason and lead them to selffroman rule, it would only do so by substitutingfor womencouldsue for separation husband. adulterous 'Among the Hindus, it a brahmanical,patriarchalreason based on the partof the husbandis on scripture-cum-custom,both of which unchastity a culpableoffence but they set were as disciplinary and deprivationalfor certainly muchhighervalueuponfemalechastity": the ruled subjects as was the colonial reits erosion wouldleadto theloss of family gime in the sphere of Indian political and the de- economy. Contestationof colonisation was honour, growthof half-castes of ancestralrites.' Bare, stark no simple, escape from or refusalof power: struction of nor had colonialism equally and entirely bonesthatformedthe basic foundation threat- disempoweredall Indians.Resistance was Hindu tosurface, marriage nowbegan eningto blow theedificeof love away."A an agendaitself irrevocablytied to schemes wife shouldalwaysserve her for domination, an exercise of power that good Hindu husband as God even if that husbandis was nearly as absolute as that which it devoidof good qualitiesandat- resisted. illiterate, women.Andit is thedutyof tached toother the govemmentto make Hindu women IV of theShastras."55 totheinjunctions conform now openlyshifts Thebasisof conjugality Very curiously, one possibility within to prescription. Ilindu marriagehadnotoccurredto reformRukma Bai hadforceda choiceuponher istsor to Bengaliilindu militants-the posto sibility of sexual abuse of infant wives. thewomen'sright community-between freewill and the futureof the pristine es- There had been, from time to time, the Thetwocouldno occasional strayreport.TheDaccaPrakash marriage. senceof Hindu aperfect whole. of June 1875 reportedthatan 'elderly' man togetheras longer bewelded Revivalist-nationalists hadto treatthe two hadbeatenhis child wife to deathwhen she as separate, conflictingunitsand indicate refused to go to bed with him. Neighbours theirpartisanship. had tried to cover it up as suicide but the Thatcame forthin no time at all. "Itis murdercharge waseventuallyprovedagainst that thewholeof Hindusociety him. The jury, however, let him off with a verystrange will sufferfor the sake of a very ordinary light sentence.60 The E(ucation Gazette of to thefemalesex May 1873 had reporteda similar incident Or,"kindness women."56 cannotbe a good plea in favourof the when the 'mature' husbandof a girl of 11 the "draggedherout by the hairandbeathcrtill Interestingly, proposedalteration."57 faultin the he killed her"forsimilarreasons.Hewaslet episodehadshownup another Bai off with a light sentence as well.6' ReportRukma imageofthefHinducommunity. caste wheredi- ing remained sporadic and the accounts belongedto the carpenter Whosecustom were not picked up and woven into any vorcehadbeencustomary. must colonial law recognise now? Was generaldiscussionaboutHlindu marriageas Hinduisma heterogeneous, indeed,self- yet. The controversyabout the rightage of or consent continued to hinge on eugenics, formation, divided, self-contradictory one?Thereviv- mortality, child rearing and family interwasit a unified monolithic answer,once again, was ests. alist-nationalist

In 1890, Phulmonee, a girl of about 10 or 11, was raped to death by her husband, Hari Mati, a man of 35. Under existing Penal Code provisions, however, he was not guilty of rape since Phulmonee had been well within the statutory age limit of 10. The event, however, added enormous weight and urgency to Malabari's campaign for raising the age or consent from 10 to 12. The reformist press began to systematically collect and publish accounts of similar incidents from all over the country. Forty-four women doctors broughtout long lists of cases where childwives had been maimed or killed because of rape.62From the possible effects of child marriage on the health of future generations the debate shifted to the life and safety of Hindu wives. Phulmonee was the daughter of late KunjBehari Maitee, a man from the 'Oriya Kyast' caste, who hadbeen a 'Bazar Sircar' at Bow Bazar Market. It was a well paid job and it seems that by claiming 'Oriya Kyast' status, the family was trying for a superior caste posi tion in consonance with their economic viability since Maitees are otherwise categorised as a low sudragroup. The ramily frequently referred to its specific caste practices in court with somne pride. They said thatwhile they adhered to child marriage, they forbade cohabitation before the girl menstruates, and that in this case, Phulmonee had not done so. Their version was thatthe newly-married couple had been kept apart according to caste rules, and that Hari, on a visit to his inlaws, had stolen into Phulmonee's room and had forced himself upon her, thereby causing her death. HlariMaiti, however, insisted that since the marriage she had spent at least a fortnight at his house and they had slept together all the time. He made no mention of caste rules against pre-menstrualcohabitation. It seems then that caste customs remained loose and flexible, and that each family would allow considerable manipulation within them. Even though Ilari Maiti had insisted that on the last night they had not had intercourse, medical opinion was unanimous that the girl had died of violent sexual penetration.If the court accepted that Hlari was rightandthatPhulmonee hadslept with him earlier, then it could go a long way to show thatsince nothing untowardhad happened earlier,on the fatal night in question, Ilari would not have any reasbn to suspect thata more vigorous penetrationmight lead to violent consequences. lIe would, in fact, have been convinced that intercourse was perfectly safe. The English judge, Wilson, clearly indicated that he chose to accept llari's version, thus exonerating him from the chargeof culpablehomicide. Thecharge of rape in any case, was not permissible since the Penal Code provisions ruled out the existence of rape by the husbandif the wife was above theage of 10. Thejudge was equally opposed to any extension of the

