Reforms : Widow remarriage
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Raja Rammohun Roy | Sati | Brahmo Samaj | William Bentick | English Education | Vidyasagar | Remarriage 

But Vidyasagar pressed on and urged the British to pass legislation that will allow Hindu widows to remarry. To support his request, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar collected almost 1000 signatures and sent his petition to the Indian legislative council. The council received thousands of signatures for and against this measure but the members finally decided to support the enlightened minority, The Hindu widow remarriage act was passť in 1856. Although, the value of this act for improving the lives of woman has been questioned, one cannot doubt Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar's desire to create a more humane society.

Vidyasagar lived in a world where the males among the Kulin Brahmins, an aristocratic caste with rigid marriage rules were highly sought after as bridegrooms and able to marry as many women as they wished. As Vidyasagar collected data on this custom, he became horrified by the magnitude of the problem. Using as a sample 133 Kulin Brahmins of Hooghly district, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar revealed the abuses inherent in polygamy. One fifty-year old man had married 107 times; Bholanath Bandopadhyaya (age fifty five) had eighty wives; Bhagaban Chattopadhyaya (age sixty-four) had seventy-two wives, and so the documentation continued. Arguing that the practice of Kulinism was inhuman, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar presented the government with a petition signed by 2,500 persons requesting the legislative prohibition of polygamy. No action was taken and ten years later he presented another petition signed by 21,000 persons requesting the legislative prohibition of polygamy. The government cautious after the 1857 mutiny, declined to act.

Vidyasagar continued his campaign and although he produced anti-polygamy tracts in 1871 and 1873, the issue was dead. Vidyasagar's third campaign focused on mass education for girls and boys. He had been appointed Special Inspector of Schools for the Districts of Hooghly, Midnapur, Burdman and Nadia and was able to use his influence to establish a system of vernacular education in Bengal, including forty schools for girls. J.E.D. Bethune, legal member of the Governor Generals council, had set up a girls school in 1849 and it became Vidyasagar's responsibility to guide it through its difficult years. He remained associated with it until 1869.

Despite this great man's efforts, widow remarriage never received the approval of the society, polygamy was not abolished, and the battle for female education had only begun.

Vidyasagar personified the best of the nineteenth century social reformers; arguing for social change he demonstrated as "untiring will for positive social action".

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