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Major Social Evils
a. Female infanticide
Female infanticide was another inhuman practice afflicting the nineteenth century Indian society. It was particularly in vogue in Rajputana, Punjab and the North Western Provinces. It was mainly to avoid economic burden.
Factors such as family pride, the fear of not finding a suitable match for the girl child were some of the major reasons responsible for this practice. Therefore, immediately after birth, the female infants were being killed.
The company administration in India took steps to ban this practice by passing the Bengal Regulatory Act XXI of 1795, the Regulating Act of 1802 and the Female Infanticide Act of 1870.
b. Female Foeticide
Female foeticide is also an inhuman practice which cuts across the caste, creed, class and regional boundaries. Whether it is female infanticide or female foeticide the prime motive remained the same. In order to ban the female foeticide and sex-determination the central Government passed various Acts.
c. Child marriage
The practice of child marriage was another social disgrace for the women.
Akbar prohibited child marriage and made it obligatory for the parents to obtain the approval of both the bride and the bridegroom before the marriage. He prescribed 14 years as the age of constant for girls and 16 years for boys.
In 1846, the minimum marriageable age for a girl was only 10 years. The native marriage Act was passed in 1872. It fixed the minimum marriageable age of girls at 14 and boys at 18.
In 1930, the Central Legislative Assembly passed Rai Saheb Harbilas Sarada’s child Marriage Bill fixing the minimum marriageable age for boys at 18 and 14 for girls. It was later amended to 18 for girls and 21 for boys according to Hindu Marriage Act 1995.
Sati was social evil that prevailed in Indian society especially among the Rajputs. Earlier it was a voluntary act but later by the relatives forced the widow to sit on the funeral pyre. The Italian traveler, Niccolo Conti, who visited Vijayanagar about the year A.D. (C.E) 1420, notes that ‘the inhabitants of this region marry as many wives as they please, who are burnt with their dead husbands’.
In the early years of 19th century, sati was in practice in various Parts of Bengal, western India and southern India. In 1811, Jagan Mohan Roy, brother of Rammohan Roy, passed away and his wife was burnt along with him. Rammohan Roy was moved to the extreme at the sight of it and took an oath that he would have the cruel practice abolished by law. He carried on a continuous agitation through press and platform for the abolition of Sati.
Raja Rammohan Roy published his tracts in 1818-20, making the point that the rite of Sati was not enjoined by the Sastras. This material was used by the Serampore missionaries to shatter the generally accepted view that Sati was an integral part of the Hindu religion. Orthodox Hindu opinion against the abolition was advocated by Radhakanta Deb, and Bhawani Charan Banerji.
When Lord William Bentinck took up the question of Sati, he found that the abolition had been recommended by the judges of the criminal courts. He passed Regulation XVII on December 4, 1829 ‘declaring the practice of Sati or burning or burying alive the widow of Hindus, illegal and punishable by Criminal Courts’. Similar legislative measures were enacted soon after in Bombay and Madras.
e. Devadasi System
The word Devadasi (Sanskrit) or Devar adiyal (Tamil) means “servant of God” dancing girl dedicated to the service of god in a temple. Devadasi system was a social evil. There was also tradition of dedicating one daughter to the temple. In addition to taking care of the temple, they learnt and practiced Bharatha Natiyam and other classical traditional Indian arts.
Later on they were ill treated and humiliated. The Devadasis lost their dignity, sense of pride, self-respect and honour.
Dr. Muthulakshmi Ammaiyar who was the first woman doctor in India, dedicated herself for the cause of abolishing the cruel practice of Devadasi system from Tamil Nadu. Appreciating her role in the agitation against Devadasi system she was nominated to the Tamil Nadu legislative council in 1929. Periyar E.V. Ramasamy was instrumental in passing the “Devadasi abolition bill”. Dr. Muthulakshmi Ammaiyar proposed the bill to the Madras legislative council in 1930.
Moovalur Ramamirdham was yet another woman who fought for the emancipation of the Devadasi. With the continuous moral support rendered by Rajaji, Periyar and Thiru.Vi.Ka, she raised slogan against this cruel practice. As a result the government passed the “Devadasi Abolition Act”.
The Madras Devadasi Act was a law that was enacted on 9th October 1947. The law was passed in the Madras presidency and gave Devadasis the legal right to marry and made it illegal to dedicated girls to Indian temples.
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