“Change, if it came at all, would come from within—by a process of evolution.”

Do you agree with ‘Change, if it came at all, would come from within—by a process of evolution.’?

Should societies wait for everybody to evolve so that changing to justice and equality doesn’t offend any sensibilities? 

I am reading Those Days: A Novel by Sunil Gangopadhyay, Winner of the Sahitya Akademi Award. How difficult was it to ban widow burning and to allow widow remarriage?

What were the objections? Who was objecting? 

“Change, if it came at all, would come from within—by a process of evolution. He had opposed the Anti-Sati Act for this very reason and now he set himself resolutely against widow remarriage.”

“… contention was simple. The problem of Hindu widows was their problem and they [IHM: The ‘they’ here does not refer to the Hindu Widows] would solve it in their own way and in their own good time. An alien government had no right to interfere.”

So how do we bring change? Who should have the ‘right to interfere’? 

“Putting up a petition for a new law sanctioning widow remarriage, he (Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar) started collecting signatures from many eminent men. Thirty-two signatures were taken—the last on the list being Vidyasagar’s himself. Radhakanta Deb flared up when he heard of the petition. Intellectual enquiry and debate was one thing. But getting a law passed to overthrow centuries of tradition was quite another. The rulers were aliens, who knew nothing about Hindu culture. What right had they to interfere?”

“The British government chose to ignore the mandate, overwhelming though it was, and passed a bill, legalizing the remarriage of widows. Not content with that it passed another, decreeing that a widow’s children by her second husband would have full legal claim to their father’s property.”

What if we had waited for every misogynist to agree to allow widows to live and get married?

What do we do if we have no rational arguments to continue an inhuman crime? Try to prove that someone, somewhere in the past said or did he same thing. 

“Besides, he (Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar) had to get a law passed by rulers who were wary of hurting the religious sentiments of their subjects. The only way to tackle the problem was by quoting shloks from the shastras themselves, justifying his proposition.

And what about widowers?

“The lucky man loses his wife; the unlucky his horse. The old adage was justified for with the death of a wife, a new bride was brought into the house, together with a new dowry. But the death of a horse spelled financial loss and a gap in the stables.”

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26 thoughts on ““Change, if it came at all, would come from within—by a process of evolution.”

  1. Do you agree with ‘Change, if it came at all, would come from within—by a process of evolution.’?
    – No. Evolution is too slow a process for my taste.

    Should societies wait for everybody to evolve so that changing to justice and equality doesn’t offend any sensibilities?
    – No. Everybody knows how things would be in an ideal world. Why wait when you can learn from other countries on changes to be made and work on that change than wait for people to change. A strict top down approach can work well in most cases. Look at Europe in 16th century. Look at them now. Widow remarriage was unimaginable. Someone came and passed a law. Now, we take it for granted.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Should societies wait for everybody to evolve so that changing to justice and equality doesn’t offend any sensibilities?
    Not at all. Change will always offend the “sensibilities” of those who are profiting from the status quo. They will fight against change at all costs because it means losing power.

    Also, I think all human beings come factory-fitted with values that “evolved” people are expected to emulate – kindness, compassion, and the innate sense of right/wrong. We just tend to “forget” when we taste power.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Change generally comes with necessity–not so much evolution.

    “So how do we bring change? Who should have the ‘right to interfere’?”

    Elected leaders in a democratic society–but then again, if it’s a society full of right wing. misogynistic zealots who want their society to remain backwards, there’s nothing one can do apart from move to a society full of people who want change.

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  4. Well, “started collecting signatures from many eminent men.” shows the issue you see. Men were consulted about the fate of widows. Widows cannot really solve their own problem if they are not even allowed a voice. The Suffragettes flighting for women’s vote had to resort to militant measures and it still took over 100 years.

    Do you agree with ‘Change, if it came at all, would come from within—by a process of evolution.’?
    The key is, who’s evolution are they talking about? The widows already thought it sucked (although conditioning might make them believe they ‘deserve’ it). Misogynists have no incentive to evolve in a society where they hold the power. In fact social change can only happen by NOT waiting for everyone to evolve. If people hadn’t pushed ahead despite social disagreement, women still wouldn’t be allowed to study or earn or gain any power.

