J. D. (John David) Rees.

India; the real India (Volume 19) online

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this respect has been obscured and, unintentionally
of course, misrepresented, by interested observers,
whose field has necessarily been limited to the lowest
and most degraded classes.

If any proofs were wanted that the desire for
social reform had only touched the merest super-
ficial fringe of the Indian peoples, it would be found
in the double life led by most of the reformers them-
selves. An ardent radical in his domestic life does
the very things that in his public life he denounces.
He believes in astrology, marries his children in
extreme youth, spends more than he can afford on
ceremonies, submits to the exactions of the priests,
and in general conforms to Hindoo standards.

He is perfectly well aware that if certain texts can
be found in favour of remarriage of widows, at least
an equal number can be found to condemn this prac-
tice, and that custom, which is the real arbiter, has
been against it for centuries.

That experienced statesman, Sir John Strachey,
in 1899 wrote: "The people of India are intensely
conservative, and wedded, to an extent difficult for



Europeans to understand, to every ancient custom,
and between their customs and their religion no line
of distinction can be drawn."

It is, of course, true that no social conditions
render it necessary now that the community should
be divided into sections, with impossible barriers
between them, for the four principal castes do not
confine themselves in these days to their proper
avocations. The Brahmin is now as much an official
as he was formerly a priest; the Vaisya as much a
clerk as a shop-keeper; the Sudra as much a peasant-
proprietor as a farm-servant, and the Kshatriya,
once a warrior, is now anything you please. Not
only can no member of one intermarry with a mem-
ber of another of these castes, but there are innu-
merable subdivisions of each of the actual castes, in
respect of which the same disability obtains. Legis-
lation, of course, is powerless to deal with such a
situation; if, indeed, legislative interference were
desirable, which I, for one, do not think.

The failure of the Age of Consent Act has proved
that it is useless to legislate too far ahead of public
opinion. As to the practice of infant marriage, the
evils resulting from it have been greatly exaggerated.
Perverse as such a practice appears to us to be, its
moral and social consequences have not been, by
any means, as disastrous as reformers pretend. The
majority of women in India are probably as happy
as women elsewhere. Custom reconciles to any
hardships, but such hardships are the subject of
habitual and monumental exaggeration. The ordi-



nary Briton is unable to understand the sacramental
and mystical conception of marriage as a binding
tie for this life and the life hereafter. One of the
ablest Hindoo judges who ever sat on the bench in
India, Sir T. Muttuswami Iyer, "deprecated any
legislation which would involve an irritating inter-
ference with the most important domestic event of
the majority of his Majesty's Hindoo subjects."
The Hindoo system provides every woman with a
husband, and every man with a wife, and if in Ben-
gal, where all those customs are most prevalent, 21
per cent, of the women are widows, as against about
one half that number in England and France, on
the other hand, the proportion of unmarried females
is more than twice as great in England as in Bengal.
It must also be remembered that cohabitation or
actual marriage does not take place until the girls
reach the age of puberty, the marriage ceremony,
in fact, being nothing more than an irrevocable
betrothal. Girls must marry early when they ma-
ture early, and as the mean age for married women
in India is twenty-eight, and in England forty,
there is, in fact, no great difference, when climate
and length of life are taken into account, the child-
bearing ages in Europe being fifteen to forty-five,
and fifteen to thirty-five in India.

It is well known that in old times girls were
married after they came of age, that remarriage of
widows was once permitted, and that there is no
authority in the Vedas for the practice of suttee.
Nor in very early times did the system of caste



prevail, for it was developed towards the end of the
Vedic period, and arose immediately from the fact
that all class occupations were hereditary. Soon
the smallest difference, as regards trade, profession,
or practice, became enough to lead to the institu-
tion of separate castes, which are now some 4000
in number. But, of course, it must be understood
that existing conditions have obtained for many
centuries, and that the Shastraic system is of purely
antiquarian and academic interest.

