Dr. Meenakshi Jain: Sati Myth - A Colonial Evangelical Fabrication | Abhijit Chavda Podcast 6 | Transcription
Transcription for the video titled "Dr. Meenakshi Jain: Sati Myth - A Colonial Evangelical Fabrication | Abhijit Chavda Podcast 6".
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So Dr. Meenakshi Jain, namaste. Thank you for coming on the podcast. It's an honor and a privilege. Thank you for inviting me. My pleasure, ma'am. So Meenakshi Jain needs no introduction, but for the benefit of the three or four people who may not know about her, she is one of the most authoritative and influential and consequential historians in India in the present day. and influential and consequential historians in India in the present day. She has a background in political science, a PhD doctorate in political science. She is an academician, researcher, author. And of course, she is the recipient of the Padma Shri, which is India's fourth highest civilian award. She has written numerous books, including the India They Saw, a four volume set. This set of books offers accounts of the grandeur of ancient India as perceived by foreign visitors to India. Then there are two very important books on Lord Ram and Ayodhya, very important books. Then there's this book in 2019, Flight of Deities and Rebirth of Temples. The latest book is from 2021, Vasudev Krishna and Mathura. And of course, there is this book here. Let me display it.
In-Depth Discussion On Sati And Its History
Sati, Evangelicals, Baptists, Missionaries, and the Changing Colonial Discourse (01:09)
Here it is. So it is a book about Sati. The title is Sati, Evangelicals, Baptists, Missionaries, and the Changing Colonial Discourse. Now, I personally have observed a pattern throughout Dr. Meenakshi Jain's books, that she takes a big issue, a very important issue at one time, an issue that has typically been distorted or lied about for decades by the mainstream historians, by the eminent historians, and she sets the record straight with data, with factual evidence. So for instance, if I look at the Sati book, I observe a ton of scriptural evidence, literary evidence, epigraphic evidence, inscriptional evidence, sculptural evidence, and accounts by eyewitnesses. All of this is concrete data. It is undeniable data that you just cannot deny. It is incontrovertible data. So that is the kind of scholarship that we observe in Dr. Meenakshi Jain's book. And I can only imagine the amount of time and effort that would go into all this, into hunting down all of these disparate sources, putting the data together, synthesizing it into one cohesive whole. And this is just one example of this solidity and the depth of scholarship that sets Dr. Meenakshi Jain apart. So Dr. Meenakshi Jain, Meenakshi ji, let me begin by asking you what motivated you to do this research and write this book? Was it academic interest?
Why did she write the book on Sati? (02:34)
Was it personal interest? What made you take up this topic, ma'am? You know, whenever we witnessed debates among academics or, you know or public figures, they would always try to put down Hindu society by saying that, why are you talking to us? You used to burn your women. And as a student of history, I had really not come across much evidence for Sati in the little cursory reading that I had done. So I realized that this is a handy whip to use against Hindu society and to say don't lecture to others because you're so regressive yourself. And that motivated me to engage in a in-depth study of this period and this subject. And you know, Abhijeet, what is really very surprising that I would like to state at the outset, that you know, since independence, this subject of sati has really engaged and preoccupied feminist historians and writers. As if you know this has been a very very raging controversy and practice in independent India. Whereas parliamentary figures that the figures that were presented in parliament which cannot be questioned I hope, they showed that the number of instances of sati in the 70 years since independence was less than 40. so that gives us an idea of how limited this practice was after independence in 70 years we had barely 40 recorded cases now 40 recorded cases would not amount to much. Of course we abhor the practice even one is condemnable but to use this as a stick to beat Hindu society was not acceptable. So this was point number one. Point number two was that in the colonial period when Sati according to certain accounts is supposed to have been of such magnitude there was no one who wrote on Sati except for the Baptist missionaries so there was only one person who wrote article, E.P. Thompson. He wrote an article even then he did not write a monograph. So look at this disparity at a period when Sati is supposed to have been rampant and raging, there was no monograph on Sati except for the motivated writings of the missionaries. And independent India when according to the statistics that are available to us there were hardly 40 cases in independent India but we have got a whole deluge of books and articles by feminists and one more thing I want to say to you is that most of these cases have been reported from rajasthan and none in independent india has been reported from bengal so bengal which we are told was the you know hot spot where sati everyone was emulating has had no cases since independence no cases since independence and further in bengal i do not know of any sati temples or sati stones in memory of those women who had emulated themselves sati stones and sati temples again the majority of them sati temples are in rajasthan where even today people go and are in Rajasthan, where even today people go and pay reverence to those who emulated themselves. So this kind of dichotomy, it led me to examine this subject in considerable detail. I read everything that I could possibly read on the subject and my findings were an eye-opener at least for me. Right indeed and it's very surprising that nobody in the past 70 plus years apart from you even bothered to look into this subject I mean objectively from a data-driven perspective. Yes perspective yes yeah yeah because I the way I look at it the agenda was not to study objectively the agenda was to defame and shame a particular community in the context of debate that are happening about the need for social and religious reforms in certain religious groups. So, you know, to beat down in TV debates, you will see people say, why are you talking to us about, you know, need for reform of having a proper civil code, etc. Because you were burning your women. So it is just a stick to beat Hindu society with. I agree. Sati and caste, these are the two big sticks they use to beat Hindu society and to just shut Hindus down, don't speak. Yes. Right. So before we go into some kind of evidence for the practice of Sati, for the incidence of the practice, I would like to ask you, was Sati a religious obligation from the perspective of the Vedas, the Dharmic Shastra, the scriptures, religious legal texts, which is the term that you have used, and literary texts.