    Should societies wait for everybody to evolve so that changing to justice and equality doesn’t offend any sensibilities?
    No one ever really asks to wait for ‘everybody’. They just insist on ‘waiting’ until those in power are not offended.. and in a deeply patriarchal system, it serves the powerful to be misogynistic. Waiting for misogynists to agree before address women’s human rights is like waiting for rapists to agree before acting against rape. One has to challenge the powerful for society to evolve, not wait for their benevolence.

    For this once, I’m glad the Brits did as they pleased!

    “The lucky man loses his wife; the unlucky his horse.” – disgusting and shows why not everything ‘traditional’ is good.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Very good. Will Indian feminists support change for once in the lives of Indian Muslim women? In Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar’s time, women had no voice in public life, but now they do. When can we see some Indian feminists speak out and demand legislation against triple talaq?

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  6. If everyone believed in this passive aggressive evolution crap, we would still be stuck with slavery, untouchables, sati and other social ills. Who cares about others’ damn sensibilities, they are not the ones getting burned alive. Progress doesn’t happen if you try to keep everyone happy. No one gives you rights on a silver platter, you fight for it, you kill for it, not smile/wait/pray for it! That is how civilization moves forward.
    Thank goodness for those bold and brave men and women who were able to think beyond the social customs of the time, step out of their privileged lives and fight for basic human dignity and rights. Such reformers are the people we should teaching our children about instead of holy religious crap which was meant to make life miserable and inhumane for most of the population (women, lower castes, poor etc) and honor the few (rich white men, upper caste brahmin etc). Where was god when those widows were burned alive or young child widows shipped off to beg on the holy streets on Vrindavan for rest of their lives? Disgusting.
    Grateful for the British rule in India atleast for this reason, they banned sati and legalized widow remarriage and told the damn Indians and their Hindu customs to go to hell !! Would an Indian ruler ever do that? They hadn’t done it so far. Sure British were oppressive imperialist rulers with many faults, but give them credit for this.

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    • Agreed. The majority rule sucks when it comes to implementing human rights. Best example being slavery in the United States. The majority thought it was just fine to degrade an entire race of humans purely based on skin color. It took legislation to change people(at least on the surface) and afford rights to the victimized ones.

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    • I give credit to the British for a lot more — inadvertently, they created a modern nation state out of a rag-tag motley of medieval kingdoms.

      They introduced the scientific temperament and rational thought into a society crippled by blind prejudice and superstition.

      Western scholars translated ancient texts, preserved them and translated them into English.

      The Archaeological Society of India was founded by the British.

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  7. Ideally, in a democracy, people who are impacted by a certain law should have a voice. Either through elected representatives who will take up their cause or through direct voting and decision making through smaller, local councils.

    Ideally, in the situation you mention, the women (widowed or not) must be consulted, it is THEIR signatures that must be collected. Any decision the men took without involving the women is therefore meaningless considering the decision impacts the women directly.

    No we shouldn’t ask everyone’s permission to do what is right by universal human values – the right to equality, fairness, and other basic rights need no justification.

    I think those men were playing the “foreign card” to keep the highly beneficial (to them) status quo. “Oh these Britishers can’t tell us what to do!! We will decide for ourselves our own destiny!!” Sounds great – except “ourselves” includes a very small privileged minority.

    The interesting thing is we use this “foreign card” even to this day – to respond to international criticism, defend regressive practices, and live in denial.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I have mixed feelings about this. One one hand, yes, all it takes to enact legal change is a few “prominent men” of the time. But it takes so much more than that to make the change cultural. For instance, we do have traffic rules in India, right?

    Cultural change is well studied and so is the phenomenon of a Tipping Point. There are ways to induce a tipping point but that takes considerable planning and political will. Political will is, obviously, driven by votes and majority opinion and so it goes in circles.