Economic and Politic"' Weekly September4, 1993

1873

This content downloaded on Thu, 13 Dec 2012 13:10:23 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

strict lettersof the law in this case to devise exemplary punishment for a palticularly horribledeath: "Neither judges nor Juries have any rightto do for themselves what the law has not done." The judge, then, built up his case on the hypothetical argumentthat the couple had slept togetherearlier.lie chose to ignore the version given by the women in the girl's family-of Radhamonee, Bhondamonee and Sonamonee, the mother, aunt and grandmotherof the girl. I thinkit is my dutyto say thatI thinkthere exists hardly such solid and satisfactory as would makeit safe to say thatthis ground manmust have had knowledgethathe was of thegirl... Youwill, likelytocausethedeath of course,in these, as in all matters, give the benefitof anydoubtin favourof theprisoner. The weight of concern is, very blatantly,on the exoneration of the man rather than on the fate of the women. The law itself was shaped so as to preserve custom as well as the male right to the enjoyment of an infantile female body. What needs to be particularly noted here is that throughoutthe trial, the judge was saying -nothing about a husbandwho insisted on sleeping with a child, or about the custom which allowed him to do so with impunity. Above all, he was not making any judgmental comparison between the ways of husbands, eastern or western. In fact, he bent over backwardsto exonerate the system of marriagethat had made this death possible. Underno system of law with which Courts havehadtodo inthiscountry, whether Hindu or Mohammedan, or thatformedunderBritish rule, has it ever been the law that a husbandhas the absoluterightto enjoy the person of his wife without regard to the questionof safety to her.63 Both the Hindu husband and the Hindu marriagesystem are generously exempted from blame and criticism. There is, in fact, an assertion about the continuity in the spirit of the law from the time of the Ilindu kingdoms to the time of British rule. A significant body of English medical opinion confirmed the clean bill of health that the colonial judiciary had advanced to thellindu marriagesystem. Eveninastrictly privatecommunication,meantfor the colonial officialdom alone, the secretary to the Public hlealth Society wrote to the government of Bengal: The council direct me to lay special stress upon the point...thatthey base no charge againstthe nativecommunity. They reverently cited the work on Ilindu law by Sir Thomas Strange to evoke, in near-mystical terms, the supreme importanceof his marriagerulesto the llindu,,pnd the inadvisability of external interference with them:

shouldbe ceremonially married. That,in the of Hlindu constitution society,isa matter with no Government couldmeddleandno whlich Government oughtto meddle. They proceededto review the considerable medico-legal data on sexual injuries inflicted on child wives and concluded that whatever the weight of evidence on the matter,the system of infant marriagemust continueunabated. The age of commencing cohabitation could be raised otly if Hiindus themselves expressed a great desire for change (emphasis mine). Contraryto received wisdom, then, there is hardlya vision of remakingthe Hinduas a pale image of his master, of designs of total change and reform.Macaulay's notorious planof recastingthe nativeas a brown sahib was not necessarily a design that remaineduniformlydominantfor theentire spectrumof colonial rule.Evenwhen dominant, it had to make crucial negotiations with other imperatives and value preferences and, above all, with the everlasting calculation of political expediency. If, at the time of Macaulay,the Anglicist vision of a westernisedmiddle class hadappeared as the strongestreservoirof loyalism, soon enoughotheralternatives emergedandwere partially accommodated, modifyingtheearlier formula and crucially mitigating its reformistthrust.Our moment of the 1890s comes after a long spell of middle class agitation over demands of constitutional rights, of Indianisationof the services, of security against racial discrimination and abuse. It comes after the outburstof white racism over the Ilbert Bill issue when the educated middle class was temporarily vested with the possibility of standing in a position of judicial authority over European. Empowering the Indian through westernisation, consequently, came to be envisaged as the most threateningmenace to the colonial racial structures. It was a moment when the slightest concession to Indian liberal reformism would be made most unwillingly andonly on the belief that it representeda majorityopinion. The new legislation was conceived after the reformist agitation had convinced the authorities that the 'great majority' was ready for change.65 Right after the Phulmonee episode, the revivalist-nationalists were maintaininga somewhatembarrassed silence which was brokenonly after the proposed bill came along. During the interval, it was the reformist voice alone that could be audible. Since this, for the moment, looked like the majoritydemand, political expediency coincided temporarily with reformistimpulseandthe government committed itself to raising the age of consent. At the same time, official opinion in Bengal did not extend the terms of the specific reform to any larger plans for invasive changes. On the contrary, if disThe council admit that our native fellow playeda keennessto learnfromthecodes of mustbe aallowed thefullestpossible h-indu patriarchy.D)id a recognition that subejects freedom in deciding when their children they were confrontedwith the most abso-

