The history of widow burning is one of paradox. While the chief players in the debate argued over the religious basis of sati and the fine points of scriptural interpretation, the testimonials of women at the funeral pyres consistently addressed the material hardships and societal expectations attached to widowhood. And although historiography has traditionally emphasized the colonial horror of sati, a fascinated ambivalence toward the practice suffused official discussions. The debate normalized the violence of sati and supported the misconception that it was a voluntary act of wifely devotion. Mani brilliantly illustrates how situated feminism and discourse analysis compel a rewriting of history, thus destabilizing the ways we are accustomed to look at women and men, at "tradition," custom, and modernity.

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Reverend W. The debate on sati circulating in Bengal and Britain between and , included East India Company EIC officials, Hindu pundits scholars , Bengali bhadralok "respectable" class, urban-based and upper-caste , munshis teachers , [End Page ] Christian missionaries, and members of Parliament, among others, but excluded entirely the voices of Indian women. This exclusion of woman as subject framed the patriarchal discourse both of British colonial officials and indigenous interlocutors.

For Mani, marks a distinct shift in the structure and mission of the EIC from a trading company to that of a colonial, a revenue collecting state, the result of a "complex mediation structured by relations of domination and subordination" p.

The ability of the colonial state to extract revenue and material resources, to codify and enact laws, was mediated by differentiated and uneven relations among metropolitan Britain, indigenous middle classes, and the indigenous masses.

These three "publics" represent the discursive elements in the formation of colonial discourse on sati. Between the first recorded colonial discussion of sati in and its abolition in , the EIC promulgated four circulars on the practice. The most prominent of the four, the Circular of , distinguished "legal" from "illegal" sati based on specific and contradictory interpretations of Hindu scripture.

Chapter 1 examines the production of colonial knowledge on the subject. EIC officials sought to discover Hindu scriptures, as opposed to customs, that they assumed were the basis for Hindu laws. The Company saw customary practices as "degraded," "superstitious," and ensuring the "corrupt" power of Brahmin priests. The EIC employed indigenous interpreters, at least until EIC officials learned Sanskrit and Persian, to locate and provide analysis of Hindu texts in the codification of colonial law.

Here, Mani focuses on four "sites" of bhadralok discourse: vyawasthas legal opinion , pamphlets, petitions to the EIC, and newspapers. Contending discourses of pro- and anti-sati forces were forged in relation to official discourse.

Mani presents the multiple forces, the discursive strategies implemented by both reformers and conservatives, in indigenous male discourse on sati. In this debate between and among EIC [End Page ] officials and indigenous male elite, "women are neither subjects nor If you would like to authenticate using a different subscribed institution or have your own login and password to Project MUSE.


Review of Contentious Traditions the Debate on Sati in Colonial India

With the abolition of Sati in , Historians had engaged the issues in various ways. However, they have not addressed properly on the issue of women in the performance of the practise. Lata Mani in this work Contentious Traditions: The Debate on Sati in Colonial India has highlighted and argued that women were essentially marginalised in this discussion of Sati. The book explores the position of women in the nineteenth century by carefully examining the discussion on the practise of sati by the colonial officials, the Bhadralok of Bengal and the missionaries from The matter on sati was forwarded to the Nizamat Adalat which was dealt by its pundit. On this foundation, the Company considered sati to be part of the Hindu religion. The circular highlighted the differences between what consist of a legal and an illegal sati.


Contentious Traditions




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