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was proposed by Mr. Duncan, and executed by many of them, declaring the custom of destroying their female offspring to be criminal, and promising to renounce it for the future. In 1795 and 1803, regulations were enacted by the Bengal government, directing the magistrates to proclaim, throughout their several jurisdictions, the prohibition of this inhuman practice, and providing that, if any Rajkoomar shall designedly prove the cause of the death of his female child, by prohibiting its receiving nourishment, or in any other manner, he shall be committed and tried, in the manner directed with respect to other cases of murder.'† But, notwithstanding these measures, in 1819, the date of the latest paper on this branch of the subject, Mr. Cracroft, the magistrate of Juanpoor, states that the practice of infanticide' still subsists in as full force as it ever did, and appears to be almost irremediable.'‡
2. and 3. Among the Jahrejas of Cutch and Cattewar, who are a tribe of Rajpoots, the practice of destroying their female issue is described as an ancient and immemorial custom, confirmed by prejudice and family pride,'§ it being considered disgraceful to a Hindoo father that his daughter should not be affianced before she attains a marriageable age. The first establishment of this tribe is said to have been in Sind. They afterwards extended over a great part of Persia; and Colonel Walker supposes, that the original Rajpoot inhabitants having been compelled to adopt the Mahometan religion, on the conquest of their country by the Caliphs, the Jahrejas resorted to this practice, on account of the difficulty of procuring suitable matches for their daughters. Speaking of it to Colonel Walker, their chief defended it, by saying that it relieved them of much vexation and expense. Instances do occur of their preserving their female children, but the act is optional and voluntary, and they hold it more reputable to destroy them. Colonel Walker could ascertain only five instances of fathers who had reared their daughters. Even in these cases the girls were dressed like boys. They seemed ashamed of their sex, called themselves boys, and appealed to their fathers in support of the assertion. If a father wishes to preserve a daughter, he previously apprizes his wife and family, and his commands are obeyed; but if a mother has the same wish, and the father objects to it, the infant must be put to death. There are cases where the influence of the wife obtains the husband's consent to preserve a child; but these instances of maternal solicitude are said to be either unfrequent, or seldom successful. The father sometimes expressly orders the infant to be put to death, probably when he suspects a desire on the part of
* Papers, June 17, 1824, p. 8. † Ibid, 9 and 11. Ibid. p. 15. § Ibid. p. 28.
the mother to preserve it; but in general this intimation is unnecessary, the silence of the husband being considered to imply his resolution that the child, if a female, should perish. To aggravate, if possible, the horror of the deed, the mother is commonly the executioner of her own offspring. Women of rank may have their slaves and attendants, who perform this act; but the greater number of them perpetrate it with their own hands. Immediately after the birth of a female, they stifle it, or destroy it by introducing opium into its mouth, and, in some cases, it is laid on the ground, or on a plank, and left to expire for want of sustenance. This compliance, on the part of the women, is the more extraordinary, as they themselves belong to tribes who rear their females, and have been bred in families where their own existence bears testimony against this unnatural practice; but as they are affianced at an early age, they imbibe the barbarism of their husbands, and are said to be even advocates for the practice. If any person ask a Jahreja the result of the pregnancy of his wife, he would, if the child had been a female, answer 'nothing;' and this expression, in the idiom of the country, is horribly significant. There is a wide discrepancy between the different estimates of the number of the females annually destroyed among this tribe, but it must be great. Colonel Walker seems to think that it exceeds 15,000. In 1808, an engagement similar to that by which the Rajkoomars in Juanpoor had consented to bind themselves, was proposed to the Jahrejas; and Colonel Walker states, that, with the exception of one individual, every chief, readily, and without offering a single objection, subscribed it.'* Even that exception was afterwards removed by the individual's becoming a party to the engagement; and in 1819, a treaty was concluded between the East India Company and the principal chief of Cutch, which stipulated for the total abolition of the practice. Yet, in 1821, the latest period to which these papers extend, Mr. Elphinstone states that, from the best information Major Ballantine could obtain, it would not appear that more than one hundred females, born since the agreement, are now in existence; and it is not easy to say how many of these might have been spared, if the engagement had never been entered into.'
4. The practice which prevails in Bengal is similar in effect, though it differs in its cause, from both those which have been described. The Rajkoomars and Jahrejas destroy their offspring, to get rid of an encumbrance: the deluded beings who frequent the annual festival at Sangor devote theirs to destruction as an offering to propitiate the deity. When they are apprehensive of not having issue, it is common for them to make a vow, that, in the event of their prayer for five children being † Ibid. p. 115.
* Papers, June 17, 1824, p. 31.
Ibid. p. 116. granted,
granted, they will devote the fifth-to the Ganges, it is said, though we apprehend in reality to Kalee. The children are thrown into the river from a point of the island of Sangor, which lies at the mouth of the Ganges, called, in Rennell's map, the place of sacrifice,' and are either drowned or devoured by sharks. One instance is mentioned, where the parents having made the vow, and being apprehensive that these sacrifices might be prevented by the interposition of our authority, before the period of its performance arrived, resolved to devote a boy of twelve years old, who, not being the fifth child, was not within the letter of the vow, and he was accordingly thrown by them into the river. He endeavoured to save himself by swimming, and a spectator offered him his protection; but he was again seized by his parents, and they succeeded in effectuating their purpose. Some children appear to have been sacrificed on account of their being affected with incurable maladies; † and many instances of voluntary selfdestruction occurred on the part of aged persons of both sexes. The periods for the performance of these sacrifices are the full moons of November and January. No estimate is given of their probable extent. In 1802 a regulation was passed in Bengal, declaring that all persons exposing any infant to be drowned or devoured by sharks, or aiding or abetting the same, shall be held guilty of wilful murder.' In 1821 it is stated that the practice of immolating children had entirely ceased;'s but a guard is still sent to Sangor, every year, at the periods of the festival.
