Table of Contents
The Hindu religion strictly forbids child marriage. The following quotation from the Rig Veda explains the ideal of marriage:
"Woman is to be man's comrade in life, his Sakhi, with the same
range of knowledge and interests, mature in body, mind and
understanding, able to enter into a purposeful union on equal terms
with a man of equal status, as life partner, of her own free
choice, both dedicating their life-work as service to the divine
Lord of the Universe, both ready to fulfil the purpose of married
life from the day of marriage onward."
[Quoted from Cousins-Awakening of Asian Womanhood, page 40.]
The western method of marriage through courtship is, however, not the rule in India. Though the courtship method is being widely copied among the educated classes in the country, the prevailing custom of marriage is still through the choice of parents. In earlier times marriage by the Svayambara system, in which the maiden freely selected her future mate from a group of suitors, was commonly practised. This practice was discontinued, however, with the invasion of India by the foreigners because of the desire of the Indians to keep the pure Aryan stock uncontaminated by foreign blood. Since that time the boys and girls are mated through the choice of their parents. This custom may be defended on wide social and eugenic grounds. The contention is that the complete dominance of sentiment and individual desire in the courtship method of marriage, is harmful to social discipline, and is, as a rule, detrimental to the race. Marriage is a sacred bond and must be based on an ideal of the spiritual union of the souls, and not on the lower desires for sense pleasures.
In order to enable the reader to understand fully the principles underlying Hindu marriage it will be necessary to acquaint him with the fundamental characteristics which form the basis of the social structure of group life in India. One distinctive feature in the study of India is the collective character of its communal life. Hindu society was established on a basis of group morality. Society was divided into different classes or communities; "and while no absolute ethical code was held binding on all classes alike, yet within a given class (or caste) the freedom of the individual must be subordinated to the interest of the group. The concept of duty was paramount." [Coomaraswamy] Social purpose must be served first, and the social order was placed before the happiness of the individual, whether mean or woman.
In India the origin of marriage did not lie in passion. Marriage was entered into, not to satisfy desire on the part of either man or woman, but to fulfill a purpose in life. It was the duty of every individual during life to marry and propagate for the continuation of the race. His marital union did not depend upon the caprice of his will; it was required of him as a social obligation. No individual's life was considered complete without an offspring. To both man and woman marriage was the most conclusive of all incidents in life; it was the fulfillment of one's whole being. Marriage was not sought as the satisfaction of human feelings but as "the fulfilment of a ritual duty to the family in its relation to the Divine Spirit." "The happiness and fruition of family life were sought not in the tumults of passion, but in the calm and ordered affection of a disciplined and worshipful pair." That strong sexual passion which has been so beautifully sanctified by the grace of poetry and hallowed by the name of romantic love, and which is the source of immense force and power in many a young life in the West, is called by the Hindu idealist "an earthly desire and an illusion."
Love as an expression of sentiment is transitory. People who once fall in love may after some time and for similar reasons fall out of love. Hence if the ideal basis for the union of the sexes is to be mutual passion, an arrangement must be provided so that simultaneously with a break in the fascination on either side, the marriage between the parties shall come to an end. Yet under the existing conditions over the entire civilized world it would not be possible to make the marriage laws as lax as that. So long as such an arrangement remains untried, and so long as there is any truth in the statement that human hearts are to a high degree fickle, it must follow that successful marriages should have other sources of lasting satisfaction than romantic love. On observation, we find that most marriages, which were entered into on the strict principle of mutual love, hold together from habit, from considerations of prudence, and from duty towards children long after lovers' joy has totally disappeared from the lives of the couple. The glimmer of first love very soon fades into nothingness. Closer acquaintance brings to light faults which the lover's eyes in days of romance had stubbornly refused to see. Unless the parties are possessed of sensitive souls, unless after a serious search for a foothold they find a basis of com- mon interest and common hobbies, and unless their mutuality of temperament is found adequate for friendship, there is left for their future relationships no happiness. Why, then, excite one's imagination in the beginning, and permit oneself to be deluded by such obviously foolish hopes?