lute formof patriarchal dominationevoKea measureof unconsciotusrespect and fellow feeling among the usually conservative, male English authorities, rather than the instinct for reform?As the Secretary to the Public I-Health Society putit:"Thehistoryof British rule and the workings of British courts in India manifest a distinct tenderness towards...the customs and religious observances of the Indian people."' There was still the mangledbody of "that unhappychild, Phulmonee I)assee," a girl of ten or eleven, sexually used by a man whom she had known only for a few weeks, who was twenty-nine years her senior, and who had already been married once (aunt Bhondamonee's evidence in court). There was the deposition of her mother Radhamonee:"I saw my daughterlying on the cot, weltering in blood... I-lercloth and the bedcloth and lari 's cloth were wet with blood."6' There was unanimous medical opinion that Hlari had caused the death of a girl whose body was still immature and could notsustain penetration.She died after 13 hoursof acute painandcontinuousblecding. Thedry medical terminologysomehow accentuates the horrormore than words of censure: A clot,measuring 3 inchesby one-and-a-half inchesin thevagina...a longitudinal tearone andthreequarters long by one inchbroad at the upperend of the vagina...a haematoma threeinchesin diameter in thecellulartissue of the pelvis. Vagina, uterusand ovaries small and undeveloped.No sign of ovulation." Phulmonee's was by no means an isolated case. Dr Chever's investigations of 1856 had mentioned at least 14 cases of premenstrual cohabitationthathadcome to his notice, and the subsequent findings incorporatedin Dr McLeod's reporton child marriageamply corroborated his data.0 We may presumethatonly such cases as would have needed police intervention or urgent medical attentionwould be enteredinto the records. These were, then, cases of serious damagesthatresultedfrompremature sexual activity. An Indiandoctor reportedin court that 13 per cent of the maternitycases that he had handledinvolved mothersbelow the age of thirteen.The defence lawyer threwa challenge at the court: cohabiting with a pre-pubertalwife might not have Shastric sanction, yet so deep-rootedwas thecustom thathe wondered how many men presentin court were not in some way complicit with the practice?70 The divisional commissioners of Dacca, Noakhali,ChittagongandBurdwan deposed that child marriage was widely prevalent among all castes, barringthe tribals,in their divisions. The commissioner of Rajshahi division found that only in Jalpaiguridistrict "Mechhes and other aboriginal tribes do not favourchild marriage...amongstthe Muhammadansand Rajbungshis, females being useful in field work, arenotgenerally marriedluntil they are more advanced in

1874

Economic and Political Weekly

September 4, 1993

This content downloaded on Thu, 13 Dec 2012 13:10:23 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

age". On the whole, it was more common among lower castes. The average age of marriage for upper caste girls was slowly moving up to 12 or 13 due to the relatively large spread of the new liberal education among them, and, ironically, to thegrowing pressurcsof dowry which forced parcntsto keep daughters unmarriedtill they could puttogetheranadequateamountof dowry.7" In fact, the compulsion to delay marriage till thedowrycould becollected would have found a convenient ally in the new liberalism. Among the lower castes, on the other hand, emulation of brahmanicalorthodoxy rather than of liberal values would be a more assured way of claiming a pure ritual status.Whereverinfantmarriage prevailed, therewas no way of ensuringthatcohabitation would be delayed till the onset of puberty. While both scripturaland customary injunctions were too strongly weighted in favour of early marriageto allow a raising of theage of marriageforgirls, certainparts of the shastras did prescribe against prepubertal cohabitation among married couples. Nobin ChandraSen, poet and district magistrate of Chittagong, suggested thatthis injunctioncould be reinforcedwith legislation. Official opinion tried to distinguish between two distinct levels in marriage; the wedding ceremony itself was interpretedas a sort of a betrothal, after whichgirlsremainedin theirparent'shomes. It was only after the onset of puberty that they went througha 'second marriage'and went off to live with their husbands. A group of 'medical reformers' (Indian as well as European doctors who advocated changes in marriagerules on strictly medical grounds) as well as administratorsadvised legislation to ban marital cohabitation before the performanceof the second marriage.They hoped that there was sufficient shastricas well as customarysanction behind the practice.72 Itwas soon clear, however, thattoo much was being madeof the 'second marriage'.It was not generally taken to constitute a distinctseparatestage within marriageas a whole. While there was a widespread recognition that girls should begin regular -cohabitationonly after they attained puberty,thecustomwas customarilyviolated. Once the marriagehad been performed,a lot of domestic, especially feminine, pressure pulled the wife into the husband's family. Inanycase, itwasdifficult todecide exactly at what age girls attained puberty and to makesure thatno girl was sent off to herhusbandbeforethat.Any viable piece of legislation would have tospell out a difinite age at which pubertystartsratherthan indicate a gceneral physical condition. The definition of pubertyprovedto be the stumbling block. According to custom, it was cquatedwith the onset of regularmenstruation.And here, revivalist-nationalists were trcadingdelicate ground. While they wantedlto oppose the proposed age of 12,

they could not push the age too far back, since they hadnot opposed theearlierPenal Code banon marital cohabitationbeforethe girl was 10. If they now chose to construe the earlier ban as an oppressive intrusion thathadalreadyinterferedwith Hindumarriage practices, then they could no longer sustain their present agitational rhctoric: that the currrentinterventionwas the first fundamental violationof IIinduconjugality and thereforespelt the beginningof the end of the only frec space left to the Ilindu. Without this sense of a new, momentous beginning of doom, the pitch of the highly apocalyptic rhetoricwould fall flat. If the new legislation were to be seen as merely a partof a long-drawnout process,thenopposition to it could hardlyinvest itself with a life or death mission. TIhey,therefore, insisted that 'true puberty' only occurred between the ages 10 and 12. Even if menstruation occurred earlier, it would be a fluke and not a regular flow. The earlier IPenalCode regulation had not therefore interferedwith the garbhadhan ceremony. Since in the hot climate of Bengal, menarche was sure to startbetween 10 and 12, the further raising of the age of consent would constitute the first real breach in ritual practice. Reformers argued that puberty sets in properlyonly after 12. In this, they used a different notion of puberty itself. While revivalist-nationalists unequivocally equated pubertywith menarche, medicalreformersargued that puberty was a prolonged process, and menarchewas the sign of its commencement, not of its culmination. The beginningof menstruation did not indicate the girl's 'sexual maturity'which meantthather physical organswere developed enough to sustain sexual penetration without serious pain or damage. Until that capability had been attained, they argued, the notion of her consent was meaningless. It is remarkablehow all strandsof opinion-colonial, revivalist-nationalist, medical-reformer-agreed on a definition of consent that pegged it to a purely physical capability, divorcedentirely fromfreechoice of partner,from sexual, emotional or mcntal compatibility.Consentwas made into a biological category, a stage when the female body was readyto accept sexual penetration without serious harm. The only difference lay in assessing when this stage was reached. It would be simplistic, however, to conclude that there was a complete identity in patriarchalvalues betwecn reformersand revivalists. Whatevertheir broaderviews, reformers always had to struggle with a minimalist programmesince nothing else would havc the remotestchance of acceptability cither with the legislative authorities, orwith Ilindu socicty. Wconly have to remindourselves about the explosive protests that this legislation provoked. Rteformist campaigning for legislation was

