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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/57

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47
EVERY-DAY LIFE OF INDIAN WOMEN.

companions, for children galore can hardly ever be wanting in a family which all live together, from oldest to youngest; free to run in and out of the houses of friends, never bothered to learn anything except what she can pick up from the women about her, never worried with caste restrictions, never asked to do more in the way of labor than to help in the house-work, petted by her parents, spoiled by her aunts and uncles, and beloved by her brothers, an Indian girl-child is indeed happy—as children count happiness. And then suddenly the curtain falls. At about ten years of age—earlier in some parts and later in others—our spoiled child is old enough to work in earnest, and so she is packed off, sorely against her will, to join her husband's family, entering it not as our brides enter their future homes, at the head of the female community, but at the bottom. Child though she still is, her childhood is now forever past, and she is turned into a young woman, only too often into by no means a happy one.

At this stage it is necessary to consider two matters, so far as they affect an Indian bride, viz., the practice of infant marriage, and what is known as the joint-family. I need hardly state that the so-called "marriage" of infants is practiced among all classes in every part of India, though of course there are many exceptions to the rule. The term "marriage," as applied to this ceremony by us, is, however, rather misleading. It is in reality an irrevocable betrothal—a bargain not between the infants who are "married," but between those who control them, being often nothing else than a purely commercial contract. It arises out of the theory that a woman is for life under tutelage, and her "marriage" is, therefore, merely a transfer of the right over her to another party, a transfer naturally very frequently made in return for a pecuniary consideration. After this marriage or betrothal, the girl usually remains with her parents, in trust for those to whom she is to be transferred, until the home-coming or going to her husband's house, which may be looked upon as the real marriage, as we Europeans use the word. Until the second ceremony takes place the child-wife is still a child to all intents and purposes, and treated as such, and it is only after it that she in any sense enters on the duties of female life. The family she joins is exactly like that she has left, only it is that of another; to her a vast difference, and one which she never forgets—indeed, it is not unfrequently made painfully apparent to her at every step. What I may call the regulation Indian joint-family is one composed of the paterfamilias, all his sons and brothers, and various extraneous relatives, such as nephews, cousins, and wife's kindred, for the male part; and all their wives, in addition to his own wife and daughters, together with a sprinkling of the family widows, for the female part. In this patriarchy there are grades upon