The Hindu system of marriage reverses these considerations. There, marriage is a form of vocation, a fulfillment of a social duty, it is not the enjoyment of individual rights. In its ethics, designed for the communal basis of life, individual desire and pleasures must be subordinated to the interest of group morality. "Thus the social order is placed before the happiness of the individual, whether man or woman. This is the explanation of the greater peace which distinguishes the arranged marriage of the East from the self-chosen marriage of the West; where there is no deception there can be no disappointment." [Coomaraswamy-Dance of Siva, page 88.]
In this manner the champions of the system justify the Indian method of marriage, in which marriages are arranged by the parents or relatives. But, however ably its partisans may defend the old system, and in whatever glowing colors they may exhibit its spiritual values, it must go sooner or later. With changing times the ideals that govern Indian society have changed also. Men and women of the present day are demanding their individual freedom after the fashion of their brothers and sisters in the West. Rightly or wrongly, they feel a desire to express themselves according to the spontaneous dictates of the heart. Simultaneously with the industrialization of the country the restraints put upon the individual from outside through the medium of social and religious laws are fast disappearing. The younger generation of the Indian nation appears more concerned for rights than for duties.
Those who care may lament over the past, but we shall welcome the change with joy, because it brings new light and new hope into the stereotyped and set system of Indian life. Marriage in human society is after all nothing but a plunge into the unknown ocean of the future. Its ultimate outcome alone can tell whether the entrants were destined to sink or swim. [Tagore.] Marriage has been a lottery in the past, and it will remain so in the future, unless our lives are so modulated as to give to the forces of the spirit a larger and a freer scope. It is impious blasphemy to seek to stifle the celestial senses, instead of guiding and harmonizing them. It is hoped, however, that in their new role as imitators of the West, men of India will not change their attitude of tenderness, confidence, respect, and delicacy towards the female sex; and that the women of India will retain the calmness and dignity of their attitude, the self-respect and poise of their inner life.
All classes in India idolize motherhood. Among no people in the world are mothers more loved, honored, and obeyed than among Indians. It might be interesting to point out that a pregnant woman in India has nothing of which to be ashamed or which she wishes to hide. She is considered auspicious and must be accorded high respect and consideration. We sometimes believe that the East Indian's high good humor and calm in life are the fruits of the Indian mother's unusual cheer and hope during the period of pregnancy. How unlike the attitude of the Indian is to the westerner's silly notions of beauty, fine shape, and grace wherein pregnancy is made an object of more or less open ridicule. Would that the women of America and other western countries would forsake their restlessness and nervousness and learn from their humbler eastern sisters the art of possessing poise, composure, and serenity! Would that they would imitate the eastern mother's delicate benevolence, generosity of heart, loftiness of mind, and independence and pride of character!
This subject of marriage is so important a matter to India that we desire to elucidate still further the ideals underlying it. We shall quote at length from Keyserling's Book of Marridge an essay by Tagore, than whom no one is better fitted to speak. Says Tagore:
"Another way for the better understanding by the European of the mentality underlying our marriage system would be by reference to the discussions on eugenics which are a feature of modern Europe. The science of eugenics, like all other sciences, attaches but little weight to personal sentiment. According to it, selection by personal inclination must be rigorously regulated for the sake of the progeny. If the principle involved be once admitted, marriage needs must be rescued from the control of the heart, and brought under the province of the intellect; otherwise insoluble problems will keep on arising, for passion  recks not of consequences, nor brooks interfer ence by outside judges.
"Here the question arises: If desire be banished from the very threshold of marriage, how can love find any place in the wedded life? Those who have no true acquaintance with our country, and whose marriage system is entirely different, take it for granted that the Hindu marriage is loveless. But do we not know of our own knowledge how false is such a conclusion?
" . . Therefore, from their earliest years, the husband as an idea is held up before our girls, in verse and poetry, through ceremonial and worship. When at length they get this husband, he is to them not a person but a principle, like loyalty, patriotism, or such other abstractions which owe their immense strength to the fact that the best part of them is our own creation and therefore part of our own being."
