July 16 1856 – Remarriage of Hindu Widows Is Legalized

On July 16th 1856, the remarriage of Hindu widows was legalized across all jurisdictions under the rule of the East India Company.


Hindu widows for many years were subject to extreme hardships including the practice of sati, a social funeral practice, which required a widow to immolate herself on the funeral pyre of her husband. Sati was finally banned in 1826 due a joint effort by social and religious reformer Raja Ram Mohan Roy and the British, who condemned this inhuman practice.


Child marriage was highly prevalent in medieval India, given the turbulent political situation and the abduction and forced conversion of many young girls by Muslim rulers. Child marriage was looked at as a solution and girls as young as eight or nine were married off, in many cases to men much older than themselves. Upon the death of their husbands these young widows were condemned to a life of extreme drudgery. Higher caste Hindus, among whom child marriage was highly prevalent, prohibited widow remarriage and the child bride was destined to a life of eternal widowhood.  


Even though sati was banned, this is no way made the lives of widows any easier. Hindu widows were considered extremely inauspicious and it was believed that they were paying for the sins of their previous life by the death of their husbands and were the reason why their parents-in-law lost their son. These widows were condemned to a life of prayer and fasting and were not invited to be part of any weddings or celebrations, which were extremely common in Hindu families. Widows had to undergo a complete change in their appearance, in most cases their hair was shaved off and they had to wear a coarse, white sari.


The Hindu Widow Remarriage Act was legalized on July 16th 1856 and was enacted on July 25th the same year. This cause was championed by Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, an important figure of the Bengal Renaissance. Vidyasagar went ahead and provided legal safeguards ensuring that widows do not lose out on any inheritance that they were entitled to by their deceased husbands. However, according to the act, widows were to give up any such inheritance. This act was particularly targeted at child widows whose husbands had died before the consummation of the marriage.


Also On This Day:


1905: A decision to boycott British-made goods is taken at Bagarhat.


1909: Aruna Asaf Ali, social worker and freedom fighter, is born at Kalka, Haryana.


1954: French rule ends in Mahe with de facto power being transferred to the people and the Indian flag hoisted.


1992: Hindi author, producer and director Amar Verma dies.


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