Marriage and Modernity: Family Values in Colonial Bengal 0822344629, 9780822344629

An innovative cultural history of the evolution of modern marriage practices in Bengal, Marriage and Modernity challenge

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Table of contents :
Part I: The Emergence of a Marriage Market
1 Looking for Brides and Grooms
2 Snehalata’s Death: Questions of Dowry
Part II: Culture and the Marketplace
3 Marriage and Distinction: New Critiques of Vulgarity
4 The Not-Quite Bourgeois:The Couple Form and the Joint Family
Part III: Marriage and the Law
5 A Nineteenth-Century Debate:Law versus Rituals
6 Nationalizing the Joint Family:The Hindu Code Debates, 1955–56
Appendix 1. Wedding Invitations
Appendix 2. Jewelry Catalogues
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Marriage and Modernity: Family Values in Colonial Bengal
 0822344629, 9780822344629

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M a r r i a g e and M o d e r n i t y

M a r r i a g e and M o d e r n i t y

Family Values in Colonial Bengal

Rochona Majumdar

Duke University Press

Durham and London


© 2009 Duke University Press All rights reserved Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper ∞ Designed by Heather Hensley Typeset in Adobe Jenson Pro by Tseng Information Systems, Inc. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data appear on the last printed page of this book. An earlier version of chapter 1 appeared as “Looking for Brides and Grooms: Ghataks, Matrimonials, and the Marriage Market in Colonial Calcutta, circa 1875–1940,” Journal of Asian Studies 63, no. 4 (2004): 911–35. Reprinted by permission of Cambridge University Press. Earlier versions of chapters 2 and 6 appeared in the Indian Economic and Social History Review 41, no. 4 (October– December 2004): 433–64, and in Dipesh Chakrabarty, Rochona Majumdar, and Andrew Sartori, eds., From the Colonial to the Postcolonial: India and Pakistan in Transition (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2007).


Prodosh Majumdar, Roopa Majumdar, and Asim Mondal

Contents ♣♣♣♣♣♣♣♣♣

Acknowledgments ix Introduction 1 Part I   The Emergence of a Marriage Market

Chapter 1 Looking for Brides and Grooms 23 Chapter 2 Snehalata’s Death: Questions of Dowry 54 Part II   Culture and the Marketplace

Chapter 3 Marriage and Distinction: New Critiques of Vulgarity 93 Chapter 4 The Not-Quite Bourgeois: The Couple Form and the Joint Family 126

Part III   Marriage and the Law

Chapter 5 A Nineteenth-Century Debate: Law versus Rituals 167 Chapter 6 Nationalizing the Joint Family: The Hindu Code Debates, 1955–56 206 Conclusion 238 Appendices

1. Wedding Invitations 244 2. Jewelry Catalogues 253 Notes 259 Glossary 301 Bibliography 311 Index 337

Ac k n o w l e d g m e n t s ♣♣♣♣♣♣♣♣♣

This book began as my doctoral dissertation at the University of Chicago. Leora Auslander and Sheldon Pollock read the earliest version of Marriage and Modernity with great patience and generosity. The book bears the imprint of their nurture and criticism from those years. I was extremely fortunate in having Mrinalini Sinha as a member of my dissertation committee. Words cannot express the gratitude I owe her for reading numerous drafts, and all this while she was finishing her own book. I thank Moishe Postone for what I learned from him and for providing all his students with a forum like the Social Theory Workshop. Muzaffar Alam has been a mentor, an interlocutor, and an immense source of support as I began my career as junior faculty. I am grateful to the Franke Institute for the Humanities and the Society of Fellows at the University of Chicago for providing me a home during which much of the writing happened. Generous grants from the American Institute of Indian Studies, the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, the Giles Whiting Foundation, the Department of History, the Humanities Division, and the Committee on Southern Asian Studies at the University of Chicago made possible my tricontinental research trips over the past several years. I also thank the staff of the Bangiya Sahitya Parishad, Chaitanya Library, the library and archives of the Center for Studies in Social Sciences in Calcutta, the Jaikrishna Library in Uttarpara, and the State Archives of West Bengal, Calcutta; the British Library (especially Mrs. Dipali Ghosh) and India Institute in London and Oxford, respectively; and the Nehru Memorial Library and National Archives of India in

New Delhi. But most of all, this book is a token of my appreciation for all the help I received from James Nye at the Joseph Regenstein Library, University of Chicago, and Asim Mukherjee at the National Library, Calcutta. Both of them in very different ways facilitated a large part of my research. Professor Gautam Bhadra in Calcutta first suggested the need for a fulllength critical historical study of arranged marriages. I thank him for all the time he spent with a young graduate student, endlessly arguing, teaching, and giving me access to his immense library. When I first mentioned to friends and family in Calcutta that I was working on a project on marriage, I was amazed at the number of people who spontaneously came forward with marriage memorabilia preserved in their families for generations. Many then put me in touch with others. I am also grateful to the following individuals for sharing their family wedding photographs and marriage memorabilia: Nandini Mitra, Keya Dasgupta, Rudrangshu Mukherjee, Pintu Patra (Calcutta), Ranes Chakravarti (Roanoke, Virginia), Sumita Mondal (Chinsurah, Hoogly), Gargi Ghosh (Kansas City, Missouri). I have been lucky to have had audiences in different universities who have heard and commented on parts of the book. I want to thank those critical listeners at the Universities of California–Davis, Chicago, Columbia, Madison, Melbourne, Michigan, New South Wales, Oxford, and UTS Sydney for their close engagement and comments. Friends both near and far have read and offered invaluable feedback on various chapters or have helped me find sources and hooked me up with families who then opened up their personal archives. I want to thank Prathama Banerjee, Sujata Bose, Damayanti Dutta, Faisal Devji, Carola Dietze, Debjani Ganguly, Durba Ghosh, Semanti Ghosh, Sangita Gopal, Miranda Johnson, Spencer Leonard, Kama Maclean, Prabir Mukhopadhyay, Projit Mukharji, Andrew Sartori, Rachel Sturman, Nikhil Rao, and Anupama Rao for giving me such a rich sense of a global intellectual community. Prathama’s company in the early days of research in Calcutta broke the tedium of library work, and endless phone conversations with Sangita about Hindi and Bengali films as I was finishing up the book finally convinced me that it was time to move on to the second project. Calcutta would be unimaginable without Semanti and Sujata’s friendship. I also want to thank Indrani Chatterjee, Kumkum Chatterjee, William Glover, Thomas and Barbara Metcalf, Farina Mir, Christo   Acknowledgments

pher Pinney, Sumit and Tanika Sarkar, Sudipta Kaviraj, Rajat Kanta Ray, Sudipta Sen, and David Washbrook for their comments on one or more chapters, and in some cases the whole book. Sudipta and Nilanjana Kaviraj’s hospitality in London helped make a research trip congenial and comfortable. Four colleagues at the University of Chicago read the introduction at a time I was really stuck and helped me sharpen my argument. I thank Lauren Berlant, Jim Chandler, Steve Collins, and Michael Geyer for being so generous with their time at that crucial moment. I also thank Clint Seely for reading and commenting on my thesis. My life in Hyde Park and at the university is enriched daily by some very special friendships. Jennifer Cole and Lisa Wedeen, conversations with you were critical in finishing this book and in keeping mind and body together. Don and Barbara Willard, you have given me a sense of family so far away from home. Rizwana and Asiya Alam, thank you for always being there in good times and tough ones. I have been very lucky in receiving excellent research assistance from Gargi Ghosh and Payel Gupta in Calcutta and Rajarshi Ghose and Dwaipayan Sen in Chicago. And I would have been floundering in an inscrutable world of computers without Gerard Siarny’s heroic support. Thanks, Gerry, for those endless hours of help and friendship. Alicia Czaplewski’s administrative wizardry made Foster Hall so much more habitable and fun. I am also incredibly fortunate in having Ken Wissoker as my editor. Ken’s sage advice and the suggestions from the two anonymous reviewers for Duke University Press have vastly improved this manuscript. I am also deeply grateful to Courtney Berger and Tim Elfenbein for expertly navigating the production process. This book about family values was possible only because of the support and love of my own family. My brother, Boria, has been a companion in research and in so much else. Trips to New Delhi, London, and Oxford were made especially joyous by having him with me. Most of all I want to acknowledge that this book would not have seen the light of day but for his shouldering so many responsibilities in troubled times and for giving me so much love and care. Sharmistha discussed this work over delicious meals when the writing was slow and was a great source of support in both Calcutta and Chicago. To the core of my Calcutta household—Shyam, Dear, Mashi, Panditji, Bahadur, and Bnatul—thank you all. Asim Mondal did not Acknowledgments   xi

live to see this book done. This is my humble tribute to your memory. My parents always let me be who I am. To my mother, Roopa, and my father, Prodosh, who left us all so suddenly, I dedicate this book to say how deeply I love you both. Finally, to Dipeshda, my best teacher, friend, and confidant—thank you for each day.

xii   Acknowledgments

I n t r o d u cti o n ♣♣♣♣♣♣♣♣♣

The modernization of families, it is often assumed, implies a dual transformation from extended kinship to nuclear structures and from matrimonial agreements negotiated between families to marriage contracts between individuals. This book contests this prevalent understanding. By focusing on marriage, specifically the arranged marriage in Bengal, I demonstrate that during the late colonial period marriage practices underwent some specific changes and reforms that led, not to the nuclear family as such, but to the valorization of a particular idea of the joint family, a structure with an older male or female head and usually three or more generations living together. I further claim that this change occurred in tandem with the development of a form of arranged marriage that reflected the reality of an emerging marriage market, and together they were constitutive of what was and is modern about marriages in India. One central theme reiterated in the following pages is that it would be erroneous to regard arranged marriage as a traditional practice. However, those who hold this view—numerous colonial and Western observers, some Indian nationalists, and many Indians even today—are not mistaken in any simple sense. Modern marriages do indeed play out themes of freedom and unfreedom. What becomes problematic is the tendency to equate unfreedom with something called “tradition.” Arranged marriage in India and the family form that buttressed this kind of matrimony is very much a part of Indian modernity and modernization. In what follows, I map the processes by which the institution of the arranged marriage came into being

and solidified into a practice that is juxtaposed against matches described as “love marriages.” After all, marriages in India were arranged in a variety of ways for a long time. But the nomenclature arranged marriage signals a standardization of certain practices, marking them as new and distinct. In a certain sense, this book is a refusal to periodize arrangement itself as archaic. Instead, by focusing on the developments in marital practices and the marriage market in one particular region of colonial India—Bengal, with special attention to the erstwhile colonial capital, Calcutta—I chart the historical processes through which the institution of arranged marriage was reconstituted and rearranged under modern conditions. The book is organized around three broad ideas that speak of the modernity of arranged marriage: the idea of a marriage market, how market-related developments gave rise to debates about consumption and vulgarity in the conduct of weddings, and legal regulation of family property and marriages. While there are undoubtedly regional differences in how marriages are ritually performed in different parts of India, there are some commonalities in the feature of arrangement.1 Thus I use the expression arranged marriage at a level of generality. At a minimum, I take this expression to refer to marriages that are negotiated by families, on the basis of information circulating in a market for marriages, with or without the consent of the individuals getting married. The practice is not without a past, but I call it modern because its performance from the late nineteenth century onward involves the use of institutions and ideas central to any understanding of modernity: urban life, Western education, the print media (the publishing of matrimonial advertisements seeking brides and grooms), monetization of relationships (the escalation in the practice of dowry), cultivation of distinction and cultural capital (debates about what constitutes a tasteful wedding), and law (certain legal reforms to do with property and ideas of rights and personhood). The fact that Bengali Hindu marriage underwent these changes was the result, I argue, of certain changes in family values during the late colonial period. It amounted to the creation of a new patriarchy under colonial rule. Exploring the links between marriage and family values that produced this patriarchal imagination and practice is the main aim of this book. The study is framed by two significant developments whose impact seems unequal at first glance. It begins in the early 1870s, around the time    Introduction

that the first matrimonial advertisement appeared in a Calcutta periodical. It ends with the Hindu Code bill, focusing especially on the Hindu Succession Act of 1956, which gave Hindu women some inheritance rights in their paternal property. The act, despite its many shortcomings, was at least a symbolic acknowledgment that women continued to have significant claims to their patrimony even after they had ritually moved to another network of kinship. The two chronological points are also significant in flagging some of the most important factors—marketplace practices, ideas about cultural capital, and the law—that transformed Hindu marriage in modern times. Rather than casting these changes as progressive or retrograde, I am committed to understanding what constellation of forces prompted these transformations in the marriage form and to what effect. Finally, the two dates cover a time span during which marriage was, in a manner of speaking, nationalized. That is, although I begin with a history of Bengali marriage, I end at the national stage, with the central government attempting to create an Indian Hindu marriage form with regional and customary variations. However, when the new leadership of postcolonial India sought to change with one stroke of the pen the conditions governing marriage and family among Hindus, what they neglected to consider was precisely the ways marriage and the extended family had undergone critical transformations in past decades. A few clarifications about certain expressions used throughout the book are in order. First, the discussion of arranged marriage as a modern practice is not a repetition of the argument made influential by Hobsbawm and Ranger in the 1980s about the “invention of tradition.” In that classic formulation, the “peculiarity of ‘invented’ traditions” was that their claims to continuity with the past were largely factitious; this is what makes them invented in the first place. My argument is not about the arranged marriage being a piece of an invented tradition whose claims of continuity with the past were established by “quasi-obligatory repetition.”2 Arranged marriages were not novel to the late nineteenth century. To argue that they were would be to deny their pre-British history. What I do claim is that there were some striking changes in the practice brought about by the exigencies of British colonial rule in India. In that respect we are not dealing with a history of an invented practice where previously there was none. Furthermore, the pracIntroduction   

tices under consideration were not age-old “traditional” ones that were put to new use to suit the conditions of modern times. In that sense, I do not reproduce the framework of the “modernity of tradition” that was proposed by Rudolph and Rudolph in 1967 in their seminal analysis of political development in India.3 What I document is a process of change in the history of a practice that drew on past and contemporary resources in order to be a functioning element of Indian modernity. It is thus an analysis of the encrustation of meanings encapsulated in descriptive words such as arranged marriage and the joint family, terms which actually camouflage a whole series of transformations. My second clarification is therefore about the expressions joint family or extended family and arranged marriage. There is now a general consensus among historians that the ideological separation of the family from the state came into being around 1858, with India’s formal inclusion in the British Empire. No doubt, the British state’s demarcation of the limits of “personal laws” had a lot to do with this modern construction of the family.4 By the time period under consideration, the familial space had emerged as quite distinct and separate from the political and administrative space of the state. There is, in addition to the works mentioned earlier, a rich and diverse body of sociological work on the family in modern India.5 And there is a good deal of difference between scholars on whether the joint family should be treated as a legal entity (such as the coparcenary) or as an economic one (functioning as a household) or as an entity that traces its roots back to a common ancestor (in the sense of lineage). My usage of the idea of the joint family draws on this diverse literature, since by joint or extended family I refer to several “households” (what scholars would call an “elementary” family, complete or incomplete) either actually living together under the same roof or sharing the idea of the joint family as a normative ideal. This norm of togetherness extends to cooperation in economic pursuits, joint management and ownership of property, helping each unit of the family in times of crisis, and celebrating festivals, rituals, and birth, death, and marriage ceremonies. As it is used in this book, the idea of the joint family may be imagined as separate households, people either living together or separately, that still identify as one family. But one key difference in my use of the category of the extended family is that I am interested in mapping the    Introduction

changes within this institution. While the notion of familial togetherness is held out as an aspiration and as a norm in Bengali and Indian debates and practices, its actualization in reality was something far more contingent. I deploy the expression arranged marriage at a level of generality in part because the book elaborates on the practices that make up this institution, but also because the idea of arrangement itself is something that was actively contested during the period I study. For example, although marriages were arranged between people belonging to the same caste, subcaste, or subsubcaste in an earlier period, we find that beginning in the early part of the twentieth century subcaste commonality became a less desired requirement in negotiating matches. Likewise, the rituals of a wedding that resulted from such matchmaking were a matter of active contestation. An arranged marriage, broadly speaking, refers in this work to virilocal marriages negotiated by the families (patrilineal) of men and women with or without the consent of those getting married and celebrated at a wedding in accordance with certain communally sanctioned rules and rituals. Within this expansive framework, there are, as recently noted by Sudhir Kakar, “a wide variety of marriages that fall under the rubric of ‘arranged’ depending on how much a young girl or boy participates in, or even guides the process of selecting a mate. At one extreme is an arrangement where the young people never meet and are merely informed about the coming nuptials. The other extreme is the self-arranged marriage where the young people who fall in love unconsciously make sure that the potential mate fulfils all the criteria the family expects of the marriage partner.”6 The institution of arranged marriage I invoke is therefore not the same as that discussed by such anthropologists as Nicole Constable, Sonja Luehrmann, Jennifer Cole, and Karen Kelsky, who are keen to contest the depiction of such marriages or the phenomenon of “mail-order brides” in the popular media as strictly instrumental.7 This body of work is important in highlighting how unproductive it is to employ the tradition versus modernity or progressive versus retrograde dichotomy to any analysis of such matches and in the insights the authors offer into the character of the so-called marriage market, especially complicating ideas of the “commodification” of women within such a market. However, the arranged marriage in these scholars’ treatment of it is by and large unhitched from the family. In the Indian case, the arranged marriage is unimaginable, Introduction   

both historically and currently, without also locating it within the dynamics of the family. Looking at the two institutions, the arranged marriage and the joint family, together allows us to reach conclusions which are otherwise lost or are not invoked when arrangement itself is made to stand in for tradition. The Equation of Arranged Marriage with Tradition

Marriage rituals have been a preeminent site inspiring cross-cultural commentary in a variety of texts in modern times. Whether we look at travel literature or early anthropology, marital practices in foreign lands have long tantalized outside observers with their apparent promise to unlock the secret of an “oriental” culture. It is not surprising that nineteenth-century European writings on Indian civilization should focus on marriage-related customs as one of their primary areas of interest. Consider an 1843 travelogue by George Johnson. Johnson opens his account of Hindu marriage customs by noting certain similarities between the Hindus and the ancient Romans: “The Hindoos like the ancient Romans have a custom among them to depute certain persons, before the matrimonial alliance is formed, to see the bridegroom and bride alternately in their respective houses.” So fascinated was Johnson with his discovery of this civilizational parallel that for the next thirty pages he provides a meticulous report of Hindu marriage practices in the land of Bengal. However, what Johnson saw as “ancient” in “Hindoo” Bengali practices was already marked by the changes brought about by British rule in India. Consider the factors that, in Johnson’s account, made prospective bridegrooms and brides eligible. For the “boy,” wrote Johnson, “a knowledge of the English language is now-a-days considered by the Hindoos a high qualification.” The “girl” “must be light complexioned; have a face like the full moon; a nose smooth as a flute; eyes like the lotus flower; a neck like that of a pigeon; and a voice . . . like that of a cuckoo.” If in addition to these qualities she also possessed “engaging manners,” “she is esteemed a paragon.”8 The qualifications needed in a groom were clearly marked by colonial origins, while those sought in a bride sound traditional. But this very tendency to expect a young woman to embody tradition itself foreshadowed a relatively modern development under British rule.    Introduction

Writing some fifty years after Johnson, when anthropology had already been pressed into the service of colonial administration, the director for ethnography for the Government of India, Sir Herbert Risley, persisted with the civilizational argument, but this time to create and sustain a sense of hierarchy between civilizations. Risley contrasted marriage practices in India and Europe, arguing that these were among the primary forces responsible for the degeneracy of the Indian races. According to Risley, in the West “sentiment and prudence” held “divided sway” in matrimonial matters, and “the field from which a man can choose his wife is practically unlimited.” By contrast, among the “stationary” races of India “throughout the ever widening area dominated by Hindu tradition or influence, one set of rules contracts the circle within which a man must marry; another set artificially expands the circle within which he may not marry; a third series of conventions imposes special disabilities on the marriage of women.” Add to these the customs of child marriage, polygamy (even though polygamy was, on Risley’s own admission, “tending to disappear under the influence of popular disapproval”), and the ban on widow remarriage, and the “series of contrasts between Indian and European marriage customs” would seem complete.9 Once colonial rule was firmly established in India, native marriages began to be treated by foreign observers as a shibboleth of Indian tradition. Marriages negotiated and performed according to custom came to be seen as belonging to ancient Hindu practices that had persisted into the modern period and that caused the “backwardness” of Indians in social matters. Saturated with all that made up the essence of India—caste, patriarchy, meaningless rituals, rules of the extended family—arranged marriages were seen as necessarily marked by a certain lack of agency and individual choice on the part of the betrothed. While European domination had not a little to do with such impressions, the impressions themselves outlived formal colonial rule. They survive even into popular literature and films of the past two decades.10 The association of arranged marriage with antiquated ideas of gender relations and cultural backwardness is a byproduct of the coupling of love marriage with progress, choice, agency, and modernity. Whether we look at classical liberal theory or at continental philosophy, love and conscious Introduction   

choice as the originary impulses of conjugal life were ideas elaborated at length by many European thinkers of the late eighteenth century and the nineteenth century.11 Notwithstanding feminist and other critiques of gender relations in the West, consent, choice, and equality are still the most frequently cited (theoretical) bases of marital unions in post-Enlightenment Europe. Their absence from marital unions in other cultures is still perceived as a sign of backwardness. Indeed, if (the myth of ) Europe was associated with the idea of romantic love, then arranged marriage stood for the timeless phenomenon of an “Indian tradition.”12 Historians, novelists, and other women and men of letters have added to the weight of these philosophical observations by their own findings. There is a general consensus that “love . . . has become synonymous with marriage in the western world.”13 While there is considerable debate about the issue, for some historians love came to dominate the quotidian boundaries of marriage in the West from as early as the sixteenth century.14 This is not to argue that there were no other considerations—namely, the status of the family, the monetary position of the bride and bridegroom, and issues of property—that featured in the minds of the couple getting married. But as argued by Frances Gies and Joseph Gies, “In the developed countries today only two parties are closely concerned in the marriage process: the bride and the groom.” The preeminence of the marrying couple distinguishes matrimony in the so-called developed regions of the world by making all else—parental consent, the Church—secondary players in the wedding. Consonant with the centrality of the two human actors is the role of the state. Most scholars would agree that the role of the state is a purely public one confined to the issuing of licenses and imposing conditions of property ownership and inheritance.15 Edward Shorter’s classic statement—“When we encounter young men passing up fat dowries to wed their heart’s desire, we shall know that we’re standing before romance”— comes at the end of a long history of such an idealization of marriage and family in Europe. It would not be wrong to say that for a long time, the history of marriage and family in Europe was a history of “sentimentalization.”16 This was predicated on a transformation in the idea of Romance, which was chivalrous and confined to a handful of people, to romance that was quotidian and became an aspiration for every couple. It is almost as if    Introduction

Europeans discovered romantic love and companionate marriage at the same time as they transitioned from feudalism to capitalism, from the Middle Ages into modernity. One can read off the preeminence assigned to romantic love in these narratives of the history of European Enlightenment and progress. So pervasive was this notion that marriage and family in the putative West was a realm of sentiment, affection, companionship, and romance that historians and anthropologists have had to reinsert nonaffective elements, such as material interests, into family history and kinship studies.17 Lest we assume that such marriages were prevalent only among the upper and middle classes, the reader would do well to remember E. P. Thompson’s landmark essay, “The Sale of Wives.”18 While Thompson upheld love and affect as the basis of marriage among the “proto-industrial working classes,” Frederick Engels argued that authentic love marriage could flourish only among the proletariat.19 Feminist scholarship of the past three decades has gone a long way toward establishing that not all was rosy in gender relationships in the West.20 The roots of patriarchy, it has been argued, go deep into classical antiquity, while its branches are spread widely in modern disciplinary practices (such as psychoanalysis). Still others, influenced by Edward Said, have critiqued these trends in European scholarship by arguing that the “idea that love flourishes more naturally among proletariats can be seen as a political romanticization,” whereas its confinement “to the . . . upper classes reflects a general trend of attributing to the lower classes, Southern Europeans, and North Africans a lesser refinement of character that prevents the experiencing of anything more sophisticated than lust.” Scholars have begun to note that such theories about the European provenance of love “constitute data about long-standing prejudices.”21 Notwithstanding these critiques, the idea that the emergence of the modern West is coterminous with an elaboration, theoretically at least, of consensual marriage and conjugal equality still enjoys a wide currency. It is against such a background that a historian can offer the following: “The interdependence of spouses offers a more likely paradigm today than the earlier dependence of wife on husband. As world leaders Americans and Europeans are creating a model of shared conjugal authority, which may seem foreign to much of the globe, but that much of the globe will probably come to emulate.”22 Introduction   

The pervasiveness of the notion that arranged marriages are a source of divisiveness in Indian society and a prime reason for Indian backwardness is something we notice in more recent academic work and social commentary. Let me illustrate this with two examples from works whose intellectual trajectories otherwise share very few commonalities. In the introduction to a book that came out of the proceedings of a 1983 conference on marriage systems in India, the editors cite some passages from the inaugural address by Justice A. A. Ginwala of the Bombay High Court. Noting that marriage in India “has always been interlinked with religion” Justice Ginwala went on to say, “Ours is a heterogeneous society. Religious groups are divided into sects, castes and sub-castes. They are further divided religionwise. The nation cannot progress with such diverse elements. We are wasting our energies in pointless bickering rather than utilizing them for building a strong and united nation. National integration is the need of the hour. Inter-caste and inter-communal marriage can bring about this much desired change.”23 He proposed the adoption of a uniform civil code to govern matrimonial affairs for all communities in India, a stated goal in the Directive Principles of the Indian Constitution. Marriages arranged on the basis of religion, community, and caste are thus seen as contributing to India’s political divisiveness. In the view of a scholar writing on a completely different theme, Hindi cinema, marriage and the couple form in India are a site of more intimate repressions. In his brilliant analysis of the prohibition (until very recently) of on-screen kissing in Hindi films, M. Madhava Prasad wrote, “In the dominant filmic narrative the drive towards the affirmation of conjugality is reined in by the restoration of the clan to its position of splendour and power; the couple, in other words, is repeatedly reabsorbed into the parental patriarchal family and is committed to its maintenance. The modern family romance occurs in popular Hindi film only in an embedded form, under the aegis of the compound authority of a feudal and a modern patriarchy.”24 The Modernity of Arranged Marriage

At its core, this book questions the linking of arranged marriage and the idea of the family that stood firmly behind this marriage form with the feudal or nonmodern. There is an increasing recognition that nineteenth10   Introduction

and twentieth-century thinking about family and marriage reform in India derived from many different schools of thought. While many Indians were influenced by the classical liberal ideas of Mill or Maine, others returned to the world of precolonial Indian texts to rethink ideas of domesticity and familial relations.25 Still others, most prominently the lower-caste self-respect movement activists in Tamil Nadu and the Brahmos in Bengal, sought to deploy new models of family and marriage as part of their discussions of ethicopolitical personhood.26 From these works one can argue that the history of marriage and the family in India was the site of confluence as well as a tussle of multiple visions. Marriage and the family at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth present a hybrid picture, a product of Indian society’s encounter with colonial rule as well as struggles internal to that society. This hybridity accounts for events which at first glance appear anomalous, especially when we measure them against notions of progress understood in classical liberal terms. In the particular case of colonial Bengal, it was not as if the colonized Bengali middle class suddenly saw the light of romanticism and started celebrating the couple form as it was known in the West as soon as they were exposed to Western education and new cultural mores. As in many other cases of the Indo-British cultural encounter, the colonial Bengali family was a hybrid and unevenly developed formation. As some scholars have recently shown, Western ideas of domestic management were combined with Indian ideals of hierarchy and devotion to produce the dyadic couple form at the beginning of the twentieth century in urban Indian life.27 Other marriagerelated practices did not remain untouched by Western influences, nor were they mechanical reproductions of those models. There is a staggering array of archival and other historical evidence that confronts the historian studying marriage in the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth in colonial Bengal. On the one hand we see the rise of matrimonial advertisements published first in journals printed by caste associations, and then becoming a routine feature in daily newspapers. The advertisements contain capsule descriptions of eligible brides and bridegrooms and are a feature of Indian weddings to this day. If these data point to the widening of a marriage market in which marriageable candidates could be selected on the basis of certain qualifications thanks to the spread of a Introduction   11

commercial print culture, other artifacts, such as innumerable photographs of the wedding couple, suggest that the idea of a romantic duo had gained acceptance in Bengali social life. In direct contradiction to the idea of the romantic couple, however, is a vast amount of literature that discusses the relentless baiting of bridal families by the families of eligible bridegrooms through their demands for dowry. The criticism of dowry reached a fevered pitch around 1914, when a young Bengali girl, Snehalata Mukhopadhyay, committed suicide, allegedly to save her father from impending financial ruin that would have resulted from his efforts to cobble together her marriage dowry. As dowry demands escalated we also have writings that criticized its deleterious impact on Bengali social life. These writers asserted that the modern marriage market that had spawned the practice of dowry led to an erosion of spirituality in Bengali marriages. Written by both men and women, these works include a large number of novels, plays, short stories, poetry, and nonfiction. The authors are intent on erasing the vulgarity that they felt had come to dominate Bengali weddings, embodied in the rise of dowry and other forms of excess. Such works gave shape to a new rhetoric about what constituted good taste in social and cultural affairs, of which weddings were a key event. Finally, there is a massive and ongoing literature on marriage-related laws and the role of rituals in Bengali weddings. Many contemporaries viewed law as an instrument of the state and were opposed to state intervention in marriage-related affairs. Instead, they were keen to restore a degree of sincerity and distinction in weddings by reforming society from within. Thus we find voluminous data on refashioning existing wedding rituals or creating new ones. There were still others for whom law was the only available tool to correct the gender inequities that resulted from matrimonial arrangements in Bengali society. The field that constituted arranged marriage was anything but static or predefined. References to a marriage market in Bengal from the late nineteenth century and early twentieth actually signal the striking changes that characterized marriage negotiations during British rule and after. On the one hand the growth of cities and urban populations in this period necessitated the creation of a new information market relating to marriageable men and women. On the other, that a new monetary culture pervaded weddings of all classes of city dwellers was signaled, among other things, by the rise 12   Introduction

of extortionate dowry demands. As contemporaries grew vocal in criticizing the objectification of men and women in matrimonial advertisements and the commodification of eligible men represented by demands for dowry, they all seemed to concede that these developments were of recent vintage, inextricably linked to the changes wrought in family life by the pressures of colonial, urban living. The city created social models that would gradually spread to the countryside. Marriages during this time were sites of tremendous flux, with competing ideas about the norms of an ideal wedding, spouse selection, ritual procedure, and laws best suited to the needs of the Bengali family caught in the currents of change induced by colonial conditions of life. An analysis of the marriage market is instructive for the light it sheds on the relationship between the individual and the family in the making of colonial modernity in Bengal. It also draws attention to the fact that there remains an unresolved tension at the heart of this modernity. With the spread of Western education, the growth of civil and social associations, and eventually the rise of organized feminist groups, there was indeed a consciousness in the Bengali public sphere about the liberal citizen subject—the unmarked individual—whose ideal telos is the bourgeois couple. But these bourgeois forms never quite realized themselves as they were invariably intertwined within other novel and normative constructions of the joint family. This is not to characterize Bengali society during this period as a neofeudal relic. The centrality of the couple was often recognized but at the same time subordinated to the larger ideal of the joint family. There were conflicts, of course, between these ideas of the individual or couple and the family. These struggles gave rise to certain changes in the marriage form that constitute the substance of this book. The centrality of the family was a matter of active contestation rather than an accomplished fact, and this contestation was mirrored in the ritual processes and protocols of the wedding. If classical liberal thought in the West, from Locke onward, presupposed the birth of the autonomous, propertied individual subject, then Bengali discussions of modernity focus on a different construction of the subject.28 Whether we look at legal reforms, reforms in wedding rituals, or matrimonial advertisements looking for prospective brides and bridegrooms, it is always the reconstituted joint family that emerges as the subject of the Introduction   13

“family romance” in modern Bengali history.29 The process has not been without contestation, even today. How are we to understand this kind of modernity? Running through the entirety of this book is the problem of how we evaluate this institution in terms of the effects it had on people who participated in it. Once we recognize that arranged marriage was not a result of stasis in Hindu society, but rather a symbol of that society’s dynamism, how are we to grapple with the inequities it gave rise to? In raising these questions this book participates in a growing body of scholarship that seeks to understand the complexities of the processes of modernity and modernization in the putative non-West. In her study of the Egyptian Muslim women’s piety movement Saba Mahmood has argued quite powerfully that it is historically anachronistic to judge individuals as progressive or otherwise by simply testing their actions against the measure of liberal values.30 I take Mahmood’s insights seriously as I set out to analyze the descriptive template of arranged marriage in colonial Bengal. Such a historical and archivally grounded study seriously destabilizes the easy equation between arranged marriage, the joint family, and the so-called traditional. Once we tease out the lineaments of the marriage market it is quite clear that this was a modern condition. But the norms that governed Bengali familial arrangements did not, indeed could not champion the interests of independent, rights-oriented, interest-bearing individuals over and against those of the family. The figure of the extended family remains, in many discussions of Bengali modernity, a higher norm that makes the descriptive template of this modernity different from the Western one. But the persistent invocation of the family does not mean that the debates about the nature of modern marriage in Bengal were resolved once and for all in its favor. Models of companionate marriage, equality of partners, and individual subjectivity and ideas of rights- and property-bearing subjects who stood above familial or community affiliations continued to contest the normative position accorded to the family in these debates. The unresolved status of this debate brings us to the theoretical conundrum that characterizes many non-Western histories, one most eloquently articulated by Dipesh Chakrabarty in Provincializing Europe. Taking my cue from his

14   Introduction

work, I argue that certain concepts—such as the property-owning, contractual, individual citizen subject, the nuclear family, and companionate love— whose intellectual provenance and climactic expression lie in the course of European Enlightenment and the nineteenth century, do not adequately describe the condition of modernity in other parts of the world (in this case, Bengal). But that does not render these concepts ineffectual as evaluative norms in non-Western modernity.31 We see these very norms being invoked repeatedly by people who questioned the injustices of dowry and favored granting property rights to women; by feminist writers who wrote in the name of an autonomous female citizen subject who stood vulnerable in the wilderness of the marriage market; and within the ranks of India’s avantgarde political leadership as they set out to modernize the country in the postcolonial period by legally removing the discrimination perpetrated by past generations. To that extent, these norms, whose genealogy lay somewhere in Western Europe in the Enlightenment and in the French Revolution, carried in them an “unavoidable and in a sense indispensable universal secular vision of the human.”32 The history of marriage and the family in any region of India is not a simple narrative of historical progress. The Bengali marriage market was an arena in which both liberal and nonliberal notions of personhood and family jostled against each other. As the extended family emerged as a revered, ancient social institution and arranged marriage as the symbol of an Indian tradition, there also ensued new struggles that sought to establish ideals of companionship, rights, and interests within the rubric of these formations. The overall result of these struggles is what Indrani Chatterjee has termed the “democratization of the family” in India.33 But even this democratization is unevenly molded by the tensions that characterized the marriage market and the politics of family values that were enshrined in the relations of that marketplace. This book elaborates on what this process looked like. The results of the process were fortuitous in many respects but not always beneficial to all. Nonetheless they are at the heart of what constitutes modernity in the subcontinent, with its own uniqueness and peculiarities. Marriage, on which the ethical life of a community depends, wrote Hegel,

Introduction   15

“results from the free surrender by both sexes of their personality.” The “objective source” of marriage, he continued, “lies in the free consent of persons, especially in their consent to make themselves one person, to renounce their natural and individual personality to this unity of one with the other.” It is consent of this kind that could allow for the fact that, “though marriage begins in a contract, it is precisely a contract to transcend the standpoint of contract, the standpoint from which persons are regarded in their individuality as self-subsistent units.”34 This is one of the most powerful and eloquent expressions of the couple form, wherein two individuals through the marital bond become one. This book is a historical study of the modern Bengali subject’s agonistic relationship with the normative universe encapsulated in Hegel’s description. Before introducing the reader to the history of Bengali marriage and family, we would, however, do well to recall some lines from a postcolonial Indian poet. A. K. Ramanujan’s “Love Poem for a Wife” is a brilliant summation of both the modern Indian’s deep acceptance of the normative horizons of the Western couple form outlined above, and his recognition of its impossibility. “Really what keeps us apart at the end of years is unshared childhood,” says the husband to the wife in Ramanujan’s poem. So how does a couple become one, renouncing as it were each one’s “natural and individual personality?” Ramanujan’s answer, which muddles the normative worlds of both East and West, resonates with a poetic irony, “Probably,” he wrote, only the Egyptians had it right: their kings had sisters for queens to continue the incests of childhood into marriage. Or should we do as well-meaning Hindus did, Betroth us before birth Forestalling separate horoscopes And mothers’ first periods, And wed us in the oral cradle And carry marriage back into The namelessness of childhoods.35 16   Introduction

The Plan of the Book

The special nature of the archives used for this book warrant a brief discussion. Unlike in the history of nationalism or other well-known events that constitute topics of much social or cultural historical work, there is no ready-made, official archive for Bengali marriages. This is probably true of many cultures in the world which did not have an institution such as a Christian church to maintain a centralized record of marriages. There was no compulsory registration of marriages in Bengal during the period considered here. Civil registration of marriages among Hindus became widespread only well into the twentieth century, and a bill for the compulsory registration of all marriages irrespective of community was not introduced in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament, until 2005.36 There is, of course, a vast array of sources on matrimonial legislation in colonial and postcolonial India; these include parliamentary debates, official correspondence, remarks by legal experts and scholars, and newspaper reports. But as sources for the history of arranged marriage as a social practice, the official archive does not lead us very far. I have therefore had to create my own archive. This has been a particular challenge, a rewarding challenge, of this research. I had to travel and “discover” much of the wedding trivia that I have used in the text. The wedding invitations, poems, jewelry catalogues, menu cards, and even some of the photographs are now part of my own collection. I have, in addition, extensively used contemporary periodicals, caste association publications, newspapers, private papers, and visual archives housed in research institutes and libraries in India and elsewhere. Autobiographies and literary materials have helped me to supplement information gleaned from official documents and secondary sources. Given the centrality of marriage in Indian life, historical data on weddings are abundant. I make no claims of having exhaustively covered all the ground. As the research has been dependent on institutions such as libraries as well as on families and individuals preserving written documents such as invitation cards, matrimonial advertisements, caste journals, and newspapers, there has been a necessary element of selection in the archives I have used. The material pertains to the social group that is often loosely called the educated middle class. The Bengali word for the people referred to in the Introduction   17

literature is bhadralok. But the expressions middle class and bhadralok should not give rise to the impression of a sociologically cohesive category, as there were wide economic, professional, and caste differences within this bloc. Furthermore, for reasons of familiarity with the language and availability of sources, this book focuses on Bengali Hindus. I have organized the book into three broad sections that speak of the modernity of arranged marriage. Part I, “The Emergence of a Marriage Market,” outlines the terrain of this market by elaborating on some of the institutions, such as matrimonial advertisements and marriage bureaus, that supported it. These first two chapters demonstrate the shifts that took place in the process of arranging marriages as families sought novel techniques to look for brides and bridegrooms under the pressures of modern, urban living. The outcomes of these developments were often tragic, as exemplified most clearly by the suicide of Snehalata Mukhopadhyay in 1914 and the debate about the dowry system that her death brought to a crescendo. But as the demand for dowry—symbolic of an excess of money, display, power, and pomp—rose in Bengali society, there were also serious criticisms of this practice. To the critics, these new developments that ensued from the new marriage market were robbing Bengali weddings of sincerity and spirituality. Part II, “Culture and the Marketplace,” analyzes these issues relating to spirituality by outlining the new discourse of taste that Bengalis articulated to combat what they saw as the vulgarity of the marriage market. Combining an analysis of literary and visual artifacts that became parts of wedding ceremonies, the two chapters in this section show that, while critical of all forms of excess in weddings, the new regime of taste bolstered the creation of a new patriarchy in Bengali family history. The two final chapters, which make up Part III, “Marriage and the Law,” deal with two critical moments in marriage-related legislation in India. The first of these chapters is about Act III of 1872, the first civil marriage act promulgated in India. It was the result of the struggle waged by a small but influential Bengali community (the Brahmos) to have their marriages recognized by the state even when they were solemnized without the ritual ceremonies of Hindu weddings. But a few years after the law was passed, in 1878, K. C. Sen, who was greatly instrumental in its promulgation, flouted 18   Introduction

most of its clauses when he arranged the marriage of his minor daughter to the Hindu scion of a princely state. The extraordinary public outcry that followed this event highlights the relationship between ritual performance and legality in Indian weddings. Far from secularizing the law, most reformers demanded that the law be constituted by rituals, which were an inescapable part of familial, community, and religious identity. The theme of the last chapter, the Hindu Code bill, is a consideration of the legal imaginations of the propertied subject and the family in modern India. The account of arranged marriage as an institution that was marked by historical difference and yet inescapably caught in certain universal imaginations of modernity emerges with striking clarity as we analyze the property clauses of the Code (the Succession Act of 1956). The Hindu Succession Act and the debates that preceded it showed that arranged marriage and the joint family were far from discredited in modern India. Indeed, these were depicted as the resources that would enable India to take a distinctive path in its avowed trajectory of development. Arranged marriage and the joint family were reincarnated in the debates on the Hindu Code bill as the harbingers of India’s postcolonial modernity.

Introduction   19

Part I

The Emergence of a Marriage Market

Chapter One

Looking for Brides and Grooms ♣♣♣♣♣♣♣♣♣

“You too will marry a boy I choose,” said Mrs. Rupa Mehra firmly to her younger daughter.

Lata avoided the maternal imperative by looking around the

great lamp-lit garden of Prem Nivas. . . . “Hmm,” she said. This annoyed her mother further. Vikram Seth, A Suitable Boy

Arranging suitable matches for various characters constitutes a central theme of Vikram Seth’s 1,349-page novel A Suitable Boy. Mrs. Rupa Mehra decided that in order to qualify as “suitable” for her daughter Lata, the prospective bridegroom would have to be “a good, decent, cultured, Khatri boy,” and she spent the bulk of her time utilizing the train passes inherited from her dead husband in traveling from place to place in search of just such a boy. For Amit, the Calcutta-born young poet, son of Justice Chatterji, “an arranged marriage with a sober girl,” divined his father’s elderly clerk, Biswas Babu, was the solution to all problems thrown up by life. These resolutions, seemingly incongruous with the temperaments of the rebellious Lata and the quirky Amit, are humorous because they are bizarre. Yet they offer an astute insight into a central preoccupation of most Indian parents and guardians, namely, to seek out a suitable match for their wards based on a set of socially determined criteria. The flourishing existence of arranged marriages among Indians is for many proof of the firm hold of tradition on present-day Indian social life.

The negotiation of such marriages via matrimonial advertisements is treated simply as a modern transmutation of an age-old custom.1 The dichotomy between the modernity of the advertisements and the so-called traditional character of arranged matches does descriptive and analytical injustice to the phenomenon of negotiating arranged marriages, giving the institution the appearance of a holdover from the past. The practice of brokering marriages assumed a specific character during the colonial period and found its place among other institutions of colonial civil society and was tailored to suit the needs of people in a modernizing, urban, social milieu.2 In this chapter, I explore the colonial history of the institutional machinery of ghataks (traditional matchmakers), matrimonial advertisements, and marriage bureaus at work behind the institution of arranged marriage in the city of Calcutta. This and the next chapter delineate the marriage market as it evolved in Bengal in the late colonial period. My aim here is twofold. The first is to investigate the history of the rise of marriage advertisements and the predominance of this form of seeking brides and bridegrooms over the traditional matchmaker. The second is to analyze the contents of these advertisements and their contemporary critiques in order to elucidate a contradiction at the heart of the patriarchy that consolidated itself in Bengali Hindu families in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth. This contradiction, best captured in contemporary discussions of dowry and ideals of womanhood, centered around the fact that the same patriarchal cultural politics that valorized domestic virtues in women actually contributed to reducing their economic worth. This in the end proved injurious to the interests of both men and women. Women were cast in roles that confined them to the domestic space and portrayed them as unsuitable for any positions of responsibility in public life. Men, in their turn, suffered as fathers and guardians of daughters, for they now had to face the burden of offering dowry in order to arrange marriages for their daughters. The debates around matrimonial advertisements draw our attention to this contradiction. My analysis covers the period 1870 to 1940, years in which Calcutta grew into a teeming urban metropolis with a thriving popular press, schools and colleges, and an expanding and diverse population.3 Matrimonial advertisements, which from the early years of the twentieth century assumed more importance than individual ghataks in the process of 24   Chapter 1

arranged marriages, did not represent an aberrant mutation of a traditional practice. Rather, mapping the rise of this advertisement culture and the corresponding decline of the traditional matchmaker in wedding negotiations will demonstrate the ways in which notions of a new Hindu patriarchy, one based on a novel understanding of caste and an aestheticized image of the bride, came to mark the lives of a new middle class that developed in Calcutta. By focusing on the process of marriage negotiation and the shifts within that process, I foreground the impact of capitalism and related social forces—such as the rise of the modern city, a marketplace culture, and the burgeoning of a new print culture—upon the institution of arranged marriage. Viewed thus, Seth’s fictional Mrs. Rupa Mehra ceases to be a tyrannical busybody meddling in her daughter’s future. She epitomizes a much more realistic figure of Indian modernity, one among hundreds of Indian parents trying to gather as much information as they can about prospective bridegrooms in order to determine a suitable match for their ward. The research presented here mines a hitherto unused archive of matrimonial advertisements that started appearing regularly around 1909 in caste association journals such as Kayastha Patrika, Kayastha Samaja, Jogi Sammelani, Prajapati, and Ghatak and then constituted a regular feature of newspapers such as Amrita Bazar Patrika, Bengal Times, and Anandabazar Patrika. Interestingly, even though some of these journals were the mouthpieces of particular castes—Prajapati called itself a Sadgop caste journal—they published matrimonial advertisements from other castes as well, namely, Brahmans, Kayasthas, and Baidyas, the three high-status castes in Bengal. I also use articles, letters, autobiographical accounts, and essays on marriage negotiation that appeared in both periodical literature and books during this period. Urban Culture and the Decline of Ghataks

Marriage advertisements appeared in newspapers and periodicals in large numbers and on a regular basis from the early years of the twentieth century. Even though there were instances of a few stray advertisements soliciting brides and bridegrooms before this period, the task of negotiating marriages belonged to the traditional matchmaker, the ghatak (male) or ghataki (female) as he or she was referred to in Bengali. We need to explore contemLooking  for Brides and Grooms   25

porary opinions on traditional marriage negotiators, for it was the critique of these individual intermediaries that set the stage for more impersonal matrimonial columns, and by the 1920s for the rise of marriage bureaus. The urban historian S. N. Mukherjee has demonstrated that the early merchants and bankers who moved into Calcutta during the 1760s and 1770s and were the first group of Indians to settle in the city established family deities, patronized Brahmans and ghataks, and entertained Europeans as a Mughal courtier would do.4 Ghataks had an important place in the social organization of Bengal and early Calcutta. The late nineteenthcentury accounts of their decline were rendered meaningful precisely because of the role they played in caste organizations and marriage until the first half of the nineteenth century. In his account of factional politics in Calcutta, Mukherjee describes how Nubkissen (Nabakrishna Deb), an important landlord of old Calcutta from the mid-eighteenth century, patronized ghataks. It was with the aid of ghataks, argues Mukherjee, that Deb raised his social status by marrying his grandson Radhakanta Deb into a kulin (highest rank among the upper castes) Kayastha family. Mukherjee noted that ghataks exercised an “unusual hold” over high-caste Bengali society for centuries. Their main function was to select appropriate matches. To this end they kept registers “of marriages, of important social events and decided the social status of the kulas [families].” In addition to brokering marriages, ghataks functioned as genealogists, who determined caste ranks and catalogued the position of people within the caste hierarchy. Their vast knowledge of family histories allowed them to adjudicate in disputes over the social rank of families within particular castes. Nabakrishna Deb, for instance, was able to establish his influence over the Kayastha caste through the mediation of ghataks. As an important patron to many ghataks, Deb got the Kayastha Kulagrantha (a digest of family genealogies) systematically recorded and exerted considerable authority within the Kayastha caste. His efforts were crowned when he was declared goshthipati (chief ) of his caste in Bengal. In light of such evidence Mukherjee argues that in early nineteenthcentury Calcutta ghataks generally “had considerable power over society.”5 In Tribes and Castes of Bengal H. H. Risley also mentioned the respectability ghataks enjoyed in Bengali society. He marveled at their remarkable memory, observing that often a ghatak could offhandedly “repeat the names 26   Chapter 1

of all members of the main as well as collateral branches of any family in his particular part of the country; of the families with which they have married, and of the issue of such marriages.” He wrote that rich families claiming higher status would often offer bribes to ghataks, which the latter usually refused: “Disputes,” wrote Risley, “are common, and the ghataks who favour a claim that is fallacious, and who attend at an unauthorized marriage, fall in the estimation of those who have questioned its soundness and declined to be present. The scruples of a single pradhan ghatak [principal ghatak] often mar the otherwise perfect satisfaction of a parent on the marriage of his son to a family of higher rank than his own; and should all the leaders unite in forbidding the marriage, it is impossible to win any permanent promotion beyond that laid down in their registers.”6 It appears from these accounts that ghataks functioned as repositories of upper-caste social memory in Bengali society. Before newspapers and caste newsletters became widespread, ghataks performed the task of social registers.7 Why and how, one wonders, did the profession of ghataks slide into one of utter disrepute? In tracing the steady deterioration in historical perceptions of the ghatak into a petty and unreliable mercenary, we hear doubts voiced about this profession as early as the mid-nineteenth century, doubts that were soon transformed within the space of a few decades into a firm condemnation of this group of professionals. Risley’s praises may be contrasted to those of other early nineteenth-century commentators, who raised questions about the ghataks’ righteousness. George Johnson remarked in a travelogue published in 1843 that ghataks were “men of a fawning and flattering disposition” who in the “assemblies of the Hindoos” would “often panegyrize some individual as much for his giving them a few rupees, as they would satirize him for not listening to their adulation. They sometimes involve parties in difficulties by getting up matches of a disreputable character; yet, nuisances as they are, their services cannot be dispensed with so long as the present system of Hindoo marriage continues, which does not admit of an interview between the bride and bridegroom before the wedding night.”8 The skepticism voiced by Johnson gained general social consensus by the late nineteenth century and certainly the early years of the twentieth century. An essay entitled “Kayastha Ghatak” (1919) that appeared in the Looking  for Brides and Grooms   27

periodical Kayastha Samaja observed that famous ghataks of the past—Edu Misra, Harinath Acharya Chudamani, Dvija Vacaspati, and others—were remembered with great respect in Kayastha society precisely because they were much more than simple matchmakers. In fact, the essay claimed that these ghataks never negotiated marriages.9 Instead, they were men who devoted themselves to the sole task of maintaining genealogies. It was as genealogists and not marriage contractors that ghataks earned the title of kulacharya (arbiter of a lineage) and commanded social respect in particular samajas (caste councils). The author narrated tales of some legendary ghataks, such as Nandaram Mitra, a famous ayurvedic practitioner who abandoned his occupation as a healer in order to be a genealogist, and to that end became a student of Kamalakanta Vidyavagisa. It must be noted here that the names of Mitra and Edu Misra recur in much of the caste literature published in late nineteenth-century Bengal, such as Lalmohan Vidyanidhi’s Sambandhyanirnaya (A Digest of Family Relationships) and Nagendranath Basu’s monumental Bangera Jatiya Itihasa (The National History of Bengal). The details of these works are often contradictory, and any resolution of the precise historical situation of these individuals awaits further research.10 Nandaram Mitra went on to become a great genealogist of the Dakshin Rarhiya Kayasthas,11 a task that had hitherto been performed by his teacher, a Brahman. From this account it appears that being a ghatak involved mastery of ancient manuscripts, a privilege reserved for Brahmans until Mitra’s advent in the seventeenth century.12 His erudition earned him the title of sarbabhaumya, a sovereign among his distinguished ghatak successors Anandiram, Govinda Chandra, Dinanath Mitra, and others. Once some Dakshin Rarhiya Kayasthas distinguished themselves as genealogists, kulin Brahmans ceased performing that task in Kayastha society. The writer of this essay, Hridayanath Basu-Varma, identified himself as an heir in this remarkable line of scholars and lamented the absence of this knowledge among current practitioners of the trade. A similar image of the ideal ghatak was supported in Nagendranath Basu’s Visvakosa, the Bengali encyclopaedia put together between 1888 and 1911. According to Basu, a ghatak should be able to determine and have detailed knowledge of kula (lineage) and its various branches. Simply knowing the names of families or persons did not qualify a person as a ghatak.13 28   Chapter 1

The fact that ghataks had ceased being genealogists and were simply concerned with negotiating matches was attributed to a structural transformation in the occupation of ghatakali (the trade of ghataks, a word considered synonymous with matchmaking by the end of the nineteenth century). “Bibahera Ghatakali” (Matchmaking in Marriage), an article published in 1886 in the journal Prachar, pointed to the decline in the nature of the profession during this period, indicated by the rise of female negotiators, or ghatakis. The increase in the number of ghatakis, the author argued, was due to the increased power that women in Calcutta were claiming in the decision-making processes of the family. “Spending, clothing, social etiquette, socializing are all in their hands,” the author commented. As a result, “in marriage negotiations too they are the chief arbiters. Male ghataks do not enter the inner quarters of households, hence they no longer get matchmaking deals and have had to abandon that business. They have been replaced by female ghatakis.”14 In other words, the rise of the ghataki was symptomatic of another unwelcome feature: women’s modernization and consequent professionalization. The writer criticized this development by arguing that in a country where child marriages were prevalent the function of ghataks was of the utmost importance, a task that female negotiators failed to carry out well. A good marriage depended on the availability of detailed information of family histories, genealogies that recorded, for instance, the vices (dosas) that had crept into a family over generations. This realization, he wrote, had caused our ancestors to devise the kulin-pratha, a system of intracaste ranking based on the possession of certain attributes. The code of kaulinya (kulin status) was dependent upon the constant performance of certain activities and not something that could be taken for granted by virtue of birth alone. Most important among these activities were proper marriage and reproduction. Families could lose or improve their status through marriage. It was in finding and negotiating the right match that ghataks played an important social role. Traditionally, the writer maintained, the task of finding the right match involved possession of detailed knowledge that came from recording and maintaining kula-panjikas (family genealogies). This is what made the ghataks the supreme arbiters of matrimonial relations in Bengali Hindu society. The occupation of matchmaking by ghataks was comparable to that Looking  for Brides and Grooms   29

of horse breeders in Europe whose specialized knowledge has led to the striking improvement of livestock in England and France, an improvement not matched by human beings in these places. “If you go to breeders in these countries,” he wrote, “they can trace the lineage of a particular horse. We need professionals who can supply the same information about human beings. Male ghataks given the particulars could supply such information. But now female ghataks can only speak about jewelry, they are unable to speak on more important matters. The womenfolk are not even aware [of ] what the important matters are, hence they don’t even ask for these questions to be investigated.”15 According to this article ghataks were both negotiators and professional genealogists responsible for maintaining elaborate family histories. However, the entry of females into the profession led to a marginalization of the genealogist and favored the more material and contractual aspect of the trade. While it is unclear whether the historical relation posited by the author between the decline in the genealogical aspect of ghatakali and the rise of female negotiators is valid, it is clear from a number of contemporary accounts that there was a definite increase in the number of ghatakis. George Johnson noted: Of late it is worthy of notice, native women have also embraced this profession, and, as might be expected, are more fortunate, if not more honoured, than their male rivals, or brethren, in trade. They easily get into the female’s apartments, a privilege which the men can never enjoy. Those who know anything of Hindoo society must be aware, that the opinion of a Purdah woman (a woman who observed seclusion from males), relative to a marriage, operates strongly with other members of the family; and the admission of the female ghataks to the presence of the ladies, gives a facility to obtain their acquiescence.16 The Bengali writer Mahendranath Dutta in Kalikatar Purano Katha O Kahini (Tales of Old Calcutta) concurred with Johnson’s views. He wrote, “From my childhood ghatakis started replacing ghataks because the women of the household hold greater sway in matters related to matchmaking.”17 Meredith Borthwick found that by 1868 the ghataks had “been superseded by the female members of the craft and have almost passed away from the 30   Chapter 1

cities and large towns and by 1885 most marriages in Calcutta were arranged by ghatakis.”18 From this diverse body of evidence, we could argue that the rise of female negotiators highlighted the reduced role of the genealogical expertise of ghataks in the marriage process. Conservative male commentators criticized this development as symptomatic of a general social decline in the occupation of ghataks. Their critiques centered on the fact that modern marriages did not entail as much exchange or collection of information about families as they did before. Thus the task of ghatakali, the function of matchmaking, simply became one of brokering matches between families without entailing any great knowledge of genealogical details on the part of matchmakers. Yet another sign of the erosion of the traditional prestige of ghataks, the fact that they were often perceived as predatory mercenaries, abounds in the rich autobiographical literature of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Bengali writer Sudakhsina Sen, who later married into a Brahmo family, noted in her autobiography that her father lived in constant fear of ghataks who hounded her grandfather to get him married a second time. The Sens were kulins and had sastric (scriptural) sanction to marry innumerable times. This and the fact that their family was relatively well to do made their house a target for ghataks.19 Similar references to ghataks are found in Rashbehari Mukhopadhyay’s Sankhiptya Jibanbrittanta (A Brief Account of My Life), wherein he recalls running away whenever ghataks visited his grandfather.20 Contemporary sociological texts carried the same message. For example, Shib Chunder Bose in The Hindoos As They Are (1881) exhibited a modern sensibility that was critical of ghataks: “When an unmarried boy attains his seventeenth or eighteenth year, numbers of professional men called Ghatucks or match-makers come to the parents with overtures of marriage. The men are destitute of principle, they know how to pander to the frailties of human nature; most of them being gross flatterers, endeavor to impose on the parents in the most barefaced manner.”21 Early works on prostitution in India also refer to the menace of ghataks. These petty professionals deceived young girls into the trade through “marriage frauds.” Citing detailed accounts of a contemporary case, one author writes, “The professional matchmakers are not always honest people and make false statements for the sake of commission. The guardians of marLooking  for Brides and Grooms   31

riageable girls are sometimes duped and induced to give in marriage their daughters along with handsome dowry to persons of false identity. Recently there was a case of this nature in Calcutta. In this tragic drama two young men named Panchu and Haricharan played the parts of bridegrooms, while Binodini Ghatki played the part of a professional matchmaker.”22 Shorn of practical utility, genealogies maintained by the traditional ghataks increasingly became “historical sources” for early nationalist historians of Bengal. A case in point is Nagendranath Basu’s multivolume Bangera Jatiya Itihasa (The National History of Bengal) mentioned earlier, which was based on such sources. There were, however, still a few cases in which ghataks maintained their manuscript collections and guarded them zealously. In his reminiscences Basu described his encounter with one such ghatak, Rajanikanta, a resident of the Ichapura region of Bikrampur in presentday Bangladesh. Rajanikanta had in his possession the family genealogies of many Brahman families of Bengal, but he refused to part with them when he learned that Basu, a Kayastha, intended to write a history of Brahman social practices. Basu’s was a historian’s veneration of the social knowledge possessed by ghataks. More commonly, however, the trade of ghatakali was associated in the popular imagination in the late nineteenth century with relentless mercenary instincts and ruthless promotion of social evils, such as polygamy, child marriage, abduction of young girls from villages, and negotiating marriages of “fallen” women under false pretenses. Ghataks became emblematic of the dangers and risks that an urban householder faced in the modern conditions of a big city. Their supposed indiscretions became a subject of debate among those members of the Bengali middle class who worked for social reform. Ghataks’ much touted venal instincts and duplicity militated against the middle class’s new and romantic conception of marriage as a spiritual union of two people. It was against this background of widespread mistrust about ghataks that matrimonial advertisements came into prominence in Bengali society. The Rise of Matrimonial Advertisements

The matrimonial section in Prajapati, a Sadgop caste journal edited by Jnanendranath Kumar, was entitled “Ghatak,” as if the journal had taken 32   Chapter 1

over the function of intermediaries who negotiated marriages to earn their livelihood. It would be instructive for our purposes to quote at length from the text of the opening sections of “Ghatak,” which was published at regular intervals for almost two years after the journal was started in 1909. All these wedding journals addressed a fear that plagued the parents of prospective brides and bridegrooms: the fear of unreliable information. The opening sections of “Ghatak” thus addressed precisely this fear: Finding ghataks when needed to negotiate marriage relations for sons and daughters is no longer possible. In many cases well-meaning, innocent householders are harassed for placing their trust [in] mercenary and crafty ghataks. Consequently, many people travel far and wide seeking brides [and] bridegrooms based upon word of mouth communicated via relatives and friends. Under such circumstances, as those who have experienced this process are aware, it is an arduous task securing information about prospective marriage candidates. From guaranteeing confidentiality to investigating claims made by families, there were a number of steps the journal was prepared to take to assure readers of the accuracy of the information it provided. So that subscribers of Prajapati are able to remain at home and easily obtain information about marriageable candidates a monthly list will herewith be published in Prajapati. In addition to what is published, our registered records contain detailed accounts and particulars of numerous other prospective [marriageable candidates]. If the guardians of interested brides and bridegrooms [write, use] a self-addressed postcard or [send] a letter with a half-anna stamp we [will] respond. The bride’s [and] bridegroom’s [families] will either meet or correspond through letters to negotiate matters hereafter. We simply supply them with the address and other particulars; but if anybody wishes to settle matters via the services of a ghatak from our office and communicates that to us we [can] make arrangements. In sum we spare no effort in the selection of bride or bridegroom.23 Following this introductory pitch, the journal sounded some warnings and stated certain rules to families entering into marriage negotiations. Looking  for Brides and Grooms   33

They assured their subscribers of complete confidentiality and reliability in their reports and investigations of marriageable persons and their respective families. Caution was urged and hasty decisions in matters of matrimony were warned against. “Matchmaking is a task of immense responsibility. Please do not execute this duty in haste via the services of a traditional matchmaker [ghatak].” The editors proclaimed their integrity and honesty of conduct, saying that if they heard anything unsavory about the prospective bridegroom’s habits and family background, his name was immediately struck from their register. For example, this was how the periodical once described an unworthy groom: “Though the prospective bridegroom has married before, he says himself that his character is spotless. Negotiations with the aforementioned man were going on when the girl’s father from Rangoon requested us to inquire his into whereabouts confidentially. Our investigations revealed that the man was associated with some prostitute and his character was extremely impure.” In another instance the journal reported, “A man showed great haste in his desire to be married. Secret inquiries revealed that he was asthmatic, [and that] his father and elder brother had died of this illness. His life chances were also slim.”24 Another periodical, Ghatak, started in 1927 and edited by Amulyacharan Mitra, announced an elaborate set of rules for an association of matchmakers, Ghatak Sangha (Ghatak Association), that it had set up. The association was responsible for negotiating matches on the journal’s behalf. Reliable service was offered to members who filed their details in the journal’s register for a fee of four rupees. A reduced rate of two rupees was levied upon the parents or guardians of bridegrooms agreeable to marrying girls without demanding dowry. The journal offered the services of its own matchmakers from this unit for a charge of five rupees, to be paid only after the families had been notified about the results of the search. In cases where dowry transactions took place the Sangha demanded payment of 5 percent of the total amount as a service charge. The Sangha would bear all costs of dispatching letters and telegrams and employing intermediaries (ghataks). The particulars of the bride and bridegroom would be advertised once, free of charge, in the Sangha’s mouthpiece, Ghatak. Complete confidentiality was guaranteed to all customers. The Sangha also committed itself to financially supporting indigent bridal families and assured parents a respite from 34   Chapter 1

the machinations of fraudulent ghataks. The periodical therefore trod a fine line between commerce and social reform.25 Prajapati, Ghatak, Jogi Sammelani, and Anusandhan, all launched between 1890 and 1927, were journals that articulated the blight afflicting the trade of marriage negotiations. While the first three periodicals often commented on the phenomenon of decline in the profession of traditional ghataks, Anusandhan (Investigation) carried stories of conniving ghataks who brought great harm upon innumerable families. Edited by Durgadas Lahiri, Anusandhan was committed to exposing the fraud and dishonesty rife in society at large. The city was portrayed as a site of widespread moral decline. Most stories in Anusandhan were supposedly based on real events. Ghataks and their numerous alleged swindles were sketched in great detail in the pages of this periodical. In addition to these four journals most periodicals dealing with social issues were critical of the role played by ghataks in the marriage process. The theme of exploitation by ghataks recurred in many literary accounts of the period.26 While there was no question about the importance of negotiations, it is clear from the journal literature that matchmaking as carried out by individual ghataks was publicized as extremely unreliable. Many journals played upon a perceived popular mistrust of ghataks as they introduced their matrimonial columns to readers and urged people to subscribe to their registers for a fee. Most periodicals carrying matrimonial columns maintained registers and an army of negotiators who worked for them. In fact, many of them sought qualified ghataks for their services, as revealed in an advertisement that appeared in the journal Ghatak in 1927: “For ‘Ghatak Sangha’—Able ghataks required. Applicants must write to the address below with individual reference letters. Stamps worth one rupee must be supplied for written response. Secretary, Ghatak Sangha Karyalaya [Ghatak Sangha Office], No. 18 Pitambar Bhattacharya Lane, Post Box no. 10815 Calcutta.”27 Clearly, the marginalization of ghataks who operated as free agents must be seen as a change in the character of the business of matchmaking. The free agents were replaced by larger formal institutions that negotiated the marriage market through the printed word. Matrimonial advertisements read by numerous consumers created a sense of an open market in marriage negotiations. Their stated goal was to shun the devious tactics associated with Looking  for Brides and Grooms   35

ghataks, and they justified their work as creating an open and free world of marriage negotiations. As Calcutta grew in size and the social composition of the city became more mobile and diverse, matrimonial advertisements and marriage bureaus that served the function of matchmaking, as well as various other types of marriage-related services such as matching horoscopes, seemed better suited to the needs of the urban householder. In fact, many matrimonial bureaus combined the task of brokering marriages with astrological functions. Advertisements like the following littered contemporary newspapers and journals: “[We] undertake marriage negotiations of respectable families—Jyotirbid Pundit K. Samajpati B.A. (Medical Astrologer)—Residence, 4 Guruprasad Chaudhury Lane, Calcutta.”28 An advertisement that appeared in the Amrita Bazar Patrika on 26 March 1926 highlights the growing influence of astrology in the marriage market. An apparently satisfied client of an astrologer’s services exclaims in the advertisement, Marriage Expedited! Having had a daughter of marriageable age I have been passing sleepless nights [in anxiety] for some time. I could not settle her marriage in any place. Being disappointed I went to Mir Hamid sometime in June last year and requested him to do something for me. He gave me some “Tawzies” [sic] for use, which I did. He further gave me definite assurance that my daughter will be married within the month of July, 1925. I am glad to say that his Tawzies worked like miracles. The marriage ceremony of my daughter took place within a month, i.e. July. . . . Lalit Mohan Ganguly, Raja Rajballav Street.29 Mir Hamid proclaimed himself a “spiritualist, psychist and occultist.” His address was provided at the bottom of the advertisement. Such an advertisement prompts an interesting speculation about whether the horoscope or reliance upon astrology was a concomitant of the fact that families based in Calcutta now married into one another with much less information than would have been available before. It is possible that in the absence of detailed genealogical information, knowledge that at least the stars were favorable to a prospective match comforted anxious parents. The urban astrologer in Calcutta owed his existence, in part at least, to this condition.