Was Sati ever a religious obligation in Hinduism? (08:13)
So, was there a religious or Dharmic obligation for widows to commit self-immolation? Not at all. You see, this debate about religious sanction, it was created in the early colonial period when a young scholar, H.T. Colebrook is his name, he translated a Vedic verse which seemed to suggest that there was religious sanction. which seemed to suggest that there was religious sanction. The moment his piece article was published, William Jones said it is a wrong translation. And William Jones told him that you have mistranslated the thing. And H. H. Wilson, who is a very great Sanskrit scholar, he translated that verse according to the rules that were decided by Siyan, the medieval Sanskrit scholar in the Vijayanagara period. And he showed that this verse he had mistranslated first to Agni. You see he had mistranslated first and read it as Agni. The hymn said when a person dies the widow is supposed to cover her eyes with ghee, lie down before that dead person and then rise and resume her place in the world. And in fact if you go through this literature, forget about the Vedic literature, subsequently also Dharmic literature etc. They all said that a widow should lead a chaste life. And people like Manu, who wrote the Manusmriti, and you know, we always quote him for so many things. Manu wrote that a girl, you know, she's an adornment to her father's house. She's his responsibility when she's not married, her husband's responsibility when she's house. She is his responsibility when she is not married, her husband's responsibility when she is married and after the husband dies, she is the responsibility of the son, her child, male child. So this kind of recommendation that a widow should lead a chaste life is there in all this literature and in fact in the around the 12th 13th century there are writers of digests who say that you know if you do this it's like black magic they compare this to black magic they condemn it in the most forceful way possible. But around the 17th century, we do get some writers mentioning this, some recommending it, but always saying that the best path for a widow is to live the life of an ascetic. So to say that there was religious sanction is there is no basis for it at all. I've quoted all these texts in my book and anyone who's interested can read it because you don't have to believe what I'm saying. These texts which I've quoted are now available on the net. You know the net is a great enabler for people who don't want to delve into it, but want to cross-check. So all the texts that I've quoted from the Rig Veda, right till the 17th century, those texts can be looked at on the net. I've given the worst, so you don't have to look at the full text, and it's very, very easy to cross-check.
UGC recommended history books for students debut (12:03)
As a scholar, it is my policy and i expect that same from the readers they should not take what i'm saying at face value i never take anything of a scholar at face value uh always cross check so the readers don't have to or the viewers don't have to accept what i'm saying as the truth, it's very easy for them to cross-check for themselves. Yes, ma'am, totally agree. Nowadays, there is this trend of passing off opinions as facts and people, unfortunately, because of the kind of education system we have, they don't know how to discern facts from let's say fake information false news so it's all about cross-checking like you're saying just cross-check for yourself one thing i want to say that in all my books i never impose an opinion on the reader indeed yes i don't i don't come into that text at all, my books. I just present the facts and I let the reader decide for himself or herself. According to the way I look at it, the facts that I present are so compelling that the reader can draw no other conclusion. But I never force an opinion because I don't make opinions, I present facts. Yes, indeed. Your books are all driven by data and facts and evidence that can be cross-checked anytime by anybody because it's all available in the public domain now. And I just want to say for this Sati book, my book is divided into two sections, A and B. And the B section is just a collection of foreign accounts on Sati. So the reader doesn't have to go looking for those books. I've reproduced those writings of foreigners on Sati over the ages in section B. So again, I'm just presenting the facts to the reader. Indeed, ma'am, indeed. So let's talk about the historical incidence of Sati over the ages. So our history starts with the Vedic era, then we have the Ramayana era, the Mahabharata era, the Saraswati Sindhu phase of our civilization, the Mauryan era, the so-called common era, medieval era, and then we come to India's millenn of our civilization, the Mauryan era, the so-called common era, medieval era.
Vedic Era (14:15)
And then we come to India's millennium of war, the millennium of occupation and humiliation. So what I would like to ask you, ma'am, is if you could give an overview, broad overview, chronologically of whether Sati was widespread, was it rare? What does the evidence say? You see, when I'm, when anyone is writing on sati, it's important to present a statistical study also. Because only when you present statistics, then you can, you know, find out whether it's a common practice or a rare practice. So I will begin with the irrefutable evidence of sati, incidents that were recorded by eyewitness accounts. So the first instance that we have of Sati is from the time of Alexander. You know Alexander invaded India before common era and when he was going back he had an Indian contingent with him and the wife of I mean that Indian contingent the commander Shashi Gupt he died and when he died the troops of Alexander's army they were totally shocked that his two widows are coming and fighting among themselves who should immolate.
