This episode of the series delves into the significant events from the history of 16th July, covering various notable occurrences from the 5th to the 21st century. The focus then shifts to the pivotal moment of the Hindu Widows’ Remarriage Act of 1856, exploring its background, impact, and the efforts of key social reformers in changing the Indian social system.
Going through the pages from the history of 16th July I see that this day marks the start of the Lunar Cycle of Hilarius in the year 463. This day is also the beginning of the Muslim era in 622 AD and from that day the Prophet Muhammad started his journey from Mecca to Medina.
Also this day in the year 1251 according to legend Virgin Mary gives Simon Stock a Brown Scapular. Furthermore this day in the year 1377, Richard II was crowned the king of England at the age of 10. This was also the day when Joan of Arc entered the city of Rheims in the year 1429.
Coming to more recent times, the history of 16th July takes us to the year 1945 when the United States conducted the first test of the atomic bomb. It was also the day when India conducted its first nuclear test in the year 1981. Again in the year 2015, Scientists released close-up photos of Pluto.
With this, I come to the feature story from the history of 16th July.
Dark times it was when the women of our country were treated as a commodity. lacking the freedom and respect they deserved. They were subjected to the cruel practice of early marriages, being forced to wed much older men who were on the brink of death. This distressing situation arose primarily due to the deep-rooted dogmatism in the Hindu religious practice of the caste system. But then came social reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, and Rani Rashmoni who with the help of the British Government brought in what is perhaps the greatest change in the Indian social system. Let us look at the history of 16th July when the Hindu Widows’ Remarriage Act was passed in the year 1856.
The Hindu Widows’ Remarriage Act of 1856, also known as Act XV, 1856, received approval on July 16, 1856, during the East India Company rule. This act marked a significant step in legalizing widow remarriage, which had been prohibited in Hindu culture for a long time, particularly for child and teenage widows, in order to preserve family honor and property. Traditionally, widows were expected to lead a life of penance and sacrifice, devoid of remarriage.
The Act aimed to provide legal protection to Hindu widows who chose to remarry, ensuring they wouldn’t lose some type of inheritance. However, the widow could willingly abandon any inheritance due from her deceased husband under the provisions of the Act.
The abolition of the practice of Sati was another crucial reform. This horrific tradition involved a widow immolating herself on her dead husband’s pyre, either willingly or under coercion. Due to the efforts of Indian reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, the government declared Sati illegal and punishable by law through the Bengal Sati Regulation in 1829.
Pandit Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, the principal of Calcutta’s Sanskrit College, with the support of Rani Rashmoni, played a vital role in advocating for widow remarriage and used Vedic literature to demonstrate that the Hindu faith allowed it. The Widow Remarriage Association, founded in 1856, further promoted widow remarriage, and the Hindu Widows’ Remarriage Act, passed during Governor-General Lord Canning’s administration, finally legalized it.
The Act’s features included validating and regulating Hindu widows’ marriages, granting remarried widows the same rights and inheritance as if it were their first marriage, and providing legal protections to males who married widows.
Child marriage was addressed through subsequent acts like the Native Marriage Act (1872), the Age of Consent Act (1891), and the Sarda Act (1929), which raised the marriage age for males and females.
The Act of 1870 made infanticide, the practice of killing female children shortly after birth, a criminal offense. Various factors, including British presence, private property in land, and modernization, contributed to undermining caste rigidities in Indian society.
The Widow Remarriage Act of 1856 legalized marriages between consenting Hindus and terminated a widow’s rights in her deceased husband’s property once she remarried. The Act also dealt with the custody of the deceased husband’s children after the widow’s remarriage, allowing for the appointment of guardians if needed.
While these acts and reforms brought positive changes, true progress required political and economic advancements, which could be achieved through a free Indian government.
That’s all for the day.
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A devoted foodie with keen interest in wild life, music, cinema and travel Somashis has evolved over time . Being an enthusiastic reader he has recently started making occasional contribution to write-ups.