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Hindu On Social Reform

SINCE the first edition of this book was issued, a movement for social reform has been going on, more or less vigorously, in India. All that I have stated about the various superstitions and ceremonies is correct as regards the great mass of the people ; but I gladly record the fact that amongst some of the more educated men there is a feeling that the restrictions of caste and custom are not only irksome, but are a hindrance to the real progress of the people. Hindu social customs have a religious basis and so all religious reformers from Ram Mohun Roy downwards have tried to modify the force of these customs. It is generally agreed that there is a real desire amongst a small but important section of educated men for reform ; but it is said that the practical outcome of much talking and writing is small. Still, anything is better than stagnation and it is not to be expected that customs, which have their root in ages long gone by, can suddenly be uprooted. It is very difficult for a non-Hindu to realize the dead weight of opposition a reformer has to contend with and, if he is slow in realizing the ideal he has set before himself, we should not blame him or think that his work, imperfect it may be, is altogether useless. Rather, should we be thankful for all that is said and appreciative of the little that is done.

There can be no large movement till public opinion has been educated and this the leaders in the movement are trying to do, by Conferences, by correspondence in the newspapers and by the issue of social reform literature. In June, 1907, a social reform Conference for South India was held in Vizagapatam. The resolutions adopted show exactly the questions which are under discussion. They are as follows :—

The Education of Women.

Resolved That this Conference regrets that the education of women is not making rapid progress, and impresses on all interested in the advancement of the Hindu community the necessity of taking earnest steps for its spread."

The Age of Marriage.

Resolved—" That this Conference reiterates its emphatic conviction that no amelioration in the condition of Hindu Society is possible so long as the pernicious custom of premature marriage is permitted to prevail. In the opinion of the Conference it should be sternly discouraged by public opinion and efforts should be made by enlightened members of the several castes to revert to the sounder and more authoritative practice of post-puberty marriages ; or, at all events, the marriageable age of girls should be raised to at least twelve and that of boys to at least eighteen, the consummation of marriage being postponed till the ages of fourteen and twenty at least."

Fusion of Sub-Castes.

Resolved—" That this Conference urges that the existing restrictions on inter-dining and inter-marriage among the various sub-castes should be speedily removed, as the progress of Hindu society is considerably hindered thereby."

Foreign Travel.

Resolved—" That this Conference urges that no difficulties should be placed in the way of the re-admission into society of Hindus who visit foreign countries, as oversea travels to foreign lands have become absolutely necessary for national progress in almost every sphere."

Enforced Widowhood.

Resolved —" That this Conference again draws attention to the injustice and the practical evils of the custom of enforced widowhood and urges that it should be discountenanced, at least, in the case of girl-widows."

Elevation of Low Castes.

Resolved—" That this Conference most earnestly calls upon all enlightened Hindus to accelerate in all possible ways the social amelioration of the depressed castes."

" Kanyasulkam " and " Varasulkam."

Resolved—" That this Conference views with great disfavour the practices of Kanyasulkam and Varasulkam, which degrade marriage to a mercenary transaction, and calls upon the Hindus to discourage them by all possible means."

Disfigurement of Girl-Widows.

Resolved—" That this Conference strongly reprobates the cruel practice of disfigurement of Hindu widows, even before they pass the stage of girlhood, and calls upon all caste and reform organizations, as well as the religious heads of the community, to arrange for the infliction of social penalties on those responsible for such practice."

Total Abstinence and Social Purity.

Resolved—" That this Conference insists, as a condition precedent to all progress, on the necessity of total abstinence from intoxicants and of the strict observance of purity, individual and social."

Regulation of Public Charity.

Resolved—" That in the opinion of this Conference the increase of population and the growing poverty of the country make it incumbent on the community to regulate with discrimination the existing system of public charity, so as to diminish the incentives to idleness and pauperism, without at the same time o:eating indifference to cases of real distress."

( Originally Published 1908 )

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