The Other Wife (15:34)
And this had left a real deep impression on the eyewitnesses and this is recorded by an eyewitness from whom Deodorus copied this account. So this seems to be an authentic account which we should not doubt after that we have no evidence what is the evidence we can have epigraphic evidence we can have you know numismatic evidence we can have inscriptional evidence we can have sculptures etc so So the next, in fact after Deudorus, the evidence that we have, inscriptional evidence is from Nepal. So you know there is an inscription of the 4th century that has survived in Nepal. I have produced a photograph of that in my book that is the inscriptional evidence that we have. But in India, the first inscriptional evidence that we have but in India the first inscriptional evidence we have is the Iran pill inscription Iran is a place in Madhya Pradesh and there the inscription is on a pillar and that inscription has survived intact and that inscription forms part of the cover of my book you know so that inscription says that there was a commander of the Gupta army and he died in battle and his widow emulated in her memory so that is again undeniable evidence but look at the time gap between third century BC and fifth century AD that is almost 800 years you know that's a lot then there is another in that photograph on my cover that is that was found about yeah so the back at the back is the Iran inscription and in front no in front that inscription has two parts the back is the Iran inscription in this photograph this was found yes this was found a couple of decades ago it's a recent thing couple of decades ago it was found it is an inscription of a shudra lady dekabi and her husband has died and she is saying that i'm going to emulate myself and her parents are saying don't do it her parents are persuading her but she still goes ahead and the parents erect this memorial for her the part of that memorial has survived so these are three in convertible incontrovertible evidences but in the same period, we have the name of King Harsha.
King Harsha (18:30)
We all know King Harsha. He was, you know, Hewonsang visited India in his time and he records his meetings with Harsha.
King Harshas Loyal Sister (18:56)
Now Harsha's, you know, quote, poet, historian, whatever you want to call him, Banbhat. Now he writes that when Harsha had not ascended the throne, his father, who was the king, fell ill. And it was very clear that he would not survive. So Harsha's mother decided to immolate herself before the husband died. And Harsha said don't do it. She says I have been married to a person who was like a lion. I cannot contemplate living a life which is less than that of a lioness and she immolates herself before the death of her husband. Harsha pleads with her but he is not able to stop her. But Harsha's sister sometime later she her husband dies and Harsha comes to know King Harsha comes to know that she is going to also immolate herself. He rushes there and is able to stop her from immolating and his sister then becomes his advisor. She plays an important role in his kingdom and she didn't commit sati but she was going to immolate herself but Harsha stopped her. So this is a historical incident which has been recorded by Banbhat that Harsha could not stop his mother but he managed to stop his sister who came to play a very important role in his life. came to play a very important role in his life. So as far as evidence is concerned we have deudorus then we have this Iran inscription and then we have this Decabi the inscription which is there on my cover. The next eyewitness account is of the Moroccan traveler Ibn Battuta. he comes in the 13th century and he writes about three women who are going to emulate themselves in Madhya Pradesh so we have no reason to doubt the veracity of Ibn Battuta's account because he was not coming here he just described whatever he experienced and saw in the subcontinent so this is the kind of evidence that we have now we associate sati with rajasthan mainly and johar but no inscriptional evidence of sati has been found in Rajasthan before the 9th century.
Rajasthan, Chola, Pandyas (21:36)
So the dates are very important. You know that no evidence of Sati in Rajasthan before the 9th century and the Chola, Pandya, these kingdoms there is no evidence of Sati before the 9th, 10th centuries. So whatever stray instances that we find, they are pretty late, we can say 9th, 10th centuries. And we have the evidence of King Harsha stopping it, not succeeding in the case of his mother, but succeeding in the case of his know when the when Vasco de Gama discovered the new route to India then we had the influx of many foreign travelers to India as traders as travelers whatever and the Vijayanagara Empire saw a large number of people coming here and many came to sell horses. Because you know horses, because the north they used to get the horses from the north but because the empires coming in the north that the route had been closed to Vijayanagara so they were getting directly. So two travelers to Vijayanagar, they said that you know when they never said we have seen, they never said we are witnesses but they just said that when a king dies hundreds and thousands emulate with him. But none of them said that we have seen. And in fact, very influential people like Abdul Razak, he was the ambassador, he came to the Vijayanagara court, they do not mention Sati at all. So when we say that some Portuguese mentioned Sati, we have to say that at that very time, no less influential people like Abdul Razak do not mention Sati at all. And none of these Portuguese, one of them says he writes that they used to throw themselves into the fire, but the other does not mention it. So what I'm trying to say is that the actual evidence is few and far between and you know uh just to complete the story about uh uh vijayanagara uh you know uh there is a historian uh of the 20th century late 20th century she did a study of the number of sati stones that were found in Vijayanagara because the Portuguese said thousands used to emulate with the king now we know first of all that Krishna Devaraya's queens did not emulate with him you know Krishna Devaraya was such a great king of Vijayanagara none of his queens emulated with him. So in any case this scholar collected the sati stones that she could find in the entire Vijayanagara kingdom and she saw that in most of these sati stones a woman is depicted as committing sati alone.
