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The Salagrama is worshipped daily by the Brahmans, and is used in the several Hindu ceremonies of Sradha, &c. One should be always placed near the bed of a dying person, and the marks on it shewn to him. This is believed to secure his soul an introduction to the heaven of Vishnu.
The Binlang stones, which are found in the Nerbuddah river, are also worshipped as emblems of Siva.
To the earlier, as well as to the more recently known nations of the world, this crime has been familiar. The Greeks exposed their children on the highways to perish of hunger, or to be devoured by beasts of prey, and had their barbarous practice sanctioned by some of their most celebrated lawgivers. Among the Romans the custom of infanticide also prevailed ; as it did, on the first discovery of America, with the savage tribes of that continent. When Captain Wallis visited Otaheite and the neighbouring islands in the South Sea, the practice was unhesitatingly avowed by the lascivious Eareeoie societies in these islands. Among the Canaanites, the Phenicians, and the Carthagenians, the sacrifice of children was prescribed as a propitiation to their sanguinary deities Moloch and Kronos. In China, and also in Japan, infant murder is at the present time prevalent; as it is, in a much greater degree, among the Rajpoot tribes of Hindustan.
The causes of practices so opposed to the most powerful feelings of our nature, and in utter discordance with that tender instinct which prompts even the most timid of sentient animals of the brute creation to protect their young, at the hazard, and frequently at the sacrifice of their own existence, have been, among the people whom I have enumerated, various ;-a sterile country, a superabundant population, superstition, avarice, lasciviousness, and lastly, as with the Rajpoot tribes of India, feudal pride, and an unshaken and resolute preference of death to what, in their estimation, would be dishonour.
It has been observed in other pages of this work, that the Hindus are divided into four great tribes : the Brahmans, the Khetries, the Vaisyas, and the Sudras; or priests, warriors, merchants, and husbandmen. These are again variously subdivided ; and the Rajpoot tribe forms one of the numerous subdivisions of that of the Khetries; and has still farther a great variety of subdivisions in itself. From the Khetrie tribe the sovereigns of India have been taken ; the Rajpoots, consequently, call themselves children of the royal race.
Those tribes inhabit various parts of India. Some of them, the Rajkumers and Rajavansas, a portion of the territories of Oude and the adjoining provinces ; and others, the Jharejahs, the countries of Kutch and Guzerat, on the western side of the hither peninsula. Among those tribes the practice of female infanticide has, they allege, existed for 4,900 years; and the late General Walker has, in an account published by Major Moor in an interesting work on this subject, estimated the number of deaths of female children annually, in Kutch and Guzerat only, at no less than thirty thousand.
It must not be supposed that this inhuman practice has been unnoticed by the Indian government, or that the most strenuous exertions have not been made to abolish it. To the perpetual honour of the excellent man just mentioned, and the benevolent Mr. Duncan, when governor of Bombay, sanctioned by higher authorities, every argument which humanity could suggest, and every measure which sense and prudence could dictate, were attempted, with, for a time, the best promise and prospect of success, But it is, it may be feared, too true, that these promises were soon forgotten ; that the prospects, at least for the present, have vanished; and that female infanticide now prevails, almost as much as ever, in the countries where the humanity of those gentlemen was so strenuously exerted for its suppression.
Many well-intentioned people, prompted by that warmth of feeling and active benevolence which so eminently characterize our countrymen, would fain press upon the executive authorities the exercise of coercive measures to abolish an evil that appeals to every human heart for commiseration and redress : but, ere these individuals reproach the Indian government with supineness, let them weigh well the character of the people by whom
their indignation has been excited. Brave, even to an enthusiastic spirit of chivalry; inured to arms from the moment they can use them; and entertaining the loftiest sense of independence, blended with the most elevated ideas of feudal rank and power, derived, as they assert, from the royal race of the ancient sovereigns of Hindustan, it may be easily imagined how dangerous would prove all attempts to subvert, by coercive means, usages based upon hereditary principles thus deeply rooted, and considered by these courageous and high-minded people, to be equally sanctioned by their religion and their honour.
The origin of female infanticide among the Rajpoots may, it is supposed by some, be traced to their apprehensions of not being able to provide suitable portions for their female offspring, to intermarry them with families of equal rank with themselves. So soon, therefore, among some of these tribes, as a female child is born, it is (with some especial exceptions) immediately put to death, either by strangulation, by the means of opium infused in milk, or by the infant being immersed in a vessel containing that liquid.
