Sjt. Bhashyam Aiyengar of Bangalore writes:
"The principles of Hindu Law as at present administered are antiquated and opposed to our sense of equity and justice. I shall give a few instances:
1. Near and dear relations like the sister's daughter, the daughter-in-law, the brother's widow and the stepmother are altogether denied the right of inheritance. If a man were to leave a widowed daughter- in-law as his only surviving relation, his properties escheat to the Government, and the poor girl who staked all her life and fortune on the family of her husband gets out into the street.
2. Even such near relations as are included in the list of heirs do not get a chance because of the priorities of distant agnates. The sister is an heir; but if only the deceased has left a fifth descendant of a great-great- grand-father of his, the latter takes the property and the sister gets nothing. So too the son's daughter, the sister's son and the brother's daughter.
3. Women are not allowed to exercise full rights of ownership in properties inherited by or gifted to them. A widow should carefully handle her husband's property and if only she spends more or incurs a debt on the security of the property, may be for her own livelihood, a distant dayada can drag her to the court and coerce her into giving up her rights. Mitakshara which is the prevailing authority here clearly and definitely says that all properties which a woman may get in any manner whatsoever are her stridhana and she can dispose of them at her will. The Privy Council refused to follow it stating that Indians always treated women as incapable and the author of Mitakshara is a fire-eater,
4. The deaf and the dumb are excluded from inheritance. In this we are beating the lame man with his own crutches.
5. The legality of widow-remarriage is not recognized in Mysore, as in British India.
6. It is doubtful whether post-puberty marriage is legal. The age of consent should be raised to 14 in the case of girls.
7. Divorce may be provided for if people agree. We. had it in India formerly. We find Parashara mentioning the circumstances under which a wife may marry a second husband during the lifetime of the first.
8. Inter-caste marriages are not allowed under the present law. They must be legalized. It was an institution freely recognized by our ancients. Many of our sages such as Vasishtha; Vyasa, Narada and Parashara were the offspring of inter-caste marriages. If I may marry a Christian wife lawfully why may not I be permitted to marry a Hindu wife though of another caste?
9. An orphan is declared ineligible for adoption. If ever a boy be fit for adoption it is the orphan, and yet we have the prohibition.
10. Widows are not allowed to adopt unless they have been authorized by the husband or the consent of sapindas is taken. Authority should be presumed and the widow allowed to adopt unless directed by the husband not to do so. This is the law in Bombay.
There are many more such instances. I have chosen only a few.
Thinking people feel the oppressiveness and desire "reform. The only way of changing the law is by legislation. The legislature is unable to pass any law without consulting public opinion. And public opinion can only be consulted by a committee appointed for the purpose. Hence I moved a resolution in the last Budget session of our Assembly asking for the appointment of a committee to go into the question, take evidence and report thereon formulating suggestions for legislative action. It was unanimously passed by the House.
The committee has not yet been appointed though people all over the State desire it. The fear seems to be that British India not having moved in the matter yet, it may be that any attempt by Mysore might be laughed at. This is absurd as you said. Mysore is peculiarly fitted to undertake the work, whereas there are real difficulties with British India. Mysore has peculiar advantages which it would be unwise on our part to ignore. We have now a most enlightened ruler and an equally earnest and progressive Dewan. If we cannot effect the desired reforms now we never can hope to do it.
Can you not take up this matter in Young India?" The prominence I have given to the foregoing need not imply that I endorse every one of the reforms suggested by the writer. That some of them require immediate attention I have no doubt. Nor have I any doubt that all of them demand serious consideration from those who would rid Hindu society of its anachronisms.
In pre-British days there was no such thing as rigid Hindu Law governing the lives of millions. The body of regulations known as Smritis were indicative rather than inflexible codes of conduct. They never had the validity of law such as is known to modern lawyers. The observance of the restraints of the Smiritis was enforced more by social than legal sanctions. The Smritis were, as is evident from the self-contradictory verses to be found in them, continually passing, like ourselves, through evolutionary changes, and were adapted to the new discoveries that were being made in social science. Wise kings were free to procure new interpretations to suit new conditions. Hindu religion or Hindu Shastras never had the changeless and unchanging character that is now being sought to be given to them. No doubt in those days there were kings and their councillors who had the wisdom and the authority required to command the respect and allegiance of society. But now the custom has grown up of thinking that Smritis and everything that goes by the name of Shastras is absolutely unchangeable. The verses which we find to be unworkable or altogether repugnant to our moral sense we conveniently ignore. This very unsatisfactory state of things has to be, some day or other and somehow, changed if Hindu society is to become a progressive unit in human evolution. The British rulers cannot make these changes because of their different religion and their different ideal. Their ideal is to sustain their commercial supremacy and to sacrifice every other interest, moral or otherwise, for the attainment of that ideal. Unless therefore Hindu public opinion clearly demands it, and it can be made without any injury to their ideal, no drastic change in our customs or so-called laws will be attempted or countenanced by them. And it is difficult to focus Hindu public opinion on identical points in a vast territory like British India covering many schools of thought and law. And such public opinion as there is naturally and necessarily preoccupied with the struggle for political freedom. A State like Mysore however has no such limitations or preoccupations. In my humble opinion, it is its duty to anticipate British India in the matter of removing the anachronisms in the Hindu Law and the like. Mysore State is large and important enough to attempt such changes. It has become a progressively constitutional monarchy. It has a Legislative Assembly representative enough to initiate social changes. It seems already to have passed a resolution asking for the appointment of a committee to consider what changes, if any, are necessary in the Hindu Law. And if a strong committee representing orthodox as well as progressive Hindu opinion is appointed, its recommendations must prove useful and pave the way towards making the necessary changes. I do not know the rules of the Mysore Assembly governing the constitution of such committees, but there is little doubt that they are elastic enough to admit of appointing or co-opting members from outside the Mysore State. Anyway Sjt. Bhashyam Aiyengar has shown that a revision of the Hindu Law is absolutely necessary in several cases. No State is better fitted than Mysore for initiating the belated reform.