Character of the Sati (24:52)
There is no question of hundred people emulating with the king or thousand so that all those sati stones also showed how limited that practice was in the entire vijayanagara period now to come to your story that is what happens in the colonial period so to sum up again the instances of sati so to sum up again the instances of sati first of all it had no religious sanction and all the religious leaders who wrote about it said it is like black magic and in fact it's only in the 17th 18th century the dating is very important in the 17th 18th century some say okay maybe a widow can emulate but they always say that a life a austere chased life is preferable to emulating second point that i have made so far is the actual number of eyewitness accounts that we have is quite limited and there are various gaps large gaps between deodorous and the iran pillar inscription 800 years then you know ibn batuta it's very very small now what and i've told you that about rajasthan the inscriptional evidence is only from the 9th century and also very limited. And in the Chola, Pandya kingdoms, there is no evidence before the 9th, 10th century. No inscriptional evidence. And many of the queens survive their husbands. Like I have given you the example of Krishna Devaraya, the most eminent historian of the Vijayanagara Empire. the most eminent historian of the Vijayanagar Empire. Now, what I want to say to you now is something that is worth considering. You know, I have said that the situation changes in the colonial period. Now, I want to qualify this statement because the early officials of the East India Company, if Sati was rampant in Bengal, then the early, because East India Company acquired rule over Bengal earlier, earliest 1757 with the battle of Plassey. So, if Sati was rampant, why is it that the early Englishmen of the East India Company never mentioned it? And here I want to tell your viewers that you know the early Englishmen, they were so totally in awe of Hindu civilization as it existed from ancient times. And in 1757, we have the first Englishman writing a book on India. 1757, that is John Grosse. Now, he had, they had come as traders because the East India Company had come as traders. So all these people who wrote about India, Englishmen of the East India Company, they were representatives of a company that was a trading company. So, but imagine people who have come to trade, they get so interested in the culture and civilization of this country that they actually write books on this. And again, many of these books, because that hundred year clause is not applicable to them now, so they are available freely. And it's very important to understand what they're saying about India John Grose, Luke Scrafton, Hallwell who was temporary governor of Bengal, Alexander Doe even a reverend from Scotland William Robertson they have written detailed detailed accounts and none of them they're writing from Bengal sitting in Bengal and they don't mention Sati at all William Jones he you know William Jones wrote so much on Hindu civilization.
Why are there no accounts of Sati? (29:15)
He translated the Gita, he translated Kalidas's Shakuntala, he did so much to popularize ancient Indian literature in the western world. The only problem that William Jones had while studying Indian history and Indian literature was that he felt compelled to fit it in the biblical chronology. That means that the world is created in 4004 and the great flood happened in 2350. So everything has to be fitted into that framework. Whereas, you know, the Indian Yugas were thousands of years, each Yuga was thousands of years. So he had a problem that he was not able to fit Indian history in the biblical chronology. But he was a great admirer, you know, whole head, he translated Gita, they I mean, all they took trouble to learn the language, to translate it and to expose Indian culture, the richness of Indian culture to the Western world.
Why the sudden turnaround from praise to negative (30:30)
So it is very difficult to reconcile this picture with the picture that we suddenly see a few decades later of the missionaries writing about the horrors that they saw in Bengal. Now you can ask me the next question. Why did they do this? You have to unmute. Yeah, I was muted. So please go ahead and answer the question. Why did they do this? So first of all, I would like to ask you, what does the term evangelist mean? Who are they? Okay, that's a very good question, important question. You see, the evangelical movement Britain after the French Revolution. And it was a belief that France witnessed the revolution, that bloody revolution, because of the irreligion propagated by Voltaire. So people in England, they felt that if we have to prevent a replica of the French Revolution in our country, then we must propagate religion among the people. Religion not only among our own people, because that of course they were going to do, but we should also propagate it wherever we are in control. So the evangelical movement was a response to the bloody French revolution which people in England felt was because of a religion propagated by Voltaire now this evangelical movement since we are discussing it it is very surprising that the evangelical movement and the Baptists were the off shoot of this evangelical movement now when the Baptist missionaries come they say that you know they wanted to spread the Bible over here. But the question can be legitimately asked, why were they not concerned about the lack of spread of knowledge of the Bible in their own countries? And what was the state of civilization in their own countries? What was the state of education? You know, women were being burnt as witches over there at that time. The lack of education, the lower classes were totally uneducated. And, you know, public executions was a popular form of entertainment in England at that time. Even children? entertainment in England at that time. Even children. Yes.