    IMO, there is always resistance to change. There are good reasons why humans are risk averse and there’s not much we can do about it. We’ve evolved this way. If people had gone about tasting every new food they encountered, we would’ve been extinct by now. Risk seeking traits do exist in a population but to the best of my understanding, they’ll rarely be the dominant characteristic. Change is always a risk.

    This group here, it can be argued, is full outliers because we accept change well before it’s normalized. We are the early adopters. Early adopters play a very important role in changing an equilibrium but we need to be empowered and we need a reach. We also need the will to evangelize. It’s not enough to be an early adopter.

    Just because we decide something is good for us doesn’t mean we have to want to spread the message, right? It’s like the difference between writers, commenters, and readers on a blog. I could get 500 hits a day on a feminist blog but only one or two comments and a dozen or so shares. It means the message goes through but doesn’t spread as much as, say, a new Alia Bhatt meme. So tipping social change is hard.

    Coming to the question at hand, yes, we *should* prefer radical change in cases of social injustice but I don’t believe that it’s entirely possible to enforce it. We may have stopped burning widows on the pyre but we’re far from accepting the idea of remarriage even over 150 years later. However, this doesn’t mean we should let our laws lag behind just because the ideas are not popular. We still need the “prominent” citizens to take a stand. As others have pointed out, no one will willingly concede power. The battle has to be fought two-fold.

    I guess my answers are more clinical than needed. That’s just my semester of grad school economics talking🙂

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tipping_point_%28sociology%29

    Liked by 3 people

    • I agree with you.

      You can pass laws but they get enforced only when people change their mentalities. For example almost everyday in the newspaper you read about child marriages being stopped in India.

      I was attending a wedding recently where the man’s mother is a widow and so she was not allowed to perform certain rituals because it is supposed to bring bad luck. How strange.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. A great example of this which is often ignored in history books is Tilak’s position on child marriage and widow re-marriage. He was a famous opposer because he saw it as the British interfering in Hindu traditions.

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  10. Widow remarriage is not really equal or even great ! Many women get married for a husband ,house and money ! No wonder its not a equal playing field ! Why would any man want to marry a widow /divorcee with children until and unless she also is willing to do some work and be a contributor ? Men have a lot more choices both in terms of age and otherwise ! Even men with children opt for a single or someone without children sometimes much younger to him !
    The laws are not clearcut when it comes to property and material distribution ! In west ,spouses ‘ children from other marriage cannot lay claim to property of stepfather ! There is law and wills are executed !
    Here,everything is fuzzy and the real actual children are deprived of rights in mixed marriages !so people are wary !
    We need laws which don’t threaten both men and women who might want a blended marriage otherwise !
    The West is rethinking huge amounts of alimony for brief marriages ! There is also a lot less sympathy for women who ask for huge alimonies and don’t want to work to earn money after a failed marriage !
    Men are running away from marriages and are delaying it as much as possible – not very important but there is still no legal substitute to marriage !
    All social mores go hand in hand,…..when quality of life for women change and they have their own money,many social institutions might become equitable !

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  11. Do you agree with ‘Change, if it came at all, would come from within—by a process of evolution.’?

    I agree. Changes have to come from within and self realization. Only when people understand what the change is about can we claim to have been successful in bringing it.
    But, though changes have to come from within I believe we need triggers and exposure to make people think and process. Many are subjected to ignorance and many time not a fault of their own. So opportunities to evolve should be given.

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  12. Nonsense. I am a firm believer of “the government must not care for social realities”. It must do what is right from an absolute point of view. Right and wrong being defined in the Constitution. As an example, many Indian laws on divorce treat the woman differently from the man. The man is assumed to be the “supporter” etc etc.

    Now you can say “Till change comes from within, we need these kinds of laws”. I disagree. The laws must lead the change. The laws must come first – that will set the expectations of society.

    Liked by 1 person

      • India is not a democracy, but a federal constitutional republic. What that means is that the Constitution is supreme – and the basic structure is beyond even Constitutional amendments. If a law violates the Constitution, parliament or the courts have no choice but to enact it. The wishes of the people don’t enter the equation.

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    • The very definition of democracy, sadly, requires change to come from within.

