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Hindu Marriage Act revisited
Sam Saroop, now a resident practicing lawyer in Canada, has written in book form the history of the village in Trinidad where he was born and grew up, Williamsville.
In the introduction to his book, Saroop quotes the great British statesman Sir Winston Churchill’s remarks on history: “History with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the past, trying to re-construct the scenes to revive the echoes and kindle with pale gleams, the passion of the former days.” According to Saroop, the Churchill statement, “Elegantly captures the formidable challenges to re-construct the past in its historical context to make it accurate and verifiable. I have endeavoured to present facts in this book that are accurate and verifiable. They have been supplied by persons of undaunted veracity who have lived through and witnessed the happenings of the eras, or who have been handed down oral historical accounts of the events and circumstances.
“Regarding the profiles of the personalities, I have personal knowledge of them. I was therefore able to describe them as I have known them. This was supplemented by verifiable information from their close acquaintances.”
Attorney General Faris al-Rawi is legally hell bent on changing the Hindu Marriage Ordinance which permits marriage of a 14-year-old girl with parental consent, this despite objections by the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha and other groups. In his book, A History of Williamsville, Saroop writes about his mother’s marriage:
“My mother Agnes was only nine years old when according to traditions she was married to Saroop Moosay. He was then an unlettered 13 year old boy employed in Brothers Sugar Estate for 10 cents per day.
“It was an arranged marriage conducted under Hindu Rites at night. During the marriage ceremony she remained seated most of the time on her father’s lap. It was unsure whether they understood the full implications of the rights and obligations of their marriage. But this was not important. The fact is that their respective parents did.
“Moreover, the importance rested on the divine blessings that the priest invoked for the success of the marriage and for which the parents had fasted and prayed. And indeed, it was divinely blessed. It subsisted until the death of her husband on June 10, 1970 some 47 years later; but not without realising its full potential. They had 10 children, two of whom died in infancy.
“Following this marriage ceremony she remained with her parents until she was 14 years old. During this period her parents taught her the art of cooking, washing and general housekeeping. From time to time her parents would impress upon her the onerous responsibilities of marriage and the difficulties that might confront her. She was particularly cautioned that marriage is a life-long union and that she belonged to her husband and should stick with him whatever the difficulties.Having prepared her for her full role of married life, her parents bade her tearful goodbye. With their blessing immersed in tears she was placed beside her husband in a beautifully bedecked bull-drawn cart to begin another chapter of her life, bereft of the ease and sheltered comfort of her parent’s home.
“Her new home was with her in-laws, Moosay and Rampiarie at Garth Road. Her sister-in-law, Goomtie resided there with her parents. They developed a very close relationship. They maintained mutual respect for each other. She affectionately called her Goam and she called her Bhougie (Sister-in-law). She was quick to adjust to this new environment. Goomtie who was roughly her age helped in this process as they played together with Goomtie’s friends. She would relate nostalgically how they would play hoop, hopscotch, run races and even fight playfully.”
There are historical reasons why Hindus resorted to early marriage. From the third or the fourth century BC the foreign invasions of India began. The invaders treated the womenfolk as articles of enjoyment. The social life of the Hindus started to unravel, and in response to being under siege, they adopted the practice of early marriage so as to secure the honour of their daughters, marriage being an honourable institution.
This practice of early marriage was also consolidated during the Moghul invasion of India, between the years 1221-1327. These invaders went after Hindu virgins who were installed in harems and discarded after a number of years. Early marriage was the only source of protection for these virgins, as the Moghuls were not interested in married girls.
In Trinidad, the marriageable age also underwent changes. As a matter of fact, the legal and social status of the Hindu wedding did undergo some noteworthy transformation. Starting from 1845 and lasting for the better part of a century, the Hindu wedding was not recognised as legal. Children of such unions were considered illegitimate and issues of legal inheritance became problematic.
Such blatant discrimination was soon to be addressed in the Hindu Marriage Act of 1945. This Act provided some reprieve, as well as some validation to the Hindu weddings in Trinidad and Tobago. It provided for, inter alia, that girls can be married up to a minimum age of 14 and boys below 18 years with parental consent.