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than these hirelings rush at their victim and snatch off her ear-rings and nose-rings:
Ornaments plaited into the hair are torn away, and if the arms are covered with gold and silver bracelets, they do not take the time to draw them off one by one, but holding her arm on the ground, they hammer with a stone until the metal, often solid and heavy, breaks in two; it matters not to them how many wounds are inflicted, neither if the widow is but a child of six or seven, who does not know what a husband means, they have no pity.
At the funeral the relatives of the deceased, male and female, accompany the corpse, and all, rich or poor, must go on foot. The men lead the procession, the women, with thick veils drawn over their faces, following, and last comes the widow, preceded by the barbers' wives, who take great care to keep her at a respectable distance from the main body of the mourners, shouting out as they go along to warn the other people of the approach of the detested widow. Thus she is dragged along, wild with grief, aghast at the indignities heaped upon her, her eyes full of bitter tears, mortally afraid to utter a single syllable, lest she should receive a more heartless treatment from the very people who, but a few days ago, held her so dearly. Soon after the party reaches the river or tank, near which the cremation takes place, the widow is pushed into the water, and there she has to remain, in her wet clothes, away from all the other people, until the dead body has been burnt to ashes—a process occupying, in India, several hours—and the whole company have performed their necessary ablutions. And when all of them have started for home, the widow is led along by the barbers' wives, her clothes soaking wet, and she mutely bearing the rudenesses of her barbarous guides. This custom is rigidly observed in all seasons and all circumstances. It matters not whether she has been laid up with fever or suffering from consumption, whether she is scorched by the burning rays of the midday sun of Indian summer or frozen by the piercing winds blowing from the Himalayas in winter, the widow must be dragged with the funeral party in the preceding manner. There is no pity for her. It sometimes happens that if she is of delicate health she breaks down in the middle of her journey, and falls dead. And death is her best friend then.
When she returns home, she must sit or lie in a corner on the bare ground in the same clothes, wet or dry, which she wore at the time of her husband's death. There she has to pass her days of mourning unattended by anybody, except perhaps by one of the barbers' wives, who, if not well paid, does not care to give her kind offices to the widow. She must be content with only one very scanty and plain meal a day, and must often completely abstain from all food and drink. Her nearest and dearest relations and friends shun her presence, as if she were an accursed viper, and if ever they approach near her it is only to add fresh indignities to her miserable lot. They
make her the butt of the vilest abuses and the most stinging aspersions. She is a widow, and she must put up with her lot; and thus she drags on her miserable existence, with no ray of comfort to cheer her sad soul and no spark of pity to lighten her heavy heart. Hope that comes to all comes not to her.
On the thirteenth day after the funeral the widow is allowed, after necessary ablutions, to change the clothes that she has worn since her husband's death. Her relatives then make her presents of a few rupees, which are intended as a provision for life for her, but which are often taken possession of and spent in quite a different way by some male relative. The Brahmans, who have been continually demanding money from her ever since she became a widow, come again at this stage, and make fresh requests for money for services which they have not rendered. Her head, which was covered with black glossy hair only the other day, is completely shaved, and the Brahmans and the barbers' wives have to be paid their gratuities for this cruel ceremony. But even then the wretched woman has no respite. Six weeks after her husband's death the widow has again to wear those clothes—the very sight of which sends a shudder through her inmost soul—which she had put on for the first thirteen days. She can change them only on one condition, that she must go on a pilgrimage to the holy river Ganges (which is often impossible on account of distance), and perform ablutions in its purifying waters. After that she has to wear the plainest cotton dress, and live on the simplest single meal a day, only varied with frequent fasts.
The year of mourning, or rather the first year of her lifelong mourning, thus slowly passes away. If she happens to live with her own parents, and if they be tenderly disposed towards her, her miseries are a little lightened by their solicitude for her health and comfort. She is sometimes allowed to wear her ornaments again. The kind mother cannot perhaps bear the sight of her daughter's bare limbs, while she herself wears ornaments and jewels. Kind mother indeed! She cannot bear to see her daughter without ornaments about her body, but she can bear to see her soul crushed with the curse of lifelong widowhood. The very kindness of the mother often turns into the bitterest gall for the daughter. For many fond parents by thus encouraging their young widowed daughters to wear ornaments and fineries, and to indulge in little luxuries, have paved the way for their future degradation and ruin. For a young widow it is but an easy step from little luxuries to fanciful desires, and how many young, neglected, uneducated, and inexperienced women can restrain their natural instincts?
The widow who has no parents has to pass her whole life under the roof of her father-in-law, and then she knows no comfort whatever. She has to meet from her late husband's relations only unkind looks and unjust reproaches. She has to work like a slave, and for the reward of all her drudgery she only receives hatred and abhorrence from her mother-in-law and sisters-in-law. If there is any disorder in the domestic arrangements of the family, the widow is blamed and cursed for it. Amongst Hindus, women cannot inherit any paternal property, and if a widow is left any property by her husband she cannot call it her own. All her wealth belongs to her son, if she has any, and if she has nobody to inherit it, she is made to adopt an heir and give him all her property directly he comes of age, and herself live on a bare allowance granted by him. Even death cannot save a widow from indignities. For when a wife dies she is burnt in the clothes she had on, but a widow's corpse is covered with a coarse white cloth, and there is little ceremony at her funeral.