The success of our interference in the case of infanticide has by no means, therefore, been such as to sustain the argument which has been built upon it. In the two graver of the three instances, the practice still continues in unabated force, notwithstanding our continued efforts to suppress it; and in the remaining instance the revival of it is only prevented by the employment of military force. But even had our success been complete, and had this abomination been utterly extirpated, it must still be remembered that the practice of infanticide was not a general practice, and, even by those addicted to it, has never been supposed to have its origin in any precept of religion.
It does not appear,' say the Calcutta magistrates, speaking of the practice at Sangor, that sacrifices of this nature are sanctioned by any tenet of the Hindoo code.'-' The practice appears to be little countenanced by the religious orders, or by the great body of the people, who, on the contrary, think it a pious and meritorious act to rescue a child from destruction, and afterwards to adopt and maintain it at their own expense.' |
We must not, therefore, confound a partial with an universal
Papers, June 17, 1824, p. 134.
Ibid. p. 137. § Ibid. p. 143,
+ lbid. p. 131.
usage, nor attribute to a local custom, limited to a single class and a narrow tract of country, the influence which belongs to a rite, recognised by every order of society, and prevailing, more or less, from one end of India to the other. The feelings of the Hindoos, when they are not turned aside by the force of any peculiar prejudice or institution, run in the same channel with the feelings of all other people. They view the practice of infanticide as we ourselves view it; and if, from their constitutional apathy, and the indolent spirit of a religion which admits no proselytes, they have not gone actively with us, at least their jealousy was not alarmed, their own superstitions were not touched, and they had no inducement to go against us.
It has also been argued, as a proof of the facility with which the practice of self-burning might be abolished, that it' prevails chiefly, if not exclusively, among the lowest and most ignorant, and is discountenanced by the upper and educated classes. '* We do not see any reason to believe that the practice is discountenanced by the upper classes: the other position, that it prevails chiefly among the lower classes, is true in fact, but the principle which has been deduced from it is erroneous. The lower orders are nowhere those who are most easily wrought upon to abandon old or adopt new usages; on the contrary, they cling to their ancient modes with much more tenacity than their betters. Improvement of every kind makes its way slowly among them; and in all countries the vestiges of remote customs, like the terms and idioms of obsolete language, are to be sought among the uneducated classes. Superstition is always powerful in proportion to the ignorance of its professors. Not only, therefore, the basis, on which this usage stands, is strong, but it is strong for the very reason for which the argument now under consideration alleges it to be weak.
To the argument founded upon the fact of the practice of selfimmolation having been successfully prohibited by the Danes at Serampore, the Dutch at Chinsura, the French at Chandernagore, and by our own supreme court within the city of Calcutta, it has been obviously replied, that—
'no just inference can be drawn from this circumstance in favour of a general interdiction, as the inhabitants of the foreign settlements, and Calcutta, are at liberty to perform the act in the vicinity of those places respectively; and the magistrate of the suburbs of Calcutta has accordingly noticed, that his report of twenty-five women burned on the funeral piles of their husbands, in the year 1815, includes those who were not permitted to burn within the jurisdiction of the supreme court.' t
To which may be added, that a particular instance of prohi
* Papers, May 17, 1827, p. 29,
Ibid. July 10, 1821, p. 109.
bition may very well be referred by the natives to a particular cause; and that it is only from an alarm, among them, of a general systematic design to alter their religious customs, that solid and extensive danger is to be apprehended.
No reasoning is more liable to error than that which, founded on the opinions and observances of one time or country, is applied to the opinions and observances of another. Men are the creatures of the circumstances by which they are surrounded : even those feelings and instincts which belong to our common nature, and are inherent in us all, are modified and restrained by local institutions. The Hindoo has the same filial and parental affections, the same dread of pain, and the same love of life that we have, and the prevalence of this horrid rite only proves the force of the impulse by which those instincts are subdued. In estimating that force, we must consider it with reference, not to our own opinions and belief, but to the opinions and belief of those among whom this usage prevails. The Hindoo widow implicitly believes, that by burning herself on the death of her husband, she redeems him from a state of torment, and secures instantaneous admission with his spirit into the bliss of heaven; and she knows that, if she survives him, she is doomed to a life of hopeless degradation, spurned by the world, and an outcast, even from her own family. She is incited, therefore, by two of the most powerful motives by which human actions can be influenced, the desire of happiness, and the dread of infamy; nor is she, perhaps, insensible to the reputation of a sacrifice, which is glorious in proportion to the horrors by which it is surrounded. The woman who has wrought up her mind to the resolution of destroying herself by fire, is already beyond the reach of any penal enactment.
But it may be urged, that penal prohibition, though futile in the case of the victim, would be efficacious in deterring others from assisting at the sacrifice. It is alleged that the relations of the widow are, in some cases, actuated by a selfish view in stimulating her resolution, and that the Brahmins promote the same end for the sake of the fees which they expect. Mr. Ewer says, the family are anxious to get rid of an encumbrance, and the Brahmins are desirous of a feast and a present.' '* The benevolent and accomplished author of the Elements of Hindoo Law also speaks of designing priests, and interested relations.' And Dr. Marshman, the excellent missionary, speaks largely in the same tone to Bishop Heber. But we doubt the fact as to the relations, and are disposed to believe that they endeavour to prevent, in many more instances than to promote, the sacrifice. Even in those cases where it is not so, similar considerations to * Papers, July 10, 1821. p. 227.