Woman and Marriage in the essay’s of Pandita Ramabai and Rassundari Devi Pandita Ramabai an eminent Indian Christian social reformer and activist in her book High Caste Hindu Women highlights subject matter relating to the life of Hindu women including child brides, marriage and widowhood. She talks about the money aspect when arranging a marriage, the young ages of the boy and the girl, the marriage rituals and the inhuman expectations that the women are faced with. According to her, marriage was a fickle matter in the olden times. Women were not allowed a say in the choice of the groom and were married of ‘while still in their cradles’.
Ramabai illustrates how Swayamvara, earlier a popular way of choosing your own husband was practically becoming extinct. It was now considered absurd to even think about asking the women’s opinion. Rassundari Devi, one of the pioneers in indigenous women’s writings, takes up this very topic in her autobiographical work Amar Jiban( My Life). In the work she traces her life as she goes from being the young girl in her family to a bride. She goes through motherhood, starvation, and the perpetual desire to read and write. She starts of by mentioning how happy and excited she was when she first learned she was to be married.
She was cheered up by the array of ornaments, sari’s and music at her disposal. Pandita Ramabai offers the very same conclusion when she asked girls for fun if they would like to married and they would almost always answer in the affirmative. “There are gorgeous dresses’, bright colored clothes, beautiful decorations, music, songs, fireworks, fun, plenty of fruit and sweet things to eat and to give away, lovely flowers, and the whole house is illuminated with many lamps. What can be more tempting to a child’s mind than these? ” But like she says later, little do these children know what awaits them after marriage.
Bidding farewell to their mother and the laughter and joys of childhood these innocent souls are bound to life of marriage and housekeeping. Rassundari Devi too recounts the sadness she felt when she learned that she was to be given away to the other family. She was scared at the very thought of being separated from her family. However unlike the instances of ill-treatment and beatings that Pandita Ramabai mentions in her book, Rassundari Devi was fortunately wed into a family that treated her well and looked after her compared to the others.
She writes that she felt very fortunate and thankful of God that he gave her a family that was loving and caring of her. One of the most important aspects that disturbed Pandita Ramabai was the ignorance of the grooms personality and background by father while considering marriage. She recounts a story where just upon learning the caste and class of a boy the father of a young girl gave her hand in marriage to him. He did not even enquire about his personal habits and lifestyle. She also mentions the joint family system wherein a young bride’s sole position is at the back of the house doing chores and serving the relatives.
This is what even Rassundari Devi goes through just after she enters her marriage home. Her entire day was engaged in doing the housework that began very early and continued till midnight. There was no rest from it even when there were about eight maidservants in the house. It was considered custom that the brides do all the work as well as look after the children. Even Pandita Ramabai mentions the same: “She must always be cheerful, clever in the management of her household affairs, careful in cleaning her utensils, and economical in expenditure. The High caste Hindu Women is also a testament to the rituals that made up a marriage and the behaviour that was expected out of a woman. Breaking a young bride’s spirits was considered an essential part of the initiation. She was never to be seen talking loudly or speaking before the male members of the family. Ramabai also documents the countless number of times a woman had to undergo beatings mostly at the hands of their mother in laws. As a study of the practices in the 18th and 19th century it is all well documented with notes and bibliography which are quite fascinating and informative.
However one drawback that most critics hold Pandita Ramabai against is the dominance of the emphasis on the Brahmin side of things, when there were other similar problems going on. This obsession seems a little out of balance for a book dealing with Ramabai’s life. However by compiling all the little nuances that surrounded the life of a typical woman in those days Pandita Ramabai manages to give a picture of the patriarchal authority in place. Even more so Rassundari Devi’s own account of the hardships she had to go through validates some of the points made in Ramabai’s book.