This Day in History (16-Jul-1856) – Ishwar Chand Vidyasagar, on the request of Governor Lord Canning, instituted a law announcing the right of Hindu widows for re-marriage

While studying in Calcutta, In 1828, eight year old Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar lived at the home of a friend whose sister was a child widow. This was Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar’s first experience of the hardships this custom imposed on women. Sometime later, his old guru decided to marry a young girl. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was enraged and demonstrated his anger by refusing his guru’s hospitality. Before a year had passed, the guru died and left behind a girl widow with nowhere to go and no means to support. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar vowed then to devote his life to improving the status of Hindu widows and encouraging re marriage.

When his opponents protested, he insisted they were misinterpreting scripture and employed a masterful command of Sanskrit to point out their ignorance. In his first tract on widow remarriage (1855) Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar claimed that this practice was permissible in Kalyug, the age in which he and his contemporaries lived. 2000 copies of this book was sold in first week, a reprint of 3000 soon sold out and the third reprint was of 10,000 copies. But not everyone was convinced. On the streets of Calcutta, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar found himself insulted, abused and even threatened with death.

But Vidyasagar pressed on and urged the British to pass legislation that will allow Hindu widows to remarry. To support his request, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar collected almost 1000 signatures and sent his petition to the Indian legislative council. The council received thousands of signatures for and against this measure but the members finally decided to support the enlightened minority, The Hindu widow remarriage act was passé in 1856. Although, the value of this act for improving the lives of woman has been questioned, one cannot doubt Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar’s desire to create a more humane society.



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