Surely marriage, you ought to know, is a sacrament and ought not to carry any expenditure with it. If those who have money will not curb the desire to spend it on feasting and revelry, the poor people will want to copy them and incur debts in doing so. You will, if you are brave, rise in revolt against any extravagant expenditure when you are ready to be married.
Young India, 19-9-’29
I might as well discuss here his sisters’ marriage, to which reference has been made in the letter. I do not know what is meant by marriage taking place ‘sooner rather than later.’ In no case need it take place before they are 20 years old. It is no use thinking so many years in advance. And if he will revise the whole scheme of life, he will have the sisters to choose their partners, and the ceremony need never cost more than five rupees each if that. I have been present at several such ceremonies. And the husbands or their elders have been graduates in fair circumstances.
You must be able surely to control your lust to this extent, that you are not going to marry a girl that is under 16 years of age. If I could do so I would lay down 20 as the minimum. Twenty years is early enough even in India. It is we who are responsible for the precocity of girls, not even the Indian climate, because I know girls of the age of 20 who are pure and undefiled and able to stand the storm that may rage round. Let us not hug that precocity to ourselves. Some Brahmin students tell me that they cannot follow this principle, that they cannot get Brahmin girls sixteen years old, very few Brahmins keep their daughters unmarried till that age, the Brahmin girls are married mostly before 10, 12 and 13 years. Then I say to the Brahmin youth, "Cease to be a Brahmin, if you cannot possibly control yourself. Choose a grown up girl of 16 who became a widow when she was a child. If you cannot get a Brahmin widow who has reached that age, then go and take any girl you like. And I tell you that the God of the Hindus will pardon that boy who has preferred to marry out of his caste rather than ravish a girl of twelve. When your heart is not pure and you cannot master your passions, you cease to be an educated man. You have called your institution a premier institution. I want you to live up to the name of the premier institution which must produce boys who will occupy the front rank in character and what is education without character and what is character without elementary personal purity? Brahmanism I adore. I have defended Varnashrama Dharma. But Brahmanism that can tolerate untouchability, virgin widowhood, spoliation of virgins, stinks in my nostrils. It is a parody of Brahmanism. There is no knowledge of Brahma therein. There is no true interpretation of the scriptures. It is undiluted animalism. Brahmanism is made of sterner stuff. I want these few remarks of mine to go deep down into your hearts.
Young India, 15-9-’27
A learned Tamilian has written to me to address students on child-widows. He has said that the hardships of child-widows in this Presidency are far greater than those of child-widows in other parts of India. I have not been able to test the truth of this statement. You should know that better than I do. But what I would like you, young men around me, to do is that you should have a touch of chivalry about you. If you have that, I have a great suggestion to offer. I hope the majority of you are unmarried, and a fair number of you are also brahmacharis. I have to say ‘a fair number’ because I know students; a student who casts his lustful eyes upon his sister is not a brahmachari. I want you to make this sacred resolve that you are not going to marry a girl who is not a widow, you will seek out a widow-girl and if you cannot get a widow-girl, you are not going to marry at all. Make that determination, announce it to the world, announce it to your parents if you have them. Or to your sisters. I call them widow-girls by way of ‘correction because I believe that a child ten or fifteen years old, who was no consenting party to the so-called marriage, who having married, having never lived with the so-called husband, is suddenly declared to be a widow, is not a widow. It is an abuse of the term, abuse of language and a sacrilege. The word’ widow’ in Hinduism has a sacred odour about it. Worshipper of a true widow like the late Mrs. Ramabai Ranade who knew what it was to be a widow. But a child 9 years old knows nothing of what a husband should be. If it is not true that there are such childwidows in the Presidency, then my case falls to the ground.
But if there are such child-widows, it becomes your sacred duty to make the determination to marry a girl-widow if you want to rid ourselves of this curse. I am superstitious enough to believe that all such sins that a nation commits react upon it physically. I believe that all these sins of ours have accumulated together to reduce us to a state of slavery. You may get the finest constitution that is conceivable dropping upon you from the House of Commons. It will be worthless if there are not men andwomen fit enough to work that constitution. Do you suppose that we can possibly call ourselves men worthy of ruling ourselves or others, or shaping the destiny of a nation containing 30 crores, so long as there is one single widow who wishes to fulfil her fundamental wants but is violently prevented from doing so? It is not religion, but irreligion. I say that, saturated as I am with the spirit of Hinduism. Do not make the mistake that is the Western spirit in me that is speaking . I claim to be full to overflowing with the spirit of India undefiled. I have assimilated many things from the West but not this. There is arrant for this kind of widowhood in Hinduism.
Young India, 15-9.’27
The headmaster of a Bengali school writes:
"Your advice and utterances to students at Madras, asking them to marry widowed girls only, have horrified us, and I send forth my humble but indignant protest.
...This kind of advice will tend to destroy the tendency of the widows to observe lifelong Brahmacharya which has given Indian womanhood the greatest or rather the highest place in the world and destroy their chances of attaining salvation through brahmacharya in a single birth, throwing them on the filthy path of worldly happiness. Thus this kind of keen sympathy for widows will do a great disservice to them and an injustice to the maidens whose marriage problem has become at present one of complexity and difficulty. Your theory of marriage will overturn the Hindu theory of transmigration, rebirth and even mukti, and will bring down Hindu society on the same level with other societies which we do not like.Our society has been demoralized no doubt, but we must have our eyes open to Hindu ideals and try to go up as far as we can and not be influenced by the examples of other societies and ideals. Examples of Ahalyabai, Rani Bhavani, Behula, Sita, Savitri, Damayanti will guide the Hindu society and we must direct it according to their ideals. I beg most humbly, therefore, that you will refrain from giving your opinions on these knotty questions w the society to do what it thinks best."
This indignant protest leaves me unconverted and unrepentant. My advice will not wean from her purpose a single widow who has a will of her own and who knows brahmacharya and is bent upon observing it. But if the advice is, followed, it will certainly bring great relief to those girls of tender age who knew not the meaning of marriage when they were put through the ceremony.
The use of-the term 'widow' in their connection is a violent abuse of a name with sacred associations. I may mention for the edification of the correspondent that transmigration and rebirth are not mere theories with me but facts as patent as the daily rise of the sun. Mukti is a fact to realize which I am striving with all my might. And it is the contemplation of mukti which has given me a vivid consciousness of the wrong that is being done these maiden widows. Let us not on our emasculation mention in the same breath as these modern injured maiden widows the immortal names of Sita and others referred to by the correspondent.
Lastly, whilst there is, and very properly, glorification of real widowhood in Hinduism there is, so far as I am aware, no warrant for the belief that in the Vedic times there was any absolute ban upon remarriage of widows. But my crusade is not against real widowhood. It is against its atrocious caricature. The better way is not to regard as widows at all the girls I have in view and whom every Hindu who has a spark of chivalry in him is bound to relieve from their intolerable yoke. I therefore humbly but emphatically repeat the advice to every young Hindu to refuse to marry and but these maidens miscalled widows.
Young India, 6-10’27
Varnashrama Dharma - Hindu religion as based on the four classes and stages of life
Brahmacharis - one observing continence
Mukti - liberation, freedom