The Message and Ministrations of Dewan Bahadur R. Venkata Ratnam, volume 2/Chapter 5

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V

THE SOCIAL SERVICE DUE TO INDIA'S WOMANKIND.

(1908)


All the world over, and in India to an uncommon extent, woman is superior to man in morality. What we have to improve here is the moral condition, not of women, but of men. If there were no men with 'capering' hearts, the existence of 'dancing girls' would be an inconceivability. You should fasten the blame upon the demand, not upon the supply. It is the toddy-buyers that need to be reformed, not the toddy-sellers. In every instance of customary treatment, we, in course of time, virtually compel a class of persons to assume that position and play that part to which society has wantonly consigned them generation after generation. This habit is like that of a certain woman, made a queen by marriage, who could not relish the delicious dishes of a royal banquet unless they were doled out to her, a beggar for a good while, as handfuls of alms. Likewise after generations of unjust treatment, no wonder if woman has ceaced to be an aspiration to man. But if you cultivate the spirit of reverence for womankind, you will find that woman is inspiring, indeed. As you look at a woman, does your heart throb with awe and reverence as in the presence of a saint ? 'How shall I treat a woman ?' — that is the test-question for one and all. When a woman is in need of a little service, a look of brotherly encouragement, do not let go the opportunity. Rajah Rammohan Roy never sat down while a woman of any rank was standing in the company. You ought to cultivate that gracious spirit. You can help and honor a woman in numberless ways. Will you bear with me if I venture to refer to a few suggestive instances even within the experience of a poor, frail, humble individual like myself ? It was true service rendered, though very slight, when certain Indian ladies, who had come to see a magic-lantern exhibition, needed seats, and I was privileged to be the first among those who offered to give up their own chairs for the ladies. On another occasion, the opportunity for such service came to me when my second-class ticket was made over to an Anglo-Indian lady in exchange for her third-class ticket during a railway journey in midsummer. Again, when some boatmen on the Buckingham Canal at Bezwada were seen cutting vile jokes with a poor woman who appeared to have lost 'caste' as a respectable person, I asked her what the matter was, addressing her as amma (mother). Then she looked up with a gleam in her eyes, as if to say, 'Is there one in this world who feels any regard for this unfortunate woman ?' On yet another occasion, a young woman selling butter-milk on a railway platform expressed herself in simple heart-felt thankfulness with the words, 'Aye, Babu, teach them a lesson that way,' pointing to those whom I had gently rebuked for presuming to flirt with her. Again, how significantly sublime is the story, in one of the Puranas, of girls remaining unclad while rishis robed in purity passed by them ! Mr. W. T. Stead, Editor of The Review of Reviews, so dead against every kind of oppression or compulsion, has had to pay a heavy price for the advancement of Purity in England, in connection with the passing of a Bill prohibiting an immoral traffic in girls under the age of twenty-one. For what he had written and done on that occasion he was, on a technical point of law, sentenced to three months' imprisonment. But his dauntless exertions overcame all opposition ; the conscience of the country was roused ; and the Bill, at first strongly opposed, was enthusiastically passed. Again, all honour be to Gladstone, who could tell Sir Charles Dilke himself that, inconsequence of his figuring in a divorce case, he could no longer be a member of the Cabinet! And accordingly, ever after, Sir Charles Dilke, once talked of as the coming Premier, had to hide "his dimirushed head." Mr. Stead, again, illustrated in his own life the paradoxical saying, 'The Child is father to the Man.' When but six years old, he had fought a boy of twelve ; as the latter was seen peeping at a girl who was tying one of her garters with her leg placed on a culvert. And as Mr. Stead grew up, he grew to be the noble champion of purity, truth and freedom. You, young men, should cultivate the like spirit of advocating, and enforcing pure sentiments. To this end, you should form three wholesome habits ; constant and reverent study of pure ideals; constant and active fellowship with good men ; constant and prayerful supplication to God. your ideas of woman until you come to realise that benevolence, not drudgery, is incarnate in her. You should learn never to tolerate the humiliation, the degradation, of woman, in what-ever forma it be. Wherever there is an opportunity, you should be all too prompt to help or serve your mother's sex. Go forth, clothed in your own purity; and you will change the whole atmosphere. Go about, appealing to women that they too are God's children ; and you will feel exalted in their elevation. The great womanly virtues are not dead in the 'dancing girl.' Only the hard crust of custom has gathered around her soul. Break the crust, and you will find a pure life springing up in her. But since there can be nothing in the effect that is not already in the cause, store up purity in your own hearts by means of inspiring ideals, ennobling fellow-ship and prayerful self-dedication to God's glory ; and you will be as a cheering light, as a bracing zephyr, as a sanctifying baptism, wherever you go. God bless you all !