Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/61

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

co-wives get on, but "a fairy for a co-wife is a devil" exhibits the mutual relation forcibly and clearly as it usually is. And when the rival wife brings forth the long-desired son, the barren woman's cup of bitterness is full, and all her hatred towards him is, to those who know the circumstances, well expressed in that most sarcastic of sayings in any language, "The son of the co-wife." No more words are wanting to the Indians to convey the expression of all uncharitableness.

As to the hard lot of the childless widow, so much has been said elsewhere, and so often, that I do not feel inclined to enlarge upon it, especially as enforced widowhood is not nearly so general as is usually made out by those who would deduce a moral from Indian manners to the glorification of the habits of Christians. It is often not prevalent among classes who conform generally to the customs I have been mentioning, and circumstances make it impossible among many that are not comparatively wealthy; but where it is the rule nothing can be more cruel, and, I feel justified in using the strong term, more revolting. Take the case of the widow from infancy: shorn of all that women value anywhere in the world, dressed in coarse clothing, deprived of her ornamenst, compelled to fast till health breaks down, made to subsist on the coarsest of food, kept out of what amusements come in the way of the rest of the household, forced into being the unpaid drudge of the family, held to be the legitimate butt of the ill-nature of all, considered fit only to amuse the children, openly called and taught to think herself a creature of ill-omen—this being the cause of all the rest of her sorrows—superstition has indeed nowhere else shown more clearly its power to pervert the reason of man. How much the women dread widowhood is exhibited to the full in the fact that to call a woman a widow is to offer her a dire insult, and from her earliest childhood a girl is taught to pray that she may die while yet the red spot of coverture remains on her forehead. In any case the fear of widowhood overshadows the Hindoo lady's life, even though she hate her lord.

However, it is no part of my business to tell a sensational tale, nor do I wish to convey an impression that an Indian woman's life is necessarily all unhappiness. Human nature in her case is as capable of adapting itself to circumstances as elsewhere, and since the ultimate gauge of permanent individual happiness is suitability of temperament to immediate surroundings, many a woman in India must be so constituted as to be quite content with the life she is called upon to lead, and in fact to enjoy it. When a girl is naturally sedate, yielding, and good-natured, of blunt susceptibilities, limited aspirations, and strong religious emotions, she will give in to her mother-in-law, avoid quarelling without effort, follow the course of life laid down for her without demur,