The Kiplings and India: A Collection of Writings from British India, 1870-1900

Dadaji Versus Rukhmabai (March 26, 1887)

Mr. Malabari, of the Indian Spectator, w r i t e s : —
        It is discouraging to see the way in which newspaper opinion is vacillating in regard to this case. There is much honest zeal shown in the matter. But of conviction one finds very faint traces, save the preconceived idea of woman's inferiority, her duty to be everything to everybody—to father, brother and husband. and the purpose underlying the discussion seems to be even less distinct, unless It be that of upholding the old order of things. Instead of the open-mindedness, the judicial weighing of evidence, and the righteous conclusion arrived at, on the merits of the question itself—that one should expect from so intelligent a constituency as the public press, we have here the usual ta!k about "revolutions" in society, the " sanctity" attaching to "time-honoured" customs, the "religious" necessity of letting these alone, varied with attempts to burke the points at issue, and a gentle hint here and there, as to those who think otherwise, being rabid partisans. 
        Now I must once more remind the critics that, I have nothing to do with the case personally. My interest in it is purely academical. I t is a mere accident that has thrust the case upon my notice. I find it to be a test case, and am anxious to make the most of it in what I take to be the general interests of the public I have also to guide myself by the result of this suit at law. Dadaji himself is the same to me as Rukhmabai, and if my sympathy shows itself more pronounced for the latter than for Dadaji, it is simply because the girl has so few to befriend her, a victim of social prejudice. I offer to help her friends with money, not because that will make any difference in the eyes of the law, but because I think it would be a disgrace to the manhood and womanhood of Bombay if this victim of infant marriage were allowed to reduce herself to beggary in defending the suit. For it must be remembered, that she herself has little to gain from the contest. So far as that goes, her life has been a losing game from  the beginning. She would be a loser still even if she were to gain all. Hence it was that I ventured to call her a martyr, and I trust that after this explanation, our offended critics—offended because a mere woman, a thing to be trampled under foot, was raised to martyrdom—will spare us that delicate and refined sarcasm of which they are such perfect masters.
        With Dadaji it is much otherwise. He is a man and may marry any number of " wives,'' even if he loses the suit. He has the sympathy of his castefellows, the noble guild of carpenters, and of a section of the enlightened Indian Press. But should he ever be in need of help, Dadaji would find me as friendly to him, as I have endeavoured to be to the other party. Personally he is as much a brother to me, as Rukhmabai is a sister.
        Let us once more glance at the merits of the case :
Rukhmabai, a girl of 11, was "married" to Dadaji. After the ceremony Rukhmabi's father offered a home to Dadaji who was practically homeless, and he further undertook to pay for his education. For some time Dadaji remained under his father-in-law's roof, and then he began to discover an evil disposition. He returned home to his uncle's. He declined to go to school or to set himself to any honest business, and wasted his time and strength in very questionable pursuits. He ultimately broke down in health. All this while he never troubled himself about his " wife," nor did his guardian send for her, because the latter was too poor to maintain her, and the former did not wish his freedom to be curtailed by the presence of a social encumbrance. But probably when Dadaji wanted money, he sent an invitation to Rukhmabai. Her father, Dr. Sakharam Arjun, knew that he had no visible means of livelihood, and that if the girl was sent, she might be starved and ill-treated, and forced to part with what little property she had in her own right, and then turned out. These things are not of rare occurrence. Rukhmabai says she had another reason to avoid going to Dadajai—he was living in the company and under the patronage of men from whom she shrank with instinctive horror. The result was a suit for restitution, or rather for institution of conjugal rights. Dadaji has won the suit legally, and his friends are no doubt very glad of it. They will now send Rukhmabai to jail. What then? What will Dadaji gain by sending the girl to jail? According to Hindu notions he is more a brother to her than a husband, having lived under her father's roof and partaken of his fatherly care as much as did Rukhmabai. But if he and his friends thirst for revenge, let them have it. The law is for them.
Yes, the English law of marriage, which is of imperfect obligation in England itself, and which has nothing to do with infant marriages, undertakes to enforce "restitution of conjugal rights" where a real marriage has not taken place nor certainly been consummated! The High Court of Bombay professes to administer the Hindu law and yet it imports into this Hindu law a point of the English Church law which has nothing to do with the marriage law of the Hindus. Henceforth we are to understand that Hindu parents may go on perpetuating infant marriages, and that in cases of dispute the benevolent British Government will aid and abet them, in the triple capacity of marriage-broker, policeman and Jailor.

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