General Walker accounts for this inhuman practice in a different manner: “ It is said (says this gentleman) that some of the early Mussulman Indians of the Jharejah country, experiencing the determination with which they defended their liberties, united policy to their arms, and sought to consolidate their interests in the country by demanding the daughters of the Rajahs in marriage. The high-spirited Rajahs would not brook the disgrace, and pretended they did not preserve their daughters; but fearful of the consequences, and that force would be resorted to in order to obtain what was refused to entreaty, they, in this extremity, listened to the advice of their rajgurs (or priests), and deluded by the fictitious responsibility which they accepted, the practice of infanticide originated, and has since been confirmed.”
It may, at least, be fairly conjectured, that some of these tribes adopted the barbarous practice in question, in consequence of the progress of the Mahomedan conquests, and the Mahomedan doctrines in Hindustan. Although conquered, they appear to have alike despised the enmity and the
friendship of their conquerors; submitting, in gloomy silence, to the one; and avoiding, what they considered the contamination of the other, by infanticide.
But whatever may have been the origin of this inhuman practice, it may, I think, from the various authorities which I have consulted, be concluded, that motives of a very powerful character can only have influenced this brave people (some of whom are, in other respects, in the highest degree tenacious of the life of the most insignificant of sentient animals) thus to destroy their helpless offspring, at the expense of every natural and every manly feeling.
A question will, no doubt, suggest itself to the reader, in what manner these powerful tribes can, if they thus destroy their female offspring at the moment of their birth, perpetuate their race? I have before stated, that there are especial exceptions from this common practice, which arise from occasional unconquerable natural affection; from the family having no male child; from an extraordinary loveliness in the infant; or from the circumstance of the children of the Rannies only being put to death, those of the concubines being spared. These, and the females of inferior castes, who do not destroy their children, become the wives of the tribes who do; generally speaking, I believe, they choose their wives from females of other tribes than their own.
The Rajpoots, among whom the practice of infanticide has the most prevailed, appear to have been aware of the enormity of the measure ; and while they have urged the plea of necessity, to have been conscious how untenable such a plea must have been, in opposition to the immutable principles of truth and nature. Still, the insurmountable apprehension of disgrace to their families, feudal pride, and long-established custom have predominated over every other consideration.
To those who would make the sword the law, and hasten forward events by opposing cannon to such powerfully religious and national prejudices, which have subsisted, as these people believe, for centuries before the Christian era, instead of patiently allowing the slow, but certain progress of intelligence, directed by prudence and perseverance, to undermine their
hitherto adamantine bases, I would recommend the attentive perusal of the following pages from the pen of a gentleman, whose long residence among the Rajpoots has stored his mind with an intimate knowledge of their habits and manners, their lofty principles of independence, their feudal pride, their prejudices, and above all, their power. If, then, there be any who would attempt to put down the practices which have been now described, and which cannot be too much deprecated, by force, instead of the better weapons of reason and persuasion, let them, in the first place, recollect that the Rajpoots do not acknowledge our authority; and, in the next, calculate upon the awful responsibility which that man would incur, who should first attempt to subvert, by such means, the independence of these people, for the sole purpose of intermeddling with, and striving to suppress customs, which they have considered, for ages, to have been their surest safeguards against dishonour and disgrace. *
“Although,” says Colonel Tod, “ custom sanctions, and religion rewards a sati (or suttee), yet, to the honour of humanity, neither traditionary adage nor religious text can be quoted, in support of a practice so revolting as infanticide. Man, alone, of the whole animal creation, is equal to the task of destroying his offspring. When a female is born, no anxious enquiries await the mother, no greetings welcome the new comer, who appears an intruder on the scene which often closes in the hour of its birth. But the very silence with which a female birth is accompanied forcibly expresses sorrow. Families may exult in the satis which their cenotaphs pourtray, but none ever heard a Rajpoot boast of the destruction of his infant progeny. What are the causes, we may ask, sufficiently powerful to induce the suppression of a feeling which every sentient being has in common for its offspring? To suppose a Rajpoot devoid of this sentiment, would argue his deficiency in the ordinary attributes of humanity. Often is he heard to exclaim, “ accursed is the day when a woman child was born to me." That woman child he dares not see degraded, and he gives the opiate to his infant, whom he cannot portion to marry to her equal.
* For a farther account of the Rajpoots, see the article “ Rajpoots, &c.” in another part of this volume.