[Sidenote: Prohibition of the marriage of widows.]
The prohibition of the marriage of widows has already been referred to as bound up with caste ideas of marriage and with social standing, and as the most deeply rooted part of the social inferiority of women. By some at least the injustice has been acknowledged since many years. At Calcutta, between 1840 and 1850, Babu Mati Lal Seal promised Rs10,000 to any Hindu, poor or rich, who would marry a widow of his own faith, but no one came forward. The late Pandit Iswar Chander Vidyasagar of Calcutta has also already been mentioned as a champion of the widow’s rights. But though legalised in 1856, the cases of re-marriage among the higher castes of Hindus in any year can still be counted on the fingers of one hand. The Report of the Census of India, 1901, takes a gloomy view regarding the province of Bengal, the most forward in many respects, but the most backward in respect of child-marriage and prohibition of the marriage of widows. The latter custom, we are told, “shows signs of extending itself far beyond its present limits, and finally of suppressing widow marriage throughout the entire Hindu community of Bengal." The actual number of widows in all India in 1901 was 25,891,936, or about 2 out of every 11 of the female population, more than twice the proportion [1 in 13] in Great Britain. As in the matters of the repudiation of caste and the raising of the marriage age, the three new religious bodies, namely, the Indian Christians, the Brahmas, and the [=A]ryas, stand side by side for the right of the widow.
THE TERMS WE EMPLOY
“Precise ideas and precisely
defined words are the wealth and
the currency of the mind.”
The Pilgrim’s Progress, Macmillan’s
[Sidenote: No Indian race or religion.]
Experience teaches the necessity of explaining to Western readers certain terms which even long residence in India often fails to make clear to Anglo-Indians. Let it be remembered then that the terms India, Indian, have only a geographical reference: they do not signify any particular race or religion. India is the great triangular continent bounded on the south-west and south-east by the sea, and shut in on the north by the Himalayan Mountains. Self-contained though it be, and easily thought of as a geographical unit, we must not think of India as a racial, linguistic, or religious unit. We may much more correctly speak of the European race, language, or religion, than of the Indian.
[Sidenote: A Hindu religion.]
The term Hindu refers to one of the Indian religions, the religion of the great majority no doubt. It is not now a national or geographical term. Practically every Hindu is an Indian, and almost necessarily must be so, but every Indian is not a Hindu. There are Indian Mahomedans, sixty-two million of them; Indian Buddhists, a few—the great majority of the Buddhists in the “Indian Empire” being in Burmah, not in India proper; there are Indian Christians, about three million in number; and there are Indian Parsees. A Hindu is the man who professes Hinduism.