Reforms : Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar

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Raja Rammohun Roy | Sati | Brahmo Samaj | William Bentick | English Education | Vidyasagar | Remarriage 

In 1828, eight year old Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar (1820-91) walked with his father, from the village of Birsingha in Midnapur district to Calcutta to seek admission in an English language institution. The fees at Hindu college were too high for his father to pay, so Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was enrolled in Sanskrit college. While studying in Calcutta, he lived at the home of a friend whose sister was a child widow. This was Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar's first experience of the hardships this custom imposed on women. Sometime later, his old guru decided to marry a young girl.

Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was enraged and demonstrated his anger by refusing his guru's hospitality. Before a year had passed, the guru died and left behind a girl widow with nowhere to go and no means to support. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar vowed then to devote his life to improving the status of Hindu widows and encouraging re marriage.

Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar also became an impassioned supporter of female education and an opponent of polygamy. He wrote lengthy tracts substantiating his position with scriptural citations and historical data. A decline in religion created the environment that allowed contemporary customs to thrive, he wrote.

When his opponents protested, he insisted they were misinterpreting scripture and employed a masterful command of Sanskrit to point out their ignorance. In his first tract on widow remarriage (1855) Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar claimed that this practice was permissible in Kalyug (the dark age), the age in which he and his contemporaries lived. 2000 copies of this book was sold in first week, a reprint of 3000 soon sold out and the third reprint was of 10,000 copies. But not everyone was convinced. On the streets of Calcutta, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar found himself insulted, abused and even threatened with death.

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