The poet then offers his own personal contribution to the discussion of the marriage question generally and concludes thus:
"This shakti, this joy-giving power of woman as the beloved, has up to now largely been dissipated by the greed of man, who has sought to use it for the purposes of his individual enjoyment, corrupting it, confining it, like his property, within jealously guarded limit. That has also obstructed for woman herself her inward realization of the full glory of her own shakti. Her personality has been insulted at every turn by being made to display its power of delectation within a circumscribed arena. It is because she has not found her true place in the great world that she sometimes tries to capture man's special estate as a desperate means of coming into her own. But it is not by coming out of her home that woman can gain her liberty. Her liberation can only be effected in a society where her true shakti, her ananda (joy) is given the widest and highest scope for its activity. Man has already achieved the means of self-expansion in public activity without giving up his individual concerns. When, likewise, any society shall be able to offer a larger field for the creative work of woman's special faculty, without detracting from her creative work in the home, then in such society will the true union of man and woman become possible.
"The marriage system all over the world, from the earliest ages till now, is a barrier in the way of such true union. That is why woman's shakti, in all existing societies, is so shamefully wasted and corrupted. That is why in every country marriage is still more or less of a prison-house for the confinement of women-with all its guards wearing the badge of the dominant male. That is why man, by dint of his efforts to bind woman, has made her the strongest of fetters for his own bondage. That is why woman is debarred from adding to the spiritual wealth of society by the perfection of her own nature, and all human societies are weighed down with the burden of the resulting poverty.
"The civilization of man has not, up to now, loyally recognized the reign of the spirit. Therefore the married state is still one of the most fruitful sources of the unhappiness and downfall of man, of his disgrace and humiliation. But those who believe that society is a manifestation of the spirit will assuredly not rest in their endeavors till they have rescued human marriage relations from outrage by the brute forces of society-till they have thereby given free play to the force of love in all the concerns of humanity."
Such is the Hindu poet's explanation of the ideals underlying the institution of marriage in the communal society of the Hindus. One feels through his closing lines the poet's sorrow at the sight of the misery caused by a wrong conception of marriage throughout the civilized world. The poet cherishes, however, the fond hope that a day of the reign of spirit will dawn over the world, when mankind will recognize the necessity of giving to the forces of love a free play in the wide concerns of life.
Marriage in India involves two separate ceremonies. The first ceremony is the more elaborate, and judging from the permanent character of its obligations, the more important. It is performed amid much festivity and show. The bridal party, consisting of the bridegroom with his chief relatives and friends, goes to the bride's home in an elaborate musical procession. There the party is handsomely feasted as guests of the bride for one or more days, according to the means of the host. The groom furnishes the entertainment, which consists of music, acrobatic dancing, jugglers' tricks, fireworks, and so forth. The day is spent in simple outdoor amusements like hunting, horseback riding, swimming, or gymnastic plays, the nature of the sport depending upon the surroundings. In the evening, by the light of the fireworks, and in the midst of a large crowd of near relatives and spectators, the ceremony near relatives of the bride and the bridegroom, is staged in a highly picturesque manner. In order of their relation to the bride and groom-father of the of the "union," namely, the spiritual unification of the bride with the father of the bridegroom, first uncle of the one with the first uncle of the other, and so forth---the near relatives of the future couple embrace each other and exchange head-dresses as a symbol of eternal friendship. Each such pledge of friendship is beautifully harmonized with a song and a blessing from the daughters of the village. Later in the evening, the girls lead the guests to the bridal feast, singing in chorus on their march the "Welcome Home."
Marriage in the Indian home is thus an occasion of great rejoicing. The atmosphere that prevails throughout the entire ceremony is one of extreme wholesomeness and joy. Nothing could surpass the loveliness and charm that surrounds the evening march to the bridal feast. The pretty maidens of the village, who are conscious of their dignity as personifications of the Deity and are inspired with a devoted love for their sister bride, come in their gay festival dresses, with mingled feelings of pride and modesty, to lead the procession with a song; their eyes moistened with slowly gathering tears of deep and chaste emotion, and their faces wrapped in ever changing blushes, give to the whole picture a distinctive flavor of an inspiring nature. On the following morning the couple are united in marriage by the officiating priest, who reads from the scriptures while the husband and wife pace together the seven steps. The vow of equal comradeship which is taken by both the husband and the wife on this occasion reads thus:
"Become thou my partner, as thou hast paced all the seven steps
with me. . . . Apart from thee I cannot live. Apart from me do thou
not live. We shall live together; we each shall be an object of
love to the other; we shall be a source of joy each unto the other;
with mutual goodwill shall we live together."
