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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/60

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

born within it, though they all dwell under his protection and at his expense. You will perceive, therefore, that the women's lives are contracted to within even a smaller sphere than that limited by the boundaries of the common family dwelling.

What would seem to us to be intolerable restrictions by no means end here. In many places it is not proper for a young father to fondle his own children in the presence of his parents, and highly improper for a wife to be seen holding converse, or appearing unveiled, or sitting down before her own husband, until she has become a mother.

There is another custom regarding which it is useless to pretend that it does not lead to endless misery and family squabbling—the absolute subjugation of the women to the materfamilias. The mother-in-law is indeed an awful personage in the eyes of her sons' wives, one against whose will and caprice it is hopeless to rebel. I can hardly describe her power better than by noticing a daily ceremony which symbolizes it. It really amounts to wishing "good-morning," is called in upper India máthá tekná, and consists of bowing down to the ground and touching it with the forehead. All the women, except her own daughters, perform it daily to the materfamilias when they first see her, and a bride must do it practically to everybody.

An Indian woman's happiness in life immensely depends on her becoming the mother of a son. This at once raises her in the family estimation, which is all in all to her; insures her against the greatest bitterness of widowhood, in case that befall her; and procures her domestic authority should she survive to mature years under coverture. Materfamilias is a veritable queen in her own little world, often coercing her husband, commanding her sons, and ruling the rest as she pleases. From what has come under my observation, I have long felt assured that, speak contemptuously of the opposite sex as they choose, lock them up as they may, and treat them as mere breeders of sons as they will, the natives of India are far more henpecked than they care to admit. Outside of their homes the men live a life of their own, untrammeled by considerations of the fair sex; within them they have little control, and it must be borne in mind that it is the women that have come to be such sticklers for the continuance of the state of things I have above endeavored to describe. The remarks just made apply, as above said, to the mothers of sons only. Should a woman be so unfortunate as not merely to be barren, but to be simply the mother of daughters, life goes much harder with her, especially as this is so liable to bring upon her that which (if their songs and sayings are to be trusted) the Indian women dread more than all things except widowhood—the advent of the cowife. There are proverbs innumerable to show how very badly