|Image from India Today|
“Between us and reality are our feelings.” Svetlana Alexievich
We won’t want to remember Phulmoni Dasi. She was a little girl of 10 when she was married to 30-year-old Hari Mohan Maiti. She died in the night of her marriage as her husband attained the bliss of orgasm which is a man’s right and privilege according to our great custom and tradition. Our glorified ancient culture which insisted that the wife’s virginity should be proved in the “first night” itself. The blood of her broken hymen should stain the bedsheet.
But the British government in India at that time did not accept that as any greatness. Hari Mohan was charged with “causing grievous hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others” and was sentenced to 12 months of hard labour. Within 6 months of that incident, on 9 Jan 1891, the Viceroy of India, Lord Lansdowne presented a bill before the Council of India seeking to amend a relevant section of the Indian Penal Code. Consequently, sex with a girl under 12 became a crime.
The guardians of the great Indian culture opposed the British attempt to save the Indian girl children from male brutality. Even someone of the stature of Bal Gangadhar Tilak opposed the reform Bill stating, “We would not like that the government should have anything to do with regulating our social customs or ways of living, even supposing that the act of government will be a very beneficial and suitable measure.” Many other eminent nationalists of the time vehemently opposed the Bill.
The British had brought in many reforms already in spite of objections from right wing Indian nationalists. Governor General William Bentinck made sati illegal in 1829. Lord Ellenborough enacted the Indian Slavery Act in 1843 making illegal many inhuman transactions related to slave trades. Yet the caste system continued to be in force in India in the name of culture and tradition. Slavery continued, in other words.
The Hindu Widows’ Remarriage Act of 1856 was drafted by Lord Dalhousie and passed by Lord Canning. Once again it was opposed by the Dharma Sabha, one of the many guardians of our ancient culture. This is the same organisation that tried to jettison the anti-sati act in the name of “the religious affairs of the indigenous people”. It is this subhuman organisation that eventually morphed into a “society in defence of Hindu way of life or culture” which then became a think-tank for RSS.
Between us and reality are our feelings.
The purpose of this post is not to show that the British were great and that Indian right-wing nationalists were all brutes. That would be putting our feelings between us and the reality, thus rendering us incapable of developing any proper historical sense.
The purpose of this post is to show that our culture and traditions had too much savagery in them. Today when some of our leaders are hellbent on glorifying all that and vilifying everything that came from outside, it is important to sit back and look at their claims without bringing our feelings between us and the reality.
Feelings obfuscate. Nationalism is all about feelings. Genuine heroism is not at all about feelings.
India had her greatness, undoubtedly. Let us celebrate the greatness if we want (though resting on ancient laurels is one of the inanest things anyone can do). That celebration does not require the vilification of anyone at all, especially in the name of religions and gods. If anything great was achieved, it was achieved not by any god or religion but by some noble people who refused to put their feelings between them and the reality. They saw the reality clearly.
If only we could achieve a fraction of the clarity of their vision!