[Quoted from Cousins-The Awakening of Asian Womanhood, page 38.]
The marriage ceremony being over, the bridal party departs with the bride for the bridegroom's home. On this first trip the bride is accompanied by a maid, and the two return home together after an overnight's stay. The bride then remains at her parental home until the performance of the second ceremony. The interval between the two ceremonies varies from a few days to several years, depending mainly upon the ages of the married couple and the husband's ability to support a home.
This dual ceremonial has been the cause of a great deal of confusion in the western mind. To all appearances the first ceremony is the more important as it is termed marriage. After it the bride begins to dress and behave like a married woman, but the couple do not begin to live together until the second ceremony has also been performed, and these two acts may be separated from each other by a considerably long period. In other words the so-called marriage of the Hindu girl is nothing but "an indefeasible betrothal in the western sense." The custom of early marriage (or betrothal, to be more exact) has existed in some parts of the country from earlier times, but it became more common during the period of the Mohammedan invasions into India. These foreign invaders were in the habit of forcibly converting to Islam the beautiful Hindu maidens, whom they later married. But no devout Mohammedan ever injures or thinks evil towards a married woman. His religion strictly forbids such practice. Thus, to safeguard the honor of their young daughters the Hindus adopted this custom of early marriage.
The girl's marriage, however, makes no change in her life. She continues to live with her parents as before, and is there taught under her mother's supervision the elementary duties of a household. She is instructed at the same time in other matters concerning a woman's life. When she becomes of an age to take upon herself the responsibilities of married life, the second marriage ceremony is finished and she departs for her new home.
It is true that the standard of education among East Indian women as compared with that of other countries is appallingly low. We shall leave the discussion of the various political factors which have contributed to this deplorable state of things for a later chapter. For the present it will be sufficient to point out that even though the Indian girl is illiterate and unable to read and write, she is not uninstructed or uninformed in the proper sense of the word education.
She knows how to cook, to sew, to embroider, and to do every other kind of household work. She is fully informed concerning matters of hygiene and sex. In matters intellectual her mind is developed to the extent that "she understands thoroughly the various tenets of her religion and is quite familiar with Hindu legends and the subject matter in the epic literature of India."
My mother was the daughter of a village carpenter. She was brought up in the village under the exclusive guidance of her mother and did not have any school education. Mother, in her turn, has reared seven children who have all grown to be perfectly healthy and normal boys and girls. Even though we could easily afford a family doctor, we never had one. Mother seemed to know so much about hygienic and medical science that she did not need a doctor. Her little knowledge she had acquired from her own mother; it consisted of a few simple rules, which she observed very faithfully. As little children, we were required to clean our teeth with a fresh twig, to be individually chewed into a brush, every morning before breakfast, and to wash the mouth thoroughly with water after each meal. For the morning teeth cleaning we were supplied with twigs from a special kind of tree which leaves in the mouth a very pleasant taste and contains juices of a beneficial nature. Also, chewing a small twig every morning gives good exercise to the teeth and furnishes the advantage of a new brush each time. We were told that dirty teeth were unmannerly and hurt a person's eyesight and general heath. A cold water bath once a day and washing of both hands before and after each meal were other fundamental requirements.
For every kind of family sickness, whether it was a headache, a fever, a cold in the head, or a bad cough, the prescription was always the same. A mixture of simple herbs was boiled in water and given to the patient for drinking. Its only effect was a motion of the bowels. It was not a purgative, but had very mild and wholesome laxative properties without any after reactions. Fasting during sickness was highly recommended. In nearly every month occurred some special festival day on which the whole family fasted. This fast had a purifying effect on the systems of growing children. As another precautionary measure, my mother prepared for the children, every winter, a special kind of preserve from a bitter variety of black beans, which is supposed to possess powerful blood-purifying properties. With the exception of quinine during malarial epidemics, we were never given any drugs whatsoever. These simple medicines, combined with a fresh vegetable diet for every day in the year, constituted my mother's only safeguards against family sickness. And from my knowledge I know that her system worked miraculously well.