British Propaganda And Ban On Sati'S
The ploy (33:25)
And you know that when the survey, William Bentic, in fact, ordered a survey of the state of education in India. So in Bengal, this Smith, Adam, sorry, Adam's report, he prepared three reports. And those reports said that there is no person in Bengal who doesn't get education as per his requirements and needs and he said and he made a very interesting point that the zamindars of Bengal are very very keen and they make sure that their daughters receive full education especially in mathematics etc and why because they would obviously get married into like families of zamindars etc and if the husband by some mischance passes away then that widow should know how to calculate and look after her property so this is some imagine so first of all she should know what she is entitled to how to look after it how to receive manage the resources so this is something that was being written and the picture that we get is so totally different now to come to your question you see the east india company as i told you had come as a trading company and they were very clear that they have come to india to make money to earn profits they're not here on a civilizing mission they are not here on a civilizing mission. So it was their policy that if any missionary comes to our territory and we know that he has come we will send him back on the next ship. So there was this small colony Sherampur or Serampur in Bengal which was owned by the Danes. So what these three missionaries did whom we call the Shirampur trio William Carey, William Ward and Marshman the three of them they came and as you know they gave false pretexts and they came and as soon as they landed in calcutta they rushed to shirampur but the thing is that they could not get the right of parliament the con the consent of parliament to propagate and convert in india because the parliament went by the opinion of the East India Company.
Propaganda about Sati to Get a License to Convert (35:36)
The East India Company said we have no role to play in this. And the parliamentarians were also getting aware of the work that had been done by the early orientalists like, you know, William Jones, Hal Head, Charles Wilkins, etc. So, you know, they were getting this material of the grandeur of Indian civilization in its ancient past. And suddenly these missionaries say, give us the right to convert. Three times and each time there was no agreement on this. They said, no, you cannot convert. You cannot go and proselytize in India. So then these missionaries, they decided that we have to now paint India in as much black colors as we can. in as much black colors as we can. We have to show that India is seeped in ignorance, barbarism, etc. Now how to do this? So can you imagine these three Baptist missionaries, they commissioned a private survey for the area around Calcutta. They appointed 10 people and they said you report every instance of sati that you find in your particular area because they divided Calcutta and its environs into 10 divisions and divided among these ten people. Now can you imagine that Bengal is supposed to be the harbinger of the Bengal renaissance. It is supposed to be the maker of modern India and it is seeped in this kind of practice. Is it possible? I mean, you have to apply some common sense to it also. So they commissioned this private survey. And then after the private survey, each missionary presented different figures of that survey. So, you know, and then finally the Bengalal government it commissioned its own survey in 1815 it continued till 1828 now even if we accept the results of the government survey of bengal and we look at the missionary accounts there there is no similarity. The missionary said that, you know, when a person dies, it mentioned the case of one person who had died and the funeral fire went on burning for three days as widow upon widow came to emulate. So imagine 100 women, 100 wives one person had, another person said that 20. These are the missionary accounts. Now the government surveys showed there was no child, hardly any child emulated. The government survey, even those figures we can doubt. But the government survey showed that no woman had emulated who was less than 40. And this thing of 27, 28 women burning with one man, it was all incorrect. Now, the thing is that there was nobody to challenge these figures because parliament British parliament was not sending a special investigating team or an independent team to report so the missionaries through their great networks that they had in England they started you know publishing these figures in document pamphlet after pamphlet after pamphlet. But several senior East India Company officials like governors of presidencies, they said, what is this? It's not there in our presidency at all. For example, Elphinstone, he was the governor of Bombay presidency. He said, it's not there. And the same thing in the south, Madras presidency. And in fact, there is a French Jesuit missionary who stayed in India for a long time Abbe de Bois is his name you know the French was Jesuit missionaries the English were Baptist missionaries so Abbe de Bois he said that you know I have lived in the south for so many decades and I've hardly come across and he says that everywhere I travel I see these widows with their shaven heads so when I am seeing widows with their shaven heads what is the question of them emulating because after their husband has died and they become widows they are you know going around with shaven heads and we know that in vrindavan you know many widows from bengal used to be sent to vrindavan so he says that these baptist missionaries they are telling lies and he has written a beautiful book it is letters on the state of christianity in india and that is a book that is worth reading because he says in these decades that i have spent in india i've hardly been able to convert two people so he says yeah so he says you know you do not even know how affectionate their family situation is you know they are such affectionate parents such affectionate brothers and to present them and husbands, they said, he said that marriage is the most important institution in the life of these people. And, you know, he's written, he says that he's written in such glowing terms about, though he was a missionary and a Jesuit missionary missionary he confessed that it was impossible to convert the people and he said he paid fulsome tribute to the family values and the you know involvement of each member of the family so this missionary propaganda was not uh was questioned in fact by British governors and senior government officials of the East India Company at that time and also by Jesuit missionary Abba Dupar. So it is wrong to take it at its face value. It was a propaganda to get parliament to give the missionaries the right to convert. parliament to give the missionaries the right to convert and last point that i want to make you know in 1792 the charter of the east india company had to be renewed parliament renews that thing parliament did not address this issue of sati so if it was such a raging issue how is it parliament did not discuss this issue in 1813 when the parliament was going to renew the company charter again then the missionaries realized that you know this time also they're going to face a defeat so they orchestrated this whole thing for the british parliament that has also been documented in my book and in other books also. How they whipped up support and they brought in every person that they could to write petitions to Parliament etc.
