After establishing the complete control over Indian territories, British taking firm steps to encourage trade, they found that the country is best suited not only for the rule but also to intervene in its social system. In this regards, they took a plethora of steps to ameliorate the social life of the people. Here, we are giving a list of various reforms acts in British India.
4Social Laws Concerning Women
The condition of women, by the time the British established their rule, was not encouraging. Several evil practices such as the practice of Sati, the Purdah system, child marriage, female infanticide, bride price and polygamy had made their life quite miserable.
During the 19th and 20th centuries, some laws were enacted with the sincere efforts of social reformers, humanists and some British administrators to improve the condition of women in Indian society. The first effort in this direction was the enactment of the law against the practice of Sati during the administration of Lord William Bentinck.
Female infanticide was another inhuman practice afflicting the 19th-century Indian society. It was particularly in vogue in Rajputana, Punjab and the North-Western Provinces. Colonel Todd, Johnson Duncan, Malcolm and other British administrators have discussed this evil custom in detail. Factors such as family pride, the fear of not finding a suitable match for the girl child and the hesitation to bend before the prospective in-laws were some of the major reasons responsible for this practice.
Therefore, immediately after birth, the female infants were being killed either by feeding them with opium or by strangulating or by purposely neglecting them. Some laws were enacted against this practice in 1795, 1802 and 1804 and then in 1870. However, the practice could not be completely eradicated only through legal measures. Gradually, this evil practice came to be done away through education and public opinion.
There are many historical pieces of evidence to suggest that widow remarriage enjoyed social sanction during ancient period in India. In course of time the practice ceased to prevail increasing the number of widows to lakhs during the 19th century. Therefore, it became incumbent on the part of the social reformers to make sincere efforts to popularize widow remarriage by writing in newspapers and contemporary journals.
Prominent among these reformers were Raja Rammohan Roy and Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar. They carried out large-scale campaigns in this regard mainly through books, pamphlets and petitions with scores of signatures. In July 1856, J.P. Grant, a member of the Governor-General’s Council finally tabled a bill in support of the widow remarriage, which was passed on 13 July 1856 and came to be called the Widow Remarriage Act, 1856.
The practice of child marriage was another social stigma for the women. In November 1870, the Indian Reforms Association was started with the efforts of Keshav Chandra Sen. A journal called Mahapap Bal Vivah (Child marriage: The Cardinal Sin) was also launched with the efforts of B.M. Malabari to fight against child marriage. In 1846, the minimum marriageable age for a girl was only 10 years.
In 1891, through the enactment of the Age of Consent Act, this was raised to 12 years. In 1930, through the Sharda Act, the minimum age was raised to 14 years. After independence, the limit was raised to 18 years in 1978.