During pregnancy it is customary to surround the young girl with every precaution. She returns to her parental home in order to secure freedom from sexual intercourse during that period. In the months before my eldest sister bore her first child, I remember how she was instructed not to permit herself to be excited in any way. Pictures of the ideal wife, Sita, and of national heroes and heroines were hung all over the house for my sister to look at and admire. She was freed from all household responsibilities in order that she could devote her time to reading good stories from the Hindu epics. Every kind of irritant, like pepper and spices, was rigidly excluded from her diet, and after the child was born she refrained from injudicious combinations of food until the child was a year or more old.
Every night at bedtime my mother had a new story to tell the children, a story which she herself had heard at bedtime when she was young. These stories were drawn from the great Hindu epics, and there was always a useful maxim connected with them. The tale was told to bring home to the growing children some moral maxim like truthfulness, fidelity to a pledge once given, conjugal happiness, and respect for parents. In this manner the children in the most ignorant homes become familiar with the ethical teachings of their nation and with the hypotheses underlying their respective religions. Almost everyone in India down to the most ignorant countrywoman understands the subtle meaning of such intricate Hindu doctrines as the laws of Karma, the theory of reincarnation, and the philosophy of Maya.
As was stated earlier in this chapter, much misinformation about the so-called child marriage has been spread by ignorant missionaries, and has been eagerly swallowed by most western readers. It may be well to observe here that the two expressions "child marriage" and "early marriage" are very widely apart in meaning. The psychological impressions conveyed by the two expressions are distinctly different. If the first ceremony of the Hindu marriage is to be taken as meaning marriage, what is practised in India perhaps more than anywhere else in the world is early marriage and not child marriage. Even at that, early marriage is essentially wrong in principle. Its usefulness in earlier times, when it was first recommended by the Hindu lawgivers as a necessary measure to preserve the communal life of the nation, cannot be denied.
Like many other laws of those times, it has outlived its usefulness, and through the influence of many corruptions which have been added to the practice during ages, it has become a curse to the country. This fact is frankly admitted by the leaders of modern India. In the writings and speeches of the most prominent among them the custom of early marriage has been condemned as a "deadly vermin in Hindu social life," and a "ghastly form of injustice." Beginning with the days of the eminent Hindu reformer Raja Ram Mohan Roy, the whole literature of social and religious reform in India is full of loud and emphatic denunciations of early marriage.
As a result of the untiring, self-sacrificing efforts of Hindu reformers a great measure of success has already been achieved. The Hindu girl's age of marriage has been steadily increasing during the last fifty years. According to figures from the official Census Report of India (1921) only 399 out of every 1000 girls were married at the end of their fifteenth year. In other words, 60 per cent of Indian girls remained unmarried at the beginning of their sixteenth year. Moreover, in the official records of India every girl who has passed through the first ceremony of her marriage is included in the married class. If we allow a little further concession on account of the warmer climate of India, which has the tendency to lower the age of maturity in girls, we shall concede that the present conditions in India in respect to early marriage are not strikingly different from those in most European countries. At the same time it must not be forgotten that in India sex life begins invariably after marriage, and never before marriage. Those familiar with the conditions in the western countries know that such is not always the rule there.
One evening the writer was talking in rather favorable terms to a small group of friends about the Hindu system of marriage. While several nodded their habitual, matter-of-fact, courteous assent, one young lady (Dorothy), a classmate and an intimate friend, suddenly said in an impatient tone, "This is all very foolish. By using those sweet expressions in connection with the Hindu family life you do not mean to tell me that marriage between two strangers, who have never met in life before, or known each other, can be ever happy or just. `Felicity,' `peace,' `harmony,' `wedded love,' `idealization of the husband'-this is all bunk. That you should approve the blindfold yoking together for life of innocent children in indefeasible marriage, is outrageous. The system is shocking; it is a sin against decency. It is war against the most sacred of human instincts and emotions, and as such I shall condemn it as criminal and uncivilized." Yet the young lady was in no sense of the word unsympathetic or unfriendly to India. She is, and has always been, a great friend and admirer of India.