Baptists & Unitarians & Vested Interests (43:52)
And finally they won the right but with what stealth and half-truths and untruths they won this right, I have recorded in my book. recorded in my book. Right. So you have mentioned, I think, two denominations, two specific denominations of these evangelists, the utilitarians and the Baptists. And there's also some Unitarian movement also. So could you explain in brief what this is about? No. I have mentioned two missionaries. One is the Baptist missionaries who came from England and they were operating in Bengal. And the other that I have mentioned is the Jesuit. I have mentioned only one Jesuit, that is Abba Dubois. Now this evangelical utilitarian alliance. I have explained evangelical movement. But how did evangelical movement become so strong in Britain? It allied with the utilitarian movement, which was by Bentham and most important by James Mill. Now you know it is very interesting that James Mill had never been to India and suddenly he decides to write a history of India in six volumes. He has never visited India. He had never shown any interest in India before he began writing this book in six volumes. And that book is mainly based on the writings of missionaries. And in fact, you know, this eminent Sanskrit scholar H. H. Wilson, had mentioned earlier. He was a great Sanskrit scholar. He edited James Mill's History of India and he says in the footnotes that it is so incorrect and it is full of incorrect statements and it is designed to create ill will among the people who we are governing. But you know this James Mill was a utilitarian. So he and the evangelicals combined and that is why they got their strength. And James Mill after writing this book, got their strength and James Mill after writing this book he was appointed to India office.
The British banned Sati in Bengal (46:33)
India office was the headquarters of the East India Company and from there he could monitor developments and what made things worse for us was that they appointed William Bentake as the governor, governor general. You know, William Bentake was number six on the list of probable governor generals to India. Nobody thought that the first five would refuse and it would fall on William Bentake. So William Bentake was a member of the evangelical movement. He was a part of that biblical, you know, missionary society, whatever. And he had already decided before he stepped foot on India that he will abolish Sati. And how do we know this? Because two letters of his have survived, which are reproduced in the correspondence of his, in which he says that I have decided to abolish Sati. Because he was an evangelical, he was aware of the work of the missionaries, he had decided to abolish Sati even before he set foot on India. So, you know, this entire network, nexus between the evangelicals and the utilitarians who are led by James Mill, who writes that horrible anti-India book, History of India in six volumes, who's then appointed when the six volumes are completed, he's appointed to India office. And his book, one more thing I want to say, his History of British India is also becomes the recommended reading at the Haley Berry College, which the East India Company set up to train its civil servants before it sends them to India. So, you know, to train them in that mindset that they should, because, you know, they were noticing that the East India Company officials who are going to India, they're succumbing to the disease of Indianization. That was the phrase. So they said, you know, they have lost pride in their own culture and civilization. They're all becoming advocates of Hindu culture and Hindu civilization. As we saw, you know, Warren Hastings, James, John Grouse, Hal Head, Wilkins, William Jones, they were all very appreciative of Indian culture. So they said, you know, they don't know anything about their own culture and they are becoming advocates of Hindu culture. So they set up this Haley Berry College in England so that they can learn something about their own civilization before they embark on India. and James Mill, his book History of British India, which is a biased piece of propaganda, it was compulsory reading. So, you know, this intertwining of so many interests. Right. So, there is this evangelical and missionary attack on Hinduism and you have mentioned that there are, they claim there was infanticide in India, female infanticide. Yes, yes. And there is also this other thing. Yeah, please go ahead. No, that female infanticide ploy did not work much because everybody said that this was confined to one particular community and for certain historical reasons and that had been more or less eradicated. So, infanticide did not take on but this sati thing took on. Yeah, I would like to offer an anecdote from my life. So, when I was a kid, when I was a, during, I spent some of my formative years in Europe in a French-speaking place, in Switzerland essentially. And over there, the kids, they believed that Indians, Hindus, they offer newborn children as a sacrifice to the river Ganges. And that is, there was a widespread belief there and the teachers would also not refute it. And I was mortified to hear this. I was really ashamed that people thought this about my culture. So it encouraged me to not speak about my culture, India and all that. So it seems that there was some effect of this claim of infanticide. Yes. But you know, even that I have discussed that in my book. And again, I've quoted from H.H. Wilson's letters. I've quoted from those letters saying that this is all incorrect. So you know, you have, we are representing one side of the British debate, that is the missionaries and totally ignoring responsible civil servants of the East India Company, who had decades and decades of experience in India, who knew Sanskrit, were taken the trouble to learn Sanskrit and other languages, Bengali, and translate ancient texts and popularize India in the Western world. The image that they gave, H. H. Wilson translated the Vishnu Puran and he collected plays, ancient plays of India. He produced two volumes on specimens of ancient Indian theater. So these people were very serious scholars and these missionaries, they were hardly educated. One was a cobbler, one was something else. If you look at what they were. Right. And it is very sad that what we remember today is not Charles Wilkins or Hal Head and others. We remember the missionaries which was and this whole elevating the missionary aspect of this debate is not an innocent activity. It is designed to put down a certain community in independent India and to brush aside or ignore need for reform in other communities. It is not innocent activity at all. Undoubtedly, no doubt about that, yes. So in this entire propaganda that was done about Sati in the missionary propaganda, was the, what was the role of Ram Mohan Roy? Because it is, it is claimed that one of his close relatives also committed Sati and that really moved him a lot and made him a reformer etc. So what's the real story about this?