more of a consciousness raising device, a foregrounding.ofissues of domestic ideology than pinning effective hopes of real social changeto acts. Norwas the minimalist programme of insisting on the woman's physical safety an.insignificant matter,under the circumstances. Revivalist-nationalistson theotherhand,groundedtheiragenda on the most violently authoritarianregime of patriarchalabsolutism. Their insistence on self-rule in the domestic sphere coincided with their insistence that the hIindu girl should sacrifice her physical safety, andeven her life, if necessary, to defend the community's claim to autonomy. As the reformistcampaign gathered momentumand as the government, by the end of 1890, seemed committed to Malabari's prosals, I-lindumilitantswere faced with two options. They could accept a radical reorientationof theirearlier emphasis: that is, they could admit of a basic problem within present marriagepractices and then delink them from past, supposedly authentic norms. This way, they could still maintain theirdistance from reformersby insisting on reform from within in place of alien legislation from outside. While this would have amountedto an honourable face-saving device, it would still have implied an assault on the totality and inviolability of what hadso farbeen exalted as the essential core of the system. Worse still, it would have amounted to a surrenderto missionary, reformist and rationalist critiques of Hindu conjugality. On the other hand, it could come to terms with the phenomenon of violence and build its own countercampaign aroundits presence. If difference was found to lie not in superior rationality, greater humanism, pleasure or love, but, rather, in pain and coercion, then these constituentsof difference should be admitted and celebrated. V The Age of Consent Bill could have reasonably been faultedon manycounts. Itwas an unbelievablymessy andimpractical measure. Reporting and verification of crime were generally impossible in familial situations. Even if the girl (if she survived) and her parentswere willing to depose against the husband, neighbours, whose evidence was crucial in such cases, usually protected the man. Proving the girl's age was fairly impossible in a country where births are still not registered. Medical examination was often inconclusive. Where mattersdid eventually reach the court, the jury, and Britishjudges, fearfulof offending custom, rarely took up a firm stand. In 1891, the motherof a young girl had pressed for legal action in such a case and the girl herself gave very definite evidence in court.On the basis of a dental examination the English magistrate, however, could not be absoIutely certain thatshe was not oover 12. The was consequently discharged.73 11usbandl

Economic and(iPolitical Weekly

September 4, 1993

1875

This content downloaded on Thu, 13 Dec 2012 13:10:23 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Unnerved by the massive anti-bill agitations, the government itself hastened to undermine the scope of the act. Five days after its enactment, Lord Lansdowne sent circulars instructing that enquiries should be held by "native Magistrates"alone and in any case of doubt, prosecutionshould be postponed.74 The nationalist press referred to thesc problems from time to time but used them as auxiliary arguments ratherthan as central ones. Certain other kinds of political criticism found a strongerresonance. There was a powerfully articulatedfear about the extension of police intrusion right into the There was heartof the I-linduhousehold.75 alsostrong opposition on the groundthatan unreformed and unrepresentative legislatureshould not legislate on such controversial matters76- a criticism that sought to link up the anti-Bill agitation with current ModerateCongress-typeconstitutionaldemands. These protests too remainedrather marginal to the true core of the Ilindu revivalist-nationalistdebatewhich wascarried on by hardliners like the newspapers