I cannot conclude this description of the treatment of Hindu widows in the North-West Provinces of India without quoting some of the burning words of one of them, which were translated by an English lady and published in the Journal of the National Indian Association for November 1881:
Why do the widows of India suffer so ? Not for religion or piety. It is not written in our ancient books, in any of the Shástras or Mahabharata. None of them has a sign of this suffering. What Pandit has brought it upon us ? Alas ! tliat all hope is taken from us! We have not sinned, then why are thorns instead of flowers given us ?
Thousands of us die, but more live. I saw a woman die, one of my own cousins. She had been ill before her husband's death; when he died she was too weak and ill to be dragged to the river. She was in a burning fever; her motherin-law called a water-carrier and had four large skins of water poured over her as she lay on the ground where she had been thrown from her bed when her husband died. The chill of death came upon her, and in eight hours she breathed her last. Every one praised her and said she died for love of her husband.
I knew another woman who did not love her husband, for all their friends knew they quarrelled so much that they could not live together. The husband died, and when the news was brought the widow threw herself from the roof and died. She could not bear the thought of the degradation that must follow. She was praised by all. A book full of such instances might be written.
The only difference for us since sati was abolished is, that we then died quickly if cruelly, but now we die all our lives in lingering pain. We are aghast at the great number of widows. How is it that there are so many? The answer is this, that if an article is constantly supplied and never used up it must accumulate. So it is with widows; nearly every man who dies leaves one, often more; though thousands die, more live on.
The English have abolished sati; but, alas! neither the English nor the angels know what goes on in our houses, and Hindus not only don't care but think it good!
And well might she exclaim that óneither the English nor the angels know what goes on in our houses, and Hindus not only don't care but think it good;' for, Hindu as I am, I can vouch for her statement that very few Hindus have a fair knowledge of the actual sufferings of the widows among them, and fewer still care to know the evils and horrors of the barbarous custom which victimises their own sisters and daughters in so ruthless a manner; nay, on the contrary, the majority of the orthodox Hindus consider the practice to be good and salutary. Only the Hindu widows know their own sufferings; it is perfectly impossible for any other mortal or even “the angels, as the widow says, to realise them. One can easily imagine how hard the widow's lot must be in the upper provinces of India, when to the continuous course of fastings, self-inflictions, and humiliations is added the galling ill-treatment which she receives from her own relations and friends. To a Hindu widow death is a thousand times more welcome than her miserable existence. It is no doubt this feeling that drove, in former times, many widows to immolate themselves on the funeral pyres of their dead husbands. Thanks to the generosity of the British Government this inhumar practice of satí, or the self-immolation of widows, has now been completely abolished in India. There is only one thing to be said on this point, and that is that the British Government lopped off the outward and more flagrant part of the pernicious system, but did not strike at the hidden root of it.
The English have done many good things, they can do more. They need not, by passing laws or issuing public proclamations, directly interfere with the domestic customs of the Hindus; but they can make their influence bear indirectly upon the enlightened heads among the natives of India, and, by the steady infusion of the spirit of European culture and refinement, bring about the elevation of Hindu women and further the progress of the country at large. The English, by the peculiar position they enjoy in India, possess a distinct vantage-ground from which they can exert great influence on everything appertaining to the Hindus. Besides, the natives themselves are, under the benign influence of English education, awakening to the horrors of their vicious system. They have already begun the forward movement; all that they want is a sympathetic and effective impulse from outside to push them on in their course of improvement.
DEVENDRA N. Das.
A VISIT TO
SOME AUSTRIAN MONASTERIES.
BESIDES the solid, historic investigation as to what has been,' and the philosophic inquiry as to what will be,' there is the, if less practical yet ever interesting, speculation as to what might have been '- a speculation to which exceptional circumstances may give an exceptional value.
As the advanced’ Radical programme now avowedly includes the disestablishment and disendowment of the National Church, and as (to our very great regret) such a step seems to approach nearer and nearer to the area of practical politics, the phenomena presented by the very few remaining churches which yet continue in the enjoyment of their landed property can hardly be devoid of interest to those who really care about matters either of Church or State.
A Teutonic land, such as Austria, admits of a more profitable comparison with England than do countries which are peopled by the Latin races. Moreover, the Austrian Church, like the Church of England, still survives in wealth and dignity, and thus strongly contrasts with the Churches of Spain, Italy, and France, as well as with those of Northern Germany.
But not only is it thus exceptional, but it is yet more so in the possession of monastic institutions of extreme antiquity, which still retain possession of large domains, even if their possessions may have been somewhat diminished. The vast and wealthy Austrian monasteries which are to be found in the vicinity of the Danube may enable us to form some conception of what our St. Albans and St. Edmunds, Glastonbury and Canterbury might now be had no change of religion ever taken place in England, and had our abbey lands continued in the possession of their monastic owners.
Besides such considerations of general interest which induced the present writer to visit these rare examples of ecclesiastical survival, there were others of a personal nature. When a mere boy he had found in his father's library and read with great interest a presentation copy of Dibdin's charming account of his antiquarian tour in France and Germany. Therein were graphically described his
A Bibliographical, Antiquarian, and Picturesque Tour in France and Germany. By the Reverend Thomas Frognall Dibdin, D.D. Second edition. London, published by Robert Jennings and John Major, 1829. In three volumes.