The history of widow burning is one of paradox. While the chief players in the debate argued over the religious basis of sati and the fine points of scriptural interpretation, the testimonials of women at the funeral pyres consistently addressed the material hardships and societal expectations attached to widowhood. And although historiography has traditionally emphasized the colonial horror of sati, a fascinated ambivalence toward the practice suffused official discussions. The debate normalized the violence of sati and supported the misconception that it was a voluntary act of wifely devotion. Mani brilliantly illustrates how situated feminism and discourse analysis compel a rewriting of history, thus destabilizing the ways we are accustomed to look at women and men, at "tradition," custom, and modernity. University of California Press, An important and disturbing book.
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With the abolition of Sati in , Historians had engaged the issues in various ways. However, they have not addressed properly on the issue of women in the performance of the practise. Lata Mani in this work Contentious Traditions: The Debate on Sati in Colonial India has highlighted and argued that women were essentially marginalised in this discussion of Sati.
The book explores the position of women in the nineteenth century by carefully examining the discussion on the practise of sati by the colonial officials, the Bhadralok of Bengal and the missionaries from The matter on sati was forwarded to the Nizamat Adalat which was dealt by its pundit. On this foundation, the Company considered sati to be part of the Hindu religion.
The circular highlighted the differences between what consist of a legal and an illegal sati. Lata Mani points out that the official discussion on sati eradication was arranged on its desirability, and feasibility.
The issue on sati abolition rests on its claim in scriptural position. The officials considered it on three grounds: the centrality of religion, the submission of the indigenous populace to its dictates, and the religious basis of sati. Vyawastha was explained in a specific manner whereby the notion of sati created in official dialog was colonial. In the second chapter, Abstract Disquisitions: Bhadralok and the Normative Violence of Sati, focus was on the works of bhadralok on sati.
Pamphlets, Petitions, newspaper reports were thoroughly analysed. Lata Mani argues that supporters as well as challengers of the practise of sati were involved totally in a modern procedure. It is not the contest among tradition and modernity as it was a tussle of competing versions of modernity. Whatever their differences on the issue of sati, both supporters and opponents agreed to the point that scripture superseded custom, evidence from the scripture as more superior and overall, the ancient text was the highest.
This was connected with the notion that the Hindu people had gone apart from its earlier period of the Golden Age. It had been pointed out that tradition was not the arena where the position of women was debated. However, women became the place whereby tradition was discussed and reinvented. In the third chapter, Missionaries and subalterns: Belaboring Tradition in the Marketplace, examines the accounts of Christian missionaries especially their teachings in the non institutional site in the streets of Serampore.
The missionary works were not legal in the company territory until The chapter examines more about the missionaries evaluation of the society, the scriptural position in it, and the suggestion about the link in individual and religion. These matters were crucial to the missionary on their view of sati which was shaped by a proselytizing mission. The missionaries posed queries about scripture in relation to the particular practice, and they considered the people as ignorant.
The missionaries tried to consider a specific practice as valid solely in terms of connection with the scripture. During the course of interacting with the public, the missionaries had encountered difficulties in dealing with them and misapprehension developed. In the fourth chapter, Travelling Texts: The Consolidation of Missionary Discourse on India, discuss the strengthening of the missionaries stance after The focus was shifted to the writings meant for publications.
Lata Mani made a comparison and studies the works of Wards Account of the Writings, Religions and Manners of the Hindus, , which was later edited in as A view of the History, Literature, and Mythology of the Hindoos. Modification was noticed as the later version saw stronger claim that the society filled with religiosity in all their aspects of life which generate harmful social results particularly to women, and authoritative presentation was noticeable.
She also analyse the Missionary Register, and Periodical Accounts. It was also shown that the development of the missionarys position was uneven. In spite of the differences among journals and letters and the Missionary Register, they agreed on some common grounds which consist of giving the prime importance to religion, passive relation that the people have with it, scriptural significance and the superior position of the Brahmins.
It was argued that context and constituency are crucial in determining the diverse emphasis of the missionaries.
She studies the structure of the account and the emphasis of these depictions was moulded by the British discourse on the practise of sati and those involved in it.
These had shown the practise as basically a spiritual rite, ignored the pains of the women performing the act, and often noticed that it was either a horror or fascination of the English, the women were either depicted as either a victim or a heroine. In addition to scrutinising these account, the experiences and evidences of the widows, Lata Mani argues and contest the idea that the performance of sati was voluntary, a practise whereby the women devoted herself to the husband and explains its material basis.
She had tried to renovate women as subject, to restore to the centre the traces of active suffering, resistance, and coercion elided or marginalised in these narratives. It was argued that if the colonial religious notion which consist of sacred and secular was discarded, then it may have been accepted that an action chiefly with material basis was given forms in terms that were religious.
It has been pointed out that the widows never derived scriptural basis for the performance of sati in contrast to the rewards to be obtained on its performance as argued by the supporters of sati.
Instead the widow statement reiterated the material hardship and social dimension of widowhood. Nevertheless, the British idea of religion as the organising norm of society signify that though discovered initially in the debate, proof of the material basis was not able to replace the claim of it essentially religious appeal.
This claim overlapped with the ambivalence toward sati which postponed its abolition. The Book provides an insightful contribution to our understanding of the position of women in the discussion on sati. It clearly illustrates women status and subordination in a patriarchal societal setup.
Lata Mani had carefully brought out those missing points which earlier interpretations had ignored or give little attention to and provided a distinct analysis. Related Interests.
Review of Contentious Traditions the Debate on Sati in Colonial India
With the abolition of Sati in , Historians had engaged the issues in various ways. However, they have not addressed properly on the issue of women in the performance of the practise. Lata Mani in this work Contentious Traditions: The Debate on Sati in Colonial India has highlighted and argued that women were essentially marginalised in this discussion of Sati. The book explores the position of women in the nineteenth century by carefully examining the discussion on the practise of sati by the colonial officials, the Bhadralok of Bengal and the missionaries from The matter on sati was forwarded to the Nizamat Adalat which was dealt by its pundit. On this foundation, the Company considered sati to be part of the Hindu religion. The circular highlighted the differences between what consist of a legal and an illegal sati.