operations.The claim is justified by breaking up anddispersing the sources of Hindu andever-shiftconjugalityamongnumerous ing pointsof location. Some could be based on writtentexts, some located in oral traditions, yet others in ritual practices, andmost problematicof all-a whole lot could be simply embedded in an undefinable, amorphous, diffused Il-induway of life, accessible to Ihindu instincts alone. The intentionis to dispersethesourcesof Hindu Law and custom beyond condified texts, however, authoritativeor authentic those might be. Even an ancient authority like Manu,who advocated 16 as the upperlimit of marriageage for girls, was dismissed as someone who wrote for the colder northern regions where pubertycame later. Charak andSusruta weredismissedeven moresummarily as near-Buddhistswho had scant regardfor trueIli nduvalues. The processof wide dispersal renders Hlindu customs opaque and infinitely flexible, to the point of being eternally elusive to the colonial authorities. The crucial emphasis lay on the reiteration thatthe proposedlaw was the firstof its BaJtgabas hi,DainikOSamacharChafndrika or theAmritabazarPatrika. kind to breachandviolate the fundamentals nationalists started on a very fa- of Hlinduism. IHindu The argumentcould only be miliar note that had been struckon all sorts clinched by derecognising the importance of issues since the 1870s: a foreign govern- of earlier colonial interventionsin Hindu ment was irrevocably alien to the meaning domestic practices.Sati, it was argued,was of Hindupractices.And, where knowledge never a compulsoryritualobligationand its does not exist, there power must not be abolition therefore mercly scratched the exercised. A somewhat long illustration surfacc of Hlinduexistence. The Widow from the Daintik 0 Samachar Chlantdrika Remarriage Act had a highly restricted sums up a numberof typical statements on scope, simply dcclaring children born of a second marriageto be legal heirs to their the matter. Reformersrepliedthat Thata women should, fromher childhood, fathers'properties.78 revision remainnear !ler husband,and think of her the new bill was no unprecedented andshouldnot even thinkof or see of custom either, since the Penal Code had husband of alreadybannedcohabitationforgirls before the face of anotherman...are injunctions thesignificancewhereof the age of 10. Since girls could attain puthe Hlindu Shastras, is understoodonlyby 'sasttvik'[pure] people berty before that age, the sanctity of the the Hindus. look to thc garbhadhan ceremony had already been like The Englislh of thebody.Butin Hinduopinionshe threatened. flindu revivalist-nationalists purity alone is chasteandpurewho has nevereven retaliated with a reference to the elusive customanda notionof the No sources of I-lindu thoughtof one who is not her husband. one whodoes notsee witha 1Hindu s eye will llindu 'normalising' orderwhich could be notbe able to understand thesecretmeaning graspedby pure-bornIlindus alone. It seems they [the reformers]do not know the of Hiindu practicesand observances....Acmeaningof Adtya RitlJ[realmenses].Mere thechildhoodof a girl cordingto the Ihindu flow of blood is no sign of Adya Ritu. A girl is to be determined to herfirst by reference, never menstruates before she is 10 and even menses andnot to herage...77 if she does the event must be considered The first point made here is a methodunnatural.79Thistook care of the 1860 Penal ological one that disputes the attempt to Code provision againstcohabitingwith a girl comprehend any foreign system of meanunder 10. An 'authentic' [Iindu girl according throughone's own cognitive categories ing to revivalists does not reach puberty (and immediately proceedstodoso itself by before slheis 10. The earlierban had therefore generalising on English attitudesabout the not really tampered with H-findu practices. body and the soul). The meaning of Hlindu Were the ceiling to be extended to 12, a female childhood is then made different serious interference would take place. IFhe of medical, througha differentarrangement meaning of physicality itself is constituted sexual, moral and behavioural conditions. differentlyand uniformbiological symptoms While revivalist-nationalistsdo not, as yet, do not point to a universal bodily developinsist on complete autonomy in the actual mentall scheme, since Ilindus alone know formulation and application of personal what stands for the normal and the abnormal in the bodly's growth. laws, they do claim the sole and ultimate right to determine their general field of T he i nsistence: that thc English were about

to commit the primalsin against Hinduisml, that an unprecedentedattack was going to be mounted on the last pure space left to a conquered pcople, was necessary to relocate the beginnings of true colonisation hereand now-so thata new chronology of resistance could also begin from this moment, redeeming the earlier choice of loyalism.
The Indians have felt for the last two centuries that India is no longcr theirm,that it has passed into the hands of the Yavanas. But the Indians have, up to this time, found solace in the thought that though their country is not theirs, their religion is theirs.80

Or, even more forcefully and explicitly, "No, no, a hundred battles like that of Plassey, Assay, Multan could not in terribleness of effect compare with the step Lord ILandsowne has taken."' With the possibility of protest in the near future, apocalyptic descriptions of subjection became common: "Tlhe day has at length arrived when dogs and jackals, hares and goats will have it all their way. India is going to be converted into a most unholy hell, swarming with hell worms and
hell insects. ...The hlindu family is

ruined.'' 82 It was this language of resistance and repudiationthat gave the Age of Consent controversy such wide resonance among the Bengali middle class. TlheBanigabaslii, in particular,formulateda rhetoricin these years with phenomenal success,' becoming in the process, the leading Bengali daily, changingover from its weekly status, and pulling a whole lot of erstwhile reformist paperswith itsorbit forsome time. Even Vidyasagar, the ideal-typical reformerfigure, criticised the bill.' The response of a fairly pro-reformjournal, the Bengalee, epitomises the way in which the new agitationalmood reactedon a potentially reform-minded, yet largely nationalist intelligentsia. It had supported the bill quite staunchly up to the end of January,1891, afterwhich there seemed to occur an abruptchange of line. In February, after reportingon "an enormous mass protest meeting, the largest that had ever been held", it started to find problems with the legislation-albeit more of a constitutional kind,withreflectionsuponthe unrepresentative natureof the legislature.' In March it coveredyet anothermammothprotestmeeting and then redefined the grounds of its own opposition. "It is no longer the language of appealwhich opponentsof the Bill addressto the rulersof the land....U-owever much we may differ from the opponents of the measure, we cannot but respect such
sentiments."'