It is one thing to fall back upon the Shastras for
historical light, and another to base modern reforms
upon these ancient texts. They are worthy of all
reverence, as they hand down the traditions of a
past civilisation, and no social reformer can neglect
or ignore them, but it should be manifest that rules
and observances which became men of a bygone age
cannot suit people who live in the present day, in dif-
erent circumstances and environments. The Bible,
the law, and the prophets can all be expressed, so far
as Hindoos are concerned, by the one word custom.

Upon the much-debated subject of social inter-
course, volumes have been written. The fact is
that complete fusion, and intermarriage to any great
extent, are impossible.

Of all the Hindoos I have seen in India none were
more Europeanised, or associated more freely with
Europeans, than the late Mr. Satthianadan, M.A.,
LL.M., professor of philosophy at the Presidency
College, Madras. He and his wife were both Chris-
tians, who habitually frequented the society of the



English in the Presidency capital, and he, as a high-
caste man, possessed particular and, among Indian
Christians, rare facilities for noting the feelings of
Hindoos of all grades. He wrote: "The educated
classes claim to be free from the trammels of caste,
but there is glaring incongruity between thoughts
and deeds, between public professions and private
practice. Much is said against caste, but it still
reigns supreme in some form or another even in the
most enlightened circles. There is still absence of
sympathy between the peoples of India. They are
separated by impassable barriers, and, seeing that
the points of disparity between the different classes
that constitute the Indian population makejtheir
cordial sympathy with one another impossible, how
can we expect the Indian population, made up as
it is of those motley races, to mix cordially with
Europeans, a people entirely different from them
in creed, colour, customs, and costume? India con-
sists merely of a vast assemblage of races divided
into countless unsympathising castes and classes. I
admit that English education and Western civilisa-
tion have amalgamated to some extent the forces
among the Indian population, but greater exertions
must be put forth in the castes and classes to bring
about a deeper sympathy and more complete union. "
Then referring to the Briton he quotes Emerson:
"Every one of these islanders is an island himself,
safe, tranquil, and incommunicable."

But while there can be no fusion and intermar-
riage, friendly intercourse is by no means difficult,



provided always that the Briton can talk the Indian's

Of all reasons which prevent free intercourse the
chief is ignorance of the languages on the part of the
British. It is true that certain tests are exacted
from those who enter the public service, but they
are of a rather elementary character, and no sooner
does the official enter into his kingdom than he finds
that everybody about him speaks perfect English,
and, though he does not know it, nothing reaches
his ears except what has passed through these,
generally by no means disinterested, interpreters.
The irregular relations which formerly were so fre-
quent between Englishmen and the women of the
country led to a complete acquisition of the lan-
guage in many cases, but the number of English-
women in the country has of late so much increased,
and any European having relations with native
women is so relentlessly persecuted by them, and so
disparaged by his fellow-countrymen generally, that
this approach to the people is practically abolished.

The pursuit of sport is indeed the only means of
access remaining, except for those choice spirits
who strike out lines for themselves regardless of the
opinion of the little station in which their service is
for the most part passed. The freemasonry of sport
obtains just as much in India as anywhere else. In
the hunting field at home all classes meet upon an
equal footing, and this is very much the case in the
jungle. Association of this kind leads to a frank
interchange of views, and to mutual self-respect and



esteem. Statements are often made that Indians
will not bring the gun up to an elephant, for instance,
but a sportsman who has shown that he himself is
dependable will never have occasion to make this
complaint. Upon the whole the wonder is that men
unarmed, or if carrying a second rifle inexpert in its
use, can be got so readily to put their lives into
imminent danger to please a stranger, and for a
paltry wage.

The Indian is no more wanting in courage than he
is in truthfulness, but unless he knows his man he is
always on the defensive, and is ready with some,
probably quite unnecessary, wile.

He naturally does not feel at home with a man
who cannot talk to him, or, if he tries, will, in all
good faith, very likely use disrespectful language,
and say for "you," "you fellow."

Sir Alfred Lyall explains this matter in a couple of
lines as well as could be done in a volume:

"There goes my lord the Feringhee, who talks so civil and

Till he raves like a soul in Jahanum if I do not quite

He began by calling me sahib, and ends by calling me fool."