Dorothy is not much of a thinker, but she is very liberal and likes to be called a radical. You could discuss with her any subject whatsoever, even Free Love and Birth Control, with perfect ease and lack of restraint. She is twenty-five years of age and unmarried. She has been "in love" several times, but for one reason or the other she has not yet found her ideal man. She would not tell this to everybody, but to one of her boy friends, "whose big blue eyes had poetic inspiration in them," and who seemed to be fine and good and true in every way, better than the best she had ever met before, and whom she loved quite genuinely, she had given herself completely on one occasion. This happened during a week-end trip to the mountains, and was the first and last of her sexual experience. She said it was the moral as well as the physical feast of her life. Later she saw him flirting in a doubtful manner with a coarse Spanish girl, which made him loathsome in her eyes. Gradually her love for him began to dwindle, until it died off completely, leaving behind, however, a deep mortal scar in her spiritual nature. For a period, Dorothy thought she could never love any man again, until she began to admire a young college instructor in a mild fashion. He is, however, "so kind and intelligent and different from the rest," with a fine physique and handsome face-his powerful forehead setting so beautifully against his thick curly hair-that she calls magnificent. It matters little that he is married, because she writes him the most enchanting letters. Dorothy's love for the handsome professor is platonic. She says it will exist forever, even though she entertains no hope of ever marrying him. Yet while she talked about her latest "ideal," a stream of tears gathered slowly in her big luminous eyes. They were the tears of hopeless resignation. Dorothy is beautiful, and possesses rare grace and charm of both body and mind. She is well situated in the business world, and is not in want of men admirers. But yet she is unhappy, extremely unhappy. She has had the freedom, but no training to make proper use of it. While she was still in her early teens she started going on picnic parties with different boys. Under the impulse of youthful passion she learned to kiss any one and every one in an indiscriminate fashion. This destroyed the sanctity of her own moral and spiritual nature, and also killed, at the same time, her respect for the male sex. Sacredness of sex and respect for man being thus destroyed in her early years, she could not easily find an ideal husband in later life. If she had been a stupid creature with no imagination and no deep finer feelings she would have fallen suddenly in love anywhere-there to pass the rest of her humdrum and joyless existence in an everlasting stupor. Surely Dorothy did not remember her own tragedy when she condemned the lot of the Hindu girls in such vehement manner. Vanity is an ugly fault, yet it gives great pleasure.
Unlike India, where from their very childhood girls are initiated into matters of sex, and where the ideal of acquiring a husband and a family is kept before their minds from the beginning, American boys and girls are brought up in utter ignorance of every thing pertaining to sex. Sex is considered as something unclean, filthy, and nauseous, and so unworthy of the attention and thought of young children. And yet there is no country in the world where sex is kept more prominently before the public eye in every walk of daily life than in America. The first impression which a stranger landing in America gets is of the predominance of sex in its daily life. The desire of the American woman to show her figure to what Americans call "the coarse eye of man," expresses itself in short skirts and tight dresses. "American movies are made with no other purpose in view than to emphasize sex." A college professor was recently told by one of the six biggest directors of motion pictures in Hollywood, through whose hands passed a business amounting to millions of dollars, that in making a motion picture sex must constantly be borne in mind. The story must be based on that knowledge, scenes selected with this view, and the plot executed with that thought in mind. Vaudeville shows, one of America's national amusements, are nothing but a suggestive display of the beautiful legs of young girls, who appear on the stage scantily dressed and touch their foreheads with the toes in a highly suggestive manner.
The writer was told by an elderly American lady that the American national dances had a deep religious connotation. A spiritual thought may exist behind American music, and its effect on the American youth may be quite uplifting, but certainly such dances as the one called "Button shining dance," in which a specially close posture is necessary, was invented with no high spiritual end in view. A wholesale public display of bare legs to the hips, and a close view of the rest of their bodies in tight bathing suits may be seen on the national beaches. Young couples lie on the sands in public view closely locked in seemingly everlasting embraces.