We, therefore, turnr to the 'language' of the opponents,to theBanzgabashli. Ilere was a radicalleap frommendicantappeals,from oblique and qualified criticism and from guilt and shame-ridden self-satirisation. Ilere was the birth of a powerful, selfconfident nationalistrhetoric."Whowould

1876

Economic and Political Weekly

September 4, 1993

This content downloaded on Thu, 13 Dec 2012 13:10:23 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

have thought thata dead body would rise up again?Whoever thoughtthatmillionsof corpses would again become instinct with life?" 8 There was an exhilaratingsense of release in the naming of the enemy. The Englishman now standsbeforeus in all hisgrimandnakedhideousness. What a grim Howdreadful theattitude... appearance. The demonsof cremationgroundare laughinga wild, weird laugh. Is this the form of our Terrorof Ruling power? Brahmaraksharh, the Universe; Englishmen...do you gnash your teeth,frownwith yourredeyes, laugh and yell, flinging aside your matted locks...andkeepingtime to theclang of the sword and bayonet...doyou engage your...andwe...thetwenty selves in a wild dance shalllose ourfearandopen croresof Indians our fortycroresof eyes." Very confidently, almost gleefully, every of rationalisation was peeled formertrapping away from the core message. Admittedly sanction for infant marriage came from Raghunandanalone, who was a late and local authority.It might well lead to other deaths.'9 It did, in all likelihood, weaken futureprogenyand lead to racial degeneration; but "the Hindu prizes his religion above his life and short-lived children".' Hindushastrasundoubtedlyimposed harsh sufferingon women. "This discipline is the pride and glory of chaste women and it prevails only in Hindu society"'.9'There were yet otherpracticesthatmight bringon her death. withFastingonEkadashi(fortnightlyfasting out even a drinkof water that widows are meantto ritually is a cruelcustom maintain) andmanyweak-bodied widows very nearly die of observing it...it is prescribed only in a small 'tatwa' of Raghunandan. Is it to be banned, too, for this reason,the guardian of the widow arraigned in front of the High Courtandpronounced guilty by the Baboo 92 jurors? There would be other Phulmonees who would die similar violent deaths through infant marriage.Yet,

over Hindu marripge controversies. Even in translation the power of the Certain newspapers, especially the voice comes through.The repetitive short sentences joined by 'ands', the frequency Bangabashti, took the lead in mobilising protest,organisingmass rallies and proof the word 'must', the use of vaster and voking official prosecution. That paryet vaster numbersto build up inexorably ticulargroup, however, soon withdrew, towards a sense of infinite doom-all add from the scene of confrontation.In the up to an incantatory, mandatory, apocaSwadeshi movement of 1905-08, the lyptic mode of speech that is the typical vehicle for a fundamentalist milBangabashi wouldremain even quiescent, ties. I owe thispieceof lenarianism. All external reasoning has loyal to theauthori informationto Sumit Sarkar.For an exbeen chipped away, just the bare mandate is repeatedandemphasised throughthreats cellent studyof thenewspaper see Amiya and warnings. This is an immensely powSen, 'Hindu Revivalism in Bengal' (unpublished thesis,Delhi University,1980). erful, dignified voice, aeons away from timid mendicancy or morbid self-doubt. 2 Charles H Heimsath, Indian Nationalism This is the proudvoice of the community, andHindu SocialReform, Princeton University Press, pp 91-94; Ajit Kumar legislation on itself in total defiance of foreign rule,of alien rationalism.Itspeaks Chakraborti, Maharshi Dabendranath the authoritativeword in the appropriately Tagore,Allahabad,1916, Calcutta,1971, authoritarianvoice. The Hindu woman's pp 406-35. 3 The act of 1877 was a colonial intervenbody is the site of a struggle that for the first time declares war on the very fundationto tightenupthemarriage bondwhich mentals of an alien power-knowledge systheEindu orthodoxystrongly defended tem. Yet it is not merely a displaced site on the groundthatit coincided with, and for other arguments but remains, at this reinforcedthe trueessence of Hinduconmoment,the heartof the struggle. Bengali jugality. Hindu revivalist-nationalism, at this for4 See Dagmar Engels, 'The Limits of Genmative moment, begins its career by deder Ideology: Bengali Women, the Colofining itself as the realm of unfreedom. nial State and the Private Sphere, 1890I would not like to end, howeyer,with this 1930, Women Studies', International Fospeech, however,powerful.Itsvery contesrum,Vol 12, 1989. 5 Heimsath,op cit, pp 147-75. tation of alien reformismand rationalism, its defence of communitycustom,represses 6 See extracts from BangabashiandDainik the pain of its women whose protest was O Samachar Chandrikabetween 1889 drowned to make way for an alleged conand 1891 in Report on Native Newssensus. It is no longer possible to resurrect papers, Bengal (henceforth RNP, the protest of Phulmonee and of many, Bengal). 7 For this version of Cambridgehistoriogmany other batteredchild wives who died or nearlydied asa resultof maritalrape.We raphy on Indian nationalism see, have,however,severalinstanceswhencases Gallagher, Seal and Johnson, Locality, were lodged at the initiative of the girl's Province and Nation, Cambridge, 1973. 8 I have discussedthis in HinduHousehold mothers, sometimes forcing the hands of the male guardians-a raredemonstration and Conjugality in Nineteenth Century of the woman's protest action for those Bengal, paperreadat the Women'sStudtimes. We also have a court deposition left ies' Centre, Jadavpur University, Calcutta, by a young girl who was severely wounded 1989. and violated by her elderly husband. 9 N K Sinha, Economic History of Bengal, Calcutta,n d. "Icannot sayhowoldIam.I havenotreached 10 N K Sinha (ed), TheIistory of Bengal. puberty.I was sleeping when my husband "the performance of the garbhadhan cerseizedmyhand....Icriedout.Hestopped my 11 See for instance PrasadDas Goswami, Amader Sanmaj, Serampore emony is obligatoryupon all. Garbhadhan mouth. 1896; I wasinsensible owingto his outrage mustbe afterfirstmenstruation. It meansthe Ishanchandra Basu, Stri Diger Prati on me. My htusband violatedme againstmy firstcohabitation enjoined by theshastras. n d; Kamakhya It Upadeslh,Calcutta, Charan will. ...WhenI criedout he kickedme in the is the injunction of the Hlindu shastrasthat Bannerji, Stri Shiksha, Dacca, 1901; abdomen. My husband does notsupport me. married girls must cohabitwith their husMonomohan Basu, Hindur Achar He rebukes andbeatsme. I cannotlive with bandson thefirstappearance of theirmenses Calcutta 1872; Chandranath VRYavahar, him. and all Hindusmustimplicitlyobey the inBasu, Garlhast/iya Pat/i, Calcutta 1887; junction.Andhe is nota trueHindu whodoes The husbandwas dischargedby the British Bhubaneswar Misra, Hindu Viva/ha not obey it...If one girl in a lakhor even a magistrate and the girl was restored to Calcutta1875; Tarakhnath Samaloclhan, croremenstruates beforetheage of twelveit him.94 Biiswas Bangiya Mahila, Calcutta 1886; mustbe admittedthatby raisingthe age of Anubicacliaran Gupta, Grilhastha Jivan, Notes consenttherulerwill be interfering with the Calcutta 1887; Narayan Roy, Bangareligionof the Hindus.Buteveryoneknows mahila, n d, Calcutta; Chandrakumar thathundred of girls menstruate beforethe 1 1 use the term 'militant nationalism' in a Bhattacliarya, Bangavivaha, Calcutta age of twelve.Andgarbhas (wombs)of hunsomewhat unconventional sense here: not 1881; PratapchandraMajumdar,Stri dredof girlswill be tainted andimpurc. And as a part of a dcefinitc and continuous C/aritra, Calcutta n d; Purnachandra the thousands of children who will be born of historical trend but as a moment of absoGupta,Banigali Bau, Calcutta1885; and those impuregarbhaswill become impure lute and violent criticism of foreign rule manyothers. andlose theirrightsto offer 'pindas'lanicesthat was developed by a group of Hindus 12 See the preponderance of this theme in tralofferingsj."94 in the late 1880s and e.rly 1890s, largcly the collection Of W C Archer,Bazaar