It is indeed true that want of knowledge is rooted
in the want of sympathy. I cannot see that there is
anything whatever in the plea frequently put for-
ward that there can be no friendly intercourse until
the women on both sides frequent the society of the
men. Surely there can be no friendly intercourse
unless each side accepts the customs of the other,



for which, in point of fact, there are always excellent
reasons. At any rate, to make that a condition on
the threshold is to prevent any stepping over it.
Nor does the absence of commensality constitute
any legitimate ground of complaint. So little is this
a bar to social intercourse that I am convinced that
any attempt to break it down will set back such
progress as has been made. Table manners are a
stumbling-block of the most mountainous character,
and it is not too much to say that different races in
Europe abhor the customs of their neighbours in this
respect, and that the English are convinced that
they are the only clean feeders. Natives of India
have wholly and absolutely different standards, and
it is exceedingly sound policy for our intercourse to
stop short at the table. I have myself seen spirited
efforts made to break down these barriers, all of
which were foredoomed to failure. Attempts on
the part of Europeans to give Indian gentlemen
refreshment in separate tents and houses, with cooks
and attendants of the proper denomination, have
resulted in nothing but misunderstandings. At the
first meeting of the Congress held in Madras infinite
pains were taken by the Governor of Madras and
his staff to entertain the delegates, with, I think,
very moderate success.

Unfortunately it is a fact that Europeans who
can really carry on a conversation in the vernacular
languages are exceedingly rare. It is the most val-
uable asset a public servant can have, but it is
not recognised in honours and promotions. There



is also, unfortunately, some truth in the statement,
often repeated, that the influence of Englishwomen
in India tends to widen the breach. There are, of
course, many exceptions, but upon the whole there
is little love lost between Englishwomen and Indian
men. Moreover, in spite of speeches, writings, and
protestations, extremely little has been done by the
natives themselves to bring about what is commonly
called social reform, a subject as difficult to define
in India as it is in England. Even when some per-
son, greatly daring, marries a widow, he finds that
he and his wife are lightly regarded, if not absolutely
despised, even by those who have actually urged
them to such action. Practically nothing has been
done in the thirty years which have elapsed since first
the subject was broached, and, instead of adhering
to the main lines as laid down by the leaders in this
behalf, the reformers of late have occupied them-
selves with anti-nautch demonstrations and endeav-
ours to prevent dancing girls from taking part in
festivals and celebrations. Women of this class
are just now strongly denounced, and it is alleged
against them "that they have cast down many
wounded, yea, many strong men have been slain by
them, that their house is the way to hell, going down
to the chambers of death." All this may be true,
but immorality, like everything else in India, tends
to become hereditary, and the position of the temple
female attendants no doubt amounts to a publicly
acknowledged profession, though it is subject to
limitations, and is not on all fours with that of



the ordinary prostitute. Objection is now taken to
the presence of these girls at the solemnisation of
weddings and on festal occasions, though their noto-
rious association with students is an occasion for
hard winking.

Originally they were dedicated as virgins to the
service of religion, and they are now the handmaid-
ens of the idols, of which the priests and other have
long said with Horace: "Ne sit ancillce tibi amor
pudori." No doubt this custom and others are
open to objection, but those who are busily occupied
in preaching social reform are too apt to lose sight
of what the domestic life of India really is, and from
a perusal of tracts and pamphlets it would be readily
imagined that it stood in urgent and exceptional
need of drastic reform. No doubt it is capable of
improvement, but, at the same time, it is probable
that in many respects it is superior to that of other
countries, and in few respects falls below normal
standards. It would be extremely difficult to draw
a picture of the family life of Europe, and it is
equally difficult to draw a picture of the family life
of India, but as a common Christianity imposes
standards possessing some similarity in ideal, if not
in practice, upon all the inhabitants of Europe, so
the Brahminic or Hindoo system conduces to the
maintenance among the many peoples and races of
India of something approaching a common standard
of life and conversation, and, even where customs
repugnant to Hindoo ideals exist, the scheme on the
whole will be found to be fashioned on the Hindoo