While all this may be very pure, innocent, harmless, and even uplifting in its hidden nature, its outward and more prevalent character indicates an almost vicious result of the ideal of bringing up the nation's youth improperly instructed in matters of sex and its proper function.
The immediate effect of this anomalous condition in America resulting from the misinstruction regarding sex by its youth on the one hand, and the most exaggerated prominence given sex in its national life is particularly disastrous and excessively humiliating. Using the word moral in its popular conventional meaning, it may be very frankly said that the morals of the American youth are anything but exemplary. Judge Ben B. Lindsey, who is fully authorized to speak on the subject from his experience as head of the Juvenile court in Denver for over twenty-five years, and who is one of the keenest contemporary thinkers in America, has stated facts in his book, The Revolt of Modern Youth, which are appalling. He writes:
"The first item in the testimony of the high school students is that of all the youth who go to parties, attend dances, and ride together in automobiles, more than 90 per cent indulge in hugging and kissing. This does not mean that every girl lets any boy hug and kiss her, but that she is hugged and kissed.
"The second part of the message is this. At least 50 per cent of those who begin with hugging and kissing do not restrict themselves to that, but go further, and indulge in other sex liberties which, by all the conventions, are outrageously improper.
"Now for the third part of the message. It is this: Fifteen to twenty-five per cent of those who begin with the hugging and kissing eventually `go the limit.' This does not, in most cases, mean either promiscuity or frequency, but it happens." [Pages 56, 59, 62.]
This situation is alarming, and the leaders of the country must take immediate notice of it. When fifteen to twenty-five girls out of every hundred in any country indulge in irresponsible sexual relationships between the ages of fifteen and eighteen, that country is not in a healthy moral condition. The effect of these early sexual intimacies between young girls and boys is ruinous to their later spiritual growth. How the situation may be remedied is a serious problem, which is not the task of any foreigner, however honest and friendly, to solve.
It may be of value to point out here how the Hindu thinkers sought to control this situation. We quoted above the frank opinion of an American college girl regarding the Hindu system of marriage. The ill opinion of the Hindu system of marriage held by most westerners, springs, however, not from their knowledge of the situation, but from its very novelty, and from the dissociation of the name romance from its system. The western method of marriage emphasizes freedom for the individual, and as such its fundamental basis is both noble and praiseworthy. From the exercise of freedom have developed some of the finest traits of character; freedom, in fact, has been the source of inspiraton for the highest achievements of the human race. But freedom in sex relationship without proper knowledge transforms itself into license, as its exercise in the commercial relationships of the world without sympathy and vision develops into tyranny. An illustration of the former consequence may be seen in the disastrous effect of the wrong kind of freedom on the morals of the American youth; the slums of the industrial world are the results of the laissez faire policy when it is allowed to proceed unchecked, on its reckless career.
In India marriage is regarded as a necessity in life; in the case of woman it is the most conclusive of all incidents, the one action to which all else in life is subsidiary. From marriage springs not only her whole happiness, but on it also depends the fulfilment of her very life. Marriage to a woman is a sacrament-an entrance into the higher and holier regions of love and consecration-and motherhood is to her a thing of pride and duty. From childhood she has been trained to be the ideal of the husband whom marriage gives her. Dropping longingly into the embrace of her husband with almost divine confidence in his protection and love, she begins to look at the whole universe in a different light. "Are the heavens and the earth so suddenly transformed? Do the birds and trees, the stars and the heavens above, take on a more brilliant coloring, and the wind begin to murmur a sweeter music?" Or is it true that she is herself transformed at the gentle touch of him who is henceforth to be her lord? So limitless is the power of human emotion that we can create in our own imagination scenes of a joyful existence, which, when they are finally realized, bring about miraculous changes in us almost overnight. This miracle is no fiction; it is a reality. An overnight's blissful acquaintance with her husband has altered the constitution of many a girl's body and given to her figure nobler curves. I have seen my own sister given in marriage, a girl of 18, a slender, playful, fond child with barely a sign of womanhood in her habits and carriage; and after a month when I went for a visit to her home I found it difficult to recognize my own sister. How suddenly had the marital union transformed her! In the place of a slender, sprightly girl was now a plump woman with a blooming figure, seeming surcharged with radiant energy; in the place of a straight childish look in the eyes there was a look of happiness, wisdom, understanding that was inspiring and ennobling. The atmosphere around my sister, once a girl, now a woman, was of such a divine character and her appearance expressed such exquisite joy that I fell spontaneously into her arms, and before we separated our eyes were wet with tears of joy. Seeing my sister so beautiful and so happy, I was happy; and in her moment of supreme joy her brother, the beloved companion of early days, became doubly dear to her. Some moments in our lives are difficult, nay, impossible to forget. This experience was of so illuminating a nature that it is still as vivid in my mind as if it had happened yesterday.