Economic and Political Weekly

September 4, 1993

1877

This content downloaded on Thu, 13 Dec 2012 13:10:23 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

57 Sanibad Prabhakar, June 30, 1887, RNP Bcngal, 1887. 58 Bangabashti, June 25,1887, RNP Bengal, Bankimchandra, BankinmRachanabali, 1887. (ed), Suibaltera Studies VI, Delhi, Vol 1, Calcutta. 59 Nababibhakar Sadhtarani, July 18,1887, 1989. 14 PrasadDas Goswami,op cit. RNP Bengal, 1887. NationalistIconogra15 See, for instancc, Sir William Markby, 34 See TanikaSarkar, 60 Dacca1Prakash, June 8, 1875, RNP Benphy. Fellow, Balliol College an(derstwhile gal, 1A75. Court,Ilindu and 35 Report of the Age of Consent Comimittee, judge in CalcuttaHIigh of Bengal,Calcutta 61 Education Gazette, May 11, 1873, RNP 1928-29,Government Mohamnmadant Law, 1906, Delhi, 1977, 1929. For some statistical observations Bengal, 1873. pp 2-3. on this matter,see pp 65-66. 62 Heimsath, op cit 16 See, frequentreferences to the Queen's 63 Bengal Government Judicial J C/17/, Daptar. in the agitationalwritings 36 Kamlakanter Proclamation Proceedings 96-102, 1892, Nos 101-02. in the nationalist press, RNP Bengal, 37 Tanika Sarkar, Bankimchandra and the File J C/17-5. Honourable justice Imipossibility of a Political Agenda: A 1887-91. Wilson's charge to jury in the case Predicament for 19th Century Bengal, 17 Markby,op cit, for a convergenceof the views of -this Orientalist scholar-cumEmpress vs Main Mohan Maitee, CalNMMLOccasionalPapers,Second Secutta High Court. Report sent by Arcar, ries, No XL, 1991 colonialjudgewith HinduLegalopinion, Clark of the Crown, High Court, Calcutta, comparehim with SripatiRoy, Ctustonts 38 Bangabashi,July 9, 1887, RNP Bengal 1887. For a critical discussion of such to officiating chief secretary 90B, antd Cutstomary Law in Britislh India, views see Rabindranath No 6292-Calcutta, September 8, 1890. Tagore, Hindu 1908-09, reprinted TagoreLawLectures-, Vivaha,1294. Rabindranath, himself, in 64 See Rajat Kanta Ray. in Delhi 1986, pp 2-6. this extremely involuted logical exer- 65 Bengal Government Judicial NF J C/17/, 17a See J D N Derrett, Religioni, Law and the State in India, London, 1968. cise, grantsa practicalpurposeto infant Proceedings 104-17, June 1893. From marriage purelyfor betterbreedingpurSimmons, honorary secretary, Public 18 Fora clarificationof thenotionof unwritposes but, in the process, Hindu conI-lealth Society of India to chief secreten law, see RobertM Ireland,TheLiberjugality is denied all effective orspiritary, Government of Bengal, Calcutta tine MlustDie: Sexuial Dishonour and the tua l pretensions. RabindraRachanabali, Unwritten Law in thte191/iCentur) United September 1, 1890. Vol 12, Calcutta,1349. 66 Ibid, C C Stevens, officiating, chief secStates, Journal of Social History, Fall 1989. 39 Chandrakanta Basu, Hindui Patni and retary 90B, to secretary, home depart19 The Bengalee, March 7, 1873. Hindu Vivaha Bayas 0 Uddeshya, cited ment, Government of India, Darjeeling, in Hindu Vivaha,op cit, also by thesame 20 Markby,op cit, p 100. November 8, 1890. 21 This relates to a case involving the disauthor, Hhinduttva, op cit. 67 Letter from Simmons, op cit. position of a Shalgram-shilain case of 40 See for instance PrasadDas Goswami, 68 Bengal Government Judicial, J C/17/, Surendranath Bannerjee vs the chief op cit, BhubaneshwarMisra, op cit, op cit. justice and judges of the high court at KalimoyGhatok, Ami, Calcutta1885. 