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

Rukhmabai's Case (Surendra Nath Ghose) (April 23, 1887)

This instructive letter from the pen of Surendra Nath Ghose—educated gentleman of culture—appears in the Englishman:--
I hope you will kindly insert the following in your widely circulated journal, although you may not agree in all that I say.

        The unmerited sympathy which Rukhmabai has attracted from the Anglo-Indian press and from some of our native social reformers is remarkable, as stowing the extent of human depravity which high civilization is capable of leading to. In the name of humanity I beg to ask whether the lady who could plead the poverty and ill-health of her husband as being the reasons of her unwillingness to return to her husband's house should excite the sympathy of a civilized people like the English. As regards our social reformers I have but little to say. They are vehement in their attacks on everything which is Hindu, and always strive to introduce changes in society without, for a moment thinking of the disastrous consequences which their so-called reforms are likely to produce. Our reformers have now availed themselves of Rukhmabai’s case attack the Hindu marriage system. It is not possible in a short letter like this to discuss the reasonableness or otherwise of the arguments which they put forward in this connection. Suffice it to say that the alleged evils in the Hindu marriage system are purely imaginary. It is alleged that Hindu women are treated with all sorts of cruelty and so forth. But fortunately this is not the fact. As a wife a Hindu woman is dearly loved by her husband, and is entrusted with the sole management of household affairs. In a Hindu family the mother or the wife is the sole mistress. In every matter concerning the wellbeing or the safety of the family the mother and the wife are consulted, and in most cases the>r advice is acted upon. Though living in the zenana, a Hindu woman possesses considerable influence over her husband. It is not possible for a foreigner to fully realize the state of things in a Hindu household. Women are meek and gentle, and perfectly alive to their sense of duty. So, as I have already said, the evils are existing only in the imagination of the so-called reformers.
        There is, however, another aspect which Rukhmabai's case presents to us, and which ought to receive a due share of consideration from every right-thinking man. Whatever may have been the conduct of Rukhmabai, it is certain that she has been dealt with with rigour. But the fault is not due to any provision of the Hindu law. The Hindu law nowhere says that a suit may be instituted for the enforcement or restitution of conjugal rights. But the principles of English law having been applied in this country it has been settled that such a suit is maintainable. So neither the Hindu law nor any of the customs prevailing among the Hindus has anything to do with the hardships which have arisen in Rukhmabi'a case. This case is an unhappy illustration of the anomaly and confusion which the importation on a large scale of the English law in this country creates. Rukhmabai's case would not have been noticed at all had the Hindu law been allowed to stand unmixed with the principles of English law. You largely import English law in this country, and when you see that the consequences prove disastrous you find fault with this and that institution, although it may have a strong hold on the minds of the people.

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  1. Rukhmabai's Case