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Hindu Widows Remarriage Act: 1856

Calcutta, India, 1856: After successfully banning the practice of suttee (widow-burning), the British government in India has been mindful of the plight of higher-caste widows, forbidden to remarry, deemed unlucky by their families, often poorly treated, and sometimes forced into beggary and prostitution. Many widows had been married at a very young age to elderly men; widowed as children, theirs was the worst plight. The Hindu Widows' Remarriage Act XV of 1856 was passed which enabled widows to marry again. This gave a severe shock to the then conservative Hindu society. Later, in 1872, the Special Marriage Act III of 1872 was passed which enabled one to marry out of her own caste.

However, overall, the movement was a failure. Only about 80 widows were remarried in Bengal over a span of 20 years.


In ancient India women enjoyed equal status with man in all fields of life, she received the same education like man, many Hindu religious books like Vedas, Upanishads, Ramayana, Mahabharata have mentioned the names of several women who were great scholars, poets, philosophers of the time. But in the Medival period, the status of women went down considerably. She was considered to be inferior to man. Widows were not treated as human beings and were subjected to a lot of restrictions. They were supposed to live a pious life after their husband died and were not allowed entry in any celebration. Their presence in any good work was considered to be a bad omen. Sometimes heads of widows were also shaved down. They were not allowed to remarry. Any woman remarrying was looked down by the society. This cruelty on widows was one of the main reasons for the large number of women committing Sati. In medieval India living as a Hindu widow was a sort of curse.

Wijngaards Institute for Catholic ResearchThis website is maintained by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research.

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Visit also our websites:Women Deacons, The Body is Sacred and Mystery and Beyond.

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