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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/55

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45
EVERY-DAY LIFE OF INDIAN WOMEN

only to loosen the meshes for a time. Slowly and surely the intangible threads have tightened again, as by degrees the very customs created by the schismatics are adopted by its priests, and made to conform to the general theory—all the harder to resist because it is never formulated. The bulk of the Mohammedans of India, being descendants of tribes converted wholesale in various ways to Islam in days gone by, are still Hindoos in many matters of thought and custom. In fact, if we extract the profession of faith and a few formulæ, it is not at all easy to say, as regards them, where Islam begins and Hindooism ends; in any case Brahmanism overshadows their lives. The Jains, at least that important section of them known as the Saraogis, are separated from Hindoos proper rather in sentiment than in fact; and though the Parsees, Jews, and Christians have greater powers of resistance yet it would not be difficult to show how greatly the all-pervading faith of Hindoostan has influenced them too. Many a missionary could tell a tale of more or less ineffectual battle against the notion of existence of a Christian "caste." Of course, I am not now speaking of the tenets deliberately held by the authorized exponents of the several rival creeds, but of the religious ideas of the unintelligent masses, which are to my mind the outcome of an unthinking reverence for things usually held to be holy, i.e., hagiolatry, whatever be the outward expression of faith. Of such a state of things Brahmanism is pre-eminently adapted to take full advantage, for it presents no bold front to prejudices, and bends no man to its will, but rather puts forth its tender tentacles, gradually draws to itself, and quietly absorbs all things.

I would not have it inferred, from what has been just said, that I hold all the women of India to lead practically identical lives; that the secluded banker's daughter has much in common with the scavenger's wife, free to go where she pleases and to speak to whom she will; or that the worthy spouse of the village Maulavi would not at once flare up and feel highly insulted if told that her life was conducted on much the same lines as that of the Panditani over the way. It would be more than erroneous, moreover, to state that a woman of Kumaun has exactly the same views of propriety as she of Mahabaleshwar, or that the grimy Panjabi has manners similar to the oiled and carefully bathed inhabitant of Madras. All I wish to assert is, that a special way of living underlies all those differences which appear so great to the casual observer, and that beneath the chance-tossed waves on the surface there lie hidden depths of female life which are distinctly Indian, and which can be best sounded by a study of the highcaste Hindoo women.

I can not enter into the details of the life of orthodox Hindoo women. Nothing more, indeed, can be done now than to indicate