It would be a blatant lie if I say that only women of the ‘Orient’ as proposed by the ‘Occident’ have been subjected to the loss of agency in terms of social position; right to one’s own body and authority to take decisions for herself, without having the permission of the patriarchal system. The ‘West’ has always acted as a guardian to various ‘other’ ‘Oriental’ societies that were primarily under their colonial rule. They have always projected themselves as the parent of the so called ‘other’; mainly the colonies that they had formed in Africa, ‘Middle East’ and the Indian Sub-Continent.
The ‘West’ has either negated the literature, culture and morality of the past of their colonies or has tried their best to understand the culture and society of their colonies in order to rule them in a better way. In all the places all over the world that the ‘West’ has colonized, it was not possible for them to control their colonies by military mode alone. In a country like India it would have been nearly impossible for the British to enter without some form of negotiation, ‘stab in the back’ and ‘divide and rule policy’. After setting their foot in India they had used various policies to defeat the Mughal Rulers and control the Rajputs’ of North Western India. While it’s more than hundred percentage true that the British had done lots of damage to the Indians, but it is also true that the concept of ‘India’ and primarily a ‘Hindu India’ was put forward by the British; because, in those times the present India was divided among various rulers of Islamic and Hindu origin and there was no concept of the present day geographical India.
One of the good things done by the British during their rule in India was to ban and stop the Widow Immolation System that was rigorously practiced by the ‘upper caste’ Hindu families. As, India has a strong ‘caste system’ still today back in those times there had been a wide gap in the way of living between the upper and lower caste people. The idea that the Woman’s only duty is to serve the husband was created and introduced by the Brahminical system that transformed the Vedic beliefs into the strong patriarchal system. In such a society Women didn’t have any access to education, employment or right to choose a husband; but, after the British came and conquered India, they found that the Hindu people of India had a rich literature and culture that the Hindu’s were not totally aware of. It was William Jones’s translation of Kalidasa’s masterpiece Abhijnanasakuntalam into English from Sanskrit that helped the West to have a glimpse of the glorious past and culture of the Hindu Community of India. And gradually a lot of other Sanskrit books were also translated that shed a positive light on the liberty of women. In books such as Abhijnanasakuntalam, Meghadūta and other classic Sanskrit literature they found that in the past the Indian Women enjoyed a lot of authority, power of pursuance and liberty; even if through exploiting the aura of their bodily beauty; the position of women was better than the Hindu women in the then present Hindu society. The British had always highlighted the glorious Hindu past and tried to make a common origin of Sanskrit language and ancient European languages; discovered and highlighted a past that essentially says that both the Hindu Indians and the Christian West shares if not all but some amount of common origin in terms of ‘Aryan’ past. Slowly they found that various Hindu families looked up to educating their kids the English language and a western mode of life. There might have been other bad effects of accepting the British culture, but it didn’t prove so bad for the Hindu women of middle and upper caste.
In those times of social darkness, the women were burnt alive in the pyre of their aged husband; because, it was common practice for a man to marry as many women as he could during his lifetime. One should never forget that the economic and monetary reasons play the final role behind all extremist views. After the death of the husband, if the eldest wife continued to live then the property of the husband was to be transferred to the eldest wife. In a patriarchal society a woman having access to the property was never allowed so it was best to create some beliefs and practices that would make the woman to die that in turn would allow all the property of the husband to be transferred to his brothers or any close male member of his. The continued practice of this system made the women themselves an active and willing agent in the patriarchal system. It was not always that the men forced the woman to die in her dead husband’s funeral pyre; a large number of times the women themselves voluntarily went to commit suicide in their husband’s pyre believing that they are doing something that God expects them to do. In novels like Bama’s Sangati we can find how the women themselves act as an active agent in continuing the patriarchal system.
It was Raja Ram Mohan Roy, the father of Modern India who worked with the British in order to stop the widow immolation system and he also did various other reforms. It’s been said that he had to fight not only against the then Hindu Patriarchal establishment, but also his very own mother. He could not allow and see his daughters to die in the funeral pyre. So, this was a very good thing that might not have been possible at that time without the assistance of the British. In doing so there might have been various gains the British had made, but yet no one can deny this effort that eradicating a form of religious extremism and fanaticism was a positive thing for the Hindu upper caste women. Similarly, Widow Remarriage was a taboo but it was Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar who with the help of the British introduced the practice of remarriage of young Hindu widow women. I might seem to have totally forgotten to mention the Islamic World and Muslims of India and their rights and way of life, but in those times the history was written by the British and they always wrote way more about the Hindu tradition and concepts because they wanted to have the support of the Hindus to defeat the Muslims so that they could rule the whole of India. This very same policy of ‘divide and rule’ is being practiced by the ‘West’ even today and they use their elite Art, Paintings, Music, Literature, Movies to support their views and beliefs. One can find how the ‘West’ created the imaginary geographical boundaries of ‘West’, ‘Orient’, ‘Middle East’ and Occident to serve their own purpose in the books by Edward Said.
But, one must always understand that the present time is a time of globalization. The Europeans were way ahead in understanding the relation among science, religion; spirituality, culture and life. They were able to come out from the clutches of unreasonable orthodoxy and religious extremism and found a society that is liberal. They might have used their developments to culturally and militarily control their colonies in the past and they might have never mentioned atrocities they had committed to the indigenous communities across the continents; they might not have talked about their patriarchal, racist and social imposition and objectifying the beauty of their very own women when they openly condemned, debated, accused the other cultures across the continents for the same things that they practised at home from the Roman Empire to the Victorian and Romantic periods; making them practice hypocrisy and double standards to serve their own needs. But, as one has to condemn their bad practices one must also understand and accept the social development they had done in their process of colonization.
The British stole a lot of lives and property from India that they could never afford to give back, but, it is always worth mentioning that good and evil come hand in hand and the recipient has to decide what it wants to adapt; accept and practice.