36   Chapter 1

Significantly, however, most of the journals carrying matrimonial advertisements identified their columns or their matchmaking units by the traditional nomenclature of the profession, ghatak, a recognition of the importance of the profession while reconstituting its scope and operational style to make it amenable to modern conditions. The predominance of advertisements and the institutionalized, bureaucratized structure of matchmaking for weddings were clearly established by the 1920s. The text of the advertisements pointed to the standardization of this practice by this period. Two more advertisements from Amrita Bazar Patrika illustrate these developments: “MARRIAGE GAZETTE”—great boon to Kannyadayagrastha parents [parents with marriageable daughters]—Sample copy one and a half annas—Secretary, Shrimati Tripti Lata Devi Bharati, Post Box 10863. Calcutta.30 Marriages in Agrahayan [Bengali month corresponding to November– December], I.C.S.’s, M.B.’s, B.E.’s, Dy.Magtes., Munsiffs available. Wire or write Manager Projapati 200 Cornwallis Street, Calcutta.31 Marriage bureaus were firmly established by the 1920s, and by the 1940s matrimonial advertisements appeared alongside other classifieds such as “Situations vacant” and “Tenders.” The font of these advertisements was much smaller than in previous years, and their text was completely standardized into a format that continues even today. The Success of the Matrimonial Culture

Having observed the increased visibility of matrimonial advertisements over the traditional matchmaker, the most important question that faces the historian has quite naturally to do with the factors that bolstered the success of this new culture. How was it that these pithy capsules containing an extremely condensed description of prospective brides and bridegrooms satisfied most people? The following insertion that appeared in the journal Kayastha Patrika in 1910 is helpful in providing us with certain necessary insights into this question: “[District] Burdwan, P.O. Daihat Bhaskarpara, Sri Radhagovinda Debbarma’s (Estate Manager to the Zamindar) second Looking  for Brides and Grooms   37

daughter, age 11. Very beautiful, willing to marry his daughter into any sreni [grades within subcaste], the man must be well educated and have a sacred thread. Marriage will be conducted in the manner of Ksatriyas.”32 One phrase in this advertisement, “willing to marry his daughter into any sreni,” clues us into the changes in the social context that prepared the ground for matrimonial advertisements. It draws attention to people’s attitude to the observance of caste rules. The phrase implied a willingness among parents to marry their daughter to a candidate across subdivisions within the caste. It is in this changed attitude toward the observance of caste rules that we can begin to situate the decline of the traditional matchmaker and the success of the matrimonial advertisement culture. The historians Sekhar Bandyopadhyay and Lucy Carrol have shown that the meaning and implications of caste had undergone certain marked changes by the second half of the nineteenth century. The cultural contents of each caste had become more or less similar, at least insofar as ritual ceremonies and social customs were concerned. As Bandyopadhyay points out, “Emotional attachment to caste persisted; for caste now became the focus of the mobilization for the pursuit of group or individual interests, as the disability of many of the lower castes was now mainly due to economic or educational backwardness.”33 While the internal subdivisions within each caste became a matter of relative indifference, affiliation to a caste group was an important mark of identity in contemporary Bengali society. The changing attitude to caste lay at the heart of the new civil society that came into being in Bengal at the beginning of the twentieth century. The numerous caste associations that were formed around this time promoted what M. N. Srinivas has called a “horizontal stretch” of caste groups at the expense of their vertical organization. This meant that people from all social groups, irrespective of their caste, exhibited or shared in the aspiration to a certain set of civil social rules. Matrimonial advertisements embodied the status aspirations of the new caste society, and herein lay the key to their success over the traditional matchmaker. Caste consciousness exhibited by both the so-called higher and lower castes constituted a major component of twentieth-century social reform.34 But by no means was this consciousness a call for a return to the dharma-

38   Chapter 1

sastras or for a strict observance of caste rules in terms of the internal differentiation within caste groups. Rather, this consciousness manifested itself as an assertion of caste identity in the forms of modern civil society. These changes also clarify the reason why consciousness about the details of kula and vamsa (lineage) was now relegated to the private realms of autobiography rather than appearing in public life.35 That this brand of caste consciousness would be conspicuous in the wedding process is not surprising. One index of this was the large number of publications by the Rajbansis, Mahisyas, and Sadgops,36 castes that were traditionally placed lower than the Brahmans and Kayasthas in the hierarchical ordering of Hindu society, with numerous essays on their origin tales and the manner in which weddings and other rituals should be conducted in their particular samajas (communities). For the higher castes, such as the Kayasthas, caste consciousness manifested itself in the desire to claim Ksatriya status and wear the sacred thread as Brahmans did and in encouraging marriages among various subgroups within the caste. Intermarriage among the different subgroups of a caste, called antarganik bibaha, was promoted as a cure for numerous problems in the system of marriage alliances such as dowry. For instance, in a chapter titled “Panera Pratikara” (A Cure for Dowry) in the book Sachitra Panapratha (The Illustrated Dowry System), the author argued, “It is extremely difficult to find a match who belongs to the same caste rank and subdivision. . . . In many instances, even when an eligible bridegroom who does not ask for too much dowry is available, the bride’s guardian is forced to reject him as he does not belong to the same sub-caste. While determining an eligible bridegroom for your daughter, pay no attention to his specific caste genealogy. Concentrate instead on his family background, character, education and financial standing.”37 So education, family background, and financial status emerged as the main criteria for judging a prospective bridegroom. The candidate’s caste was also taken into account, but only as one factor among many rather than as the most important one. Statements such as these promoting intracaste marriages testified to the strength of the movement for marriage among the various subdivisions of a caste. The movement was especially keen among the Kayasthas, as evidenced by the numerous reports published in the caste’s journals,

Looking  for Brides and Grooms   39

Kayastha Samaja and Kayastha Patrika.38 It was argued in these reports that intermarriage among the different subdivisions of the caste was in keeping with scriptural rules and would free the Kayastha marriage of numerous ills, such as dowry. All these changes suggest that while the internal subdivisions within each caste became a matter of relative indifference, affiliation to a caste group was an important mark of identity in contemporary society. The decline of the traditional matchmaker can be directly linked to this change in the meaning and significance of caste. The genealogical aspect of marriage negotiations, a task which the traditional ghatak was trained over generations to perform, was rendered superfluous as the significance of caste in colonial society was altered. In the social arena of the colonial city the particulars of one’s caste subdivision were not of much importance. It was more important to be broadly identified as a Brahman, Kayastha, Nabashak, or Mahisya in order to make the most of reserved seats in government institutions, scholarships, and other advantages in the colonial public sphere. The altered importance of caste in the urban public sphere was reflected in the place it was accorded in marriage negotiations. Caste now became one criterion among many to determine the suitability of a match. Thus a 1909 questionnaire circulated by the journal Prajapati to its clients contained a list of fourteen questions for the families of the bride and bridegroom in which only one question pertained to caste. The rest of the questions had to do with the amount of land and property owned by the family, how much money they were willing to spend at the wedding, what gifts and dowry they were planning to give the bride and bridegroom, the educational status of the groom, and the professional background of the bride’s father or guardian.39 It should also be clear by now as to why people became skeptical of the information supplied by individual ghataks. Since specialized knowledge about caste rank and lineage was no longer prized as much as before, the financial information supplied by marriage bureaus and advertisements appeared to be much more credible than the word of mouth of individual ghataks. The task of identifying candidates by their basic caste background was performed efficiently by advertisements in caste association journals. Not only that, but they also brought to their consumers various marriagerelated products such as horoscopes, gazettes, and almanacs. The advertise40   Chapter 1

ment culture was much more reflexive to the new demands of public life in the city than was the work of traditional ghataks. The homogenization of caste was indicative of the emergence of a new kind of urban identity: the bhadralok (gentle people), a conglomerate of various castes identifiable by a set of shared values. Matrimonial advertisements were totems of the status aspirations of this group, aspirations best expressed in the stock descriptions of men and women found in the body of the advertisements. Marriage Advertisements: An Embodiment of Social Domination

Matrimonial advertisements typically consisted of a few lines describing with short, coded expressions such as “educated” or “skilled in domestic work” the qualities deemed desirable in prospective grooms or brides. They thus bespoke a reality in which caste divisions had come to be subsumed in a larger social formation, namely, the middle class, also known as the bhadralok of Calcutta. The marriage advertisements show that, much more than rankings internal to a caste or those between castes, it was participation in public life and civil society (“educated,” “employed”) that now marked the status of a marriageable man. For a woman eligibility was determined by a certain ideal of domesticity that included proficiency in household tasks, a modicum of education, and a high premium on good looks. Note, for instance, the following advertisement that appeared in the marriage periodical Ghatak in 1927: Wanted educated, Kayastha bridegroom for a Kayastha girl—mukhya kulin [head of intracaste superiors], dakshin rarhi (Akna Samaja), twentyeighth parjaya [generation], age 14 years, very good health, well-built, good manners, medium-complexioned,40 conversant in Bengali and English, proficient in music and singing, knows all kinds of up-to-date crafts, very clever and nimble. Photo will be sent if necessary. Father a high-level government employee, monthly income 800 rupees, highly connected. Original residence Konnagar, Hoogly, currently lives in Delhi. Able to give three thousand rupees as dowry [ pana]—if the bridegroom is to his liking then he is willing to increase the dowry [ joutuk]. No objection to a Moulika [noble but not of kulin status] groom. Must be Dakshin Rarhiya Kayastha.41 Looking  for Brides and Grooms   41

And here is an even earlier one from the periodical Kayastha Patrika: Bride’s father: Shri Ramnath Dutta. Father’s qualifications: Dakshin Rarhi Kayastha, Lawyer in Howrah. Girl: Age 13, medium complexion, beautiful face, good figure, first grade student in Mahakali Pathshala, obtained silver medal in home science examination.42 Following the Age of Consent Act of 1891 the age for the consummation of marriage was fixed at twelve. The progressive image of most journals was therefore linked to their carrying advertisements only for girls of and above that age. Emphasis on the educational qualifications of the girl reflected the status aspirations of the new middle class. On the one hand, wives had to be adept in the tasks of modern homemaking, which required a primary education and skills in the kitchen, at embroidery, at interior decorating, and so on. On the other hand, she also had to be a good caste Hindu who would fit into the image of a grihalakshmi, fashioned as the epitome of tradition. The journals Kayastha Patrika, Prajapati, Ghatak, and Jogi Sammelani all carried numerous articles against dowry transactions in weddings. In 1910 Kayastha Patrika started a section reporting on weddings that took place with or without dowry transactions.43 In an article titled “Natun Bibaha Paddhati” (New Marriage Procedure) in April 1910, the journal reported that many weddings were conducted according to the following set of rules: “The match [would be] decided after the bride and bridegroom were seen by the families; the bride’s family [would be] dissuaded from giving barpan [dowry] or ornaments to the bride. [If] the man was insistent [on receiving dowry] the match would be canceled. The bridegroom’s family would gift ornaments to the bride according to their financial ability. The various ceremonies around the wedding would be held without ostentation.”44 Some matrimonial advertisements reflected these reformist concerns. These advertisements, like many others of the same ilk, showed that people were conscious of their own internal caste ranking (mukhya kulin, or from the main kulin family) but accepted caste’s declining importance (“no objection to a Moulika,” that is, a person of a lower rank). Of importance was the prospective bridegroom’s education, as well as the assertion that the prospective bride had all the necessary attributes of femininity: she was in good health, had good manners, and was proficient in singing, “home 42   Chapter 1

science,” and other “up-to-date crafts.” As several scholars have pointed out, this new ideal of womanhood was tied to a refashioned Hinduism that was urban and based in print culture and the history of nineteenth-century social reform.45 This idealized Hinduism de-emphasized the importance of rituals in caste divisions and actually promoted a new model and aesthetics of womanhood, identifying women with the new, urban, middle-class Hindu home. The very identification of men with public life (education and employment) and women with home and hearth (“skilled in domestic work”) tells us that, although this new Hinduism may have replaced rituals with aesthetic ideals, it stood for a new imagination of patriarchy, and in that sense, for a new logic of social domination (men over women) made possible by the emergence of a colonial public sphere. As suggested by Dipesh Chakrabarty in his discussion of Bengali civil society, the emphasis on family (kula), and a specific kind of education for girls conducive to the maintenance of the family, alerts us that these discussions of caste and gender were ultimately about the ideals of modern Bengali patriarchy. Caste categories were harnessed to explicate patriarchal ideals geared toward the maintenance of the extended family. As Chakrabarty points out, late nineteenth-century discussions of the grihalakshmi or kulalakshmi were predicated on the secularized image of the goddess lakshmi, signifying familial prosperity and clan well-being.46 Indeed, “what comprised beauty in a Bengali woman?” The well-known Bengali writer and literary critic Mohitlal Majumdar (1888–1952) answered this question, in a series of reflections entitled “Mana-Marmara” (1912–21), She is like the dusk; a portrait who is demure, tender, and modest. She is medium complexioned, with wide downcast eyes; her tresses are black, wavy and flowing; her posture is not aggressive and her feet small. Her most beautiful feature was her gaze, not sharp but loving and gentle. From the dot on her forehead to the alta [a red paint marking auspiciousness] on her feet she shows no dirth of modesty and decency.47 Thus the desired qualities in a prospective bride or kulastree were calm, composed movements, quiet, downcast eyes, and a sedate demeanor. This image was counterpoised to that of a kulata, a woman lost to her kula or family, a fallen woman or prostitute. The latter was “restless, garrulous,” with roving Looking  for Brides and Grooms   43

eyes seeking male company, bawdy of dress, and filled with lust.48 The evocation of caste and gender in the matrimonial advertisements has to be situated against these nineteenth-century discussions. Even as they embodied a new Hindu patriarchy, matrimonial advertisements also point to a deep contradiction at the heart of this development. The valorization of participation in public life in the case of men and of domestication in the case of middle-class women was accompanied by the rise of dowry, sums of money that a marriageable girl’s father had to pay to the boy’s family, indicative surely of a decline in the economic value of women, however much their cultural value soared. This in the end became a problem for the new patriarchy itself, for what a man gained as a groom in the marriage market he lost in trying to arrange a match for his daughter. Indeed, Bengali literature of this period is full of sympathy for fathers who face economic ruin in having to cough up huge (by contemporary terms) sums of money as dowry to the families from which came their sons-in-law. The practice of demanding dowry is reflected in the text of innumerable matrimonial advertisements. I quote below a representative sample from the periodical Prajapati: Barendra bride: Kap, Kashyap, Dark complexion, twice married acceptable, will spend 1,000 rupees. Kap, Kashyap, only daughter, beautiful, devgan, bipravarna, karkat rashi,49 for a good bridegroom willing to spend 3,000 rupees. Sadgop bride: Niyogi [family name], very beautiful, student of Bethune school, daughter of a zamindar [landowner]. Ghosh [family name], lakhapati’s [millionaire] daughter, bridegroom will be the only heir. Bridegroom must have passed entrance exams or [be] a businessman. Bridegrooms wanted: Kulin Kayastha bridegroom wanted. We know of a beautiful girl, if the candidate is suitable. Willing to spend up to 20,000 rupees. 44   Chapter 1

Bride wanted: Mitra [family name], passed entrance [exam], salary 30 rupees, demands 1,000 rupees. 24 Parganas. This section ended with a note from the managers of the periodical explaining that they had such a huge number of moulika brides listed in their register that it was impossible to publish them all in detail. Depending on the eligibility of the bridegroom the various families were willing to spend between 500 and 20,000 rupees, and interested guardians could write to the journal for inquiries.50 The matrimonial sections in the other periodicals mentioned earlier, such as Jogi Sammelani and Ghatak, presented an identical picture. At the beginning of the twentieth century, as the bhadralok were grappling with a new employment structure, the rising advertisement culture bolstered a new patriarchal structure by affirming that the rightful donors of dowry were the bridal family. The trend manifested itself in the increasing numbers of advertisements from lending agencies and insurance companies that gave loans for “daughter’s marriage money” and in some instances in advertisements for domestic sons-in-law,51 for it made more sense to maintain a man with an income than part with family resources by way of dowry. Dowries for Daughters—Payable at 18, 21 or 25 years of age. Endowments for Sons—Payable at 18, 21 or 25 years of age. Educational amenities for children—Payable for 3, 5 or 7 years from age 15. No medical examination required. For terms etc. apply to Chief Office at the New York Life Insurance Co. For the East, No. 8, Old Court House Street, Calcutta. Giving date of birth and date the money is required. N.B. Life Insurance and Annuities issued on all approved plans at cost.52 A philanthropic (parentless) Dakshin Rarhi Kulin Kayastha M.A., B.L. student groom wishes to become domestic son-in-law. He is earning Rs. 250 [per month]. If anybody want such groom, please write to Secretary “Marriage Gazette” Post Box 10863 Calcutta.53 The rising centrality of money in contemporary marriages, symbolized by the predominance of dowry, eventually led to searing criticism of the matrimonial culture. As we shall see, it primarily addressed the monetary Looking  for Brides and Grooms   45

aspect of arranged marriage. But this criticism failed to look beyond the phenomenon of the marriage market to the kinds of gender roles and inequalities generated by that market. The imagination of women in the critiques remained as hierarchical as that promoted by the advertisements, one in which women were associated with beauty, orderliness, familial solidarity, and household prosperity. Critiques of the Matrimonial Culture

The following advertisement, which appeared in the Amrita Bazar Patrika on 19 March 1929, drew attention to fact that most bridal families now perceived marriage as a huge burden. Utilizing the same print medium that played a crucial role in advertising prospective brides and bridegrooms, people now made appeals for financial help. “A Brahman in Distress: An Appeal” To the generous public: In these hard days it is hardly necessary for me to tell the generous public how difficult it is to bear the expenses of a girl’s marriage, especially if her father or guardian happens to be a poor man. The plight of such a man can be better conceived than described. And furthermore, this plight reaches its extreme limit when the man has got several daughters to marry. I am a poor Brahman employed in a printing press with a poor salary and am in a self-same difficulty. The marriage of one of my daughters is going to take place towards the middle of the month of Agrahayan [November] and I know not how to bear the incidental expenses. . . . For my part, I depend solely on the grace of God and the generous help of those kind persons who are disposed to feel for me. I appeal to them with all the earnestness I can command to realize my distress. . . . If they help me, they will be helping not myself personally but [a] righteous and humanitarian cause. Let me hope that my appeal will touch the hearts of my sympathizers. All contributions will be acknowledged in the Press. Bijay Chandra Chakravarti, 23 Sitakanta Banerjee Lane, P.O. Baghbazar, Calcutta.54 If this advertisement was a cry for help in a commercial social milieu, there is also evidence to suggest that people sought to reject this commercial culture by participating in more informal networks of marriage negotiations. 46   Chapter 1

Negotiation machinery operative through networks of family and friends functioned as a constant critique of the commercial culture of professional marriage intermediaries and matrimonial advertisements. There are records of people, perhaps a minority, who negotiated weddings without a fee and were proud of undertaking such informal negotiations as a pastime. Trailokyanath Bhattacharya, a schoolteacher between 1900 and 1958, has left detailed reports in his autobiography of the weddings he arranged. In the section titled “Bibahe Ghatkali” (Arranging Marriages), he wrote, “Although I did not belong to the class of ghataks, there is no doubt that I was an expert in ghatakali. My help and effort resulted in many weddings among my own family and friends and it was with great pleasure that I undertook to play a leading role in forging these auspicious bonds.” None of these weddings involved any demands of dowry, and the gifts given to the girls were left to his discretion as negotiator. Aside from expressing a critique of commerce, his records are significant for the manner in which he serialized the particulars of the various women and men he married off. For example: Jhansi (U.P.) resident ( Jogendrakumar Chattopadhyaya’s youngest son) Gopal (Hrisikesh) Chattopadhyaya’s marriage to my niece Srimati Radharani. Gopal was an M.A. in a Jhansi school. Resident of our former district Faridpur, village Ratandiya, Manikchandra Roy’s sister’s daughter Harani’s wedding with Jogendranath Bhattacharya’s younger brother Upendranath Bhattacharya. Upendra was a teacher and musician in Raja Suryakumar Institute.55 There are striking structural similarities between these brief reports and the way matrimonial advertisements stated the family backgrounds and occupations of prospective brides and bridegrooms. Also, the fact that the writer described his task as ghatakali without the monetary transactions revealed the strong hold of the concept of negotiating matches in contemporary society. These correspondences highlight the impression that the criticism of matrimonial advertisements was grounded primarily in the monetary aspect of marriage negotiations, something the advertisement and professional matchmaker culture was seen as promoting. The criticism embodied in Bhattacharya’s informal marriage negotiations had to do with the threat Looking  for Brides and Grooms   47

that money and the new culture heralded by modern commerce represented to the modern, educated, elite, imagination of Bengali family and civil society in the late nineteenth century and twentieth century. By 1940 the criticisms of matrimonial culture became more explicit and appeared in the same periodicals that had started the business of placing marriage advertisements. In an article titled “Biyer Bigyapan” (Marriage Advertisements), the writer Debendra Chandra Basu Mullick criticized matrimonial advertisements for creating a “marriage market” wherein men and women were treated as objects that could be bought and sold: “Everything in this country is now evaluated in terms of pound-shilling-pence. Since price is the primary determinant of the utility and quality of all objects, then why would brides and bridegrooms be an exception to this rule in the marriage market? The bridegroom’s price depends upon his annual income, university certificate, appearance and color of skin; and the bride’s on her father’s income and physical appearance.” The author noted that the market was flourishing, as proven by the appearance of numerous shops catering to the marriage business. Variously named Arya Vivaha Pratisthan, Bibaha-Sahayak Sabha, Bibaha-Karyalaya Sabha, Ghatak Office, and Prajapati Samiti, these were marriage bureaus that conducted a profitable trade in prospective suitors beginning around the 1920s. Basu Mullick noted that the advertisements often did not spell out the exact amount of dowry the grooms were expecting, for such transparency would reduce their bargaining power. Many matrimonial advertisements declared that the man was going abroad for higher education and desired that his bride accompany him. Implicit in such advertisements was an expectation of sponsorship for these ambitions from the bridal family. Most advertisements carried a box number rather than the bridegroom’s address, for that also would diminish his prospects.56 Criticisms such as Basu Mullick’s are redolent of a romantic rejection of the social objectification of human beings. The urban, commercial culture had rendered all human beings into commodities who could be traded for a certain sum of money. Basu Mullick’s criticism of matrimonial advertisements pointed precisely to the threat that money represented to the humanist view of life promoted by Bengali intellectuals from the midnineteenth century onward. Whereas for early social reformers such as Iswarchandra Vidyasagar 48   Chapter 1

the imperative of marriage (widow remarriage in particular) was to ensure middle-class respectability by bringing together men and women within the legitimate social bond of matrimony,57 the new commercial culture transformed respectability into a commodity that could be bought at a certain price. The expression kannyadayagrastha we saw in one of the advertisements quoted earlier signified a father or family with the charge of a marriageable daughter. The position of such a family remained perilous until the daughter was respectfully handed over to another family via marriage, for which the girl’s natal family had to pay a price in the form of dowry. The demands for dowry in the matrimonial advertisements illustrated the route social morality had traveled. In the monetized setting of the city there was little room for altruism and performance of social responsibilities without a promise of monetary return. There was also no space for the articulation of interiority and sentiment, for respectability could now be bought through the transaction of matrimony initiated in advertisements that described a woman and a man in certain stock phrases. The mourning for a loss of interiority and individuality in the commercial culture becomes clearer as we read Basu Mullick’s scathing account of the descriptions of women in the matrimonial advertisements: The adjectives describing the would-be bride are poetic. For instance, “very beautiful,” “flawless beauty,” “pretty,” “exquisite,” “fair,” “milky complexion,” “real beauty,” “bright intermediate complexion,” “extremely adept in domestic skills,” and so on. Even such a surfeit of adjectives fails to reduce the price of the prospective bridegrooms. Earlier the practice of swayambhara prevailed in this country.58 That has changed now. Suitors now decide upon their life partners after thoroughly scanning through a string of girls’ photographs. In most cases however their choice is decided by the amount of dowry and gifts offered by the bride’s family. . . . All men prefer a beautiful bride from a wealthy family of good social standing. That the main criterion is the amount of cash is not revealed at first. The bargaining ensues afterwards. If the girl in question is very beautiful or pretty the bridegroom’s family might desire to bring their price down somewhat and the demand for dowry is reduced; but if the girl is dark or slightly fair the girl’s guardians are thunderstruck. . . . Most girls in Looking  for Brides and Grooms   49

Bengal are dark-skinned, so most marriages involve transactions of huge sums of money. He also noted the ridiculous qualifications that are sought in young brides. He describes an instance in which one of his relatives, a young woman who had completed high school and was quite pretty, was rejected because she did not have any musical talent or dancing skills. In other words, in their drive for social prestige people sought particular attributes in men and women. The relative number of attributes a candidate possessed determined his or her price. This process was biased against women due to their lack of earning potential compared to men. Hence, a greater premium was placed on female beauty, the absence of which would increase dowry demands. Commercial culture embodied in the matrimonial advertisements resulted in the thingification of men and women, with little regard for their personality or individual traits. The apogee of this transformation was in the demand for photographs, where decisions were made based upon a person’s outward appearance. Lamenting the course of developments, Basu Mullick wrote on a futuristic note that with the spread of matrimonial culture, photographs of prospective candidates would eventually appear in newspaper columns and their images would be flashed on screens in cinemas.59 Basu Mullick was also critical of lavish weddings, whose harmful effects were evidenced in the shrinking number of charities in Calcutta. Such lavishness also created a vicious cycle wherein rich families put all their gifts on display—“drawers, tables, chairs, safes, mirrors, paintings, electric lamps, fans”—to buy a name for themselves. Their actions set standards that poorer families sought to emulate, while bridegrooms and their families were left free to compound their pressure tactics to maximize returns. These performances were in complete contradiction to the aims espoused by various reformist organizations such as Kayastha Sabha, committed to abolishing “the socially baneful dowry system and extravagant spending in weddings.”60 The author blamed women, particularly the mother and relatives of the prospective bridegroom, for the escalation of dowry. Monetary incursions into a social institution thus emerged as the central point of critique of the advertisement culture. A link was established between the escalation of dowry and matrimonial advertisements, and this 50   Chapter 1

was perceived as a threat not simply to the ethical norms of marriage, but to society at large. The excessive preoccupation with profiting financially from marriage reduced the money available for charities in Calcutta and prevented even wealthy families from observing ceremonies such as sradhs (to propitiate the spirit of dead ancestors) and religious festivals as elaborately as before.61 The anxiety expressed by writers such as Basu Mullick in their critique of matrimonial advertisements was much broader than it may have seemed at first sight. It had to do with the erosion of generosity, bhadrata (gentility), and spirituality from the middle-class social fabric, attributes that qualified the bhadralok in their own eyes as the leaders of society. Basu Mullick’s reservations against enumerating prices of marriage candidates according to their qualifications reflected the attitude of a section of educated Bengalis— Basu Mullick himself was a member of an important Kayastha family— toward the new commercial culture. This culture represented a violation of the image of a just society wherein money and commerce were restricted to the sphere of work. The penetration of commercial ideals into marriage also contravened the fundamental principles of matrimony, which was supposed to forge eternal bonds between two families. (I shall have more to say about the impact of these reformist sensibilities upon the formal aspects of Bengali weddings in later chapters.) The criticism of “money as a measure of all things,” an idea deployed by writers as a critique of matrimonials, had historical roots in the writings of Bengali intellectuals in the late nineteenth century. For men like Bhudev Mukhopadhyay the critique of money was widened to a critique of European society, and the emphasis on money was a characteristic he urged modernizing Bengalis to reject. As Tapan Raychaudhuri observes: An excessive preoccupation with money was to Bhudev one of the least acceptable features of western society and a major reason why Hindus must reject their ethical and social norms. The apotheosis of money made the Westerner hesitant to accept or give financial help even where close relatives were concerned. . . . There was no rational reason, Bhudev pointed out, why financial help should be considered taboo. Unless one treated money as the measure of all things, other forms of help which Looking  for Brides and Grooms   51

were acceptable in the West were often of much greater value to the giver and recipient alike. The taboo was thus an indicator of the supreme importance attached to money. Another expression of this apotheosis was the virtual extinction of hospitality in Europe.62 Dowry, standing in for an invasion of money into the domestic as well as the civil and social realm by the matrimonial advertisements, thus emerged as the single most important example of this Western influence. And the critique of dowry has to be understood in the context of the idea of civil society under conditions of capitalism in the colony. The overwhelming emphasis on money was a threat to the harmonious working of Bengali society. The large amount of money spent on weddings diverted resources that would otherwise have gone into religious festivals, charities, and other familial occasions, events whose celebration was intrinsic to bhadralok culture.63 The new commercial culture, it was argued, carried within it the potential for dissension in modern Bengal by urging young men to enrich themselves through marriage, thereby encouraging a spirit of competition and self-interest. Once we understand the criticism of matrimonial advertisements in this light, the rationale behind the role assigned to women in these advertisements also becomes clearer. The advertisements conveyed the impression that the only position given to women was as a successful housewife who could hold together the extended family and thereby guarantee its prosperity. There was no room in these advertisements for a woman’s selfexpression, economic independence, or romantic interests. The portrait of an eligible Bengali bride in the advertisements evokes images of contemporary Victorian ladies. But the parallel ends there and has a deep significance within the context that produced this image. The prospective bride had to be capable of perpetuating the male lineage, kula, in the family she entered. To do this she had to be demure (lajjabati), sober, and skilled in domestic tasks for which no monetary returns were expected and she had to help preserve the fraternal contract of the joint family. Such qualities were in perfect accord with the manner in which the institution of marriage was perceived in twentieth-century Bengal. Marriage is referred to in Hindu law as a sacrament, a lifelong bond between two persons and their families, 52   Chapter 1

and not a contract between two individuals that can be broken at will.64 When women entered their new household they became part of a natural as opposed to a contractual solidarity with its members. The qualities that would best enhance this process of assimilation were those advertised for would-be brides.65 Unable to envision alternative and empowering roles for Bengali women, the criticisms of matrimonial advertisements remained limited within the very nexus they set out to critique. Unless different roles and options could be imagined for women, the valorization of educated, professional men and shy, beautiful girls would continue in the matrimonial advertisements. The new commercial culture embodied in the advertisements did not challenge the formal aspects of the aesthetic conceptualization of the home and women. However, by affirming the injection of money and commerce into the social organization of marriage it unsettled the very basis of this imagination of Bengali family and society. It produced gender inequality through practices such as dowry and encouraged trends that objectified men and women. In so doing it drew attention to the limits of the humanist, patriarchal imagination that conceptualized an idealized Bengali individuality within the extended family form.

Looking  for Brides and Grooms   53

Chapter Two

S n e h a l ata’ s D e at h ♣♣♣♣♣♣♣♣♣

Questions of Dowry

In the previous chapter I touched on marriage dowry as a “new” problem that afflicted the marriage market in Bengal. I want to consider the dowry problem in detail since it constitutes one of the greatest constraints on women’s freedom and security in the context of the arranged marriage.1 There is general consensus among historians and anthropologists that marriage dowry as we see it practiced among South Asian Hindus had its roots in the colonial period. Although there are differences among scholars on the exact causality whereby gifts given to the bride and bridegroom were transformed into coercive demands for money and other consumption goods, there is unanimity of opinion that the meaning of dowry transcends material goods and symbolizes an unequal power dynamic between the two families being joined through wedlock. One name that repeatedly recurs in all the histories of dowry written in the 1980s through the 1990s is that of Snehalata Mukhopadhyay, a young Bengali girl who killed herself in the early part of the twentieth century, allegedly to save her father from the plight of having to pay an inordinately large sum of money as her dowry. For all the invocations of her name there remain numerous factual discrepancies in these historical remembrances of Snehalata. Often she is mentioned only by her first name, as in Veena Oldenburg’s monograph on the dowry problem in colonial Punjab. Oldenburg mentions a pamphlet by Chunilal Bose written in 1914 that gives a de-

tailed report of a suicide by a young girl. “This girl Snehalata,” writes Oldenburg citing Bose, “burnt herself to death to save the family from impending ruin in consequence of an exorbitant demand of dowry at her proposed marriage.”2 Sometimes basic facts of the case are misreported by historians. Thus Ranjana Sheel, documenting how the news of Snehalata’s suicide was reported in Hindi-language magazines in the United Provinces, quotes from a letter that Snehalata allegedly wrote to her father before her death: “Snehalata’s letter to her father written just before her death was publicized and printed in several issues of many of these journals. Extremely sensitive about her father’s anxiety regarding her marriage, she wrote to her father, ‘I am unmarried even though I am fifteen years of age’ and ‘am taking my own life because people criticize and ridicule you for this in spite of your making several efforts to resolve this issue.’ ”3 In all probability Snehalata never wrote such a letter. At least none is mentioned in contemporary historical sources from Bengal. Anne Hardgrove usefully reminds us that Snehalata’s name was invoked in the 1980s in reports that followed the death in Calcutta of a young Marwari woman, Neelam Jain. But she mistakenly assigns Snehalata’s death to the year 1908.4 Monomoyee Basu even gets the place wrong; according to Basu, her grandmother told her “about a tragic incident which she personally witnessed at Vikrampur in Dacca, East Bengal, about 1914–15. . . . A girl named Snehalata burnt herself to death to save her father from the heavy burden of dowry demanded on the occasion of her marriage.”5 A recent essay by Sumit Sarkar gets Snehalata’s age wrong; he claims she was sixteen at the time of her suicide, yet there is considerable disagreement in most documents as to whether she was fifteen or fourteen when she died.6 In pointing to these omissions it is not my intention to take anything away from the contributions of these historians to the study of dowry. Their work remains extremely valuable to the historical sociology of dowry in colonial India. But it is clear that in Indian feminist writings, Snehalata’s name hovers somewhere between history and social memory, serving as a memorial for the way dowry victimizes Indian women. She is routinely remembered in feminist and pro-women discussions of dowry in India,7 but historians seem to be misinformed about the details of her short life. Her name has thus attained an iconic status in the Indian histories of “dowry Snehalata’s Death   55

murder.”8 One aim of this chapter is to fill in the details of Snehalata’s case. Her suicide was a much discussed event in contemporary Bengali society. According to reports published after her death on 29 January 1914, she was fourteen or fifteen years old when she died.9 She did not leave any account of why she made the tragic decision to end her own life. I examine the texts that were produced in the wake of Snehalata’s suicide to show how her death was received by the reading public in Bengal and how her act of suicide was understood. I then proceed to suggest, tentatively, that there may be a good reason why Snehalata’s name circulates as an empty yet meaningful signifier in Indian feminist historiography. Much like the figure of the subaltern that Gayatri Spivak once famously theorized,10 Snehalata remains a person whose voice and agency are impossible to extract today from the deeply patriarchal discourses of the Bengali society that she lived in and that sought to give meaning to her death. But even if the proper name that was Snehalata has little meaning for the historian today, her act indisputably remains one of the most discussed suicides in Bengali or even Indian history. Sumit Sarkar argues, “There was nothing particularly unique about the Snehalata case and in fact several incidents were reported in its wake, as well as fairly often over succeeding years.” Yet, while there may not have been anything significant about Snehalata the person, it is difficult to deny the historical uniqueness of her case. No other reported cases of suicide by a woman in early twentieth-century Bengal generated the amount of discussion that hers did. Why else would Sarkar himself describe Snehalata’s suicide as a “cause celebre”?11 The significance of Snehalata’s suicide lies in the fact that it opened up a discursive space wherein the question of women’s agency was vigorously debated in contemporary society. Thus the second aim of this chapter is to analyze this debate from a feminist historical perspective in order to explore how the question of agency—the agency of a young woman who killed herself without giving an explanation for her actions—may be configured in Snehalata’s case. Whatever Snehalata’s own motives may have been, her suicide forced men and women to seriously deliberate the options available to Bengali women at a time when arranged marriage was the norm and it was difficult for families to negotiate such marriages without dowry payments. The death of this young girl starkly demonstrated, as never be56   Chapter 2

fore, the perils of the marriage market. To that extent the Snehalata case was a nodal point around which women’s role and the dowry problem were both debated in the contemporary public sphere and given new dimensions. Dowry in Urban Colonial Bengal

Before delving into the details of the Snehalata case, it will be useful to delineate the dowry problem as it was manifest in Bengali society. After all, the reason given for Snehalata’s suicide in most accounts was her father’s predicament over the amount of money that was demanded as dowry for her impending marriage. Dowry as it is discussed here, indeed as contemporaries perceived it, was not a timeless practice. It was a historically specific phenomenon that we see (in Bengal at least; there may be minor chronological variations in other parts of India) from the 1870s onward.12 Modern dowry, or barpan, had no sastric (scriptural) sanctions behind it. Previously there was a ritualistic or customary practice involving transactions in small sums of money given by the bride’s family to the groom’s, which was also termed barpan or dowry.13 But dowry in Bengal from around the second half of the nineteenth century, particularly from the 1870s onward, was a peculiar economic phenomenon, one that yielded no material or economic benefits to its giver. It is not, as M. N. Srinivas once cautioned, to be confused with stridhan (scriptural definition of woman’s wealth).14 Nor, as in the English context, did dowry imply a dower that would eventually accrue to the woman.15 Dowry represented a structure of coercive social power exercised upon the bridal family. It focused particularly on the question of respectability or the social standing of the bride’s father. Failure to meet dowry demands could unleash oppression upon the married daughter as well as result in a loss of face for the father who could not afford to give his daughter away in marriage. Prior to 1870 dowry in Bengal coexisted with bride price, or kanyapan. Beginning in the 1870s, kanyapan was gradually displaced by dowry among most classes and castes in the Bengali social context, a process completed by the first decade of the twentieth century.16 According to the census of 1931, dowry had replaced bride price among fortytwo of the fifty-one registered castes over the prior forty to sixty years (i.e., from about the 1880s).17 The rise of modern dowry was intrinsically linked to the rise of what Snehalata’s Death   57

was referred to in the post-Snehalata literature as the modern “marriage market” in Bengal. This was a market in eligible bridegrooms who could be had for a price. Fathers wanting to protect their standing in the eyes of others were prepared to enter a bidding war over eligible suitors. Being able to purchase a husband for one’s daughter ensured respectability, but it did not guarantee any financial upward mobility. It is not as if people paid dowry expecting to be supported thereafter by their son-in-law. Dowry did not even guarantee the welfare of the bride. What made dowry so important from the 1870s on was the formation in Calcutta and elsewhere of a salaried Bengali middle class, often called the bhadralok (respectable or gentle people), a social group comprising many different castes and income sectors that came to regard education and employment as key markers of respectability in men. Explaining the causes of dowry, a contemporary observer noted, “One of the causes of the evil [lay in] the altered standard of selection of our bridegrooms.” In earlier generations, “the standard of eligibility rested mainly on family considerations,” implying caste, lineage, and ancestry. In the colonial city under the dispensation of an alien state, however, the living conditions and the hierarchies of social status changed dramatically. Speaking of past times, the same writer observed, “The struggle for existence had not then grown so acute. Every family had some landed property which yielded sufficient income in money or in kind to meet the absolute necessaries of life.” [But] the standard of eligibility has undergone a radical change in the age in which we live. The status of the family, its religious proclivity, its moral atmosphere are now considered factors of minor importance. . . . Respectability now consists either in being a Government servant, or in belonging to one of the learned professions, and as University degrees are passports to them, undue importance is naturally attached to these degrees. The number of University “passes” determines the position of a bridegroom in the marriage market.18 The willingness of many bridal families to pay dowry for an eligible bridegroom was expressly announced in matrimonial advertisements, which had by the first decade of the twentieth century become a popular means of

58   Chapter 2

seeking prospective matches in the city.19 In many advertisements, the man or his family declared his academic qualifications and employment background before stating the amount of dowry expected from the marriage. A typical advertisement from 1911 ran as follows: “Brides wanted: Mitra, Passed Entrance, salary 30 rupees, demands 1,000 rupees. 24 Parganas.”20 Education had become the ticket to dowry: the groom’s family flaunted it, and the bride’s family was willing to pay for it.21 A humorous song by some students of the University of Calcutta published in The Statesman of 1904 offered a paean to university education: Thy slaves are all dead to enjoyment And sombre and barren their lives; But thou leadest them on to employment And dowries and wives.22 Beginning in the second half of the nineteenth century the liberal and reformist journals Bharatvarsha, Bamabodhini Patrika, Sadharani, Somprakash, Kayastha Patrika, Kayastha Samaj, Education Gazette, Sulabh Samachar, Dhaka Prakash, and Hindu Patriot periodically printed pieces critical of dowry and its corrosive impact on the financial kismet of families.23 Some of these articles were later compiled as books in the early decades of the twentieth century.24 Many plays dramatized the increasing exploitation of bridal families by the parents of grooms and the penchant for putting steep price tags on educated sons during matchmaking. In many of these plays and journal articles the words market, goods for sale, price, and tax indicate that the language of the marketplace had crept into the social idiom of marriage negotiations. Some of these plays, namely, Durgacharan Roy’s Pash Kora Chhele (A Boy with a Pass, 1879), Hiralal Ghosh’s Roka Kori Choka Maal (Bad Penny, Poor Goods, 1879), Radhabinod Haldar’s Pash Kora Jamai (Son-in-Law with a Pass, 1880), and Pukur Churi (Theft of a Pond, author and date of publication unknown), were relatively unknown; others, such as Amritlal Basu’s Bibaha Bibhrat (Marriage Fiasco, 1885), lampooning the practice of barpan, played to packed houses in the Star Theater in Calcutta in the 1880s. Rajkrishna Ray’s Lobhendra Gobendra (Greedy Gobendra, 1890), and Girish Ghosh’s Balidan (Sacrifice, 1904) were also successful

Snehalata’s Death   59

Figure 1   “The Burning Responsibility of Kanyadaya.” From Nagendranath Pal Chowdhury, Sachitra Panapratha (Illustrated Dowry System), Howrah, 1914.

Figure 2   “The Oppressive Pressure of Dowry.” Nagendranath Pal Chowdhury, Sachitra Panapratha (Illustrated Dowry System), Howrah, 1914.

plays revolving around barpan.25 Common to both the journalistic and dramatic accounts was a critique of the marriage market wherein bridegrooms were sold for a price by their parents. Literary criticism registered an important sociological fact about contemporary social life: the steady monetization of marriage practices in the city of Calcutta. Comparing these literary accounts with a variety of other historical evidence, we can reasonably conclude that these accounts were entirely on target. The University of Calcutta was established in 1857. Between 1857 and 1881, 20,503 students passed the entrance examination; of these, about 16,000 were Bengalis. The examination for the bachelor’s degree was started in 1858. While only two men received the B.A. degree that year, the number rose to 1,494 Bengalis by 1881. Similarly with the master’s curriculum started in 1861: 344 Bengalis had received that degree by 1881. Between 1881 and 1894 11,340 Bengalis passed the entrance examination; 1,695 received a B.A. (bachelor of arts), 4,356 received an F.A. (first arts), and 276 received an M.A. (master of arts). As the number of educated graduates increased, so did the demand for extraordinary dowries.26 Census reports and other official documents testify to the fact that the period 1870–1940 was marked by rising unemployment, a rise in prices, and a general rise in the cost of living in Calcutta. Under the circumstances it is not hard to understand why dowry represented a prospect for easy money for the families of eligible grooms. The 1922 Report of the Government of Bengal Unemployment Enquiry Committee noted with growing concern the tendency among Bengali families for some decades past to “move along the beaten track,” with the “result that they put their children in training for the general University career without a thought as to the aptitude of the boy or the prospects of his future employment.”27 The increasing dowry demands by educated men also need to be understood against the growing and long-term phenomenon of unemployment among the educated in India, documented in the works of the historians Anil Seal and Aparna Basu.28 For Bengal in particular, the Unemployment Committee came up with a variety of causes for this problem. Some said that middle-class Bengalis had little or no money to start businesses, and what little they had was spent on getting their sons educated or their daughters married. Most people interSnehalata’s Death   61

viewed by the committee blamed the existing university curriculum for the unemployment problem. Bhupendranath Basu, the vice chancellor of the University of Calcutta, argued, “Excluding the professional men, e.g. lawyers, medical men and engineers, our educated young men are practically unemployable except as clerks and teachers in secondary schools and for the higher educated, teachers in colleges because they are taught nothing but literary subjects.” Rai Bahadur Chunilal Bose, who was interviewed by the committee, remarked that earlier the number of jobs had far exceeded the number of able applicants. But beginning in the last decades of the nineteenth century, “though the avenues of employment to which literary or professional degrees were passports were being gradually narrowed down, the number of unemployed middle class Bengalis were being swollen up by the influx of people whose fathers never dreamed of competing with people of superior castes in the few avocations in which the latter enjoyed an absolute monopoly.”29 The financial temptation that dowry represented for the groom’s family and the immense pressure it put on the bridal family can only be appreciated if we consider certain contemporary observations on urban poverty. Bengal, and especially the Bengali middle class, were the worst hit by the rise in prices at the turn of the twentieth century.30 This was extensively written about in periodicals of the time.31 In 1914, the year of Snehalata’s death, the journal Bharatvarsha published a list of wedding-related food expenses that clearly showed wedding expenditures skyrocketing in the opening decades of the twentieth century.32 These data are further supported by the findings recorded in the Report on the Enquiry into the Rise of Prices in India published in 1914, the year of Snehalata’s suicide. The bhadralok faced the dire consequences of price increases. The Report stated: The classes which have been adversely affected by the rise in prices are the great zamindars and other landlords of Bengal, Oudh and other parts of India, who can enhance their tenants’ rent only at considerable intervals and who, therefore, cannot adjust their rents to meet the change in prices. Holders of government and other securities and debentures carrying fixed rates of interest, producers who cannot charge higher prices but whose expenses have increased with the rise in prices, lawyers, medical 62   Chapter 2

practitioners and other professional classes whose income depends on customary fees, employees in government and private service on fixed salaries or graded scale, persons engaged in small industries as weavers, rice huskers etc. who are unable to compete with imported manufactures from Indian mills driven by machinery—these classes have been disadvantageously placed by a rise in prices. Priestly classes, scions of old families, and others who from religious and caste motives have been unable to accommodate themselves to the changing order of things have also suffered from the rise in prices.33 One can see how dowry, representing an easy and instant income, became a powerful lure for families raising sons under these trying circumstances of living in a colonial city. By the early years of the twentieth century it was well established that an eligible bridegroom could be bought for a dowry. The criterion of marriage eligibility was the possession of a university degree, which was also a necessary precondition for salaried or other professional employment. As observed by the renowned Bengali writer Saratkumari Chaudhurani (1861– 1920) in an article published in the journal Sadhana: Of all types of men the ones with a pass [pass-kora] are the most expensive. If the bridegroom has one pass and is poor, then the marriage can take place within one and a half to two thousand rupees. If he is a grihastha [relatively established; lit. a householder] then the figure escalates to four or five thousand, and if he is relatively wealthy to five, seven or even ten thousand rupees. If his father is earning and the man has a L.A. [lower arts] or a B.A. under his belt then his price skyrockets and without the receipt of a cash amount of seven to ten thousand rupees in hand the negotiation process does not even take off. . . . I have heard that many intelligent bridegrooms won’t even set foot on the marriage platform until the counting of the cash dowry is complete, the fear being that the girl’s father might default on the payment once the marriage is completed.34 Chaudhurani’s views can be corroborated by many contemporary sources. By the turn of the century there was hardly any doubt about what constituted an eligible bridegroom: “A young man of respectable family of modest Snehalata’s Death   63

income from the soil or from some humble trade but who has not passed the Matriculation examination of the Calcutta University is hardly considered a suitable match for the daughter of a clerk not earning more than Rs. 50 a month in a Government office.” Even for a commonplace clerk it was a must that he have “a graduate, or at least a college student, for his son-inlaw, even if the young man has to depend upon his relations and friends to defray the expenses of his education.” If in addition the man’s father was a “pleader [lawyer] or a member of the Subordinate Judicial or Executive service,” then the bridegroom’s position became even more competitive and fathers of marriageable girls “[tried] to secure him at all costs.”35 Since the number of educated men, although increasing, was always lower than the number of women of marriageable age, there were “fifty or more fathers throwing baits for their capture.” Furthermore, professional matchmakers vied with one another in making increased offers of dowry in order to expand their trade and win their clients’ trust. In these circumstances, “the father of the bridegroom must be more than human if he could resist the temptation of selling his son to the highest bidder.” In procuring an eligible bridegroom for their daughters by paying dowry, what people were in effect purchasing was respectability and status. This was clearly stated in documents of the period: It is among the rising middle-class people who have themselves received good education and are giving University education to their children, from whom by virtue of their enlightenment we expect much better things, that the evil practice prevails most. . . . In Bengal . . . instead of buying wives, we have to buy husbands for our daughters. It has grown into a regular trade, and the price fluctuates according to the quality and quantity of the commodity available in the marriage market. Sons are offered to the highest bidder and the keen competition to obtain the most eligible son-in-law often causes the price to go up to fabulous figures.36 Indeed, the growing connection between a man’s employability and the dowry his family could command on the marriage market had been a subject of comment for some decades. An article published in Sulabh Samachar, run by the eminent Brahmo leader Keshub Chandra Sen, stated the “price” 64   Chapter 2

of potential bridegrooms in the 1880s, depending on their level of education.37 The list ran as follows: 1. A man with an M.A. degree or who had passed four board examinations . . . is like an Akbari coin. Such a boy is a find. [His] price is a diamond ring, a string of pearls, [a] gold chain and watch, a silver urn and a set of silver utensils, 70–80 bhori [a unit of weight equal to 180 grains] gold jewelry, two to three sets of joroya [studded with precious stones] jewelry and two to three thousand rupees in cash. Beds, bedclothes, and brassware were a must in these trousseaus. 2. A B.A. or boy who passed three examinations wasn’t so rare, but pricey nonetheless, like a three-tier gold necklace. They fetched a diamond ring, gold chain and watch, some silver utensils, sixty bhori gold jewelry for the bride and one to one and [a] half thousand rupees cash. . . . 3. A boy who had cleared a single board examination was priced at one diamond ring, [a] gold chain and watch, forty bhori of assorted ornaments . . . five hundred rupees cash . . . [and] brassware, beds, and mattresses.38 A similar point of view was expressed in an article published in the Education Gazette of 1879. This article drew a distinction between late nineteenth-century dowry as a form of social exploitation and other kinds of tyrannies experienced earlier by bridal families. Tracking the transition toward greater monetization of marital transactions, the author wrote, “The older generation prized social prestige. Nowadays, men prize money a lot more. . . . University graduates (may not be polygamists) occupy the rank previously occupied by kulins. What earlier kulins expected out of several marriages, these nouveau kulins extract from one. . . . Modern University graduates are virtuous no doubt, but the manner in which they have been rendered into commodities for sale by their guardians is truly wicked.”39 Nor was it a phenomenon restricted to particular castes. This is obvious as we read discussions on dowry in various caste journals, all of which vouched for its existence among other castes. The mouthpiece of the Suvarnabanik caste (traditionally the gold traders) reported: It is not only our Suvarnabanik samaja [the gold traders society] that is plagued by the furious attacks of dowry. Bengali society in its entirety Snehalata’s Death   65

Figure 3  Gaganendranath Tagore, 1867–1938. “New Auspicious Marriage.”

is trembling under its influence. . . . Many argue that with the spread of education, the power of panapratha will diminish in society. To this many respond, “Why then amongst more educated communities like Brahmans, Kayasthas and Vaidyas is the authority of the dowry system much stronger than in ours? We usually get by with a payment of three thousand rupees for our daughters. For them it is hard to escape the clutches of the system even after paying five thousand rupees. Numerous people are forced to commit to sending the prospective groom abroad, while many others are compelled to give a motor car as dowry.”40 If the rise in university education led to the rise in price of a marriageable man, how were women influenced by the changing trends in education and employment? It is true that women’s education was on the rise during this period, but as demonstrated by historians such as Meredith Borthwick, women’s education was oriented primarily toward making them better domestic managers and housewives rather than salaried employees. Moreover, 66   Chapter 2

Table 1   Percentage of Literate Men

and Women According to Caste Caste



Baidya Kayastha Brahman Sadgop Suri Suvarnabanik Gandhabanik

70.0 61.2 60.6 59.3 52.0 57.9 51.0

29.1 26.0 19.2 11.0   4.7   8.1   6.2

Source: Complied from Report on the Census of India, 1901, Volume VII, Calcutta: Town and Suburbs, Part IV, Report (Statistical), 1902, 65–66.

Table 2   Percentage of Men and

Women Literate in English According to Caste Caste



Baidya Kayastha Brahman Suvarnabanik Sadgop Kaivartha

47.0 37.0 31.0 27.0 23.0   8.0

2.7 2.3 1.5 0.7 0.6 0.3

Source: Compiled from Report on the Census of India, 1901, Volume VII, Calcutta: Town and Suburbs, Part IV, Report (Statistical), 1902, 65–66.

a survey of government records reveals that even with a rise in female education, educated women were still a numerical minority compared to men (see Tables 1 and 2). These figures clearly establish that the percentage of female literates, and especially women literate in English, the language of governance and commerce, was remarkably small, a fact that undoubtedly accounted for their absence in the contemporary white-collar employment market. The same disparity prevailed in non-white-collar jobs as well. As observed in the Report on Calcutta in the Census of 1901, “The only occupation in which female workers outnumber males with the exception of Order XXIII (prostitutes) is that of ‘Rice-pounders and huskers.’” The report added that only five out of the eighteen occupations enumerated by the census showed a percentage of women equal to more than half the number of males. These were “(1) Compounders, nurses, etc., (2) Fishermen and Fish-curers, (3) Sweetmeat-makers and sellers, (4) Fish-dealers, and (5) Basket, etc., makers and sellers.”41 It appears that middle-class women’s comparative nonparticipation in the public sphere, something that could only have happened through employment in more bourgeois professions, was what caused a relative decline in their value within the marriage market.42 Even as dowry replaced bride price among the majority of social groups in Bengal, it did not always have a bad press. There was a small minority Snehalata’s Death   67

in the nineteenth century who defended it as a practice suited to the new marketplace. The compulsions of the market, they argued, would eventually produce good results by forcing Bengali families to plan and save for future needs. Many of those who deemed education the most important constituent of respectability and success persuasively sought to defend dowry as a reward for education and merit. This defense was couched in terms of categories such as “tax,” “price,” “incentive,” and “rights.” Talent and respectability were designated as purchasable commodities in this discourse. These texts posited dowry as a modern mode of transfer of familial wealth that corrected certain imbalances within the social structure. Contemporary society was the product of certain changes, and dowry was a symbol of the new order. It gave people the recognition due to them by rewarding education and merit and discrediting prestige derived from being born into a particular family. The expenses we now call “tax” paid at a daughter’s wedding are in reality a form of reward to a student. A groom who has passed the entrance examination receives one thousand rupees, L.A. two thousand, and B.A. three thousand. What is such exchange but a scheme of rewards for hardworking students? There is no social provision providing incentive to those pursuing English education in our country. Under the circumstances, what harm is there if men are given some kind of prize money for their efforts at the time of marriage? The writer also argued, “According to the Hindu Sastras, the Puranas and Samhitas, the daughter does not receive a share of her paternal property. . . . Under the circumstances if the daughter receives something at the time of her marriage, then is that not a good thing? When the father is compelled to spend money for his daughter, and that sum accrues to the in-laws or to the bridegroom, in the ultimate analysis the daughter is the principal beneficiary.”43 Dowry was justified in the name of establishing equality of rights between the sexes as well as encouraging young men to work harder. Both parity of sons and daughters and rewards for hard work were now expressed in monetary terms, through dowry. Bhudev Mukhopadhyay (1827–94), an important nineteenth-century social thinker, articulated a similar point of view in his essays on the family, Paribarik Prabandha (1882): “Where family 68   Chapter 2

prestige is recognized, where it is desired that the daughter gets married into a family of higher clan rank, where talents are prized, there . . . pana has to be paid to marry the daughter. If a man accepted this as incontrovertible, then there would be no more tears shed about having to pay dowry at the time of the daughter’s wedding.”44 Furthermore, even when it was conceded that marriages in Calcutta involved wasteful expenditures of large sums of money, it was argued that dowry was not the main problem in Bengali society; it was only the most visible part of a much more pervasive social malaise. It was not the fault of the dowry system that marriage had become a financial trade-off between families where beauty and money were the principal determinants of social relations. If the bride were unattractive, it was said, the sum of dowry would naturally rise. The decisive factor was the new social order governed by a market mentality, which had converted even marriage into a business. Given the altered character of the present, dowry allowed for the cultivation of certain useful habits among people so that they could function well within the new system. It encouraged families to plan for the future and save for their daughters’ weddings, thus aiding in the makeover of the inert and lackadaisical Bengali into a more active people. Problems arose when people spent large amounts on lavish meals and musical soirees at weddings. But these expenses were hardly the fault of the system of paying dowry.45 Such a defense was opposed by those who viewed dowry and the marketplace as crass phenomena, opposed to all ideals of civility and humanity. Dowry, argued these critics, converted men into things, mere commodities that could be bought for a price. The market could never by itself teach civility. This corpus of writings—plays, novels, short stories, and poetry as well as essays and journal articles—sought to (re)train the Bengali’s capacity for sympathy and empathy for social victims by employing imaginative devices common to these literary genres. Dipesh Chakrabarty in Provincializing Europe refers to the close connection between middle-class reading practices, literature, and new forms of personhood in his discussion of the birth of the modern subject endowed with a will to document oppression and suffering. About the context of the reform of conditions of widowhood he writes, “It would seem . . . that by the 1930s readers of Bengali novels actually compared the many widow Snehalata’s Death   69

characters created in fiction, and mentally placed them in a series signifying progressive evolution of the modern individual.”46 In a similar vein, it could be argued that modern Bengali literature played a major role not only in helping to develop critiques of dowry but also in delineating female characters capable of empathy for their fathers while young men’s greed for money and power came in for sharp criticism. The suicide of a young girl named Snehalata Mukhopadhyay stoked and intensified these Bengali discourses on dowry and created a sensation in contemporary Bengali society. Following the Snehalata suicide there were no longer any publicly voiced defenses of dowry. Even though dowry continued to be practiced in Bengali society, it was unanimously condemned in public as a matter of Bengal’s shame. Snehalata’s death was an embodiment of this shame, which as a close reading of the debate suggests was equated with Bengal’s shame in the eyes of the colonial state as well as other regions of India. Most commentators focused on the act of suicide and what it meant for Bengal’s image. The range of opinions demonstrated a complete polarization in contemporary views about women’s agency. Yet from these polarities there also emerged, sometimes grudgingly, new ways of thinking about women. But first, some details about the event of Snehalata’s death. The Suicide of Snehalata Mukhopadhyay

On the afternoon of Thursday, 29 January 1914, a fourteen-year-old (some reports say fifteen) Bengali Brahman girl, Snehalata Mukhopadhyay, doused her body in kerosene and set herself on fire in her family’s rented house in north Calcutta.47 Immediately after Snehalata’s death, Bengali society was roiled by a huge controversy over dowry, for it was reported that the young girl had killed herself to save her middle-class father from having to pay an oppressively large sum of money as dowry for her marriage. Her tragic example, it was claimed in newspapers and journals, provided the impetus for a number of other young girls to commit suicide in an effort to liberate themselves and their families from the demonic stranglehold of marriage dowry. Snehalata was the daughter of Harendrachandra Mukhopadhyay, who came to Calcutta in 1911 from Balichara village in the district of Faridpur, in present-day Bangladesh. A forty-one-year-old minor salaried employee (ac70   Chapter 2

Figure 4   Snehalata (d. 1914).

cording to some accounts he also sold mortgages), Mukhopadhyay belonged to the bhadralok, the so-called middle class that British rule created in Bengal. He was one of three brothers. Of the other two, Babu Gopalchandra was a clerk to the zamindar of Muktagacha and Babu Jogendrachandra was a physician in Mymensingh, both places located in present-day Bangladesh. Harendrachandra Mukhopadhyay belonged to a stratum of Bengali society that did not have any ties to landed wealth and relied entirely upon salaried employment to eke out a living. Snehalata’s family lived in a small rented house on 43/1 Raja Rajballav Street in the Shyambazar area in northern Calcutta. Little is known about Snehalata’s siblings. We know that she had three brothers, the oldest of whom, Amritlal, was a first-year student in the Scottish Church College. Mukhopadhyay had two daughters; Snehalata was the eldest. When Snehalata turned fourteen her father began to get anxious to see her married. There was some disagreement among the various reports that came out after her death on the designated match. Most reports named Snehalata’s Death   71

Dhirendranath Bandyopadhyay, a law graduate, as the prospective bridegroom. But according to Rebatikanta Bandyopadhyay, a family friend who wrote Snehalata’s biography after her suicide, her father had been unable to make up his mind about a bridegroom for his daughter. Rebatikanta wrote, “That Snehalata was still unmarried at fourteen was due to a failure on her father’s part to come up with the requisite funds as well as a match in the right family. . . . There were three or four families with whom Harendrachandra was discussing a possible match. But in all these cases for the negotiations to culminate in a wedding would have required a financial commitment of at least two thousand rupees.”48 Most reports concur that of the designated two thousand rupees demanded by the groom’s family, twelve hundred was supposed to be cash and another eight hundred rupees worth of jewelry. As the amount of money demanded as dowry far exceeded Mukhopadhyay’s savings, he decided to mortgage the family’s ancestral dwelling to see his daughter married. The date of the wedding was set for 14 Phalgun (the Bengali month corresponding to February, possibly the 27th). The venue was their ancestral village as Mukhopadhyay hoped that his financial problems would be eased considerably if they left the city.49 Apparently, Snehalata had other ideas. She felt that returning to their village might create difficulties in the execution of her fatal plan.50 On 29 January Snehalata completed all the housework. That afternoon, when all the other members of the family were either sleeping or at work, she went up to the terrace. Clad in a white dhoti, a color that was later read by commentators as symbolizing purity or the austerity of widowhood, her feet smeared in alta, a red paint associated with auspiciousness, she doused herself in kerosene and set herself alight with a match. Asutosh Chakrabarty, the priest of a neighboring Kali temple, first spotted the flames. As he and others reached the spot they saw that the fire had not touched Snehalata’s face, but her torso and legs were badly burned. Although she was rushed to the Medical College Hospital, by sunset that same day Snehalata was dead. Snehalata’s death produced a massive literary upsurge in Bengali public life. The suicide was covered in most newspapers and journals, distinguished and obscure, all over Calcutta and other major cities of Bengal. It inspired poetry from the pens of literary stalwarts such as Pramatha Chaudhuri, 72   Chapter 2

Hemchandra Bandopadhyay, Karunanidhan Bandyopadhyay, Satyendranath Dutta, and Kalidas Roy.51 Immediately after Snehalata’s death, two other young girls, Nibhanani and Charushila, killed themselves, apparently also to save their fathers from the social disgrace that would result from inability to pay dowry.52 This series of suicides in quick succession intensified the mood of reformist critique and introspection with regard to marriagerelated issues in general and dowry in particular in urban, colonial Bengal, a mood that was articulated in a variety of literary forms such as poems, short stories, novellas, plays, and cartoons. The biography of Snehalata by Rebatikanta Bandyopadhyay was part of this output. A number of condolence meetings were held all over the city and attended by important writers, lawyers, and politicians such as Lalmohan Vidyanidhi, Gooroodas Bandopadhyay, Saradacharan Mitra, Surendranath Bandyopadhyay, Ramananda Chattopadhayay, and Pnachkori Bandyopadhayay. Groups as varied in their aims as the Indian Association and Brahman Sabha and Kayastha Sabha (caste associations) organized meetings to discuss dowry prohibition, and the subject featured prominently in such caste journals as Mahisya Mahila and Suvarnabanik Samachar and the women’s magazines Bharati, Mahila, and Bamabodhini Patrika. A large meeting was convened on 21 February 1914 on the College Square grounds, which proclaimed as its aim “to devise means to stop the social evil of extorting marriage dowry.” In most of these meetings the act of taking dowry was given a Hindu connotation by young men who took vows around a sacred flame to boycott the practice. Secular forms of protest such as signature campaigns were also organized and an Anti-Marriage Dowry League was set up in the city in the same month.53 Reformers argued that families arranging matches should solemnly vow not to transact in dowries and came up with a set of elaborate rules that would render marriages pure and spiritual. (These are addressed in chapter 3.) Snehalata’s suicide did not go unremarked even among the Muslim intelligentsia in Bengal. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (1888–1958), who became a prominent leader of the Indian National Congress, wrote a fiery article on her death in the journal Al-Hilal. In the two-page article published with Snehalata’s photograph, Azad described Snehalata as a martyr (shahid), and as ulul-azm (a person with a strong will) whose act of suicide in protest against dowry was jihad in the path of Allah ( jihad fi sabilillah). The passionSnehalata’s Death   73

ate article, written in a heavily Persian inflected Urdu, argued that through her death Snehalata announced to the world that the flame that arose from her body would, God willing, ignite the whole of India eventually destroying the evil ritual of dowry that prevented poor young women from finding husbands. He hailed her as a sati for the qaum (nation/community).54 In a long poem entitled “Mrityu Swayambhar” (Embracing Death), the poet Satyendranath Datta undertook a scathing criticism of the monetization of marriage, which he saw as the cause of the death of young girls like Snehalata. In this poem he describes modern bridegrooms as “weak and inhuman,” “lacking in compassion,” and “avaricious and parasitic.” Only those who show kindness and empathy are worthy of being bridegrooms. According to Datta, the modern son-in-law’s strength lies in his being masculine: “Minus [his] sperm he has no other virtue [ guna].” Otherwise, he is “inert” and needs a father-in-law to give him the necessary “push” in life by paying dowry. In comparison, girls are a burden to the natal family and can be gotten rid of with the help of money. In present-day Bengal, the poet bemoans, a kulata (one lost to the kula, a prostitute) has value, but not a kulabala (implying a virtuous woman), whose entry into another kula can happen only for a price.55 The news of Snehalata’s suicide percolated into parts of East Bengal and Bihar as well. And it may not have been completely coincidental that the central motifs of three short stories written by Rabindranath Tagore in 1914 were women’s individuality, protest against dowry, and rejection of marriage.56 In one of these stories, “Strir Patra” (The Wife’s Letter), a character named Bindu is a helpless female relative of the main protagonist, Mrinal, who commits suicide by setting her clothes on fire in a manner that is directly reminiscent of the Snehalata episode.57 In the same story, it is almost as if we hear Tagore’s own voice through Mrinal when she reports the common reaction of many young men to young women trying to immolate themselves. “They started saying,” writes Mrinal, “it has become a fashion among girls to die by setting their saris on fire.” This, as Sumit Sarkar has suggested, appears to be a direct reference to the Snehalata case.58 The following lines from Chalamaan Jiban (A Life in Motion), the autobiography of the Bengali writer Pabitra Gangopadhyay, testify to the reach

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and centrality of the event in the nationalist and reformist milieu of Bengal even after 1914. Reminiscing about the popular mood in his childhood, the author wrote: The rise of a nationalist consciousness was accompanied by a strengthening of feeling against social injustices and superstitions. One Snehalata committed suicide in Calcutta to give her kanyadayagrastha father a respite from the burden of collecting her marriage dowry [barpan]. The event caused a massive stir in most newspapers and magazines. Tales of young girls treated by their families as [a] liability [daya] became a theme in the poetry of Satyendranath Dutta, Gobinda Das, Debendranath Sen and others. These sentiments touched the hearts of readers across Bengal. Pramatha Chaudhuri’s sonnet expressed the same grief . . . the waves created by these literary essays and poetry reached even our villages. Everywhere there were discussions on Snehalata, of social persecution of fathers with marriageable daughters and criticism of the panapratha [dowry system]. I too was mentally stirred against this malevolent social practice.59 Many lesser known writers also wrote in the aftermath of Snehalata’s suicide. A number of them were women. These stories and poems frequently lack the formal sophistication of the works of well-known writers and playwrights, and they did not enjoy extensive circulation. Nonetheless, a wide range of popular productions on Snehalata’s suicide in particular and dowry in general made this death a well-known event in Bengali cultural life. Snehalatar Jibanyajna (Snehalata’s Life Sacrifice) by Mallikasundari Das, a schoolteacher at a girls’ school in Dighali, is a long poem first published in 1916, from the town of Sylhet. The book was meant as an appeal to male conscience. The author hoped that despite the modesty of her effort, readers would treat her book “as a souvenir of affection” and take care to prevent any other young girl from embracing the path chosen by Snehalata. They would thereby help in eradicating the “darkness that has engulfed the earth.”60 Poems with similar themes and in the same florid language appeared in contemporary journals.61 The best-known instance of the circulation of antidowry rhetoric in verse is a handbill that was distributed after Snehalata’s

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death with her photograph and a poem composed by Gobindachandra Das, the popular Bengali poet who wrote in a folk idiom. Das wrote, as if giving voice to marriageable Bengali women: Father! Abandon my marriage. I don’t want an M.A. or B.A., who can be purchased with money Like cattle, from a market of men. . . . Spend not even a blind penny for the likes of them!62 Indeed, so popular was Das’s poem that young girls heard it recited by elderly female relatives without any knowledge of its original author. Sudhira Gupta (b. 1907) recalls learning this poem from her grandmother and attributes its authorship to her.63 Literary activity of this kind, together with paintings and cartoons that came out within a few months after the suicide, fanned the ongoing debate on dowry, now urgently demanding the attention of the educated classes in Bengal. As noted by one writer in the journal Nabyabharat, “The shocking suicide of a Brahman girl has been the raison d’être for the inauguration of a spate of social reform. Everyone from Naistik [observant of religious ritual] Brahmans to the foreign returned, English-educated men, Brahmos and Hindus influenced by the ideals of Christianity, has committed [himself] . . . to uproot the social evil of panapratha and has to that extent mobilized a social movement.”64 Most writers on Snehalata and others who emulated her example viewed these women as self-conscious agents of their actions. But there were radical differences of opinion over the manner in which people apprehended these exemplars of feminine agency. The most striking divergence centered on the manner in which Snehalata’s suicide was read by male contemporaries. Nonetheless, despite these differences it is clear that through this acknowledgment of women’s agency Bengali writers sought to fashion a nationalist and cultural—though still patriarchal—critique of the contemporary social order. The nationalist character of this cultural critique becomes obvious when we note the differences between the mood and methods of the antidowry agitation and those prevailing during previous reform movements, such as the call for the abolition of sati (1820s) and the campaign for widow remarriage (1850s). The earlier reform agitations were based on appeals made to the state to immediately institute legislation to achieve the desired 76   Chapter 2

goals.65 The antidowry campaign, by contrast, addressed not the state but the Bengali reading public. It was argued that a law against dowry prohibition unaccompanied by training in ethical conduct would only encourage people to make their demands covertly, thereby transforming dowry into bribes.66 The style of campaign too was literary. Pleas were made primarily to the presumed sentiments of the reader. It was with reference to this last factor that the suicides played a crucial role in spurring as well as intensifying the antidowry agitation. While most issues relating to women’s conditions in nineteenth-century Calcutta were brought to public attention by male middle-class reformers, Bengali discussions of dowry at the beginning of the twentieth century owed much to and emphasized women’s tragic agency. To that extent it may be argued that the Snehalata case of 1914 not only gave a second wind to, but also permanently altered the tenor of the so-called women’s question in Bengal. Broadly, there were two perspectives in contemporary writings about Snehalata’s suicide. We need to study both of them, for in their differences not only do they signal disagreements among men on the question of women’s agency, but they also suggest the opening up of a space for alternative paths, paths other than self-annihilation, that women could take. The Self-Sacrificing Heroine

Rebatikanta Bandyopadhyay’s biography Snehalata was first published on 16 February 1914. A second edition soon followed on 10 April of the same year. In the preface to the first edition the author proclaimed that the various reports that were published about Snehalata did not do justice to “the life of that virtuous and memorable” young woman. Bandyopadhyay wrote his biography to accomplish that deed as well as to record for posterity “an account of the self-sacrifice made by a fourteen-year-old daughter to save her father from disgrace resulting from the commitment to pay dowry.”67 Thus Bandyopadhyay, a personal friend of Snehalata’s father, undertook to write her biography with some help from the father himself. I should clarify here that Rebatikanta Bandyopadhyay was not a name known in literary circles in contemporary Bengal. It is also unknown whether this was his real name or a pseudonym. I have not found any other books written by this author in any library collections in Bengal or elsewhere. Snehalata’s Death   77

The first print run of Snehalata sold out quickly, prompting the publication of a second edition with some additional material. In the preface to the second edition, Bandyopadhyay even attributed the material success of his book to the merit of Snehalata’s act, to “the feat of her self sacrifice.”68 He noted, “It is imperative to the cause of a nation’s greatness that the lives of virtuous women be recorded for posterity.” The biography is best described as a little booklet, thirty pages in all, four chapters and a postscript. The table of contents is as follows: Chapter 1, “A Brief Description of Her Birthplace, Family Genealogy, Childhood and Gradual Expression of Character”; chapter 2, “Marriage Negotiations and Decision to Sacrifice Herself ”; chapter 3, “The Result of Snehalata’s Self-Sacrifice and the Duty of Our People”; chapter 4, “A Divine Signal in Snehalata’s Death.” A postscript contains the author’s response to some currently circulating opinions. The first two chapters are sparse in detail. The author explains, “In the fourteen-year-old life of a Bengali girl in a middle-class family, there will hardly ever be an eventuality that will trigger . . . a chain of action and reaction in her character that would enable us to reconstruct her family life as a saga that parallels novels like Chandrashekhar or Sitaram.” The reference to two novels by the well-known Bengali writer Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay (1839–­94) suggests that the target audience for this book included the novel-reading public of Bengal. Taking a cue from novelistic techniques, Bandyopadhyay wrote, “It is not our intent to demonstrate the outward expression of her character. Rather, our focus is on her innermost sentiments.” The aim of the biography was to unravel Snehalata’s mental processes and to show that her motivations were auspicious and virtuous. Bandyopadhyay appears anxious to establish his subject’s inner depth and dispel any notions of her being a young and flighty adolescent girl. In Bandyopadhyay’s account Snehalata was a loner. A child who had moved with her family to the big city, she had no friends she could confide in. She did not “waste her time in reading novels and plays,” nor was she terribly interested in looking pretty and adorning herself, writes Bandyopadhyay, implying that she cared more about “inner beauty” than surface gloss. She was self-taught and whatever spare time she had after tending to the needs of the entire household was spent reading religious texts and hum78   Chapter 2

ming kirtans (devotional songs) to herself. Her father was desperate to set up a match for her. Bandyopadhyay disputes the accounts that the marriage had been decided with a law graduate named Dhirendranath Bandyopadhyay. Rather, he suggests that there were four or five prospective families with whom Snehalata’s father was negotiating. But he either came up with matches who were very poor or who belonged to a different caste rank or who were rich and educated and therefore demanded steep dowries. Determined not to give his daughter to an unworthy groom Mukhopadhyay was in the throes of indecision. In Bandyopadhyay’s account, Snehalata was resolved to prevent her father’s financial ruination. She had always told her parents, “You don’t have to spend a single paisa for me.” The narrative creates a Snehalata who was influenced enough by nineteenth-century Bengali literature to think that love and marriage were sanctified by the divine. Impure presences such as self-interest, narrow-mindedness, and coercion within these sacred phenomena trampled the beauty and tender feelings of the heart. True companionate love could not flourish in their midst. Instead a master-slave dynamic became a strong aspect of these marriages. How did money become a consideration in matrimony? In thinking thus, Snehalata came to the realization that human beings were cruel and selfish. In such a society there was no hope of happiness. Snehalata felt that the only way to absolve these societal sins, to make up for the way people had transgressed from the path of dharma (moral action) and subjected her father to so much humiliation, was through self-sacrifice. As Bandyopadhyay writes about Snehalata’s decision to end her life his description becomes increasingly fanciful. Aside from the fact that she did not countenance the entry of money into the purity of the nuptial bond, Snehalata was apparently also very moved by some dreams she had had. In one, two months before her death, a bhairavi (a female member of the Tantric religious order) appeared before her and said, “Do not remain here any longer, come with me, I have found a better place for you elsewhere.” When she reported this incident to her father he dismissed the vision of the bhairavi, saying that she was the same person that Snehalata saw every day when she went to the neighboring Kashiram Mitra ghat (flight of conSnehalata’s Death   79

crete steps leading to a river bank) to bathe in the Ganges. But Snehalata remained unconvinced by this explanation. Bandyopadhyay writes that she believed that the atma (soul) had no death. Just as one shed old clothes to don new ones, so also the soul continued to live even though the old body it resided in was deceased. She concluded therefore that there was little to fear in death. Bandyopadhyay writes, “While the main reason for her suicide was to prevent the destruction of her father’s property and security Snehalata was also motivated by these aforementioned religious reasons.”69 The presence of a bhairavi, the invocations of the atma are both reminiscent of the Hindu nationalist discourse of the last quarter of the nineteenth century. For Bandyopadhyay at least, and no doubt for some of his readers, Snehalata’s response to these elements seemed to prove her great virtue. Bandyopadhyay spares no effort in establishing Snehalata as a religious person. The details he furnishes of her self-immolation all point in that direction. It is almost as if Snehalata were an embodiment of all that was understood as good and sacred in the Hindu, revivalist, nationalist tradition and her suicide was the epitome of nationalist self-sacrifice for the creation of a new public. Thus, when she went up to the terrace to commit that final act, Bandyopadhyay depicts her as having a last drink of the holy water from the Ganges. Some of his details border on the absurd. For instance, he writes that when the priest Asutosh Chakrabarty and others came to rescue her, she urged them to set fire to a mosquito net that lay close by because she wanted to create a great ball of fire into which she would hurtle her burning body in the manner of a sati. Apparently the onlookers were all struck by the fact that she made no attempt to save herself. This was the reason that, although her body had terrible burns, her face and hands remained unblemished. When she was being carried to the hospital she sang religious songs and uttered the names of Kali and Hari (Hindu deities). Bandyopadhyay’s Snehalata is a nationalist figure of virtue. He calls her a modern-day Padmini, likening her to the Rajput queen who committed jauhar to save her honor in the face of foreign (Muslim) invaders.70 Bandyopadhyay was not the only one to read Snehalata’s suicide in this manner. In one of the earliest reports of her death published in the journal Mahila, edited by Brajagopal Niyogi, her suicide is described as atmabali (bali implying a sacrifice to propitiate the deity, atmabali would be self-sacrifice) 80   Chapter 2

for a higher cause: to save the father and eradicate barpan. According to the article, “Instead of sacrificing her father upon the alter of barpan, she had decided to sacrifice her self.”71 Another journal, Mahisya Mahila, edited by Krishnabhamini Biswas, reported her suicide in similarly exalted tones: “By laying down her life on the pyre of dowry” Snehalata had set a “high example.” The journal Janmabhumi took it a step further by stating that Snehalata had “sacrificed herself for Bengal’s good.”72 From being a savior of her father to being a savior of the (Hindu) Bengali nation, Snehalata became the subject of a nationalist saga. Thus, according to the Amrita Bazar Patrika, hers was a “heroic death,” a Bengali example of jauhar. This act of sacrifice made her a devi (goddess), and many accounts referred to her divine grace when they alluded to the “ethereal glow” on her face as she jumped into the fire to commit jauhar. In the Amrita Bazar Patrika of 19 February it was reported that a proposal was passed in a meeting held in the Town Hall of Calcutta to erect a marble statue of Snehalata to properly remember her as a devi and the Maharaja of Cossimbazar even made a contribution of one hundred rupees to that end. As observed by a recent commentator, even a rationalist like Pramatha Chaudhuri hailed Snehalata as a sati.73 The image of the sati was also captured well in an English poem published in Amrita Bazar Patrika some three weeks after the episode: In the red glare stood the maiden, The hungry flame lapping her round and round   Slowly she sank while eager hands held her   A virgin protest against the tyranny of greed.74 We need to pause over the use of the word sati and consider its implication to this particular context. Traditionally reserved for women who followed their dead husbands into the funeral pyre, the term sati was used to show that Snehalata’s act testified to her virtue, her goodness. What did this goodness consist of? It consisted, allegedly, of her capacity to identify with her hapless father, made vulnerable and miserable by dowry demands placed on him by Snehalata’s suitors. It was assumed that the main motive behind Snehalata’s death was her desire to release her father from the pressures he faced. The father was the ultimate victim. Snehalata’s agency, it was said, Snehalata’s Death   81

lay in her ability to imagine herself in her father’s shoes. As observed by Chunilal Bose in a speech given at a meeting of the Ranchi Union Club on 25 March 1914: As you all know, gentlemen, the girl (Snehalata) burnt herself to death to save the family from impending ruin in consequence of an exorbitant demand of dowry at her proposed marriage. . . . And if it had cost the life of the bride in the present case, it had before, to my knowledge, been responsible for the self-destruction of not a few fathers having no means to marry their grown up daughters, and of many a young married girl unable to bear the persecution in her father-in-law’s house for nonpayment of the promised dowry. . . . In the present case, the unfortunate girl was sufficiently grown up to realise the difficult position of her father and she voluntarily put an end to her life to save her family from embarrassment and humiliation.75 The acknowledgment of a young woman’s sentiments by elevating her to the status of a sati signals an acceptance of these sentiments as worthy. And by defining sati in such a manner, where satittva (the quality of being a sati) depended on a woman possessing and acting upon a sentiment of duty toward her father, Hindu Bengali patriarchy attributed to Snehalata a certain virtuous agency. There is a further twist to the new use of the word sati. In the early nineteenth-century discussions on sati, the practice was comprehended as the duty of a virtuous wife. “By immolating herself, the widow purportedly enables herself as well her deceased husband to enjoy ‘heavenly pleasures’ and even, according to scriptural texts, to escape thereafter the cycle of birth and death.”76 Virtue in the earlier understanding of sati was grounded in a particular set of practices or behavior by the wife, namely, in that of immolating herself on her husband’s funeral pyre. Even when such immolation was undertaken against the widow’s conscious will the effect remained the same. A widow burned to death with her husband was a sati, whatever her own feelings on the matter. In conceding that the provenance of Snehalata’s act lay in her feelings of empathy toward her father there was a move away from grounding sati in practice (vyavahar) to grounding it in the sentiments

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of the person committing the act. And these were sentiments toward the father rather than the husband. If the likes of Rebatikanta Bandyopadhyay made a fourteen-year-old girl into a sacrificial heroine, there were other voices of the time who regarded Snehalata’s act with skepticism, even strong disapproval. This second, though less substantial corpus of writings opposed the glorification of Snehalata’s suicide as an act of virtue. Despite their representing a comparative minority in the debate on the meaning of Snehalata’s death, these writings are interesting for the grudging acknowledgment they contain of other forms of women’s agency. Most remarkable in this genre of writings is a poem, “Snehalata,” by the popular poet Gobindachandra Das, published in the journal Nabyabharat in Bhadra 1321 (August–September 1915).77 In this two-page-long poem, Das poured venom upon the dead Snehalata. He began by questioning the relevance of the act of suicide. Why did she have to kill herself? If she really wanted to help her parents she should have devoted her life to the service of humanity. That would be true sacrifice, something that her family and the nation would proudly remember. Suicide was an act of extreme solipsism and its effect was to put the Bengali nation to shame. No doubt, said the poet, the behavior of modern university graduate bridegrooms is “barbarous.” But what kind of person was Snehalata herself, whose only way of protesting against social injustice was to reach out for the “matchbox and kerosene bottle”? Das answered his own question by providing the reader with a character sketch of the dead girl. She was an exemplar of the “modern” woman, the kind of person who evoked extensive criticism in domestic manuals as well as in serious writing from the beginning of the twentieth century, a complete antinomy of the kind of person that Bandyopadhyay made her out to be. It would be useful to quote a few lines from Das to give the reader a sense of the degree of disapproval he expressed. What a terrible moment it was when you lifted that bottle of kerosene— it rendered Bengal into a desert for women . . . you had none of that older resilience and toleration that mercy, kindness, sympathy Snehalata’s Death   83

which are a woman’s most precious qualities you had no respect for religion or bratas why, you are a modern saraswati—for whom the harmonium is the only religion! a luxury loving, zero tolerance beauty that’s you wearing dilkhosh and kuntalin [cosmetics and scented oils] . . . you faint at the sight of hard work . . . the cuckoo only reminds you of Rabi and Girish Ghosh songs78 and you imagine you are a Saibalini, a Kunda, or a Kamal flower or perhaps a Rohini or a Bhramar promenading by the pond79 whose heart is burnished by the novels she reads . . . and of course you have your daily ailments and hysteria . . . you lie awake for the (male) doctor to pay you a call and then you look at him through your hooded lashes waiting to have your stimulant and ice cold brandy and to open your petticoat and lift your kameez to reveal your illness . . .80 Das’s Snehalata was a vain, self-absorbed individual who stoked similar rebellious sentiments in the bosoms of many other girls in Bengal. He attributed Snehalata’s weakness of character to her being modern. Her novel reading, her using cosmetics such as dilkhosh and kuntalin oil, her listening to modern music by Girish Ghosh and Rabindranath Tagore all came in for sharp criticism. But it was her ability to imagine herself as one of the lead female characters in contemporary Bengali novels—Kundanandini, Rohini, Kamalini (all literary creations by Bankimchandra Chatterjee)—that was singled out as her most grievous flaw. This excessiveness of imagination made her antisocial and inconsiderate, according to Das. She was completely focused on her own self and her own feelings. They loomed larger than life and made her reach out for that fatal bottle of kerosene and the box of matches. Das evoked examples of mythical female characters, all of whom had suffered the pain of humiliation and indignity. But none had resorted to the sin of self-annihilation as Snehalata did. Did Draupadi kill herself after being disrobed by Duryodhana in front of the entire court? Did Sita hang herself in shame when she was abducted by Ravana? Did the gopis in 84   Chapter 2

Mathura all set fire to their skirts (ghagras) when Krishna abandoned them? Those times, he conceded, are gone. What could Snehalata have done if she wanted to act honorably? At this point in his poem, Das made a move that is surprising coming from the pen of someone whose ideal of womanhood was epitomized in the mythical Hindu characters he named. He contended that even those “manly women” the “suffragettes” set a far better example for society than the pathetic Hindu woman Snehalata. Das’s comment here is telling. He expressed great anger that Snehalata failed to be a quiet, dignified figure of suffering like the heroines of Hindu lore. But why could she not devote herself at least to social service like the suffragettes? In other words, since Das viewed the act of suicide as a problem of an expressive individualism that was inward looking and solitary, his solution was to channel feminine agency in a more “social” direction. Snehalata’s death, it would appear, forced Hindu patriarchal Bengal to concede that these “foreign” women offered possible modes of conduct for their own women when faced with social problems such as dowry. Against suicide, Das was advocating the option for girls like Snehalata to remain unmarried and devote themselves to a political career, or to a career for the social uplift of the poor and ailing in the manner of a Florence Nightingale. From Individual Suicide to the National Modern

Why and how did the death of a young teenage girl become a matter of national concern for Bengal? The descriptions of Snehalata, both as the self-sacrificing heroine and as the selfish and willful modern young woman, circulating in the contemporary press need to be framed against the colonial context of Bengal. It would not be wrong to assume that allusions to Snehalata’s act as jauhar, an act historically associated with Rajput women, owed something to the tremendous popularity that James Tod’s Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan (1829–32) enjoyed in literary circles of Bengal and among the British.81 It was as though, by portraying Snehalata in terms of heroism accepted by British commentators, authors such as Rebatikanta Bandyopadhyay were attempting to earn her—and through her the Bengali people—a place in the larger history of India. Conversely for Gobin-

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dachandra Das, truly virtuous behavior consisted in sacrificing one’s life in the service of the nation, as had been done by Florence Nightingale and the suffragettes. In both cases, Snehalata was taken out of her immediate context and her act was understood in terms of a much wider history in which the question of Bengal’s stature could no longer be thought about in isolation from the other regions of India or the colonial state. It appears that writers were using the Snehalata case to bolster Bengal’s reformist image on a national scale, an image that we know was tarnished from about the 1880s onward. The historian Charles Heimsath has pointed out that even though Bengal had seen some of the earliest instances of social reform in British India, “by the 1880s Bengal had achieved the reputation among reformers as the province least hospitable to the social reform movement.” He noted that the leading Indian reformers Ranade and Chandavarkar and the national reform leaders “rebuked” the Bengalis for slipping away from the standards set up by Rammohun Roy and Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar. Yet “none of them ventured to do missionary work in Bengal, as they did in Madras and elsewhere—Bengali intellectual life was too formidable and too unreceptive to preachers from outside for anyone to adopt that course.”82 If we consider the specific case of dowry we find that there was a widespread sense among Bengalis themselves that there were other regions of India that were dealing far better with the rising menace of barpan. In the 1870s, during the earliest stirrings of antidowry agitation in Calcutta, a number of Bengali journals reported on the work done by a Bihari reformer, Munshi Pyarilal, to curtail wedding expenditures in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. An article in Sadharani in 1876 despaired that there was not a single Bengali who could match his efforts in the dowry prohibition movement.83 According to the Education Gazette, Pyarilal’s efforts to limit the amount of money and jewelry demanded in dahej (dowry), to fix a ceiling on the number of guests in the groom’s party, ban dancing girls from weddings, distribute alms to the poor on such occasions, and fix the fees of the presiding priest brought relief to hundreds of families in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.84 Pyarilal’s actions received such wide coverage in Calcutta newspapers and journals because many Bengalis were inspired by his ex-

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ample, yet none succeeded in mobilizing a movement to prohibit dowry in a comparable manner. It was a question of comparing Bengal’s reformist image not merely to other provinces in India, but also to the colonial state. The escalation of dowry, especially the link between university education and extortionate demands, was noted by some British observers. In a letter to the editor of the Times in London on 27 September 1907 H. T. Prinsep wrote, “I would point out [that] though education may have done something to mitigate its [dowry’s] evils, it cannot claim to have done much to reduce the rates payable in the marriage market. The usual rate demanded by one who has taken the degree of Bachelor of Laws in the Calcutta University is, I have been credibly informed not many years ago, Rs. 10,000 or nearly 700 pounds.”85 Census Commissioner Edward Albert Gait also noted, “The degree of B.A. is a very valuable asset in the matrimonial market.”86 None felt the sting of these observations more than the Bengalis themselves. As observed by Rai Bahadur Chunilal Bose in a talk given in the aftermath of the Snehalata suicide, dowry was a matter of “national” (i.e., Bengal’s) shame. The fact that it was recorded in the census, a document read by people the world over, Bose wrote, should cause Bengalis to “hang down [their] heads at this exposure of a national weakness.” According to the census, Bengali bridegrooms were even more notorious than their Bihari counterparts in demanding dowry. It was not as if dowry did not prevail in English society. English parents did spend “something in the shape of dowry,” but “it forms no part of the marriage contract.” There were a few cases when “unprincipled” men broke off the marriage even after the engagement, but by and large “the fact of men marrying when they are competent to support a family, and also that of parties choosing one another from considerations of love and mutual good understanding, do not permit the question of dowry to stand between their union.” He asked, “Is it not our bounden duty [as responsible Bengalis] to try to clear our national character” so that “the next Census report will find no opportunity to hold us up to ridicule in the eyes of the whole world?”87 Bose argued that dowry was by no means unique to Bengal. It prevailed in different parts of the world and other regions of India. “[But] it may

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be stated without fear of contradiction that it is nowhere carried on as a trade as among the Hindus in Bengal.” Citing an article in the Musalman, an important literary mouthpiece of the Muslim community, Bose noted that dowry was spreading among that community as well. But “commercial matrimony” was still most rampant among the Hindus, and the Musalman pointed to the Snehalata case as a “warning” to their brethren against the continuance of the practice.88 Indeed, the Snehalata case occurred at a time when the threat of being overcome by the Muslim was rife among many Bengali Hindus. Historians such as P. K. Dutta have demonstrated the manner in which U. N. Mukherji and others used census data to popularize the rhetoric of the “dying Hindu.”89 Many reform-minded individuals used arguments similar to Mukherji’s without his reactionary biases in the aftermath of the Snehalata case to talk about the terrible status of Bengali Hindu women compared to Muslims and other lower castes. For the commentator Rasiklal Raya, the Snehalata case exposed the inability of Bengalis to undertake radical reformist endeavors such as widow remarriage, divorce, and intercaste and intercommunity marriage. Deifying Snehalata as a goddess would achieve nothing for the community, he argued. Rather, it was crucial to use this episode to think holistically about the problems facing women’s reform in Bengal. Raya advocated increasing the age of marriage for girls, abandoning caste considerations in marriage, and promoting intercaste and intercommunity marriage in an effort to combat dowry. Most crucially, he argued, women should be allowed to remain unmarried, a kumari, a word that also implied lifelong celibacy, and be encouraged to independently earn a living.90 In a similar vein Dhirendranath Chaudhuri argued in the journal Prabasi that those who felt that arousing empathy for the figure of the father beleaguered by dowry was a solution to the problem were mistaken. Like Raya he too saw the solution to the current imbalance in the marriage market in women’s staying unmarried. He quoted from the famous poem by Gobindachandra Das, the one that was circulated in handbills after Snehalata’s suicide: Father, let my marriage be Carpenter, Nightingale, Dora, we shall be little sisters Oh father we shall spend our days in the service of the needy 88   Chapter 2

The country shall prosper and the wicked shall be punished Women’s honor will grow at the expense of those animals.91 Writers of all hues, people critical of the act of suicide and those who viewed it as heroic, seemed to be in agreement that certain basic conditions in women’s lives needed change. The examples that reformist Bengali men held up for contemporary women were a product of their exposure to British society and politics. The names of Mary Carpenter (1807–77) and Florence Nightingale (1820–1910) abound in these antidowry tracts published after Snehalata’s death.92 No doubt the image of a dedicated educational reformer or nurse neutralized the specter of the threatening sexuality that critics like Das saw in Snehalata. They represented images of moral self-government, public figures who had dedicated their lives to the service of the people and found pleasure in their calling. It was going to be a few years before, much like their female counterparts in Britain, Bengali women too would start to capitalize on what Mary Poovey has called “the contradiction inherent in [these] domestic ideal[s] to make even more radical claims for women” than contemporary male reformers did.93 More immediately, the pressures of dowry, the strains it put on families, and the death of this young girl did go some way toward producing the contours of a “new patriarchy” in Bengal. For the time being, however, women’s responses to Snehalata’s death bespoke a quiet irony about Bengali patriarchal society. It was almost as if with her death Snehalata opened the door for many Bengali mothers to publicly pronounce that courting death was a far better option for young women than suffering social ostracism due to their family’s inability to pay dowry. In a poignant elegy to Snehalata published in the Bamabodhini Patrika, the anonymous female writer stated that she had lost her own daughter to an illness a few years ago. But death, she wrote, saved her daughter from this “harsh social order.”94 Snehalata’s death gave voice to numerous Bengali women who had lost their own daughters to register their tragic protest against the contemporary social order. Why Snehalata decided to commit suicide is something we will never know with the certainty of a historical fact, yet the power of her act had far-reaching consequences. The dowry problem has not been known to produce suicides elsewhere Snehalata’s Death   89

in the world. Women without dowries or adequate dowries often ended up in convents or religious homes in England and Italy.95 Suicides and murders of young women on account of their family’s inability to gather the requisite amount of dowry is unique to South Asia, and the Snehalata case is the earliest example of such a death. Yet her suicide in January 1914 is significant in the history of dowry not because we know much about Snehalata, but because of the storm of opinions it unleashed in contemporary society. The aftermath of the act imbued the name Snehalata with a power which ensured that any history of dowry oppression in India would begin by remembering her suicide. Her name circulates as an encrypted form of history.

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Part II

Culture and the Marketplace

Chapter Three

M a r r i a g e a n d Di s ti n cti o n ♣♣♣♣♣♣♣♣♣

New Critiques of Vulgarity

On 4 September 1887, when he was about twenty-six years old, Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941) presented an essay at the Indian Science Association Hall. In it he delivered a searing critique of his more orthodox Hindu contemporaries who had argued that the aims of Hindu marriage were mainly “spiritual.” Quite the contrary, argued Tagore: they were worldly and practical.1 In the course of his talk, the young Tagore predicted that social change brought about by British rule and Western education would eventually lead to the demise of the extended family and the institution of child marriage by giving rise to new questions about marital choice, new patterns of families, and new structures of employment. These consequences were not to be dreaded, for marriage and family, he believed, must necessarily adapt to altered social conditions. An older Tagore, however, writing thirty-eight years later, in 1925, in response to a request made of him by Count Keyserling, struck a different tone on the subject of Indian marriage.2 This essay was all about the spiritual ideals underlying Indian marriage practices that distinguished the wedding, couple, and family in India from their counterparts in the West. No longer sanguine that Western influences would succeed in fashioning Indian marriages on the model of Western marriages, or that the latter was even necessarily good, Tagore’s main effort now was to offer some speculative thoughts based on an eclectic selection of texts and histories on a

variety of Indian practices to do with marriage, such as early marriage, the place of the couple in the joint family, and the idea of an arranged marriage between unequal partners. Addressing a question frequently posed by outsiders unfamiliar with Indian marriage customs—If Indians did not marry because they were in love with one another, then what was the basis of their union?—Tagore argued that the highest ideal of Indian marriage was the spirit of bhakti (devotion) on the part of the bride and the sense of duty and commitment displayed by the couple toward the well-being of the extended family. However, he conceded, this was only an ideal. He remarked sadly on the fact that marriage relations had for the longest time been prey to “the brute forces of society.” This produced a dissonance between the ideals of Indian marriage and the sphere of everyday practice. He ended his essay by urging his audience to restore in modern Indian marriages the “reign of the spirit.”3 We could read the shift in Tagore’s position as an arbitrary function of age, or even as an act of nationalist essentializing of India by putting undue emphasis on its radical otherness. But I suggest that Tagore’s philosophical reflections on marriage are better understood as a cultural critique of marriage-related practices that came to be articulated by some sections of Bengali society in the later years of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth. Tagore’s plea for spirituality was a response to what he (and others) increasingly perceived as a crisis that had overcome marriage and one that was in no small measure an outcome of the rising importance of money in marriage-related transactions, particularly marked in such institutions as dowry. The perils of dowry, as I noted in earlier chapters, had inspired many Bengali writers to launch a critique of excess—the excess of money, of greed, and of desire—that marriages seemed to have fallen prey to. The talk about spirituality was an antidote to this excess that these writers saw as plaguing Bengali marriages. It was not only money that was the object of criticism in this new literature on excess and taste in matrimonial proceedings. The rhetoric of taste, something that the new writings were intent on developing through their critiques of excess, was elaborated on three related registers. First, the display of money and pomp in weddings in the form of dowry and other festivities came to be derided as fraudulent, vulgar, and excessive. Second, 94   Chapter 3

the talk of excess spilled over from the domain of money to other aspects of weddings, such as how women carried themselves during weddings. Women should not behave in ways that could be seen as bawdy, flashy, or overly sexual. There was thus a demand for reforming female behavior and women’s rituals during wedding festivities. Their behavior at such a key social gathering, argued many, must of necessity reflect their spiritual status in Hindu society (a favorite theme of many a nationalist writer).4 Third, the overall absence of spirituality in weddings, some critics argued, was evidence of the moral corruption that had beset Hindu marriages. One symptom of such corruption was the prevalence of priests, a word which usually translates the Bengali word purohit as opposed to pandit, who were ignorant of the Sanskrit scriptures and did not understand the mantras (chants and incantations) and rituals they administered. Not only did this affect the religiosity of a wedding ceremony, but the proper performance of rituals had legal implications that could seriously impact the status of the married pair. This tendency to look on the ignorance of the original meanings of rituals as something that made these rituals empty itself showed a certain protestant spirit at work in this reformism. For Bengali priests were never meant to be learned scholars; they simply performed rituals. All these criticisms, I suggest, amounted to a general discussion about what constituted good taste in matters related to marriage. These attempts at producing social distinction, or, in Pierre Bourdieu’s terms, “cultural capital,” was tied to an emerging ideology of a new patriarchy based on a compromise between the ideals of the joint family and a companionate model of marriage. For reasons of space, I have distributed the argument about taste and the new patriarchy between this chapter and the next. Here I document and bring together critiques of waste and excess in weddings that were mounted from the second half of the nineteenth century and with particular force from the beginning of the twentieth. The next chapter addresses more fully the relationship between taste and the ideal of the patriarchal family that undergirded such discussions. The Early Colonial Background

Weddings held in rich zamindari households in the early colonial era had become the stuff of urban lore by the late nineteenth century. Thanks to the Marriage and Distinction   95

huge amount of wealth they amassed from trade connections in the days of East India Company rule, diwans and banyans (revenue officers) of the Company in the early nineteenth century began to celebrate the marriages of their sons and daughters with as much pomp and show as they did the religious festivals Durga puja and Kali puja.5 The Kayastha and Suvarnabanik castes were especially legendary in this regard. Grandiose and elaborate marriage celebrations became a means of earning distinction for one’s family in the colonial city. A chronicle of several such weddings may be found in the Bengali writer Chitra Deb’s work Bibahabasarera Kabyakatha (Poems and Tales of the Wedding Night).6 Inspired by their Calcutta counterparts, wealthy men in Bengali provincial towns also entered the fray by hosting wedding festivities that could not be matched.7 The creamy layer of Bengali society, wealthy men such as Radhakanta Deb, Ramnarayan Ray, Ramgopal Mullick, and Raghabram Goswami, organized huge festivals on the occasion of the weddings in their families. All were marked by lavish feasts that lasted for days.8 These celebrations, it could be argued, were still located in a courtly urban imagination of life. The wealthy doyens of Calcutta society sought to reproduce in their family functions, particularly marriages, activities reminiscent, in part, of the urban cultures of the nobility in the preBritish cities of Krishnangar and Murshidabad. Such displays were not within the means of the average urban householder, nor did they characterize the ordinary Bengali’s experience of a wedding, which was marked by various financial and social anxieties. Nonetheless, these high society affairs were recorded with a touch of awe and pride in newspapers and constituted urban mythology. From the second half of the nineteenth century, however, written accounts of weddings in the city assumed a critical distance from such lavish celebrations and flaunting of wealth. This is not to suggest that wealthy patriarchs had by this time ceased hosting weddings as elaborate social events. In fact, menu cards collected from the later period suggest that weddings continued to be, among other things, forums of gastronomic and other forms of excess. One menu boasts over fifty items served at a single meal. By the late nineteenth century, however, things had started to change. The voices of social censure regarding excessive wedding celebrations had grown quite distinct. These critiques, which usually began by recounting 96   Chapter 3

the evils of large wedding expenditures, eventually developed into more wide-ranging criticisms of the moral decay that had allegedly beset Bengali society. Elaborate and excessive weddings mirrored corruption in social matters. Marriage reform, according to these critics, entailed injecting spirituality and genuine sentiments—as opposed to public pomp—back into the wedding form. Waste, Corruption, and the Erosion of Spirituality

One important factor that appears to have driven the discourse on wasteful expenditures at weddings was the rise of the custom of dowry in Bengali society. Dowry, as I argued in the previous chapter, was symbolic of an unequal power dynamic between families, whereby the bridegroom’s side could exercise coercive power over the bride’s side. This power was manifested in demands for money, extending invitations to a large number of guests, propitiating relatives of the bridegroom’s party with specific gifts, and so on. The pressure of dowry actually forced some families to seek matches for their daughters outside the Bengali community. In her autobiography the writer Sudhira Gupta (b. 1907) recalls that her father’s inability to come up with ten thousand rupees for her marriage dowry eventually forced him to arrange her marriage in 1924 with someone outside the Bengali-speaking community. She offers a long description of the Arya-Samaji marriage ceremony and emphasizes its difference from noisy and chaotic Bengali weddings.9 Her wedding, she writes, was like the “weddings of Sita and Savitri,” two women of Hindu myth whom the nationalists held up as ideals of Indian womanhood.10 The point of distinction, in Gupta’s eyes, was the absence of coercion in her wedding as embodied in demands for dowry. Dowry was therefore represented in the new critiques as a travesty of the ideals of marriage. In rejecting dowry most writers had to posit a distinction between what they regarded as the vulgar dynamics of a marriage market, of which dowry was a part, and what they deemed was the real, spiritual content of a wedding. Caste association journals and writings by the Brahmo community assumed the lead in launching these critiques of the marriage market as a corruptive force.11 A perusal of the journal Kayastha Patrika from the last decade of the nineteenth century up until the third decade of the twentieth illustrates Marriage and Distinction   97

that bibahe byaysankoch (cutting down on wedding expenditure) was a matter that received a great deal of attention. In addition, hosting lavish feasts (sometimes bowing to pressure from the groom’s family, sometimes purely to mark one’s status), inviting numerous guests, and incurring costs on a bioscope, theater, magic show, and gift-giving to all relatives caused wedding expenditures to skyrocket. The debate on crass materialism versus taste gathered momentum in the early twentieth century. The tenor of what was said on the side of taste may be seen in what Manoranjan Guha-Thakurta, a noted thinker on religious and social matters, wrote when Bireswar Sen published an article supporting the dowry system in the journal Bharati in 1914.12 In a response that drew much popular attention at the time, GuhaThakurta countered, “If losses and gains [are] all-important elements in life, then no one is a greater enemy than a sibling, since the latter deprives the other child of the warmth of the mother’s breast and takes up the older sibling’s place in her lap. Yet no one is inhuman enough to murder one’s own siblings. Similarly, unless we think of the relationship of marriage as one above interests then it is bound to spawn and is in fact spawning numerous social evils.”13 Guha-Thakurta’s depiction of an ideal marriage as signifying a realm “above interests” drew on a point of view that looked on material interests as shallow and vulgar. He argued that many people justified the practice of barpan by citing instances from progressive societies such as those in Europe, where a woman who did not bring a dowry with her did not have any hopes of being married. True, he said, that the Hindu sastras (scriptures) also mentioned the virtues of giving away a svalankara (bejeweled) daughter in marriage. But if religious doctrines were so cruel that without wealth a woman did not have any chance of being married, then such doctrines ought to be rejected. So not money as such, but excessive greed for it, was the main cause of concern. Families joined by marriage, Guha-Thakurta suggested, should think of their bond as “pure,” like that between mother and child. The Kayastha Samaj, of which Guha-Thakurta was a member, framed a set of rules that would prevent kanyadaan (the gift of a daughter) from becoming kanyaday (the burden of having to marry off one’s daughter). This distinction is crucial because in an age when arranged marriage was the norm, a daughter’s wedding had developed into a major cause of worry 98   Chapter 3

and pressure for most bridal families. An ideal wedding, it was said, should not be so burdensome with financial woes as to rob the event of all joy.14 Accordingly, the Kayastha association suggested some rules to regulate weddings. Elaborate gifts and trousseaux should be discontinued, as should excessive pomp and display to mark the arrival of the groom’s party to the bride’s house. The kanyakarta (guardians of the bride) should not be asked for money or ornaments for the bride; even when the father of the bride wanted to give these things willingly, the groom and his family should refuse to take them. Correspondingly, the groom’s family should not give the bride any gifts of jewelry or cash at the wedding. The bride’s family should take a vow promising that they will conduct themselves in the same way at the time of a son’s wedding. If wealthy people set an example in this manner, then it was sure to inspire the common man. A body known as the Anusandhan Samiti (Investigation Committee) was set up to quietly observe whether these guiding rules were followed by various Kayastha families. In the event that they were violated the association’s journals, Kayastha Patrika and Kayastha Samaja, would print the details of the offending behavior under the headings panaprathar bisamoy phal (the poisonous effects of dowry) or samajik proshongo (social matters).15 A process of shaming families in print for their greed was thus adopted by the caste association. If the overwhelming concern with money in the form of wasteful expenditures and pomp was viewed as destroying the spiritual content of weddings, then what would constitute spirituality? The key word here was antarikata, or heartfelt sincerity. To reintroduce sincerity into the formal space of the wedding, literary discussions offered both reform and innovation. Ideas about refinement and taste may be teased out by focusing on related aspects of the emergent critique of vulgarity. First, there was an urge for a better understanding of Hindu rituals. Second, some groups invented a whole new set of practices, nonritualistic in character, to celebrate weddings. The Brahmo community was the most prominent in this regard. Eventually certain practices pioneered by the Brahmos were adopted by other Hindu Bengalis. Third, certain concerns expressed about women’s conduct in weddings were a crucial feature of this new discussion of taste. It was around this time that a standard format for a Bengali Hindu wedding also evolved. While books such as Purohit Darpan (The Mirror Marriage and Distinction   99

of Priests)16 provided details of rituals according to the different Vedas, in practice most weddings devolved into a standard set of rituals and feasts held during months considered sacred by the Bengali almanac, or Ponjika.17 Let me begin by explaining, briefly, some of the major steps involved in the performance of a Bengali Hindu wedding. Rituals and Reform

A typically Hindu, respectable-caste, Bengali wedding began with the ashirbaad (blessing ceremony), held separately at the homes of the bridegroom and the bride. The ritual was called by other names in different regions of Bengal, a fact that held true for most ceremonies that composed the Bengali wedding.18 Once the blessing ceremony was performed, “the countdown [began]. . . . Many ingredients [went] into the bubbling wedding cauldron—almanac, priest, barber, venue, . . . photographer, florist, . . . servants, helpers, sweepers, invitees, invitation cards, . . . silver coins, wedding trousseau, . . . gifts and token gifts for kin.” Also included in these initial preparations were “the styling of the Neetbar and Neetbou [two children playing ‘junior’ groom and bride], relatives, friends, their attire, holy water from the Ganges, sanctified utensils, objects for rituals performed by the womenfolk, preparations for the turmeric bath, the holy pyre, vehicles et al.” Prior to the actual wedding day was the Aiburo Bhat, a ritual meal at which the groom and bride separately celebrate their final unmarried days, with friends and relatives giving them a special five-course meal. On the eve of the wedding was a ritual known as adhibash and tilkapor performed by women of both families. These involved women in each household preparing a barandala, a flat container smeared with vermilion on which was laid an arrangement of durba (a special blade of grass), sandalwood and turmeric paste, flowers, fruits, curds, clarified butter, or ghee, pieces of gold, silver, and copper, a conch shell, and a chamor, a sort of wand crowned by a tuft of animal hair. Also part of this ceremony was the preparation of little cones made of rice, lentils, and paint called sri. The cones had to be “properly tapered and sharp-tipped, or they [were] considered unlucky.”19 These barandalas and the sandalwood paste were touched to the foreheads of the couple on the day of the wedding.

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The actual wedding day began before daybreak with customary offerings to ancestors. Around midmorning the turmeric ceremony (gaye halud ) was held: after being smeared with a turmeric and sandalwood paste, the bridegroom was bathed with holy water from the Ganges.20 The same paste was then smeared on the bride, who was then also bathed with holy water; at this time she and her family received a trousseau of gifts from the groom’s family.21 This ceremony was followed by the main wedding in the evening. Some of the important ritual moments of the wedding included the bar baran (the groom’s welcome to the bridal home) and the bar-archana (a ceremony just before the actual wedding ritual in which a male elder from the bride’s family, her father or another relative, honored the groom at the priest’s behest). During the latter “assorted holy bric-a-brac [was] kept beside the groom.” Critical among these were the saligramshila, an auspicious stone worshipped as an embodiment of the god Vishnu, kosha-kushi (copper utensils), a ring made of blades of grass, and a vessel of alta (a red liquid symbolizing sacredness). The main wedding commenced with the shubho drishti (the first auspicious sighting), when the couple exchanged their first look at each other, and the gauravochon (purging the evil), in which the barber accompanying the marriage parties crooned limericks, which were often in coarse and lewd language, to purge evil and harsh words from the marriage.22 The biye, or wedding ceremony, consisted of a mala-badal (exchange of garlands), prayers sanctifying the knot before the homa (sacred fire) and saligrama (a sacred stone symbolizing the god Vishnu), saptapadigamana (the seven steps around the ritual fire taken together by the bridegroom and bride), sampradan (gift of the daughter), panigrahana (receiving the bride’s hand), and sindur-daan (applying vermilion to the bride’s head). Following these ceremonies the bride and bridegroom retired with female members of the bride’s family to the bashor ghar (a ritual space). The bride departed to her nuptial home on the following day at an auspicious hour determined by reading the almanac. The first night in her new home was spent away from her husband; the couple was not supposed to look at each other as it might bring bad luck. The three-day festivities closed with bou-bhat, when the bride served rice to the male elders of her husband’s family. Usually there was a feast hosted by the bridegroom’s family held on the evening of

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the bou-bhat to which friends and family of the bride were invited. The evening was called phul shojya (bed of flowers); it was the first night the bride and groom spent together.23 There were two criticisms of the existing ritual performance. One was the lack of meaningful rituals so that the wedding mirrored a sense of comportment proper to the educated. The second was rowdy or bawdy behavior that was dissonant with the notion of a refined culture. An article published in 1922 by Taraknath Debbarma titled “Kayasthera Bibaha” (Kayastha Marriage) carried a statement from the noted jurist of the Calcutta High Court, Sir Gooroodas Bandyopadhyay, in which he argued that unless certain ceremonies were performed fully and completely a woman would not be considered legally wedded. This in turn could affect her right to her husband’s property. The distinguished judge noted: A marriage cannot be considered fully complete unless every ritual from panigrahana to saptapadigamana is observed. A woman who has been married via procedures falling short of these shall not be regarded as a wife by dharma, and will have no maintenance or other rights over her husband. Once the sampradan happens the girl’s father loses all his rights over the daughter. . . . Earlier the father was responsible for his daughter’s upkeep [and] her education and he had every right over her labor powers. Through the sampradan all these rights have now devolved unto the bridegroom. He now has to maintain her [and] educate her and can even engage her in performing duties in his household. But this ritual does not commit the husband into bestowing the wife with any rights over him. For that another ritual is essential. That is called panigrahana. Rituals thus had legal ramifications. Ignorance of their proper import could bring harm upon the persons being married, especially the bride. And this kind of ignorance was precisely what the author of the article singled out for criticism.24 He began with a by now familiar lament about the influence of foreign ideas upon Kayastha social practices, the loss of tradition and consequent anarchy in Kayastha society. His central complaint, however, was how ignorant Kayasthas had become about rituals in general, especially wedding rituals. They could no longer spot a purohit (priest) who was being lax in the performance of the various ceremonies that would render the 102   Chapter 3

marriage complete. Their apathy prevented them from being wary of the mercenary instincts of the priests. A marriage consisted of two essential parts: sampradan (the giving of a gift) and panigrahana (the taking of the bride’s hand; receipt of the gift). Needless to say the gift in question was the daughter. Unfortunately, in most weddings the performance of sampradan alone was supposed to complete the marriage. Most people, argued Debbarma, could not tell the difference since insouciance in these matters was often made into a virtue in the urban context. They believed the priests who told them that panigrahana was a ritual performed only among Brahmans. Debbarma likened the contemporary priest to a magician who hoodwinked spectators from spotting the most obvious sleights of hand. The arcane mantras uttered by the priest were like a magician’s ploy that lulled people into believing that the rituals had been duly performed. These slippages in the proper performance of rituals had serious repercussions, not limited to the realm of caste status. Debbarma’s article demonstrates that the discussion of taste and refinement took place in the background of a larger discussion (which I do not have the scope to include here) about person, property, and the law that can be glimpsed from the statement by the jurist from the Calcutta High Court. (I take up some of these themes of property and personhood in the final chapter, on the Hindu Code bill.) Modernist authors like Debbarma emphasized that wedding guests, the families, and the bride and bridegroom should be informed participants rather than blindly obedient followers of an empty caste Hinduism. These reformist attitudes had something to do with the upward social mobility of the groups from which the reformers came. It is significant, for example, that the other practice the author mentioned in this article, addressed to the Kayasthas, especially younger ones, was that of wearing the sacred thread.25 As is well known, only those who are regarded as twice born (dvija) in Hindu society are entitled to wear the sacred thread. For a Kayastha man, traditionally placed in the so-called Shudra category, to wear the sacred thread was to make claims to a higher ritual status in the caste order. To the reform-minded Kayasthas, however, wearing the sacred thread now carried with it, among other things, the pressure to observe certain duties. Salient among these was the refusal to accept dowry. What authors like Debbarma mirrored was in fact a struggle about how Marriage and Distinction   103

to appropriate and recast Hindu tradition in modern times. But this was a modern view of tradition, quite secular in its constitution, even when it bore the name of religious institutions such as Hinduism or caste. Tradition was not immune to rational interrogation; rather, it was something to be analyzed and comprehended by moderns. Therefore, the claim to a higher ritual status, he argued, had to be accompanied by virtuous conduct. Such conduct was tied both to a spirit of inquiry and education and to being an individual who did not submit to greed. These individuals should not demand that which was not legitimately theirs. Nonacceptance of dowry was part of such conduct. Dowry was regarded as a modern accretion to the Kayastha way of life, a byproduct of urban living likened to dining with non-dvija caste groups. Debbarma attempted to rouse the Kayasthas into displaying a modicum of jatyabhimaan (pride in one’s jati status) by urging them to discontinue both these practices. He ended the article with a description of an ideal wedding: there would be no money transacted at this event; there would be healthy argumentation between the presiding priest and the wedding parties about proper ritual proceedings; and people who participated would demonstrate awareness of what each Sanskrit mantra meant. Clearly, the caste pride the writer was trying to instill in members of his community was a secular one. A counterpart to articles like Debbarma’s were books such as Purohit Darpan, which were meant as a guide to priests who presided at various Hindu ceremonies. The author, Surendramohan Bhattacharya, wrote that the profession of priesthood had fallen in the esteem of most people, as priests were no longer educated in Sanskrit scriptures. Hindu society, he wrote, was suffering from a scarcity of “real” priests. The problem was compounded by the fact that books outlining different steps in ritual performance were difficult to find. The task he had set for himself was thus to collate the details of various rituals in a single text so as to restore to priestcraft the gravitas it deserved.26 The mere performance of rituals in a certain way was not enough. They had to be accompanied by behavior appropriate to that mode of performance. Hence transacting in barpan as well as inter-dining was forbidden after a Kayastha assumed the sacred thread. It would be easy to conflate this anxiety about exactitude in ritual proceedings to a rigidification of the 104   Chapter 3

caste system. But when placed next to calls for antarganik bibaha (intracaste marriage) and rejection of monetary transactions in weddings, these debates may be treated as part of a creative invention of what it meant to be a Kayastha. From a modernist perspective, such reinvention had both a benevolent and a reactionary aspect. Insofar as it prevented Kayasthas from eating with other castes there was an exclusionary principle at work, but when it forbade them to receive dowry after donning the sacred thread it pressured them to cultivate a mode of virtuous behavior. Also, the injunction to understand the mantras in a ritual and to comprehend the significance of certain rituals to ensure proper legal status for the bride showed a desire to bring together rituals, personhood, the realm of property, and the law. The Brahmos were another community that engaged quite intensely with questions of taste and distinction in their wedding ritual proceedings, but they did so in a slightly different manner. Biographical literature written by Brahmo men and women from this period describes the investment people made to infuse their weddings with a greater sense of spirituality in comparison to their non-Brahmo brethren. This was also something that distinguished the Brahmos in their own eyes and gave them a sense of leadership in debates to do with the cultivation of taste. Note the following lines by the first Indian civil servant Satyendranath Tagore (1842–1923) recalling his father Debendranath Tagore’s (1817–1905) motivations for instituting certain reforms in Brahmo domestic rites: “For many years, the Brahma Dharma, in spite of the enthusiasm of its first adherents, had continued to be little more than a cold intellectual creed; its effect on practical life was almost nil. The Brahmic covenant, binding every Brahma to renounce worship through idolatrous symbols, was, in the majority of cases, honoured more in the breach than in observance. Many a Brahma had thus to live a life of unfaithfulness, being forced to conform to social observances which his conscience did not approve of.” To ensure that such “unfaithfulness” did not continue, Debendranath Tagore, the leader of the Adi Brahmo Samaj, composed and circulated the Anusthan Paddhati (the Brahmic Ritual Procedure) in 1861 “to regulate the observance of domestic rites and ceremonies among our people (implying Brahmos) at the present day.”27 While there were internal differences among the various factions of the Brahmo Samaj with regard to the Marriage and Distinction   105

marriage procedures instituted by Tagore (which I return to in chapter 5), one important and notable departure from existing Hindu practice was to omit all traces of idolatry. This meant that the saligrama and the homa were removed from Brahmo marriage procedures. In other words, spirituality in Brahmo marriage was understood as a rejection of idol worship. These were replaced by new wedding hymns, poetry, pledges made by the bride and bridegroom to one another, and ministerial sermons which Brahmo men and women composed. These became distinguishing features of Brahmo marriages and infused Brahmo wedding ceremonies with a spirit of consensuality and solemnity. Autobiographical literature by men and women of the Brahmo creed often highlight these aspects of the wedding as a mark of distinction. For example, Sudakhsina Sen described her own wedding to Ambikacharan Sen in the following manner: “Our wedding was one of the most remarkable of its kind held in Dhaka city. Not on account of the wealth or pomp displayed; that did not impress anyone. But everyone agreed that they had never witnessed such a solemn and sincere ceremony that touched the core of everybody’s being. The honorable Kantichandra Mitra and Bangachandra Roy presided over the wedding while Chandranath Basu sang several brahmosangeets to mark the occasion.”28 Clearly, by the time Sen was writing, “pomp” had come to be seen as vulgar and good taste was equated with sincerity. The chain of reform that Debendranath Tagore began in the 1860s by rejecting practices such as nautches, or performances by dancing girls, had been internalized and elevated by many Brahmos by the early twentieth century as the code of tasteful conduct. Tagore, we are told, urged the children in his household to compose their own songs and poems to mark the occasion of weddings in their family and even to perform on stage.29 Self-expression rather than display was the governing principle behind Brahmo marriage reform. Indeed, one lasting impact of Brahmo marriage practice on Bengali Hindu wedding celebrations across social classes was the practice of composing wedding poetry which would be circulated among wedding guests. Priti Upohaar: a bengali epithalamia?

The practice of circulating little poems written to celebrate the forthcoming union and expressing goodwill for the new couple became an essential 106   Chapter 3

component of wedding festivities beginning in the 1880s. It was a product of Brahmo sensibilities, but by the 1920s it had assumed the status of a routine in most weddings, Hindu and Brahmo alike. The practice probably began to go into a decline in the 1950s, for we find the well-known Bengali novelist Saradindu Bandyopadhyay observing through the voice of his inimitable detective hero, Byomkesh Bakshi, in 1956, “Some twenty or twenty five years ago printing priti upohaar was very popular, now it is on the wane.”30 The practice is critical for our understanding of the project of creating meaningful rituals. Some poems were even put to music and performed as songs. But it was far more common to simply print them as colorful handbills to be circulated among guests.31 The poems, a joyous ode to the wedding couple or a blessing in verse composed by friends and relatives of the family, were usually printed on pastel-colored paper with floral borders and images of cherubs and butterflies. The practice became so widespread that for those wanting in the gift of original composition, there were a number of books published in the popular press with model poems. Sometimes these books served as a gift to the newlyweds.32 Such books were also meant to inspire and teach people to compose poetry. They were divided into sections, with separate poems intended for the bride and bridegroom and their families. Other sections included poems that could be given to the wedding couple by any member of the extended family (grandparents, older and younger siblings, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, and friends). Composing poetry for a wedding had become a practice in taste and civility. Self-expression, which was the avowed objective of the poems, was privileged over earlier, more ostentatious forms of display, such as inviting nautch girls. While the custom of composing and distributing these poems came into Hindu society through the Brahmos, their influence eventually swept through Bengali cities and even pervaded the remote villages. Chitra Deb, who has written quite extensively on Bengali marriage and women, cautions that the priti upohaar poems must be distinguished from songs sung by women at weddings as a part of striacar, or women’s rituals. Priti upohaar poetry was also different from songs and poems written to commemorate certain customary practices associated with marriage of the kind documented by folklorists in late nineteenth-century Bengal.33 They Marriage and Distinction   107

must also be distinguished from the songs and performances in the wedding festivities held by the newly rich of late eighteenth-century and early nineteenth-century Calcutta. As Deb puts it, “Composition of these poems began much later, in a different environment. That environment was probably born with the Brahmos. Before them, can we imagine a gathering of educated and genteel men and women, who had cultivated the sensibility to enjoy the rasa of poetic compositions?”34 While the composition of poetry was a practice in new standards of taste and civility, their distribution on colored paper resembling handbills, or istehaars, proclaiming the forthcoming union reminds us of the early (and even contemporary) advertisement culture in the modern city and mufassil towns.35 These poems are a testimony to the democratization of refinement. They seemed to signal that taste was no longer the preserve of the wealthy. Despite the pervasiveness of the phenomenon of composing priti upohaar poems, historical information about them is quite scattered. While a large number of the actual poems have survived in various collections and in personal family papers, there isn’t a recorded narrative archive on the origin and circulation of such poetry. However, it is possible to reconstruct a history of why this practice came into being in Bengal at the beginning of the twentieth century. It would appear that one of the earliest compilers of these poems was Abinashchandra Ghosh, who in 1911 published an edited collection of such poetry entitled Upohaar (Gift). In the preface to his collection, Ghosh noted, “It might pique our curiosity to know what began this trend or which the first wedding was at which such poetry was written. But it is almost impossible to reconstruct the causal chain of this tradition, a matter of no small misfortune to the history of wedding literature.”36 Some of the earliest compositions that most closely resemble priti upohaar in both form and content were wedding songs composed by Rabindranath Tagore on the occasion of Rajnarayan Basu’s daughter Lilabati’s wedding in 1881. Before these there are stray instances of men writing verse to convey their blessings, but the language of these poems was an archaic, heavily Sanskritized Bengali. The priti upohaar poems were composed in a much more easily accessible language that ensured their widespread consumption. This practice therefore

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may be credited with having made poetry into an object of appreciation by larger numbers of people. With the proliferation of the practice, people started to compose poems intended for the different rituals constituting a Bengali wedding. By the second decade of the twentieth century the appellation priti upohaar (loving gift) had come to stay, and these little poems went a long way in rendering certain moments special in a Bengali wedding. The most notable of these were subho drishti (the first time the bride and groom ritually exchange glances, an auspicious moment that was now given a romantic slant), the bashor ghar (the first night spent at the bride’s place after marriage), and the phul shojya (a bed of flowers, referring to the night on which the marriage is consummated). It is significant that these ritual moments had never been the subject of such valorization before. The mangalkavyas, panchalis, or even vaishnava bhakti literature of the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries carry no elaborate references to them.37 It was a late nineteenth-century outlook that singled out these rituals as meaningful to the two individuals being brought together in marriage. This period also witnessed the beginning of a debate between those who believed in love marriage and the supporters of arranged marriage. The debate centered on the question of romantic love and choice and their relationship to marriage. It is possible that the impetus behind valorizing certain moments in the wedding came from writers who wanted to retain the arranged marriage form, while simultaneously injecting it with ideals of love and companionship. Significantly, most critiques of so-called love marriage regarded it as catastrophic to the harmony of the extended family unit. Men and women who exercised choice in matrimonial matters were often vilified in contemporary tracts as selfish and unduly individualistic.38 The poems under review, however, engaged in no such slurs. Rather, they sought to bring together what writers viewed as the best of both worlds. They were a celebration of the companionship and romance that these writers felt must be the end of every married couple’s life, while retaining the extended family as a necessary unit of social life. It was a utopian vision that brought together romantic love with the extended family. The poems were often humorous. Sometimes they expressed the bless-

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ings elders bestowed upon the forthcoming union. Usually they invoked the relationship in their titles, such as didimar ashirbaad (grandmother’s blessings) and didir ashirbaad (older sister’s blessings).39 Women also evoked contemporary issues with a touch of humor in their compositions. The following poem by an anonymous female writer from Chitra Deb’s collection of wedding poems is noteworthy for demonstrating a number of contemporary concerns experienced by women as they celebrated a marriage. According to Deb, this particular poem was written by a grandmother on the occasion of her granddaughter’s wedding. Topor or registry, which one would you favor? If you ask me, a sithi-mour or kajallata is much preferred.40 Today’s occasion is wrapped in a sweet romance [the English word romance was used in the Bengali version] That fills your mind as you unite together, with the sacred fire as your witness. The first line of the poem refers to the ongoing debate between the supporters of civil marriage and those in favor of a Hindu ceremony comprising certain rituals mentioned above. The choice between “registry” and “topor” (the bridegroom’s headgear made of pith) draws our attention to this. Regardless of which modality one preferred, the writer noted that it was important that the wedding ceremony be infused with romance. Mostly these poems were deeply sentimental, centering on the couple and their love for one another. Here is a poem circulated at the wedding of Akshaykumar Sarkar and Nagendrabala Devi in 1899: Welcome all, on this auspicious evening To this bibaha bashor The moon shines brightly upon the night sky Bestowing upon nature around us a new look. A hundred flowers bloom all around Carrying their fragrance. The hemanta night is moist with dew-drops It fills the air like laughter . . . Look brother at this new picture of love before you 110   Chapter 3

Where the sweet Nagendra bala Is awaiting you, the sun of her heart.41 The coupling of a celebration of nature with the union of two souls, a sentiment that animated English romanticism, now fed Bengali ideas of marriage. The priti upohaar poems were expressive of a merging of sentiments from two cultures. Under the influence of modern urbanism and the changed structures of employment during this period Bengalis were forced to consider new forms of family life that had the potential to seriously disrupt preexisting kinship networks and ideas of familial security. Furthermore, the possibility of exercising choice in matters of matrimony was not yet well established. The poetical exegesis contained in priti upohaar attempted to bring together new modes of love with older imaginations of kula, vamsa, and the extended family. I shall have more to say about the implications of this new patriarchal framework in the next chapter. For now, it is sufficient to note that the apparently simple poems known to us as priti upohaar carried the imprint of these social values. Expressing these values in a new literary idiom accessible to all is what made the poems indexical of the new regime of taste and class. Conceptions of taste were deeply tied to ideas about the composition and ordering of the family across the Bengali middle class. Finally, to understand the genealogy of the priti upohaar we also need to briefly take into account the impact of a renewed interest in the “folk” in late nineteenth-century Bengal. Writers of the period delved into the details of rural and country life in order to liberate Bengali society from the iron cage of urban modernism.42 This did not imply a rejection of urban culture; rather, this type of wedding poetry could only ever be created within an urban milieu. Within that context of the colonial metropolis, however, there arose an educated middle-class project of selectively appropriating folk elements into an urban, literary idiom to create an idealized and harmonic image of family life. Unless we understand the implications of the folk as a resource for contemporary Bengali life, it will be difficult to grasp the sentiments expressed in the poems called priti upohaar. Apart from archiving older practices, prominent scholars had also started to devote themselves to the retrieval and collection of Bengali folklore: Marriage and Distinction   111

stories of gods and goddesses, children’s rhymes, and couplets on themes of country life. Composed in verse and gathered from different parts of Bengal they became an important part of the educated, modern Bengali’s imaginative idiom, thanks to the compilations made by Dinesh Chandra Sen, the Tagores, and others. Not only the mangalkavyas, but also many lesser known panchalis and stories about myriad folk traditions were popularized during this time as a result of scholarly efforts.43 It is striking how many of these stories were centered on marriages of gods and goddesses. Besides rhymes based on stories of various divinities, there were also children’s verses, glorious in their simplicity, teeming with imagery of weddings. The popularity of these traditions is testified to by the fact that many couplets were taken from these collections and adopted into language readily accessible to us.44 All these impulses left their imprint on the poems under discussion. The poems repeatedly used words such as mangal (propitious) and shubho (auspicious), words that by the end of the nineteenth century had acquired a peculiar nationalist charge from their use in the creation of a new Bengali sense of patriarchy that came with British rule and Western education. There was a naturalism in the poems expressed by an invocation of different elements of the Bengal countryside, its beauty and bounty, but filtered through the lens of English romanticism and Sanskrit and vaishnava lyric poetry. The poems emphasized love between the couple and enjoined the bride to remain devoted to her husband in the interest of the preservation of the kula (clan). Finally, the bride was always portrayed in these verses as beautiful, a conscious comment perhaps upon the slights and humiliations experienced by many dark-skinned Bengali women in the marriage ­market. Contemporary journals carried innumerable pieces on the difficulty of marrying off a plain-looking or dark-skinned daughter. As one writer in the Bamabodhini Patrika observed indignantly, “Don’t ugly women possess a heart? . . . Haven’t we seen a beautiful mother give birth to a dark-skinned, unattractive, daughter?”45 The fate of unattractive girls has been immortalized for Bengalis in short stories such as Saratchandra Chatterjee’s “Arakhaniya” (The Girl Past the Marriageable Age, 1916) and Bibhutibhushan Banerjee’s “Pnuimacha” (1925). Rabindranath Tagore himself rendered one 112   Chapter 3

of his famous tributes to the dark-skinned beauty in the lines “Krishnakali ami tarei boli / Kalo tare bole gnayera lok” (I call her a dark bud / While to the village folk she is black). Sudipta Kaviraj has drawn our attention to the new definitions of beauty in Bengali literature during this period.46 Wedding poems drew upon these currents in contemporary society and sought to emphasize weddings as harmonious gatherings that celebrated the coming together of two souls. Even the meaning of “beauty” had changed as the wedding poems under discussion portrayed the bride and bridegroom as beautiful, implying an inner rather than physical beauty. A particular irony attended the attempt to replace mindless rituals with such expressive artifacts as poems. Poems written to celebrate each wedding as a unique event eventually themselves became a mindless ritual, a routine feature of almost every wedding. Writing poetry became such a generalized affair that those who could not compose their own poems now bought books that contained model poems for circulation at weddings. One commentator noted in the preface to a book titled Biyer Mantar (Mantras for a Wedding), “The thought of a marriage bereft of poetry makes us tremble. Shame! Death be upon such people! Whether or not there is a bride or a bridegroom or even an officiating priest, one poem (at least) is a must have.”47 Thus what was meant to replace the assumed emptiness of rituals became a ritual itself. It was probably in response to these developments that a book titled Sachitra Panapratha (The Dowry System Illustrated), published in 1914, devoted a chapter to this novel practice that wedding poems constituted. The author’s critical tone confirmed that there were many who now regarded the sentiments professed in priti upohaar to be somehow false when placed against the lived social context: “This upohaar [gift] wasn’t made out of precious stones or gold and silver that could adorn the body, it wasn’t clothes that would physically beautify the wearer, nor was it delicious like sandesh or rasogollas [sweets] that would satisfy the greedy palate. . . . It was merely a stray bubble emanating from the wave of the new age’s much touted civilized conduct.” As far as this author was concerned, the wedding poems represented empty words and therefore lacked genuine content. The poems were likened to an insincere apology for the sentiments that were actually absent from weddings due to the pressures created by dowry and other demands. Marriage and Distinction   113

In some families there were five or six batches of poems printed and distributed as handbills among the guests. The author asked, “In a country where the birth of a girl-child is regarded as a sign of bad luck, where soon after the birth of the girl most parents are terrified thinking about the responsibility of marrying her [kanyaday], where people are impoverished in carrying out this task, in such a place how the girl’s family could possibly feel any love during her marriage is beyond comprehension.”48 There was a time when Hindu society felt love and happiness at the prospect of a daughter’s wedding, but in those days a girl’s marriage did not involve coercive demands for jewelry, large amounts of food and money, and the sale of people’s dwellings. He proposed that instead of “loving gift,” families should name these poems “tearful gift,” a testimony to the havoc wrought by the daughter’s marriage upon family fortunes. Instead of the poems being a display of “noveliana” (presumably a derisive expression for the practice of reading and writing novels, often associated with fake sentimentality), they ought to contain a searing critique of the dowry system, with exact details of the amount of money transacted with the “son-trader” (mercenary groom and his family). If the bridal family used the poems to shame the groom’s family in this manner, then perhaps a day would come when society would awaken from its stupor to react against dowry. Instead, people were drugged by the useless power of the pen to “create the image of spring in the height of winter and impressions of a moonlit night in an evening that was (actually) dark.” Hence their poems, noted the author, continued to be exercises in cleverness and volubility much like the speeches made at dowry prohibition meetings.49 Women, Taste, and Vulgarity

What were women’s roles in this project of producing a critique of established marriage practices through the register of good taste? Women played a very important role in wedding proceedings, in the decision-making processes of marriage and in rituals as brides, mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and participating guests. Much more than men’s, women’s comportment was treated as an index of good taste. Prevailing opinions about sexuality,

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desire, pleasure, and the body were often mirrored in what people wrote about how women should behave at weddings. Every wedding involved an elaborate set of rituals called striacar, or practices customarily performed by women. These were constituted by an array of rituals, games, and songs that only women performed and participated in. Striacar marked a female space and, according to some commentators, contained rural or folk residues. The symbolic significance of the rituals of striacar was to ensure the bride’s everlasting happiness. The way to such happiness was by having a happy, sexually fulfilling relationship with the husband. Thus many striacar rituals centered on ways in which the bridegroom could be held captive to the wife’s charms.50 Striacar had evolved over a long period of time and had responded to threats that women perceived from institutions such as kulin polygamy. Bengali striacar has its counterparts in other regions of India. For those interested in seeing an instance of these rituals, Hindi films usually have a mandatory mehendi ceremony scene, which depicts an all-female ceremony that involves the drawing of intricate patterns with henna on the hands and feet of all the women, excluding widows. Typically during such ceremonies women sing colorful and sexually suggestive songs to and with each other.51 During our period, however, this domain of women’s rituals came under the critical gaze of both men and women. These reform-minded writers designated “a new romantic attachment between individuated selves” with the status of an ethical ideal as long as it did not clash with the supposed accord of the extended family.52 This move prepared the conditions for the emergence of a critique based on notions of an almost ethereal affection referred to as prem or pranay, as distinct from bodily and lustful expressions of love. I will discuss at some length two items of contemporary writing to demonstrate how some of these critiques of women’s roles were delineated by those who were trying to elaborate upon Bengali ideals of civility and refinement. The first of these is a letter written to the editor of the journal Somprakash by a “male victim.” The second is a series of writings by Saratkumari Chaudhurani, who wrote about women’s roles at weddings as a participant observer. A letter to the editor of Somprakash published on 1 December 1863, drew

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attention to the “wild” behavior of women in the bashor ghar, the first night spent by the bridegroom at the bridal residence after the completion of the wedding ceremony. The writer, a man, claimed to be writing not only to report his own miserable experience of the occasion, but also to express hope for some reform of these events. His allegations were centered around the “harassment” he was subjected to by the women of his bride’s family on the night of the bashor. He claimed to be a victim of their bawdy jokes, lewd songs, and physical attacks (they punched him and pulled his ear), all of which was done in the name of celebration. He alleged that the women present kept forcing him to “seat his wife on his lap,” indicating that their requests were tinged with demands for indecent sexual displays. They demanded that he sing kheyal, toppa, or Harithakur’s kheyur for them, and his attempts to sing brahmosangeet or ramprasadi songs were booed down. The former constituted popular and rustic music, while a preference for the latter bespoke the listener’s dignified taste. Clearly, the writer regarded the latter variety of songs as appropriate for a mixed gathering, while the former made him uncomfortable due to the explicitness of their sexual content. He described his whole experience as like being in a “war.” The letter was published with a brief but censorious introduction by the editor. He prefaced it by saying that just as birds and animals habituated to remaining in confinement when set free experienced a sense of unbounded joy and freedom, which rapidly degenerated into wayward, wild, and willful behavior, so also with Bengali Hindu women. Women who spent the bulk of their lives in the zenana (the inner quarters of the home), complying with the wishes and commands of male members of the family, were likely to behave in improper ways when left to themselves. In these rare moments when that veil of confinement was lifted, they displayed modes of conduct severely wanting in self-restraint or dignity. One place where such behavior was routinely flaunted was in the women-only bashor ghar, where the bridegroom was the only male. Usually time would be spent playing games, singing, and in other kinds of revelry. The author noted that since the bridegroom was a stranger to his in-laws’ residence in the age of child marriage and arranged marriage, the bashor ghar was an ideal way to help him adjust to its settings and get acquainted with his female relatives. In recent times, however, “this noble project has been severely tarnished. Even those women 116   Chapter 3

who ought to demonstrate a slightly distant relationship, on account of age or familial status, forget these necessary barriers and shamelessly participate with younger women in routinized fun-poking at the man’s expense. They sing raunchy songs and crack bawdy jokes. Is this female civility, demureness and reserve?”53 Leaving aside the misogynist slurs in this document, it is striking on account of its disciplinary vision. The letter writer proclaimed himself a man with a reformist sensibility. He was overjoyed, he wrote, when he first saw so many women congregated together, irrespective of age, laughing and joyous, that is, with all appearances of having a good time. Then he was shocked at what he considered their indecent conduct. There were passages in the letter where he left his implications unstated and urged the editor and readers to guess what he meant by exercising their imagination. His unwillingness to perform coarse songs earned him various epithets, including “stupid,” “bore” (arasika), and “too bookish.” There is a strong suggestion in both the letter and the editor’s introduction to it that women’s comportment in the bashor ghar was vulgar and tasteless. The editor claimed that many young girls were initiated into the facts of life totally inappropriate for their age when exposed to events like the bashor ghar. As an educational experience such unrestrained freedom could only harm society. The critique of women’s sexual humor as inappropriate and even harmful to youngsters was contrasted with civility as a display of calm restraint. The letter writer was not opposed to the free mixing of men and women, but he favored maintaining certain boundaries in such conduct. Cracking overtly sexual jokes in public, singing bawdy songs, and displaying a brassy, rustic femininity inherent in striacar militated against the code of urbane civility that informed the new aesthetic imagination of the wedding. This journalistic account of a man’s “humiliation” at the bashor ghar has to be placed in the larger context of the literary climate of the late nineteenth century. Victorian ideals of sexuality enjoyed a wide currency in educated Bengali society at the time. Well-known Bengali littérateurs and social reformers developed a preference for avoiding explicitly sexual topics. These were depicted in a disapproving light. Bashor songs drew critical fire from many commentators throughout the later decades of the nineteenth century and well into the early years of the twentieth. Fictional works paid Marriage and Distinction   117

particular attention to the element of revelry displayed by women in the bashor ghar and described them in a censorious vein. In keeping with the letter in the journal Somprakash, in fictional literature too the bridegroom was described as a “victim” for whom his in-laws’ home (where the bashor was held) was transformed into a “prison” thanks to the unruly and vulgar behavior of the womenfolk.54 Not surprisingly, the Brahmos were especially critical of these celebrations. Shib Chunder Bose, a Brahmo writing about this genre of songs in the 1880s, noted, “In the suburbs and rural districts of Bengal, females . . . are tacitly allowed to have so much liberty on this special occasion that they entertain the bridegroom (among other things) . . . with amorous songs. . . . Frail as women naturally are . . . [this] has undoubtedly a tendency to impair the moral influence of a virtuous life.”55 In her recent study of popular literature and the publishing market in Bengal, Anindita Ghosh makes two interesting observations with reference to bashor songs. First, she argues that while women were targeted for criticism as the consumers of these songs, it is quite probable that it was a male authorship that catered to the heavy demand for such works. Ghosh cites numerous song books that were printed and circulated by the Battala Press (the counterpart to Grub Street in Calcutta). Usually priced between two and a half and four annas, these booklets were quite affordable. Ghosh’s second observation supports the general point being made here about how the wedding was monitored and rethought to create new orders of taste and distinction among the middle classes. She writes, “The mock warfare between the women and the groom . . . turns soon into a battle between rural and urban social orders.” While the groom represents an urbane and urban civility, the women become exemplars of rural rusticity in need of urgent reform.56 Finally, the bashor songs and the literary stereotypes that circulated about women’s conduct in the bashor ghar are indicative of a face-off between two different registers of sexuality in the colonial period. On the one hand, the songs and striacar rituals celebrated notions of pleasure and desire in the female body. Both heteronormative and homoerotic, they created a performative space of female intimacy by talking about the ways the bride can enhance her husband’s pleasure and thereby keep him in her control. On the other hand, the reformist vision held that the highest expression of 118   Chapter 3

romance between a man and a woman was much more than bodily lust. The purest form of love, as suggested by Rajat Ray, was necessarily depicted as platonic.57 Sexuality was banished to the realm of the unspeakable, while the romance that was celebrated was about the communion of man, woman, and nature. At its purest, romance involved the sacrifice of the lovers for the sake of familial pride and honor.58 I would like to emphasize that this kind of aesthetic idealization was not peculiar to Bengali writings. Bhakti over sexuality, a chaste and socially useful love over the sexual solipsism engendered by viraha (grief ), were among some of the new hierarchies being put in place by literatures in different parts of the subcontinent.59 The work of Saratkumari Chaudhurani (1861–1920) represented a different perspective on women’s role in producing a refined and spiritual wedding ceremony. Her essays were first published in the journal Bharati between 1900 and 1910. Later reprinted as her collected works, these prose pieces were significant for many reasons. They represented a woman casting a critical as well as empathetic eye over wedding rituals, especially over those meant specifically for women. These events were referred to in contemporary parlance as meye yagni (women’s rituals, encompassing many of the same events as striacar). Her views can therefore be read as a gendered account of behavior appropriate to an ideal female subject in modern Bengal. Her tone lacked the imperiousness of colonial or Indian male reformers; instead, she wrote as a participant in many of the weddings she attended. These factors led Rabindranath Tagore to write about Chaudhurani’s work in the following manner: “The way in which a woman has written about women could never have been accomplished by a male writer. . . . I have yet to witness such a live, true representation of social life in any work of Bengali prose.”60 Not insignificant was the fact that Chaudhurani lived most of her childhood and teen years in Lahore. Her reflections always register a note of surprise at the sea change that Bengali marriage practices had undergone in the fifteen or twenty years she lived outside the province. Chaudhurani’s essay “Meye Yagnir Bisrinkhala” (The Chaos in Women’s Rituals) aroused the ire of contemporary readers for many reasons. Some accused of her of being elitist and not taking into account how women were hobbled by domestic responsibilities. These readers argued that a degree of chaos was bound to happen in any socializing group of women because they Marriage and Distinction   119

had no access to child care or to other domestic help who would perform their chores for them on days they had to attend social functions. Others argued that regulating the number of guests in events would reduce the element of fun in these gatherings. For the purposes of this chapter, I focus on two elements in Chaudhurani’s critique of these assemblies: food, and jewelry and clothing. Regarding food, Chaudhurani drew attention to the immense and inevitable waste of food at these feasts. The food was hardly ever served on time and the attitude to this lack of punctuality was a dismissive statement along the lines of “Oh, such delays often happen in big events.” Moreover, most families invited far too many guests without having adequate room to seat them all. When the food was finally served, the number of items on the menu far exceeded the capacity of an average stomach. There was never an accurate estimate of the number of invitees, which could vary between two hundred and three hundred. Earlier, people observed customs such as kangali bhojan (feeding the homeless). Nowadays, she wrote, except in sradhs (death ceremonies), this practice had ceased. As a result there were invariably huge expenditures incurred on food, a large amount of which was eventually thrown away. Chaudhurani also wrote critically about the flaunting of jewelry and clothes in these events. She noted with approval the fact that women now were more modestly clad in a blouse, petticoat, and sari made of thicker material than before. But they inevitably wore every piece of jewelry they owned as well as their most gaudy and heavy saris. Clad in this manner they lost all capacity for movement. Women were also known to lose jewelry on these occasions since petty thefts were commonplace and women who dripped with gold hardly noticed the loss until it was too late. She wrote, “Attention was given primarily to wearing grand clothes, and not to looking tasteful, dignified or clean.” Chaudhurani ended her description of a meye yagni with a telling statement: “Where only well educated women congregate we do not notice such chaos.” For her, clearly, the cure for social excesses lay in proper education and grooming.61 Gone were the days when wedding feasts that lasted for days, with hundreds of people milling about in the host’s compound, were looked upon in awe. Chaudhurani felt that it was much more important that people 120   Chapter 3

enjoyed themselves and utilized the opportunity afforded by weddings to get to know one another. She decreed that hired dancing girls should be banned from weddings because none of the assembled guests paid much attention to them; they merely served to distract the ladies from speaking to one another. “We barely ever get a chance to mingle. So, when the opportunity presents itself and we still don’t talk to one another, it is especially bad.”62 Wedding get-togethers should be about people communicating and enjoying themselves rather than being an opportunity to display wealth and jewelry. She was not an advocate of absolute frugality, but it is clear from her account that she favored advance planning so that unnecessary waste could be avoided and the people who attended the occasion used it to bond with one another. Chaudhurani’s was a modern voice that acknowledged the existence of scarcity and social isolation, particularly for house-bound women in contemporary society. A bibaha utsav (wedding festivity) ought to be a break from these conditions. She was cognizant of the drudgery of women caught up in the rigmarole of child care, cooking, cleaning, and other domestic work. Therefore she welcomed wedding festivities as a brief respite from these routines, but only insofar as they afforded a real break. Her critical tone was directed at celebrations which were celebrations in name only. She criticized families that were more intent on display and waste than on hosting weddings that would be the site of spontaneous joy and pleasure for both individuals and communities. Chaudhurani’s fictional works are redolent with her reformist vision. In all her short stories she gives the reader a sketch of what an ideal wedding ought to look like. In most of these fictional pieces, the author assumes the role of an older female protagonist who has returned (or is planning to return) to Calcutta after a long sojourn in northern India. In “Kanyaday” (The Burden of a Daughter), written in 1893 in epistolary form, Chaudhurani outlines how difficult it had become to arrange a wedding for a daughter. The letter is written by an older sister to her younger sibling, as a response to the latter’s request to seek a suitable groom for her daughter, Lalita. Clearly, the younger sister lives far away from Bengal and is quite unaware of the changes that the Bengali marriage market has undergone during her absence. She appears to be relatively well off, although not rich, Marriage and Distinction   121

and wants to show her affection to her dear daughter by giving her gifts of jewelry, furniture, toys, and clothing. But times are no longer conducive to such an artless expression of affection between parent and offspring. In the words of the older sister: Today as you surrender your beloved daughter you have lost the right to help set up her household in a style permitted by your means. . . . Maybe your daughter cannot sleep unless she is on a raised bed. So you decide to have a bed and mattress designed for your daughter and son-in-law. But alas, it is almost impossible to fulfill your wishes. Your prospective in-laws will ask for the cash that you would have spent on the bed. The father-in-law will demand, “I will take cash compensation for every item that you would have gifted your daughter, as is customary nowadays. I did the same for my daughter, so I don’t want to lose any money when it is my turn to recover my debts with my son. My son has a B.A. First I need seven thousand rupees cash, afterward you can give your daughter [and] your son-in-law a bed or whatever else you choose.” Sometimes the groom’s family charged the bridal family for the labor involved in making gold ornaments. It was also common to weigh every piece of jewelry the bride received from her parents; if they were found wanting, the ornaments were returned as a slur to the bridal family. Some parents would sell whatever old jewelry they had in their possession to the bridal family, who were forced to buy them; failure to do so would result in the loss of the bridegroom. Finally, many parents who had a boy and a girl would first marry off the son and then arrange for the daughter’s wedding. This allowed them to use all the jewelry their daughter-in-law received from her parents for their own daughter. Chaudhurani’s fictive older sister sounds these dire warnings to her younger sibling as the latter is preparing to get her beloved daughter married.63 Chaudhurani’s critique of contemporary weddings is clearest in the denouement of the short story “Shubho Bibaha” (1906). A story about a proposed match that is cancelled on the day of the wedding due to the inability of the bride’s father to match new dowry demands, it has a happy ending when the protagonist (a Bengali widow who lives in Punjab) offers her son in marriage to the hapless bride. From the moment of their arrival at the host’s 122   Chapter 3

house the protagonist notes with displeasure the manner in which Niru, the bride’s father, is being fleeced for money by the groom’s family. The young bride is also subjected to repeated inspections by the groom’s family, right up to the day of the wedding. While this is an extreme instance, probably a writerly technique to grab the reader’s attention, it was not unusual for the bride in those days to be closely inspected by the prospective in-laws. The drama climaxes when, a few hours before the marriage ceremony, the ghatak conveys demands from the groom’s side for another twenty-five hundred rupees. The bride’s father, already bankrupt from the wedding expenses, cancels the wedding, knowing that this will ruin his daughter’s life. At this point, the protagonist intervenes by offering her son as a prospective groom. Ganesh, the son, complies with his mother’s wishes and the story has a happy ending. For those of us unused to the idea of arranged marriage this resolution might appear antiquated and arbitrary. However, in a society where arranged marriage was the norm, as it undoubtedly was in Chaudhurani’s time, this was a resolution that bespoke the author’s ideal vision of a mother-son relationship, of family life and matrimony. Marriages were intended to be shubho (auspicious), and the incessant demands for cash from the prospective groom’s family marred that aspect. Moreover, an ideal marriage, the author seems to argue, is a harmonious union even when it is not in keeping with caste rank and purity. Ganesh loses his caste rank in marrying Niru’s daughter, but his decision to comply with his mother’s wishes preserves the harmony of the family unit. There are no financial demands made by the widow or her son upon Niru. The match is a conjoining of two souls who will now be integrated into the greater family unit and help its perpetuation. Throughout the story, Chaudhurani articulates her critique of the contemporary practices of superfluous consumption, the wedding invitation system, and dowry. Ultimately, the way Ganesh’s wedding is arranged shows that the resolution is in a match in which familial relationships are not tarnished by power equations. This absence of coercion is what justifies the title of the short story, “Shubho Bibaha” (Auspicious Marriage). The term shubho in this usage combines notions of gentility, good taste, and refinement with spirituality.

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It is now possible, in light of the preceding discussion, to offer some concrete suggestions on the reasons behind Tagore’s turn toward spirituality in his 1925 essay. Weddings, as so many writers of such varied dispositions pointed out, had become a significant part of the general tendency to convert cash into status markers. The passion for money and status was seen as destructive of the social fabric of the family. Greed also made middleclass respectability vulnerable, especially for the bridal family. We can surmise that the reason Tagore moved away from his earlier confidence in the eventual demise of child marriage and arranged marriage was because these changes were associated with the victory of a spirit of self-interest. It was the same self-interest that, in the minds of reformist writers, had led to the escalation of dowry and the monetization of weddings. A fear of the market drove writers and intellectuals of Tagore’s ilk to now emphasize the element of spirituality over material greed. And the rejection of material fortunes was justified in the name of good taste, auspiciousness, and refinement. As Balendranath Tagore (1870–99), a nephew of Rabindranath Tagore, observed in his article “Subha-Utsav” (Auspicious Festival): Whether as a result of a collision with Western culture, or due to some other factor, we do not know. But our age-old festivals are on the verge of extinction. . . . From not so long ago a certain change has assailed our social practices. The propitious joy that informed these customs in olden times is no longer there. Nowadays, the expansive, communitarian ethos of these customs cowers before the irrevocable darkness of individual interests. . . . All those festivities that were kept unsullied and young by the warmth of our hearts have today, by their distance from it, been rendered cold. The anxiety to cover up the chill of death has now made outward pomp and grandeur indispensable to our social ceremonies.64 This was a modern, idealized, and imaginary invocation of “olden times.” Writers found support for their criticism of vulgarity and ostentation from a resource that they named “tradition” or “the past.” They also simultaneously identified greed, self-interest, and the absence of a communitarian ethos with the West, which brought with it the new wave of modernity. Given 124   Chapter 3

that a return to the unsullied traditions of the past was no longer possible, writers sought to rejuvenate the modern by articulating a critique of some of its foundations. The new regime of taste was established on these critiques. But as they rejected the incursions of the marriage market, literary figures both male and female also produced a patriarchal idealization of marriage. It is to this notion of patriarchy I turn in the next chapter, on culture, the marketplace, and the couple form.

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Chapter Four

T h e N o t- Q u it e B o u r g e o i s ♣♣♣♣♣♣♣♣♣

The Couple Form and the Joint Family

The new union seemed to last forever in the photograph. Mahendra was sitting on a chair, his face suffused in a newfound pleasure; Asha standing by his side—the chhabiwala [photographer] who had not let her cover her head couldn’t remove the shyness from her face. Today Mahendra has left his companion Asha in tears and moved far, but the photograph embalmed every line formed by the joy of the new romance on Mahendra’s face. It had unknowingly memorialized destiny’s ridicule for ever. Rabindranath Tagore, Chokher Bali

Thus thought Bihari, a character in Rabindranath Tagore’s 1903 novel Chokher Bali, of his friend Mahendra and his wife, Asha, when their marriage, depicted in the photograph as happy, was actually in ruins. It was as if the contrast between the past frozen into a signed wedding portrait photograph and the unhappy present helped Bihari realize the measure of the destruction wrought in the life of the couple by the presence of a third woman, the widowed Binodini. At numerous moments in the novel Tagore uses the photograph as a literary prop. Ashalata’s sense of personal humiliation when she learns about her husband’s affair with her best friend is most eloquently expressed when she looks at the two photographs of Mahendra and herself on their bedroom wall.1 The photographs register the mockery that

her marriage has been reduced to. Tagore’s novel highlights the ways photography had inserted itself into Bengali social life by the beginning of the twentieth century. Allusion to photographs thus created a “hall of mirrors” effect, with the novel readers viewing the characters viewing themselves, a technique that made public moments that were in themselves private for the characters in the novel. The novel registered new modes of self-reflection made possible by photography. In the previous chapter I discussed the measures proposed by various reformist writers to make Bengali weddings more tasteful and refined. Faced with weddings which, to their mind, were displays of excess, writers proposed ways for infusing marriages with adhyatmikata (spirituality) or antarikata (heartfelt sincerity). A very particular vision of the family lay at the heart of these reformist discussions. In what follows, I elaborate on this theme by analyzing a mass of visual evidence from weddings. In the first part of the chapter, using photographs of newly wedded couples, I show how Bengalis used the new technology of photography to create public and formal representations of the bourgeois couple from among themselves. Yet this image of the couple was firmly set in and circumscribed by the context and the ideal of the reconstituted joint family, in which the couple lived with the groom’s parents and other relatives, sharing the same home and eating out of the same kitchen. A perfect marriage was one that performed this compromise. Built into this hegemonic ideal of the family was the ideology of a new patriarchal order. Bengalis, it would appear, coped with the Victorian model of companionate marriage by, first, indigenizing the image of the companionate couple, and second, by firmly upholding the idea that the husband and wife, while bound to each other by novel ties of intimacy, would use these ties to hold together the joint family, including at the very least their children and the bride’s in-laws. This compromise between the two extremes—a Western-inspired romantic model of the couple and the nuclear family and an Indian extended family which gave little space to the couple— is not unrelated to critics’ calls for reinfusing taste into wedding ceremonies. The new patriarchy, as embodied in the couple portraits and other visual paraphernalia of weddings, was one that sought harmony between the two types, rather than leaning too far to one side or the other. The formal repreThe Not-Quite Bourgeois   127

sentation of the couple in wedding photographs points to the Bengali adoption of certain Victorian aesthetics of the couple form. But other evidence that composed the material culture of weddings, of which the photographs are a part, suggests that there was a more complex relationship between the Bengali couple and the larger enterprise of the family. This new model of family relationships and the couple form were by no means uncontested. I close this section on “Culture and the Marketplace” by considering some postcolonial writings on the Bengali family that have criticized this vision by christening it a “new patriarchy.” Framing Conjugality: Photographs and Weddings

In 2005 the Center for Women’s Development Studies in New Delhi published a calendar which includes a compilation of photographs of Indian couples.2 In the introduction to this exquisite collection spanning the years 1880–1940, entitled “Framing Conjugality,” the compilers wrote that although “photo studios mushroomed in the three Presidencies” after 1840, “Indians did not visit studios before 1859.” They add that while the first to be photographed were men, “soon enough visuals of the conjugal couple and the family group became popular.” In the early days, photography, like portrait painting that preceded it, was patronized by the wealthy in India. Soon the aristocratic monopoly over photography ended. While big cities like Calcutta could boast the existence of a large number of studios that catered to the specific tastes of their anglicized or orthodox clientele, photographic establishments started mushrooming in small towns as well. This explains why from the 1870s on we have a fairly large archive of wedding photographs featuring the conjugal pair in their wedding finery. As the authors of “Framing Conjugality” state, “Photographing the conjugal pair was an early favorite among urban middle class families.”3 This interest in capturing the image of the couple may look like a gesture toward general acceptance of the notion of a romantic duo in Bengali domestic relations. Yet such an explanation does not sit easily with the received history of gender relations for this period. That history shows certain contradictory trends. For example, the remarriage of Hindu widows was legally sanctioned by the colonial state in 1856 but did not immediately gain widespread popular acceptance. The Age of Consent bill enacted in 1891 128   Chapter 4

declared the consummation of a marriage with a bride younger than twelve to be a punishable offense; child marriage was on the wane from this period onward, yet there was considerable anxiety about having a girl remain unmarried too far beyond her early teens. Female education was on the rise, as was women’s employment, but women still lagged behind the progress made by men.4 These trends suggest that changes in the legal status of women did not necessarily add up to a transformation in their overall social status. It is difficult to imagine how ideas about romantic love and a nuclear couple form could be nurtured by contemporary society. True, Bengali male writers (and some women writers in the early twentieth century) depicted romantic love in their novels and poems, but at the same time a tradition of women’s bhakti, or devotion, to husbands was also being invented and valorized.5 How, then, should we think about Bengali wedding portraits, most of which represent the wedded pair as a dyadic unit? Images of the bride and bridegroom standing (or sitting) side by side, often with their limbs touching, their bodies frozen in a gesture of togetherness, are fairly ubiquitous among the marriage memorabilia that survive from the beginning of the twentieth century. Yet other histories seem to suggest that the sentiments of coupledom one would immediately read into these gestures were far more contested in everyday life. “That the wedding photograph . . . framed only the couple,” argues Malavika Karlekar in her recent book on photography in Bengal, “made it an important marker in the discourse on the family.”6 It is important to take another step, however, and ask why it was that the wedding photograph “framed only the couple” to the exclusion of all other relations within the family when it was the family, as we saw in the previous chapter, that was often given precedence over the couple. We have a rich archive of couple portraits and many photographs of individuals dressed in wedding finery, but there is nothing that comes close to explaining what motivated men and women to participate in this new technological ritual. In the absence of such documentation it is hard to write an authoritative and explanatory historical narrative of this practice in colonial India. I will therefore read the photographic archive for what it reveals as well as for its silences. Furthermore, there is hardly any definitive information about the conditions of production of these photographs, for example, who took them, whether they were The Not-Quite Bourgeois   129

taken on the day of the wedding or afterward, and why people dressed the way they did. We do, however, have scattered pieces of evidence about the photography market in colonial Bengal.7 We have some information on the studios that people patronized and the advertisements that sold the new technology to potential users.8 And we can try to piece together from other cultural practices related to marriage the ways urban Bengalis may have portrayed conjugality for the formal eye of the camera.9 My use of photographs in this chapter may then be understood as an attempt, however fragmented, to write a social history of the camera in colonial Bengal. I try to match the photos as historical data with other kinds of visual evidence rather than offer a meditation on the couple portraits themselves. It is a project that remains very much in the realm of what Roland Barthes called the “studium” in his evocative work published posthumously, Camera Lucida. One of the best known examples of the representation of conjugality in photographs was taken by the raja of Tripura. As adept in painting as he was in photography, Maharaja Birchandra of Tripura (ruled 1862–96) was, on his own admission, guilty of “photo mania.” The image reproduced here (Figure 5) shows the raja with his third wife, Monomohini, also a good photographer, in the royal palace of Agartala. The pose in the photograph, taken in 1880, is far more languorous and erotic than any other we will encounter, indicating a degree of class confidence and a well-elaborated awareness about the visual (re)presentation of conjugal love. But this pose was not for the public or familial gaze. It is noteworthy that in the photograph, while his right arm is shown embracing Monomohini, his left hand is operating a lever connected to the camera, making this photograph a self-portrait. Birchandra is not unique in Indian history; he should be placed in a club of “invisible” pioneers of modern Indian photography with the likes of Umrao Singh Sher Gil (1870–1954) and his own son Barathakur Samarendrachandra, who often used the camera to construct dramas of the modern Indian “person.”10 I mention Birchandra in this context to draw attention to his portraits with Monomohini. To my knowledge there are no photographs of a Bengali couple from the same period, or even one from other parts of India, that approximate this one in its representation of intimacy. Far more common are photographs like the others reproduced in this chapter. One of the earliest couple portraits under consideration is from the 1880s 130   Chapter 4

Figure 5   Maharaja Birchan‑ dra of Tripura, Self-portrait with his wife, Monomohini, c. 1880. Collection of the late Siddhartha Ghosh. Courtesy of Visual Archive of the Center for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata.

(Figure 6). It is what historians of photography refer to as a painted photograph and shows a richness of detail and ornamentation absent in the blackand-white photographs that became popular a few decades later. We have no idea who took this image, which is not entirely surprising because it was not uncommon for photographers in late nineteenth-century India not to label their work. What we do know from the work of Judith Gutman and Christopher Pinney is that there was a market for these painted portrait photos in the major cities and princely states of India.11 In the photograph under consideration we see a very young couple; the man (or boy) is seated, and the young bride stands awkwardly by his side. The details of their clothing and jewelry are blurred. As with many Indian painted photographs, in this one too the paint was deployed as “much more than a supplement to the photographic image,” so much so that many details of the image are obscured.12 Thus the groom’s kurta (a long loose shirt in silk or some other fabric) and dhoti and the bride’s sari are all in the same color. There is an impression that they are heavily bejeweled, but it is difficult to definitely The Not-Quite Bourgeois   131

Figure 6   Painted studio wedding photograph, 1880s. Author’s personal collection.

catalogue the jewelry. In fact, there is nothing in the photograph, except the sandalwood patterns on their foreheads, that marks it out as Bengali. The groom wears a turban, a typically north Indian or princely item of dress. The rest of the details of their clothing, his footwear (she is barefoot), the furniture in the background, and the garlands around their necks are an attempt to cast them in the image of scions of a courtly or aristocratic family. Despite the artificiality of the photo image, however, it is clear that the groom and especially the bride are children. This photograph belongs to a period of Bengali domestic life when the child bride was widely accepted in Bengali society. Even though Act III of 1872 (discussed in chapter 5) had increased the age of marriage for girls, the law had a limited constituency. It was accepted mainly among the Brahmos, but even within that community there was voluble criticism against raising the age of marriage for girls, as it was seen as encouraging not only romantic ideas of love but also such frivolities as “love letters, flirtations, rejections, and amorous fancies.”13 It was not until the Age of Consent agitation of 132   Chapter 4

1890–91 that child marriage came to be widely contested in Bengali society. The issue was debated in both the English-language and the vernacular press, with the result that the reformist and progressive image of families was linked to their support for marriage of girls above the age of twelve and imparting to them a modicum of education. These shifts, as we shall see, are reflected in the photographs. Painted photographs, particularly of wedding couples, were soon replaced by black-and-white photographs that were more documentary in nature (Figures 7–18). Figures 7 to 18 are mostly from the first half of the twentieth century. They reveal some interesting shifts in the ways men and women presented themselves, or were presented by their families, in public during the years 1890–1950. The women in the photographs certainly do not appear to be child brides, but some of them do not look too much older than thirteen or fourteen. As observed by Siddhartha Ghosh, “It is futile to conjecture about the position of women in society from these portrait photographs.” Nonetheless, the photographs remain an important index of the persona that families wished to portray through the camera. Speaking about the female subjects of photographs, Ghosh argued, “The borders of the saris, the manner of draping the anchal (the edge of a sari that is arranged over the shoulder), covering the head, jewelry, and the bashfulness of their gaze” help us realize some of the assumptions behind such staging of Bengali marriage as happened in a photograph.14 Ghosh’s views are supported by more recent works. Karlekar, for example, argues that photographs are a record of emergent definitions of “family, conjugality, parenting and childhood” in the new environs of the colonial city. Not only do they record the more abstract changes in familial relations, but in Karlekar’s opinion, photographs are also indexical of the changing material culture of the metropolis. Thus every aspect of the photograph—the clothes worn by the subjects, the jewelry displayed by both men and women, the poses they assume, the presence (or absence) of footwear, and the backdrop of the photo image—should be scrutinized closely in order to reconstruct the history of the times.15 Indeed, it is possible to supplement the history of taste considered in the previous chapter with the photographs under consideration here. By juxtaposing the visual material to textual data, we can see some dramatic changes in the attire of the bride and bridegroom by the end of the nineThe Not-Quite Bourgeois   133

Figure 7   Studio wedding photograph, c. 1890. Collection of the late Siddhartha Ghosh. Courtesy of Visual Archive of the Center for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata.

Figure 8   Studio wedding photograph of Professor K. M. Ghosh, 1915. Collection of the late Siddhartha Ghosh. Courtesy of Visual Archive of the Center for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata.

Figure 9   Johnston & Hoffman Studio, studio wedding photograph, 1910. Collection of the late Siddhar‑ tha Ghosh. Courtesy of Visual Archive of the Center for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata.

Figure 10   Wedding of P. C. Tagore’s son, 1920. Collection of the late Siddhartha Ghosh. Courtesy of Visual Archive of the Center for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata.

Figure 11   Wedding photograph from the family album of Sesh Prakash Ganguly. Johnston & Hoffman Studio, 1915. Collection of the late Siddhartha Ghosh. Courtesy of Visual Archive of the Center for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata.

Figure 12   Studio wedding photograph. Author’s personal collection.

Figure 13   Studio wedding photograph of the daughter of S. K. Bose, 1930. Collection of the late Siddhartha Ghosh. Courtesy of Visual Archive of the Center for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata.

Figure 14   Suprita Ghosh and Asit Mitra, 1934. Bourne & Shephard Studios. Author’s personal collection.

Figure 15   Studio wedding photograph of Sushil and Toru, 1940. Collection of the late Siddhartha Ghosh. Courtesy of Visual Archive of the Center for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata.

Figure 16   Basudev Mondal and Parul Dutta, 1940. Author’s personal collection.

Figure 17  Wedding of Rebati Banerjee and Tara Bhushan Mukherjee, 2 May 1944. Author’s personal collection.

Figure 18   Studio wedding photograph, 1950s. Collection of the late Siddhartha Ghosh. Courtesy of Visual Archive of the Center for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata.

teenth century.16 Within a space of twenty years, between 1860 and 1880, marital fashions had gone from the ostentatious to the subtle and understated, often colored in hues that nationalists favored. In The Hindoos As They Are, published in 1881, Shib Chunder Bose argues that Hindu women in the 1850s and 1860s prized gold ornaments, so much so that they would be laden with about six to seven pounds of jewelry. Not much attention was paid to the design of the ornaments, their bulk being the most important factor. It was customary for women to wear on their feet “pairs of solid massive silver malls or anklets, weighing sometimes 3 lbs.” Things had started to change by the time his book was published. Bose noted: But as the spread of English education has improved the minds of the people, it has likewise improved their taste; instead of massive gold ornaments, ladies of the present day prefer those [with] delicate diamond cut workmanship, set with pearls and precious stones such as chick, sittahaur, tarahaur, seetee, tabij, bajoo, jasum, nabaruttun, taga, bracelets of six or seven patterns, and ear-rings of three or four kinds, for which girls in very early youth perforate their ears in 8 or 10 places, as also their noses in two places. By their choice of the modern ornaments they shew their preference for elegance to mere weight. Brilliant pearl necklaces of seven to nine rows, and costly bijouteries of modern style have superseded the old fashioned solid gold Bhawootees and Taurs.17 Jewelry, indeed all sartorial choices related to weddings, are deeply tied to projects of modernity and modernization in different parts of the world.18 Bengalis were no exception to this. The period from the 1870s onward was full of experiments in wedding fashions, and fashion more generally, which is worth summarizing in order to contextualize the photographs of Bengali couples I discuss here. Most historians concur that the Brahmo experiments in dress had a far-reaching impact on Bengali women’s clothing. They influenced Bengali tastes not only in jewelry, but also in the manner of draping the sari, wearing shoes, and carrying certain Western accouterments. The Brahmika sari created by Jnanadanandini Debi, inspired by her visits to Bombay and England, was further developed by the likes of Saudamini Mozoomdar (1843– 1931), wife of the Brahmo reformer Protap Chunder Mozoomdar, as well as 140   Chapter 4

by Keshub Chunder Sen himself. The new way of draping the sari received its final seal of permanence in the beginning of the twentieth century, when Keshub Sen’s daughter Maharani Suniti Devi of Coochbehar (discussed in chapter 5) and her sister Sucharu Devi, rani of Mayurbhanj, wore saris in the modern style to the Delhi durbar. Most of these reformers were intent on evolving a Bengali style of clothing for women. While they borrowed styles from the Parsi and Marathi women, they also modified them to evolve a distinctive Brahmika attire. Thus it became commonplace for women, particularly from progressive or modernizing families, to put a net around their buns when they went out, to wear a chemise and petticoat and drape the anchal over the left as opposed to the right shoulder, as Parsi women were wont to do.19 The anchal was fitted to the shoulders with the aid of a brooch not previously used by Bengali women. The wedding portraits from the family of Sesh Prakash Ganguly and K. M. Ghosh come closest to the Brahmika ideal of the sari. The bride in Figure 11 (Ganguly) is shown wearing a light-colored sari, a Brahmo innovation, not the traditional red. The Brahmo preference for white was contested especially in the second half of the nineteenth century, when many within that group denounced white as too “English.” The veil too had a similar fate and was replaced by an urni (a diaphanous, embroidered scarf covering the head that left the face open).20 Most women of the Tagore family wore red, which came to be regarded as the “traditional” bridal color. The more progressive of the Tagores, such as Indira Devi (1873–1960), also experimented with the designs of the borders and anchal of the sari as well as the blouse.21 The bride in Figure 8 is shown wearing a dark-colored sari, but in both Figures 8 and 11 the blouses are far dressier than the everyday Brahmika blouse, decorated with frills and ruffles probably to mark the occasion of the wedding. Both brides wear a headdress and not a veil, their saris are held fast to their left shoulders with a brooch, and both are shown carrying fans, an English adaptation. The bride in Figure 11 is shown wearing shoes, but almost all the others are barefoot.22 None of the women in the photographs is veiled. Even though we know that during the wedding ceremony brides would customarily cover their faces with the urni, it is significant that when facing the camera their faces are uncovered for full frontal shots. The photo image, one would concur The Not-Quite Bourgeois   141

with Karlekar, can be read as “a metaphor of their [women’s] changing status” in the new urban, professional-class society.23 In Figures 7 and 10, however, the brides are shown wearing their sari in what today would be called the traditional Bengali style, with the anchal wrapped around the waist or hanging loosely in front rather than being pleated in the manner of the Brahmika sari. They also appear far more laden with jewelry than the bride in Figure 11, probably an indication that the families in question were less influenced by the Brahmo aesthetic of minimalism and were decidedly invested in portraying themselves as traditional. No discussion of wedding attire is complete without some observations of the jewelry worn by the bride. (See appendix 2 for examples of jewelry catalogues.) Jewelry was and is an item of much contestation in modern Bengali culture. Veena Oldenburg has noted the manner in which gifts of jewelry and other objects were lovingly collected by the girl’s mother and female relatives from the time that she was a child; these eventually comprised her stridhan (woman’s wealth).24 This, however, is an observation relating to the time before the rise of modern dowry demands that Oldenburg documents in her book. In Bengal too there were discussions of giving away a svalankara kanya (a bejeweled daughter) in marriage, discussions that drew on Sanskrit texts. In the period under consideration, however, women’s relationship to jewelry, especially in urban regions, became more complicated. Jewelry was an important item in the dowry that the groom’s family demanded of the bride’s parents. The bridal family’s respectability, even among the indigent sections of the middle class, often hinged on the question of what gold or silver ornaments they gave to the daughter. There is evidence that the groom’s family sent a detailed list of jewelry requirements to the bride’s parents. The well-known Bengali writer Jyotirmoyee Debi (1894–1988) provided a list of items demanded at the time of her older sister’s wedding by the groom’s family. The list included jewelry that would cover every part of the body and more.25 The elaborate trousseau failed to please the in-laws; the mother-in-law wrote to the bride’s parents, “The jewelry you have given your daughter is like ordinary utensils. Have them redesigned.”26 There are multiple stories about jewelry that circulate as anecdotes in Bengali memory.27 Some families, for example, those of Gaganendranath Tagore (1867–1938) and his brother Abanindranth Tagore 142   Chapter 4

(1871–1951), took pride in the ornaments they designed for their wives and daughters.28 As we cull these accounts it emerges that certain items of jewelry were indispensable to a woman’s attire. Notable among them were the brooch and the nath (a large nose ring). While the brooch was a Western import, the historian Shyamoli Basu remarks that the nath was considered essential by most families, urban and rural, progressive and traditional.29 It is hardly surprising then that in most of the photographs presented here the jewelry worn by women is held up for display. Ornaments symbolized family status, a good marriage, and a woman’s own security. In the photographs dating from 1890–1915 we find most brides (with the exception of the ones influenced by a Brahmo aesthetic) wearing a surfeit of jewels, presumably because quantity was more important than quality, as argued by contemporary observers like Shib Chunder Bose. In time, however, as the photographs show, women were not so laden down with jewelry. This is particularly noticeable beginning in the 1920s. It is possible that from this period onward jewelry became a signature of taste and creativity. One of the reasons behind this transformation could have been the ethos of minimalism or asceticism popularized during the swadeshi period (1905– 08).30 The swadeshi movement’s motto of rejecting foreign goods in favor of homemade products also influenced the jewelry market, as many Bengalis turned away from European stores such as Hamilton, and Cook and Kelvy to Indian jewelers.31 The ethos of asceticism, however, should not be taken at face value. Jewelry worn by the bride showcased a family’s taste and distinction. Gradually the emphasis was on wearing fewer but more select and expensive items. A closer look at Suprita Ghosh’s and Manjula Chaudhuri’s individual portrait photographs (Figures 19 and 20) and the couple portrait featuring Parul Dutta (Figure 16) reveals that the photographs were meant to capture the details of the items they wore. Ghosh’s ring, armbands, and sithi (an ornament worn over the hair part), Chaudhuri’s sithi and necklace, and Dutta’s anklets stand out in these photographs.32 By the second decade of the twentieth century we see wealth and status communicated through certain markers of taste rather than the bulk that characterized the earlier period. The swadeshi movement also marginalized the Brahmo dominance in The Not-Quite Bourgeois   143

Figure 19   Suprita Ghosh, 1934. Author’s personal collection.

Figure 20   Manjula Chaudhuri, 7 October 1945. Author’s personal collection.

Bengali fashions. A survey of photographs from the 1920s onward demonstrates that the Brahmo way of wearing a sari and its corresponding accessories had changed by this time, perhaps because it was considered too anglicized. Gone were ruffles and frills on blouses. Many of the brides used the anchal to cover their head. The sari was now simpler to wear and less anglicized. Men’s clothing in these photographs also affords an interesting area of study. Here too the photographs bear testimony to changing fashions. An account from the 1880s claims that the bridegroom wore “a suit of superbly embroidered Benares kinkob dress, with a pearl necklace of great value, besides bangles and armlets set in precious stones and garlands of flowers.”33 Figure 7 shows the bridegroom dressed in such fashion, that is to say in north Indian princely attire, complete with a feathered turban. Beginning in the 1920s, however, the bridegroom’s attire is definitely toned down. Figures 12 to 18 indicate that there was a standardization of the bridegroom’s clothing. Most bridegrooms from this period are shown in what has now become the customary formal wedding outfit for Bengali men: a dhoti, a longsleeved kurta, and depending on the weather, a shawl (plain or embroidered as one’s means would permit), and shoes with a raised pointed tip. As in the case of women, the swadeshi movement undoubtedly played a part in this standardization process. There were many styles current in men’s shoes in the early decades of the twentieth century; prices varied from fifteen rupees for zardosi nagras in the Jaipuri style down to four rupees for pump shoes from D. Sen on Dharmatala (Figures 12 and 14). There were cheaper versions, with strong shiny half-soles, available from stores such as K. M. Das and Natabar Das, probably the kind worn by the groom in Figure 15. Men ceased to wear the kind of jewelry that Shib Chunder Bose described in his account; at most they wore jeweled buttons, a gold watch and chain, and rings. It is important to bear in mind, however, that individual taste and comportment were mediated by certain stereotypical models that must have been prevalent in the studio culture of the time. Thus the images we have before us are indexical of individual taste and status as well as of contemporary conventions about what a “just married” couple ought to look like. The details which emerge from these portrait photographs are telling. There are no wedding portraits in my selection which approximate the intiThe Not-Quite Bourgeois   145

macy of Birchandra and Monomohini or that of Khuswant and Kaval Singh in a photograph taken after their wedding in 1939 (reproduced in the Center for Women’s Development Studies calendar). Yet there are a whole slew of photographs of a bride and bridegroom looking directly at the camera in a variety of postures, seated or standing together, on occasion with their arms linked or placed on the shoulder. That Bengalis welcomed the new technology of image making is clear from this display. As Siddhartha Ghosh astutely observed, while gas lamps, the steam engine, bicycles, railways, and motor cars had a hard time being accepted in Bengali lives, a completely different reception awaited photography.34 This positive attitude surely went a long way in bringing the camera into familial settings such as weddings, births, and even deaths. The increase in the number of photographers also had a corresponding effect on the price of photographs.35 Advertisements for portraits boasting special attention to women and children became omnipresent features in journals and newspapers. New kinds of jewelry, no doubt inspired by a certain kind of Victoriana, became fashionable in Calcutta markets. These included rings and lockets for photographs.36 Photo albums became the latest repositories of family memory and the market was flooded with new kinds of slip-in albums designed to fit numerous photographs. The commercialization of photography meant that it was no longer the exclusive preserve of princely and elite patrons. Yet if photography had become so affordable, why do we have, predominantly, only one kind of photograph and not others? In the course of my research I came across photographs of the wedding couple much more frequently than I did of wedding rituals and ceremonies. The only exceptions were the photographs of a retinue of servants bearing trays of gifts taken at the wedding of P. C. Tagore’s son (Figure 21). This and the other photographs from Emerald Bower were obviously meant to display the status and wealth of the family. A later and more interesting exception to the standard couple photograph is Figure 17. Taken on 2 May 1944 it actually features a large number of female relatives and children and was taken after the arrival of the new bride to her husband’s home. It is rare to come across an image that records the quotidian aspects of a Bengali wedding. One interpretation of the absence of family group photographs like Figure 17 is that Bengalis

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Figure 21   Procession with gifts entering Emerald Bower, 6 December 1929. Photograph from the family album of P. C. Tagore. Collection of the late Siddhartha Ghosh. Courtesy of Visual Archive of the Center for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata.

had embraced the bourgeois ethos of the couple and were intent on portraying the romantic duo as the public face of the married pair. Indeed, the preeminence of photographs of the wedding couple makes this seem like a plausible explanation. However, there is a variety of evidence that is suggestive of the average Bengali’s unease with ideas of romantic love and conjugality defined by the centrality of the couple. This is clearly evidenced by the numerous satires—plays, essays, cartoons—all describing the pitfalls of such sentiments in a Bengali family. And not only the family was affected; romantic love was often seen as being demeaning to notions of manhood. A collection of cartoons by Binaykumar Basu published in 1927 and titled Meyemahal (The Domain of Women) offers a good illustration of some contemporary responses to ideas of romantic love and associated reformist ideas on marriage. Basu’s sketches are representative of a very large and expanding genre of prose and pictures which were extremely skeptical of women’s emancipation and consequent demands for equality within marriage.37 The sketches

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Figure 22   Cartoon in Meyemahal (The Domain of Women), 1927. “Yes, that’s like a good boy.”

are a critique of modern wedding rituals that sought to acknowledge the bride as a person, as a critical thinking being capable of exercising judgment (Figure 22). All the cartoons from Meyemahal satirize the raising of the age of marriage and elements of consensuality injected in rituals. Reforms in women’s dress and hairstyles that were considered modern and the idea of an educated bride also evoked much disquiet. These traits were seen as harmful to the couple form. Karlekar has read into the stiff postures assumed by the bride and bridegroom in most early couple portraits the stressful and difficult experience, especially for women, of being photographed. She writes, “Social norms in which public displays of the conjugal bond were as yet new, may have in part been responsible for the embarrassment at being ‘fixed’ for all to see. In addition, the time consuming business of the actual photograph . . . also made the occasion one that was rarely stress-free. It was compounded for women on the whole unused to public scrutiny and to an outsider orchestrating—if not arranging—their attire, hands, gestures, and posture.”38 Despite all this, what stares the historian in the face are in fact a plethora of couple portraits that remain the most tangible representation of contemporary marital practices. In light of the evidence cited above, which

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clearly indicate that despite the public presentation of the couple, there was a degree of discomfort about such presentation, it is important that we situate the couple photographs in the larger context of the history of the aesthetic representation of Bengali marriages. The evolution of a marriage market for the middle class, a class that partially overcame the restrictive subcultures of castes and their intricate divisions, saw the growth of certain paraphernalia that constituted the aesthetic side of a wedding. These were, among other things, wedding invitations and poems and poetry booklets composed by friends and family members that were printed on the occasion of the wedding. They all bespoke a certain history of taste. When we read the photo-text alongside these other visual texts, we begin to arrive at a very different understanding of the couple form in Bengal. The Bengali couple and the familial imaginations that gave rise to this form were distinct from the imagination of the European family romance, with the bourgeois couple as its center.39 Wedding Poems: Priti Upohaar Revisited

The notion of the couple being the center of the wedding is further strengthened when we analyze wedding poems and poetry booklets that were published by family and friends on the occasion of the marriage. Like the couple photograph, wedding poetry, or priti upohaar (loving gift), as seen in the previous chapter, came to have a ceremonial existence in modern Bengali life at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth. As we have seen, these rhyming endeavors were often exclusively addressed to the couple though intended to be read by invited guests. The writing of such poems, which can be dated to the early 1880s, was in most cases the result of amateurish efforts of family members and friends. Regarded as a nonmaterial, simple way of conveying joy or blessings on the occasion, these poems were a response to the excess of material gifts that had flooded weddings at the time. Very often a family member with a literary bent would ghost-write poems in the name of older and less literate relatives. It is quite possible that the poems shown in Figures 23 and 24, apparently composed by the bride’s aunt and mother-in-law, respectively, were in fact written by someone else on their behalf. Without exception such poetry always portrayed the ex-

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Figure 23   Priti upohaar (wedding poem) composed by her aunt on the occasion of Srimati Nirmala Rani Devi’s wedding. Sridham, Nabadwip. Author’s personal collection.

Figure 24   Priti upohaar (wedding poem) composed by his mother on the occasion of Sriman Sudhangshu Kumar Majumdar’s wedding. Ramkrishnapur. Author’s personal collection.

tended family as a harmonious unity voicing its welcome to the newlywed couple. The main theme of these poems was the entry of the couple into a new stage in their lives, as well as into the family. We find a contradictory development in this practice by the early decades of the twentieth century, when these poems assumed a standard pattern, linguistically, metrically, and visually. The writing of wedding poetry began as part of a general effort to break out of the cage of ritualized formalism. At the same time, when every family sought to emulate them, their production became quite routine and ritualized. But within this field of ritualized production there was always a struggle to achieve a degree of cultural distinction through innovative techniques, such as the injection of humor, novel forms of presentation, and having relatives with some literary talent contribute to the booklet of priti upohaar. Most wedding poems were of low literary value. The average Bengali writer of such poems merely, and often unsuccessfully, imitated well-known writers. This becomes clear as we peruse the seemingly endless volumes of poetry booklets published specifically as guides to amateur poets or as gifts.40 Many of these books, most printed and circulated by small presses and costing between fifty paise and two rupees, carried a sample poem by a well-known poet (most commonly Rabindranath Tagore) on their title page. It is as if these books were meant to inspire the ordinary Bengali man or woman to explore their creative instincts and discover artistic greatness in their midst. Figures 23 and 24 illustrate two poems composed in 1925 and 1932, respectively. Both were ostensibly written by women, the first by the bride’s aunt and the second by the bridegroom’s mother. They were printed on thin sheets of pink paper with floral margins and impressions of cherubs, roses, and butterflies. Both bear the heading “Sri sri Prajapataya namah,” invoking Lord Brahma, the presiding deity in marriage.41 The word Prajapati is the name given to Brahma, and literally means “lord of progeny,” but it is also Bengali for “butterfly.” So the butterfly we see on numerous wedding cards can be read as a playful merging of the divine with the earthly. As we turn our attention to the content of these two poems (which are like numerous others written during this period) we find striking similarities in their imagination of the couple’s future life and happiness and in the

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way they conjure the roles of the husband and wife. Here is a translation of the poem in Figure 23: I pray to the lord to make your bond auspicious, to make Srimati Nirmalarani the recipient of her husband’s love, And to bring a reign of bliss to your husband’s abode. There is no other day, my dear, as auspicious Which renders truth, kindness, charity and pledges pale. A woman’s laziness, complacency and love of luxury Make a man unfree Free yourself of the enjoyment of objects For it breeds hundreds of maladies And embroils man in the marsh of slavery From which there is no hope of liberation The pride of Western education Has hurtled our Bharat [India] into an abyss Your practice of sacred acaras and proper religious conduct Will liberate you from this darkness In this sacred hour of youth Practice dharma with enthusiasm, Dear mother! Become an ideal, the pride of satis, In keeping with the traditions of this country Accept, dear mother! my love and blessings May you fulfill our deepest desires Live happily ever after with your husband, performing dharma That will bring the blessings of Kamala [the goddess lakshmi] upon you I lay my prayers at the feet of Sri Gopinath [Lord Krishna] That he keeps this newlywed couple in everlasting goodness. The poem begins with the wish that the bride Nirmalarani will be always loved and cherished by her husband. It then lays down some guidelines for Nirmalarani on how to be a good wife. Here the bride’s horizons are expanded from the precincts of her home to the nation at large. Hence there is an invocation of Bharat (India) and the damages done to the country through the “pride of Western education.” The bride is enjoined to 152   Chapter 4

set things right by her proper practice of acaras (rituals) and grihadharma (household dharma or duty) in the manner of a sati. In this context, sati signifies devotion and loyalty to the husband, the capacity to rise above all earthly temptations and the capacity to sacrifice desire in the name of dharma, or rightful conduct.42 The second poem (Figure 24) was composed by the bridegroom’s mother. She welcomes the bride and articulates her expectations for this new member in her family. As I behold the four corners of my household My heart trembles with joy For our household will be filled with the auspicious presence of our bride Like the goddess Lakshmi, come queen bride Into my household The sweetness of your arrival Makes us all happy You come as the bearer of peace and devote your heart and mind Into spreading that message within my family . . . On this auspicious day we all await you with a barandala, the sound of ululations and the blowing of conch shells Come oh fortunate one, come sati, come gunabati [one who is full of guna, virtue]. . . . Make everyone’s heart shine bright By giving them your love and bhakti Always remember that attentiveness to one’s vamsa and kula Will increase your pride and honor May your conduct toward others Give them a sea of happiness The husband is a woman’s biggest strength Without him she is nowhere. Here too there is the wish that the bride be the object of her husband’s love and affection, which is “her biggest strength.” She is urged to add glory and prosperity to her new family in the manner of a lakshmi (goddess of wealth and bounty) and a sati. It is significant that the writer, the mother-in-law The Not-Quite Bourgeois   153

in this case, repeatedly refers to the family as “my family,” into which she is welcoming the new bride. The bride can be absorbed into the new family by her duty, devotion, and attentiveness to kula and vamsa (family and genealogy), the latter invoking the extended family. Themes running through both these poems, and in many others of the genre, are a critique of values inculcated by Western education; the wife’s bhakti (devotion) to the husband and his love for her; and the expectation that she will follow dharmic ideals like a lakshmi or sati and bring peace and prosperity to the household. This was now held up as the proper code of conduct for an Indian bride. There was, however, a subtle shift. In these poems elders implored their brides to make a good name for themselves in their new home by devotedly looking after their new in-laws. But, unlike in a previous period, this was more a desire than a requirement. The poems show that family elders, especially the women, now defined their participation in the life of the new couple in terms of welcoming the bride and advising her to devote all her attention and energy to her husband so that he in turn could give her his undivided love. The poems indicate a significant shift in the patriarchal ideology underpinning Bengali marriages. This change can be summarized along the lines recently analyzed by Judith Walsh in what she calls a “new patriarchy” in Bengali domesticity.43 It was new in that it allowed the wife to overcome the grip of family elders on her life and move toward a more dyadic relationship with her husband. However, within that nuclear structure she would be totally devoted to her husband, like a sati or a pativrata. It would therefore be a mistake to think of this shift as a move toward the nuclear family that had evolved as an ideal in the West. Her place in the life of the couple thus secured, the wife was expected to accept generously the husband’s parents and other dependents. The critical change was that, as the idea of the couple became central to marriage, the authority that the groom’s parents would have enjoyed in the past declined. They were now seen, and even saw themselves, as the young man’s dependents. With more authority in the household than aunts and mothers-in-law, that is to say, unthreatened by older relatives, the wife was expected to help her husband preserve the extended family. 154   Chapter 4

This was indeed a break from the older patriarchy of the early nineteenth century. A survey of mid-nineteenth-century plays, journal articles, and advice books reveals that the importance of the couple was always downplayed in favor of the importance accorded to the extended family. A husband and wife who made their love for one another more important than their love for parents and other kin were seen as too Westernized, selfish, and hence always as objects of criticism. This debate about the ideals of a newly married couple was symptomatic of a tension that continued for a long time in the history of the Bengali family. On the one hand, as observed by Walsh, Bengalis “yearned” for romantic love. This yearning, her argument goes, “was part of a new construction of self that included a knowledge of English, work in Western-style jobs, daily habits of eating and dressing reshaped by colonial styles, and a domestic world and family relations appropriately reformed for the colonial modern present.”44 The process was no doubt aided by literature. Novels and plays based on the triumphs and challenges faced by romantic love had a market among both men and elderly and younger women. On the other hand, there were anxieties over what marriage meant for the extended family. Many of these literary pieces, including Tagore’s Chokher Bali, with which I began this chapter, play with the trope of a mother’s struggle to cling to her son after the arrival of the new bride. Dinesh Chandra Sen noted with great prescience in his History of Bengali Language and Literature that for Bengalis an “appreciation of the romantic motives of European literature is apt to be fraught with disastrous results” because Bengali society “leaves no room for the betrothed pair to have the slightest share in the mutual choice.”45 Travel writing by Bengali men and women such as Krishnabhamini Das (1864–1919) offered critical insights to a contemporary readership about the values of individual autonomy and freedom celebrated by the West. At the same time, these writers issued warnings about the pitfalls of the disappearance of family values, which they regarded as the price of such freedom.46 Arguably, in the last decades of the nineteenth century Bengalis were seriously grappling with new orders of authority in the household and with new configurations of affection and responsibility. And it was increasingly accepted, even if grudgingly, that the couple was the center of the new family universe. So even if the West came in for criticism, the couple form was there to stay in Bengal. Most wedding The Not-Quite Bourgeois   155

paraphernalia, including the poems just discussed, reflected this trend. Crucially, however, they don’t signal an uncomplicated acceptance of romantic love in the life of the couple. Love was acknowledged, it would appear, for a reason: the perpetuation of the extended family. The modern bride was no longer expected to remain subservient to a host of authority figures in the new family. In fact, the poems are an acknowledgment that a new norm was emerging whereby these authority figures, for example, the in-laws of the bride, themselves accepted a new order of things in which their power over the bride was considerably curtailed. Her focus should entirely be on her husband since that is what would ultimately be productive of family dharma. Unlike in an earlier period when being fixated on the husband was seen as too modern or romantic and therefore a sign of the wife’s selfishness, the wheels of Indian patriarchy had turned to now put the couple at its center. Figure 25 is a wedding poem composed by an uncle of the couple (Katurani and Kanai). The poem is printed in red on one side and the photographs are on the other. The way the images of the couple are interlaced with each other illuminates the ways Bengalis were playing with visual humor to represent the intimacy and unity of the couple. The poems also testify to a reconstitution of certain other relationships in the family, such as between the new bridegroom and his sisters-in-law, or between the bride and her brothers-in-law. Achieved through the injection of a brand of amorous (though not sexual) humor, the poems were intended to help bring the extended family, on both the bride’s and the groom’s side, closer. For example, in the booklet titled Milanika (Figure 26, bottom right) published in 1946 for the wedding of Pratul Mitra and his bride, Sunanda, the female relatives composed a poem called “Jai Hind, Pratul Chandra Ki Jay” (Victory to India, Victory to Pratul Chandra). Composed by the “charmed women’s brigade,” it spoke in a bantering tone about how the four young female authors—Rama Basu, Abha Ghosh, Mira Mitra, and Atasi Mitra—were “smitten by the bridegroom’s attire and bearing.” The tenor of the poems in this booklet is a far cry from the raunchy and bawdy jokes associated with women’s rituals, or striacar, discussed in the previous chapter. Nor do they invoke the fear, passivity, and hesitation prescribed as proper womanly conduct in a world of purdah (seclusion). There is no faltering in their tone. The lines composed by the “charmed women’s brigade” re156   Chapter 4

Figure 25   Wedding poem, 1920. Author’s personal collection. The bride’s and groom’s photos have been cut into strips and pasted to the paper in such a way that both photos can be viewed by sliding a paper screen. Both views are shown here. This playful interweaving of the couple’s portraits creates a sense of intimacy.

flect a new ideal, a tasteful conviviality in gender relations within the joint family. Young women could feel free to compare their new brother-in-law, resplendent in his white dhoti, to the Bengali nationalist hero, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. If the real Subhas Chandra Bose saw him, they wrote, he would be at a loss for words, while Gandhi and Nehru would be left wondering who this young general with his “charmed women’s brigade” was. This importation of public figures into wedding imagery in a tongue-incheek fashion is indexical of the authors’ education, the older age of marriage, and their relative ease in connecting with a new male relative. Gone was the fear associated with male-female interactions during the eras of purdah; the poems in the booklet visualize a happy and fun relationship between cousins, nephews, nieces, and the bride and bridegroom. Humor was also achieved by a liberal sprinkling of English words and phrases into these poetical and prose pieces, as well as by the use of a rituThe Not-Quite Bourgeois   157

Figure 26   Poetry booklets. Clockwise from top left: 1943, 1946, date unknown, 1934. Author’s personal collection.

alized chalit (colloquial) Bengali. For instance, a man named Durgapada, who was the editor of one such booklet (Figure 26, bottom left) published for his friend Asit Mitra’s wedding, described the phul shojya as “simply marvelous” (in English in the original). “This night shall pass,” he continued in a colloquial Bengali. “The flowers of the nuptial bed shall wilt, but their fragrance will leave your hearts alive forever. . . . The young bride’s touch will quicken the bridegroom’s youth like a touch of lightning.” But “caution,” he warned, make sure you don’t receive a “shock.” (The words caution and shock also appear in English in the original.) Finally, depending on their authorial capacity, many contributors to the poetry booklets consciously copied the style of writing of vaishnava poetry. In such compositions the words lila (divine play), prem (love), and piriti (amorous affection, often illicit) are deployed frequently to liken the newlywed’s love to the early meetings of the god Krishna and his lover.47 158   Chapter 4

But supreme among all sentiments animating wedding poetry was selfless devotion. In the elaborate booklet of poems and letters titled Abasarika (Figure 26, top left), published for a wedding in 1943, the well-known writer Radharani Debi (1903–89) wrote addressing the bride: “May the lord be pleased at your auspicious bonding. May your hands joined [in the gesture of an offering] bring food to the hungry. Do not look upon the world through the lens of self, interests, and material ties, but orient yourself to the less fortunate. Even if life brings you pain alongside pleasures, may you render the arid terrain of the world green with the ambrosia of your heart.”48 The goal of the couple was not to secure material well-being only for themselves. Their togetherness was elevated into a moral ideal: that together they should be able to make sacrifices in the interest of the world, which in effect was the extended family. This was indeed an articulation of a new patriarchy, one which centered around the couple with the husband as the lord and god and the wife his first and most important devotee, working together to secure the family. This sentiment was pervasive in tracts of the time. For example, even among an avowedly progressive community such as the Brahmos, the new bride was enjoined to be the husband’s “shadow and friend,” but equally to be responsible toward his parents, brothers, and sisters.49 Patriarchy represented for these male and female writers an idealized structure that required the subjects, both men and women, to be selfsacrificing. In a series of lectures delivered in 1944, the well-known Bengali writer Anurupa Devi (1882–1958) argued: Today we boast of women’s emancipation and progress in the arenas of knowledge and power, but that we are still far behind the woman of yore in the arena of tyaga [renunciation] is something that often slips our minds because of our altered values. We forget that never has a rootless flower named “right” bloomed anywhere in the world, nor will it ever do so. The extent to which we are able to demonstrate our magnanimity and good sense, society will reciprocate to the same extent by endowing us with “rights.” It has always done that and will continue doing so in the future. In the pursuit of pleasure and luxuries, women started by copying men and have now surpassed them. Even after they see their fathers made destitute by the pressure of marriage dowry, they are seekThe Not-Quite Bourgeois   159

ing state intervention to divide the remaining paternal property with their brothers.50 It was a structure that was dependent for its survival upon women’s strength and fortitude. That is why, in the wedding poems, the new bride was blessed with strength and urged to carry the family forward on the path of dharma, or right, moral action. Conclusion

I have speculated why wedding portraits featuring the couple became popular by situating them in the larger context of the new material culture and discourses of taste that developed around Bengali weddings at the beginning of the twentieth century. I have acknowledged the new centrality of the couple in family life, a process that began around the 1870s and played an important part in featuring the bride and bridegroom as the centerpiece of the wedding. Does this imply that Bengalis had finally come around to accepting the idea of romantic love between a husband and wife and the companionate couple form? Even though at the outset this may be the impression given by some of the marriage memorabilia—the couple form in the photographs, the talk of husband-wife love in the poems—it would be difficult to liken the Bengali couple to their bourgeois European counterparts in Britain or France during the same period. The Bengali couple was very much a feature of what historians have referred to as a “new patriarchy” that arose in the era of nationalism.51 Modern feminist scholarship in India has been deeply critical of the new patriarchy. Tanika Sarkar, who has made pioneering and original contributions to feminist historiography in India, offers one of the most powerful and nuanced critiques of this nationalist imagination of the couple, arguing that it was an ideological ploy by colonized men to compensate for their subordination to the colonizer. In her reading of the nineteenth century, “Conjugality was based on the apparent absolutism of one partner and the total subordination of the other.” Linking it to an emergent Hindu nationalism, Sarkar suggests that for the ideologues of the new patriarchy non-consensual Hindu marriage could, indeed, be more loving than the Western pattern of courtship based on class and property qualifications 160   Chapter 4

more than on love. In the Hindu case, a lifetime of togetherness beginning with infancy guaranteed a superior and more certain compatibility. Nationalists denied that the production of sons was the sole aim of Hindu marriage: they argued it was a complete spiritual union through perfect love. It was also kinder to women since it ensured not just a hold on the husband’s affection but an integration with the family which gave her greater security. While the entire system of non-consensual, indissoluble, infant marriage was preserved intact and inviolate, each aspect of the Hindu marriage needed to be written as a love story with a happy ending.52 Ideology surely played a part in the creation of the pleasures and problems of everyday life and was not simply a post facto rationalization of naked power and interest. I have tried to show that while there was definitely an acknowledgment of the couple’s place in the family, the motivations behind this are very different from the trajectory of the bourgeois family in Europe. From the evidence presented here, it is clear that the couple had acquired a symbolic place they hitherto did not enjoy in the extended family. In saying this, I differ somewhat from historians for whom Bengali talk of spirituality and sacrifice was simply a code for patriarchal domination. In the Indian case the importance attributed to the couple was part of Bengalis’ response to a growing crisis of the extended family system. This crisis was a byproduct of urban living, rising unemployment, and weddings that could potentially ruin family fortunes. The effort among the colonized intelligent­ sia was to rethink the reproduction of the joint family in modernity and not its elimination. In their writing and discussions, therefore, they sought to inject the family with elements of romance and companionate love while simultaneously also retaining (and valorizing) certain ideas of hierarchy and devotion. But the talk about self-sacrifice and devotion could work only within a structure of family relationships where the wife had a place of pride. The marriage memorabilia I have discussed in this chapter helps us understand some of these shifts within the family. Constitutive of a refined and tasteful wedding, these artifacts demonstrate the significant ways in which contemporaries were trying to grapple with the pitfalls of the marriage market. The Not-Quite Bourgeois   161

The increased economic pressures of the colonial city made it difficult to maintain large families with unemployed nephews, widowed aunts, and sisters on the limited incomes of a few earning men. Also, by the end of the nineteenth century, as women began to be educated, both social reformers and the law frowned upon the figure of the child bride. The new patriarchy shows how, at the level of ideas and practices, Bengali society attempted to adjust to these new realities. The consent of the wife, the “new woman,” was now needed to preserve the ideal of the joint or extended family, an institution that also underwent some modifications in the process. If the bride were to look upon the groom’s extended family with a sympathetic eye, it would be easier to maintain the large sansar, or family. One of the ways to do so would be to acknowledge her status in the family. And what better status could there be for the wife than as her husband’s helpmeet and comrade? In all of the documents I have analyzed so far the key themes have been love between husband and wife, sansardharma (familial duties), pativrata (being devoted to the husband), a critique of Western culture, and sacrifice. The couple was brought together so that the wife, now secure in her place, could devote herself to the well-being of her family. This was a new definition of womanly (and even manly) virtue. And it stood on the ballast of the couple form. I read Chokher Bali as Rabindranath Tagore’s acknowledgment of these shifts in Bengali conjugality. The novel, far more than nonfiction pieces from this period, records the place attributed to marriage memorabilia in the imagination of the couple. Ashalata’s grief on losing her husband’s love to another woman, or Bihari’s pain as he gazes at the couple portrait of Ma­ hendra and Ashalata is therefore as much about the entry of a third figure into the dyadic universe of the couple as it is about the inability of the bride to define her place within the familial universe. Ashalata’s existence became unhinged when Mahendra turned his romantic attentions to Binodini. This was as much an invasion of her private space as it was of her social space in the household. She was no longer in a position to perform sansardharma and thereby felt illegitimate in her husband’s home. Such a problem would not have arisen in precolonial literature, which has much to say about the problems of co-wives, but co-wives never brought a marriage into crisis.53 In his nonfiction work, and even in private correspondence, Tagore con162   Chapter 4

firms these ideas, albeit in an indirect manner. The following lines from a letter written to his wife, Mrinalini Devi, in July 1901 after their daughter Bela’s marriage address the theme of the bride’s relationship to her parents and her husband: I have come to the conclusion that at least for a short period immediately after marriage a girl should keep away from her parents and give herself unrestricted opportunity for being with her husband. The presence of her parents in the midst of this union interferes with it because the habits and tastes of her husband’s family are not the same as those of her own, and there are bound to be differences of opinion. With her parents near at hand a girl cannot forget her old ways and identify herself wholly with her husband. Since one must give away a daughter why try to retain any influence over her? In such circumstances one must consider the girl’s welfare. What is the use of her considering our happiness or misery and adding her paternal attachments to those of her husband’s home? Being part of a couple thus came with a price for the young woman. It meant adopting another family and its values and ideals and distancing herself from her natal home. Ironically, this was not a choice that ever became an issue in the same way for men. Tagore went on to add, “The education, tastes, customs, language and way of thinking of our family are different from those of other families.” This is why, he argued, Bela was well advised to stay away from her parents and visit them only on holidays. “Otherwise every detail of her new life might be so irksome to the girl that it might influence her respect for and dependence upon her husband.”54 Our marriage memorabilia, despite their foregrounding of the couple, echo this message that proper conduct for the new bride implied immersing herself in her husband’s identity. The couple form was important only when it could prolong the life of her husband’s kin. Their well-being was the condition necessary for the existence of the couple.

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Part III

Marriage and the Law

Chapter Five

A Ni n e t e e n t h - C e n t u r y D e b a t e ♣♣♣♣♣♣♣♣♣

Law versus Rituals

An important characteristic of matrimonial legislation, under the aegis of both the colonial and the postcolonial state, was the attempt to secularize Indian marriages by diminishing the role of ritual, religion, and caste observances in the performance of weddings. To put it otherwise, the law sought to further open up the marriage market so that individuals could enter into wedlock irrespective of their family, community, caste, or religious background. The two chapters in the final section of this book, “Marriage and the Law,” discuss why these attempts at secularization failed to realize the vision of the advocates of reform. By analyzing two moments in the history of marriage-related legislation, I will demonstrate the difficulty of de-linking marriage in modern India from questions of community or familial identity. The marriage market remained in the ultimate analysis deeply marked by these identitarian issues. To reiterate a theme that is central to the book: the persistence of the family or community in marriage matters is not about the persistence of the traditional; rather, as these two chapters demon‑ strate, the imagination of modern marriage in late colonial and early postcolonial India was inextricably linked to changing norms of the extended family and to community identity. In this chapter, focused on Act III of 1872, I dwell on an early moment of what I am calling a secularizing impulse in colonial Indian matrimonial legis-

lation. Subsequently, I take up the case of the Coochbehar wedding, an event which prominently brought to the fore questions about the relationship between ritual and law. The 1872 Act, which was essentially a law of civil marriage, effectively nullified the centrality of Hindu rituals in the performance and completion of a wedding. However, the Coochbehar controversy, which highlights the ways this law was flouted by those who were the main force behind its passage—the Brahmos under the leadership of Keshub Chandra Sen—is testimony to the resilience of ritual observances in Hindu weddings and to community identity during the nineteenth century. The events surrounding the Coochbehar wedding do not, by any means, imply that the secularizing impulse was abandoned altogether. Rather, the strength of this impulse is borne out by the fact that almost eighty years after the first civil marriage act, another group of avant-garde Indian leaders, B. R. Ambedkar and Jawaharlal Nehru being the most prominent among them, attempted once again to secularize Indian marriage through the Special Marriage Act (1954) and certain measures in the Hindu Code bill (1955–56). That these issues had a long life in the Indian context is demonstrated by the lengthy debates that preceded the post-independence promulgation of a set of personal laws for all Hindus. They powerfully express the “social imaginaries” that characterize Indian modernity.1 The wedding of Suniti Devi, daughter of the eminent Brahmo leader Keshub Chandra Sen (1838–84), to the maharaja of Coochbehar, Nripendranarayan Bhoop, on 6 March 1878, is undisputedly among the most controversial matrimonial events that took place in late colonial India.2 The wedding, or as some insisted, the “betrothal,” took place six years after the enactment of the first civil marriage law in British India. Keshub Sen had been one of the prime movers behind its passage. But soon after Act III of 1872 had been accepted by a section of the Brahmo Samaj and at the expense of alienating a large group of the Brahmos under Debendranath Tagore (1817–1905), Sen presided over his daughter’s wedding to the raja, contravening most of the clauses of the act. The controversy that ensued during and after the event split the Brahmo Samaj even further. More important for our purposes, however, is the fact that an analysis of the events sheds critical light on the centrality of rituals in Bengali marriages. Related to that, the controversy surrounding the wedding also raises some unasked 168   Chapter 5

questions about the relationship between rituals and law. In this chapter, I concentrate on the ritualized event that was this wedding and analyze its significance in the history of matrimonial legal reform in colonial India. In earlier chapters I touched on the centrality of rituals in reformist writings on Bengali marriage in the context of a new discourse on taste. Here I turn much more directly to the question of the relationship between rituals and marriage laws. With the appearance of a full-blown market in marriages beginning in the 1870s there also began a sustained (almost obsessive) debate, one that was to become a permanent feature of the marriage market from then on, on the relationship between the aesthetic presentation of a wedding and legal reform. Since the realm of aesthetics and that of the law appear otherwise to be discrete social domains, this relationship requires some elaboration. To a cursory observer, the rituals that constitute a wedding must appear to be a realm unto themselves. At most, these ritual performances are indexical of the caste and financial status of the family or families in question. That is to say, the ceremonial nature of a wedding was important as a sign of how rich a family was, of their station and acceptability in contemporary society. Legal reforms, on the other hand, are usually concerned with imposing negative injunctions, the “thou shall not” of marriages. To give a few examples, the law of widow remarriage (1856) removed the restriction on Hindu widows to remarry; the Age of Consent bill (1891) ruled that sexual intercourse with a wife under the age of twelve was a punishable offense in the eyes of the law. Even though it is not self-evident, the ritualized presentation and production of a wedding had a deep and complex relationship to legal reform. How you married, which rituals you observed, marked you as a distinct group or community in the eyes of the law. This had important implications for how Bengalis came to regard “modern” marriage per se. In other words, while the letter of the law may rule that marriage is a legal contract between two individuals, the institution remains something that became real through the rituals that composed it. And these rituals were deeply entrenched in community and caste identity. So even if a marriage was deemed valid legally, the performance or nonperformance of certain rituals might place an interrogation mark upon that validity. From the time of their enactment marriage laws in colonial India bore A Nineteenth-Century Debate   169

the stamp of this tussle between a secularized notion of law and a ritualized performance of community identity. Rituals were regarded as a critical feature of marriages that could claim validity in the eyes of the community. Most discussion of matrimonial law therefore veered around questions of ritual observances. This in turn points to a different approach to understanding legalism itself. Through a close analysis of the Coochbehar controversy, I want to show that it would be a misunderstanding of marriage laws if we treat them as completely separate from rituals. There is a considerable body of work on some important marriage-related legislation in colonial India. The law sanctioning the remarriage of Hindu widows (1856), the Age of Consent Act (1891), and its subsequent revision as the Sarda Act (1925) are by now ground well trodden in Indian feminist historiography.3 Rather than revisit events already analyzed at length by scholars, I focus on two pieces of legislation which flank the beginning and end of the chronological time frame covered by this book: Act III of 1872 and the set of laws collectively referred to as the Hindu Code bill of 1955– 56. Novelty is not the only reason behind my focus. Ultimately, these two sets of laws mark an important tension that characterized the debates in the marriage market and eventually had a profound impact on the marriage form in modern India. The tension had to do with the legal validity of marriage; that is to say, both laws set conditions under which a marriage would be considered legally binding in the eyes of the state. In so doing reformers had to spell out a distinction between what constitutes a Hindu marriage versus a civil marriage, both of which could claim legal validity in the state’s eyes. To do this, however, they had to, rather awkwardly, reflect upon the relationship between rituals and law. The community under discussion here is the Brahmos, a reformist group of men and women who staked certain claims to being different from practicing Hindus. The central goals of this chapter are to show, first, that even within such a progressive brigade we find that attempts to make marriage more individualistic faltered over the hurdle of community obligation, and second, that the attempt to disengage from vestiges of a Hindu past through the vehicle of law proved to be a contradictory exercise for even the most ardent of reformers. Marriage was critical to the whole question of commu-

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nity identity, and ultimately we find that the Brahmos leaned heavily toward defining themselves as a community with an identifiable set of marriage rituals, rather than as one whose weddings were a mark of secular individualism. The preeminence of rituals in the question of community identity has important ramifications for our understanding of marriage laws. Instead of being shorn of rituals or containing rituals to their barest minimum, there has always been a desire to constitute marriage law in terms of ritual in colonial India, a tendency that has carried over into the postcolonial period as well. The event that most prominently brought the relationship between law and rituals to the fore was the betrothal (hereafter wedding) of Suniti Devi to Nripendranarayan, the maharaja of Coochbehar.4 The wedding, which has been read by both contemporary and later commentators as a betrayal of the Brahmo creed, and as a sign of Sen’s questionable moral rectitude, was in fact the culmination of a series of events that began in 1872 with the enactment of the first civil marriage law in India. Or, to put it more accurately, the marriage was seen as a reversal of the chain of reform set in motion by Act III of 1872. It is therefore necessary that we understand the background and content of the first civil marriage law. Prelude to the Law of 1872: A History of the Brahmo Movement

Brahmo means “one who worships Brahma, or the Supreme Spirit of the universe, and Samaj means a community of men,” wrote Sivnath Sastri (1847–1919) in the introduction to his well-known work, History of the Brahmo Samaj. The Brahmo community, he elaborated, “represents a body of men who are struggling in India, to establish the worship of the Supreme Being in spirit as opposed to the prevailing idolatry of the land.”5 The movement conceived of as a reformist and protestant creed was started on 20 August 1828 by Raja Rammohun Roy, the well-known social reformer remembered as the father of modern India. During the 1860s and early 1870s there were two schisms that broke up Brahmo Samaj into three factions: the Adi Brahmo Samaj, the Brahmo Samaj of India, and the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj.6 Marriage and matrimonial legislation were important issues in each of these fissures. It is therefore important that we analyze the background

A Nineteenth-Century Debate   171

of the debates around Brahmo marriage to understand fully why the marriage of a young woman assumed such extraordinary proportions in 1878, and continues to this day to divide Brahmos in their judgment of what went wrong. Biographical accounts and memoirs of numerous Brahmos testify to their experience of persecution by the Hindu community in Bengal during the middle decades of the nineteenth century. Their lonesome plight in the metropolitan capital of Calcutta was reflected in a statement made by Debendranath Tagore, a leader of the Adi Brahmo Samaj: “We Brahmos are situated amidst a community which views us with no friendly feelings [since] we ourselves attack their Puranic and Tantric systems.” Brahmos, he argued, were expressly not Christians or “Anglicized Secularists.” He went on to add, “So long as our numbers are so small, our resources so limited and our enemies so powerful as they are now,” the community would remain in a precarious position.7 Keshub Chandra Sen, who became a Brahmo in 1857, tried to infuse Brahmoism with more communitarian sentiments where hitherto there had been only religion or gospel.8 Most commentators argue that Sen realized that without social organization that would help them regard themselves as a community, Brahmos would be unable to shake off the feeling of being an endangered species. Hence, from fairly early on in his career Sen elaborated the ethic of what it meant to be a Brahmo in both religious and secular terms. At the heart of his campaign was the belief that social reform in India could be carried out only by allying an active rational religion like Brahmoism to practical work for the social uplift of the country. Theology alone, of the kind upheld by Tagore and the older Brahmos, would never be enough. To achieve his self-consciously moralist and activist ends Sen established the Indian Reform Association in 1870 after his return from England, aiming to improve the lot of Indian peasants and workers.9 He also started publishing a journal called Sulabh Samachar to educate the masses by means of a simple Bengali prose style. The first schism in the Brahmo Samaj that predated some of these activities was the product of the differences in approach between the younger radical party represented by Sen and the older

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Brahmos. Tagore, though he may have implicitly supported many of Sen’s ideas, nonetheless stood by the older Brahmos since he believed in a policy of moderation and gradual change. On 23 July 1865 Sen delivered a lecture entitled “Struggle for Religious Independence and Progress” in the Brahmo Samaj. As recalled by Sivnath Sastri in his History, that same day a delegation was sent to Tagore with the following demands. First, that the acharya (minister), the upacharya (assistant minister), and the adhyeta (reader) should not hold any badge of caste or sectarian distinction. Second, if Tagore and others did not support certain new practices adopted by the younger Brahmos, which included bringing women to the meetings, supporting intercaste marriage, opposing child marriage, using Bengali rather than Sanskrit in prayers, and dissuading Brahmos “from paying lip service to rational religion in Brahmo prayer meetings while continuing to practice Hindu rites at home,” then the younger faction should be allowed to hold their services on the Brahmo Samaj premises on a separate day. These demands indicated that the younger Brahmos were a more protestant creed than their older contemporaries.10 Tagore’s response to this petition, which appeared in the Indian Mirror on 1 August 1865 and was read at the meeting that followed afterward that resulted in the creation of the Brahmo Samaj of India, is worth quoting at length. It contained the seeds of future points of dissension that became prominent during the marriage controversy. Tagore argued that while he disapproved in spirit of Brahmos continuing to wear the sacred thread (upabit), he preferred that such practices be given up through individual volition rather than force from above. Before the promulgation of Brahmo ceremonials the worship of the One True God was in vogue, and those who at the time joined the Brahmo Samaj with zeal and reverence had to prepare themselves like practical Brahmos of the present time for extreme persecution, which many of them did actually suffer. Even you yourselves at first joined the Brahmo Samaj for the sole purpose of the worship of God and to this day perhaps there are among you men who cannot join you in any other matter except prayer. But notwithstanding that many among the elder and younger Brahmos have not been able to come forward to practise, neither they A Nineteenth-Century Debate   173

nor you are objects of my disfavour. If actuated by the consideration that unless your wishes are complied with, you may separate yourselves, I manifest any indifference towards them I shall be guilty of partiality. When they who have defended the Brahmo Samaj so long according to their own idea, preserve that idea even now, how can I deprive them of their former privileges? Clearly evident in these lines is the fact that for Tagore the ideal of Brahmoism lay in its spiritual quest. The words “for the sole purpose of the worship of God” were to his mind the motto of the Samaj. Insofar as changes, such as forsaking the sacred thread or supporting intercaste or widow remarriage, were concerned, he chose not to take a side, but rather retreated from the controversy. It should be mentioned in this context that one of the earliest marriages in the Brahmo Samaj was that of Sukumari Devi, the second daughter of Debendranath Tagore, to Hemendranath Mukhopadhyay on 26 July 1861. Sastri wrote of this marriage, “Properly speaking, this was the first step taken by the two Brahmo leaders [Sen and Tagore] conjointly in the direction of practical social reform.” It is noteworthy that “in framing the marriage ritual, Debendranath, in pursuance of his well-known conservative instincts, kept as close as possible to the rituals followed in orthodox Hindu marriages, excluding therefrom the idolatrous portions.” The rituals performed at the time included arghopradan (offerings to the Lord), striacar (women’s rituals), Brahmo worship, sampradan (the gift of the daughter), and ministerial advice to the newlyweds. This marriage was at the time viewed “as a great step in the direction of social reform; and henceforward the Brahmo Samaj began to be looked upon by the public as a reforming body.”11 From the earliest beginnings, then, the relationship between Brahmoism and Hinduism was not entirely clear. For some, like Tagore (and in the early 1860s for many younger Brahmos as well), it was enough simply to forsake the idolatrous aspects of Hinduism. Gradually, however, especially among the younger members of the party, reformist zeal, implying an ardor to distinguish themselves from their Hindu brethren, overtook the spiritual aspect of Brahmoism. Thus from 1863, following the visit of one Dr. Bhaudaji from Bombay, who is said to have remarked that the Brahmos, like the Buddhists, spent “too much time 174   Chapter 5

in contemplation and too little in practical benevolence,” younger Brahmos began to take an active interest in progressive social reform.12 Marriage—how it should be conducted and who should marry whom— was a central issue in the first schism. Matters came to a head when the younger Brahmos, greatly inspired by Sen, presided over an intercaste marriage in 1862 and a widow remarriage in 1864. While these events caused a great deal of consternation among the older members of the Samaj, the younger men, under Bijoy Krishna Goswami, began to protest against the ministers who occupied the Brahmo pulpit and wore the sacred thread, clearly a sign of Brahmanical Hinduism. It was this series of events that was behind the dispatching of the above-mentioned delegation to Debendranath Tagore. As this brief history clearly shows, the main cause of conflict within the Brahmo Samaj was the movement’s relationship to Hinduism. The worship of one god had been promoted by the likes of Rammohun Roy, the founder of the movement, and Debendranath Tagore. But the question of identity with Hinduism went beyond religion, for the worship of one God was possible from within the tenets of Hindu dharma if one followed the Upanishads. The younger Brahmos, led by Sen, stretched the question of Brahmo identity beyond the question of religion into the arena of everyday practice. In this, marriage became one of the main sites of debate. But this defiance of the Hindu creed raised questions about the identity of the Brahmos. Who were they but a group of young men who had been excommunicated from their families and the Hindu community? This was especially true of the younger generation, who saw themselves as anusthanic Brahmos, which is to say, they practiced what they preached. This in turn brought to the forefront the problem, eloquently summarized by David Kopf, that this new group of people “was already de facto separated from the Hindu samaj, but lacked de jure recognition of its existence.”13 Even before the schism was official and the Brahmo Samaj of India came into existence as a separate body, younger Brahmos had introduced certain changes into their marriage rituals. For instance, instead of sampradan, or the gift of the bride, they started the practice of kanya arpan, handing over the bride in a way that gave her a more participatory role. Related to this, an element of individualism was introduced in ritual procedures when BrahA Nineteenth-Century Debate   175

mos began to take vows in a more “active” manner. For instance, as part of their marriage vows the younger party adopted declarations such as “In the presence of the merciful lord and this spiritual assembly, I willingly and unhesitatingly accept my role as your husband (or wife).” At this time (1865), particularly after intercaste marriages became routine among some Brahmos, a petition was sent to the advocate general of India, with the question of whether or not Brahmo marriages were considered valid in the eyes of the law. He ruled that they were not, declaring that “Brahmo marriages not having been celebrated with Hindu or Mahometan rites of orthodox regularity, and not conforming to the usages of any recognized religion were invalid and the offspring of them illegitimate.”14 The critical words in this statement, “not conforming to the usages of any recognized religion,” point to the close relationship between ritual observance and legal procedure that I mentioned at the start of this chapter. It also supports the observation of the historian Mytheli Sreenivas, who recently noted that “although the law claimed to respect the distinct social practices of varied castes and religious groups, in practice the legal system elevated Brahmanical (or uniform Muhamadan or Christian as the case may be) interpretations.”15 This observation, however, leaves open the question of what constitutes “Hindu.” It is generally accepted that, particularly in cases of property-related disputes, Hindu was defined by British (through their Brahman appointees) interpretations of law codes such as the Mitakshara and Dayabhaga, compromising local and regional variations. Looking at the realm of matrimonial legislation outside of property, I argue that the category Hindu remained unstable and extremely flexible during the period under review. (I shall have more to say on the impact of this fluidity in the last section of this chapter.) The disavowal of Brahmo weddings that deliberately forsook Hindu ritual practices and the declaration that the offspring of these marriages were also illegitimate lay behind the agitation for a Brahmo marriage act.16 The agitation can be seen as both the cause and the effect of the schism that occurred between the Brahmos who would henceforth remain in the Adi or original Brahmo Samaj and those who went on to form the Brahmo Samaj of India under Keshub Chandra Sen.

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Teen Ain, or Act III of 1872

One of the main areas in which the Brahmo Samaj of India, the breakaway branch of Brahmos, distinguished themselves from the Adi samajists was that of marriage procedures. As already mentioned, these unions were seen as illegitimate in the eyes of the state, thereby provoking a controversy among the radicals as to whether or not there ought to be a separate and special law that recognized Brahmo marriages. It should be qualified that even among the followers of Keshub Sen there was no unanimity about the necessity for legal sanction. Many, such as Bijoy Krishna Goswami, objected to the need for a law that would recognize Brahmo marriages as valid, saying that this would be the first time that a social arrangement needed the stamp of a (alien) state. Regardless, after a meeting on 5 July 1868, Sen took a petition demanding a law that would validate Brahmo marriages to Henry Maine, law member of the governor-general’s council, better known for his theory about the natural tendency in societies to move from status to contract. Maine’s response was to urge a general civil marriage law rather than a law that would specifically cater to Brahmos. He argued that “it was not the policy of the Queen’s Government to refuse the power of marriage to any of Her Majesty’s subjects.” “Even orthodox Hindus,” he noted, would not wish to “deny Brahmos a privilege fully enjoyed by the Sonthals and Gonds.” The critical factor was that “the creed of Brahmos lacked stability.” The process by which the sect was formed might be increasing in activity, but there seemed also to be growing disinclination to accept any set of common tenets. Thus, “it would be difficult for legal purposes to define a Brahmo, and if no definition were given, there might shortly be petitions for relief by persons who were in the same legal position as the present applicants, but who declared that they could not conscientiously call themselves Brahmos, hence the Bill had been drawn with some degree of generality.”17 Maine wanted a civil marriage law which would be above community identity. The bill, which eventually became Act III of 1872, went through three drafts. The first was presided over by Henry Maine, the second and third by his successor, J. F. Stephen. Perveez Mody, who has studied the implications

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of this act from the perspective of love marriages in contemporary India, makes some significant observations about the three versions. She draws attention to the fact that only the second draft of the bill referred specifically to the Brahmos and was called the “Brahma Marriage Bill, 1871.” The appellation “Brahmo” was not there in the first version, which was called “A Bill to Legalise Marriages Between Certain Natives of India Not Professing the Christian Religion.” Nor was it retained in the third and final edition, which was passed into law as Act III of 1872. The second draft of the bill was, Mody observes, “almost exactly what the Keshubites [followers of Sen] had originally petitioned for.” It required both parties to declare before the solemnization of the marriage that they were members of the Brahmo Samaj, were unmarried, and were not under eighteen (for the boy) or fourteen (for the girl). Interesting for our purposes is that this draft version also stated that the consent of the father or guardian was necessary if the girl was younger than eighteen, and the “prohibited degrees were to be degrees of consanguinity or affinity prohibited by the custom which would have regulated marriages between them had the Act not been passed.”18 In other words, membership in a community (hence both bride and groom had to be Brahmo) and adherence to certain aspects of custom were accepted by even the most radical Brahmos. P. C. Mozoomdar observed that Maine’s original proposal for a general civil marriage act “that would include all recent religious sects in India, and all those who objected to marry according to prescribed rites” had produced “serious alarm” among the “entire orthodox community.” The seriousness of the opposition led the Select Committee, to which the bill had been referred in 1868, to declare in 1871, “It is the unanimous opinion of the Local Governments that the Bill as introduced should not be passed. They all, on the other hand, agree that the Bill would be unobjectionable if confined to the Brahmo Somaj, for whose benefit it was originally designed. We have, accordingly, narrowed its operation to that sect.”19 The second draft led to a storm of protest from the members of the Adi Brahmo Samaj. On 27 June 1871 they sent a petition signed by 2,050 Adi Brahmo Samajists alleging that the government under Stephen had ignored their earlier appeals discrediting Keshub Chandra Sen. Stephen’s

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reaction to this protest was that he had not “even known that there had been a split in the Brahmo Samaj or that the followers of Sen were a breakaway group.”20 It was their opposition that largely caused Stephen to drop the title “Brahma Marriage Act” and make it a law that might apply to a greater constituency. It is worth noting some of the main points on which the Adi samajists articulated their opposition. First, they argued that Brahmo marriages, by which they meant marriages celebrated under the rituals of the Adi Samaj, were as valid as the marriages of other reformed Hindus. Thus there was no question of seeking further validation from the state through a new law. Second, they argued that the proposed law “contemplated a civil form of registration” which was revolting to Hindu ideas. Third, they also alleged that the preamble to the bill would cause outsiders to think that all Brahmos, themselves included, were in favor of legislation, which was not the case. Finally, and most important, the passing of the act would lead to the separation of the Brahmos from the Hindu community. This was undesirable, for the Adi Brahmos considered themselves Hindus and regarded their brand of Brahmoism as the highest form of Hinduism.21 Babu Rajnarain Bose delivered a lecture arguing many of these points, especially the last, which was later published as a pamphlet titled Hindu Dharmera Sresthata (The Ultimate Superiority of Hindu Religion). Since Bose was an Adi samajist, it goes without saying that by Hinduism he meant the creed practiced by Brahmos like himself and Debendranath Tagore and the followers of the Adi Brahmo Samaj. The progressives, under the leadership of Sen, in turn argued that since Brahmos questioned the notion of the infallibility of the Vedas it was problematic to equate them with the Hindus. To garner support for the act, Sen circulated a letter to the country’s leading medical authorities asking their opinion on the ideal age of marriage for women.22 Hindus, it should be noted, usually married their daughters by the age of ten or twelve at this time, something that was expressly forbidden in the bill. The majority of medical experts, among whom were such names as Dr. Mohendra Lal Sircar, Charles Day, and Atmaram Pandurang, declared that sixteen should be the minimum age of marriage for girls. Sen made this a plank to generate support for the bill. He argued:

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We contemplate the abolition of early marriages. . . . The medical authorities in Calcutta almost unanimously declared that 16 is the minimum marriageable age of girls in this country. . . . In conformity with the suggestion and the opinion given by the other referees, we have come to the conclusion that for the present at least it would be expedient to follow the provision in the Bill which makes 14 the minimum marriageable age of girls in this country; leaving it in the hands of time to develop this reform slowly and gradually into maturity and fulness.23 The third and final draft, which was passed as Act III of 1872, further altered many of the conditions set forth in the second draft. First, the preamble to the act made it clear that those who got married according to the act would no longer be regarded as members of their respective religious communities. It declared, “It is expedient to provide a form of marriage for persons who are neither Christians nor Jews, and who do not profess, or who have renounced or been excluded from the communion of the Hindu, Muhammadan, Parsi, Buddhist, Sikh or Jaina religion, and to legalize certain marriages the legality of which is doubtful.” The declaration that those who availed themselves of this act were no longer legitimate members of a particular religious community was seen as a triumph for the Adi Brahmos. Mody notes that by the time the bill was made into an act its tone was tempered so that “it merely declared that it was a form of marriage for those who ‘do not profess the Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Muhammadan, Parsi, Buddhist, Sikh or Jaina religion.’” Maine, we might recall, had worded the bill more strongly. His version declared that the bill was applicable to any two natives who “objected to be married in accordance with the rites of the Hindus, Muhammadan, Buddhist, Parsi or Jewish religion.” Mody argues that this shift was significant. Act III of 1872, which was enacted on 22 March, was the first civil marriage law for Indians. “It was a civil law on the basis that it was a form of marriage that was to be solemnized not by a religiously appointed ‘clergyman’ but rather by a state-appointed Registrar.” Mody is absolutely right in her assertion that while the act was “born out of a petition that pleaded for legal recognition of marriages that could be solemnized in accordance to the ‘rights of conscience,’ ” the law actually “made marriages under its provisions dependent on a denial of precisely those 180   Chapter 5

rights of conscience.” By extension, it also followed that, “by upholding the right not to be ‘religious’ . . . , the law denied individuals availing themselves of the Act of another: the right to retain belief despite marriage.”24 The act therefore shifted the emphasis from “the Brahmo request to recognize them as a distinct community with legitimate rites of marriage, to a more individualistic conception of marriage based on the conjugal couple.”25 Ironically, on both counts the efficacy of the act can be questioned. An “individualistic” conception of marriage was challenged in the Indian context as manifested not just by the Coochbehar case but also by the debates around the Hindu Code in 1955–56. But even the quest for a completely “distinct” (distinct from Hindus) community identity remained unfulfilled by the Act of 1872, a failure most eloquently brought home during the marriage of Suniti Devi to the raja of Coochbehar. Commonly referred to in Bengali as teen ain, or three laws, Act III of 1872 had three major components: it entailed the rejection of idolatry, stipulated that the minimum age of marriage was eighteen for boys and fourteen for girls, and sanctioned intercaste matches. In addition, a change was made in the matter of marriage registration. Contrary to what had been ruled earlier, the lieutenant governor decided that the registrar presiding over Brahmo marriages should be a Brahmo. According to the law, the marriage would be solemnized before a state appointed registrar. The registrar could preside over the wedding at his office or appear at the bride or bridegroom’s place. The main point was that the solemn promise, “I accept you as my legally wedded wife (or husband),” would have to be made before him. It was the registrar’s responsibility to make a public announcement of the wedding fourteen days prior to its taking place so that any objections to the forthcoming union could be communicated to him. Further, a bridegroom or bride below the age of twenty-one had to obtain the consent of their father or guardian before the marriage could be solemnized. Note how Sivnath Sastri writes about Act III of 1872 in his History: “The passing of this Act may be justly regarded as the crowning success of the prolonged efforts of the reformers for the amelioration of their social life.”26 It accomplished legal sanction for widow remarriage and intercaste marriage and also succeeded in declaring polygamy a penal offense. Little attention was paid at the time to the fact that the act remained, even among A Nineteenth-Century Debate   181

the Brahmos, “a permissive measure.” Section 19 declares, “Nothing in this act contained shall affect the validity of any marriage not solemnized under its provisions nor shall this act be deemed directly or indirectly to affect the validity of any mode of contracting marriage; but, if the validity of any such mode shall hereafter come into question before any court such question shall be decided as if this act had not been passed.”27 Declarations such as these shrank the jurisdiction and power of Act III, but most supporters were too exultant at the time to ponder the consequences of these injunctions. “As such,” wrote Sastri, “it was hailed with a shout of joy by the progressives; but ever since it has been one of the principal causes that have alienated Brahmos from the sympathies of their orthodox countrymen. Its negative declaration, consequent upon the Act being intended for parties not coming under any of the existing marriage laws and not professing any of the current faiths, has given great offence to our Hindu countrymen, from amongst whom the present members of the Brahmo Samaj are largely recruited.”28 Exaltation after the act was short-lived, for soon after its promulgation Keshub Sen, one of its prime architects, flouted many of its clauses when he arranged for his daughter Suniti Devi to be married to the maharaja of Coochbehar. The Marriage Controversy

The Coochbehar marriage, wrote Meredith Borthwick, “was the most controversial event in the history of the Brahmo Samaj. It was the spark that led directly to the second split in the Brahmo Samaj and indirectly to the founding of two new and distinct schools of Brahmoism, that of the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj, and that of the Navavidhan or the New Dispensation.”29 According to Frances Power Cobbe, a contemporary of Sen with whom he corresponded extensively on the subject of the marriage, “The Coochbehar marriage is one more notable instance in history of the ethical error that gives social duty preference before personal duty.”30 Historians interested in the politics of the Brahmo movement, such as David Kopf and Meredith Borthwick, have studied the events leading up to the marriage in some detail. The marriage was also extensively written about by Sen himself, as well as numerous contemporary and later members of the Brahmo Samaj who were gravely troubled by its relationship to the law of 1872 and its impact on Brahmo reformism and on the way it reflected on Sen’s personality.31 182   Chapter 5

The news of the marriage—the fact that it was being negotiated—was first mentioned on 9 February 1878 in the Indian Mirror. Thereafter, journals were marshaled to support particular camps in the controversy. While the Indian Mirror and Dharmatattva represented Sen’s viewpoint, two other weekly journals, Brahmo Public Opinion and the Samalochok, were launched specifically to carry out a crusade in print against Sen. They were funded by the eminent Brahmos Durgamohan Das and Anandamohan Bose, respectively.32 Sivnath Sastri, a one-time ally of Sen’s, published a booklet titled Ei Ki Brahmo Bibaha? (Is This Brahmo Marriage?). In it he presented the defense put forth by Sen’s supporters and then proceeded to demonstrate that it was riddled with inconsistencies. Another well-known Brahmo, Anandachandra Mitra, composed a satire on the marriage in which even Sen’s wife was made a target of ridicule. Though Sen’s opponents (Sastri in particular was instrumental) withdrew the book from publication, it still created much bad blood between the two camps.33 Clearly, this marriage was no private affair and Sen was held accountable to the Brahmo public for what many saw as a unilateral decision on his part. The ripples of the controversy spread to different parts of India. It was reported that in Dacca and Mymensigh, Brahmos were so incensed with Sen that they threatened him with physical harm.34 The embers of the flame sparked by the marriage controversy did not die down immediately, as proven by the fact that even years after the wedding many Brahmos still took it upon themselves to produce explanations for Sen’s behavior and exonerate him. Thus, as late as 1934, at the request of his father, Reverend Prosunno Commar Sen, Prosanto Kumar Sen wrote a brochure titled Keshub Chunder Sen and the Cooch Behar Betrothal, 1878. “In view of the grave misrepresentations of fact regarding the event, which stood in the way of a correct understanding of it by the public,” he wrote, “it was my father’s injunction that I should write a full and true account of the Cooch Behar Betrothal of 1878.”35 Soon after the wedding, the lobby supporting Sen prepared and published an elaborate defense of the marriage. The authors of the defense were Baboo Protap Chandra Mozoomdar, assistant secretary to the Brahmo Samaj of India, and Pundit Gour Gobinda Roy, the non-Brahman priest who was present during the ceremony, a prominent Brahmo with a reputaA Nineteenth-Century Debate   183

tion as an iconoclast. Both authors also wrote separate books about Sen and the Brahmo Samaj in which they devoted considerable space to the marriage controversy.36 Mozoomdar and Roy began their account on a rather defensive note: “If any one had written to the Acharjee [minister] in an impartial spirit, and keeping the general good in view, leaving aside all calumny and spite then . . . the Acharjee would have satisfied their curiosity.”37 Why did a marriage generate such uproar within the community? The particulars of the fracas between Sen and his critics highlight the critical role played by ritual and reform in the marriage ceremony of one of the most progressive groups in colonial India. Since the prime accusation against Sen was that he had gone against every tenet he preached during the previous conflict with the Adi Samaj Brahmos, it would be meaningful to recapitulate the 1878 matter in some detail, focusing on the communiqué between Sen and the British government, the self-appointed guardians of the princely state of Coochbehar; on the stir that the news of the marriage caused within the ranks of the Brahmo Samaj; and on the defense presented by Sen’s supporters and his detractors’ responses both immediately after the event and in later accounts. That commentators found it necessary to review every minutiae of the negotiations and ceremony lends credence to the claim being made in this chapter about the role played by rituals in marriage laws. The princely state of Coochbehar had come under the formal supervision of the Crown when ten-month-old Nripendranarayan ascended the throne of that province. To remove him from the “evil and retrograde” traditions of the royal household the British took charge of his education from a very early age, sending him off to the Wards’ Institute in Benares, followed by study at the Bankipur College in Patna. Eventually, when the Crown decided to end the maharaja’s education with a stint in England, the ranis (queens) of the household agreed to let him go only if he was married prior to his departure. Agreeable to this suggestion, Sir Richard Temple, the lieutenant governor, now set about finding a suitable wife for Nripendranarayan.38 There is some controversy about the number of eligible candidates whose families were approached by the British before they settled on the marriage to Suniti Devi. According to contemporary records, Jadub Chunder 184   Chapter 5

Chakravarty acted as a courier between Sen and the British. Sen, it was reported, “was completely taken by surprise at the proposal. As he later said in his own defense, he had not sought a marriage for his daughter at all, even though she was above 13 and therefore getting beyond the marriageable age in orthodox terms. Because he had not initiated the idea, he regarded it as coming from ‘Providence.’”39 Recalling the negotiations in her autobiography, Suniti Devi wrote: When the marriage was first suggested my father was very surprised. He never gave a thought to worldly or family affairs: his mind was too full of his religious work, and he refused the offer. But the Government and the representatives of the State would not be discouraged. They continued writing to my father, interviewing him and sending messages urging that the marriage of the Young Prince and myself was most desirable. My father repeatedly refused. In one of his letters he said that I was neither very pretty nor highly educated, and therefore, I was not a suitable bride for the young Maharaja.40 Despite his initial reservations regarding the proposed match—reservations centering on the fact that the prospective bride and bridegroom were both below the age of marriage sanctioned by Act III, that there were religious and class differentials between both families, and that he had apprehensions about the raja’s commitment to monogamy—Sen eventually gave his consent to the marriage. It is likely that the pressure exerted on him by the British government, as well as the promise held out by the match for the spread of the Brahmo mission, had something to do with his change of heart. According to B. Mozoomdar, Sen justified his decision on the grounds that it would lift the state of Coochbehar from the ignominy and reign of superstition that had befallen it.41 This was in fact the British argument for soliciting the match: Here is the Coochbehar State, the den of ignorance and superstition, with a corrupt court given to dissipation, polygamy, intrigue and oppression. The young Rajah has been saved by the British Government acting as his guardian. The women of the Raj family have been mostly removed to Benares, and others will follow. The administration of the affairs of the A Nineteenth-Century Debate   185

State has greatly improved in all departments, education, police, revenue, health etc. under the management of competent officers appointed by the British government. . . . Not a vestige will remain of the old regime and the ground will have been thoroughly cleared for political and social improvements when the young Rajah will be formally installed and begin to govern his immense territory. It is desirable, it is of outmost importance, that he should have an accomplished wife.42 There is enough evidence to suggest that the proposed marriage was attractively packaged to Sen as something that would enable the spread of Brahmoism to a supposedly backward part of the country. It was also made clear that there was little time to ponder the proposal or consult with people on its repercussions because, in the words of Deputy Commissioner Dalton, if the alliance were to take place it would have to be “now or never.” As Sen himself admitted in a personal communication to Frances Power Cobbe, “[he] felt it [his] duty as a public man” to consent to the marriage proposal. His own words on the subject were as follows: “I trusted, I hoped with all my heart that the Lord would do what was best for me, [my] daughter and my country. Duty was mine; future consequences lay in the hands of God.” While he proclaimed during the controversy that erupted when the Brahmo community came to know the news of the marriage that he had been acting upon the command of God, in his letters to Cobbe he also showed signs of responding to more secular calls. He argued that he was not lured by the raja’s wealth: “I have never sought a Raja. I never coveted filthy lucre. As a private man I should not have acted as I have done.” He claimed that many of his actions were due to the fact that he was acting not merely as an individual father but as a “public man.” In his correspondence with Cobbe, he wrote, “A good and enlightened wife, capable of exercising always a healthy influence on the Rajah, is the ‘one thing needful’ in the Coochbehar state. The Government in presenting these arguments before me seemed to ask me whether I would give my daughter in marriage to the Maharajah and thus help forward the good work so gloriously begun in that State by our benevolent rulers in the interests of millions of the subject population.”43 In another letter he wrote, “If my conscience acquits me, none can convict me. . . . The British government sought me and my daughter; a Christian 186   Chapter 5

government that knew me thoroughly to be a Brahmo leader, proposed the alliance, and the weighty interests of a State were pressed upon me with a view to induce me to accept the proposal and make the needful concessions.”44 Ironically, as a “public man” Sen was going against some ideas that had caused him to break from the Adi Samajists as well as press for the promulgation of Act III. What were the “concessions” he made? Before we go over those, we should make note of the statements Sen made in his letters describing his acquiescence as a response to divine commands: “I saw, I felt that the Lord had himself brought before me in the strange ways characteristic of His Providence, the young Maharaja of Coochbehar for alliance with my daughter. Could I say no? My conscience bade me to obey.”45 He admitted that he was doing his duty without considering the consequences of his actions. Once the match was agreed upon, from 24 January 1878 until 6 March 1878, when the wedding took place, there were constant negotiations between the Coochbehar authorities (representing the Hindu ranis), the British government, and Keshub Sen regarding the procedures that would be observed in the marriage. Early during this process, on 8 February, the maharaja wrote a letter in response to Sen’s query avowing his faith in theism and monogamy. The defense that was published by his supporters afterward mentioned four demands that Sen placed before the Coochbehar authorities. First, he apparently demanded that the raja “must acknowledge in writing that he is a Brahmo or theist.” Second, the marriage must be “celebrated according to the rituals of the Brahmo Samaj, that is Hindu rites expurgated of idolatry though such local customs might be retained as were unidolatrous.” Third, it mentioned that Sen had requested that the marriage be celebrated only when the bride and bridegroom attained marriageable age, meaning fourteen and eighteen, respectively. But “if it could not be deferred till then, for the present there might be a formal betrothal only, the due consummation of the marriage being put off until the return of the Maharajah from his European tour.” The fourth and last point goes back to the question of rituals: “All the theistic conditions as to marriage must be strictly observed; but on other points where local usages of a simply unreasonable or absurd nature were insisted upon, these might be tolerated.”46 A Nineteenth-Century Debate   187

His critics argued that, contrary to what was stated by Protap Mazoomdar and Gour Gobinda Roy, Sen had been completely uncommunicative about his decision from the start. Several individuals, including Ananda Mohan Bose and Umesh Chandra Dutt, had written to Sen, as had the Brahmo Samaj of Dacca and Chittagong; many others, such as Sivnath Sastri, had personally visited him with a view to discussing marriage procedures.47 Let us now turn to the more specific points on which the marriage was criticized. First, there was the question of accountability: Why did Keshub Sen make the decision without consulting with anyone else to marry his daughter to the raja of Coochbehar? Second, the Brahmo public was outraged that both the bride and bridegroom were below the age of marriage stipulated by Act III and concerned about the question of ritual procedure. The journal Brahmo Public Opinion fired its opening salvo with questions about the appropriateness of the match. This is what it said about Maharaja Nripendranarayan: “The bridegroom was born of orthodox Hindu parents and was brought up as a strict Hindu in practise though he was under the tuition of competent European teachers. He was a young man of fifteen and a half, had scarcely seen anything of the world and although his belief in the established religion of his forefathers had considerably been shaken, yet he had no firm faith in any other religion. He had never in his whole life gone to the Brahmo Mandir [Brahmo prayer hall] nor had ever enjoyed the company of or received instruction from a Brahmo preceptor.” “When such a person offered his hand to the daughter of a Brahmo father,” argued the journal, such a father should have said “nay,” or at least should have waited for some time until the young boy grew into a man to see if his daughter’s feelings for him “[ripen] into unchangeable holy love.”48 Related to the question of eligibility were issues to do with the degree of initiative Sen had shown to ensure that the proposal of marriage culminated in the wedding. According to his two spokespersons and on his own admission, Sen had “never made any effort for such an alliance.” The opposition argued that although he did not initiate the proposal, once it came “he left no stone unturned in order to bring the alliance” to a successful closure.49 The most acrimonious aspect of the dispute centered on the questions of age and rituals. Critics were furious about the ambiguity inherent in Sen’s 188   Chapter 5

four demands. Some of their more specific remarks are worth dwelling upon at length in order to get a full appreciation of the extent to which the public got involved in a private marriage. It was argued that the raja had never admitted in writing or otherwise that he was a Brahmo. Instead, he remarked, quite rationally it appears, “If I visited a Brahmo prayer meeting and became a Brahmo in one day, then I could also be called a Christian since I have attended a Christian church several times with devotion.” Sen’s defense stated that the raja “possessed the nature of a Brahmo” and was sympathetic to the Brahmo cause. What exactly, asked the critics, was the “nature” of a Brahmo? “What time,” they inquired, “did Mr. Sen take to find this ‘nature’?” At the time his conditions were laid down Sen barely knew the raja. Furthermore, what inquiries were made about the raja’s faith “in the religion of the Brahmo Samaj?” The raja had been brought up as a Hindu in his habits, diet, religion, and everything else. Before the British approached Sen for his daughter’s hand in marriage to the raja they had made the same request to a Hindu gentleman in Madras. Given this background, the critics queried, “What educated native is not a Brahmo in the sense in which the young Rajah was a Brahmo—a Brahmo in profession but not in practice?”50 Another significant departure from the Act of 1872 was the age of the wedding couple. Both Nripendranarayan and Suniti Devi were minors in 1878, and hence a plea was made to consider the marriage a betrothal rather than the start of a union between a man and woman as husband and wife. According to the defense, prior to his daughter’s wedding Sen had officiated at a number of Brahmo weddings where the age of the bride was between ten and thirteen. Though he was hesitant about his role in these marriages, once the dosa (vice) of child marriage had been removed through the performance of certain vows and rituals he had no further qualms about them. Brahmo marriage regulations had always contained the provision that until a woman attained puberty her relationship with her husband would not be consummated. In other words, according to the defendants, long before the promulgation of the Act of 1872, Brahmo marriage regulations had contained certain clauses against the consummation of child marriage. The law passed by the state merely formalized what had long been in practice. Moreover, they argued that the state of Coochbehar was a sovereign province, A Nineteenth-Century Debate   189

not under the government of the colonial state; therefore the Act of 1872 exercised no sway there. Even if the marriage had taken place in Calcutta, the raja was not obliged to follow the clauses contained in the act once he returned to Coochbehar. To invoke the law in this case was both “futile and redundant.”51 In his rejoinder Sivnath Sastri quoted extensively from Sen’s Town Hall lecture of 30 September 1871, parts of which were cited earlier. Sen had argued that for the sake of gradual transition he supported the act in the hope that people would eventually balk at the prospect of marrying their daughters off earlier than at age fourteen. Given Sen’s previously held viewpoints, Sastri asked, “Was he unaware at the time that most girls in our country attain puberty before age sixteen?” Sastri reminded readers that when Babu Nabagopal Mitra pleaded with Sen to rid his daughter’s marriage of the dosa of child marriage through the performance of certain ceremonials Sen responded with heavy sarcasm in the Indian Mirror. “In sum,” wrote Sastri, “we had not tussled over the bride’s age of marriage, until the movement for the civil marriage law took off in all earnest. During that time Keshub babu had said that 16 was the ideal age of marriage for girls.”52 But all that was forgotten when it came to his own daughter’s case. On the question of ritual procedure, it was alleged that the marriage did not take place in accordance with the rites that had been determined upon by the Brahmans of Coochbehar and Keshub Sen’s representative, Babu Gour Gobinda Roy. A manifesto was prepared on the basis of the meeting, where the following points were stated. First, the bride or bridegroom would not be made to participate in any idolatrous ceremony before, during, or after the marriage ceremony. Second, the site of the wedding, the mandap, or platform, would not be adorned with any images of gods and goddesses or a sacred flame (homa) or a sacred urn (ghat). Third, the two parties would determine the mantras that would be recited by the priests during the ceremony; reciting any more than was planned was expressly forbidden. Finally, in order to avoid argument or conflict over procedure on the designated day it was agreed that the manifesto would be signed by the deputy commissioner. Needless to say, numerous discrepancies were pointed out in observing these clauses. The main ceremony was preceded with performances by danc190   Chapter 5

ing girls, an abomination to the Brahmo aesthetic sensibility and a practice that Debendranath Tagore had gotten rid of. Sastri wrote that there was some commotion before the wedding when the bridal party sighted a “small platform upon which there were a few banana branches, 9–10 urns, and some objects wrapped in a red cloth.” Some people thought that the objects were idols of Shiva and Gouri, to be worshipped before the wedding. When the matter was reported to the British deputy, he denied that any of the objects on the platform were “sacred” or that they were meant to be worshipped. Apparently, there were no idols on the platform, merely a few objects of “customary” value. Sastri remarked, “Even those who have the slightest knowledge of Hindu religion and ritual will know that urns are often substituted for idols of gods and goddesses.”53 On the basis of such evidence the critics dismissed all claims about the nonidolatrous nature of the wedding. Sastri and others also pointed to some other lapses, which Sen’s defendants had neglected to mention in their account. Namely, the bride was made to perform a prayaschit (purging) ceremony before the marriage, and Sen himself was not allowed to perform the sampradan (giving away the bride) because of his religion and visits abroad. The marriage took place before a homa, the wedding platform was decorated with all the forbidden items, and the script of mantras that was prepared beforehand was abandoned. The wedding could not be officiated by a Brahmo or even by a Brahman who had renounced his sacred thread. There was no mutual exchange of vows or a prayer meeting or advice by the acharya to the congregation. These took place after the main Hindu wedding before a small crowd of assembled Brahmos. Sastri argued that upon reaching Coochbehar, Sen had decided that the bridal side would not be associated with idolatry of any kind. But did such a statement not leave it wide open for the groom to participate in idolatrous wedding rituals?54 Sastri’s and the other critics’ accounts are at odds with the recollections of the pro-marriage lobby. Here is what the bride herself had to say about the wedding ceremony: “Now to the ceremony itself. The Upasana (Divine Service) at the Mandap was conducted by Keshub Chunder himself. The ritual followed was the unidolatrous one which had been prepared at Calcutta in consultation with the Raj priest by no less a non-Brahman iconoclast than Pandit Gour Govind Roy. It was the same non-Brahman that A Nineteenth-Century Debate   191

presided over the ceremony.”55 Clearly, there are discrepancies in the representation of the event. Suniti Devi’s outrage at some of the criticisms that were leveled against her father are clear in her autobiography: “What more could Keshub require? What could any sane, unbiased Brahmo demand but that the best of the Hindu ritual should be retained and the idolatrous portions expunged? Indeed, the Brahmo ritual such as it was then, such as it is now, and such as it will be in India, let us hope, for ever is that and nothing else.”56 Reading Suniti Devi’s statements, the historian is reminded of the type of ceremony that was once approved by Debendranath Tagore. But, as noted earlier, Sen and his faction had broken away from the performance of such ceremonies, that is to say, of ceremonies which were basically comprised of Hindu rituals purged of their idolatrous elements. This and the fixing of a minimum age of marriage had been Sen’s reasons for leading the agitation for a marriage act for the Brahmos and for his support of Act III. Could it be that the Coochbehar authorities had duped the bride’s party? Or had forced them into performing rituals which they would normally have refused to countenance? The critics argued that Sen was aware that there was no unanimity about how the marriage ought to be performed before he set out for Coochbehar. Two days prior to the marriage a message was sent to him stating that “Brahmo ceremonies had been introduced into the ritual, and this could not be allowed.” Considering that all Brahmo rites had been vetoed from the wedding even before the wedding party had started for Coochbehar, why did Sen not use this as a reason to break off the match? Why, asked Brahmo Public Opinion, did he not save the Brahmo Samaj from the “humiliation of an idolatrous marriage”? Instead Sen adopted a policy of conciliation by dispatching a “protest” to the said letter. Another point that was stressed in this letter was that there should no nautch (dancing) girls at the wedding. To this a reply came stating quite simply that “the train had been engaged, times had been appointed, and no postponement was now possible.”57 In his booklet on the Coochbehar betrothal, which was also included in the longer work Biography of a New Faith, Prosanto Kumar Sen includes “a much needed correction” with reference to the confusion about ceremonials. Sen writes, “Considerable confusion has been caused by the omis192   Chapter 5

sion, conscious or unconscious, of the fact about the last telegram from the narrative of the Coochbehar betrothal.” Contrary to what was publicized, there was a postscript to the rather rude telegram about trains that Keshub Sen received on 23 February. This was followed by another telegram on 24 February with the assurance that Keshub Sen’s demands about the nature of the ceremonies would be met. Prosanto Sen alleges that the critics deliberately ignored the information in the second telegram that was published in the columns of the Indian Mirror on 17 April 1878 and concentrated only on the contents of the previous missives that were published in the Dharmatattva on 28 March 1878.58 It was therefore easy for them to fault Keshub Sen on his decision to leave for Coochbehar even after he had received a discourteous telegram. “Was it possible,” the critics wrote, “to interpret this message [the one about trains] in any way favorable to the fulfillment of the ‘marriage conditions’?” It was quite plainly a “snub.” If Sen was truly committed to the clauses of the 1872 Act then he would have called off the wedding at this time or at the very least insisted upon the ritual procedures being fixed before he left for Coochbehar.59 It should be pointed out that even in their scathing indictment of Sen, his critics noted that “agitation and controversy” on the subject of rituals raged until three in the morning of the day of the wedding. In particular, even “on Wednesday [the day of the wedding] controversy on the subject of the homa did not cease but was hotly pursued.” The critics would have rather had Sen refuse to send the bride to the Rajbari (palace) even at this stage; suspension of the marriage was necessary to save the Brahmo Samaj from “degradation.”60 It is impossible to settle on one side or the other of the combatants in this dispute regarding the marriage of 1878. This much, however, is certain: the wedding did not take place according to the law of 1872. But what exactly was the status of the law among those who had most enthusiastically promulgated it? Interestingly, writing a defense of the marriage in 1903, Prosanto Sen argued that Keshub Sen was primarily interested in getting legal sanction for Brahmo marriages that were not idolatrous. Looked at in this light, the negative injunction contained in the act, namely, “I do not profess the Hindu, Jain, Buddhist . . . ,” was “not only innocuous but perfectly true.” A Nineteenth-Century Debate   193

Prosanto Sen read this to mean “I object to being married in accordance with the usual rites of Hindu religion.” He further added, “I do not profess the Hindu religion is as true a declaration for a Brahmo as ‘I do not profess the Christian, Parsi or Muhammadan religion.’ ”61 If this was the case, then why did Keshub Sen and his followers need to break away from the Adi Samaj? Debendranath Tagore had from the beginning been a proponent of marriage whose form was Hindu without its idolatrous contents. The younger Brahmos under Keshub Sen had at the time argued for a clean break with Hinduism since nonidolatry could be found in the Upanishads as well. Prosanto Sen concludes his observations on the Act of 1872 by making two points. First, he argues that “it would have been much more in harmony with the genius of Keshub and with the catholic spirit of the faith he daily preached and practised if there were none of these negations but one all-embracing affirmation necessary for legalizing Brahmo marriages.” Second, the charge that he betrayed Act III in the Coochbehar betrothal was completely groundless because “the Civil Marriage Act [Act III] had no application to Cooch Behar, it being outside British India, and therefore, the question of compliance or non-compliance with it was quite beside the point in the present case.”62 So the legal aspect of the dispute was deemed a nonissue. Now let us analyze the question of Hindu elements in the Brahmo marriage. At the beginning of the negotiations, Lieutenant Governor Dalton wrote a letter to Jadub Chunder Chakrabarty, which is cited in Suniti Devi’s autobiography. The Brahmo-Hindu tussle was clear in the tenor of this letter, as was the attempt by the British to enact their policy of noninterference. Dalton wrote: Of course my object is to avoid any unnecessary display of Brahmoism. In marrying a Brahmo girl the Rajah makes a great concession to enlightened ideas, but it is most desirable that this connection should be softened as much as possible in the eyes of his relatives, at Cooch Behar and elsewhere, who are still wedded to the old superstitions, and who would look with horror upon any departure from the old Hindu formula. I therefore wish to dissuade Babu Keshub Chunder Sen from bringing with him any of those who might be called his followers, apart from such 194   Chapter 5

as are his immediate relatives. In fact, we cannot permit any Brahmo demonstration whatever, and those who come must bear in mind that a single speech in any way whatever relating to Theism versus Idolatry will not be permitted.63 According to Borthwick, Dalton also overruled having bridesmaids, a novel addition in Brahmo marriages. “Even the Brahmo principle of equality was undermined by the limitations imposed on the male guests. Their social status was to be of the level that they ‘are entitled to be admitted and given a seat at the Lieutenant-Governor’s Durbars.’ ” Borthwick cites Dalton as remarking rather “complacently” that “it is possible that he (Keshub) may look upon this marriage as the inauguration of a new era in the history of social and religious progress. But in Cooch Behar, at all events, he must wait for the fructification of work until the Rajah attains his majority.”64 With reference to the marriage ceremony, the report filed by the British government authorities says the following: “The rites observed were Hindu in all essential features, though in deference to the religious principles of the bride’s father, idolatrous mantras were omitted and the presence of an idol was dispensed with. . . . Care was, however, taken to retain whatever the Brahmans considered essential to the validity of the marriage.” The report concludes rather indefinitely, stating that while “the ordinary Hindu ceremony was modified so as to meet the wishes of Babu Keshub Chunder Sen . . . the fact that the Brahmans consented to perform it shows that the marriage was recognized by the Hindus as orthodox.”65 The 17 March edition of the Indian Mirror reported that there were idolatrous objects present on the mandap. Although these were not worshipped they were an insult to the Brahmos. The ceremony itself was not idolatrous. While Gour Gobinda Roy formally presided, Brahman priests officiated. The homa was performed in defiance of the previous settlement, with only the groom present, which rendered it incomplete. The Brahmo Divine Service had to be conducted in the inner apartments as Keshub Sen’s speeches were marred by great disturbance. The Mirror concluded, “The principles of Brahmo marriage were barely preserved, but for all practical purposes the majority of our co-religionists present on the occasion were deeply dissatisfied. On the other hand the Ranees, and the representatives of the Hindu A Nineteenth-Century Debate   195

element in the Coochbehar Raj, were equally dissatisfied. They felt that the essential requirements of a Hindu marriage had been set aside, and they were consequently distressed and angry.”66 The lines between Brahmo and Hindu get blurred even further when we read the defense presented by Keshub Sen’s supporters of the use of symbols at the ceremony. They argued that the ghats (urns) present on the marriage platform were customary rather than Hindu symbols. With reference to the objection raised by Sivnath Sastri that Sen should not have believed the statement that they were only auspicious signs and symbols and should have insisted upon their immediate removal, the defenders argued: Who does not know that there are symbols, apparently puerile, that lend poetry, sanctity and sweetness to what would otherwise be dull matterof-fact? The blowing of conch shells, the placing of ghatas (urns), the burning of dhupa (incense), the ringing of bells, the lighting of candles for varan (welcome), the garlanding with flowers and the exchange of garlands, what are they but symbols after all? To one foreign to Indian life and traditions these may appear unmeaning and unprofitable. But to the son of India and to the manner born such rights and sounds are fraught with an inexpressible meaning and have an unconscious influence on the mind by reason of their age-long associations. If this sounds like a plea to be respectful of place and prejudice in the face of liberal reformism, then the following is a statement in favor of making reform itself more elastic: The Brahmo marriage ceremonial was really, in most cases, the Hindu divested of its idolatrous portions. It was so at the time, and it is so even to this day. Indeed, there is no stereotyped Brahmo ritual. It is elastic enough to admit of certain characteristically picturesque variations such as by introduction of the Saptapadi (the seven steps) or other symbolic ceremonials of venerable associations. As regards the use of turmeric, puffed rice, cocoanut, the shuttle, and other similar ancient symbols it is a matter of common knowledge that they are welcomed at the most up-to-date Brahmo weddings when introduced as auspicious by Hindu relations, without the slightest apprehension of any idolatrous taint in 196   Chapter 5

them. Equally appropriate should it be in Brahmo marriages solemnized in other countries and communities to introduce characteristic customary rites and usage having no savor of idolatry or superstition.67 By way of concluding this discussion on the Coochbehar marriage it should be clarified that there are many other viewpoints which argue that the marriage was the result of a British conspiracy against the Brahmo movement or that Keshub Sen’s critics Sivnath Sastri, Haranath Bose, Jadunath Chakrabarty, and Bijoy Krishna Goswami used the marriage to avenge certain personal grievances they had long held against him. On Sen’s side it was argued that in order to break off the marriage he would have had to pay the Coochbehar state a sum of 150,000 rupees. Later historical scholarship does not overrule the possibility that Sen regarded marriage to a maharajah as a good “opportunity for his daughter” in terms of acquiring social distinction.68 It is not my purpose here to go into the details of each one of these views, but it is appropriate to end this section with a statement that was published with Sen’s permission and that reflected his stance on the wedding as it took place: We can state with authority that it is not the intention of the Minister to support all that took place in connection with his daughter’s marriage, or that he would even fully defend his own side. There are certain incidents in connection with this marriage, which if they have grieved anybody else, they should be told that his own heart has been more aggrieved about them than anybody else. The forms and ceremonies were not altogether as he would wish, and he never concealed his own dissatisfaction about them. If anything wrong has taken place,—as other people will, for conscience’s sake, protest against it, he too is prepared unreservedly to call it wrong.69 The Fate of Act III of 1872: Brahmoism, Hinduism, Law, and Ritual

The question of Brahmo identity was intimately bound up with marriage. Yet the community that adopted the first civil marriage law in 1872 remained torn even after the passage of the law on the question of its own identity. Rather than enable Brahmos to assert their renegade status from the Hindu fold as legitimate, the law was seen by many as a negative injunction that A Nineteenth-Century Debate   197

was not synchronized with the everyday practice of Brahmos. These practices were fluid, in constant negotiation with Hindu tenets and rituals. This perspective was articulated in the book Brahmo Vivaha Bidhi by Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis published in 1916. In the introduction to the book Mahalanobis wrote that ever since it was enacted in 1872, the marriage act remained a subject of great controversy and strife among the Brahmos. There were repeated proposals to amend the law, but nothing had actually been done to put the proposals into practice. Rather than seek legal intervention from the state, Mahalanobis’s aim in this book was to look back at the history of marriage in the Brahmo Samaj and question the validity of the teen ain. He did not express any doubts on the importance (to the Brahmos) of codifying their marriage procedures. It was a matter of debate, however, as to what formal steps these procedures would take. He cites with approval a passage from one of the best-known Brahmos, Rabindranath Tagore, to make his point. It was in the nature of Hindu civilization, wrote Tagore, to accommodate those who differed with established social norms within the folds of Hindu society. . . . Today that no longer seems possible. If any section or any group wants to stake its difference they will have to disconnect themselves from Hindu Samaj. In the past this act of detachment was looked upon with mute horror. . . . But today, whichever group is even a little unlike has to secede from the main body. This is because British laws have taken up the authority to determine what is Hindu and non-Hindu—the British have no responsibility to preserve. . . . Hindu Samaj therefore only knows how to let go. But letting go does not help us preserve our strength and longevity. . . . Not having the strength to cheerfully accept new elements in society but helplessly severing them is not a sign of life. Furthermore, accepting the assistance of a foreign ruler to aid in this act of cutting off is suicidal.70 The import of this statement was to persuade people to think of Hinduism in more expansive terms so that it would be able to accommodate those with differing and varied practices. As noted by various historians, British attempts to codify Hindu laws ended up imposing uniformity where there had been much diversity. 198   Chapter 5

I have sought to demonstrate in this chapter that there were forces within the social body that stressed the need to define Hindu law in far more unorthodox terms than we usually think of, that is, in terms of the dharmasastras or other scriptures and read by interpreters from the late eighteenth century on. As Pandit Sitanath remarked in his opposition to Act III of 1872 cited in the text compiled by Mahalanobis, “The most important exception taken to the Act is that it requires the parties marrying under it to virtually renounce the Hindu name. The intense feeling of nationality that has been growing in the country during the past 30 years or so makes this renunciation repugnant to many of those who care little for orthodox Hinduism. A growing number of Brahmos share this repugnance.”71 In fact, at the time Mahalanobis was writing his book Brahmos were criticizing civil marriage itself, arguing that any marriage that did not include Brahmo worship (upasana) was no Brahmo affair at all. If the registration of the wedding became more important than the Brahmo ceremony, that would be disrespectful to the Brahmo creed. Many young men therefore rejected the 1872 law. Mahalanobis wrote: We are not saying that the teen ain should be scrapped or that everyone should be forced to disavow the teen ain. We say people accept the teen ain for manifold reasons. Whatever reason persuades an individual to accept the law ends up being the most important one in his estimation. Therefore we can never summarily declare that accepting the teen ain is a crime. It is not even our intent to criticize people who accept the teen ain. . . . We are merely asking that our opinion, which is that the teen ain is a superfluous aspect of Brahmo ceremonials, be recognized, and Brahmo marriages performed according to Brahmo rituals be considered valid. He spoke in favor of codifying Brahmo rituals so that they would have legal authority. The basic tenets of Brahmo regulations, according to Mahalanobis, were the following. First, the bride and the bridegroom or their parents should be members of the Brahmo Samaj. Second, neither party should have a husband or wife still alive. Third, there was no objection to the couple being closely related (i.e., to consanguinity). Fourth, the bridegroom should be older than eighteen and the bride older than fourteen. Fifth, notice of the marriage should be given to an acharya appointed by the Brahmo Samaj; if A Nineteenth-Century Debate   199

within twenty-four days of serving the notice no objections were registered to the proposed match, then it could take place in accordance with brahmopaddhati (Brahmo procedures). In other words, Mahalanobis insisted that a legally valid Brahmo marriage was one performed with rituals deemed proper by most Brahmos.72 In a presentation of the relevant statistics Mahalanobis clarifies that both child marriage and polygamy had been on the wane among the Brahmos over the prior thirty years. The age of marriage had increased largely over the prior twenty-eight years (calculated from 1916) rather than in the aftermath of the promulgation of the act. These factors and a desire for spiritual autonomy in religious and legal affairs determined the Brahmo opposition to Act III.73 Mahalanobis quotes with approval a passage from Rajnarain Bose’s autobiography: “For the first time in the history of India, the Government is going to interfere with the religion of a class of his majesty’s subjects, by rendering a civil ceremony indispensably necessary for the validity of a religious one. Who is to be blamed for this? Not government, but we ourselves who are going to surrender our religious rights into its hands of our own accord.” According to Bose, the act was without precedent in the Anglo-Muslim history of India: The former Mohamedan government as well as the present English government have all along allowed Mohamedans or Hindoos differing from the orthodox faith to determine their own rites, manners and customs, and never questioned the legal validity of these rites and customs. The Sikhs, the Nanakpanthees, the Kabirpanthees, the Sadhs, the Chaitanya Vaishnavas, the Feranghees, the newly sprung Kokas of the Punjab as well as numerous other bodies of heterodox Hindoos or Mohammedans have all along enjoyed the privilege, as a spiritual patrimonial right handed down from generation to generation. Why should we only, the Brahmos, be deprived of it? . . . Now for the first time it [the government] is going to take away from us the right which all heterodox Hindoos and Mohammedans have all along enjoyed.74 Bose thus considered Brahmos a part of the larger Hindu world, as did Mahalanobis. The latter was explicit that the rules he cited in his book

200   Chapter 5

would allow the Brahmos to maintain active links with and identify with Hindu society. Conclusion

Writing about the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, Werner Menski rightly observes the penchant among legal thinkers of considering sastric (scriptural) elements in marriages a retrograde step. He criticizes authors who argue that the law “should be either amended suitably so as to break the religious shell of the marriage or be removed completely from the statute book.”75 My effort in this chapter has been to show that such liberal visions, which had no place for ritual and religion in legal matters, have been a part of matrimonial legislation in India since the colonial period. However, they remained the vision of a (powerful and influential) minority. Even those Brahmos who did get married according to Act III questioned the need to preserve this law for the community. The debate about the necessity of a legal statute to govern matrimonial affairs continued into the early twentieth century, as evidenced by Mahalanobis’s 1916 tract. Mahalanobis argued that the Brahmos were capable of setting down certain rules of marriage within that community. The Act of 1872 was entirely superfluous and only served to split the Brahmos into three separate groups. It is noteworthy that the argument against the Act of 1872 was not so much against instilling uniform procedures in marriage as against having an impersonal and nonritualistic legal statute administered by the state governing the social affairs of the Brahmo community. In postcolonial India there were provisions made in the new legal system to recognize two separate laws whereby there would be two kinds of marriages recognized by the state. One was a civil marriage, defined under the Special Marriage Act of 1954, which was basically an amended version of Act III; the other was the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 (one of the laws that made up the Hindu Code bill). According to the former, two individuals coming together in marriage were no longer required to renounce their respective faiths (as they did in the 1872 Act) and could be married by a government-appointed marriage registrar. Sushama Sen, a member of Parliament, recorded her support for the Special Marriage Act, noting that it

A Nineteenth-Century Debate   201

was a “mark of the enlightened conscience of free India” which was a “bold attempt at remodeling the structure of Hindu society.” But if this law was as popular as Sen would have us believe, why was it (like the 1872 Act) also reserved as a “permissive measure”? Furthermore, almost as a concession to its detractors, the 1954 Act, like its 1923 predecessor, dropped the negative injunction of the 1872 law. People who chose to register their marriage before a state-appointed registrar no longer had to declare that they were not Hindus, Buddhists, or Jains.76 On the other hand, the law of Hindu marriage, as scholars have argued, “is the same after the passage of the Hindu Marriage Act as it was before its passage.”77 As rightly observed by Menski in his encyclopaedic volume on Hindu law, “The legal criterion for validity of a Hindu marriage is not whether it was registered in some form by the state, but whether it was performed in accordance with traditional rituals and ceremonies.” Menski cites the relevant passages from the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955: (1) a Hindu marriage may be solemnized in accordance with the customary rites and ceremonies of either party thereto, and (2) where such rites and ceremonies include the saptapadi (i.e., the taking of seven steps by the bride and bridegroom jointly before the sacred fire), the marriage becomes complete and binding when the seventh step is taken. From this he concludes that even the postindependence codification of marriage laws have “entirely preserved the old customary position under Hindu law, whereby the solemnization of a marriage is a matter of the respective families concerned and is to be governed by family, community, and caste custom. . . . These vary by locality, caste and family, and from case to case, so that custom needs to be interpreted flexibly and undue rigidity is to be avoided.” Menski’s observations about the customary nature of Hindu marriage are relevant to the argument that I have attempted to make about the relationship between law and rituals and are therefore worth quoting at length: A Hindu marriage is customary in the sense that it constitutes a specially constructed sequence of steps that have elements of customary traditions in them. In essence such Hindu marriage rituals are ad hoc situation specific reconstructions of cultural bricks that are being recycled as the rituals of marriage solemnization proceed. Viewed in this manner 202   Chapter 5

every single Hindu marriage becomes an entity in its own right, operative within the conceptual framework of “custom,” yet not rigidly defined in every minute point of ritual detail. Taking this pluralistic and flexible view clashes with the formal, more restrictive understandings of the legal concept of “custom,” which are too rigid and inflexible.78 I would like to push the implications of Menski’s conclusions further. Menski regards the persistence of “traditional” ceremonies in Hindu marriages—a tradition that was invented largely during the colonial period—as a failure of legal procedure to introduce uniformity in marriages.79 He accepts this as a condition of the “postmodernity” of marriage laws in India. Flavia Agnes’s observations on the presence of rituals in the legal definition of Hindu marriage in modern India are more critical. She argues that despite parliamentary declamations that Hinduism was not a “religion” but a “culture” and that the Hindu Marriage Act transformed marriage from a sacrament into a contract, “the form of solemnizing the contract remained Brahmanical and scriptural with saptapadi (seven steps round the sacred fire) and vivaha homa (the sacred fire) as its essential features.” But rituals and customs, she argues, despite being labeled as ancient must (and do) undergo constant modification in a pluralistic society. It is ambiguous, however, as to whether or not all such modifications are necessarily legal. Furthermore, in Agnes’s reckoning customary practices have also responded to the pressures of urbanization, with “the media and Hindi films” contributing “to the confusion by projecting these practices as valid forms of Hindu marriage.” These forms include the exchanging of garlands before a well-known sacred site in a city where the couple happen to be located (such as the Kalighat temple in Calcutta), applying vermilion on the bride’s forehead and hair, signing some papers before a lawyer, and the man tying a mangalsutra around the bride’s neck. All or some of these are often perceived as “legal” marks of a valid marriage.80 Whether or not the persistence of religious and secular rituals in weddings is retrograde or confusing is not what concerns me here. Rather, the one element that emerges with certainty from both Agnes’s and Menski’s accounts, but which goes unexplored (and thus unremarked) in their analyses, has to do with the centrality of rituals in the making of laws pertaining A Nineteenth-Century Debate   203

to marriage. This centrality, even if the rituals themselves are diverse and changing, points to the rather unique character of law itself in India as it evolved from the second half of the nineteenth century. The history I have documented in this chapter demonstrates the resistance to viewing rituals and laws as distinct phenomena. Rather, rituals were treated as constitutive elements of the law. The fuzziness that Menski notes in legal positions relating to the Hindu Marriage Act on the status of customary ceremonies and ritual procedures in marriage is due to the fact that most writers fail to recognize the constitutive role played by rituals in laws pertaining to marriage. These rituals are by no means uniform and vary according to community, religion, and caste. Yet the obsessive investment in rethinking and fashioning a whole new set of marriage rituals was very much a modernist agenda. What lawmakers in effect achieved in postcolonial India was a legal separation between the “civil” and the “religious.” A civil marriage as defined by the Special Marriage Act did not require individuals to renounce their faith, but held the question of religion, ritual, and belief in abeyance at the time of the wedding by simply having the marriage performed before a registrar through an official signing in the presence of a state official.81 Rituals and religious belief thus became a matter of the “private” constitution of individuals, not something that entered the realm of state legislation. A Hindu marriage, on the other hand, could vary widely from region to region and among communities and the state did not legislate what constituted a proper Hindu ceremony. The definition of Hindu thus became a matter of custom, and the law recognized what was broadly called “customary” practices. Once again, to defer the ritualistic and religious to the realm of the customary has the effect of making custom a private concern of the communities in question. This in turn produces what Veena Das has called communities as political actors.82 The community would henceforth decide how a valid wedding ceremony should be performed. By thus determining custom, the community, rather than the state, is responsible for defining what constitutes the collective past and present of its constituents. When the notable legal theorist J. D. M. Derrett argued that, in the traditional system of Hindu marriage, the state had no active role, he was basically reflecting on the privatization of marriage as an affair regulated by 204   Chapter 5

communities in postcolonial India. Derrett does not analyze how this phenomenon came to pass. He simply notes that marriage remained a private affair, implying that it was an event confined to the realm of the social and familial. Hindu society and not the state legitimized and publicly registered all proper Hindu marriages.83 With the advent of colonial governance, both the state and sections of the Indian intelligentsia became concerned with fixed rules that would govern the social affairs of the natives. Thus the Brahmos, a community that was on its own admission among those most self-consciously influenced by the ideals of Western Enlightenment, and whose differences with the Hindus remained disputed, became concerned with how their marriages were to be solemnized and legally validated. Yet, as demonstrated by the Coochbehar case, while the modernist reforms of 1872 sought to effect substantial changes in marriage law by declaring marriages legally valid even when they defied the ritual norms of any given community, in practice a marriage shorn of established ritual practices could be practiced by only a tiny minority. The concerns voiced by Mahalanobis were indeed shared by legal and constitutional thinkers of later decades. They assumed a more sophisticated exposition in the hands of B. R. Ambedkar, who argued for a provision of civil marriage in Indian legal statutes. For Ambedkar, rights inhered in the individual and not in the caste, village, or community. Thus the Hindu Code bill he designed provided for a civil ceremony wherein individuals could marry irrespective of their religious beliefs. But such avantgarde thinking could not be representative of all Indians. Hence there had to be provisions in the Hindu Marriage Act for also granting legal recognition to marriages performed through rituals and ceremonies, while not clearly specifying what these were. While many theorists have criticized this position, I have tried to historicize this ambivalence in matrimonial legal statutes in India by showing that lawmaking on marriage cannot be divorced from an engagement with and accommodation to rituals. To do so would be a fundamental misunderstanding of the transformations that the marriage form underwent from the 1870s on. The discussion of Brahmo marriage procedures and the Coochbehar controversy has been an effort to demonstrate how central rituals were to matrimonial lawmaking in colonial India. A Nineteenth-Century Debate   205

Chapter Six

N a ti o n a l i z i n g t h e J o i n t F a m i ly ♣♣♣♣♣♣♣♣♣

The Hindu Code Debates, 1955–56

Within four years of the transfer of power from the British colonial to the Indian national government, and a few months after the new constitution was adopted, India witnessed a struggle for power between the president of the newly formed republic, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, and the prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. The battle between the two political titans was followed almost immediately by the resignation of the first law minister, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, in October 1951, on the eve of the first general elections in the country. At the heart of these political convulsions was the Hindu Code bill of 1955–56, a set of three laws governing marriage, family, and property matters for all Hindus and one of the most controversial pieces of legislation that faced the newly elected government of India in the first decade after independence. Why should a new nation make the family an object of urgent reform? Explaining his reasons for stepping down as law minister, Ambedkar chastised the Nehru-led Congress for dragging their feet over the Hindu Code bill. He considered this to be the most important piece of legislation that the Indian Parliament would ever have to deal with. “No law passed by the Indian legislature in the past or likely to be passed in the future can be compared to it in point of its significance.” Still speaking about the proposed bill he said that to “leave inequality between class and class, between sex and sex, which is the soul of Hindu society, untouched and go on passing legis-

lation relating to economic problems is to make a farce of our Constitution and to build a palace on a dung heap. This is the significance I attach . . . to the Hindu Code.”1 Certainly there was no dearth of legislation in the years that followed the birth of the new nation-state. The country had just emerged out of a bloody partition and was limping back to fragile normalcy as the government and politicians battled over the reorganization of states, the regulation of companies, and issues of untouchability.2 Why, then, did the nation’s first law minister, one of the chief framers of the constitution, decide to push for what would no doubt be a difficult and challenging piece of legislation pertaining to “personal laws” even before the birth pangs of sovereignty were over? Why did the reform of personal law, and for only one community, so preoccupy the leaders of the sovereign, secular, Indian nation-state? Why would they take the risk, however inadvertently, of appearing to define the nation as Hindu? Of course, these questions, asked in hindsight, would not have seemed obvious to them. If Ambedkar’s or Nehru’s statements about the Hindu law reforms are any clue, there was in their collective endeavors a desire to draw Hindu society out of the rut in which it had got stuck during the preceding two hundred or so years of colonial rule. Or so thought many of India’s new legislators. Speaker after speaker in parliamentary debates noted that Hindu society was “petrified” and the Hindu Code reforms were imperative to inject some life and justice back into that social system. The Hindu Code bill and the political and social questions it raises are a subject so important that it deserves a separate monograph (or more). For my purposes, I wish to note that there was a powerful and visionary section of India’s new leadership who, much like the colonial liberals who preceded them, regarded the domain of the family, that is to say matters concerning marriage, kinship, and property, as a zone of backwardness needing reform. The purportedly traditional joint family was what the leaders set out to reform. Central to the idea of the joint family was the practice of arranged marriage, unelective weddings negotiated by families which transferred the married daughter permanently to a different kin network. Arranged marriages and the joint ownership of property were seen, in turn, as inimical to the projects of modernization and modernity. To change the principles of the family, one Nationalizing the Joint Family   207

necessarily had to tackle the foundations of Hindu matrimony. Hence the leadership resorted to the greatest liberal instrument, the law, to reform this important area of social life. This political and legislative attempt to create autonomous propertyowning and rights-bearing individuals, out of traditional kin-related subjects, in order to develop capitalist property and liberal citizen-subjects in India had important consequences, but did not succeed in realizing its own aims. The eventual legislation demonstrated the tenacity and resilience of the many constructions of the joint family favored in Indian society. The laws failed the reformers in part because they operated with static ideas about what was traditional in Indian marriage and family systems. The Hindu Code reforms showed clearly the ways the joint family was in fact in synchrony with the goal of modernization espoused by the new Indian nation-state. Not surprisingly, the laws that made up the Hindu Code bill had to do with some aspect or other of Hindu marriage. The “Code” refers to a composite body of laws, made up of distinct sets of legal enactment—the Hindu Marriage Act passed in 1955, and the Hindu Succession Act, the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, and the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, all of which passed in 1956.3 As we analyze the debates on the Hindu Code we will also be moving from the immediate arena of the Bengali marriage market to the national stage. This is because with the passage of the laws that made up the Code, and the Special Marriage Act just the year before, in 1954, marriage was, in a manner of speaking, nationalized. In other words, for the first time we have some notion of an Indian Hindu marriage with some regional and customary variations. This also makes clear that by legislating for a uniform code that would govern the personal laws of all Hindus, the sovereign Indian nation-state was at the same time creating legal norms guiding the relationship of the individual to his or her family, for these laws dealt with critical topics such as Hindu women’s right to divorce and questions of minority, of adoption, and of what constituted a legal Hindu marriage. Despite the importance of all the clauses mentioned above, in this chapter I focus on the law on women’s property rights, the Succession Act, which altered the laws relating to women’s inheritance rights vis-à-vis their pater208   Chapter 6

nal and marital property. The debates surrounding the Hindu Succession Act raise certain fundamental questions not only about women’s rights to their natal family property after they got married; more generally, they also shed critical light on Indian ideas about the ideal entity that should be the bearer of property-related rights. Let me elaborate. Srimati Basu’s ethnography on women’s rights to their paternal and natal property conducted in the 1990s yielded some significant results. Basu concluded that many women, including those who were educated and politically conscious, held back from making claims to property because of a belief (spontaneous or arising through perceived social pressures) in women’s lesser rights. This, despite the fact that the Hindu Succession Act of 1956 had granted women certain rights to paternal property. Basu’s survey showed that 66.7 percent of women felt that daughters “should get family property in an ideal situation.” But only 18.3 percent actually claimed their property, leading Basu to the conclusion that “in contrast to the familial and cultural realm, the Hindu Succession Act (1956) had changed matters only ‘in the realm of formal law.’”4 The situation described by Basu finds counterparts across the country, both now and earlier.5 For example, when the Rau Committee first solicited opinions on a very early version of this law in different parts of the country in the early 1940s, they found “women who tried to fight against certain provisions favourable to them. They fought against the provision of giving property to women.”6 Indeed, to this day there are hundreds of middle-class, educated women who voluntarily give up their rights to inheritance in their paternal property, or they have difficulty getting recognized by their parents and male siblings as the rightful owners of property, even though the Hindu Succession Act gave them some very specific rights. The main aim of this chapter is to understand from a historical perspective the reasons behind this wide gap between legal enactment and social practice. The only way to do this is to listen carefully to the dilemmas, fears, and arguments articulated by both men and women at the time that the Hindu law reforms were being codified. Ostensibly the problem presents itself as one having to do with women’s inheritance rights. For the historian researching the history of property rights, it is therefore imperative to look at legal debates on women’s right to property. Such debates took place both in Parliament and in contempoNationalizing the Joint Family   209

rary films, magazines, and newspapers and reveal conflicting views about treating women as property-owning individuals. Yet a closer analysis of the different viewpoints articulated in the course of the Hindu Code debates demonstrates that what appears at the outset to be a problem about gender discrimination was in the ultimate analysis a much larger and deeper problem about modern property, family values, and personhood. At its core was the question of how the ownership of property would be conceptualized in India. One is struck by the recurrent talk about landed property and the fear of its fragmentation while the issue of women’s inheritance rights was under discussion during the Hindu Code debates. The ubiquity of this more general talk about property and the pitfalls of fragmentation leads us to the conclusion that the concerns about the Hindu Succession Act go beyond questions of women’s rights and Indian feminism. The Hindu Code debates actually foreground a more general view of property and the family that affected men as well. These debates are suggestive of a very particular history of modern property, or, more accurately, a notion of the propertied subject in some respects peculiar to modern India. The joint family idealized in Indian debates and practices suggests that the figure of the propertied subject, a fundamental conceptual unit in the history of liberalism, was conceived along lines interestingly different from, say, what may be found in Lockean discussions of the same.7 The rest of this chapter attempts to elaborate on and explain this observation. The most controversial feature of the Succession Act was that it recognized the share of the “first class” of female heirs, namely, daughters’ and wives’ share of the intestate father or husband in the joint family property. However, this share was not equal to the share or status of the son since the latter was deemed to be coparcener (member of the joint family) by birth.8 The Hindu Succession Act therefore granted daughters limited inheritance rights with their male siblings to paternal property. This was a legal attempt to establish that women’s rights to their natal family property did not cease with marriage, a belief that was and continues to be ubiquitous among Indian families.9 The effort to change popular behavior through legal reform proved to be much harder than lawmakers imagined. First, the notion of property as invoked by the law remained highly restrictive. Married women could make 210   Chapter 6

no claims upon agricultural property, which constituted the bulk of immovable property in India at the time the law was passed. Nor could they ask for a share in the undivided dwelling where the male successors of an intestate Hindu resided. Second, despite women’s being given the right to property, their inheritance remained much disputed. This was true from the point of view of women actually staking their claims to family property or of their being recognized by their parents and male siblings as the rightful owners of property. Why has there remained such a gap between legal imaginations of female personhood and the actual lives of Indian women? If, as argued by numerous scholars, the laws of 1955–56 were biased against women, that only begs the question of why this was so. What was the ideological milieu that generated a degree of consensus between people of differing political persuasions that women (especially married women) should give up their rights to paternal property, and that if they failed to do so, there must be enough legal loopholes that would allow the family to legally deprive women of property rights? There was a very sizeable group of men and women in India who were keen to see the Hindu law reforms pushed through, but there was an equally large number that vociferously opposed the reforms. It could be said that the debates on women’s property rights caused a veritable cultural war among important political groups in post-independence India, a war that centered on the ideal conception of a female citizen-subject, the significance of marriage in defining women’s status, and the putative nature of the Indian family. The debate was not restricted to parliamentarians or career politicians; Indian feminists too remained deeply divided on the issue. Both sides were reflected in contemporary public culture, as evidenced by the numerous novels, poems, and films on the topic. Interestingly, however, the passage of the laws did not in any way mark a resolution of the cultural clashes between different factions. Rather, the reform and codification of Hindu personal laws took their particular shape due to the introduction of a third factor into the debates: the imperative of development in postcolonial India. Even though they disagreed radically in their opinions about women’s rights and the nature of the family, ultimately most groups in postindependence India were invested in a particular developmentalist credo. It Nationalizing the Joint Family   211

was this economic vision, one that as such was extraneous to the realm of personal law, that proved decisive in the Hindu Code debates. The picture of a developing India ironically merged with the faith of those who believed in the sanctity of undivided family property. This dream of India as a robust and developing economy made up of families whose property remained undivided ultimately clinched the debates about women and family. Background

Before delving into the immediate debates and controversy over the Hindu Code both in governmental and nongovernmental circles, it would be useful to briefly outline the narrative history of its enactment.10 In the 1920s Mahamahopadhyaya Dr. Ganganath Jha, a legal scholar and member of the Viceroy’s Council, urged codification of the Hindu Law. Although the project was deferred at the time as being a gigantic endeavor, it spurred many writers to state the law in the forms of books and articles. Noteworthy among these efforts were Sir Hari Singh Gour’s Hindu Code, Sri S. V. Gupte’s Hindu Law in British India, and Sir Dinshah Mulla’s Principles of Hindu Law. In 1929 a bill was introduced which was a piecemeal attempt to alter the succession rules in Hindu families. It was the Deshmukh Act of 1937–38 and the All India Women’s Conference’s official call for a uniform civil code that precipitated the chain of events leading to the laws of 1955–56.11 Basically, the Deshmukh Act, better known as the Hindu Women’s Right to Property Act, gave the widow a son’s share in the separate property of “an intestate Hindu and her husband’s interest in the joint family property at Mitakshara and customary law.” This act did not mention the rights of the daughter, nor was the widow’s right to property absolute as the law did not give her the right to alienate her inheritance. As noted by Derrett, by 1938 there were so many bills pending that the “only course” available to the state was “to order an investigation of the situation as a whole.”12 Thus it was that the Act of 1937 as well as all the bills pending were placed before a committee headed by Sir B. N. Rau (1887–1953), a retired judge of the Calcutta High Court, in 1941. It was the Rau Committee that recommended that “piecemeal legislation ought not to be attempted, but a complete Code should be prepared.” The Rau Committee’s aims were ambitious and visionary. But it is also signifi212   Chapter 6

cant that rather than preparing an entirely new code, what they proposed was a piece of comprehensive legislation that would contain elements of all preexisting sastric enunciations on the subject of marriage, property, and family law. The committee was therefore hopeful that not “even conservative opinion [would] be entirely unresponsive” to the measures they proposed. The Rau Committee envisaged a “judicious selection and combination of the best elements” of Hindu legal thought, “which, while retaining the distinctive character of Hindu law, [would] satisfy the needs of any progressive society.” Their proposed code would base its law of succession on the ideas of Jaimini rather than those of Baudhayana and its law of marriage on the best parts of the Code of Manu rather than those which fall short of the best: a Code which generally speaking shall be a blend of the finest elements in the various schools of Hindu law; a Code, finally, which shall be simple in language, capable of being translated into the vernacular and made accessible to all. Such a Code will doubtless take time and many minds will have to collaborate in its preparation.13 The 1941 report by the Rau Committee was accompanied by two draft bills, which were submitted for consideration before both houses of the legislature. The report received much publicity and a Hindu Law Committee was revived in 1944, again under the chairmanship of B. N. Rau.14 This committee authored a draft code, which was circulated as the Hindu Code bill, dealing with succession, maintenance, marriage and divorce, minority, and guardianship and adoption (first draft). It was translated into twelve regional languages and the Rau Committee toured the nation and examined witnesses, on the basis of which it prepared a report in 1947. This latter report was published in the Gazette of India on 19 April and was introduced in the Legislative Assembly as Bill No. 42 of 1947.15 The central government solicited the opinions of provincial governments on this bill, with the intention of making it into a law by 1 January 1948. The bill received a general assent from the states of Orissa, Delhi, Madras, and Bombay, while the other provincial legislatures remained uncommitted to a response. The Ministry of Law revised the bill (second draft) and referred it to a Select Committee under the leadership of B. R. Ambedkar, with the intention of making it Nationalizing the Joint Family   213

more suitable for discussion under the Constituent Assembly in independent India. However, the whole project was suspended during the turmoil that ensued around the independence and partition of the country. It is noteworthy that during this time, when the Rau Committee and the Ambedkar Committee were attempting to pass legislation nationally, there were in some states—Baroda, Bombay, Madras, and Madhya Pradesh— laws passed against bigamy and permitting divorce. Many opponents used this fact, that individual states already had laws in place permitting or forbidding some of the clauses that the Code sought to address, as an argument for the Code’s redundancy. In the meantime, the Ambedkar Committee made significant changes to the second draft,16 which was referred back by the Constituent Assembly to another committee, also under Law Minister B. R. Ambedkar, who then framed a third draft. Since this third draft of the Hindu Code became extremely controversial, and failure to generate support for it eventually caused the law minister to tender his resignation, it makes sense to analyze its most disputed clauses. Ambedkar and the Hindu Code Bill

Ambedkar’s main aim, in his own words, was to “codify the rules of Hindu law which are scattered in innumerable decisions of the High Courts and Privy Council which form a bewildering motley to the common man.” Madhu Kishwar, in her analysis of the Hindu Code reforms, argues that Ambedkar was among “the most enamoured of the state’s right to run people’s lives.” For him, “customs,” which played an important role in legal decision making in India, existed only because the country had hitherto lacked an effective parliament. He argued, “What other way was left open to regulate their life except to make their own custom because there was no parliament . . . ? But when we have a parliament, the function of which is to make law, the question that we have to . . . consider is whether we are going to allow people as such who are outside parliament to have a parallel authority to make their customary laws.”17 Ambedkar’s speeches in parliamentary debates from this period resonate with a missionary zeal for reform that earned him the (derisive) epithet of a second Manu. In the manner of previous British liberal thinkers, he described Indian Hindu society as “static” and “inert.” Likening his proposal 214   Chapter 6

to “slum clearance,” he insisted that Hindu social mores required urgent reform. In his reformist endeavors with regard to the Hindu law reforms, Ambedkar made it clear that public opposition to the bills—indeed, in the post-partition milieu there were serious reservations against these measures—should not stand in the way of the government. He noted that it would be impossible for Parliament to act freely if it was subject to the “vote of the ignorant people outside who do not know the elementary facts of law making.”18 The parts of the draft code which aroused the ire of members of the Constituent Assembly and a large section of the public had to do with the laws of succession and marriage. On the questions of adoption, minority, and guardianship Ambedkar repeatedly assured members of the Assembly that the rules “embodied in the Bill were in no way different from those obtaining under the present law.” As far as succession was concerned the clauses proposed by Ambedkar were a genuine attempt to establish equality between the sexes. Ambedkar proposed, first, that the heir or heirs had an absolute right to dispose of the property they inherited either by gift or by will or by any other manner of their choice. This was a departure from preexisting arrangements as it extended the Dayabhag rule of property to the territory in which the rule of the Mitakshara operated.19 The heirs could thus treat the property they inherited as their absolute property and not as something belonging to the coparcenary. Second, under the new code the widow, the daughter, and the widow of a predeceased son were all given the same rank as the son in the matter of inheritance. It follows from this that the number of female heirs recognized by the proposed Code was much larger than under either the Mitakshara or the Dayabhag. Moreover, the third draft did not discriminate against a female heir on the basis of her economic circumstances (that is, whether she was rich or poor) or her marital status. Third, with reference to the rule of inheritance in the Dayabhag, in which the father succeeds in preference before the mother, the proposed Code altered the position so that the mother came before the father. Fourth, the bill made two changes with regard to stridhan:20 it consolidated the various categories of stridhan into one single category and laid down a uniform rule of succession, and it gave the son a right to inherit half the daughter’s share of the stridhan, when formerly he had no such right. Fifth, the bill proposed Nationalizing the Joint Family   215

changes in the meaning of a “woman’s estate.” It was no longer property that was inalienable and whose income she could enjoy during her lifetime, after which it would go back to the reversioners of her husband. The bill sought to convert this limited estate into the woman’s absolute estate.21 As in the clauses on property, the third draft proposed by Ambedkar made some changes with regard to rules of marriage and divorce. First, it declared that marriage under the bill would be valid irrespective of the caste or subcaste of the parties entering into wedlock. Second, it ruled that the identity of gotrapravaras (consanguineous relations) was not a bar to marriage. Third, it made polygamy illegal. Fourth, the bill made a departure from the old law which recognized sacramental marriage as indissoluble. The new bill provided for various conditions under which a marriage could be declared null and void or invalid or could be dissolved.22 At first glance, it does appear that the terms proposed by Ambedkar marked a radical break in Hindu law, and his polemical style only bolsters such an impression. However, if his speech before the House is analyzed in detail, it becomes clear that the proposed laws varied in the degree of their impact on existing systems of Hindu family law. On marriage and divorce, as Ambedkar himself noted, the clauses were not as new as they were purported to be. He states that many communities in India, about 90 percent of the country’s population who were shudras, already had a system of divorce.23 Polygamy had been banned by legislation in some parts of southern India, Madras, Bombay, and Baroda, while abolishing caste restrictions in matters of marriage was a permissive rather than a restrictive measure. As Ambedkar argued, “The vydhikas, the orthodox, are left free to do what they think is right according to their dharma. The reformers who do not follow dharma but who follow reason, who follow conscience, have also been left to follow their reason and conscience.” As far as marriage law was concerned, the result he expected from all this was “a competition between the old and the new.” He went so far as to express his “hope” that “those who are following the new path will win subsequently.” But if they did not, he was “quite content to allow two parallel systems of marriage to be operative in this country and anyone may make his choice.”24 Compared to his proposals regarding marriage, his interventions in matters of property appeared to be more fundamental. Answering the charge 216   Chapter 6

about the violation of the Mitakshara coparcenary, Ambedkar posed his defense in terms of a question: “Where a large part of the estate, of the assets lies outside the coparcenary property and so far as the coparcenary property is concerned, the father has the right to alienate without any kind of limitation except the immorality of the debt, the son has a right to create a charge on the property enabling the creditor to sue for partition, is it something which might be called a solid system, which is fool-proof and knave proof?” In others words, since “coparcenary property law as it stands, contains within itself the elements of disruption,” he did not see why women should be barred from being admitted into ownership. Urging members of the House not to conflate the joint family system with the coparcenary, Ambedkar noted that the only change proposed by the third draft was that “the joint family in the Mitakshara law will be on the same footing as the joint family under Dayabhaga law.” This hardly constituted an attack on the joint family system per se. After all, in Bengal, where Mitakshara did not prevail, the joint family system was quite functional, as it was everywhere else. “The only distinction,” he maintained, was “that the members of the joint family instead of holding their rights as joint tenants, will hold them as tenants in common.”25 Ambedkar then made a rousing speech defending women’s right to absolute property. This is one part of the Code that truly merits the epithet “radical” and that came under fire in all subsequent discussions of the bill. “It is said that women are imbecile,” Ambedkar began; “it is said that they are always subject to the influence of all sorts of people and consequently, it would be dangerous to leave women in the world subject to the influences of all sorts of wily men who may influence them . . . to dispose of property both to the detriment of themselves as well as to the detriment of the family from which they have inherited the family property.”26 But why, he asked, should it be that when women have an absolute right over their stridhanam property, a recognized Mitakshara rule, they are at the same time considered incompetent to handle a share in the family property? What he appeared to be driving at here is that his opponents were not against women’s right to property per se, but their rights to joint family property and the status of coparceners. This is something we need to bear in mind. The radicalism of the Succession Act in the Hindu Code bill lay not so much in its granting Nationalizing the Joint Family   217

to women the status of propertied subjects. Rather, it was the proposal for women’s inclusion in the coparcenary that aroused the ire of the House. Regarding the question of a daughter’s share in her paternal property, a subject he rightly described as a “ticklish” and “anxious” issue for many members of the House, Ambedkar went into a long defense based on a reading of the scriptures. The conclusion he drew was this: “The only innovation which the Bill seeks to make is to raise the status of the daughter.” It made her an heir along with the son, the widow, the widow of a predeceased son, and the son of a predeceased son. The law of 1937 had already recognized the widow and widows of a predeceased son and grandson as simultaneous heirs. The only novelty in the proposed Hindu Code was to rightfully extend the list of females to include the daughter. Regarding the question of her share, he noted, “The original Bill had raised the share of the daughter to one half. My Select Committee went a step further and made her share full and equal to that of the son.” Recognition of the daughter as a rightful heir, he argued, was in consonance not only with the Smritis (a specific body of Hindu religious scriptures), but with every other legal system that Indians were familiar with: that of the Muslims, the Parsis, the British, and the Indian Succession Act. He ended his defense thus: “If a man has twelve sons and one daughter, and if the twelve sons on the day of death of the father immediately decide on partition and obtain a twelfth of the total property of the father, is the partition going to be much worse, if there was a daughter, the thirteenth, who also demanded a share? . . . If you want to prevent fragmentation we shall have to do something else, not by the law of inheritance but by some other law, whereby property shall not be fragmented so as to become less useful from a national point of view for purposes of national production.”27 Ambedkar’s invocation of “national production” and “fragmentation [of property]” is interesting. Clearly, he was responding to charges that the fragmentation of landholdings would be uneconomical for the new nationstate. It also draws our attention to the fact that the Hindu Code was part of a project that included other legal measures and planning initiatives geared toward restructuring the new nation-state. As noted by Archana Parashar, the Congress Party had not paid much attention to the law reforms prior

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to 1947.28 In the immediate post-independence period, however, the Hindu law reforms became key to the agenda of the Constituent Assembly, which was dominated by the Congress Party, suggesting that the Code was part of a much wider vision of the nation’s future. Let me reiterate that it would be difficult to make sense of the Hindu law reforms—not just Ambedkar’s draft bill, but also the relatively diluted laws that were enacted in 1955–56—if we viewed them entirely in terms of the parameters set up by women’s reform during the colonial period. In other words, it is not the case that the reforms encapsulated in the proposed Code were only about ameliorating the conditions of women in a newly decolonized society where the point of reference was always the colonial state. The Hindu law debates mark a break from a continuum of reform in which women were the site upon which debates about an Indian tradition or a modernity influenced by the West were conducted. Therefore, the retreat from the draft Code proposed by Ambedkar and the Code that was enacted in 1955–56 cannot be understood as a defensive nationalist response to the colonization of its spiritual or inner domain through invasive liberal ideas. At the level of rhetoric, at least, there was consensus even among those who opposed the Hindu Code that women’s equality was not something to be compromised in the new polity. As Madhu Kishwar has written, “It is noteworthy that all members of parliament opposing this reform . . . whether they were from the Congress or from other parties such as the Hindu Mahasabha, never failed to preface and end their speeches with an emphatic disclaimer of any intention to oppose justice for women.”29 But there was a substantial gap between the rhetoric of equality proposed in the draft Code and actual reforms that were enacted. This had to do with the fact that for most members of the House, marriage severed a woman’s links to her natal family. Many members held that a married daughter or widow must receive some kind of compensation, but the way to do this was not through her inclusion in the coparcenary. It is here that we find the Hindu law reforms coalescing with the developmentalist vision of the Nehruvian state, wherein fragmentation of property generally was regarded as anathema to the building up of a robust economy. The Hindu Code reforms must be seen as a package of legal interven-

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tions whose condition of possibility was enabled by the ethos of modernization espoused by the postcolonial Nehruvian state. The reforms were an attempt to restructure postcolonial Indian marriage and family to bring them in line with the proposed goals of the new state. The gap between what was proposed in the various drafts and the laws that were enacted must be understood in terms of a tension that characterized the modernization process in India. Congress, Women, and the Hindu Code

It was the third draft, prepared by the committee headed by Ambedkar, that unleashed nationwide controversy. A large corpus of literary and cultural productions expressed how divided public opinion in the country was on these issues. Bombay films, well on their way to becoming the epitome of Indian public desire and imagination, expressed these divisions eloquently. For example, a G. P. Sippy film, Shrimati 420, exultantly declared on its poster that the passing of the Succession Act of 1956 marked a “Red Letter Day in the History of Social Reform.” It also proclaimed that the bill marked removal of “Age-Old Injustice to Women” and promised the audience a film that “blazes a new trail in revolutionary social dramas.”30 Another cultural artifact from the time, but one taking a stance quite opposed to the Code, was Mr. and Mrs. Fifty-Five. Directed by Guru Dutt, this was an immensely popular film released in the same year that the Hindu Marriage Act was passed and took a critical look at the divorce and property clauses embodied in the Code. And consider the following poem, which mirrored some of the common opposition to the Code: Who wants the Hindu Code Bill? Not the Congress Not the Hindus Not the Jains Not the Sikhs . . . Will the Bill help to reform Hindu society? Society should not be reformed Society is unreformable Society reforms itself.31 220   Chapter 6

Such examples from popular culture abound and are worthy of research in and of themselves as indices of the cultural climate of the times. Two significant moments in the Hindu Code debates highlight the main points of contention as they appeared in the public sphere. The first controversy took place in the early years of the debates, between 1948 and 1951, when the president of the new republic, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, and India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, locked horns over the property and divorce clauses of the Code. The second debate was between two prominent female public intellectuals, Anurupa Devi (1882–1958) and Saralabala Sarkar (1875–1961); it was serialized on the pages of a leading Bengali daily, the Anandabazar Patrika, in 1954. There are some striking commonalities in the positions of politicians and public intellectuals in both these debates. As argued by Rajendra Prasad, the laws if passed would “force revolutionary changes in the existing structure of Hindu society and [would] inevitably create conflicts and dissensions resulting in litigation, if not open violent conflict among members of a family.” Prasad and Devi both expressed sadness that the joint family system was slowly disintegrating in different parts of the country. The Hindu Code reforms would only expedite this process, which would be a tremendous loss. To quote Prasad, “It cannot be denied that it [the joint family] has served in the past and serves even in the present, to the extent it operates as a most effective, unobtrusive form of insurance against the disabilities of childhood, old age, sickness and other forms of physical and other disability that an individual may be subject to.”32 Moreover, such insurance came at no cost to the state since it occurred through ties of natural affection. Only if the state could step into the place of the joint family to provide similar insurance could there be a case for expediting the breakup of this family system. On the issue of female inheritance, the position of Prasad and Devi was that women received a portion of property as stridhan, or women’s wealth, at the time of marriage.33 What they opposed was the possibility of the “intrusion” of a complete stranger into the family home. If Hindu law, like Muslim law, permitted marriage between near blood relations such disruption would not occur. But since this was not permitted, “the distribution of the daughter’s father’s property—particularly the hearth and the home—among herself and her brothers and other sisters is bound to bring together in a most Nationalizing the Joint Family   221

heterogeneous conglomeration a number of persons who may be strangers to one another.”34 This would lead to unnecessary litigation and conflict. The rhetoric here was of the family as a necessarily harmonious unit. Prasad was so set against the measures proposed by the Code that he was prepared to invoke his presidential authority to prevent the bills from being passed into law by Parliament. “The Parliament,” he noted, questioning its legal authority to enact this measure, “is not competent to enact a measure of such a fundamental character.” To Rajendra Prasad, a parliament that had been constituted “for the special purpose of framing the Constitution and then authorized by the Constitution to carry on till elections take place and a newly elected Parliament is summoned under that Constitution” lacked the democratic mandate necessary to enact such a measure. Furthermore, he described the Code as being “highly discriminatory.” “If its provisions are sound and beneficial,” he argued, “there was no reason why its operation should be confined to one community” and not extended to all other communities that suffered from the same “objectionable and deleterious personal laws and customs.”35 Given that Hindu law already granted a degree of latitude to custom and was therefore responsive to change, he saw no reason why it needed amendment through legal enactment. Indeed, it was in large measure due to the opposition that many like Prasad voiced that the Hindu Code reforms were shelved before the 1952 elections. As noted earlier, these events led to Ambedkar’s resignation as law minister. After the elections returned a new Congress Party ministry, the Code was broken up and passed piecemeal as a collection of separate laws. For Nehru the Code was critical for the modernization of Indian domestic practices, which in turn was necessary for the advancement of the Indian nation as a whole. He saw the Hindu Code as part of an overarching program for national development. In a letter to Prasad he wrote, “The bill is now in the opinion of many a very moderate measure of social reform with very little if any of revolution about it.” Whatever changes it proposed are “generally recognized by thinking people the world over as desirable and as being in consonance with modern conditions and the spirit of the times.” Nehru concluded his letter with two classic statements, which may be read as paeans to modernization: “When any social or economic changes are proposed in an existing structure of society, there are always some ele222   Chapter 6

ments which are strongly in favour of them and some opposed to them very strongly. No reform can take place if this opposition is considered to be an adequate bar to change.” Furthermore, lest he was seen as arguing in favor of reform from above, he added, “. . . it is hardly correct to say that public opinion is overwhelmingly against the proposed measure. Parliament is supposed to represent public opinion in this and other matters, and even apart from this there has been a very widespread expression of opinion in the country in favour of the Bill.”36 The Hindu Code bill became “an election issue” during the campaigns for the first general election that took place in India soon after independence in 1952.37 This came as a surprise to Nehru since he expected the economy to be the most important issue. As he argued before a press conference in Allahabad, a city where people appeared “to talk more about the Hindu Code bill” than any other matter affecting the country, the codification of Hindu law was necessary in order to remove social disabilities, which in turn affected the economic foundations of Hindu society. But even for Nehru it was important to defend the Code against charges of radicalism, as is evident from a speech he made at a press conference, where he assured the public, “A very great part of it [the Hindu Code] is mere codification. Hardly any part of it is a complete innovation. An attempt has been made in it to bring about a measure of uniformity keeping in view at the same time the different customs that have developed through the ages. There is nothing in it, so far as I know, and so far as many learned men in the Hindu Law and the shastras have advised us, that is opposed to the basic principles of the Hindu Law or Dharma.”38 There was little doubt, however, that for Nehru the Hindu law reforms were an integral part of the package of “national development.” In a speech before the House of the People on 5 May 1955 he announced his support for reforms: “[The bill] represents not merely what is incorporated in it but something more. I think it is highly important in the context of our national development. We talk about our Five-Year Plans, about economic progress, industrialization, political freedom, and all that. . . . But I have no doubt in my mind that the real progress of the country means progress not only on the political plane, . . . the economic plane, but also on the social plane.”39 Much like Nehru, Saralabala Sarkar made a strong case for women’s Nationalizing the Joint Family   223

financial independence vis-à-vis men in her reply to Anurupa Devi. She wrote that the absence of any economic or property rights for women had bred a slave mentality among women all through society. She described women without property rights as “meek,” “dependent,” and “needy” and argued that unless they were given these privileges there would be no scope for women to learn and master the art of property management. There were many women who, she argued, despite having a formal share in the property, did not so much as receive a monthly allowance. Only a more heightened awareness of rights would engender a sense of responsibility toward themselves and others.40 There were no congenital shortcomings in women that would keep them from being able to manage property. With respect to the issue of escalating tension that further fragmentation of property would lead to, Sarkar argued that since there were divisions made in order to distribute property among all the brothers, it was hard to logically maintain why the same privilege could not be extended to sisters. To say that to do so would encourage squabbles among brothers and sisters when hitherto there had been quarrels only among the male siblings seemed a weak proposition. Distributing property among men and women, she felt, could also be a cure for the social menace of dowry. Further, if sharing property with sisters resulted in a reduction of the family’s total wealth, the wealth accrued through the daughter-in-law had to be factored in. Finally, to argue that men were the carriers of honor for the lineage was to deny the role played by women in perpetuating that lineage. The positions outlined so far demonstrate the jostling among many strands of nationalist thinking about women and the family that took place in Parliament and in the press. They epitomized conflicting culturalist points of view and must be distinguished from the opposition to the Code from national or provincial organizations such as the Hindu Mahasabha and the Ram Rajya Parishad. Many of these groups, characterized by historians as “communal parties,” used the Code mainly for anti–Congress Party propaganda to score overtly political gains. They even twisted some of the Code’s clauses to mislead people, hoping to score electorally over the Congress Party. For example, in Rajasthan it was widely publicized that the Hindu Code sanctioned marriage between brothers and sisters; in Allahabad 224   Chapter 6

people were urged to swear by the holy water of the Ganges that they would oppose the Congress Party for propagating an irreligious Code.41 This kind of opposition has a long history in modern India and has been dealt with by historians at some length. My preoccupation in this chapter has been to understand the grounds on which people whose political inclinations were not identical with such right-wing groups, who were not propelled by the terror of a Muslim population explosion, expressed their opposition to the liberal precepts embodied in the Code.42 So far the battle lines appear to be sharply drawn between two groups whose views may be summarized as follows. One group saw the extended family, an unpropertied subject, as the ballast for a free Indian society. In the other group were people like Nehru and Ambedkar and a strong lobby of feminist leaders who formed something like an informal avant-garde strand within nationalism who looked to national law as a source of reform. From the late 1920s they were preparing to come into government and push through such reforms. Their arguments did not uphold the family as an inner spiritual domain of the nation. They wanted to intervene in the realm of family and marriage, to impose a degree of uniformity where hitherto there had been variegated custom, and render caste part of the private life of the individual. But they too had to adjust their program as they encountered much resistance from the other strand in the nationalist program, represented by the likes of Rajendra Prasad and Anurupa Devi. Thus it comes as no surprise that even after the passage of the three laws that made up the Hindu Code bill, Indian marriage and divorce laws manifest a peculiar combination of emphasis on ritual performance and liberal rhetoric at the same time. One significant step taken by the Nehru government was to pass the Special Marriage Act in 1954, which allowed for any two persons, irrespective of religious affiliation, to be married by a registrar appointed by the state. As Nehru remarked in a speech before Parliament on 21 May 1954, prior to the passing of this law, “This Bill . . . is a separate thing, and does not form part of what is called the Hindu Code series of Bills. . . . Nevertheless, it is, of course, connected with the various changes that it is sought to bring about so that it may be considered, broadly speaking, as a part of that approach.”43 The law was described as a “permissive measure,” implying that it was not incumbent upon citizens to Nationalizing the Joint Family   225

register marriages. By allowing for intercommunity and interfaith marriage the Special Marriage Bill was a step taken by the state to separate marriage from religion and community identity.44 The reader will recall that this process began in 1872. It was stymied because no religious community except the Brahmos had displayed any enthusiasm for it. But making civil marriage the subject of a separate law implicitly meant that the Hindu Code laws continued to retain elements of Hindu rituals and religious symbols despite pronouncements by the state that Hindu in the Hindu Code was a “culture” and not a religious identity. For example, while the Hindu Marriage Act (1955) sanctioned intercaste (as opposed to intercommunity) marriage and made rules governing the marriage of people with consanguineous ties easier, a valid Hindu marriage was still dependent upon the performance of certain rituals and ceremonies, such as the saptapadi. Rituals continued to be an integral part of law in postcolonial India. The one area of the Code that underwent maximum revision from the draft versions pertained to the clauses on women’s right to property. There is no doubt that even though the Hindu Succession Act of 1956 formally gave daughters a right to paternal property and recognized a widow’s right to her husband’s property, these rights are at best realized by a minority.45 Indeed, the final law effected some glaring departures from the draft code presented to the house by Ambedkar. The 1956 Act retained the Mitakshara coparcenary with only males as coparceners. Unlike the son, the daughter was not guaranteed a share in joint family property by birth, but only in the event of intestate succession. In a formal nod to the idea of equality enshrined in the Constitution, the law recognized widows and daughters as heirs by succession. But women were not recognized as coparceners by survivorship. This had serious implications for the gender equality celebrated by the framers of the act, something I will discuss shortly. Furthermore, the act greatly expanded the testamentary powers of a Hindu head of household, which had adverse effects on women’s ability to inherit paternal property. Finally, while it retained the Mitakshara coparcenary, the law got rid of the two systems where women were full coparceners, namely those among marumakkattayam and aliyasanthanam (Hindu systems of matrilineal inheritance) communities in the Malabar region.

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The Ideal Subject of Property in Postcolonial India

The Hindu Succession Act sought to ensure that property remained in male hands. While the law was certainly biased against women, it also imposed certain covert restrictions on (even) men’s freedom to alienate joint family property, a fact often overlooked in many scholarly critiques of the Code. This becomes abundantly clear when we pay close attention to the debates relating to the partition clauses of the Succession Act. As we listen to various members argue these clauses, it is clear that there was consensus that a married daughter had no rights to claim the partition of the “dwelling house” of an intestate Hindu. As one parliamentarian, C. C. Shah, argued, “A dwelling house is something which is almost sacred and that dwelling house must be preserved in the family.” Clearly, “family” here meant the sons (and their male heirs) and not the daughter, because the latter “generally gets married and goes to another family.” In the words of Syamnandan Sahaya, “If she [the married daughter] wants partition, it will mean great inconvenience to the other members of the estate who dwell in that house.” Some members opposed this particular provision, calling it improper, indecent, illogical, and discriminatory. “To say that the daughter cannot claim partition and that the son can do it means that there is something unworthy, indecent in regard to a daughter,” argued Pandit K. C. Sharma. “I do not mind if you do not give the daughter a share,” he continued, but “once you give her a share, I do not understand this sort of restriction.”46 Regardless of these counterarguments the general view supported by most members was that even if the house was “the only property of the family and there is no cash to give her share” it would be unfair to compel the sons to sell the property and give the female heir her share. The restriction on women’s right to partition rendered the idea of daughters’ and widows’ absolute estate virtually meaningless. As noted by Thakurdas Bhargava, the representative from Gurgaon, while absolute estate meant that the female heir could transfer her proprietary rights to a buyer, the fact that she could not ask for partition meant that there was no clear definition of what she was selling.47 As a concession to female heirs, it was repeatedly asserted that they would receive a share of the property in the event that the male members agreed upon a partition. This clause had far-reaching Nationalizing the Joint Family   227

implications for the daughter’s and widow’s inheritance rights. First, while the law gave both these classes of heirs absolute property rights, such rights were rendered meaningless insofar as a “dwelling house” was concerned if women could not claim a right to partition it. Second, by advocating that if partition took place the female heirs could not be barred from receiving a share, the law acted as a damper on even men’s desire to partition. Third, as Archana Parashar, in her discussion of these clauses, notes very usefully, by giving the male family members the right of preemption against anyone selling their share in the property the law ensured that “property continued within the family.”48 These clauses make it clear that the Hindu Code bill was not just about reforming personal laws. It was as much about retaining a structure of the family which was perceived as being most beneficial to building a new developing polity, namely, the joint or extended family whose property remained intact in the hands of male owners.49 On the basis of these conclusions it would not be wrong to suggest that the family rather than the individual emerged as the ideal propertied subject in the Hindu Code debates. Within the family, ownership remained with the male lineage. It would be impossible to argue conclusively why this happened, but by analyzing statements made in Parliament and in the print media on the eve of the passage of the bills, we can come up with some hypotheses. One anxiety that was repeatedly voiced in the course of the debates had to do with the relationship between women’s rights in their natal family property and fragmentation of landholdings. Interestingly, it was Uma Nehru, a female member, who in the 1956 discussions voiced her disquiet about the effect of the new law on landed property. Subsequently the matter was taken up by numerous members and invoked time after time in the debates. As V. P. Singh from Monghyr urged, “Like the clause in the bill that sought to exempt the dwelling house from being divided, so . . . agricultural land should also be exempted.”50 Similar points were made by many others. For example, Shri Altekar, another parliamentarian, argued that the law was especially disastrous to 90 percent of India’s small agriculturist population. In the context of the Indian village, he stated, “instead of making such fragments or giving rights here and taking them away there, we should keep 228   Chapter 6

the family and its property as far as possible intact so that sons will inherit and daughters will be provided for.” He added that he had no objections to giving a share to an unmarried daughter, but “if the married daughter takes away a share from the immovable property of the father . . . the property would disintegrate and there would be no perennial benefit to anybody.”51 Pandit Thakurdas Bhargava, the representative from Gurgaon, clearly epitomized the belief that “progress” in the immediate aftermath of independence meant a merger of the joint family with development. In a speech given to the House on 2 May he advocated that the act should not be applied to joint families.52 He strongly suggested that the Succession Act should respect the ways Mitakshara law had evolved in some states, such as Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar. In these places sons could not ask for partition during the father’s lifetime and property remained intact under male ownership. He was not against granting proprietary rights to women per se, but parity would be better served if the daughter-in-law rather than the daughter was given a share of her father-in-law’s property. He noted, “If the son’s wife should get any property, she may get it from her father-inlaw. . . . She goes into that family, she lives in that family, she creates wealth in that family . . . is a source of strength in that family . . . is a source of life in that family. That she should not get her share from the father-in-law is simply astonishing.” Daughters, he noted, did receive property from their parents. But it would be in the best interest of all if the daughter’s share remained in what was considered movable property. “It is entirely wrong to suggest,” he argued, “that the daughter is not getting anything from her father’s properties. I know lakhs of rupees are given by way of dowry. After the marriage, all along her life—not only to her, but also to her children—we go on paying for generations on festive occasions and otherwise.” His suggestion, which he presented before the House a number of times, was to devise a law such that “when the father-in-law died, the son and wife should get one share, the unmarried daughter one share and if there were any predeceased sons, their widows should get one share.” The main rationale behind this was that the daughter became part of another family once she was married. “It is natural,” he reasoned, “that parents should think that the sons, who will serve them in their old age, should get more.” Challenging the law minister’s interNationalizing the Joint Family   229

pretation of gender equality, a value enshrined in the Constitution, he asked “whether this equality of the sex pertains only to the son and daughter, between brother and sister and not between husband and wife?”53 Granting wives (daughters-in-law) an equal share with their husband in their marital family property would also prevent domestic violence and abuse of women in the families into which they were married and make couples consider carefully before divorcing. In a long diatribe against the law minister he asked: After all, what is the basis of this entire Bill? The entire basis is that instead of propinquity . . . you go on the basis of affection and love. Am I to understand that a daughter is not lovable, . . . affectionate, and that all affection and love are gone as soon as she seeks partition of property? I think the Minister is now coming back to the reasoning of those who reasoned otherwise. It means that on the basis of affection and love also, a daughter is not allowed to come near. . . . We are more afraid of the son-in-law and his father and his brother and everybody else, and we do not want that they may enter the house. If they enter, then the entire argument against this Bill fructifies, and it has force, which means that in small properties including land . . . there will be trouble. . . . If this is true of a dwelling house, then it is much more true of the two or four bighas of land from which a person draws sustenance.54 Bhargava’s belief was that every individual’s (male or female) best interests would be served within the structure of the family, which was identified by the male lineage. He approved of gender equality within the family. Hence unmarried daughters could rightfully assert claims to their paternal property. He went so far as to say that once they were married women should give up the immovable property they acquired from their father. Within the family, property was the trust upon which collective prosperity and wellbeing was based. It was not a hallmark of individual identity. Bhargava’s line was echoed by many others. Shri Bogawat, another member of Parliament, urged that, since 70 percent of the Indian population was very poor, granting married daughters a share in the father’s property would not only create uneconomical holdings but would also encourage “litigation and disaffection.” Much like Bhargava 230   Chapter 6

he asked, “Who puts in labour and who toils with the father? The sons. . . . Even among the business community you will see that it is the sons who put in their labour, enterprise, skill and everything and the property is increased on that account. If we give a share to the daughter, then I think we would be giving a set-back to all these enterprises and to the gains that sons would be contributing to the society.” Having canvassed opinion in his own constituency he concluded, “Not only the males but even the females do not like that their property should go out of the family.”55 At the time the Succession Act was being discussed by both houses of Parliament, issues pertaining to land reform were being considered by various state legislatures. The two most important planks of the latter were to devise ways to prevent the fragmentation of landholdings and fixing ceilings on the size of individual property in land. As one member, V. P. Singh, noted, “Today we are about to impose ceilings on agricultural property as a result of which no individual will have the right to own a large amount of land. If now we rule that even this limited amount of land should be further subdivided then he will not be able to carry on agricultural work on that land productively. The result will be that people will seek other employment where they can make better profits.”56 Moved by the same concern, another member, Bhagwat Jha Azad, asked the law minister to ensure that “after this [the Succession Act] is passed, states in which there is no such prior law can pass such laws disregarding this law, and can make provisions that landed property shall not be given to daughters. . . . If your interpretation is that under this law daughters will not be able to demand their share in land then I have no objection.”57 Azad’s remark betrays a concern about the implications of granting the right of property to daughters, especially a right in agricultural or landed property.58 An even stronger expression of this concern, one that epitomized the notion of the family as the propertied subject, came from R. C. Sharma. Not trusting every state government to enact laws that would be against fragmentation, he stated, “It would be desirable to provide that a joint family holding of agricultural land should not be liable to partition on the demand of a daughter or a son wanting a share unless and until a majority of co-sharers desire that partition be effected.”59 Finally, Law Minister Pataskar had to grant that, “as regards agricultural holdings, the problem of land reforms is being solved by different States in different ways. Land tenures Nationalizing the Joint Family   231

differ not only from State [to State] but also from area to area in the same State. . . . A common land policy has yet to be evolved. Under the Constitution, land, in all its aspects, is a state subject and any legislation, whether existing or future, will not be affected in any way by the provisions of this Bill.” Land reform and laws relating to that subject was the jurisdiction of individual states. Pataskar said, “The present law is what is known as personal law and it cannot override the provisions of a property law enacted in the interests of the agricultural economy of the country.” The development of Indian agriculture stood above any consideration of granting proprietary rights to women. The law minister’s remarks are conclusive in this regard. “It would thus be seen,” he assured the Lok Sabha, that “every effort has been made in this Bill to safeguard the legitimate interests of our rural population in respect of their agricultural holdings and to see that no provision of this law will come in conflict with whatever legislation may have to be passed in the interests of rural economy and in pursuance of the developing land policy.”60 The Hindu Code, of which the Succession Act was a part, was conceived during a period when leaders like Nehru were deeply influenced by contemporary discussions on how to manage post-war, post-imperial economies. The new Indian state and its new bureaucracy had an obsessive investment in quick industrialization and agricultural growth. A survey of texts written about poverty during this period makes it clear that most writers agreed that “by far the greater part of India’s poverty is rural but urban and rural poverty are intimately connected.”61 It was often said in the context of the post-war economy that in times of widespread unemployment urban workers fell back on the traditional, if scanty, sources of income available in their villages. Minus the rural connection it was generally agreed that the plight of the urban poor would be much worse than it was. In an influential book titled Poverty and Social Change published in 1945, Tarlok Singh blamed small and uneconomical holdings—and related to this, soil deterioration, poor quality of animals, waste, and inefficient use of resources—for the impoverishment of the bulk of the agricultural classes. He went on to add that two considerations were fundamental in any effort to reorganize rural society into an efficient system of production and a just system of distribution. First, he argued, “Since control over the management of land is 232   Chapter 6

the strategic keypoint in rural organization, we must have the peasants with us and not against us.” Second, any reorganization of peasant society had to be respectful of the basic psychology of rural society, which Singh summarized as a deep faith in the principle of ownership and the principle of equal inheritance among sons.62 Thus, the author recommended a system of “joint management,” in which the claims of ownership are respected but owners pool their land for the purpose of management. Nowhere in his analysis was there any mention of giving women a right to agricultural property. Such talk about making women into propertied subjects had once occupied an important place in the Nehruvian vision of planning, as evidenced in texts such as “Women’s Role in a Planned Economy,” produced by the Subcommittee on Women, a part of the National Planning Committee set up on 16 June 1939.63 But that was before 1947. Once political sovereignty was accomplished and leaders faced a real India, post-independence, an India dealing with the aftermath of a bloody partition, beset by problems such as the reorganization of states and the abolition of British-instituted land tenure systems, such idealism, with its much vaunted ideas of equality for all, evaporated. Nehruvian planners and experts now based their policies on expedience rather than justice for all. Certain features of the women’s movement in the decades surrounding independence also played into this marginalization of the women’s cause. As Mrinalini Sinha has recently shown, while the organized women’s movement became conscious of its upper- and upper-middle-class origins, it failed to recast women’s collective agency in ways that addressed the immediate problems of vast numbers of women in the fields and factories.64 Not surprisingly, then, the women’s movement did not come up with a sufficiently nuanced analysis of why women’s property rights were not in any way antithetical to the question of agricultural development, any more than similar rights for men. For the time being, consensus prevailed that given that fragmentation of landholdings was deemed the main culprit behind rural poverty, any changes in ownership patterns that would induce further fragmentation should be discouraged. Parliamentary debates around the Hindu Code echo many of the same concerns and, by extension, share many of the same biases. The victory of economics over idealism also comes through as we turn to the mouthpieces of industrial lobbies of the time. This is what an article in Nationalizing the Joint Family   233

the March 1949 issue of the Eastern Economist, the journal of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, had to say: It is curious how little of the discussion centered around basic economic factors. There is indeed a feeling among a few that economics played no little part behind the scenes. . . . The Hindu code minimizes those factors which attach to an individual by virtue of his birth and enables him to shape his destinies by free contractual relations. . . . The daughter will get a share equal to that of the son. . . . The principle of equal shares to daughters . . . it is said, not unreasonably, would aggravate the evil of fragmentation of agricultural holdings. . . . But this . . . can for the most part be avoided by wise use of the testamentary power and neither an urban family business nor a family agricultural holding need be prejudiced. . . . In the ultimate analysis, the true hallmark of a sound property system would lie in its mobility . . . in the reduction of hindrances to freedom of transfer.65 As observed by Madhu Kishwar, the real pressure groups behind the change in the property clauses of the act “were not women’s rights advocates but industrialists who saw economic advantage in rendering property more mobile in the hands of individual male owners.” Thus, by the time the Hindu Succession Act was passed six years later, the Eastern Economist argued in favor of dissolving the coparcenary, which meant that each individual heir would receive a share in the property of an intestate Hindu, instead of its remaining as part of the coparcenary. Even though this demand was not accepted in the final draft, industrial and agricultural lobbies appear to have been fixed in their belief that even with mobile properties men were much more likely to display a strong attachment to the notion of a family trust. The law, as it eventually came to be, appeared to be a direct response to the demand of lobby groups that continued their insistence that “daughters should not be given inheritance rights immediately but that these could be left to be introduced gradually by more progressive states.”66 Ultimately, Pataskar, the law minister who presided over the passage of this act, provided a legal loophole to prevent a daughter’s succession when he widened the scope of the will in the reformed Hindu law. Prior to the Succession Act, it was not possible for a Hindu to will away his interest in 234   Chapter 6

joint family property. The act changed that. There was strong opposition in the House against this particular provision. Members did not mince words when they argued that “those who have substantial property will so will it away to keep it only to sons.” Ironically, in arguing against the will members appeared to be favoring the retention of certain Mitakshara rules. Consider the following statements by V. G. Deshpande and Renu Chakravartty. Appealing to the law minister to amend the portion of the law granting complete testamentary powers, Deshpande stated, “This law is going to result in a will in every family. In order to deprive the daughter of her share, every person will make a will. . . . In villages printed forms of wills will be distributed. . . . Our Mitakshara system may be a bad system. But in the name of everything that is great in this country, instead of just breaking up the family property, I appeal to the Minister to accept this amendment.” Supporting him, Chakravartty, a communist member, urged that “the bar on testamentary power over coparcenary property” be retained so that it could not be willed away to adult sons.67 Sardar Hukam Singh of Kapurthala showed prescience when he described the situation that would motivate people to make wills. “People might will away their property,” he argued, “not with the idea of depriving their daughters or other female relatives of their due share, which they might otherwise get, but with a view to preserving their property and avoiding disputes among claimants.” While willing away property would create difficulties for widows, daughters, and minors, the strongest reason behind making a will, even at the expense of all these parties, was the fear that, “if there is a marriage in the family, the property would be divided and there would be fragmentation.” That fear would impel people “to this system of making a will” to seek a “guarantee and protection” against such divisions of the family property.68 Despite these arguments, the law minister remained stolid in his faith that he professed before the House: “I have got at least better faith in human nature, and I think the father . . . will have equal regard for the son and daughter.”69 The debates around the Hindu Succession Act clearly exemplify that ideological battles about marriage, family, and the individual were resolved on the ballast of two seemingly antithetical ideas. First, there was a strong developmentalist calculus that rested on the vision of a happier countryside Nationalizing the Joint Family   235

undisturbed by any challenges to land ownership. Second, despite attacks on the joint family system by legal enactment, there were enough measures undertaken to ensure that this system did not in fact wither away. As is clear, the debates brought many different cultural arguments about the family and the status of women to the center of Indian national life. But whatever their understanding of Indian culture, on the question of development some kind of accord, albeit an uneasy one, appears to have been established between people across the political spectrum. After all, at issue in these economic debates was a conception of a strong and economically robust nation-state. Underlying the talk about non-fragmentation of property was a particular economic ideology which saw fragmentation as deleterious to the development of a strong economy. If that compromised women’s ability to break an unsatisfactory matrimonial arrangement it was justified by some on the grounds that marriage was a sacrament, not a contract. And, in any case, the Hindu Marriage Act granted women the legal right to initiate divorce proceedings even if it did not ensure their economic personhood. In the final analysis, women’s interests figured in national debates only as long as they did not stand (or were perceived not to stand) in the way of India’s economic development. Although women were not granted immediate equality, many argued that the promise of equality held out by the law was enough for the time being. Pataskar, for example, remarked in a national daily that “henceforward daughters would have a sense of property irrespective of what actual property [they] could get under the law.”70 The nationalization of personal laws through the Hindu law reforms provided a forum for the clearest articulation of what was meant by the modern joint family, with the joint family ultimately defined as “the unit which holds property in common or which can hold property in common in the peculiar joint family tenure—not the houseful of relations which the expression ‘joint family’ conjures for the . . . layman.” Irrespective of what was pronounced by the letter of the law, the massive controversy generated by the Succession Act demonstrates that the family, rather than the individual, emerged as the propertied subject in immediate post-independence India. To put it somewhat differently, in the wise words of an astute observer of the Indian legal system, what these debates establish is that “law can neither give nor take away the fundamental sense of belonging . . . which 236   Chapter 6

exists respectively in the male lineal descendents of a common male ancestor and their wives and unmarried daughters. . . . The louder people clamour that ‘the joint-family is breaking up’ the clearer they make what seems to be a fact, namely that the strains that this adaptable institution now takes are heavy—but not yet too heavy for it.”71 The radical promise of the Hindu Code ultimately faltered on the postcolonial vision of the Indian economy. And insofar as the property question was concerned, the Hindu law debates made it clear that property inhered in the family, identified by its male ­lineage.

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Conclusion ♣♣♣♣♣♣♣♣♣

The 18 October 2004 issue of the popular news magazine India Today was devoted to arranged marriage. Three years earlier the same magazine had run a cover story on marriages called “The Great Indian Wedding.” Despite the three-year gap, both stories were triumphant about this peculiarly “Indian” institution. Aroon Purie’s editorial remarks in the 2004 issue are sufficient to give the reader the gist of what followed. Beginning with the observation that arranged marriage had not only survived but thrived in India, Purie noted that in recent years the institution had become more efficient thanks to a new breed of marriage professionals, including counselors, therapists, wedding planners, website managers, and wedding fashion designers. The “marriage bazaar,” estimated to have generated Rs. 50 billion in December 2001, had inflated further. “The rearranged marriage,” Purie argued, brought in its wake “rearranged roles.” Marriageable candidates were being asked to provide their medical history; working women, once considered less than eligible, were feted as “additional income earners”; and second marriages had become an attractive option. Overall, he concluded that these trends showed that there “is greater democracy in the family, reflecting a more flexible society.”1 Purie’s observations highlighted two things. One was India’s so-called cultural difference. Despite the pressures of globalization, Purie seems to argue, there is something that constitutes the core of an Indian identity, and “arranged marriage” is the phrase that captures all the elements that make up that core.2 His second claim seems to be that this cultural differ-

ence is far from debilitating. If anything, the family values embodied in the institution of arranged marriage go a long way in putting India on the map with other leading nations of the world. Thus a magazine that enjoys a wide circulation in India and among the Indian diaspora in the United Kingdom and North America announced to its readership that not only is the institution of arranged marriage alive and well, but it has changed into one of those peculiarly Indian commodities that can now be peddled in the world market, along with yoga, tourism, and software professionals, as witness the film Monsoon Wedding. If there was a time when colonial and early postcolonial observers treated arranged marriage as an embodiment of all that was backward and retrograde about India, remarks like Purie’s now apotheosize the institution. My effort in this book has been to parse out the constellation of practices that make up arranged marriage in order to understand why the institution lends itself to these extreme depictions and judgments. In doing that I have demonstrated that the expression “arranged marriage” contains within it a cluster of ambiguities. It names a sociocultural site marked by a series of tensions: between competing ideas of the joint family and individual autonomy, between questions of social status and considerations of romantic love, between civility and crass commodification, between liberal individualism and opposed notions of nonliberal attachments. It is thus misleading to either denigrate the institution as retrograde and backward looking, or celebrate it as an emblem of the future. Like any other social practice, arranged marriage is constituted by freedoms and constraints. My effort has been to highlight these aspects of the practice by situating them in their historical context. I have also argued that only this exercise of historicizing marriage will account for the transformations that the institution underwent during the colonial period and will also help us comprehend the changes that someone like Purie characterizes as a full-blown expression of a postcolonial modernity. It also allows us to see more clearly that the field of arranged marriage is not one without critiques—critiques that are generated by participants within this institution who recognize it not as something age-old, but rather as a manifestation of Indian modernity. If I am right, then the analyses presented in the preceding pages help us acknowledge that what we see today is something that calls for a complex understanding of historical Conclusion   239

change. The institution of arranged marriage thrives in India because it is responsive to the demands of family and social life in the country, with all their constitutive hierarchies and struggles. I noted the rise of the marriage market when families, especially men, got caught up in the nexus of colonial employment, education, and urbanity. These created new social hierarchies as every father looked for an eligible bridegroom for his daughter. Sometimes this involved risking all for the daughter. Despite the rise of dowry and suicides by would-be brides, the commercial side of the marriage market continued to grow in importance. Alongside these pressures there were a variety of reformist currents. Some chose literature as the most effective way of reaching a wide audience in order to evoke sympathy for the father of the bride and the bride herself. Literature was used to cultivate civility and humility in a world that appeared to be dominated by greed. At other times, particularly as women themselves became more vocal about their conditions, they, along with male reformers, sought legal means to empower women. One result of these efforts was the Hindu Succession Act of 1956. Yet, the law was marked by many compromises. Women’s rights were ultimately deemed secondary to questions of the overall development of the state, whose ideal subject was a reconstituted joint family, which was almost coterminous with undivided property that remained with the male lineage. While the institution of arranged marriage may be seen as adapting to changing social circumstances, as emphasized by Purie, the changes have often been contradictory enough to present feminist scholars of liberal persuasion with a challenge. The challenge arises as a result of the modernity of the institution of arranged marriage: it cannot be explained away as traditional, nor wished away as transitional. Just behind it lurks the shadow of the joint family, an institution that has itself undergone many changes during and after colonial rule and yet tends to subordinate the individual to the family. Blended into the history of these developments are some classic themes common perhaps to modernity anywhere: companionship between the husband and the wife, the language of romantic love and that of the marketplace, and the regulation of marriage and property by law. How does one narrate and analyze such a history?

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I have documented how the history of arranged marriages changed in Bengal beginning in the second half of the nineteenth century. The methods of spouse selection through matrimonial advertisements gave a fillip to the marriage market and escalated practices such as marriage dowry. We also saw that the factors that made a prospective bride or bridegroom attractive were highly gendered. What mattered for the groom was his education level, for that was an indicator of his earning potential. For the bride people looked for clues that she would make a good housewife: being presentable and committed to preserving the solidarity of the family and enhancing its prestige. My analysis of the aestheticization of weddings showed that central to the wedding was not the couple but the family. The couple was the fronstispiece to all the events composing the wedding, but behind the celebration of the couple form was a commitment to and concern about the longevity of the family. A brief look at contemporary Bollywood films or the recent genre of Indian crossover films will demonstrate a continuing tendency to idealize this familial social regime.3 Popular Indian cinema is saturated with stories about the tussle between the couple’s romantic love and the interests of the joint family. Most films still rule in the family’s favor. Films and television serials continue to valorize family values as represented by the three-generational joint family, even as such families find themselves under considerable strain, faced with lures of education and employment abroad or in other parts of India. Some of these parameters may have undergone modification in present times. Thus women too are now coveted as income earners, and marrying a second time does not carry the risk of social stigma. The wedding industry has grown despite criticisms of waste and financial pressures on families. On the one hand, popular news magazines celebrate the size of the marriage bazaar; on the other, dowry and the pressure to host weddings on a scale beyond one’s means continue to haunt many families in urban and rural India. But the obsession with marriage is as common to present-day Indian society as it was to the nineteenth century, and people are as committed to finding the most efficient ways of seeking a spouse now as they were then. Recent scholarship has documented how women themselves understand

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the legal approaches to reform as antithetical to their long-term interests vis-à-vis their affective kin networks.4 A prevalent tendency in social scientific work is to regard this kind of understanding as a product of cultural pressures or the operation of ideology. However, faced with women’s own expression of their interest in terms of maintaining long-term affective ties (the most common reason for not claiming natal property is the fear of not being seen as a good and loving sister), ideology is a tool of only partial explanatory value. It can never explain why certain women come under the sway of ideologies that work against women’s interest and why certain other women—usually the analyst is in this position—are able to see through them.5 It is perhaps more fruitful to patiently track the historical twists and turns of Indian family values in the context of the influence of colonial rule and the consequent process of cultural and institutional modernization. In raising these questions about how certain universalist ideas—rights, interests, choice—play out in the particular historical context of arranged marriage and the joint family in India, I find myself in a project similar to those of many postcolonial scholars. Indeed, the question of how European enlightenment thought, to which many universal ideas owe their intellectual provenance, remains “indispensable yet inadequate” in understanding postcolonial modernity is germane to our contemporary condition and hence to our scholarship.6 Most modern emancipatory intellectual endeavors such as feminism have had to face the question of how to hold on to their universalist perspectives while recognizing that which is local and historically specific. Critical scholarship ever since Chandra Mohanty, Gayatri Spivak, and others questioned the Euro-American global leanings of feminism has made serious attempts to integrate issues of sexual, racial, class, and national difference within feminist theory.7 This book owes much to this body of scholarship and attempts to make a modest contribution in this regard in a terrain that has not gotten much attention from social and cultural historians of South Asia: the history of marriages in the subcontinent. I have found it helpful in my analysis to actually demonstrate how certain ideas that underpin the classical liberal or feminist conception of the subject play out differently in a historical context outside of the West. I recognize that postcolonial scholarship will make an advance when it is able to give a

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positive name to the subject that it still describes, to quote Homi Bhabha, as “not quite/not white.” But this naming cannot happen without the accumulation of a body of historical and ethnographic analyses. My effort will be rewarded it if it seen as a modest attempt toward such an analysis of the institution of arranged marriage in modern India.

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App e n d i x 1 ♣♣♣♣♣♣♣♣♣

Wedding Invitations

There was a remarkable range of experimentation in the production of wedding invitation cards during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Invitation cards were not an invention of this period, but they did not feature as prominently in wedding paraphernalia in the precolonial and early colonial era as they did later. In the earlier period we come across a different kind of document that announced the particulars of the wedding. Referred to as sambandhapatra or lagnapatra, these were akin to marriage deeds containing the formal announcement of a wedding. They included the date of the forthcoming wedding, the amount of money promised by the bridal family to the groom’s, and the names of witnesses before whom the document was signed.1 Interestingly, the practice of writing sambandhapatras, extant even in the 1950s, is now almost defunct. I reproduce here a sambandhapatra from the 1950s (Figure 27) collected during my research in Calcutta. The reasons for the obsolescence of these documents are not hard to fathom. Given the ongoing commercialization and legalization of Hindu marriages under British rule and into the postcolonial period, the assurances, both financial and communal, held out in the sambandhapatras must have been seen as superfluous. The documents appear to have assumed a purely ritualistic character over time. In an earlier period they were usually written before an audience of community elders after the betrothal, or be-

Figure 27   Sambandhapatra (wedding deed), 1954. Note the cowrie shell, the sacred string, the grains of rice, and the wax seal attesting to the negotiations for the forthcoming wedding. Author’s personal collection.

fore the zamindar in his court. They have been likened by Panchan Mandal, compiler of the seminal collection Chithipatre Samajchitra (A Picture of Social Life through Letters), to registration certificates. It follows from his account that issuing a sambandhaptra would make sense only when the match was being finalized between families with close caste linkages and commonalities. Once caste particulars (i.e., matching of compatible subcastes) became less important in marriage negotiations and the practice of intercaste marriage became more common, as it did beginning in the midtwentieth century, it is not difficult to see why the sambandhapatra would become redundant. Caste elders and the zamindar also lost their authority in the context of urban marriages. Moreover, the guarantee held out in a sambandhapatra came to be devalued as marriage registration before a civil magistrate became increasingly common. According to the Bengali writer Chitra Deb, the signing of the sambandhapatra later mutated into what beWedding Invitations   245

came known as paaka-dekha (the final showing where the match was finalized), followed by a small feast for close relatives and the intermediaries.2 The transformation of a quasi-legal process into a social one indicates a devaluation of its original functional intent. Invitation cards, however, have a more continuous existence in Bengali marriage culture. But unlike in the invitations cited in Mandal’s compilation, which are quite simple in their style and content, those from the late nineteenth century on demonstrate a wide range of diversity in their linguistic composition, aesthetic conception, and celebratory content. The wedding invitations themselves developed some formal and aesthetic aspects over the late nineteenth century and early twentieth. They capture the duality of the marriage market I have been emphasizing in this work. As printed cards they were commodities, but as designed cards catering to a variety of tastes, they also reflected the contestations through which certain notions of refinement and culture evolved around Bengali marriages. The oldest card I have been able to collect is from 1881. It was printed on the occasion of the marriage of Khetrachandra Basu Mullick (Figure 28). It was customary to have dances and drama performances as part of wedding festivities among wealthy families in Calcutta. What is significant in this case is the colonial flavor of the invitation. The message is printed in English, and the term nautches was a typically British usage for Indian dance performances. It also included an option to RSVP, a practice rarely found among Bengalis at the time. Contrasted to this one, the invitations from the 1920s and 1930s, such as two from the Asit Mitra and Suprita Ghosh wedding, are more confident Bengali texts (Figures 29 and 30). Their language, composition, and content signal a coming of age of middle-class Bengalis as a social and cultural group whose cultural aesthetics had acquired their own stamp. The two plays that were staged on the occasion of the 1934 wedding, Patibrata and Jagannath, were in Bengali. The titles suggest that Patibrata (A Devoted Wife) was a melodrama while Jagannath was a religious drama based on the deity of that name. Jagannath (Figure 30) was performed by an amateur or family theater group at the host’s residence, and the bright pink and red invitation card urged the invitees to be present in the audience to encourage the actors. In contrast, the more sedate yellow invitation states that Patibrata (Figure 29) was to be held in the well-known Rangmahal 246   Appendix 1

Figure 28   Wedding invitation, 1881. Author’s personal collection.

Figure 29   Invitation to a special performance of Patibrata, staged at the Rangmahal Theater on the occasion of the wedding of Suprita, daughter of Sri Bhupendrakrishna Ghosh, in 1934. Author’s personal collection.

Figure 30   Invitations to an informal performance of Jagannath on the occasion of the Suprita Ghosh wedding, 1934. Author’s personal collection.

Theater, a more formal and established venue. Even though the wedding in question was in the Kayastha caste, some of these practices, such as amateur theater performances, signal an acceptance of cultural codes evolved in the second half of the twentieth century by other social groups, such as the Brahmos. The performance of plays as opposed to nautches, albeit by professional companies, points to the interest that middle-class Calcutta families were displaying in acquiring a certain cultural cache. Nautches had fallen into disrepute by the 1880s. When compared to the invitations reproduced in Chithipatre Samajchitra, the invitations I present appear more experimental and diverse in form. Especially of note here is the small printed card from 1924 (Figure 31). It reads, “Bhai [lit. brother, could also include friends] I am getting married on the 23rd of Phalgun in Damudiya village. You must come or else my heart will ache.” Signed by someone named “Hem,” the author probably designed the invitation for an informal circle of friends. The name could be a shortened version of the more formal Hemchandra or Hemnarayan. The 248   Appendix 1

invitation was meant to mirror the point that marriage was the terrain of self-expression, and the card is expressive of the writer’s personal touch. Figure 32 is a special invitation to a women-only gathering on the eve of a marriage. If there were experiments taking place with special invitations, the language of the main invitation, which went out to all guests, became more standardized over time. Some of the commonalities that strike the viewer of these invitations are the following. First, these invitations contain a much more detailed statement of the family background of the bride and bridegroom, suggesting that the cards addressed a much larger and less familiar social group than did invitation letters of the eighteenth century. However, family background meant more than a statement of the original village where the family reportedly once resided. The later invitation cards provided details of the relationship of the prospective bride or groom to the host in whose name the invitation went out, usually the oldest or the most well-to-do member in the family and their address. Second, in contrast to the invitations presented in Chithipatre Samajchitra, for which there was no obligation to mention the names of the bride and bridegroom, all cards from the early twentieth century mention the couple by their proper names and in most cases their order in the number of siblings (see Figures 33 and 34). The cards made it abundantly clear that the occasion they were intended for was the union of a new couple. Mentioning the bridegroom’s and his father’s professions denoted these texts as secular markers of status. Third, certain phrases crept into invitation lingo during the period under review. One of these frequently begged the reader’s forgiveness for performing this ritual of invitation by letter. Another commonly expressed a desire for the guest’s heartfelt blessings and goodwill rather than material niceties. Figures 33 and 34 both prominently display such sentiments. Both these phrases are somewhat ironic. With the exception of invitees who lived in far-off places, Bengali families made it a point to invite all their guests by personally dropping off the invitations at a guest’s residence. Invitations and who carried them were signs of hierarchy in the new urban-class society of the Bengali bhadralok. The desire for blessings and goodwill also ring somewhat hollow in a culture where gifts were becoming all important. Gifts were given by those attending the wedding as well as by the hosts. In Wedding Invitations   249

Figure 31   An intimately worded wedding invitation, 1924. Author’s personal collection.

Figure 32   Invitation to a women-only feast, 1940. Author’s personal collection.

Figure 33   Wedding invitation, 1917. Author’s personal collection. Note the image of Lord Brahma on the card. This card mentions the particulars of both the bride (Kamalabala Dasi, youngest granddaughter of the host, Bipin Krishna Ray) and the bridegroom (Narendrachandra, younger brother of Jnanendra Chandra Basu-Mullick of Pataldanga in Calcutta).

Figure 34   Wedding invitation, 1932. Author’s personal collection. Again, the image of Lord Brahma appears on the card. Note the separate entries on the bride (“Nalinidevi, the elder daughter of my third brother Sailesh Chandra Basu-Mullick”) and bridegroom (“Sudhirchandra Dutta, M.Sc., Research Scholar, son of Samatulchandra Dutta, Lawyer”).

an earlier period invitations were accompanied by gifts of cowrie shells or betel nuts; now rich Calcutta families made elaborate presents of brassware and specially ordered sweets to all invitees when the cards were distributed. While some families competed with one another in buying expensive presents, others found cheaper means to confront this social pressure. It is probably no accident that the marriage market during this period was being swamped with low-cost gifts such as books of poetry that were less expensive and yet bespoke the giver’s appreciation of cultural value. The statements about prizing “blessings” above ritualistic gift giving suggest that it was by now considered polite to devalue such formalities (loukikata) consciously. Instead, “blessings,” an expression of sentiment and therefore nonmaterial, were (in the format of the letter at least) given higher value. Finally, most invitation cards bear the stamp of urbanity. In many cases, when the wedding took place between a city-based bridegroom and a bride from a village or mufassil, the invitations carried directions to designated meeting points at the station or bus stop. The cards also envisioned a disciplined entourage as they all emphasized the time at which the groom’s party would congregate. Often, when sent out by the bride’s family the invitation noted the bridegroom’s time of arrival—not always adhered to but indicative of the regime of time (appointments, schedules, etc.) that the urban office-goer was used to. Whatever may have been the chaotic reality of the actual wedding, the invitation cards visualized a punctual gathering. Overall, it appears from my survey of wedding invitations that a high degree of self-consciousness was creeping into the ceremoniousness and jollifications surrounding marriages. The main intent now was on performing expressivity, urbanity, and discipline with bonhomie.

252   Appendix 1

App e n d i x 2 ♣♣♣♣♣♣♣♣♣

Jewelry Catalogues

Figure 35   Hairpins, lace pins, and necklace designs with a variety of gems. From the catalogue of Thakorlal Hiralal & Co., a non-Bengali jeweler, 1930s. Author’s personal collection.

Figure 36   English-style tiaras, pendants, brooch, and bracelet designs. From the catalogue of Thakorlal Hiralal & Co., 1930s. Author’s personal collection.

Figure 37   Customer endorsements from Rajasthan, the United Provinces, and Bengal. From the catalogue of Thakorlal Hiralal & Co., 1930s.

Figure 38   Patterns of ornamental combs. From the catalogue of J. K. Dass & Company, die makers, date unknown. Main workshop: No. 4, Radhamohan Pal Lane, Calcutta 12.

Figure 39   Designs for hair ornaments. From the catalogue of J. N. Roy & Company, a Bengali jeweler in north Calcutta, date unknown. The large central design is a sithi of the kind worn in Figures 19 and 20. The side comb on the lower right is inscribed “Sukhe thako” (Remain in happiness).

Figure 40   A page from the catalogue of J. N. Roy & Company, date unknown. Note “our motto” at the top of the page: “Small profit quick return.”

Figure 41   Designs for earrings in gold and precious stones. From the catalogue of J. N. Roy & Company, date unknown.

Figure 42   Hashuli (crescent) and barfee (diamond) love-knot necklaces. The love knots symbolize a couple’s abiding love. From the catalogue of J. N. Roy & Company, date unknown.

Notes ♣♣♣♣♣♣♣♣♣


1. For details on the different rituals that constitute Bengali weddings, see chapter 3. 2. Hobsbawm and Ranger, The Invention of Tradition, 2. 3. Rudolph and Rudolph, The Modernity of Tradition. 4. The family, as many historians have demonstrated in their analyses of households in the eighteenth century and early nineteenth century, was “a very novel space, and no archaic sanctuary.” See Sumit Guha, “The Family Feud as Political Resource,” in I. Chatterjee, ed., Unfamiliar Relations: Family and History in South Asia, 74–94. Ruby Lal’s book on the Mughal haram during the reigns of the first three emperors confirms the impression of familial relations spilling over into and influencing state matters. Lal, Domesticity and Power, 20–24. 5. Dumont, “Marriage in India,” parts 1 and 2; I. P. Desai, “The Joint Family in India”; I. P. Desai, “Symposium on Caste and Joint Family”; Shah, The Family in India; Kapadia, Hindu Kinship; Kapadia, “Changing Patterns of Hindu Marriage and Family,” parts 1, 2, 3; Kapadia, “The Family in Transition”; Karve, Kinship Organization in India; Inden and Nicholas, Kinship in Bengali Culture; Cohn, “The Changing Status of a Depressed Class”; Derrett, “The History of the Juridical Framework of the Joint Hindu Family”; Derrett, “Law and the Predicament of the Hindu Joint Family.” 6. Sudhir Kakar, “Match Fixing,” India Today Exclusive Survey on Sex and Marriage, 5 November 2007, 87–88. Kakar’s insightful description of arranged marriage in present-day India fits with the understanding of the institution in this book. However, at the beginning of the twentieth century there would be fewer instances of women “unconsciously” falling in love as their freedom of movement was a lot more restricted than at present. It is interesting and important to note that the survey conducted by India Today and A. C. Nielson-ORG-MARG in several cities of India

(including New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Chennai, Lucknow, Ludhiana, and Amritsar) with a total of 2,563 couples in 2007, based upon which Kakar makes his observations, concluded that 80 percent of marriages of the respondents were arranged and 77 percent prefer such arrangement to love marriages (52–54). 7. Cole, “Et Plus Si Affinités”; Kelsky, Women on the Verge; Constable, Romance on a Global Stage; Luehrmann, “Mediated Marriage.” 8. Johnson, The Stranger in India, 228, 231–32. 9. Risley, The People of India, 154–55. 10. See, for example, Bumiller, May You Be the Mother of a Hundred Sons, 25. Bumiller observed that the celebration of arranged marriages in India were marked by a sensuousness that could not be replicated in the “cool churches” of Europe. Not stopping at this bodily metaphor, she goes on to add that there was one thing “that marked almost every wedding I attended: the look of dazed terror on the bride’s face as she began the rest of her life with a man who was little more than a stranger to her.” Fiction writers and filmmakers have also contributed to sustaining the popular impression that arranged marriage is synonymous with an unchanging Indian tradition combining the gaiety of the extended family and a certain element of unfreedom seen as affecting the bride in particular. Some notable examples include Divakaruni, “Clothes,” in Arranged Marriage, 17–33; Lahiri, The Namesake; and Mira Nair’s film Monsoon Wedding. 11. Mill, “The Subjection of Women,” 575; Hegel, Philosophy of Right, 115. 12. For an elaboration of this notion of the coupling of romantic love with Europe, see Passerini, Europe in Love, 1–26, 201–13, 280–318. 13. Yalom, A History of the Wife, xv. 14. Edward Shorter and Lawrence Stone have disputed the existence of affection and love between husband and wife before the onset of the industrial age. See Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage, 149–215, 217–25, 424–28; Shorter, The Making of the Modern Family. For some scholars the beginnings of romantic love are to be sought in troubadour poetry and courtly life in southern France during the Middle Ages. Others opine that while such love was in the beginning conceptualized as extramarital, it transformed and “has been connected over the last two centuries with . . . romantic love.” Passerini, Europe in Love, 1. This trend apparently started in England and spread to America with the Puritans in the seventeenth century. By the late eighteenth century, most historians agree, love marriage had begun to dominate middleclass marriages in the United States and Western Europe. Depending on the author, explanations regarding the predominance of love variously draw on demographic accounts, mortality rates among the poor, and the influence of Christian theology. See Aries, Centuries of Childhood; Goody, The Development of Family, 25, 33–36, 193–94; Gillis, “From Ritual to Romance”; Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage, 149–215. 260   Notes to Introduction

15. Gies and Gies, Marriage and Family, 9. 16. Edward Shorter cited in Medick and Sabean, Interest and Emotion, 10. 17. Hans Medick and David Sabean argue, “Material interest cannot be excluded from consideration in analyzing the family in those contexts where it fails to be explicitly articulated. This would mean, for example, that any understanding of various forms of nineteenth century middle class family experience should involve a thoroughgoing study of the dynamics of property-holding and not just stop with an historical chronicle of sentiments. In addition, the practical experience of family life does not segregate the emotional and the material into separate spheres but is shaped by both at once, and they have to be grasped in their systematic interconnection.” Interest and Emotion, 11. 18. In Thompson’s analysis, the sale of wives was symbolic of the contractual nature of matrimonial arrangement, not always aligned with the dictates of the Church. Thompson’s conclusive statement—“It is not yet appropriate to use a vocabulary of ‘rights’; perhaps ‘worth’ or ‘respect’ are the terms we need”—establishes that mutual agreement, and hence some kind of choice, all in a nascent form, were the bases of marriages even among the poor in England in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Debunking the fallacy that the proto-industrial working-class household was a purely economic arrangement, Thompson argued, “When lovers courted each other they were ‘sweethearts,’ but when they were settled in the new unit they were each others’ ‘helpmeet,’ a word which carries sentiment and domestic function or economic role in equal measure.” Thompson, “The Sale of Wives,” 459. 19. F. Engels, The Origin of Family, 112–15. 20. There is a vast literature on the roots of patriarchy and the critique of marital practices in the West. There are internal differences between scholars and a variety of approaches to these critiques. For a critique of the contract theorists and the origins of patriarchy at the moment of the social contract, see Pateman, The Sexual Contract. For feminist critiques of critical theory see Fraser, Unruly Practices; Rubin, “The Traffic in Women.” For critical reflections on intimacy and how conceptions of intimacy mediate capitalism and individual desires, see Berlant, The Queen of America Goes to Washington City; Berlant, “Intimacy: A Special Issue.” 21. Rebhun, The Heart Is Unknown Country, 95. 22. Yalom, A History of the Wife, xviii. 23. Quoted in B. B. Goswami, Sarkar, and Danda, Marriage in India, iv–v. 24. Prasad, Ideology of the Hindi Film, 95. 25. I am deeply indebted to the scholarship on gender in Indian history, which is quite voluminous. However, while much of the literature cited below takes up issues of gender relations in the private and public sphere or historicizes the changing pattern of familial organization in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, there is as yet no Notes to Introduction   261

work that directly addresses the dynamics of arranged marriage and its role in the perpetuation of the family. For insights into the general field of gender history in colonial India, see Arunima, There Comes Papa, 128–90; J. Bagchi, “Representing Nationalism”; Srimati Basu, Dowry and Inheritance, 3–88; Borthwick, The Changing Role of Women, 109–50; Burton, Dwelling in the Archive; I. Chatterjee, Unfamiliar Relations; P. Chatterjee, “The Nationalist Resolution”; D. Engels, Beyond Purdah? 41–85; Forbes, Women in Modern India, 10–31; C. Gupta, Sexuality, Obscenity, Community; Hardgrove, Community and Public Culture; Murshid, Reluctant Debutante; Rajat Ray, Exploring Emotional History; Sumit Sarkar, “The Women’s Question in Nineteenth Century Bengal,” in A Critique of Colonial India, 71–76; T. Sarkar, Hindu Wife, 141–249; M. Sinha, Specters of Mother India, 152–96; M. Sinha, Colonial Masculinity, 138–80; Bharati Ray, “Bengali Women.” 26. For a succinct account of changes in marriage and family among lower castes and dalits duing the colonial period see Rao, “Sexuality and the Family Form,” 715– 18. Also see Periyar, Self-Respect Marriages; Anandhi, “Women’s Question in the Dravidian Movement”; Hodges, “Revolutionary Family Life.” For a discussion of the Brahmo marriage, see chapter 5. 27. Walsh, Domesticity in Colonial India, 31–62, 87–112. 28. The Lockean exposition of a normative subject is clearly expressed in the chapters on property and paternal power in his Second Treatise of Government. 29. I borrow the expression “family romance” from Lynn Hunt’s The Family Romance of the French Revolution. Hunt argues that the narrative of the family romance (as elaborated by Freud in Totem and Taboo) provides a critical conceptual apparatus for understanding the history of the French Revolution, indeed of postrevolutionary French society, once the monarch was executed (xiii–16). Similarly, I argue that the family romance in the Bengali (or the Indian) case provides clues to understanding much of Indian society and politics in the colonial and postcolonial periods. 30. It is far more productive and challenging, she notes, to bear in mind that “any social and political transformation is always a function of local, contingent, and emplaced struggles whose blueprint cannot be worked out or predicted in advance.” Mahmood, Politics of Piety, 36. 31. D. Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe, 4. 32. Ibid., 6. This historical analysis of arranged marriage as a modern practice draws inspiration from works that critically address the question of essentializing India in terms of categories such as caste, religion, village, and society. See Nicholas Dirks, “Castes of Mind”; Ronald Inden, Imagining India; Gyan Prakash, “Writing PostOrientalist Histories of the Third World.” 33. I. Chatterjee, Unfamiliar Relations, 5. 34. Hegel, Philosophy of Right, 115, 112 (emphasis added). 262   Notes to Introduction

35. Ramanujan, Relations, 9–11. 36. In October 2007 the Supreme Court of India issued a ruling for the compulsory registration of marriages across religion and community in all states and union territories of India. See The Hindu, 26 October 2007, available online. Chapter 1: Looking for Brides and Grooms

1. Ryali, “Matrimonials,” 107. Other researchers who have written on the subject argue a similar point, that matrimonial ads are a modern innovation. See B. Das, “An Analysis of the Matrimonial Columns Advertisements of Newspapers”; Nanda, “Arranging a Marriage in India.” 2. A survey of the census documents reveals that Calcutta was the largest and most populous city of the British Empire in India. There was large-scale migration into the city from rural areas, especially in East Bengal. The cost of living was rising and housing was a major problem. For more details, see Report on the Census of Calcutta, 1891, 17–19; Census of India, vol. 6, part 1, 1921, 3–20. 3. This process of modernization has been addressed in a variety of historical literature. For a brief history of sociocultural movements and a history of reform, see Sumit Sarkar, A Critique of Colonial India, chapters 1–4; Raychaudhuri, Europe Reconsidered; Borthwick, The Changing Role of Women in Bengal. Tanika Sarkar emphasizes the importance of this period in terms of the growth of a literate, Hindu public sphere during this period; see Hindu Wife, Hindu Nation. Anne Hardgrove’s analysis of the rise of a Marwari public culture during this period highlights the heterogeneous nature of the city’s population during this time; see Community and Public Culture. 4. Mukherjee, Calcutta, 126. In the first wave of immigration into the city there was some effort made by the city’s elite to foster and maintain certain jajmani, patronclient relationships, with petty professionals who served the family through generations. The creation of jajmani relationships in the colonial city bears out the argument made by Peter Mayer in the context of such relationships in the Gangetic plain. Mayer argues that the jajmani system was of a relatively recent origin, the result of the growing partition of zamindari and bhaiyachara villages into individual holdings and the growing pressure on landholders to offer significant incentives to village artisans to retain their services. See Mayer, “Inventing Village Tradition.” 5. Mukherjee, Calcutta, 174, 175. 6. Risley, The Tribes and Castes of Bengal, 279–80. 7. William Carey’s Kathopokathana (Conversations) has a chapter devoted to the task of ghatakali (the task of matchmaking as carried out by ghataks). Carey shares none of the skepticism about ghataks that became rampant later on in the century (60– 62). Notes to Chapter 1   263

8. Johnson, The Stranger in India, 229. 9. Basu-Varma, “Kayastha Ghatak,” 10–11. The names of famous ghataks mentioned by Basu-Varma recur in the accounts of writers such as Nagendranath Basu. But more details on these individuals await further research. 10. See Vidyanidhi, Sambandhyanirnaya, part 1; N. Basu, Bangera Jatiya Itihasa. For a historical analysis of the genealogical literature and some debates that occurred in the late nineteenth century and twentieth century around this body of work, see K. Chatterjee, “The King of Controversy” and “Communities, Kings, and Chronicles.” 11. A subcaste among the Kayasthas who traditionally resided in the southern Rarh region of present-day Hoogly, Burdwan, Tamluk, parts of Midnapur, and Nadia. For further details about the subdivisions among castes in Bengal, see Vidyanidhi, Sambandhyanirnaya, part 1; N. Basu, Bangera Jatiya Itihasa. For a more recent history of these subdivisions, see Inden, Marriage and Rank in Bengali Culture. 12. Basu-Varma, “Kayastha Ghatak,” 13. 13. N. Basu, Visvakosa, 6: 2. Visvakosa was first published in 1888 under the joint editorship of Rangalal Mukhopdhyay and Trailohyanath Mukhopadhyay. Basu took over the editorship in 1891 and continued until 1911. A total of twenty-two volumes were published, all with Basu named as the editor, even though he took over the editorship only after the publication of the first volume. I am grateful to Prabir Mukho‑ padhyay, whose biography of Nagendranath Basu is forthcoming in the Sahitya Sadhak Charitmala series published by the Bangiya Sahitya Parishad, for this information. 14. Anon., “Bibahera Ghatkali,” 228. 15. Ibid., 229, 230. 16. Johnson, The Stranger in India, 229–30. 17. M. Dutta, Kalikatar Purano Katha O Kahini (Tales of Old Calcutta), 64. 18. Borthwick, The Changing Role of Women in Bengal, 47. 19. Sudakhsina Sen, Jibansmriti (Reminiscences of Life), 45–47. 20. R. Mukhopadhyay, “Sankhipta Jibanabrittanta” (A Brief Account of My Life), 5. 21. S. C. Bose, The Hindoos As They Are, 41. 22. Mukherji, Prostitution In India, 197. 23. Prajapati, 1909; republished several times. 24. Prajapati, 20 June 1911, 20–21. 25. “Ghatak Sangha: Niyamabali” (Rules of Ghatak Sangha), Ghatak 1, nos. 4–5 (1927). 26. A large number of social satires in Bengali, many of which were staged in theaters all over Calcutta, are significant in this regard. Some of the most popular ones were Amritalal Basu, Bibaha Bibhrat (Wedding Fiasco); Bholanath Mukhopadhyay, Ko264   Notes to Chapter 1

ner Maa Kande ar Takar Putuli Bandhe (The Bride’s Mother Weeps and Ties Bags of Money), 1863; H. Basu, Value Payable. For a detailed account of various other plays popular in the nineteenth century in which the theme of exploitation by ghataks is an important motif, see J. Goswami, Samajchitre Unibingsha Satabdir Bangla Prahashan (Picture of Society as Revealed in Nineteenth Century Bengali Farce). 27. Ghatak, vols. 4–5 (1927): 76. 28. Amrita Bazar Patrika, 14 November 1929. The words in parentheses appear in the original. 29. Amrita Bazar Patrika, 26 March 1926. “Tawzies” probably refers to tabiz or a charm that people wear for good luck and a change of fortune. 30. Amrita Bazar Patrika, 19 November 1929. 31. Amrita Bazar Patrika, 17 November 1929. I.C.S. was an abbreviation for Indian civil servant, B.E. for bachelor of engineering, M.B. for bachelor of medicine, Dy.Magtes. for deputy magistrate, and a Munsiff was a local administrative official. 32. “Bibahajogya Kanya” (Marriageable girls), Kayastha Patrika, November–December 1910, 304. Ksatriya is traditionally the ruling caste. There was an ongoing debate during this period whether Bengali Kayasthas were Ksatriyas as opposed to Shudras. 33. Sekhar Bandyopadhyay, Caste Politics and the Raj, 144. 34. See, for instance, Sekhar Bandyopadhyay, Caste, Protest and Identity in Colonial India. 35. See, for instance, R. C. Majumdar, Jibanera Smritidipe. 36. The journal Mahisya Mahila started in 1911; Prajapati, a Sadgop journal, started in 1909. 37. Pal Chowdhury, Sachitra Panapratha, 103. 38. Numerous articles on these two issues appeared in both Kaystha Samaja and Kayastha Patrika. A few examples are: “Upanayanaera Prayajan ki?” (What is the utility of a thread ceremony?), Kayastha Samaja, June–July 1924, 123–28; “Kayasther Jagyopobita” (Sacred thread for Kayasthas), Kayastha Samaja, June–July 1923, 133–43, “Samaja O Dharma” (Society and religion), Kayastha Samaja, September–October 1920, 705–13. 39. “Patra Sambandhe Proshno” (Questions about the Bridegroom) and “Patri Sambandhe Proshno” (Questions about the Bride), Prajapati, February–March 1909, 191. The questions were posed by the Manager, Prajapati, Bibaha Bibhag (Marriage Section), 102 Corporation Street, Calcutta. 40. I have borrowed this expression from current usage in modern-day matrimonial advertisements. The Bengali idiom current in the 1920s and in the present is ujjwala shyama varna, literally meaning “glistening dark complexion.” Fairness is a privileged asset in India. Referring to a person’s complexion as bright yet dark is to emphaNotes to Chapter 1   265

size lightness of color as opposed to the deep brown complexion common in the tropics. 41. Ghatak, December–January 1927, 74. The expressions “up-to-date” and “highly connected” appear in the original. 42. Kayastha Patrika, October–November, 1910, 225. I have borrowed the expression “medium complexioned” from current usage in matrimonial advertisements. 43. For instance, Kayastha Patrika, April–May 1910 reported a wedding that took place without dowry transactions on 16 Phalgun (7 March) 1909 between the younger son of Sri Gopalchandra Singha and the Raja of Baghbazar, Sri Gokul Chandra Mitra’s great-granddaughter. It also reported the wedding of Sri Dwarkanath Dutta’s son to the daughter of Barrister Jatindranath Mitra’s daughter on 21 Phalgun (12 March) 1909, in which such an exchange took place. 44. “Natun Bibaha Paddhati” (New Marriage Procedure), Kayastha Patrika, April 1910, 80–81. 45. T. Sarkar, Hindu Wife, Hindu Nation; P. Chatterjee, The Nation and Its Fragments; C. Gupta, Sexuality, Obscenity, Community. 46. D. Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe, 227–28. 47. M. Majumdar, “Mana-Marmara” (Murmurs of the Mind), 31–32. 48. D. Chakrabarty, Provincilizing Europe, 228. 49. In this advertisement many of the particulars, such as devgan and karkat rashi (the equivalent of Cancer in the zodiac), are descriptions from horoscopes. Horoscope matching was an important feature in weddings. 50. “Ghatak,” Prajapati, July 1911, 44, 46, 47. 51. See below. Advertisements from lending agencies were very common throughout 1890–1940. There are many instances in the Amrita Bazar Patrika as well. For example, see Amrita Bazar Patrika, 26 March 1936. 52. Bengal Times, 3 January 1890. This advertisement was published again on 11, 13, and 22 January 1890. 53. Amrita Bazar Patrika, 10 October 1929. B.L. was an abbreviation for bachelor of law. 54. Amrita Bazar Patrika, 19 March 1929. 55. T. Bhattacharya, Amar Smritikatha, 12, 109. 56. Basu Mullick, “Biyer Bigyapan” (Marriage Advertisements), Kayastha Patrika, May 1940, 40–41. 57. See Dipesh Chakrabarty’s discussion on widow remarriage and the fear of sexual scandals that lay at the heart of Vidyasagar’s widow remarriage reform campaign: Provincializing Europe, 132–33. 58. In ancient Indian literature swayambharas were occasions when princesses would choose their husband from among a number of prospective suitors. Well-known 266   Notes to Chapter 1

instances of swayambharas are Sita’s in the Ramayana and Draupadi’s in the Mahabharata. 59. Basu Mullick, “Biyer Bigyapan,” 42, 42–43. 60. Ibid., 42–43. 61. Ibid., 42. 62. Raychaudhuri, Europe Reconsidered, 88–89. 63. For a nuanced reading of the construction of culture and the importance of this category in Bengali bhadralok identity, see Chatterji, Bengal Divided, 150–90. Chatterji refers to the exclusiveness engendered by the culture category to the bhadralok class and its failure to embrace within its ambit low-class Muslims as well as Hindus. 64. Gopalakrishnan, Hindu Marriage Law; C. Chakrabarty, Hindu Acara Anusthan. The Hindu Marriage Act, which, among other things, ratified divorce among Hindus, was passed in 1955. 65. For a discussion of advise manuals and their impact on contemporary thought and life, see Borthwick, The Changing Role of Women in Bengal. Chapter 2: Snehalata’s Death

1. The Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961 put a legal ban on the practice in India. But the occurrence in the 1980s of a vast number of gruesome deaths of young brides who had reportedly committed suicide or faced “kitchen accidents” from their saris catching fire on kerosene stoves provided impetus for feminist inquiries into the kinds of social conditions in Indian society that produced these incidents. Extraordinary dowry demands, and the torture of brides that resulted when these demands were not met adequately by the family, came to be seen as features common to many Indian marriages. For statistical details on dowry-related deaths, see Kumari, Brides Are Not for Burning; Menski, South Asians and the Dowry Problem. Two recent books also give detailed case studies of dowry victims from the 1980s: Butalia, The Gift of a Daughter; Sirohi, Sita’s Curse. 2. Oldenburg, Dowry Murder, 178. 3. Sheel, The Political Economy of Dowry, 122. 4. Hardgrove, Community and Public Culture, 220. Hardgrove writes, “Since the 1908 death of Snehalata, a poor Brhamin girl . . . no other dowry death in Bengal has attracted as much attention as Neelam Jain’s. In fact, a series of sensationalist articles called Janata ki Adalat (‘The People’s Court’) in popular Hindi tabloids drew many parallels between the deaths of Neelam Jain and Snehalata.” Hardgrove’s documentation of the response of the Marwari community to Neelam Jain’s death shows remarkable parallels with the Snehalata case in many other aspects as well: Neelam’s name became synonymous with dowry oppression and young Marwari men took Notes to Chapter 2   267

public oaths boycotting dowry. The public enactment of protest shows a narrative continuity. 5. M. Basu, Hindu Women and Marriage Law, 89. 6. Sumit Sarkar, “Nationalism and Stri-Swadhinata,” in Beyond Nationalist Frames, 137. 7. Just as her name is invoked in the historical works referred to above, her name recurs incessantly in popular journalistic accounts of dowry in Bengal in the writings of Chitra Deb, Swapan Basu, and Sandip Bandyopadhyay. See, for instance, Swapan Basu, “Purbe Meye, Urbe Chhai” (Ashes Fly as the Daughter Burns); Sandip Bandyopadhyay, “Snehalata.” 8. I take this expression from Veena Oldenburg’s excellent monograph on dowry: Dowry Murder. 9. “Snehalata,” Nabyabharat 13 (February 1914): 11, 705; Raya, “Samaja Samasya” (Social Problems); “Snehalata,” Mahila, no. 18 (February 1914): 167–68; C. Mitra, “Amadera Samaj” (Our Society); N. Sengupta, “Sastrer Dohai” (Scriptures as an Excuse); A. Sengupta, Pangrahane Bibaha (Marriage upon receiving dowry), 28–29; R. Bandyopadhyay, Snehalata. Several editions of this text were published within a few months of Snehalata’s suicide. The first edition appeared on 16 February 1914 and the second a month later, on 10 April. There were reports of her death in Amrita Bazar Patrika of 7 and 14 February 1914 that rehearsed many of the same facts. For an exhaustive compilation of these reports, see Sandip Bandyopadhyay, “Snehalata: Ekti Andoloner Janmo” (Snehalata: The Birth of a Social Movement). Bengali Hindu writers were not the only ones to comment on the suicide. Abul Kalam Azad (1888–1958) wrote a two-page article in Urdu in the journal Al-Hilal of which he was the editor in March 1914, soon after Snehalata’s suicide. Azad, “Shahid-e-Rasm” (A Martyr Who Died in order to Eradicate Rituals), Al-Hilal 9–10 (March 4–11, 1914): 9–10. I thank Faisal Devji for drawing my attention to this article, and to C. M. Naim and M. Alam for translating and discussing it with me. 10. Spivak, “Can the Subaltern Speak?” 271–313. 11. Sumit Sarkar, “Nationalism and Stri-Swadhinata,” in Beyond Nationalist Frames, 138, 120. 12. Veena Oldenburg’s in-depth study of dowry in Punjab, Dowry Murder, also traces the rise and spread of this phenomenon to the second half of the nineteenth century, attesting to the fact that dowry as a specific historical practice can be dated back to this time. 13. For an autobiographical account of these changes, see N. Debi, “Sekele Katha.” Nistarini Debi (b. 1832 or 1833), a high-caste Bengali woman, noted in her autobiography that when she was young, most marriages to kulin (upper-caste) Brahman families were arranged for small sums of money given to the groom. This small amount 268   Notes to Chapter 2

of money constituted the primary substance of pana (payment, dowry). “Nowadays” she wrote, “people regard dana (gifts), jewelry and clothes to be the real stuff of the pana, and the money given as pana an excess earned over and above these. And the bride’s happiness and comfort depends upon the quality and quantity of the goods given” (5). 14. Srinivas, Some Reflections on Dowry, 11. 15. The definition of a dower in the English legal context was as follows: “The wife was not a descendant of her husband, and so she was outside the scope of inheritance. Husband and wife were accounted one person in law, and grants from one to the other were generally void, but with one important exception. A husband could make a gift to his wife on the day they were married, at the church door. . . . This symbolic livery gave the widow the right to an estate for life in the lands so nominated, an estate which the husband’s heir was obliged to warrant.” See Baker, An Introduction to English Legal History, 308. Also see Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage, 88–89. 16. N. Debi, “Sekele Katha,” 5. 17. Census of India, 1931, part 1, 399. Historians have testified to the replacement of bride price with dowry among many of the so-called lower castes such as the Sadgops, Pods, Chasas, and Dhobas. See Samita Sen, Women and Labor in Late Colonial India, 86. 18. Rai Bahadur C. Bose, “Marriage Dowry,” 617. This was a paper read at Ranchi at a meeting of the Ranchi Union Club on 25 March 1914. 19. For more details on matrimonial bureaus and advertisements and the rising prominence of this form of seeking brides and bridegrooms, see chapter 1. 20. “Ghatak,” Prajapati, July 1911, 44. 21. As recently observed by Sanjay Seth, “A university degree—or indeed, even having sat for the matriculation exam for university entry and failed it—was a mark of distinction.” Subject Lessons, 20. 22. S. Seth, Subject Lessons, 21. 23. The rise of a literary public sphere from this period onward has been documented by many scholars, most notably Tanika Sarkar, who discusses the relationship between social reform and the rise of a literary public. See Hindu Wife, Hindu Nation. Also see A. Ghosh, Power in Print, for more details on the literary culture of Bengal during the mid- to late colonial period. Other parts of India also witnessed the rise of literary publics from the late nineteenth century. Social reform debates in print became an all-India phenomenon by the early twentieth century. See Francesca Orsini, The Hindi Public Sphere 1920–1940, Charu Gupta, Sexuality, Obscenity, and Community, Veena Naregal, Language, Politics, Elites and the Public Sphere. 24. For example, the book Sachitra Panapratha (The Dowry System Illustrated) was a Notes to Chapter 2   269

compilation of articles published against dowry in the periodical Vishwadut. See Pal Chowdhury, Sachitra Panapratha. 25. For details on these plays, see J. Goswami, Samajchitre Unabingsho Satabdir Bangla Prahasan, 566–92. 26. Swapan Basu, “Purbe Meye, Urbe Chhai,” 80; Aparna Basu, The Growth of Education and Political Development in India, 1898–1920. 27. Report of Government of Bengal Unemployment Enquiry Committee, vol. 2, Written and Oral Evidence, 1925, 31–32. 28. Aparna Basu, The Growth of Education and Political Development in India, 102–3. Anil Seal noted that in a survey of the careers of over seventeen hundred graduates from Calcutta made in 1882, only one was returned as a merchant and two as planters. Anil Seal, The Emergence of Indian Nationalism, 114–19. Also see Rajat Ray, Social Conflict and Political Unrest in Bengal, 150–51, on the issue of educated unemployment and limited opportunities for Indians. 29. Report of Government of Bengal Unemployment Enquiry Committee, 2: 113, Appendix IV p. 50, 2: 111. 30. See K. L. Dutta, Report on the Enquiry into the Rise in Prices in India, 1: 171–72, 185– 88. 31. The following was the description of a Calcutta-based “typical Hindu family of the kind referred to as living from hand to mouth.” The same article noted that 30 percent of the “middle class are hardly able to provide the bare necessaries of life for themselves and their families and . . . 60 percent of them somehow manage to live from hand to mouth without any reserve to fall back upon in case of unemployment, illness and other emergencies.” The article cited the following as an example: A Brahmin gentleman belonging to a once respectable family has his ancestral home in a deadly-malarious remote village in Bengal where he possesses some landed property which brings him an income of Rs. 10 per month. There being no high school within a radius of six miles he lives in a rented house in Calcutta for the education of his boys. He has to support his wife, his mother, two sons, the younger of whom is studying for the intermediate in science in Ripon College and the elder is a B.Sc. student in Scottish Church College, and two infants. The gentleman is a clerk in some mercantile office on Rs. 50 per month with no prospects of an increment; his total income is therefore Rs. 60 per month and this we take to be the average income of the middle class. (G. Bhattacharya et al., “The Dowry System,” 450) The authors then proceed to give a breakdown of the monthly expenses of such a family, which clearly demonstrate the financial stringency characteristic of middleclass lives: House rent, Rs. 8.0 270   Notes to Chapter 2

College fees for the two boys, Rs. 6 + Rs. 4, Rs. 10.0 Books, papers, etc.—Rs. 5.0 Rice at the rate of 1/4 seer [a unit of weight equal to 2.05 lbs.] for every adult for every meal—Rs. 13.0 Ghee and fish—0 Dal—0 1/4 seer of potato every day—Rs. 0.8 Mustard oil—Rs. 0.4 Spices and salt—Rs. 0.4 Fuel and light—Rs. 2.0 Lunch, one pice [paisa, a monetary unit measured as 1/64th of a rupee] worth of parched rice per adult—Rs. 2.8 Clothes—Rs. 3.8 2 seers of good milk at the minimum rate of 1 seer per each child every day— Rs. 15.0 Total—Rs. 65 32. J. Chakrabarty, “Ek Khana Puratan Jomakharach” (A Sample of an Old Price List). 33. K. L. Dutta, Report on the Enquiry Into The Rise of Prices in India, 1: 185. 34. Cited in Swapan Basu, “Purbe Meye, Urbe Chhai,”79. Saratkumari Chaudhurani’s literary works are discussed at some length in chapter 3. 35. Rai Bahadur C. Bose, “Marriage Dowry,” 618. 36. Ibid., 616. 37. Men with university degrees were in great demand in the marriage market. They are usually referred to in Bengali as “pash-kora,” implying passing an examination to earn a degree. 38. Swapan Basu, “Purbe Meye, Urbe Chhai,” 79. An Akbari coin was a precious coin dating back to the reign of the Mughal emperor Akbar. 39. “Kanyadaya,” Education Gazette, 5 July 1879, cited in Swapan Basu, “SambadSamayik Patre Bangali Nari: 1800–1900” (Bengali Women in Contemporary Periodicals: 1800–1900), Academy Patrika, July 1995, 480. The expression kulin referred to high-caste men who were ranked in the uppermost echelons of the caste hierarchy based on their possession of certain attributes. For a discussion of kulin status and its relationship with issues of purity and pollution, see Inden, Marriage and Rank in Bengali Culture. Many kulins married several times as a means to support themselves. 40. Mullick, “Panapratha” (The Dowry System). 41. Report on the Census of India, 1901, 94. 42. It is a commonplace in recent sociological and historical accounts to refer to the Notes to Chapter 2   271

dowry system as one that objectified women; proof of such objectification lay in the switch from the system of bride price to dowry. In Women and Labour in Colonial India Samita Sen has argued that as long as women’s work in the home and outside was deemed economically productive, her natal family had to be compensated by her conjugal family at the time of marriage through the payment of bride price. For Sen, it was the devaluation of women’s labor in the employment structure of colonial Bengal that caused the shift from bride price to dowry. 43. “Kanyaday” (The Burden of a Daughter), Sadharani, 1 Sraban ( July) 1887, 160. 44. Bhudev Mukhopadhyay, “Kanya Putrer Bibaha” (Weddings of Daughters and Sons), in Paribarik Prabandha (Essays on the Family), 109–10. 45. “Panaprathar Khed,” Suvarnavanik Samachar, no. 10 (1917): 304–6, 307. The article was written in the disembodied voice of dowry and as a rebuttal to an earlier piece published in the same journal as a critique of dowry. See Mullick, “Panapratha,” 226–28. 46. D. Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe, 142. 47. Unless otherwise documented, the details of the case are compiled from the journals and books mentioned in note 9. 48. R. Bandyopadhyay, Snehalata, 5. 49. Ibid., 8. Calcutta during this time was rapidly transforming from a cluster of disparate localities into a teeming metropolis. As large numbers of migrants from the villages flooded the city in search of employment there was a steep rise in the cost of living and price of accommodation. See Report on the Census of Calcutta, 1891, 19–21; Census of India, vol. 6, part 1, p. 3, 1921; Rajat Ray, Social Conflict, 6. 50. R. Bandyopadhyay, Snehalata, 8. 51. Kalidas Ray wrote two poems about Snehalata. Both appeared in Manasi 6, no. 3 (1914): 306–8. Karunanidhan Bandyopadhyay’s poem was published in Bharatbarsha and Satyendranath Dutta’s in Prabasi soon after her death. 52. See G. Bhattacharya et al., “The Dowry System,” 448–54. For an example of similar articles in Bengali, see N. Sengupta, “Sastrer Dohai” (Excuses Based on the Scriptures). Dagmar Engels notes that although Snehalata’s suicide “attracted widespread publicity” it was not an isolated event. Financial problems resulting from the pressures exerted by the bridegroom’s family, the stigma attached to remaining unmarried beyond a certain age, and the unbearable position in the bridegroom’s house in case the girl’s family was unable to meet dowry demands had caused numerous Bengali brides to commit suicide during this time. Engels gives several examples of dowry-related suicides as well as cases of extortinate dowry demands. Beyond Purdah? 51–56. 53. Sandip Bandyopadhyay, “Snehalata,” 838. 54. Azad, “Shahid-e-Rasm,” 9–10. 272   Notes to Chapter 2

55. S. Dutta, “Mrityu Sayambar,” 648. 56. See “Haimanti” (May 1914), “Strir Patra” (The Wife’s Letter, July 1914) and “Aparichita” (The Unknown One, October 1914) in R. Tagore, Galpaguccha. 57. That the Snehalata case was critical to this story is proven also by a rejoinder written to Strir Patra by the nationalist leader Bipinchandra Pal. In Pal’s story “Mrinaler Katha” (Mrinal’s Tale) it was not Bindu who killed herself but a girl called Snehalata in a neighboring home. 58. See Sumit Sarkar’s discussion of Snehalata in his essay on Tagore and women’s liberation, “Nationalism and Stri-Swadhinata,” in Beyond Nationalist Frames, 137–53. 59. Pabitra Gangopadhyay, Chalaman Jiban, 13–14. 60. Mallikasundari Das, Snehalatar Jibanyajna, 6. 61. For example, Dasgupta, “Snehalata”; K. Bandyopadhyay, “Snehalata.” 62. The full poem was later reprinted in a book. Sengupta, Pangrahane Bibaha, 39–43. For details on the circulation of this poem in handbills, see Sandip Bandyopadhyay, “Snehalata,” 837. 63. S. Gupta, “Amar Sedinera Katha” (My Tales from Yesteryears), 63–64. 64. Raya, “Samaja Samasya,” 713. 65. For details on the widow remarriage and anti-sati campaigns, see Tripathi, Vidyasagar; Asok Sen, Iswarchandra Vidyasagar and His Elusive Milestones; Mani, Contentious Traditions. 66. Swapan Basu, “Purbe Meye Urbe Chhai,” 83. 67. R. Bandyopadhyay, Snehalata, 1. 68. Ibid., emphasis added. 69. Ibid., 2, 7, 8. 70. Jauhar was the practice historically associated with Rajput women who committed suicide by consuming poison and immolating themselves to save their honor from invaders. 71. “Snehalata,” Mahila 19, no. 8 (March 1914): 168. 72. Cited in Sandip Bandyopadhyay, “Snehalata,” 838. 73. Ibid. 74. N. Gupta, Amrita Bazar Patrika, 24 February 1914. The untitled poem appeared in English in the original. 75. Rai Bahadur C. Bose, “Marriage Dowry,” 615. 76. Mani, Contentious Traditions, 1. 77. G. Das, “Snehalata,” 314–15. 78. Songs by the writers Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941) and Girshchandra Ghosh (1844–1912). 79. Kunda, Bhramar, Kamal, and Rohini are all female characters from Bankimchandra Chatterjee’s (1838–94) novels. Notes to Chapter 2   273

80. G. Das, “Snehalata,” 314–15. 81. For an account about the place of Tod’s work in British India, see Peabody, “Tod’s Rajasthan”; Lodrick, “Rajasthan as Region,” 10. For a brief account of the impact of Tod on Bengal and Bengali literature, see the lecture given by Sukumar Sen at the Rajasthan Information Center, Calcutta, 12 October, published in Pandit Aksaychandra Sharma, ed., Rajasthan: Bangiya Drishti Main, Calcutta: Kalyan Charitable Trust, 1989: 16–17. Abanindranath Tagore’s Rajkahini (Royal Tales) and Dwijendralal Ray’s Mewar Patan (The Fall of Mewar) also testify to the deep impact of Rajput history on Bengali authors. 82. Heimsath, Indian Nationalism, 263, 264. 83. “Bangalir Bibaha Vyaya” (Bengalis’ Marriage Expenditures), Sadharani, 6 Chaitra (March) 1876, 245. 84. Swapan Basu, “Purbe Meye, Urbe Chhai,” 81–82; “Bangalir Bibaha Vyaya,” Sadharani, 6 Chaitra (27 March) 1876, 247. 85. Cited in Srinivas, Some Reflections on Dowry, 14. 86. Cited in Swapan Basu, “Purbe Meye, Urbe Chhai,” 79. 87. Rai Bahadur C. Bose, “Marriage Dowry,” 615, 616. 88. Ibid., 616. 89. “Hindu Unity and the Communal Common Sense of the ‘Dying Hindu,’” in P. K. Dutta, Carving Blocs, 21–63. 90. Raya, “Samaja Samasya,” 720–22. 91. D. Chaudhuri, “Balyabibaha o Barpan,” Prabasi, March 1914, 13: 2, 624. 92. Mary Carpenter was an English social and educational reformer who visited Calcutta, Madras, and Bombay several times between 1866 and 1875 to promote the cause of female education. Florence Nightingale was renowned for her contributions to nursing. She remained unmarried and thereby became an example among many Indians of an educated woman dedicated to a life of service. 93. Poovey, Uneven Developments, 166. 94. Anon., “Snehalata,” Bamabodhini Patrika, 95–96. 95. For details about dowry in medieval Italy and England, see Kirshner, “Li Emergenti Bisogni Matrimoniali”; Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage, 88–89; Kaplan, The Marriage Bargain. Chapter 3: Marriage and Distinction

1. R. Tagore, “Hindu Vivaha.” The lecture was a response to the views expressed by supporters of child marriage, namely Chandranath Basu, Haraprasad Sastri, Gooroodas Bandyopadhyay, Akshaykumar Sarkar, and Indranath Bandyopadhyay. Tagore’s speech was read at a meeting organized by an organization called Savitri

274   Notes to Chapter 2

Sabha presided over by Dr. Mahendralal Sircar on 4 September 1887. For more details on the meeting and the speech, see P. Pal, Rabijibani, 3: 70–72. 2. In his letter, dated 5 March 1924, Count Keyserling stated, “I am arranging a book, which will be called the book of Marriage. Most Western people have lost both the knowledge of what marriage means & the art of being married; hence the revolting disorder of these days in all corresponding matters. My aim is to form a sort of orchestra, in which different voices, chosen among the most competent in existence should deal with the different possible aspects of marriage from the point of view of understanding.” Cited in P. Pal, Rabijibani, 9: 226. The essay was first published in Bengali as “Bharatvarshiya Vivaha” and then translated into English by Surendranath Tagore. 3. R. Tagore, “The Indian Ideal of Marriage,” 537. 4. For a discussion on the association of women with spiritual ideals in nationalist writings, see P. Chatterjee, “The Nationalist Resolution of the Women’s Question” and The Nation and Its Fragments, chapters 6 and 7; T. Sarkar, Hindu Wife, Hindu Nation. 5. For a critical account by a Christian missionary of huge expenses incurred in these religious festivities, see Duff, A description of the Durga and Kali festivals. 6. For example, Samachar Darpan, a contemporary journal, noted the following about the celebrations of Ramratna Mullick’s son held on 11 February 1820: “No one in Calcutta has organized a wedding like this one. The cost of festivities in this wedding could not have been worth anything less than seven or eight lakhs of rupees.” Cited in Deb, Bibaha Basarera Kabya Katha (Poems and Tales of the Wedding Night), 40. Deb noted that the current equivalent of this amount would be close to a million rupees. 7. Thus the prince of Cossimbazar, Kumar Harinath, had eleven days of festivities leading up to his wedding. Much like the Calcutta weddings, Harinath too built artificial mango and guava orchards where guests could mill around. These were lit with hundreds of candles and in the evenings became the venues for music and dance performances. Ibid., 42–43. 8. There were separate feasts organized for the Hindus, Muslims, and Europeans. Majlis, or musical soirees where dancing girls and bands were invited from other provinces, and opulent artificial sets with hills, fruit orchards, and waterfalls, were highlights of these events. The hosts propitiated Brahmans living in the city and its outer limits (Cossipore, Chitpur, and Barahanagar). Processions were an important aspect of the theatricality of these wedding extravaganzas. After gas lights were introduced in Calcutta, rich men such as Shyam Mullick had displays of these lights for the general public on his son’s wedding. Ibid., 40–42.

Notes to Chapter 3   275

9. The Arya Samaj founded by Swami Dayanand Saraswati was the result of a movement that aimed to rid Hinduism of the accretions of superstition and idol worship and return to the ideals of the Vedas. 10. S. Gupta, “Amar Sedinera Katha” (My Tales from Yesteryear), 61, 82–85. 11. There were also books written on these themes throughout the period under consideration. For example, see Kalicharan Ghosh, Upohaar (Gift). This book is a collection of eight essays and echoes many themes that will be taken up in subsequent pages. Basically it argues that some ritual practices had become obsolete, while others were abandoned because they were too expensive. It proposes a revamping of the ceremonial practices that made up Bengali marriage. 12. For a detailed account of Manoranjan Guha-Thakurta’s life, see B. C. Pal, Indian Nationalism, 207–27. 13. Manoranjan Guha-Thakurta, “Barpan” (Dowry), Kayastha Patrika, May 1914, 69– 76. 14. This sentiment pervaded articles in a number of other journals, such as Bamabodhini Patrika, Bharati, Brahmin Samaj, Mahila, and Mahisya Mahila. 15. For detailed discussions on the rules, the measures adopted when they were violated, and the general problem of wedding expenditures, see “Panaprathar Parinam” (Results of the Dowry System), Kayastha Patrika, February 1914, 638; “Kayastha Kanyar Bibaha” (Marriage of a Kayastha Girl), Kayastha Patrika, March 1910, 425; “Barpan Sambandhe Chinta” (Some Thoughts on Dowry), Kayastha Patrika, March 1914, 643–59; “Bibahe Dabidaowa” (Marriage Demands), Kayastha Samaja, January 1919, 144; “Parinoy Pana” (The Results of Dowry), Kayastha Samaja, January 1919, 240–47. 16. Suerndramohan Bhattacharya, Purohit Darpan, 1974. This book was first published in 1891 but was expanded and reissued in 1904. 17. Typically the almanac forbids marriages during the lunar months, namely, Bhadra, Ashwin, Kartika (mid-July to mid-October), Poush (mid-December to midJanuary), and Chaitra (mid-March to mid-April). 18. For details about these regional variations, see Suchitra Bhattacharya, Bengali Weddings, 25–95. 19. Ibid., 25, 33. 20. The turmeric ceremony is significant because turmeric is believed to be a disinfectant as well as a fertility enhancer. But, as observed by Suchitra Bhattacharya, “today, an abridged version of the ceremony is performed.” Ibid., 39. 21. The ceremonial name for the trousseau is tatta. It must include (but is not restricted to) the turmeric paste, one whole fish, a necklace, sandalwood paste, a container of kohl (kajallata), gachkauta (a container held by the bride throughout the wedding ceremony), the bride’s sari, mustard oil, betel leaf, betel nuts, whole turmeric roots, 276   Notes to Chapter 3

and gifts for various relatives. For further details, see Suchitra Bhattacharya, Bengali Weddings, 39. 22. Ibid., 62. 23. For a further list of details on rituals such as bashi-biye (“stale wedding,” the day after the nuptials when the husband and wife are still “tied” to each other with a piece of sacred cloth) and bodhu-baran (welcoming the bride to her new home), see Suchitra Bhattacharya, Bengali Weddings, 76–83. 24. Taraknath Debbarma, “Kayasthera Bibaha,” Kayastha Samaja, April 1922, 21–22. 25. This was the period when various castes began recording their genealogies and also adopting certain practices customarily reserved for the twice-born. These movements may be viewed as efforts to define new caste identities. For details about social movements among Kayasthas, see D. C. Sen, Gharer Katha O Yugasahitya (Tales of Home and the Literature of an Era), 188–89; Vidyabhushana, “Samaja O Dharma” (Society and Religion); Anon., “Upanayanera Proyojon Ki?” (What Is the Utility of a Thread Ceremony?); “Kayasthera Jogyopobit” (The Kayastha’s Sacred Thread), Kayastha Samaja, June–July 1924, 133–43. A report in the journal Kayastha Samaja, May–June 1924, noted that at a meeting of the New Bengal Kayastha Conference (Nikhil Banga Kayastha Sammelan) held on 19 April 1924 the ruling of the Calcutta High Court that the Kayasthas belonged to the category of Shudras in the caste system was challenged. 26. Surendramohan Bhattacharya, “Nibedan,” in Purohit Darpan, 3–4. 27. D. Tagore, The Autobiography of Maharshi Devendranath Tagore, xli. 28. Sudakhsina Sen, Jibansmriti (Reminiscences of Life), 111. 29. Deb, Bibaha Basarera Kabya Katha (Poems and Tales of the Wedding Night), 96. 30. Saradindu Bandyopadhyay, “Rakter Daag” (Blood Mark), 581. The story first appeared in 1956. 31. For a sample of such a book, see P. Bagchi, ed., Bibaher Kabita (Wedding Poetry). 32. That this practice has survived well into the postcolonial period is testified to by Sudipta Kaviraj, who recently observed, “There is a famous anthology in Bengali, conventionally used as a mandatory present to newly wed couples, titled Hajar Bacharer Premer Kabita (‘Love Poems of a Thousand Years’).” He adds, and this is of significance to the argument being made in this chapter, that the contents of this book “reveal that love poems were indeed being written for over a thousand years; but not that what constituted love remained unchanged.” See Kaviraj, “Tagore and the Transformations in the Ideals of Love,” in Orsini, ed., Love in South Asia, 162. 33. For example, Khitish Moulik documented a tradition wherein kulin parents gave their daughters away to ghataks because suitable bridegrooms proved too expensive. The ghataks piled these girls into boats known as bhoras (commercial boats) and took them off to be married to men of lesser clans. This was a lucrative trade in East Notes to Chapter 3   277

Bengal for over three hundred years. Many young girls who remained unmarried ended up in vaishnava akharas, where again they were sold off to elderly men seeking brides. These marriages were known as kanthibadal (exchanging a necklace, or kanthi). Contemporary caste society, however, decreed such women socially unacceptable. Thus a new group came into vogue in Bengal known as the grihivaishnavs. Khitish Moulik collected a large number of songs and poems about these bhora girls in Prachin Purva Banga Gitika (Poems from Early East Bengal), 4: 197–226. Also see D. C. Sen, Vanga-Satritya Parichay (An Introduction to Bengali Literature) and Maimansimha Gitika (Ballads of Mymensigh). 34. Deb, Bibaha Basarera Kabya Katha, 93. 35. It is common to find handbills advertising a product or an event being distributed by men riding cycle rickshaws or vans in small towns all over India. 36. Cited in Deb, Bibaha Basarera Kabya Katha, 94. 37. Rajat Ray, Exploring Emotional History. 38. An extreme instance of criticism of love matches is a three-volume publication called Parinay Pragati (Advancement in Love). The author, probably a man, wrote under a female pseudonym Shailasuta Devi. These volumes were designed as texts on social gossip. The names of the man and woman joined in matrimony are written as A+B, emphasizing once more the extreme individualism that certain contemporaries associated with love matches. 39. Deb, Bibaha Basarera Kabya Katha, 128–34. 40. These three items refer to ornaments worn or carried by the bride. Sithi-mour is an ornament worn across the parting of the hair, while a kajallata is the container in which colirium (kohl) is kept. They are all marks of auspiciousness. 41. Deb, Bibaha Basarera Kabya Katha, 102–3. 42. An interesting case in point is Sanjibchandra Chattopdhyay’s (1834–89) account of Kol marriage practices in his travelogue “Palamau” (first serialized between 1880 and 1882). For Chattopadhyay the “primitive” offered a site from which to critique the Bengali modern. He was simultaneously conscious of the frailty of the “primitive” and of the “country” in the face of the onward march of modernity. He thus talks at length about the prevalence of dowry and the problem of indebtedness it gave rise to among the Kols. Prathama Banerjee discusses the centrality of a particular construction of the “folk” or “primitive” to the project of modernity in Bengal in Politics of Time. 43. Certain vignettes from these rhymes acquired immense popularity and are now immortal in the Bengali popular imagination. Of these the most frequently referred to are the mythological accounts of the god Shiva journeying with Narada (an interfering and somewhat fractious companion) and a large entourage to his wedding, married women chattering and laughing at the sight of Shiva as bridegroom, a de278   Notes to Chapter 3

scription of the elderly Shiva as bridegroom, Daksha’s (Parvati’s father) criticisms of Shiva, and the story of Behula and Lakhindar from Manasa Mangal. See D. C. Sen, Vanga-Satritya Parichay, 142–43, 160–61, 168–69, 204–7, 252–53. 44. For instance, a verse written in an East Bengali dialect about the god Surya readying himself to leave for his in-laws’ house was adapted into a children’s poem in West Bengal, where the god-character was substituted for a child named Pnutu. Here is the older version: “Surjai jaben sasur-bari songe jaiben ke / Songe jaibe surjai er baape / sajte lagje se.” And the modern version: “Pnutu Jabe sasur bari songe jabe ke / Barite ache kuno beral komor bnedheche.” 45. Srimati Pramilabala Mitra, “Narira Kartabya” (Women’s Duties), Bamabodhini Patrika, 23 May 1915, 28. 46. See Kaviraj, “Tagore and the Transformations in the Ideals of Love,” 161–82. 47. S. Mitra, “Gour Chandrika” (Preface), in Biyer Mantar (Wedding Chants). 48. Pal Chowdhury, Sachitra Panapratha, 40, 42, 42–43. 49. Ibid., 43–44, 20–23. Another form of social etiquette and a novel invention of modern weddings, which the same author singled out for criticism, was the practice of printing invitation cards. He argued that these forms masked the harsh reality of most Bengali weddings under a semblance of fake conviviality (35–37). Modern invitation cards, the author noted, always ended with the line “Pardon [us] for inviting you through a letter.” This, he noted, bespoke the innate hypocrisy that had crept into social relations. It was customary in Hindu society for people to invite everyone personally for all social occasions because a guest, irrespective of his or her class position, was akin to the Hindu god Narayan and had to be treated with respect. If a person failed in this, his or her summons would never be honored. To print out invitations and distribute them through people appointed for the task went against the tenets of Hindu social codes, as did the published priti upohaar poems. 50. Deb, Bibaha Basarera Kabya Katha, 87–88; Suchitra Bhattacharya, Bengali Weddings, 76. 51. For a fascinating discussion on these all-women ceremonies as a space of female desire and queerness, see Gopinath, Impossible Desires, 119–21. 52. Kaviraj, “Tagore and the Transformations in the Ideals of Love,” 164. Kaviraj discusses the displacement of certain older aesthetic ideals of love, or their reorientation to the requirements of late nineteenth-century society. 53. “Bibahabashorgriha,” Somprakash, 30 November 1863, 38–40, 38. Sukumar Sen’s work Women’s Dialect in Bengali sheds valuable light on the use of particular lexical terms by women that gave female speech a certain “traditional” flavor. Much early twentieth-century reformism was directed at erasing these expressive words and elements from women’s speech. 54. See Das De, Basar Udyan (The Basar Garden); B. Ray, Basarkautuk Rahasya Natak Notes to Chapter 3   279

(Mysteries of the Wedding Night, A Play). Anindita Ghosh writes about the market for fictional works on bashor ghar in her study of popular literature in late nineteenth-century Bengal; see Power in Print, 231–36. 55. S. C. Bose, The Hindoos As They Are, 67. 56. Anindita Ghosh, Power in Print, 232–36. 57. Rajat Ray argues, The articulation of a youthful masculine need for a companion produced a feminine response to the implicit opportunity for establishing equality. Masculine and feminine emotional requirements coincided in this romantic longing for comradehood at home and abroad. . . . Both “manly” education and education “suited to women” were designed to build moral character. At the same time the old arranged marriage within the approved caste circle continued as a brake upon the new romantic aspirations. A value was placed at once upon individualistic love and on the patriarchal family. The contradiction produced psychic tension. The psycho-sexual emphasis on sublimation that we notice in the emerging new literature was the inevitable consequence of these related developments. (Exploring Emotional History, 62) Similar discussions on the purity of love and on ethical and aesthetic imagination are found in discussions of Bengali widowhood by D. Chakrabarty, “Domestic Cruelty and the Birth of the Subject,” in Provincializing Europe, 117–48; Kaviraj, “Tagore and the Transformations in the Ideals of Love,” 161–82. 58. Folk tales that archived and circulated during this period, from Bengal and elsewhere, celebrate the theme of sacrifice. Bengalis from this period onward were familiar with the stories of Hir-Ranjha, Mirza-Sahiban, and Laila-Majnu. For details on these qissah traditions, see Jeevan S. Deol, “To Die at the Hands of Love: Conflicting Ideals of Love in the Punjabi Mirza-Sahiban Cycle,” in Orsini, ed., Love in South Asia, 142–58, and “Sex, Social Critique and the Female Figure.” 59. For a discussion of recasting of the Radha-Krishna story along these lines, and the ideas that inspired such a shift, see V. Ritter, “Epiphany in Radha’s Arbor.” Dipesh Chakrabarty also discusses the ways Bengali writers sought to depict Radha’s love as “respectable” and untainted. See Provincializing Europe, 135. 60. Cited in Saratkumari Chaudhurani, “Bhumika,” in Saratkumari Chaudhuranira Racanabali, 1–2. 61. Saratkumari Chaudhurani, “Meye Yagnir Bisrinkhala,” in Saratkumari Chaudhuranira Racanabali, 220. Similar ideas on women’s clothing and the need to wear proper footwear and appear graceful and dignified are to be found in H. Chaudhuri, “Women’s Dress,” and J. Devi, “On the Use of Footwear by Women in Ancient India,” both in M. Bhattacharya and Sen, Talking of Power, 88–93; 130–32. 62. Ibid., 220. 280   Notes to Chapter 3

63. Saratkumari Chaudhurani, “Kanyaday,” in Saratkumari Chaudhuranira Racanabali, 159, 160. 64. B. Tagore, “Subha-Utsav,” 564 (first published in Bharati, 1898). Chapter 4: The Not-Quite Bourgeois

1. R. Tagore, “Chokher Bali,” 340. 2. The photographs used in this chapter are from various families and individuals I interviewed during my research for this book. In addition, I consulted two collections housed in the Center for Studies in Social Sciences in Kolkata. The first is the collection of photographs put together by the scholar Siddhartha Ghosh from various families and individuals; the second is the Sevati Mitra Collection. The former contains 187 family photographs and the latter contains 899 family photographs. In addition I have been fortunate in being able to see the traveling exhibition organized by Malavika Karlekar and the Center for Women’s Development Studies. 3. “Framing Conjugality,” introduction to the 2005 calendar published by the Center for Women’s Development Studies, New Delhi. I am grateful to Malavika Karlekar, the director of the Center, for sharing this with me. 4. For an overview of these trends, see D. Engels, Beyond Purdah?; Forbes, Women in Modern India. Also see T. Sarkar, “Strishiksha and Its Terrors”; Bannerji, Inventing Subjects. 5. Judith Walsh writes about the emergence of the husband as the wife’s only god as part of a modernist ethic in Domesticity in Colonial India, 4–5, 87–112. 6. Karlekar, Re-Visioning the Past, 97. 7. There was a huge proliferation in the market for photography between 1867 and 1914. The number of photographic firms recorded in 1867 in Wyman’s directory was eight, which multiplied three times by 1914 as evidenced by the India directory compiled by P. M. Bagchi. Bengali-owned photographic firms also spread to places outside Calcutta, to east and north Bengal as well as to other provinces such as Darjeeling, Dhaka, Tamluk, Noakhali, Faridpur, Assam, Allahabad, and Ranchi. Each of these firms had a number of photographers on their rolls. It may be credibly argued that the rise in the number of studios and photographers also led to an expansion in the kinds of pictures taken. 8. Both Siddhartha Ghosh and Malavika Karlekar, the two scholars who have written about Bengali photography most extensively, concur that the Anglicized middle classes patronized studios like Bourne and Shepherd and Johnston and Hoffman. The more “orthodox” went to the Calcutta Art Studio and the Bengal Photographers. See Ghosh, Chabi Tola: Bangalira Photographi Carca (Taking Photographs: The Practice of Photography by Bengalis), 117–19; Karlekar, Revisioning the Past, 72. One of the most important changes that allowed photography to make inroads into Notes to Chapter 4   281

Bengali homes was the entry of the female photographer and the establishment of the zenana studio. The earliest zenana studio set up with the intent of encouraging women in purdah to be photographed and yet maintain their seclusion was by Mrs. E. Mayer in 1863. Contemporary journals mention several other European ladies who opened studios for women and, most important, offered to give lessons to interested women and girls in the new technology. That native women too had started to take an active interest in photography is testified to by newspapers and journals of the period. The first Bengali woman to open a studio and enter the commercial world of photography was Sarojini Ghosh. Her studio was located on 32 Cornwallis Street in North Calcutta and she received considerable appreciation for her work. Photography left the hallowed portals of European studios and was taken up in great earnest by Bengali women by the second and third decades of the twentieth century. Some women who acquired a name as photographers and also practiced it for their livelihoods were Mira Chowdhury (b. 1905), Annapurna Goswami (b. 1916), Deblina Sen Ray (whose work received critical acclaim between 1937 and 1940), Annapurna Dutta (1894–1976), and Chanchalabala Dasi. Others whose work became known in the years 1937–39 include Ila Mitra, Kananbala Chattopadhyay, Pakhila Kalita, Apu Chatterjee (Assam), Bithi Ray, Baby Chowdhury, Renu Dutta Majumdar, and Bubu Ray. For more details on early Bengali photography, see Siddhartha Ghosh, Chabi Tola: Bangalir Photography Charcha, 77–104. 9. The photographers in most cases did not belong to the family. 10. For a comment on Umrao Singh Sher Gil, see Sundaram, Re-take of Amrita, 7. 11. Gutman, Through Indian Eyes, 108–9. They were done on paper, glass, porcelain, and ivory. While the main subject of the photograph remained the same, the artist would often play with the backdrop and other effects and sometimes even with the facial expressions of the subjects. 12. Pinney, Camera Indica, 76–79. See Christopher Pinney’s discussion of painted photographs for more details on this kind of photography. 13. Borthwick, The Changing Role of Women in Bengal, 133. 14. Siddhartha Ghosh, Chabi Tola, 5. 15. Karlekar, Re-Visioning the Past, 95. 16. A number of essays on the subject of women’s fashion, care of the body, and general comportment appeared in a book called Agamani (The Arrival, n.d.). Most of the essays in this collection had appeared in two popular Bengali journals, Bharati and Bijali, between 1921 and 1923. 17. S. C. Bose, appendix, 298–99. 18. For an interesting example of why the groom’s ring became an accepted ritual in American weddings and how this practice acquired the status of tradition in the

282   Notes to Chapter 4

1940s and 1950s, see Howard, “A Real Man’s Ring.” According to Howard, the groom’s ring became an acceptable feature of the wedding ceremony when ideas about masculine domesticity, weddings, and marriage became synonymous with capitalism, national stability, and prosperity. 19. Saudamini Mozoomdar’s photograph, reproduced by Borthwick, shows her wearing the “reformed dress,” which included a long-sleeved, high-neck blouse, a headcloth, and shoes. Borthwick, The Changing Role of Women, 253. 20. Shyamoli Basu, Shekal O Shekalini (Yesteryear and Women of the Time), 91–92. 21. Ibid., 90. 22. Shoes for women were a matter of great controversy among Bengalis in the 1870s and 1880s. Orthodox women never wore shoes, and shoes were quite expensive compared to other items of clothing. As Borthwick noted, in 1881 “ladies’ plain elasticsided boots were advertised for four to six rupees, and kid leather or glove-kid boots sold for ten to fifteen rupees.” Borthwick, The Changing Role of Women in Bengal, 255. Even among the advocates of modern dress reform shoes were a contested item. While some reformers (both men and women) advocated wearing shoes for reasons of comfort and mobility, others thought they were expendable. Stockings too were objects of abhorrence. Prices dropped considerably as shoes became more acceptable as an item of clothing by the first decade of the twentieth century. Pyarimohan Mukhopadhyay notes in his Amar Dekha Kolkata (The Calcutta I Saw) that women made patterns with wool and carpet and then had these stitched by a cobbler. Burmese slippers with red velvet padding were also very popular (19). In none of the other photographs, even ones from a later period, do we have brides wearing shoes. 23. Karlekar, Revisioning the Past, 94. 24. Oldenburg, Dowry Murder, 9–10. 25. The list included a crown (9 bhoris), kaan (earrings that covered the entire ear, 6 bhoris), a seven-tiered necklace (saat lahari, 14 bhoris), a wide bracelet or chur (14 bhoris), a bala or another variety of wide bracelet (5 bhoris), a pearl necklace called minar and a saraswati haar (another kind of necklace), a stone-studded joroya necklace, a flowered comb (4 bhoris), a tabij for the upper arm (7 bhoris), ornaments for the waist (bak, got, 10 bhoris), silver anklets (30 bhoris), payjor (presumably another kind of ornament for the feet, 20–25 bhoris). In addition there was a gold watch and chain for the bridegroom, rings and bejeweled buttons, and a cash offering of one thousand rupees as kanyadan, or gift to the daughter. A bhori is a unit of measure for precious metals; one bhori is 11.66 grams. Cited in Shyamoli Basu, Shekal O Shekalini, 64–65. 26. Cited in Shyamoli Basu, Shekal O Shekalini, 65. A scathing critique of the craze for

Notes to Chapter 4   283

jewelry was written by Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain, “Alamkara na Badge of Slavery” (Ornaments or a Badge of Slavery) in Sutapa Bhattacharya, Bangali Meyera Bhabnamulak Gadya-Unisa Satak (Thoughtful Prose by Bengali Women), 50. 27. A similar experience is reported in the case of Gaganendranath Tagore’s elder daughter Sunandini. The women in her husband’s family sent some of her jewelry to be tested to ensure that they were made of precious stones and were not fakes. Cited in Shyamoli Basu, Shekal O Shekalini, 68. It is also well known that Sarada Devi, wife of Debendranath Tagore, had married off two of her daughters with jewelry belonging to one of her daughters-in-law, Jnanadanandini Devi, whose husband, Satyendranath Tagore, was at the time in England. Jnanadanandini was compensated for this injustice by her father-in-law, who gave her a diamond necklace. There was another famous case in Calcutta in which two sons of Jadunath Mullick of Jorasanko went to court over the ownership of a nose ring belonging to their mother. Some women reminisced about particular items of jewelry with great affection. The children’s writer Lila Majumdar remembers a brooch belonging to her cousin, Malati. It was a battery-operated brooch with a huge pearl at its center. 28. Purnima Debi, Thakurbarir Ganganthakur, 65. 29. Shyamoli Basu, Shekal O Shekalini, 91. 30. The swadeshi movement in Bengal (1905–11) arose in direct protest against Lord Curzon’s decision to partition the province in 1905. During the movement there was a strong push to boycott British schools and colleges and promote national institutions and also boycott and burn British goods and favor indigenous products. Charu Gupta documents how, in the north Indian heartland during the first decades of the twentieth century, women’s desire to appear fashionable and their love for jewelry came to be derided in the public sphere. She writes, “In the 1920s Gandhi called for women to give up their love for jewelry.” Sexuality, Obscenity, Community, 141. 31. There had also been an influx of Marwaris in the Calcutta jewelry market who, along with their Bengali counterparts, further displaced English jewelers. For some advertisements of various jewelers, see Roy Chowdhury, Early Calcutta Advertisements, 566–79. While the 1880s and 1890s are dominated by advertisements from firms like Cook and Kelvy, Hamilton, Greenhill and Co., Thomas Russell and Sons, and A. Stephens and Co., a large number of Indian firms (Bengali, Marwari, and some Parsi) also became prominent in the following decade. 32. For sample designs of such items, see appendix 2. It is noteworthy that all three women came from different caste backgrounds. Ghosh was a Kayastha, Chaudhuri a Brahmo, and Dutta a Suvarnavanik (the traditional caste of gold traders). The desire to showcase a family’s taste, it would appear, was shared across castes. 33. S. C. Bose, The Hindoos As They Are, 56. 34. Siddhartha Ghosh, Chabi Tola, 7. 284   Notes to Chapter 4

35. This was especially important when we compare the cost of a photo to that of a painted portrait, a fact remarked upon by Adishwar Ghatak (1864–1926), one of the early Bengali writers on photography. In his “Elements of Dry Plate Photography in Bengali,” Ghatak made a case for the affordability of photographs: “A good oil painting cannot be had for less than a thousand or even two thousand rupees. Photography gives us a far more accurate likeness for a hundred.” Quoted in Siddhartha Ghosh, Chabi Tola, 74. 36. Ibid., 177. 37. B. Basu, Meyemahal, n.p. A similar indictment of the couple may be found in three volumes of a book titled Parinaya Pragati written by Shailasuta Debi. The latter was probably a pseudonym and the author of these books was most certainly male. There were numerous essays and poems that critiqued the so-called modern influence in Bengali marriage. For example, Akhsay Kumar Sen, “Naba-Bibahitera Akkhep” (Lament of a Newlywed), Subodhini 2 (1891). In the same volume of the journal there is a scathing article under the heading “Mashik Sambad” (Monthly News) about a woman (probably fictive) who was thirty-four years old, educated, believed in “equality, friendship, freedom, and intimacy,” and had numerous love affairs and even an aborted pregnancy. It may be argued that this mode of critiquing gender relations within matrimony can be traced back to the 1870s and 1880s to writers like Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay, whose essays “Dampotto Dandabidhi Ain” (The Matrimonial Penal Code), “Basanta ebong Biraha” (Spring and Grief ), “Prachina o Nabina” (The Traditional and the Modern Woman) all contain (satirical) reflections on the state of women and companionate marriage among the educated classes in colonial Bengal. All are collected in B. Chattopadhyay, Bankimracanavali, 2: 13–21, 249–56. 38. Karlekar, Revisioning the Past, 100–101. 39. Social historians place the birth of the “modern Western marriage” between 1770 and 1830. It is argued that during these years, “love became the most celebrated criterion for choosing a spouse, even if property, family, and social status continued to weigh heavily in the decision.” Yalom, History of the Wife, 176–77. Also see Shorter, The Making of the Modern Family; Degler, At Odds. 40. See, for example, P. Bagchi, Bibahera Kabita (Wedding Poetry); J. Pal, Biyera Hashi (Wedding Laughter). For a rather extreme example, see a pocket-size book called Kundaranir Chora. The author’s name and date of publication are not known. The book contains poems ostensibly written for a young, tempestuous girl named Kunda who is about to be married. In thirty-two pages it chronicles through humorous poems the various events leading up to her marriage: matchmaking, finalizing the match, the wedding, striacar poems, bashor ghar, and finally her entry into her husband’s home. Contemporary journals also published such poems. For example, the Notes to Chapter 4   285

women’s magazine Bamabodhini Patrika, year 10, vol. 3 (1914): 48, has a poem written to celebrate the wedding of Sachindraprasad Basu and Srimati Kumudini. The poem is entitled “Badhu-Baran” (Welcoming the Bride). 41. For a more detailed textual understanding of the divinities invoked under the name Prajapati, see Danielou, The Myths and Gods of India, 234–40. 42. Historians and anthropologists have written at length about the various debates surrounding the practice of sati as well as its religious and sociocultural significance in describing ethical and virtuous conduct in a woman. For a few examples of the different registers on which the idea of being a sati has been analyzed, see Leslie, “Suttee or Sati: Victim or Victor,” in Roles and Rituals for Hindu Women; Courtright, “Sati, Sacrifice, and Marriage: The Modernity of Tradition,” in From the Margins of Hindu Marriage; Hawley, Fundamentalism and Gender; Hardgrove, “Sati Worship and Marwari Public Identity in India.” 43. Walsh, Domesticity in Colonial India and How to Be the Goddess of Your Home. 44. Walsh, Domesticity in Colonial India, 90. 45. D. C. Sen, History of Bengali Language and Literature, 397–98. For a discussion of the anxieties inherent in ideas of a nationalist, Bengali family romance, see D. Chakrabarty, “Romantic Archives.” 46. Simonti Sen, Krishnabhabini Daser Englande Banga Mahila (A Bengali Woman in England) and Travels to Europe. 47. See the poem entitled “Priya-Milan” (Union with the Beloved). Priya refers to the female lover in the booklet published in 1934. 48. R. Debi, in Abasarika, Bibaha Sankhya. 49. D. Tagore, “Anusthan Paddhati” (Ritual Procedures), 32–34. 50. A. Devi, Sahitye Nari: Srashta O Srishti (Women in Literature: Creators and Their Creations), 7. This text is a compilation of the Lila lectures delivered by Anurupa Devi to the University of Calcutta in 1944. 51. The expression “new patriarchy” was first used by Partha Chatterjee in “The Nationalist Resolution of the Women’s Question” to analyze the apparent abandonment of the so-called women’s question by Bengali male nationalists. Chatterjee has usefully shown us that far from abandoning women’s issues, the nationalist construction of a new patriarchy, a structure of relations within the home uncontaminated by the powers and influences of the West, allowed men in the era of nationalism to cope with their feelings of powerlessness and inferiority in the public sphere. The model that Chatterjee posited allowed him to understand women’s submission to certain patriarchal norms within the family at a time when their comportment in public was apparently changing, that is to say, they had more access to education and even possibilities of employment. Chatterjee’s conceptualization of the new patriarchy has been used and advanced further by Judith Walsh in Domesticity in Colonial India. 286   Notes to Chapter 4

There is an emergent literature that maps similar processes at work in other parts of India through autobiographical and biographical literature. For an overview, see Forbes, Women in Modern India. Also see Chakravarti, Rewriting History; T. Sarkar, Hindu Wife, Hindu Nation. 52. T. Sarkar, Hindu Wife, Hindu Nation, 40–41. 53. The centrality of the couple and the emotional cruelty wrought upon the first wife by the addition of co-wives was a theme taken up in several contemporary regional literatures. As recent research demonstrates, even among Indian Muslims, where there was some religious/textual sanction for the practice, polygamy came in for sharp criticism during this time. See Asiya Alam, “Family in Transition” for a discussion of writings on the subject by prominent Muslim intellectuals like Syed Ahmad Khan and Ameer Ali, and anti-polygamy novels like Ah-e-Mazluman (1918). 54. Chakravarty, A Tagore Reader, 18–19, 19. Chapter 5: A Nineteenth-Century Debate

1. For details on the Hindu Marriage Act, see Menski, Hindu Law, 282–321. The expression “social imaginary” is Charles Taylor’s. It is useful to invoke the idea of social imaginaries in this context (as opposed to social theory) because the former, as Taylor uses it, is not an analysis of ideas as against institutions. Rather, “it is what enables, through making sense of, the practices of society.” The emphasis on the imagination in “social imaginary” allows the historian to focus on the way “ordinary people imagine their social surroundings” and express their impressions through quotidian practices encapsulated in stories, songs, poems, diaries, photographs, and journals. This social imagination, as Taylor rightly points out, is the preserve of a large group of people, unlike social theory, which by definition can be the province of only a small minority. Taylor, Modern Social Imaginaries, 27. 2. There are a large number of books and essays published on the event. Most of these were written to garner support for either Keshub Sen or the factions which opposed him. Notable among these are P. C. Mozoomdar, The Life and Teachings of Keshub Chunder Sen, 140–45, 183–92; P. K. Sen, Biography of a New Faith, vol. 2; G. Roy, Acharya Keshubchandra, 2: 882–911, 1180–240; K. C. Sen, Correct Statement; S. Sastri, History of the Brahmo Samaj. 3. M. Sinha, Colonial Masculinity, 138–80, and “The Lineage of the ‘Indian’ Modern” and Specters of Mother India, 152–96; Tripathi, Vidyasagar; Carroll, “Law, Custom and Statutory Social Reform”; S. Sarkar, “The Women’s Question in Nineteenth Century Bengal,” in A Critique of Colonial India, 71–76; T. Sarkar, “Conjugality and Hindu Nationalism,” and “A Pre-History of Rights? The Age of Consent Debates in Colonial Bengal,” in Hindu Wife, Hindu Nation, 191–225, 226–49; S. Sen, “Offences against Marriage: Negotiating Custom in Colonial Bengal,” in John and Nair, Notes to Chapter 5   287

A Question of Silence? 77–110; Southard, The Women’s Movement and Colonial Politics in Bengal, 70–259. 4. It should be clarified that the term betrothal was deliberately used by the bride’s father to establish that even though a formal marriage ceremony took place, the bride and bridegroom did not consummate the marriage until the groom’s return from England. In that sense, to call the event a betrothal is somewhat controversial because what had actually taken place was a wedding. B. Mozoomdar, a supporter of Keshub Sen, wrote a tract on the marriage controversy wherein he maintained that the event that took place in 1878 was a “betrothal.” He argued, “The protesters had not even the sagacity to grasp, that the ceremony which took place in 1878 was nothing but purely a betrothal and the MARRIAGE was consummated later on after the betrothal” (emphasis in the original). See B. Mozoomdar, God-Man Keshub and the Cooch Behar Marriage, 3–4. 5. S. Sastri, History of the Brahmo Samaj, 1. 6. For a general history of the Brahmo movement, see Kopf, The Brahmo Samaj and the Shaping of the Modern Indian Mind. In addition, there are a large number of tracts on particular phases of the movement as well as on important individual members of the Samaj. For a few examples, see Anon., Adi Brahmo Samajer Sabalata o Durbalata (Strengths and Weaknesses of the Adi Brahmo Samaj); Bagal, Dwarkanath Gangopadhyay; B. N. Bandyopadhyay, Akkhoy Kumar Dutt and Dwarka Nath Vidyabhushan; R. Bose, The Adi Brahmo Samaj; R. C. Bose, Brahmoism. 7. Quoted in Kopf, The Brahmo Samaj, 103. 8. For a summary of Keshub Sen’s career, see Borthwick, Keshub Chunder Sen. 9. For details on these activities see P. C. Mozoomdar, The Life and Teachings of Keshub Chunder Sen, 137–82. 10. S. Sastri, History of the Brahmo Samaj, 106. This letter was signed by Keshub Chandra Sen, Umanath Gupta, Mahendranath Bose, Jadunath Chakravarti, Nibaran Chandra Mukherji, and Pratap Chandra Majumdar. 11. Ibid., 106–7, 85, 87. The original letter appeared in the Indian Mirror, 1 August 1865. 12. Ibid., 87. Their activities included female education both within and outside the zenana, popularizing the temperance movement, and providing relief during famines and floods. It was also around this time that the first Bengali women’s magazine, Bamabodhini Patrika, was published under the editorship of Umesh Chandra Mitra. The activities of the young Brahmos were not concentrated in Calcutta or even in Bengal alone. Brahmos took their reformism to towns and villages in different parts of Bengal, and these changes roused serious opposition from their Hindu brethren. 13. Kopf, The Brahmo Samaj, 103. 288   Notes to Chapter 5

14. Gazette of India, Supplement, 19 September 1868. 15. Sreenivas, “Conjugality and Capital,” 940. Sreenivas’s point also finds support in the works of scholars such as Cohn, Colonialism and Its Forms of Knowledge and Derrett, Religion, Law, and the State. 16. Amiya Sen agrees that the main reason behind the schism among the older generation of Brahmos (Debendranath Tagore and Rajnarain Bose) and the younger group led by Keshub Sen was the issue of marriage. In Sen’s analysis the younger party’s support of intercaste marriage and Tagore’s opposition to it caused a meltdown in the relations between the two groups. Hindu Revivalism in Bengal, 37–48. 17. Quoted in P. C. Mozoomdar, The Life and Teachings of Keshub Chunder Sen, 140, 141. Also see Amiya Sen, Hindu Revivalism in Bengal, 40–48, for more details on the background of Act III of 1872. Sen also offers a nuanced analysis of the two rivals in the controversy, Debendranath Tagore and Keshub Sen, and argues that much of the dispute was a product of the conflict in their public personas. 18. Mody, “Love and the Law,” 223–56, 231 n. 20. This draft was known as “A Bill to Legalise Indian Marriages between members of the Brahma Samaja.” 19. P. C. Mozoomdar, The Life and Teachings of Keshub Chunder Sen, 141. 20. National Archives of India, “Act III of 1872,” file no. 237, 11 July 1871. 21. Here is P. C. Mozoomdar’s recollection of the Adi Brahmo opposition: There was a real grievance which the Adi-Somaj pleaded. They said the form of Civil Marriage prescribed by the new law was revolting to their religious instincts, they could not conscientiously adopt the statutory form of registration before an official, and as they believed their marriage rites to be perfectly legal, it was needless oppression to compel them to appear before Marriage Registrars who might not be members of the Brahmo Somaj at all. The formal renunciation of Hindu religion required by statutory declaration, was also against their conviction and conscience, they believed Brahmo religion was in essence Hindu religion. (The Life and Teachings of Keshub Chunder Sen, 142) 22. Mahalnobis, Brahmananda Keshubchandrera Patrabali (The Letters of Brahmananda Keshub Chandra Sen), 225–26. 23. Keshub Chandra Sen, “National Marriage Reform,” speech at the Town Hall of Calcutta, cited in Sivnath Sastri, Ei ki Brahmo Bibaha? 18. The speech was delivered on 13 September 1871. 24. Mody, “Love and the Law,” 232, 234, 234–35. 25. Ibid., 229. 26. S. Sastri, History of the Brahmo Samaj, 139. 27. Quoted in P. C. Mahalanobis, Brahmo Vivaha Bidhi, 25. 28. S. Sastri, History of the Brahmo Samaj, 139–40. 29. Borthwick, Keshub Chunder Sen, 174. Notes to Chapter 5   289

30. “The Minister’s Letters to Miss Cobbe,” in K. C. Sen, Correct Statement, 10. These lines appeared in Cobbe’s article on Sen in the journal East and West published in September 1903. 31. For example, see B. Mozoomdar, God Man Keshub and the Cooch Behar Marriage; G. Sen, Coochbeharera Brittanta (The Story of Coochbehar); Anon., Koochbehardhipati Shriman Maharaja Sri Nripendra Narayan Bhupa Bahadurer Punya Smriti (In Auspicious Memory of Coochbehar King Sir Nripendra Narayan Bhoop); Bijoykrishna Goswami, Brahmasamajera Bartaman Obosthya (The Present State of the Brahmo Samaj); Motilal Das, Sri Keshub Kahini. 32. Durgamohan Das’s younger brother, Bhubanmohan Das, was the editor of the English-language Brahmo Public Opinion and Sivnath Sastri that of the Bengali Samalochak. 33. S. Sastri, “Atmacharit,” 151. 34. Gour Gobinda Roy notes that some Brahmos published incendiary texts, such as Bijoykrishna Goswami’s “Brahmodigera Prati Nibedan” (An Appeal to Brahmos), immediately after the wedding even though they later apologized to Sen, admitting that they had behaved like a “Judas.” See Roy, Acharya Keshubchandra, 1209. 35. P. K. Sen, Biography of a New Faith, 2: 182 n. 1. 36. See Roy, Acharya Keshubchandra, 1180–214; P. C. Mozoomdar, The Life and Teachings of Keshub Chunder Sen, 183–92. 37. Cited in “A Review of the Defence,” Brahmo Public Opinion, 11 April 1878, 27. 38. Suniti Devi reminisces about these events in The Autobiography of an Indian Princess. 39. Borthwick, Keshub Chunder Sen, 175. 40. Quoted in P. K. Sen, Biography, 186. 41. B. Mozoomdar, God-Man Keshub, 18. According to Mozoomdar, Sen was urged to consider the marriage proposal as a “divine appointment for the good of Cooch Behar.” Also see P. K. Sen, Biography of a New Faith, 2: 185. 42. Quoted in Keshub Sen’s letter to Frances Cobbe, 26 April, 1878. The letter was reprinted in The World and the New Dispensation, 1903, reproduced again in K. C. Sen, Correct Statement, 4. 43. K. C. Sen, Correct Statement, 5, 4. 44. Keshub Sen’s letter to Francis Cobbe, quoted in P. K. Sen, Biography of a New Faith, 2: 192. 45. Ibid. 46. Cited in “A Review of the Defence,” Brahmo Public Opinion, 11 April 1878, 28. 47. Sivnath Sastri’s History of the Brahmo Samaj is useful in giving us some idea of the widespread nature of the opposition to Sen’s decision: “Suffice it to say that out of 80 Samajes in Bengal as many as 50 expressed their disapprobation; 3 only were in favour of the marriage; 4 expressed no decided opinion; and the rest remained 290   Notes to Chapter 5

silent. Not to speak of individual protests, there were letters of protest from Brahmo students of Calcutta, from twelve anusthanic Brahmos of Dacca including Dr. P. K. Ray, from twenty Brahmo ladies of Calcutta and from seven Brahmo ladies from a village at Vikrampur” (177). 48. “A Review of the Defence,” Brahmo Public Opinion, 11 April 1878, 27. 49. Ibid., 28. 50. Ibid. 51. S. Sastri, Ei Ki Brahmo Bibaha? 16. 52. Ibid., 9. 53. Ibid., 14. The Brahmo Public Opinion’s report concurred with Sastri’s descriptions. The journal serialized critiques of the marriage in an article titled “A King Can Do No Wrong,” March 28, 1878 and a multipart article titled “A Review of the Defence” in April 11, 18, 1878. S. Sastri, Ei Ki Brahmo Bibaha? 13–14. 54. S. Sastri, Ei Ki Brahmo Bibaha? 11–14. 55. Quoted in Sushama Sen, Memoirs of an Octogenarian, 691. Suniti Devi noted in her autobiography that there was considerable pressure from the diwan (an important financial officer) of Coochbehar, Calica Das Dutt, to reduce the Brahmo element in the weddings. The latter, she felt, may have exercised considerable influence on Dalton, the English officer. Autobiography, 57–60. 56. Cited in Sushama Sen, Memoirs, 691. 57. “A Review of the Defence,” Brahmo Public Opinion, 11 April 1878, 28–29. 58. P. K. Sen, Biography of a New Faith, 2: 195–96. 59. “A Review of the Defence,” Brahmo Public Opinion, 11 April 1878, 28. 60. Ibid. 61. P. K. Sen, Biography of a New Faith, 2: 202–3. 62. Ibid., 2: 203. 63. Quoted in Suniti Devi, Autobiography of an Indian Princess, 58–59. 64. Borthwick, Keshub Chunder Sen, 190. 65. Quoted in P. K. Sen, Biography of a New Faith, 2: 205. 66. Indian Mirror, 17 March 1878. 67. P. K. Sen, Biography of a New Faith, 2: 204, 193–94. 68. For details, see Borthwick, Keshub Chunder Sen, 195, 182–83. 69. Quoted in P. K. Sen, Biography of a New Faith, 2: 210. 70. Quoted in Mahalanobis, Brahmo Vivaha Bidhi, 42. An early version of this booklet was serialized in two articles in the journal Nabyabharat. 71. Quoted in ibid., 12. 72. Ibid., 25. 73. Ibid., 36. Citing from Miss Collet’s Brahmo Year Book he shows that in the years 1869–71 the average age of Brahmo girls getting married was 13.9. By 1912–18, the Notes to Chapter 5   291

age had risen to 19.5. If Act III was the sole cause of this increase, he asks, why did it take so long for the change to kick in? It was only in 1902 that 19.2 became the average age of marriage among women. 74. Quoted in Mahalanobis, Brahmo Vivaha Bidhi, 8. 75. Menski, Hindu Law, 301. Menski is critiquing legal experts such as Paras Diwan who argued, “The retention and recognition of sastric marriages under the present law of marriage is a retrograde step.” Diwan is referring to the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955. 76. Sushama Sen, Memoirs of an Octogenarian, Appendix 1, 675, 677. 77. Menski, Hindu Law, 302. 78. Ibid., 297, 298. 79. For a summary of the Hindu Marriage Act and its ambiguities regarding essential sastric ceremonies, see Bedwah and Ullah, “Conditions of Hindu Marriage.” There are many commentators who argue that the Hindu Marriage Act introduced a contractual character into Hindu marriages, thereby negating the idea that marriage was a sacrament that could not be broken at will. See M. Basu, Hindu Women and Marriage Law; Qureshi, Marriage and Matrimonial Remedies. 80. Agnes, Law and Gender Inequality, 85–88, 86. 81. It is only as recently as October 2007 that the Supreme Court of India issued a ruling that requires all communities to register their marriages. 82. Veena Das, Critical Events: An Anthropological Perspective on Contemporary India, 15. 83. Derrett cited in Menski, Hindu Law, 273. Chapter 6: Nationalizing the Joint Family

1. Quoted in Moon, ed., Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, Writings and Speeches, 14: 1325–26. 2. The States Reorganization Act was passed in 1956 and a committee had been appointed by Nehru to consider the problem of state boundaries in 1953. The Representation of Peoples Act was revised in 1951, and the Indian Companies Act in 1956. 3. Derrett writes, “The name Hindu Code Bill is now obsolete, since the projected Code was broken up for ease of treatment and was introduced, bill by bill, into the Indian Parliament. But the old name, which originates in 1941, sticks, and it is as such that the public know of the project.” Hindu Law, 55. 4. Srimati Basu, “The Personal and the Political,” 169, 170–71. Basu’s survey included women in a middle-class, lower-income, and squatter colony in New Delhi. For more details on her surveys, see Basu, She Comes to Take Her Rights. 5. For a detailed analysis of women’s own reasons for not claiming property, as well as

292   Notes to Chapter 5

a general account of women’s relationship to the whole question of land ownership, see Bina Agarwal’s encyclopedic study, A Field of One’s Own. 6. Lok Sabha Debates, 8 May 1956, 7619. 7. Locke, Two Treatises of Government, 18–42. 8. For example, in a joint family consisting of a father, a son, and a daughter, both the father and the son, according to the Mitakshara coparcenary system, would be equal owners of the property. Thus, after the 1956 Act, when the father died his share would devolve equally on both the son and daughter. However, the daughter’s status in this particular case still remains less than the son’s as he is already a co-owner. This could create a number of discrepancies: she would only get a one-fourth share of the property, whereas the brother would have his half share plus another onefourth share; the brother would have greater rights on the family’s dwelling house than the non-coparcener sister. The Dayabhaga case, however, was different as both sons and daughters were entitled to equal shares, but the question of the dwelling house remained more favorable toward the son even under this system. 9. In September 2005, the Government of India enacted some major revisions to the Hindu Succession Act. While many have hailed these changes as a landmark in gender equality, the fact remains that the new law too has some important loopholes. For example, the court ruled that women who were married before the 2005 ruling will not be recognized as coparcenors. The government has also retained that section of the Hindu Succession Act that allows a Hindu to get rid of his share in the joint family property by will. This provision was introduced in 1956 as a means of disinheriting daughters. For more details on this, see Kirtee Singh, “Amendments to the Hindu Succession Act.” 10. For a detailed legal history of the background to the Code, see Derrett, Hindu Law, 1–80. 11. Regarding the push for a Uniform Civil Code by the All India Women’s Conference, see Renuka Ray, My Reminiscences, 54–58. Ray wrote, “The campaign for a uniform social code for all women was one of the first to be undertaken by the All India Women’s Conference and other leading organizations in the 1930s. It was a twofold campaign: public opinion had to be won over, and the Central Assembly had to be convinced to pass the relevant legislation.” Significantly, at this time there was “little guidance” to be had on this issue from the Congress party leadership (54). 12. Derrett, Hindu Law, 57. 13. Quoted in Derrett, Hindu Law, 58. 14. For more details on the Rau Committee, see Levy, “Indian Modernization by Legislation.” 15. The report prepared by the Hindu Law Committee had one dissident, D. N. Mitter.

Notes to Chapter 6   293

It was their report that constituted the Hindu Code bill. For more background on the Hindu Code, see Parashar, Women and Family Law Reform, 77–89. 16. For instance, in addition to the seven clauses governing divorce (desertion, conversion, having a concubine, being of incurably unsound mind, suffering from a virulent and incurable disease, leprosy, cruelty), it appended two new ones: not resuming sexual intercourse within two years after the decree of judicial separation was issued and failure to comply for two years or more with a decree for restitution of conjugal rights. As for intestate succession the second draft made the widow the principal beneficiary to the exclusion of the son and daughter for properties up to Rs. 5,000 and simplified the order of devolution thereafter. 17. Quoted in Kishwar, “Codified Hindu Law,” 2147. 18. Quoted in Parashar, Women and Family Law Reform, 85. 19. The Dayabhag and Mitakshara were the two most widely prevalent systems of inheritance law in India. As Ambedkar himself explained it, “The two systems have a fundamental difference. According to the Mitakshara, the property of a Hindu is not his individual property. It is property which belongs to what is called a coparcenary, which consists of the father, son, grandson, and great grandson.” The Dayabhag system ruled that “property is held by the heir as his personal property with an absolute right to dispose of it either by gift of by will or any other manner he chooses.” In both cases, women did not have a legal right to property. Rodriguez, The Essential Writings of B. R. Ambedkar, 495–96. Colebrooke’s translation of the Mitakshara (a running commentary on the code of Yajnavalkya) and the Dayabhaga (which claims to be a digest of all codes written by Jimutavahana, who lived in the early twelfth century) became the two most frequently quoted and relied upon sources in colonial court judgments. It is interesting that Indian reformers like Ambedkar made these their points of reference, if only to challenge them. For more details, see Rocher, Jīmūtavāhana’s Dayabhaga. 20. The term stridhan literally translates to “woman’s wealth.” It could include gifts made to the daughter by her parents at the time of marriage, gifts given by the husband to the wife, or things bought or purchased by a woman or for her before or after marriage. Different schools of Hindu law have different prescriptions about what constitutes stridhan. For example, in the Dayabhaga school, immovable property gifted by the husband to the wife does not constitute stridhan. Property acquired by a woman’s self-exertion does not constitute stridhan during the husband’s lifetime as it remains under his control during coverture. This is true of most schools of Hindu law. But such property is regarded as stridhan for an unmarried woman or a widow. 21. Rodriguez, The Essential Writings of B. R. Ambedkar, 497–98. 22. Ibid., 499, 500. 294   Notes to Chapter 6

23. Indeed, there were many others, both within and outside Parliament, who conceded this. For example, Sri Venkatraya Sarma noted that while divorce “was welcome,” procedures for obtaining divorce should be as streamlined as possible so that the “poor backward classes” who constituted 65 percent of the Hindu population could avail themselves of it. Sarma, Written Statements Submitted in the Hindu Law Committee, 2: 453. Similar statements were made by others. Babu Ramnarayan Singh of Bihar agreed that 90 percent of society already practiced divorce, and he too emphasized the point about expenses. See Parliamentary Debates, vol. 15, part 2, 3101. 24. Rodriguez, The Essential Writings of B. R. Ambedkar, 502, 503. 25. Ibid., 510, 511. 26. Ibid., 512. 27. Ibid., 513, 514, 515, 516. 28. Parashar, Women and Family Law Reform, 86. 29. Kishwar, “Codified Hindu Law,” 2146. 30. Quoted in ibid. 31. The rest of the poem runs as follows: Does the Congress support the Bill? Not the Congress President Not the Congress M.L.A.s [Members of the Legislative Assembly] Not the Congress masses Who supports the Bill then? Jawaharlal Jawaharlal’s friends Jawaharlal’s Cabinet Will the Bill be passed? Yes. If Jawaharlal insists on it Yes, if the Congress M.L.A. dislike it Yes, if the masses oppose it Will the Bill do any harm? Loosen Congress ties Loosen family ties Loosen marriage ties Whom will the Bill benefit? The divorcer The lawyer The matrimonial merchant Will the Bill help to reform Hindu society? Society should not be reformed Society is unreformable Notes to Chapter 6   295

Society reforms itself What will the Bill mean to ladies? More husbands, less love More money, less happiness More work, less pay Why Nehru stakes his government for the Bill? Out of misunderstanding Out of Westernization Out of vanity Will the Bill do any good? Not today Not hereafter. (Bright, The Hindu Code Bill, 78–79) 32. “On the Hindu Code Bill,” in Choudhary, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, 14: 294–95. 33. Anurupa Devi argued that since men were the main bearers of a lineage, property should accrue to them. Women moved into a different kula (lineage) after marriage, so property was best safeguarded if it stayed under male control. Moreover, due to various changes in social organization, property was being splintered into many fractions among brothers. Adding women to the equation would render the fractions even more minuscule. The new system was also likely to add a new dimension of brother-sister rivalry to the already existent scenario, rife with rivalry between brothers. 34. Choudhary, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, 14: 294–95. 35. Ibid. 36. Ibid., 14: 105, 106. 37. Letter to M. D. Khaitan, 8 December 1951, in Gopal, Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, 17: 192. 38. The Hindu Code and the Elections, Press Conference in Allahabad, 15 January 1952, in Gopal, Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, 17: 192–93, 193. 39. “The Hindu Marriage Bill,” speech during debate on the Third Reading of the Hindu Marriage Bill in Lok Sabha, 5 May 1955, in Jawaharlal Nehru Speeches, 3: 446. 40. Saralabala Sarkar’s essay, “Hindu ein committee r bill sambandhe koyekti katha” (Some Reflections on the Legislation of the Hindu Law Committee), was originally published in Anandabazar Patrika, 12 (Kartik [October] 1954) and reprinted in Deb, Saralabala Racanasamgraha, 2: 624–26. 41. For more examples of the ways the Code was misrepresented in the constituencies of particular Mahasabha leaders like N. C. Chatterjee, see Som, “Jawaharlal Nehru and the Hindu Code.” 42. A survey of the Lok Sabha debates provides ample evidence of anti-Muslim feelings among those who opposed the monogamy clauses of the Code. There were also 296   Notes to Chapter 6

others, such as S. P. Mukherjee, who opposed the Hindu Code on the grounds that it was a “communal” legislation. They argued that they would only agree to a Uniform Civil Code. But as pointed out by scholars, as well as contemporary politicians, these statements were suspect because they were in the main concerned about the sanctity of Muslim personal law in India. 43. Nehru, “Special Marriage Bill,” speech in Lok Sabha during the debate on the Special Marriage Bill, 22 May 1954, in Jawaharlal Nehru Speeches, 3: 440. 44. For a discussion of the Special Marriage Bill on these issues, see Mody, “Love and the Law,” 245–47. 45. Recent autobiographical literature by women provides examples of how married women were reprimanded by their mothers for suggesting that they were legally entitled to parental property. The noted Dalit writer Urmila Pawar’s autobiography provides one such telling example. When Pawar and her two sisters jokingly reminded their brother during the Diwali and Bhaubeej that he owed them a small present each since “Babasaheb [B. R. Ambedkar] had asked the Hindu Code bill to give the daughters their share in the property,” their mother chides them: “What do you lack in your own houses? Why do you expect gifts from your brother?” Urmila Pawar, The Weave of my Life, 285. 46. Lok Sabha Debates, 8 May 1956, 7552, 7537, 7550–51. 47. Lok Sabha Debates, 8 May 1956, 7552, 7558–59. 48. Parashar, Women and Family Law Reform, 128. 49. There are other views that support this notion of the family lying at the heart of the Hindu law debates. For example, Chitra Sinha has recently argued that a valorization of the ideal of motherhood, one that glorified the idea of motherhood without a corresponding empowerment, lay at the heart of the Hindu Code debates. See “Images of Motherhood.” 50. Lok Sabha Debates, 1 May 1956, 6938. 51. Lok Sabha Debates, 30 April 1956, 6808–9. 52. Lok Sabha Debates, 2 May 1956, 7069. 53. Lok Sabha Debates, 7 May 1956, 7415, 7416, 7417. 54. Lok Sabha Debates, 8 May 1956, 7560. 55. Lok Sabha Debates, 1 May 1956, 6908, 6908–9. 56. Lok Sabha Debates, 1 May 1956, 6938. 57. Lok Sabha Debates, 1 May 1956, 6880–81, emphasis added. 58. As noted by Bina Agarwal: Section 4(2) exempted from the purview of the HSA [Hindu Succession Act] significant interests in agricultural land, the inheritance of which was subject to the devolution rules specified in State-level tenurial laws. In States where these laws are silent on inheritance, the HSA applied by default, as also where the tenurial Notes to Chapter 6   297

laws explicitly mention the HSA. But, in Delhi, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, and Uttar Pradesh, the tenurial laws specify inheritance rules that are highly gender unequal. Here, primacy is given to male lineal descendants in the male line of descent and women come very low in the order of heirs. Also, women get only a limited estate, and lose the land on remarriage. Moreover, in [Uttar Pradesh] and Delhi, a “tenant” is defined so broadly that these inequalities effectively covered all agricultural land. . . . This clause thus negatively affected innumerable women farmers. (“Landmark Step to Gender Equality,” The Hindu, 25 September 2005) I am grateful to Nivedita Menon for drawing my attention to this article. 59. Lok Sabha Debates, 8 May 1956, 7547, emphasis added. 60. Lok Sabha Debates, 2 May 1956, 6970, 6971. 61. T. Singh, Poverty and Social Change, 15. Many other writers document that low agricultural productivity was associated with the fragmentation of landholdings, seen as an outcome of existing laws of succession. See Wadia and Merchant, Our Economic Problem, 167–84; Khusro, “Land Reforms Since Independence,” 185. Most of these texts contain comprehensive discussions on land reform. But nowhere in these discussions is there any mention of adding women to the rank of landowners. 62. T. Singh, Poverty and Social Change, 55, 56. 63. See Leela Kasturi, Report of the Sub-Committee, “Women’s Role in Planned Economy,” National Planning Committee Series, 1947, in M. Chaudhuri, Feminism in India, 139–55. 64. M. Sinha, Specters of Mother India, 246–47. 65. Cited in Kishwar, “Codified Hindu Law,” 2156. 66. Kishwar, “Codified Hindu Law,” 2156. 67. Lok Sabha Debates, 8 May 1956, 7611, 7612. 68. Ibid., 7614. 69. Lok Sabha Debates, 2 May 1956, 6969–70. 70. Quoted in Som, “Jawaharlal Nehru and the Hindu Code,” 191–92. 71. Derrett, Religion, Law, and the State in India, 436. Conclusion

1. Aroon Purie, “From the Editor in Chief,” India Today, 18 October 2004, 1. 2. The well-known Indian journalist Sagarika Ghose recently remarked, “It became the norm to wear tight jeans, but not to question the wisdom of the arranged marriage, as this was a mark of ‘Indian culture.’” To Ghose, unlike Purie, the tenacious hold of this mode of matrimony is a marker of certain contradictions in Indian notions of a progressive womanhood. Her article demonstrates not only the popu-

298   Notes to Chapter 6

larity and strength of arranged marriages in India but also the association of this kind of matchmaking with being Indian. Sagarika Ghose, “The Cult of the Sex Goddess,” Guardian (London), special issue on the 60th anniversary of Indian independence, 14 August 2007. 3. Films by Hindi film directors, most prominently Karan Johar, Dharmesh Darshan, and Sooraj Barjatiya, and mega television soap operas produced by Ekta Kapoor exemplify this point. Even in films about extramarital love, it is striking that such love finds fulfillment in the story line only after it has been legitimized by parental blessings and recognition by former spouses. See Kabhie Alvida Na Kehna (Never Say Goodbye), directed by Karan Johar, 2006. I have been greatly helped in discussing these films with Sangita Gopal. Films like Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding and Gurinder Chaddha’s Bride and Prejudice also play on themes of the harmony of the joint family. For a discussion of the family in Hindi cinema, see Prasad, Ideology of the Hindi Film, 88–116; Virdi, The Cinematic Imagination, 60–86, 121–44; Mehta, “Globalizing Bombay Cinema”; Mankekar, “Dangerous Desires” and “Brides Who Travel.” 4. See Agarwal, A Field of One’s Own; and Srimati Basu, She Comes to Take Her Rights. 5. This conundrum haunts other writings by South Asianists. For example, Nita Kumar ends her study of Banaras artisans with the following remarks: “I do not care for my informants’ lifestyle in the way they do. I want them to live longer, enjoy better health, earn more, beget fewer children, and out of place as it sounds, learn of modern science. I do not know how best their culture can co-exist with such development, but however it does happen, a precondition will be a knowledge of this culture in itself ” (emphasis added). Kumar, The Artisans of Banaras, 243. For a discussion of Kumar’s work as it highlights this constitutive tension between social science knowledge and the world of everyday, nonbourgeois, subaltern practice in South Asia, see Dipesh Chakrabarty, “Of Garbage, Modernity, and the Citizen’s Gaze,” in Habitations of Modernity, 65–79. 6. This phrase is Dipesh Chakrabarty’s in Provincializing Europe, 6. Also see Mehta, Liberalism and Empire. 7. Spivak, In Other Worlds; Mohanty, Russo, and Torres, Third World Women. For historical readings of empire and gender with particular reference to India, see Burton, “The Feminist Quest for Identity” and Burdens of History; M. Sinha, Specters of Mother India. For a superb analysis of the tensions between “liberal” and “radical” feminism in the context of the postcolonial Indian state, see Sunder-Rajan, The Scandal of the State, 31–32, 147–73. Also see Rochona Majumdar, “Arguments within Indian Feminism”; Menon, Recovering Subversion. For two very different critiques of classical liberalism undertaken from a feminist perspective, see Mahmood, Politics Notes to Conclusion   299

of Piety and “Feminist Theory, Embodiment, and the Docile Agent”; L. Gandhi, Affective Communities, especially 178–89. Appendix 1: Wedding Invitations

1. Panchanan Mandal offers many interesting details about these documents in his Chithipatre Samajchitra (A Picture of Social Life Through Letters). See 1: 184. 2. Deb, Bibaha Basarera Kabya Katha, 38. Deb gives an example of the signing of a sambandhapatra before the wedding of one Ramram Bhattacharya to Sahachari Devi in 1824.

300   Notes to Appendix 1

G l o s s a r y o f S e l e ct T e r m s ♣♣♣♣♣♣♣♣♣

acaras: ritual practices. acharya: minister. adhyatmikata: spirituality. adhyeta: reader. agrahayan: eighth month of the Bengali-Hindu calendar corresponding with midNovember to mid-December. alta: a red paint used to decorate the feet, symbolic of auspiciousness. anchal: loose end of sari that is used to cover the head or is draped over the left shoulder. antarganik bibaha: inter-marriage among different sub-groups within a caste. antarikata: heartfelt sincerity. anusandhan: investigation. anusthanic: Brahmos who performed religious rituals. arasika: someone devoid of the capacity for enjoyment. arghopradan: offerings to the lord. arya-samaji: of the Arya samaj, a late nineteenth-century reform movement within Hinduism started by Dayanand Saraswati in 1875. ashirbaad: to bless. Also the blessing ceremony in a Bengali wedding. atma: soul or self. atmabali: self-sacrifice. atmakatha: autobiography. ayurvedic: deriving from ayurveda (literally knowledge of life), a system of healthcare native to the Indian subcontinent. babu: an honorific for middle-class Bengali men. Used disparagingly by the British from the second half of the nineteenth-century to refer to this class.

baju/bauti: bangles worn by women. bala: young woman; girl. banyan: agent; trader; middleman. bar/bor: bridegroom. barandala: a tray containing various objects necessary for wedding rituals. bar baran: the groom’s welcome. bar-archana: ceremony in which a male elder of the bridge’s family honors the groom. barpan: dowry given by the bride’s family to the groom. bashi-biye: literally stale wedding, the day after the nuptials. bashor ghar: a ritual occasion in the bride’s house after the completion of the wedding ceremony when the bride and bridegroom spend the night with women from the bride’s family. bhadralok: respectable or gentle people; Bengali middle class. bhadrata: gentility. bhairavi: a religious woman associated with Tantric cults and practices. bhaiyachara: form of joint land holding that was prevalent in western India and Uttar Pradesh, in which members hold land by equal division. bhakti: devotion. bhaubeej: a religious ritual where sisters pray for the brother’s long life and prosperity, and he in turn offers them lifelong support. This is the Marathi name of the ritual which has its equivalents in other parts of India. In Bengal it is referred to as bhaiphnota. bhora: commercial country boats. bhori: a unit of weight equal to 180 grains used for precious metals. bibaha/vivaha: wedding. bibaha bashor: the physical space for the wedding ceremony. bibaha utsav: wedding festivity. bigha: a measure of land equivalent to approximately 0.33 acres. bigyapan: advertisement. bisamoy phal: poisonous effects. biye: wedding ceremony. bodhu-baran: welcoming the bride to her new home. bou-bhat: a feast held to welcome the new bride where she serves rice to the male elders of the bridegroom’s family. brahmika: A brahmo woman. brahmo/brahma: members of a reformist religious movement started by Raja Rammohun Ray. brahmopaddhati: brahmo procedures. brahmosangeets: brahmo songs. 302   Glossary

bratas: religious rites. byaysankoch: cutting down on expenses. chalit: colloquial. chamor: a decorative fan made of animal hair used in royal courts. chhabiwala: photographer. dahej: Hindi expression for dowry. dana: gift or act of giving. daya: liability; burden. devi: a goddess. dharma: moral action. dharmasastra: Sanskrit texts pertaining to moral, legal, and righteous action. dhoti: long white fabric worn around the waist by men, sometimes worn as a sari by widows. dhupa: incense. didima: maternal grandmother. didir: older sister. dilkhosh: a women’s cosmetics product. diwan: revenue officer. dosa: vice. durba: a type of grass used in religious rituals. dvija: twice-born Hindus. A Hindu male becomes dvija after the upanayan or thread ceremony. gachkauta: container held by the bride during the wedding ceremony. gauravochon: wedding ritual organized around purging evil. gaye-halud: an auspicious ceremony where a paste of turmeric and sandalwood is smeared on the bride and bridegroom, each at their respective homes. ghagra: skirt. ghat: a flight of concrete steps leading to a river bank; a sacred urn. ghatak/i: male/female matchmaker. ghatakali: the profession of matchmaking. ghee: clarified butter. gopis: the Hindu god Krishna’s female devotees who were unconditionally attached to him. goshthipati: head of a group or community. gotra: a Brahmanical system of determining lineage according to descent from a particular saint. grihadharma: household dharma or duty. grihalakshmi: lakshmi of the household; description of a virtuous wife who brings good fortune to the household. Glossary   303

grihivaishnavs: vaishnav who is also a householder. grihastha: middle-class householder. guna: virtue. gunabati: one who is full of guna or virtue. hemanta: the Bengali word for the season between autumn and winter. homa: sacred fire. istehaar: handbill announcing an event or a product; advertisement. jajmani: generational patron-client relationship between families for the performance of services such as barbering, worship of a family deity, or agricultural work. jamai: son-in-law. jati: a caste or sub-caste; used in an expanded sense to mean nationality or people. jatiya: national, of a jati or people. jatyabhimaan: pride in one’s jati status. jauhar: a practice historically associated with Rajput women who committed suicide by consuming poison and immolating themselves to save their honor from invaders. joroya: studded with precious stones. joutuk: dowry. jyotirbid: astrologer. kajallata: a container of kohl or colirium. kameez: loose shirt. kangali bhojan: feeding the homeless. kanthibadal: marriage that took place by a simple exchange of kanthi or necklaces. kanya arpan: handing over the bride. kanyadaan: the gift of a daughter. kanyaday/kannyadayagrastha: the burden of having a marriageable daughter; the person so burdened. kanyakarta: guardians of the bride. kanyapan: bride price. kap: sub-category within a sub-caste division. karkat rashi: astrological sign corresponding to Cancer in the zodiac. kashyap: refers to gotra, which is representative of a kula or clan. kaulinya: kulin status. kavya/kabya: poetry. kheyal: a type of Indian classical music. kheyur: ribald song. kirtan: devotional songs. kosha-kushi: copper utensils. kula: family; lineage. 304   Glossary

kulabala/kulabati: a virtuous woman of the household. kulacharya: arbiter of a lineage. kulagrantha: genealogy. kulalakshmi: goddess of the kula or family; a virtuous woman. kula-panjikas: family genealogy. kulastree: a virtuous woman who makes the family proud. kulata: a woman who has lost her kula or family; a prostitute. kulin: the highest rank among upper castes based on the possession of certain attributes. kulin-pratha: a custom of intra-caste ranking based on the possession of certain familial attributes. kumari: unmarried girl; virgin. kuntalin: scented oils. kurta: a long loose shirt. lagnapatra: a marriage deed signed between two families. lajjabati: bashful; demure. lakhapati: millionaire. lakshmi: Hindu goddess of wealth. lila: divine play. loukikata: formal behavior. majlis: musical soiree. mala-badal: exchange of garlands. mandap: platform. mangal: propitious. mangalkavyas: eulogistic poetry recited in the honor of a particular god. mangalsutra: necklace signifying married status. mantra/mantar: sacred chants. marwari: natives of Marwar in Rajasthan. Marwaris have migrated to all parts of India as successful traders and business people. mehendi: henna. meye yagni: women’s rituals. moulika: noble but not of kulin status. mour: head ornament. mufassil: small town. mukhya kulin: from the main kulin family. nath: a large nose ring. nautches: dances. paaka-dekha: a final viewing of a prospective bride before the match is settled. paddhati: procedure. Glossary   305

paisa: smallest unit of currency in India. pana: dowry. panapratha: dowry system. panchali: narrative folk poetry and songs of a devotional nature. pandit/pundit: priest. panigrahana: the ritual of the groom formally receiving the bride’s hand. panjika: almanac. parjaya: a division; generation. pash/pass-kora: a man or woman who has cleared (passed) an examination. pativrata: a devoted wife. patrika: journal/newspaper. phalgun: eleventh month of the Bengali-Hindu calendar corresponding with midFebruary to mid-March. phul shojya: literally a bed of flowers, it was the first night when the marriage was consummated. pice: paisa, a monetary unit measured as 1/64th of a rupee before the decimal system was introduced. piriti: amorous affection, sometimes illicit. pranay/prem: love. pratisthan: association. prajapati: butterfly; the name for the Hindu god Brahma. pratikara: redress. prayaschit[ta]: purging or purification ceremony. priti upohaar: a loving gift; this was the name given to poems composed by family members and friends to mark the occasion of the wedding. purano: old. purdah: seclusion. purohit: priest. qissah: romantic tales that circulated in oral and written form in north western India. ramprasadi: songs attributed to the devotional poet Ramprasad Sen. rasa: sensibility. rasogolla: Bengali sweets. sachitra: illustrated. saligrama/saligramshila: a sacred stone symbolizing the god Vishnu. samaja: society; caste council. sambandhapatra: marriage deed. sampradan: giving away the daughter (bride) to the bridegroom. sandesh: Bengali sweets. sangha: association. 306   Glossary

sansar: family. sansardharma: familial duties. saptapadi/saptapadigamana: seven steps taken by the bride and bridegroom around the ritual fire. Saraswati: Hindu goddess of learning. sarbabhaumya: sovereign. sastra/sastric: scripture/scriptural. sati: a widow who was immolated on her husband’s funeral pyre; often used as a description for a woman of virtue. satittva: the quality of being a sati. seer: unit of measurement equivalent to 2.05 lbs. shubho: sacred, auspicious. shubho drishti: first auspicious sighting of the bride and bridegroom during the wedding. sindur: vermilion. sindur-daan: ceremony of the bridegroom applying sindur to the bride’s head. sithi: hair-parting. sithi-mour: a head ornament. sradh: a ceremony held after the death of a person to propitiate his or her soul and those of other dead ancestors. sreni: sub-group. sri: little painted cones made of rice and lentils, used to bless and welcome the wedding couple. stree/stri: wife, woman. striacar: women’s rituals. stridhan: scriptural definition of woman’s wealth. subho drishti: the first time the bride and groom ritually exchange glances. svalankara: bejeweled. swayambhara: a practice found in classical Indian texts where a young woman put a garland around the neck of the suitor she found most eligible from among a group of men who presented themselves in the court. tatta: trousseau given in marriage. teen ain: literally three laws; the name for the Act III of 1872. topor: headgear made of pith worn by the bridegroom. toppa: a type of amorous song sung in a particular style. tyaga: renunciation. upabit: sacred thread. upacharya: a Brahmo minister. upasana: prayer. Glossary   307

upohaar: gift. urni: headscarf. vaishnava: devotional Hindu sect. vamsa: lineage. varan: a ceremonial reception or welcome. varna: literally meaning color, the varna system was a scheme of classifying Hindus into four groups, Brahman, Ksatriya, Vaishya, Shudra. viraha: grief. vaishnava akharas: place for vaishnav practice. vyavahar: practice. vydhikas: orthodox Hindus. zamindari: system of landholding where the landowner directly paid revenue to the government. zardosi nagras: shoes with metallic thread and sequin embroidery. zenana: inner quarter. Castes

Baidya/Vaidya: a respectable caste of hereditary physicians. Brahman: the highest caste claiming priestly status. Chasa: literally cultivator, it refers to a particular caste group that worked as agriculturists. Dakshin Rarhiya Kayastha: Kayasthas from the southern part of the region called Rarh in Bengal that includes parts of the present day districts of Bankura, Birbhum, Bardhaman, Nadia, Medinipur. Dhoba: the caste group whose members traditionally worked as washermen. Gandhabanik: spice sellers, druggists, and grocer caste who claimed Vaishya status. Jogi/Jugi: a Hindu caste originally employed in weaving. Kaivartha: a caste group whose traditional occupation was fishing. Kayastha: caste of writers and scribes. Khatri: a merchant caste group from northern India. Ksatriya: the second varna in the traditional Hindu hierarchy associated with the ruling and warrior groups. Mahisya: an agricultural caste whose origins are traced to those with Ksatriya and Vaishya blood. Nabashak: a group of nine castes from whose hands a Brahman may accept water. Namasudras: low-caste Hindu groups engaged in boating and cultivation. Napit: barber caste. Pod: traditionally of the fishermen caste. Rajbansi: Hindu caste originally involved in sweeping and shoe-making. 308   Glossary

Sadgop: cultivating caste of Bengal. Shudra: the lowest group in the varna scheme of classification. Suvarnabanik: caste of gold traders. Suri: a caste group that traditionally engaged in selling liquor. Tili: oil pressing and trading caste. Vaishya: the third group in the varna scheme of classification, including people from the merchant classes, agriculturists, and medical occupations.

Glossary   309

B ib l i o g r a p h y ♣♣♣♣♣♣♣♣♣

Government Records

“Act III of 1872,” file no. 237, July 11, 1871, National Archives of India. Census of India, vol. 5, 1921 (Bengal). Census of India, vol. 6, part 1, 1921 (Calcutta). Census of India, vol. 6, parts 1 and 2, 1931 (Calcutta). The Constituent Assembly of India (Legislative) Debates, vol. 2, part 2, 1949; vol. 5, part 2, 1948; vol. 5, nos. 1–4, 1948; vol. 6, part 2, 1949. Dutta, K. L. Report on the Enquiry into the Rise of Prices in India and a Resolution from the Government of India reviewing the Report, Vol. 1, Calcutta: Superintendent Government Printing, India, 1914. Gazette of India, Supplement, September 19, 1868. Lok Sabha Debates, 1956, 1. Questions and Answers; 2. Proceedings. Parliamentary Debates, House of the People, vol. 15, part 2, 1951. Parliamentary Debates, House of the People, vol. 5, part 2, 1954. Report on the Census of Calcutta, 1891, vol. 30, Shillong: Assam Secretariat Printing Office, 1892. Report on the Census of India, 1901, vol. 7, Calcutta: Town and Suburbs, Part IV, Report (Statistical), Calcutta, 1902. Report of Government of Bengal Unemployment Enquiry Committee, vol. 2, Written and Oral Evidence, and Appendix IV, 1925. Report on Native Newspapers, 1890–1925. Towards Equality. Report of the Committee on the Status of Women in India. Government of India, Ministry of Education and Social Welfare, 1975. Sarma, Venkatraya Sri. Written Statements Submitted to the Hindu Law Committee. Vol. 2, 1945. Madras, 1947.

Public and Judicial Department Annual Files, 1931–1940. India Office Records. British Library, London.

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Moulik, Khitish. Prachin Purva Banga Gitika [Songs from Early East Bengal]. Vol. 4. Calcutta: Firma K.L. Mukhopadhyay, 1970. Mukhopadhyay, Bhudev. Paribarik Prabandha [Essays on the Family]. In Bhudev Racanashambhar, edited by Pramathanath Bisi. Calcutta: Mitra o Ghosh, 1969. Mukhopadhyay, Pyarimohan. Amar Dekha Kolkata [The Calcutta I Saw]. Calcutta, 1880. Mukhopadhyay, Bholanath. Koner Maa Kande ar Takar Putuli Bandhe [The Bride’s Mother Weeps as She Packs Bags of Money]. Calcutta, 1863. Mullick, Krishnadas. “Panapratha” [The Dowry System]. Suvarnavanik Samachar 1, no. 8 (1916): 226–28. Murshid, Ghulam. Rassundari theke Rokeya: Nari Pragatir Eksho Bachar [From Rassundari to Rokeya: 100 Years of Women’s Emancipation]. Dhaka: Bangla Academy, 1993. Nahara, Miratun, ed. Rokeya Racanasamgraha [Collected Works of Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain]. Calcutta: Viswakosa Parishad, 2001. “Nutan Bibaha-Paddhati” [New Marriage Procedures]. Kayastha Patrika, June–July 1910, 80–81. Pal, Jatindranath. Biyera Hashi [Wedding Laughter]. Calcutta: Gunendranath Basu, 1913. Pal Chowdhury, Nagendranath. Sachitra Panapratha [The Illustrated Dowry System]. Howrah, 1914. “Panaprathar Bishomoy Phal” [The Poisonous Effects of the Dowry System]. Kayastha Patrika, September/October–February/March 1910, 206–10, 238–45, 279–89, 385–93. “Patra Sambandhe Proshno” [Some Questions about the Bride] and “Patri Sambandhe Proshno” [Some Questions about the Bride]. Prajapati, Chaitra February–March 1909, 191. Ray, Batakrishna. Basarkautuk Rahasya Natak [Mysteries of the Wedding Night, A Play]. Calcutta: Sudharnab Press, 1875. Ray, Kalidas. “Snehalata.” Manasi 6, no. 3 (1914): 306–8. Raya, Rasiklal. “Samaja Samasya” [Social Problems]. Nabyabharat 32, no. 12 (March– April 1914): 717–22. “Samaja O Dharma” [Society and Religion]. Kayastha Samaja, September–October 1920, 705–13. Sanyal, Durgacharan. Banglar Samajik Itihas [The Social History of Bengal]. Calcutta: Model Publishing House, 2003. (Orig. pub. 1910.) Sarkar, Nirjharini. Racanasamgraha [Collected Works]. Calcutta: Ananda, 1991. Sastri, Sivnath. Ei Ki Brahmo Bibaha? [Is this a Brahmo Wedding?] Calcutta: Albert Press, 1878. Select Bibliography   333

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Select Bibliography   335

Index ♣♣♣♣♣♣♣♣♣

Act III (1872), 18; background to, 170–71; history of, 177–81; significance of, 180–82 Adi Brahmo Samaj, 105, 171, 177–79, 180, 184, 187–88, 194 aesthetics, 43; the law and, 169 age of consent, 132, 181 Age of Consent Act (1891), 42, 128–29, 132, 169–70 Agnes, Flavia, 203 Al-Hilal ( journal), 73 Altekar, Shri, 228 Ambedkar, B. R., 168, 205–7, 213–20, 222, 225–26 Amrita Bazar Patrika (newspaper), 25, 36, 37, 46, 81 Anandabazar Patrika (newspaper), 25, 211 antarganik bibaha (intercaste marriage), 10, 39, 88, 105, 173–76, 181, 226, 245, 301 antarikata (heartfelt sincerity), 99, 127, 301 Anti-Marriage Dowry League, 73 Anusandhan ( journal), 35 archival sources, 17, 25 arranged marriage: changes to, 12–13, 24;

defined, 1–3, 4, 5–6; modernity and, 19, 24–25, 240; as source of divisiveness, 6–7, 10, 207; tradition and, 6–7, 23–24 astrology, 36 Azad, Bhagwat Jha, 231 Azad, Maulana Abul Kalam, 73–74 Baidya/Vaidya (caste), 25, 66 Bamabodhini Patrika (magazine), 59, 73 Bandopadhyay, Gooroodas, 73, 102–3 Bandopadhyay, Hemchandra, 73 Bandopadhyay, Karunanidhan, 73 Bandopadhyay, Pnachkori, 73 Bandopadhyay, Rebatikanta, 73, 77–80 Bandypadhyay, Sekhar, 38 Bandopadhyay, Surendranath, 73 Barendra (caste), 44 barpan, 42, 57, 81, 86, 302. See also dowry bashor ghar, 101, 109, 116–18, 302 Basu, Aparna, 61 Basu, Bhupendranath, 62 Basu, Monomoyee, 55 Basu, Nagendranath, 28, 32 Basu, Srimati, 209 Basu, Swapan, 268 n. 7

Basu Mullick, Debendra Chandra, 48–51 Basu-Varma, Hridayanath, 28 Bengal: dowry in, 57–70; image of, 70, 87; Snehalata and, 85–89 Bengal Times (newspaper), 25 betrothal, 245; Coochbehar wedding as, 168, 171, 183, 187, 189, 192–94 bhadralok (educated middle-class, “gentle people”), 17–18, 25, 41, 42, 45; dowry and, 58–67, economic challenges and, 61–63; qualifications for, 51–52 Bharati (magazine), 73, 98, 119 Bharatvarsha ( journal), 59, 62 Bhargava, Thakurdas, 227, 229–30 Bhattacharya, Trailokyanath, 47 Bhoop, Nripendranarayan, 168, 184 Bihar, 74, 86–87, 229 Bombay, 213–14, 216 Bombay films, 220. See also film Borthwick, Meredith, 30, 66, 182, 195 Bose, Babu Rajnarain, 179 Bose, Chunilal, 54–55, 62, 82, 87 Bose, Shib Chunder, 31 Brahman (caste), 32, 46, 70, 76; dowry and, 66; ghataks and, 26, 28; as highstatus caste, 25, 39, 40, 268 n. 13; literacy among, 67; priests in, 195; traditions of, 39, 103, 175, 190, 195 Brahman Sabha (caste association), 73 brahmika, 140–42, 302 Brahmo, 11, 18; history of reforms, 171–75; marriage rituals and, 106, 175–76; minimalist aesthetic of, 142–43, 191 Brahmo Samaj of India, 171, 173 Brahmo Vivaha Bidhi (book), 198 bride: aestheticization of, 25, importance of beauty for, 41, 43, 49–50; qualifications of, 6, 41–43, 50, 52 bridegroom: education as, 58–69, 63; 338   Index

qualifications of, 39, 41–42; scarcity of, 64 bride price, 57, 67 Calcutta, 2, 14, 263 n. 2; economic conditions in, 61–62, 272 n. 49 Calcutta, University of, 59, 61–64, 87 Carroll, Lucy, 38, 61 caste, 5; as the “essence” of India, 7; in modern civil society, 38–39; ritual and identity, 169; transformations in, 25, 37–42. See also Brahman; Daksin Rarhiya Kayasthas; Kayastha; Ksatriya; Mahisya; Nabashak; Rajbansi; Sadgop; Vaidya/Baidya caste associations, 11 census, 57, 61, 67, 87, 88 Chakrabarty, Dipesh, 14–15, 43, 266 Chakravarty, Renu, 235 Chatterjee, Partha, 286 n. 51 Chatterji, Indrani, 15 Chattopadhyay, Ramananda, 73 Chaudhurani, Saratkumari, 63, 115, 119– 23 Chaudhuri, Pramatha, 72 child marriage, 7, 29, 32, 116, 124; in Coochbehar wedding, 189–90; decline of, 129, 133, 200 Chokher Bali, 126–27, 155, 162 citizenship, 13, 15 civil society: growth of, 38–41; marriage brokering and, 24 classical liberalism, 11 clothing, 120, 131–46, 148 Cole, Jennifer, 5 commodification: of men and women, 5, 13, 65, 69; of respectability, 48, 68 companionate marriage, 9, 14, 95, 127, 160–61, 240, 285 n. 37

companionship, 9, 15, 109, 280 n. 57 Constable, Nicole, 5 Coochbehar, 141, 184–86, 189–90 Coochbehar wedding, 168–71, 180, 181, 182–97; child marriage and, 189–90; ritual and, 188–93 couple form: development of, 11; the family and, 10, 13, 94; portraits and, 130–49; romance and, 8, 109–10, 112; as sign of modern marriage, 8 Daksin Rarhiya Kayasthas (caste), 28, 41, 42 Das, Gobindachandra, 75–76, 83, 88 Das, Mallikasundari, 75 Datta, Satyendranath, 73–74 Deb, Chitra, 96, 107, 110, 245–46 Deb, Nabakrishna (Nubkissen), 26 Debi, Radharani, 159 Delhi, 213 Delhi durbar, 141 Derrett, J. D. M., 204–5, 212, 292 n. 3 Deshmukh Act (1937–38), 212 development, 19, 211, 219, 222–23, 235; joint family and, 229; women’s rights subordinated to, 232, 236, 240 Devi, Anurupa, 159–60, 221, 224–25 Devi, Suniti, 141, 168, 171, 182, 184–85, 189, 192, 194 Dhaka Prakash ( journal), 59 Directive Principles of the Indian Constitution, 10 distinction, 2, 12, 95–96, 105–6, 118, 143, 151, 197 divorce, 88, 208, 213, 214, 216, 220–21, 225, 236, 295 n. 23 dower, 57 dowry (barpan), 2, 32, 34, 41–42, 47; brideprice and, 57; as burden on

families, 44, 46; centrality of, 44–45; criticism of, 12–13, 18, 24, 42, 45–46, 48–50, 59–61, 67–69; economic effects on, 61–63; European practice vs., 57, 90; injustices of, 15; lack of scriptural sanction for, 57; loans for, 45; in national context, 85–90; as price of respectability, 49, 58, 64; rise of, 18, 44, 54; as symptom of malaise, 69 Dutta, Mahendranath, 30 Dutta, P. K., 88 dvija (twice born), 103, 303 East Bengal, 74 Eastern Economist ( journal), 234 education: dowry and, 61–66; as requirement for grooms, 58–59, 63–64; respectability and, 68; statistics on, 61; among women, 129 Education Gazette ( journal), 59, 65 employment, 67 family: couple form and, 10, 13, 94; decline of, 221; joint, 1, 4–5; law and, 217, 236–37; modernity and, 13–14; as social insurance, 221 family romance, 14 feminism, 9, 210 film, 7, 10, 115, 203, 210, 211, 220, 239, 241 food, 62, 96, 98, 101, 114, 120, 159, 246 Gangopadhyay, Pabrita, 74–75 Gazette of India, 213 Ghatak (caste journal), 34–35 ghatak/ghataki (matchmaker), 24, 25; opinions of, 26–28, 31–32; rise of female (ghataki) 29–31; without fee, 47 ghatakali (matchmaking), 29 Index   339

Ghatak Sangha (association of matchmakers), 34–35 Ghosh, Anindita, 118 Gies, Francis, 8 Gies, Joseph, 8 Ginwala, A. A, 10 grihalakshmi, 42, 43 Gupta, Sudhira, 76 Gutman, Judith, 131 Hargrove, Anne, 55, 263 n. 3 Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich, 15–16 Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act (1956), 208 Hindu Code Bill (1955–56), 3, 19, 103, 168, 170, 181, 201, 205; background to, 212–14; debates on, 218–46; goals of, 228 Hinduism, 43, 176 Hindu Mahasabha, 219, 224 Hindu Marriage Act (1955), 201 Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act (1956), 208 Hindu Patriot ( journal), 59 Hindu Succession Act (1956), 3, 19, 208– 10, 226–27, 235–36, 240, 297 n. 58 Hindu Women’s Right to Property Act (1937–38), 212 household, 4 Hunt, Lynn, 262 n. 29 Indian Association, 73 Indian National Congress, 73 Indian Reform Association, 172 India Today (magazine), 238 inheritance rights, 3 intimacy, 127, 285 n. 37; in photography, 130; in wedding poem, 156–57 invitations, 17, 100, 151, 244–52, 279 n. 49 340   Index

jauhar, 80–81, 85 jewelry, 120, 142–46; catalogues featuring, 253–57; modernity and, 140 jihad, 73 Jogi Sammelani (caste journal), 25, 35, 42, 45 Johnson, George, 6, 27, 30 joutuk, 41. See also dowry Kakar, Sudhir, 5 kanyapan, 57 Karlekar, Malavika, 129, 133, 142, 148, 281 n. 8 Kayastha (caste), 25, 32, 39–40, 102–5 Kayastha Patrika (caste journal), 25, 37, 40, 42, 59, 97, 99 Kayastha Sabha (organization), 50, 73 Kayastha Samaja (caste journal), 25, 28, 40, 99 Kelsky, Karen, 5 Kishwar, Madhu, 214, 219, 234 Kopf, David, 175, 182 Ksatriya (caste), 39 kula, 28, 43, 52 kulin, 26, 29, 42, 65 literacy, 66–67 Locke, John, 13, 210 Lok Sabha, 17, 232 love marriage, 2, 9, 32, 109, 178, 260; modernity and, 7–9 Luehrmann, Sonja, 5 Madhya Pradesh, 214 Madras, 86, 189, 213–14, 216 Mahalanobis, Prasanta Chandra, 198 Mahila (magazine), 73, 80 Mahisya (caste), 39, 40 Mahisya Mahila (caste journal), 73, 81

Mahmood, Saba, 14 Maine, Henry James Sumner, 11, 177, 180 Majumdar, Mohitlal, 43 Mandal, Panchan, 245–46 marriage: civil registration of, 17, 18, 168– 71, 177–82; European practices of, 7–9; in Hindu law, 51–53. See also arranged marriage; companionate marriage; love marriage; marriage market; romantic love marriage advertisements, 11, 18, 24–25, 32–36, 58–59; criticism of, 48–53; social changes in shaping of, 37–41 marriage bureau, 18, 24, 36–37, 40, 48 marriage market, 12, 15, 18, 35–37, 48, 57–58; information in, 33–34 Menski, Werner, 201–4 menu cards, 17, 96 Mill, John Stuart, 11 Mr. and Mrs. Fifty-Five (film), 220 Mitra, Nandaram, 28 Mitra, Saradacharan, 73 modernity, 1–2, 4–5, 7, 14–15, 111, 219, 240; Bengali, 13–14; Indian, 1, 4, 168, 239; joint family and, 161; post-colonial, 239, 242; the subject and, 13–14; of tradition, 4; tradition vs., 5, 24–25; in the West, 13–15 Mody, Perveez, 177–78, 180–81 monetization: criticism of, 48–52; of marriage practices, 61, 65; of men and women, 5, 47–48, 63–65; of social responsibilities, 49 Mozoomdar, P. C., 140, 178, 183–84 Mukherjee, S. N., 26 Mukhopadhyay, Bhudev, 51, 68 Mukhopadhyay, Harendrachandra, 70–72, 77 Mukhopadhyay, Rashbehari, 31

Mukhopadhyay, Snehalata, 12, 18, 54–57; jihad and, 73; life of, 70–72; as martyr, 73–74; as nationalist icon, 80; popular discussion of, 56; responses to, 72–90; as sati, 74; as self-sacrificing heroine, 77–83; suicide of, 56, 70, 72 Nabashak (caste), 40 Nabyabharat, 76, 83 nautches (dances), 106, 107, 192, 248 Nehru, Jawaharlal, 157, 180, 207–8, 219– 25, 232–33 Nehru, Uma, 228 New Dehi, 128 Oldenburg, Veena, 54–55, 142 panapratha. See dowry Parashar, Archana, 218–19, 228 Paribarik Prabandha, 68–69 Pataskar, H. V., 231–32, 234, 236 patriarchy, 7, 9, 24, 43–45; in marriage advertisements, 52–53; “new,” 2, 18, 44, 95, 127–28, 154, 159–62 photographers, 100, 130–31, 146 photography, 126–47; in Bengal, 129–30, 133, 146; couple and, 130–33, 145–49; history of dress and, 131–42, 145; jewelry and, 143 Pinney, Christopher, 131 Prabasi ( journal), 88 Prachar ( journal), 29 Prajapati (caste journal), 25, 32–34 Prasad, M. Madhav, 10 Prasad, Rajendra, 206, 221–22, 225 priti upohaar (wedding poems), 106–14, 149–54, 156–60 property: Hindu traditions of, 68; ideal subject and, 227–37, 240; reform and, Index   341

206–13, 215–21; ritual and rights to, 102–3; women’s rights to, 209–23, 226 prostitution, 31, 74 Punjab, 54, 122, 200, 229 Rajbansi (caste), 39 Ramanujan, A. K., 16 Ram Rajya Parishadm, 224 Rau, B. N., 212–13 Rau Committee, 209, 212–14 Ray, Rajat Kanta, 119, 280 n. 57 Raya, Rasiklal, 88 Raychaudhuri, Tapan, 51–52 Report of the Unemployment Enquiry Committee (1922), 61 Report on the Enquiry into the Rise of Prices in India (1914), 62–63 Risley, Sir Herbert H., 7, 26–27 ritual, 4, 249, 225; legal significance of, 19, 102, 168, 171, 176, 188–93, 201–5; in weddings, 5, 6, 12, 13, 100–106, 169, 175 romantic love, 87, 94, 109–12, 114, 119, 129, 132, 147, 152–62, 240–41; in Western marriage, 7–9 Roy, Gour Gobinda, 183, 188, 190, 195 Roy, Rammohun, 171, 175 Rudolph, Lloyd, 4 Rudolph, Susan, 4 Roy, Kalidas, 73 sacred thread (upabit), 39, 103–5, 173–75, 191, 307 Sadgop (caste), 25, 32, 39 Sadhana ( journal), 63 Sadharan Brahmo Samaj, 171 Sadharani ( journal), 59 Sahaya, Syamnandan, 227 Said, Edward, 9 samaja, 28 342   Index

sambandhapatra, 244–46 sari, 120, 131, 133, 140–42, 145 Sarkar, Saralabala, 223–24 Sarkar, Sumit, 55–56, 74 Sarkar, Tanika, 160 Sastri, Sivnath, 171, 173, 181–83, 188, 190, 196, 197 sati: as ideal of duty and devotion, 153–54; opposition to, 76; significance of, 153; Snehalata’s suicide as, 74, 81–82 Seal, Anil, 61 Sen, K. C., 18–19, 64, 141; Act III of 1872 and, 168, 178–82; in Brahmo reform movement, 172–76 Sen, Prosanto Kumar, 183, 192–94 Sen, Sudakhsina, 31 sentimentalization, 8–9 Seth, Vikram, 23 Shah, C. C., 227 Sharma, K. C., 227 Sharma, R. C., 231 Sheel, Ranjana, 55 shoes, 140–41, 145, 320 Shorter, Edward, 8 Shrimati 420 (film), 220 Singh, Sardar Hukam, 235 Singh, Tarlok, 232–33 Singh, V. P., 228, 231 Sinha, Chitra, 297 n. 49 Sinha, Mrinalini, 233, 299 n. 7 Snehalata. See Mukhopadhyay, Snehalata Somprakash ( journal), 59 son-in-law, 45 Special Marriage Act (1954), 201 Spivak, Gayatri, 56, 242 Sreenivas, Mytheli, 176 Srinivas, M. N., 38, 57 state: family separated from, 8; marriage and, 168–72, 177–82

Stephen, J. F., 177–79 suicide, 74, 81–85. See also Mukhopadhyay, Snehalata Sulabh Samachar ( journal), 59, 64, 172 Suvarnabanik Samachar, 73 Tagore, Debendranath, 105–6, 168, 172– 75, 179, 191, 192, 194, 289 nn. 16–17 Tagore, Gaganendranath, 66, 142 Tagore, Rabindranath, 74, 84, 93–94, 108, 112–13, 119, 124, 126–27, 151, 162, 198 Tagore, Sayendranath, 105 Tamil Nadu, 11 taste: middle-class family and, 111; new ideals of, 12, 18, 94–95, 98–99; weddings and, 2, 12 teen ain (Act III of 1872), 18; background to, 170–71, history of, 177–81; significance of, 180–82 Thompson, E. P., 9 tradition, 1, 23–24; adaptations of, 104;

invention of, 3; modernity of, 4, 124– 35; modernity vs., 5, 24. See also ritual unemployment, 61–62 United Provinces, 55 University of Calcutta, 59, 61–64, 87 urbanization, 24, 36, 32 Uttar Pradesh, 86, 229 Vaidya/Baidya (caste), 25, 66 Vidyanidhi, Lalmohan, 73 Vidyasagar, Iswarchandra, 48 Walsh, Judith, 154–55 weddings, 12; aestheticization of, 241; Brahman traditions of, 195, 203; lavish, 50, 62, 69, 86, 96–98, 119–20 widows: in fiction, 122–23, 126; reform and, 69; remarriage of, 7, 49, 76, 88; sati and, 82; Snehalata as, 72; wedding rituals and, 115

Index   343

Rochona Majumdar is Assistant Professor of South Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Majumdar, Rochona. Marriage and modernity : family values in colonial Bengal / Rochona Majumdar. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-0-8223-4462-9 (cloth : alk. paper) ISBN 978-0-8223-4478-0 (pbk. : alk. paper) 1. Arranged marriage—India—Bengal—History—19th century. 2. Arranged marriage—India—Bengal—History—20th century. 3. Marriage—India—Bengal—History.  4. Family—India—Bengal—History. 5. Marriage (Hindu law)  I. Title. HQ670.15.B46M35  2009 306.810954′1409034—dc22  2008051091