|Governor General William Bentinck. British Indiaen.wikipwdia. org . en.wikipwdia. org|
|Sati-the practice of burning a Hindu woman along with her husband.freethoughtblogs.com|
William Cavendish Bentinck (September 1774 – June, 1839), successor of Lord Amherst as the Governor General of India, when he took over administration in 1828, made effective steps to root out social evils like Sati and infanticide. Being a benevolent administrator as he was, he reorganized the law and order of the country for better administration. He was the one who took serious efforts to put an end to the menace of the operation of notorious thugs -robbers. He opened up job opportunities to the Indians in the subordinate services, initiated the liberty of the Press and also took vital decisions regarding the educational system prevailing then in India.
His major contributions are abolition of Sati and infanticide, two evils prevalent in the society then.
None of Bentinck's predecessors handled the problems of social evil in India as Bentinck did. He tried to reform the Hindu society by abolition of the cruel rites of Sati and the suppression of the infanticide.
The cult of Sati was prevalent in Bengal in the 19th century and also in some parts of India. According to that cult, a devoted wife would get herself burnt along with the dead body of her husband. The ritual of Sati was contemplated as a holy act on the part of women. Many leaders rebelled against Sati spearheaded by one Rajaram Mohan Rai, a great social reformer.. Some Indian princes and the foreigners even had adopted several steps to abolish the cult of Sati and made unsuccessful bid.
Though the East India Company had, however, adhered to its declared policy of non-interference in the social and the religious customs of the people of India, it was William Bentinck as the governor General of India, who looked down upon the sati cult and declared it illegal as part of his solemn duty to reform the laws. None of his predecessors provided any legislative assistance to stop the social evils like Sati, that had been practiced in India for centuries. Bentinck undertook the social reform as one of his administrative duties and was ambly supported by several Indian reformers. Bentinck, before taking any serious steps to abolish Sati, he relied on relevant facts and figures about Sati cases, the views of the army officers, of the judges of the Nizamat Adalat, of the Superintendent of Police of the respective provinces, etc. Later by the Regulation No XVII of December, 1829 he declared the practice of Sati illegal. In the Regulation he also declared in clear terms that the practice of Sati by any means was illegal and punishable by the criminal courts. Though the Regulation of 1829 by William Bentinck was applicable initially to the Bengal Presidency, after 1830 the jurisdiction of the Regulation was extended to Madras and Bombay Presidencies. Surprisignly there was no protest against this new act on Sati, but for an appeal to the Privy Council against the Government's interference in their religious customs by some orthodox Bengalies. Thus the practice of Sati was completely abolished from the contemporary society with the assistance of William Bentinck.
Even after the abolition of Sati, the status of Indian widows had not improved. The Hindu society steeped in conservatism, looked down upon them, giving least importance to their physical and mental well being. Of course, rich widows got better treatment in the families. In some families if they had no means of livelihood, they were treated shabbily. The conservative Hindu society did not recognize remarriage of a Hindu widow and she had to remain unmarried throughout her life. In some communities across India in the past, she had to have her head tonsured periodically after certain age and should stay at home and was not allowed to take part in any family functions on auspicious days along with married women. It may sound silly, superstitious people, who would leave home on a good mission, won't venture to see the face of a widow because it was considered a bad omen. This will give you some idea about the mental agony and insults faced by the pathetic women who were already burdened with pangs of separation caused by their husbands' untimely death. This despicable act was a blot on the entire Hindu society and this biased custom was widely opposed by a large section of the population. In the last several decades the status of Hindu widow has improved drastically.
Definitely William Bentinck made an excellent impression on the native Indians who are indebted to him for his timely and useful reforms.