Ram Mohan Roy Is A Reformer (53:11)
Yeah, it's not very easy to answer this question because you know Ram Mohan Roy had quite a complex character. He went to England, you know, fighting for the rights of the Mughal emperor. So to argue his case, now the thing is that he wrote two books, I mean, two pamphlets on Sati. They took on a conference of a debate between an advocate and an opponent of Sati. The first was published in 1818 and the second was published in 1820. And you know, and the thing is that about this incident that you mentioned, the well-known historian R.C. Majumdar, he has written a book on Ram Mohan Roy. in that book he has examined everything and he says this is a later concoction there is no evidence that Ram Mohan Roy was even present when his sister-in-law is said to have emulated herself he says there is no evidence that he was even present over there it was a later concoction now William Bendick he wrote a minute on Sati before the abolition of Sati and in he in that minute he says that I discussed this with Ram Mohan Roy and Ram Mohan Roy said that you can impose more and more restrictions and conditions for a woman to emulate herself. You don't have to actually abolish the custom, make it more difficult. And he said it will disappear on its own. The other thing I want to say is, first of all, R.C. Majumdar said this is a later concoction.
What the textbooks Wont Tell You (55:18)
And since R.C. Majumdar has written a full book on Ram Mohan Roy, we have no reason to doubt him. One thing I want to say is that, you know, in all this debate on Sati that you read in textbooks etc you will read that you know uh bentic abolished Sati now you will never read that very important figures of Bengal of that time had said that Sati has no legal sanction and you can please abolish it. Like Mritunjay Vidya Alankar, he was employed by the British in the Fort William College that they had set up. And in fact, he also wrote a pamphlet that Sati enjoys no legal sanction at all, no religious sanction, let me say and you can abolish it it will not create any law and order problem so there was a whole stream of hindu writers before bentech which we which we don't remember we are giving the credit to a person who maybe doesn't deserve that full credit. And, you know, there is they say that, you know, orthodox Hindus were opposing the abolition of Sati. The head of that conservative group was Radhakant Dev. He, what did he say? He said that we should not allow the British to interfere in our internal matters. Because if we permit them to interfere in one matter, then they will interfere in another, in another, in another. But they saw, was a proponent of Western education. He was managing the affairs of Hindu college for almost three decades. No woman in his family emulated herself and they never advocated this. So, you know, this over emphasis on the glorious role of Vinayam Bente, it also needs to be tempered in our discourse. Because so many Indians were saying it's not necessary. We don't you can. And how is it that the moment William Bentinck abolished Sati, not one case is reported in Bengal. I mean, can you imagine such prompt adherence to a government order in those days when there was no television or radio or whatever? It is because it was not a common practice in Bengal. Right. So the moment he decrees that Sati is to be abolished. It magically disappears overnight. That's what happened. Yes. Which makes it very suspicious. Very suspicious indeed. I mean, you have, like you say, tens of thousands of cases per year and suddenly overnight from the next day onwards, it's zero. Yeah. You know, that was a broadcast on the radio. And then then everybody said we have to follow this. And you know, even today, we know and we see in films, widows from Bengal going to Vrindavan. And we find in Vrindavan even today, a large proportion of them are from Bengal. And how is it that Bengal, at least I have not come across any Sati temple in Bengal. Correct. So, I would like to ask you, is there any role for Macaulay and all of this in the Anglicization of India and the Evangelization of India? Did he have any role to play in this? You know, this is a very important question. What I will answer in an indirect way that Macaulay was not directly or indirectly involved in this Sati debate. But the abolition of Sati was actually an endorsement for the anglicization of India. That is very important. It's very important to remember this. It's a very valid point that you have made. As far as Sati is concerned, no, but the victory of the missionaries in the Sati debate cleared the way for the anglicization of India, for the introduction of Western education in a massive way, and all that followed from it. That's a very, very important point.
