Page:The early history of the property of married women.djvu/22

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place under the control of the husband as much as they could of whatever came to the wife by inheritance or gift; but whenever the property does satisfy the multifarious conditions laid down for the creation of the Stridhan, the view of it as emphatically woman's property is carried out with a logical consistency very suggestive of the character of the ancient institution on which the Brahminical priests made war. Not only has the woman singularly full power of dealing with the Stridhan—not only is the husband debarred from intermeddling with it, save in extreme distress—but, when the proprietress dies, there is a special order of, succession to her property, which is manifestly intended to give a preference, whereever it is possible, to female relatives over males.

Let me add that the account which I have given you of the probable liberality of the Hindoo institutions to females at some long-past period of their development, and of the dislike towards this liberality manifested by the Brahminical lawyers, is not to be regarded as fanciful or purely conjectural, although, doubtless, we can only guess at the explanation of it. It is borne out by a very considerable number of indications, one of which I mention as of great but very painful interest. The most liberal of the Hindoo schools of jurisprudence, that prevailing in Bengal Proper, gives a childless widow the enjoyment of her husband's property, under certain restrictive conditions, for her life; and in this it agrees with many bodies of unwritten local custom. If there are male children, they succeed at once; but if there are none, the widow comes in for her life before the collateral relatives. At the present moment, marriages among the upper classes of Hindoos being very commonly infertile, a very considerable portion of the soil of the wealthiest Indian province is in the hands of childless widows as tenants for life. But it was exactly in Bengal Proper that the English, on entering India, found the suttee, or widow-burning, not merely an occasional, but a constant and almost universal practice with the wealthier classes, and, as a 'rule, it was only the childless widow, and never the widow with minor children, who burnt herself on her husband's funeral pyre. There is no question that there was the closest connection between the law and the religious custom, and the widow was made to sacrifice herself in order that her tenancy for life might be got out of the way. The anxiety of her family that the rite should be performed, which seemed so striking to the first English observers of the practice,