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What is The Hindu Widows' Remarriage Act, 1856?

 An event that took place around 163 years ago changed the fortune of crores of Indian women. The East India Company passed the Hindu Widows' Remarriage Act, 1856 which legalised the remarriage of Hindu widows on 16th July 1856. The Act was enacted on 26th July 1856. This law was implemented in all regions under the jurisdictions of East India company in India.
Jul 16, 2019 13:04 IST
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Widows in British Era India
Widows in British Era India

There was a time when in India women was considered as the door to hell. Women was suppressed in every aspect of human life. Even in the regime of East India Company this type of stereotyping continues but Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was against all types of rotten customs related to women. He work hard to start the culture of widow remarriage in the country.

The enactment of The Hindu Widows' Remarriage Act, 1856 was a major social reform to improve the condition of the widow in India. Before this law the custom of Sati was also abolished by the Lord William Bentinck in 1829.

The draft of the Hindu Widows' Remarriage Act, 1856 was prepared and passed by Lord Dalhousie.

Condition of widow

In some parts of India the widows have to live the life like a saint. They were not allowed to live like a common person. They were expected to lead a life of austerity and extremities like no make up, no new clothes, no good food, boycott from festivals and even scolding from the all members of the family and society. Widows had to wear a white Saree of coarse material. The widow was considered as the unlucky person for the whole family.

Remarriage was not permitted even if the widow was a child and the marriage was not even consummated.

Lets know Key Provisions and Facts of the Hindu Widows' Remarriage Act, 1856;

1. At the time of implementation of this Widow Remarriage Act 1856; the Governor-General of India was Lord Canning.

2. The Hindu Widows' Remarriage Act, 1856 legalised the remarriage of Hindu widows. This custom was mainly practiced in rich hindu families. One surprising fact is that; Widow remarriage was prevalent among people of the lower class or poor.

3. As per the law: “No marriage contracted between Hindus shall be invalid, and the issue of no such marriage shall be illegitimate, by reason of the woman having been previously married or betrothed to another person who was dead at the time of such marriage, any custom and any interpretation of Hindu Law to the contrary notwithstanding.”

4. The act also provided legal safeguards and protection to men who married widows.

5. As per The Hindu Widows' Remarriage Act, 1856; the widow was authorised to forfeit any inheritance that she may have obtained from her deceased husband.

6. The Hindu Widows' Remarriage Act, 1856 also provided all the rights and inheritances to all the widows that they have had at the time of her first marriage.

7. After the enactment of the Hindu Widows' Remarriage Act, 1856; the first marriage took place on 7th December 1856 in north Calcutta. The groom was the son of Ishwar Chandra’s close friend.

So the enactment of the the Hindu Widows' Remarriage Act, 1856 was one of the major social change in the 19th century in India. Since then many such laws have been enacted in the country to protect the integrity and modesty of the women.

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