WOMAN IN INDIA.*
EARLY in 1893—so she tells us in her preface—it occurred to Miss Billington that a series of letters on the status of
Woman in India" would be acceptable to the readers of the Daily Graphic. She communicated her idea to the editor, who adopted and developed it, and the result was that Miss Billington, very capably equipped, advised, and intro- duced, undertook and executed a journey of observation through the provinces of India, and sent home to the Daily Graphic some twenty-eight letters, the substance of which is worked up in the handsome octavo volume now before us. The book contains a great deal of interesting and useful information, to the collecting and ordering of which must have been given much industry, tact, and patience. Miss Billington is evidently a very good observer, as well as a ready writer, and she has, on the whole, executed her task excellently well. Though one wishes occasionally, especially in the first chapter of the book and the last—the chapter that deals with the horrors of native treatment of women in childbirth and the chapter that in- structs English ladies in the mysteries of Indian outfits— that she had remembered more constantly that her book was not going to be dedicated exclusively to doctors and ladies'-maids, and had omitted a few bathroom and toilet details of excessive triviality. These rather detract from the dignity of the work, as well as from its suitability for general reading. It may also be said that the book would have been more interesting if the point of view had been a little less commonplace. Miss Billington appears to have started upon her travels with the usual pre- judices of the average Englishwoman at home. She was prepared to find the condition of the native woman much more degraded than it really is, and the native woman herself more conscious of her degradation than it is possible that she should be. Then her personal bias was decidedly in favour of the missionaries. She was inclined, in advance, to defend and justify all that they do, and to believe that the work of
• Woman in India. By Mary Frances Billington. With Introduction by the MarchMnees of Dufferin and Ava, 0.1, London; Chapman and Hall.
evangelisation goes on as enthusiasts on the platform of Exeter Hall believe that it goes on. But she was quickly disillusioned. As she puts it, her newspaper training stood
her in good stead, as it enabled her to grasp facts and draw conclusions afterwards. She used industriously the oppor- tunities very liberally afforded her of studying Indian women of high and low caste in their homes, in the schools, at work in cotton factories, in fields, in mines, as daughters not much desired, and as wives jealously guarded ; and came to the conclusion that they are in many respects better off materially, and happier morally, than their English sisters on corre- sponding social planes. She realised how much faster the work of secular education progresses than the work of evangelisation; and how large a proportion of what is
subscribed at home for the spreading of Christianity is spent in India on teaching that does not necessarily lead to conversion :—
" Brought up and still an attached member of the Church of England, I would far rather have set it down that the various societies are realising all that they undertake upon the platform of Exeter Ilan. But they are not. Their individual zeal and earnest- ness is not, as a rule, to be discredited, though I have met instances in which social prestige was ranked as of more moment than the slow winning of native confidence, and servants and horses as things to be appraised rather than a bazaar congregation. It is according to the point of view from which the question is re- garded, whether it is advisable to keep Christian dogma dis- creetly veiled and in the shadowy background, or not. There are insidious possibilities in the precept that the reading of a chapter in the Bible, and the force of silent influence,' is enough when coupled with prayer, and it is certain that the religious influence exerted in the schools has but the scantiest re- sults. I was talking one day to a very intelligent Parsee machinist in Delhi, and he mentioned to me that his children attended a certain missionary school there. This somewhat surprised me ; and I said, But you are not Christian converts, surely P' No,' he replied, 'I hope we are all as good Zoroastrians as any ; but, you see, it is a great advantage to the boys to know English, and they get no harm if they have to hear a little of your religion. It is very little expected of them in return for what they are taught, and they will forget it all in a couple of months."
Thus disillusioned, Miss Billington passed from the first stage of commonplace in which general views coloured with cheap optimism are accepted, to the second stage of common-
place in which all views are regarded with cautious scepticism ; and she set to work, noting facts shrewdly, recording them clearly, and throwing in here, there, and everywhere the little qualifying comments and warnings against errors, first on one side and then on the other, which are the salt of jour- nalistic philosophy, but do not quite make up the soul of conviction one looks for in a book. There is indeed so much evidence of real ability in the volume that one wonders that the writer should not have grasped the truths behind the set of slightly irritating truisms in which she deals, and understood quickly enough of the broad outlines of the great problem in- volved in the confronting of these complete and stereotyped non-Christian social and religious systems with our own incom- plete but ever-growing and developing Christian civilisation, to enable her to see that the testimony of her good Zoroastrian is really much more a compliment to the present imperfect system than a condemnation of it, and to avoid the tone which speaks sadly of the "inevitable missionary." When a man deliberately overlooks wide differences of creed in order to place the education of his children in the hands of a par- ticular person, he practically acknowledges the moral as well as the intellectual superiority of that person ; and it rests with the teacher to justify the confidence reposed in him, prin-
cipally by doing nothing to upset the naive opinion that the pupil will get no harm by "hearing a little" of his teacher's re- ligion. The position is precisely the same when one race trusts
another with the education of its boys and girls, as so many enlightened Parsees and liahommedans are doing at the pre- sent moment in India. To doubt the power of the mis- sionaries to retain the confidence reposed in them, is not so much to doubt their power of converting India as to doubt Christianity and all Christians. As a matter of fact, it is abso- lutely unreasonable to expect India to become more Christian than England—as it certainly would be if the dreams of mis- sionary enthusiasts at home were realised. And it would be a gain to all of us if the printing of numerical statistics of con- version could be regarded as a sin likely to bring down the judgment of Heaven, as the act of numbering the people did in the days of David. But in the meanwhile we need not doubt that a few genuine conversions are made in heathen
India as in nominally Christian England; and there is no
more reason for carping at the missionary abroad for not converting everybody, than at our clergy at home for similar failure.
