Before the passage of the Hindu Widow’s Remarriage Act of 1856, Hindu tradition required a woman to live as a virtual outcast after her husband’s death. Widows had to shave their heads, discard their jewellery, live in seclusion, and undergo acts of penance. Ishvarchandra Vidyasagar was the first Indian intellectual to successfully argue against these strictures. Renowned Sanskrit scholar and passionate social reformer, Vidyasagar was the leading proponent of widow marriage in colonial India, urging his contemporaries to reject practices that caused countless women to suffer.
Vidyasagar’s strategy involved a rereading of Hindu scripture alongside an emotional plea on behalf of the widow, resulting in the reimagining of Hindu law and custom. He made his case through a two-part publication, Hindu Widow Marriage, a tour de force of logic, erudition, and humanitarian rhetoric. In this new translation, Brian A. Hatcher makes available in English, for the first time, the entire text of one of the most important nineteenth-century treatises on Indian social reform.
An expert on Vidyasagar, Hinduism, and colonial Bengal, Hatcher enhances the original treatise with a substantial introduction describing Vidyasagar’s multifaceted career, as well as the history of colonial debates on widow marriage. He also provides an overview of basic Hindu categories for first-time readers, a glossary of technical vocabulary, and an extensive bibliography.