Thursday, 13 August 2015

Governor General William Bentinck and the evil custom of ''Sati'' - British India

Governor General William Bentinck. British Indiaen.wikipwdia. org . en.wikipwdia. org
Sati-the practice of burning a Hindu woman along with her

During the colonial period the Indian natives, especially the Hindus, who belonged to a  conservative  society, hated interference in their religious freedom by the British. Though most of the old customs were acceptable, a few were harmful to the society and not within the realm of human decency.   

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.