The explanation is very simple. In the mind of my sister, as in the mind of every other Indian girl, the idea of a husband had been uppermost since her very childhood. Around his noble appearance, fine carriage, and handsome expression she must have woven many a beautiful story. Each time she saw one of her girl friends given in marriage to a "flower-crowned bride, groom, dressed in saffron-colored clothes, riding in procession on a decorated horse," and accompanied by music and festivity, she must have dreamed. And then when the ideal of her childhood was realized, no wonder she found in his company that height of emotional exaltation which springs from the proper union of the sexes and is the noblest gift of God to man. The American girl thinks my sister married a stranger, but she had married an ideal, a creation of her imagination, and a part of her own being.
The wise Hindu system which keeps the idea of a husband before the girls from their childhood will not be easily understood by the conventional western mind. Those who consider sex as something "unclean and filthy" and have formed the conviction that its thoughts and its very name must be strictly kept away from growing children must learn two fundamental truths. In the first place, nothing in sex is filthy or unclean; on the other hand, sex is "the purest and the loveliest thing in life and if properly managed is emotionally exalting and highly uplifting for our moral and spiritual development." [Ben B. Lindsey] Secondly, to imagine that by maintaining a conspiracy of silence on the subject of sex one can exclude its thought totally from the lives of growing children is to betray in the grossest form ignorance of natural laws.
In India, however, sex is considered a necessary part of a healthy individual's life; it is a sacred and a lovely thing; and, as such, it is to be carefully examined and carefully cultivated. The sexual impulse is recognized as the strongest of human impulses, and any attempt to thwart it by outside force must result in disaster to the individual and in ruin to social welfare. To overcome sex hunger by keeping people ignorant of it is the meanest form of hypocrisy. To deny facts is not to destroy them. It is not only stupid but cowardly to imagine that one could make people moral and spiritual by keeping them ignorant and superstitious. Show them the light, and they will find their own way. Teach children the essentials of life, encourage in them the habit of independent thought, show them by example and precept the beauties of moral grandeur, and they will develop within themselves the good qualities of self-respect and self-restraint which will further insure against many pitfalls. Says the Hindu proverb "A woman's best guard is her own virtue." Virtue is a thing which must spring from within and can never be imposed from the outside.
The atmosphere in the Hindu household and the attitude of the elder members of the family to each other is of such a nature that the boys and girls gradually become aware of the central facts of nature. In fact, no attempt is made to hide from the children anything about their life functions. The subjects of marriage and child birth are freely discussed in the family gatherings. Children are never excluded when a brother or sister is born, and no one tells them stories of little babies brought in baskets by the doctors or by storks. Whenever the growing children ask curious questions about physiological facts, they are given the necessary information to the extent that it will be intelligible to them.
The experience in India has clearly demonstrated the fact that if young boys and girls are properly instructed in the laws of nature, and if the knowledge is backed up by the right kind of moral stimulus and idealism, these young people can be relied upon to develop invincible powers of self-restraint and self-respect. Such boys and girls will have noble aspirations and will grow into fine-spirited men and women of healthy moral character and of unquestionable poise. The writer has no desire to eulogize the Hindu system of marriage, or to disparage the Occidental. An attempt has been made to diagnose the prevalent consequences of two systems. The Hindu customs certainly need modification in view of the rapid economic and social changes; the western system displays a deplorable lack of adjustment to new conditions in those countries. The writer merely asks the reader to remember that just because a system is different, it need not be outrageous.
III. The Civilization and Ethics of India
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