Why Sati was used as a Pretext for the Anglicization of India (01:00:01)
And the introduction of Western education into India coincided with the destruction of India's traditional indigenous education system. Because it was a setback, you know, to the triumph of the Anglicans. The Anglicization and Christianization of India was a twin process. And the victory over the Sati debate meant ascendancy of forces that for the Anglicization and Christianization. For these things, get a big Philip after this. But this very, very important point that you have raised, I am really glad that you brought it up. So Sati served as the catalyst in this entire thing. So once Sati was recognized as, so essentially the practice, the alleged practice of Sati was used to justify British rule and to justify the attempt to re-engineer India's society and demographics. I want to ask you, of course, that is, it was used by the missionaries to Christianize India. And then it was used by people like Macaulay for the anglicization of India. But I want to draw your attention to people who were so well known and remembered even today. Ahilya Bai Holkar, you know we talked today about the great Vishwanath temple that she built. She rebuilt the Vishwanath temple, which has been so much in the news these days. She was a widow. She didn't emulate herself. She did so much work for the regeneration of Hindu society. She rebuilt the Somnath temple. She built so many ghats, so much else. And you know, her daughter also became a widow at a very young age. And Ahilyabai, that girl was determined to emulate and Ahilyabai said, look at me, I have not done it. And she begged and pleaded and did whatever she could to prevent that daughter of hers but she could not prevent her. So we have the case. So Ahilyabai we know did not emulate but we know that she tried to stop her daughter who did emulate. So you know these are stories which we don't even consider. We are just talking about everyone committing sati in India. And then there is the case of all the artificially engineered famines that the British engineered in India. Tens of millions of Indians died, including in Bengal. Where are the sati cases from that? Apart from where are the sati cases for that, how were the missionaries exercised about that? Were they worried about millions of people dying in famine in front of them? Was the British Parliament concerned? The number of people who died in the Bengal famines runs into millions, but we hear neither the missionary voice nor the voice of the British parliamentarians. Indeed, indeed, yes. These are very important points that somehow we overlook for some reason. What you find in the education... Can I just say one thing? You know, if you look at our mythology, I mean, mythology means our texts. You talk about, you mentioned the Mahabharata and you mentioned the Ramayana in your opening comments. But how many widows or wives of Raja Dashrath emulated with him? None. So how many wives of Ravan? He was a Brahmin. He was a great Sanskrit scholar. How many emulated? None again. And in the Mahabharata, it clearly says that the widows of the fallen soldiers, they performed the last rites. So how were the widows of the fallen soldiers performing their last rites if they were emulating? They were not. So, you know, we have got used to just parroting what we are told about our past. But I feel that now there is a desire to break away from these stereotypes that we have inherited and discover our past through our own eyes. You know, not through the prism of colonial administrators or missionaries or whoever you have. So this is a ray of hope. Hopefully things will percolate even in the academic field because the academic field remains quite immune to these aspirations of the common people.
A Great Duty (01:04:50)
Indeed, what I observe in other fields as well, like we have so many new discoveries coming in from archaeology, genetics, etc. None of it is making its way into our textbooks. Dr. B.B. Lal did so much incredible work, none of it made its way into the textbooks. You also, there have been so many attempts to marginalize you as well, which we know. So, this is the problem we are facing today. We are still taught that William Bentinck did us a great favor, that Lord Ripon was so generous and so on and so forth. So, what do we do about that, ma'am? You see, the thing is that according to what I feel, it is social media that is going to break the back or the hold of these historians and this viewpoint. Why are videos, why is social media becoming so popular? Because it is a way to bypass the colonial view of India, which is perpetuated ironically by Marxist historians. So, you know, and the rule, you see, they may deny whatever they can do. But the way they have been defeated by that one man, B.B. Lal, it is something that they cannot forget. Nobody remembers the lies that they told on Ayodhya in court the court went on passing strictures against them the court said you're supposed to assist us you are hindering us and B.B. Lal it shows you know what commitment to your heritage and past what it can achieve. If it was not for that one Mr. B.B. Lal, he would not even know anything about the Ayodhya temple. So the regeneration of India in independent India owes a real debt of gratitude to B.B.
B.B. Lal (01:06:38)
Lal. It doesn't matter if he is not included in the textbooks right now, but the day will soon come where he'll get his place of honor. And his books, he writes in such an accessible style. They're so well illustrated that it's a joy to behold. And they're selling so well. I cannot imagine any left historian with all the backing that they've had of the state selling as well as bb lal's books too indeed that's very true i i personally feel that social media essentially essentially has given the ordinary indian citizen a voice for the first time in a millennium. So that's what we are witnessing. You know, the thing is that I never refuse. Late, very late in the day, I realized the power of social media. And I realized that as many people who will watch a video of mine will never read my books. True, yeah. Unfortunately, it's true, yes. No, but the thing, but it's not unfortunate because that medium is giving me the opportunity to make people aware of my findings. You see, everyone is not a scholar. Most people will not read a book or especially a history book, but they will watch videos. will watch videos. So, you know, it is a way to connect to the wider public, which is not of scholars or of historians. So, you know, it is something that is cutting the power of these established historians.
Taking time (01:08:18)
So I think it's a fantastic job. People are taking time out to interview, you are taking time out to interview. You are taking time out to interview. Then people are taking time out to see, you know.
And I see that it's, it's typically, especially on my channel, it's youngsters below 25 mostly who are watching all this. And they are really interested in history. So, I'm really glad to see that. Absolutely. Very true. So, I have to thank you for inviting me because so many people will come to know. Yes. None of them is going to read my book on Sati because you can't blame them because they are not scholars. They are not academicians. They are just general public who are pursuing other professions but who just like to hear the video. The video is enough of an education that they need also. Indeed. Right. So, I think that kind of wraps up the topic. So, Meenakshi ji, thank you so much once again for agreeing to do this. I am sure what you have just given an overview of will really change the mindset and opinions of people. People have all kinds of various ideas and beliefs that they've absorbed from various places. So it's going to really help a lot. So, Meenakshi ji, thank you so much. A real pleasure. Thank you so much. Thank you so much for inviting. Thank you so much. Thank you.