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SUTTEES'CRY TO BRITAIN;
EXTRACTS FROM ESSAYS PUBLISHED IN INDIA
Rite is not an Integral Part of the Religion of the Hindoos,
A HORRID CUSTOM,
OPPOSED TO THE INSTITUTES OP MENU, AND A VIOLATION
®f cbers principle of Justice anil ^umanitg:
RESPECTFULLY SUBMITTED TO THE CONSIDERATION OF ALL WHO ARE
AND SOLICITING THE INTERFERENCE OF THE BRITISH
GOVERNMENT, AND OF THE HONOURABLE THE COURT
OF DIRECTORS OF THE HONOURABLE EAST INDIA
COMPANY.TO SUPPRESS THIS SUICIDAL PRACTICE.
BY J. PEGGS,
"In childhood, must a female be dependent on her father; in youth, on her husband;
"The burning of widows is a mere excrescence from the corrupt stock of polytheism."
Friend Of India.
SEELY AND SON, FLEET-STREET; W. BAYNES AND SON, AND
WIGHTMAN AND CRAMP, PATERNOSTER-ROW; WESTLEY,
STATIONERS' COURT; BLANCHARD, CITY-ROAD: SOLD ALSO
BY WILKINS, DERBY; BENNETT, NOTTINGHAM; NOBLE,
BOSTON; AND ALL OTHER BOOKSELLERS.
Remarks on the horrid nature of the practice of burning Hindoo Widows, and on the causes that tend to prevent its suppression or occasion its perpetration.
J.T is a melancholy reflection, that the religion which influences the population of the vast regions of India, is totally unfavourable to the exercise of every principle either of humanity or virtue. Many of its precepts are so afflictive and unnatural, that they seem to have sunk by common consent into complete disuse; and if every point of the Hindoo ritual were literally enforced, not only would it be impossible to carry forward the ordinary business of life, but all those social relations, to which we are indebted for so much of our happiness, would be completely obliterated, and the whole frame of society dissolved. There are still, however, many usages subversive equally of benevolence and morality, which have been perpetuated for ages. Among these is the burning of widows, a practice, the enormity of which would strike even the Hindoos themselves, did not a blind attachment to the vices of their forefathers overcome every natural feeling. In all the annals of human depravity it will be difficult to discover a custom so horrible in its nature, or so destructive in its consequences both on individual and public happiness. It forms one of the blackest pages in the history of Hindooism; and were this feature of its character alone to remain on record, it would be of itself sufficient to hand it down to the execration of the latest ages. That a practice, which would reflect a stigma on the most barbarous tribes, should have been sanctioned by men of thought and penetration, and perpetuated among a people whose mildness of disposition is proverbial, shews to what a state of degradation the mind may be reduced under the influence of an unnatural superstition. This is not the case
of a patriot relinquishing life to establish the freedom of his country,— it is not a martyr braving the flames to maintain the rights of conscience,—it is not a noble mind sacrificing even life itself on some occasion of exalted virtue to secure to posterity the benefit of its high example. On these occasions we feel a melancholy pleasure in applauding a voluntary resignation of life. But it is the helpless and disconsolate widow torn from her family at the very climax of her grief, and hurried to the flames amidst the shouts of an unfeeling multitude. She must stifle every feeling of compassion for the offspring of her womb, she must renounce them at a period when they stand most in need of her care; and, when weighed down with sorrow, she must take a last look on all mortal things, and enter the flames. Every feeling of humanity is here sacrificed, without the counterbalance of the least degree of advantage either to individuals or to society. Had this sacrifice been demanded of the stronger part of the community, even then it would have been a demand of singular enormity; but in a country like Ilindoostan to demand this sacrifice of the weaker sex— to urge the unprotected female, while her grief for the loss which her children have recently sustained is yet unsupportable—to deprive them of their only remaining consolation, and cast them on the wide world, without a father or mother, is surely a case of unparalled barbarity, and tends almost beyond any thing else to develope the extent of the depravity to which Hindooism owes its origin.*
