Page:The early history of the property of married women.djvu/21

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law until it became an exemplification of what Indian lawyers call the doctrine of spiritual benefit. Inasmuch as the condition of the dead could be ameliorated by proper expiatory rites, the property descending or devolving on a man came to be regarded by these writers partly as a fund for paying the expenses of the ceremonial by which the soul of the person from whom the inheritance came could be redeemed from suffering or degradation, and partly as a reward for the proper performance of the sacrifices. The law constructed on these principles became extremely unfavourable to the ownership of property by women, apparently because its priestly authors thought that women would have much greater difficulty than men in applying a proper share of the property to the funeral ceremonies of the person who had transmitted it. Their physical weakness and their seclusion (which was doubtless considered to be unavoidable) were probably regarded, among a society always more or less disturbed, as disqualifying them much more than any natural incapacity for sacerdotal functions. Whatever be the exact explanation, the Brahminical commentators who succeed one another in the Hindoo juridical schools show a visibly increasing desire to connect all property with the discharge of sacrificial duties, and with this desire the reluctance to place property in the hands of women is assuredly somehow connected.

There is, accordingly, much reason to believe that the text—which, as I told you, one of the most authoritative of the Hindoo legal treatises attributes to the mythical, semi-divine legislator, Manu—describes a condition of the law very like that which in very ancient times prevailed in India. "Stridhan" says the rule, or woman's property, includes "all the property which a woman may have acquired by inheritance, purchase, partition, seizure, or finding," and this is a comprehensive description of all the forms of property as defined by the modes of acquisition. Nothing, however, in the existing Hindoo law gives this amplitude, or anything like it, to the Stridhan. The successive generations of Hindoo commentators have shown their hostility to it, not by abolishing it, but by limiting to the utmost of their power the circumstances under which it can arise. Minute distinctions are drawn between the various modes in which property may devolve upon a woman, and the conditions under which such property may become Stridhan are made as rare and exceptional as possible. The aim of the lawyers was to add to the family stock, and to