or Brahminic system. It is very difficult, almost
impossible, to distinguish between caste and Hin-
dooism. The superintendents of the Indian Census
of 1901, who reported for the different provinces,
are pretty well agreed, where they have to define
Hindooism, in saying that so long as a man observes
caste rules he may not only do pretty much as he
pleases, but may actually offer his individual wor-
ship to any god or hero, to any stick, stone, or
natural feature, which his own inclination, or the
animistic traditions of his village, has endowed with
supernatural attributes of a constructive or destruc-
tive character.

An accomplished Bengali gentleman, Mr. Ghose,
who published a life of the Maharaja Nabkissen, a
faithful friend of the English in the days of Clive,
observes that "there is no fear of English rule going
wrong if we remember the principles of Queen Vic-
toria's character, and in respect of reforms follow
the English method of evolution, not that of rev-
olution. " Nevertheless, our Indian legislature has
made spirited inroads upon the principle of guaran-
teeing to the natives of India their own customs and
their own religion, though whenever these have been
of a revolutionary character they have been still-
born. Such, for instance, has been the fate of the
Age of Consent Act, as I anticipated in an article
published in the Nineteenth Century for October,
1890. It is necessary, therefore, in describing the
domestic life of a Hindoo family, to take an example
from a characteristic area, and it is best to go to the


Deccan or South India, for there Mohammedan rule
and Mohammedan customs never took root. Even
in Hyderabad the people are Hindoos, and the
Nizam and his Mussulman lords a mere privileged
handful, while on the south-west coast there are
states which were completely unaffected by the
Mohammedan conquest.

To begin at the beginning, the site must be chosen
and the house must be built according to caste rules,
in auspicious months; hymns are chanted; saffron,
turmeric, and sandal are smeared upon the beams;
flowers are offered, and the edifice is apostrophised
according to custom in that behalf provided. The
house consists of one or more quadrangles with open
courtyards, and a blank wall generally offers to the
street. The kitchen is the best apartment and com-
bines in some respects the characteristics of a chapel
and a cooking place. The church in England is
often a small affair beside the mansion house, and
the missionary's chapel a lowly hut beside his bunga-
low, but in Indian houses no part should be higher
than the kitchen, into which no person of a lower
caste than the master may look or enter. The
other rooms open upon an inner verandah, in which
cows and calves are stabled. There is little furni-
ture; indeed, that actually used consists of a few pots
and pans, brazen vessels, and elementary bedsteads,
these simple articles being generally collected in a
small, plain, unpretentious room. The married sons
live under the paternal roof, and an extra man makes
no difference, as they all sleep upon the floor, and



after all, in many parts of Europe, and at least in
one capital, men-servants do the same, or use the
sofas and chairs. In the centre of one of the quad-
rangles there should be an altar, on which grows a
shrub of holy basil. Suppose the owner to be a
Brahmin, and already installed, he must rise before
the sun and repeat texts from the puranas. I give
one, and have translated it, as I have others quoted,
for the benefit of such as require a translation:

"Rama, thou givest all good things,
Who but thyself deliverance brings ?
Thee with one voice we all adore,
Ah! let me praise thee more and more."

Then comes the rinsing of the mouth, washing of
the feet, cleansing of the teeth with a particular kind
of stick never again used, then the bath, prayers,
oblations to the sun, and the fixing of the caste
marks upon the now purified person, the salutations
north, south, east, and west, and the repetition of
the sacred Sanscrit text:

"Hail earth and sky and heaven, hail kindly light,
Illuminator of our purblind sight."