Were we to hear of a nation which, on her husband's death, subjected a widow to the loss of all her property, of which she might probably have brought him part as a dower which she had enjoyed with him from the time of their union; and turned her out on the wide world (her lord and piotector being dead) to labour—to beg .—to steal—or to perish, with what feelings of indignation should we regard such a law and such a nation! We should inquire, On what principle is this severity exercised on a helpless woman, precisely at the moment when her heart is torn with anguish through the loss of him on whom was fixed all her hope? Were imprisonment for life added to this outrage, however; were the hapless widow deprived of her liberty, as well as of all her property, the moment death had closed the eyes of her husband; such a procedure would excite horror and indignation in every mind. What then should we say were we to hear for the first time, that in some newly discovered island, the death of the husband sealed the doom of the wife, however virtuous and exemplary in her conduct; that she was, from that moment, devoted to death,—and to death in its most dreadful form—to be burnt to ashes? Such, however, is the case; not in some lately discovered island, hitherto totally cut off from the rest of mankind, but in India, famed for her literature and civilization; and, above all, in Bengal, where Europeans are chiefly found; whose ideas, the wise and candid among the natives are imbibing every day.
How then is it possible that the murder of the amiable and defenceless, attended too with such circumstances of cruelty, should
* Friend of India, (monthly series), Vol. i. pp.301, 302.
have continued so long? How is it that common humanity has not overleaped every bound, and constrained superstition to desist from a course so barbarous and inhuman? Among other reasons which might be mentioned, this certainly has its share, that the whole of the horrible deed is really concealed from view. Had the deed been constantly perpetrated in the sight of all, as was formerly the case in Smithfield;—had the helpless victim to superstition been bound to the stake in the open view of the multitude, as were formerly the victims to Romish bigotry ;—had the flames been suffered to kindle on her publicly;—had the convulsions and agonies of the widow expiring in torments, often in the bloom of youth, been fully witnessed by the aged, the young, the neighbour, the near relative, humanity must have spoken out long ago; reflection must have been awakened in the public mind. At least, parents and relatives must have felt horror while anticipating the agonies which awaited a daughter or a beloved sister, the moment sickness or even accident rendered her a widow; and the voice of nature must have prevailed, and abolished a practice so destructive in its anticipation to the peace of every relative, whose heart was not steeled against all the feelings of humanity. But instead of this, the agonies of the dying victim are completely concealed, while her shrieks are drowned in the noise and shouts of the ignorant multitude and the unfeeling ministers of death; and thus the whole is as completely hidden from public view, as though the dreadful deed were perpetrated within the most secluded cloister. The concealment indeed is far more effectual; for in that case, though the shrieks might not assail the listening ear without, the imagination would unavoidably paint to itself the horrors of a daughter, a sister, or even an acquaintance, expiring in the flames, in a manner scarcely less vivid than the real view. But the victim's being thus brought before the multitude in a state which scarcely leaves her the power of reflection, her being hastily led through certain ceremonies, and hurried to the pile by those whose countenances wear the appearance of hilarity and cheerfulness, bound to the dead body of her husband, and covered instantly with the fuel, as well as held down by a pressure which renders all resistance totally unavailing, hides all the horrors of death from the sight; while the shouts of the unthinking crowd, which begin to rend the air the moment the torch is applied to the fatal pile, no less effectually conceal from the ear those agonizing shrieks, from which it is scarcely in nature to refrain at the touch of the flames. Thus completely are the multitude deluded: they think they witness all, while they witness nothing; and the unnatural jocularity, which, originating with the actors in this dreadful scene, generally pervades the whole crowd, removes every feeling of pity, and gives the whole rather the air of a joyous festival than of a funeral scene. The agonies, and shrieks, and dying groans, of the unhappy victim, are witnessed by no one,—but by Him who is the Avenger of blood. But are these agonies the less real on this account? Is the anguish of this tremendous death the less felt? Let reason and humanity judge.