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Ritu Birla (12)

1857 rebellion 1

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Ritu Birla

November 21 st 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 accommodate these groups by affirming certain understanding as to what customary practice is. Rammohun Roy- Brahmo Samai is one of the reformers that states that there is nothing about sati in ancient texts. So there is also a debate within society as to what traditional practices are. Then singha moves the argument further by saying that this moralizing horror supports the production of the supreme authority of the colonial state through the criminal law that is developing at the same time as the hindu and muslim separate laws. So it emphasizes the state’s claims on a monopoly for taking life, only it and nobody else which is one of the major features of the modern state. In this context we need to look at the law of homicide which emphasizes the state’s right in punishing those who murder. So she places sati within the bigger picture of colonial governance. Most instances of sati are of women who are practically tossed into the funeral pire for inheritance reasons. In the fewer ases when they aren’t the colonial state creates a new legal category- voluntary culpable homicide, meaning t
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