Before the midday meal there are more prayers,
ablutions, and offerings, and then the male members
sit on the floor and eat their rice or other grain, with
pickles or condiments, off plates of plantain or other
leaves. Food is eaten with the hand, and water is
poured into the mouth, so that neither the vessel
nor the fluid touches the lips. There are prayers
again at supper-time, which comes at sundown in the



simple healthy life of the Indian villager, but the
perpetual prayers and ceremonies are capable of
some abbreviation. No one goes to the temple for
service as we go to church, but worship is performed
daily by the official priest, just as Mass is served in
the Catholic Church, and upon holidays and festivals
the people collectively adore the gods. As for the
females, it will suffice if they worship their husbands,
which is their actual duty, and they are pretty well
occupied with bearing and rearing children and with
their domestic duties, and are probably not inferior
in domestic virtues to any in the world.

It may be fairly said of a Hindoo woman, "that
the heart of her husband doth safely trust in her,
that she rises while it is yet night, and gives meat to
her household, that she stretcheth out her hand to
the poor, and reacheth out her hand to the needy,
that she looks well to the ways of her household, and
eateth not the bread of idleness, that her children
rise up and call her blessed, and her husband praiseth

She is hard at work all day, and, in the cultivating
classes, helps in the field. At night, when the lamps
are lit, she makes obeisance to the god of fire, saying,
if the translation be accepted:

"This flame proceeds from God above,
This lamp is lit by heavenly love,
So praise we when each night begins
The flame which burns away our sins."

Much the same ceremonial may be seen any day
in a Russian village, where the peasant bows him-



self before the eikon and the lamp in the angle of the
wall, and, like the Hindoo, he too knows that he is,
and that no one else is, orthodox.

There appears to be some doubt as to whether the
good deeds of the husband and wife are transferable,
but it seems certain that, after her husband's death,
she can hasten his final absorption into beatitude by
her prayers and penance, which is very much like the
doctrine of the elder branch of the Christian Church.

In the lower castes, of course, where the worship
is rather demonolatry or animism, the daily ritual
amounts to little more than an obeisance to the sun
in the morning and to the lamp at night.

There is no consciousness during one life of a
former existence, and the average Hindoo troubles
himself little about religion, but very much about

Hindoos are divided amongst themselves into
non-dualists, who believe nothing has any real sepa-
rate existence from the one God; dualists, who hold
that the human soul and the material world have a
distinct existence, and the non-dualists, who never-
theless ascribe to the deity a twofold aspect: the
supreme spirit the cause, and the material universe
the effect. All this is to us as real as the difference
between the 0/10 and the o/xoidovcna, and among the
Hindoos common folk are content to worship Siva
or Vishnu, whose outward and visible signs are
respectively the horizontal line and the trident on
the forehead.

Now had Christian missionaries been content that



converts should retain these marks, the top-knot, and
other signs and observances of caste, Christianity
might have made more way in India. The Catho-
lics once had a fair hope of the wholesale conversion
of the extreme south, where they actually brought
over high-caste natives, until the controversy known
as that of the Malabar rites was decided against,
what was held to be, trifling with idolatry. It is
too late now, even if another policy were adopted,
for Christianity and low caste have become once
and forever inextricably associated.

All Indian questions are caste questions. No Eng-
lishman who had turned Hindoo would be accepted
as an authority, even by Hindoos, regarding the
religious and social characteristics of the people he
had forsaken, but here in England the authorities
accepted by the public and the press are almost
invariably those who, having been, have ceased to
be Hindoos, or, having a special mission to con-
vert Hindoos, are naturally not impressed with such
evidence as tends to show that Hindoos stand in
no need of conversion. Yet an ancient civilisation
and a faith professed by hundreds of millions are
entitled to respectful treatment, and the law-abiding
for with the exception of one class the Hindoos
deserve the epithet to an unprejudiced judgment.
Yet I have seldom heard other than misrepresenta-
tion on the platform in this country of the domestic
life and the character of the people.

It has already been recorded in regard to Hindoo
marriages, the evils of which have been so enor-



mously exaggerated, that the actual marriage cere-
mony is no more than a binding betrothal, and it
may amuse the reader to quote from the venerable
Institutes of Manu the following advice:

"Let a man not marry a girl with reddish hair or

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Online LibraryJ. D. (John David) ReesIndia; the real India (Volume 19) → online text (page 16 of 21)