Influencing Culture – the Dignity of Women (Part 2)

Sati - a practice that turned Carey into a campaigner for Indian women's rights

For part one click here

In 1799 William Carey, missionary to India, witnessed the funeral of a Hindu man. The dead body was prepared and ready. The funeral pyre on which the man’s body was to be burned was ready. Nearby, the man’s living wife awaited the moment that she was expected to throw herself into the fire…

A ‘great act of holiness’
Carey pleaded with the family members of the deceased, until he blurted out that what they were doing, ‘was a shocking murder!’

‘They told me it was a great act of holiness, and added in a very surly manner, that if I did not like to see it I might go farther off, and desired me to go.

‘I told them that I would not go, that I was determined to stay and see the murder, and I should certainly bear witness of it at the tribunal of God.

‘I exhorted the woman not to throw away her life; to fear nothing, for no evil would follow her refusal to burn…

‘No sooner was the fire kindled than all the people set up a great shout – ‘Hurree-Bol, Hurree- Bol’…

‘It was impossible to have heard the woman had she groaned or even cried aloud, on account of the mad noise of the people, and it was impossible for her to stir or struggle on account of the bamboos which were held down on her like the levers of a press.

‘We made much objection to their using these bamboos, and insisted that it was using force to prevent the woman from getting up when the fire burned her.

‘But they declared that it was only done to keep the pile from falling down.

‘We could not bear to see more, but left them, exclaiming loudly against the murder, and full of horror at what we had seen.’ (From a letter to John Ryland, quoted by Timothy George, Faithful Witness, p.151, IVP)

Research, Raising Public Awareness and Legislation
Carey vigourously investigated incidents of Sati, widow-burning, and publicised them both in India and England.

Indian scholar, Vishal Mangalwadi writes, ‘Carey began to conduct systematic sociological and scriptural research…He influenced a whole generation of civil servants, his students at Fort William College, to resist these evils…

‘When widows converted to Christianity, he arranged marriages for them. It was Carey’s persistent battle against sati for twenty-five years which finally led to Lord Bentinck’s famous Edict in 1829, banning one of the most abominable of all religious practices in the world: widow burning.’ (Vishal Mangalwadi, William Carey and the Regeneration of India, Good Books, Mussouri, India)

Carey’s wasn’t the only voice raised against the injustices against women in India at the time but both Indian historians and Indian religious leaders acknowledge his central role and influence.

More next time…

© 2011 Church History Blog / Lex Loizides

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