69 Bengal Government Judicial, NF J/C/ Fort William,July 1883. See an account 41 Monomohan Basu, op cit. 171, op cit. in SubrataChoudhary,'Ten Celebrated 42 Manmohan Basu, op cit. 70 McLeod'sMedicalReporton ChildWives Cases Triedby the CalcuttaHigh Court' 4-3 Sulabh Samachar 0 Kushadahe, July 22, Bengal Government Judicial, ibid. in the High Coutrtat Calcutta, Centenary 1887, RNP Bengal, 1887. 71 Ibid. Calcutta,1962. 44 Far from invariablyevoking a sense of 72 Ibid. Souvenir 18Q.2-1962, 22 Sharmila Bannerjee, Studies in the Adsuperiorityand disgust among English- 73 The Bengalee, March 21, 1891. ministrative History of Bengal, 1880men, the spectacle would very often 74 Dagmar Engels, op cit. 1989, New Delhi, 1978, pp 151-55. arouse similar sentiments. Compare a 75 Surabhi 0 Patrika, January 16, 1891, 23 Cited in TheBengalee, April 26, 1873. descriptionof a marriage processionby RNP Bengal 1891. 24 See extracts from Murshidabad Patrika, an English tourist with our earlier ac- 76 The Bengalee, March 21, 1891. Dacca Prakash and the Education Gacount: 'It was the prettiestsight in the 77 Dainik 0 Saniachar Chandrika, January zette in April 1875, RNP Bengal. world to see those gorgeously dressed 14, 1891, RNP Bengal, 1891. 25 See Philippa Levine, VictorianFeminism, babies...passer-byssmiled and blessed 78 Nabayug, January 15,1891, RNP Bengal, 1850-1900, London 1987, pp 128-43. thelittle husband andthetinywife'; John 1891. Also see Holcombe, Wives and PropLaw, Glimpses of hIiddenIndia, Calcutta 79 Dainik 0 SamnacharChandrika, April 15, erty-Reform of tIhe Married Women's circa 1905. 1896, RNP Bengal, 1891. 45 The Hindoo Patriot, July 25, 1887. Property Law in 19th Century England, 80 Nabayug, op cit. Oxford 1983. 46 Ibid, August 16, 1887. 81 Bangabashti, March 21, 1891, RNP Ben26 Markby,op cit, p 100. 47 Ibid, September12, 1887. gal, 1891. 27 MendusandRendall (eds),Sexualityand 48 Ibid, August 1, 1887. 82 Ibid. 49 Surabhi 0 Patrika, January 16, 1887, Subordination, Interdisciplinary Studies 83 See Amiya Sen, op cit. of Genders in the 19th Century, RKP, RNP Bengal, 1887. 84 Mentioned in The Bengalee, March 7, 1989, p 133. 50 NistariniDevi, SekalerKatha,first pub1891. 28 See also Holcombe, Victorian Wives and lished serially in Blharatbarsha between 85 Tlte Bengalee, February 28, 1891. Property: Reform of the Married 1913-14. Jana and Sanyal (eds), 86 Ibid, March 21, 1891. Wonmen's Property Law, 1857-82 in Atnmakatlla,Calcutta, 1982, p 11 87 Bangabashi, March 28, 1891. 5 1 Chandrakanta Basu, op cit. Martha Vicinus, A Widening Sphere: 88 Ibid. ChtaniginigRoles of Victorian Womneni, 52 Tte IIinidooPatriot, Septenbe r 19, 1887. 89 Dainik 0 Santachar Chandrika, January London. 53 Cited in The IIintdooPatr-iot, ibid. 15, 1891. 0 Saniaclhar Chiandrika,June 22, 29 Markbyand SripatiRoy, op ciL 54 Dainwik 90 Bangabashi, December 25, 1890. 30 The Amrita Bazar Patrika, February 4, 1857. Also Dacca Prakash. 91 Dainik 0 Sarnacliar Chlanidrika, January 1873. 55 BardhawaniSanjiv'aii, July 5. 1887, RN II 14, 1891. 31 Thte Ilindoo Pafriot, August 16, 1887. 92 Ibid, JanuaryJ11, Bengal, 1887. 1891. 32 TfheAmrita Ba-ar Patrika, January 28, .56 Dihrntkcu, July 4, 1887, RNP l3cngal. 93 Ihid. 1875, RNP' Bengal, 1875. 1887. 94 ThXe Ben galee, Jully 25, 1891. Paintings of Calcutta, London, 1953.

13 See, for instance, plots in the novels of

'The Kalki-Avatar of 33 See SumitSarkar, Bikrampur: A Village Scandal in Early 20th CenturyBengal' in RanajitGuha

1878

Economic and Political Weekly

September 4, 1993

This content downloaded on Thu, 13 Dec 2012 13:10:23 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions