HIS282Y1 Lecture Notes - Ram Mohan Roy, Culpable Homicide, Wheb

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1 Dec 2011
November 21st
Colonial strategies of reform
1829 the abolition of sati or widow burning on the pire of her husband. Under the
governor general of the time the project of colonial governance is really legitimized
after a series of great debates in England really criticizing the east india company
that was advertising the british around the world as despots and wanted focus on
civilizing. All of this comes together when this practice is abolished, it is also
becoming more visible at the time- 500/600 per year in Delhi. So why is the colonial
state focusing on something like this when it would do much more good to enable
widow remarriage instead. Because widows weren’t allowed to remarry they often
turned into outcasts and it was a much more pervasive social ill. That brings us to a
debate between Mani and Singha.
Singha works on crime and criminal law so she is making an argument from the
context of the developing law of homicide. Mani’s argument is that she looks at the
debates and what the britihs do is they get native informants and Brahmins to
translate ancient texts about whether sati is valid and under hwat conditions. So
what she says is that if you look at the political side there’s not a lot of talk about
women and their rights and capacities, the big question is what is indian tradition.
So what is supposed to be a question about the protection of women ends up about
tradition. She also highlights the wyas in which tradition is reinvented. The more
ancient texts like the vedas are given primary importance and some are singled out
as more important so it is a very selective reading. What the debate shows us is a
moment wheb the colonists are trying to figure out what the tradition is so they can
govern more efficiently. So all the talk about the horror of sati is undermined and
the british expose a great deal of ambivalence about women. What british policies
are really obsessed with is distinguishing between voluntary and involuntary sati,
the right and wrong kinds of sati. They are only really interested in governoing
which undermines the humanitarian aspect.
Singha on the other hand revises what Mani has said, she says reminds us that
utilitarians often remind about the horrors of indigenous culture and invested in
dissociation of religion from blood and murder and she says that we have to take
the moralizing horror seriously as it enables the fortification of the colonial
governance. The moralizing horror actually enables the development of a really
authoritarian state. What she argues is that we do see a process through which
indian tradition is defined but there is also a discourse of custom and practice, there
are these orthodox hindu organizations like the Sabha that are opposing colonial
interference in traditions such as Sati. So she emphasizes that there is a strong
focus on customary practice coming from within the indian society. The british also
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