      Even the constitution that you mentioned (written by a unelected few) was “ratified” by the first elected government.

      This is a truly truly tough topic – i.e Should law determine the people or should people determine the law. I have brought this up in the past on IHM when discussing the death penalty.

      Apparently (and I have not verified this), the best solutions political scientists have come up with require the viability of extreme federalism or easy creation of nation states based on ideology. Some foundational insight can be had by reading up on Weber’s theory of nations. And even that is bent around a bit because we all accede today to a “Universal declaration of human rights”.

      Peace,
      TSCI

      Liked by 1 person

    • I meant to hit reply but looks like I hit like instead. How can we ever come up with absolute laws? The ones we do have are called religion and those haven’t held up to time too well. Who decides who makes the laws? The last example of the deciders was priests who claimed a direct channel to the absolute word of God. Who decides what is absolute right and wrong?

      I see your point and the like still holds but everything, including our laws, have to change with time. That is the while whole point of evolution.

      off topic: TSCI, nice to see you here🙂

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    • I agree. I support the introduction of no fault divorce, with attendent protections for homemakers with children.

      American divorce laws don’t protect dependent homemakers from divorce, but they have community property, alimony and child support laws that are technically gender blind.

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  13. Change should come:

    The lady from PETA had a point when she said on TV the other day that most of the eggs we eat are produced by a poultry industry that treats hens in cruel fashion. Enough has been written and documented about the cruelties that the western meat products industry inflicts routinely on cattle and pigs, and the hideous methods by which sought-after delicacies like Kobe beef and liver pate’ are produced.

    In India the routine cruelty is at a more basic level – the state of our abattoirs, and the animal trauma caused there.

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  14. Some very important questions:
    ‘Change, if it came at all, would come from within—by a process of evolution.’?
    Should societies wait for everybody to evolve so that changing to justice and equality doesn’t offend any sensibilities?
    Who should have the ‘right to interfere’?
    ‘Change, if it came at all, would come from within—by a process of evolution.’?
    There are 2 ways to look at it.
    First is to consider the threshold factor. The argument favouring this is behaviour science has been explained in an earlier comment. Threshold factor has been crucial in a lot cases in the past, for example:
    1] America could ban slavery only after a certain section of society had the same views on it. (America was almost a 75 year old democracy at that time)
    2] The Irish people have recently voted in favour of gay and lesbian marriages. This was possible only when a significant number of their citizens viewed it to be the right thing to do.
    3] In 1893, New Zealand became the first self-governing nation to grant women the right to vote, followed closely by Australia in 1902. This was also possible because a significant number of people believed that it was the right thing to do.
    The question then is, how does some view or opinion reach the threshold? What factors make the view become important enough to reach a threshold that it can either become a law or is accepted culturally – in cases where it is a cultural or mindset change?
    The great saints of 17th and 18th century in Maharashtra had deep influence in the Cultural Revolution which followed in Maharashtra giving rise to a number of social reformers and freedom fighters of that era in Maharashtra. These social reformers led to an overall improvement in the social life in Maharashtra – when compared to the rest of India during the same period. Although Maharashtra as a state still had many social problems in the 19th century but the ripple effect of the saints and social reformers is a major reason why Maharashtra as a state was able to sustain and improve on the positive social changes leading into the 20th and the 21st century.
    The second way to look at it is the authoritarian or the use of fear to impose a change. The argument favouring this is also somewhat discussed in one of the comment. The benefactors of an ongoing tradition will not willingly give up the benefits and will resist the change, unless the change is brought about by fear. (As is the case mentioned of the British legalizing widow re-marriage much against the opposition of the Hindus). I do not have many substantial scientific theories supporting this but there have been many instances in history where fear has been used to bring about social change. The biggest example of this is what we have today as modern day China.
    I think both the approaches of social change have their relevance.
    Given the current situation, I think we do need the authoritarian way to deal with a lot of social issues like dowry, marital rape,etc.
    At the same time, we do need a threshold factor for changing the cultural mindset of the masses on social issues like hygiene and sanitation, climate change, etc.

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