Vidyasagar’s Role in the ‘Age of Consent’ Controversy: A Retreat from the Earlier Reformist Zeal or An Attempt to Emancipate the Child-Wives?
Department of History
Abstract:The Age of Consent Bill generated heated controversy throughout India, particularly in Maharashtra and Bengal. The Nationalist leaders like Tilak considered it to be a direct intervention in the ‘private sphere’ of the Indians. On the other hand, the Hindu conservatives denied this as they thought it to be an assault on Hindu Shastras by an alien government. In this circumstance, the Government approached Vidyasagar to comment on this issue. Vidyasagar’s opposition to the Bill fascinated the Hindu conservatives. Some of his contemporary biographers and some of the later day historians have argued that in his later days, Vidyasagar succumbed to the pressure of his own class and society and abandoned the path of social reform. They also believe that Vidyasagar did not hurt the Hindu sentiment and thus he sacrificed the interests of the girls. Having argued that, they distinguish the ‘earlier Vidyasagar’ from the ‘later one’ who at the end of his life drifted away from the path of social reform and agitation against all kinds of superstitions. The present article challenges this notion by arguing that Vidyasagar never compromised as far as social reforms were concerned. The reason behind his opposition of the Bill should be critically analysed at the backdrop of contemporary politico-cultural atmosphere of the subcontinent. He suggested some rectification in the Bill to protect the child-wives from sexual torture. Moreover, his prescription, if adopted by the government, could have also been accepted by the Hindu conservatives as he masterly utilized the Hindu Shastras to support his position.
Key Words:Age of Consent Bill, Garbadhan, Hindu Shastras,Women Emancipation.