A matter about Whic'h Miss Billington has no doubt, is the usefulnest of the medical missionaries. Her account both of the cruelty of the native methods of treatment, and of the new hospitals where English sanitary arrangements and English -treatment prevail, is full and interesting, and she records that within the last five and twenty years the Parsee ladies in particular have made very remarkable pro- gress towards Western ways and customs in all that concerns their own treatment and that of their children at the time of childbirth. And she probably hits the right nail on the head when she says, in regard to the medical education of native women :— " The greatest of all Indids wants for girl-students, is an institution upon the lines of our own London School of Medicine for Women. The point was first borne in upon me in Madras, where, after some pressure from outside, the university opened its medical classes to women, but contrary to the strongly expressed opinion of Lady Dufferin and other ladies competent to speak, compelled the male and female students to study together. There are numerous scholarships available for women- students ; the curriculum is a.well-devised one, and the knowledge derived from its training leaves nothing to be desired. Some forty young women, chiefly Eurasians and Hindus, are entered there as students, and some show decided promise. But the point felt by all who have the best interests of the movement at heart is that, until the-sexes are permitted to pursue their studies apart, the class of native girl who will take up medicine will not be that most likely to inspire the highest confidence of her co-religionist sisters."
This is a bit of entirely practical and definite criticism, very much to the point, and very different in scope from a warning like the following against a difficulty which must be ever present, to the minds of people practically engaged in furthering the higher education of Indian native women :— "One little difficulty in the higher education of working-class girls, especially when these are Mahommedans, ought not to be overlooked,—that is, the danger of teaching them up to a more advanced standard than will probably be their husband's attainments." This is just the sort of warning against dangers only too familiar that is so irritating to experience in the mouth of a novice, and which, qualified by a passage like the one we choose for our next extract, gives to the book the tone of rather oracular commonplace that makes its principal fault :— "Still, in spite of the weighty obstacles against which it has had to contend, the educational movement is undoubtedly making way among the sex. Chief among the factors which have tended to break down the barriers of mistrust and objection, I should tinhesitatingly place the much higher standard of education, which has been gradually raised among the men during the past quarter of a century or so. With the students who have come to England for University or Bar studies there has been undoubtedly a regrettable tendency to choose English wives, with remits, it is to beefeated, generally very far from satisfactory."
These mixed marriages are generally made by young men who have travelled* But, Miss Billington goes on to say,-
- "The home-taught young man, for all the domestic conservatism which -even- Civil Service appointments and national congresses scarcely seem to shake, must gradually come to desire a more even level of companionship on the part of his wife. It is one of the Western misconceptions to regard the wife as of no importance in the family circle. On the contrary, Purdah though she may be, she is a factor of consideration alike as a downed girl. bride, and later on as sons' mother, as mother-in-law, and grand- mother. While her husband's learning did not carry him into wider interests than the immediate market prices current, or the last bit of litigation upon which his neighbours had embarked, he found in his wife all the sympathy he desired. But now that he is himself a Judge, it may be, or a deputy collector on special duty, involving perhaps a really high degree of specialised scientific attainment, he begins to think he would like his wife to know a little more also of the world's broader affairs. I saw several instances in which the ladies of the Church of England or other Zenana Missions had been asked to instruct in English and other branches of knowledge the girl-wives of young men at the universities."
Miss Billington sums up the position of female education in India as having come out of the stage of active opposition, and not yet reached that of positive enthusiasm ; it is simply tolerated. The women who patronise it stand in the same relation to their conservative sisters as do, at home, the ladies who "ride bicycles" and wear trousers, to the great majority of conventional Englishwomen.
The chapter on "Female Life in Field and Factory" is nanicularly good, and particularly pleasant. It is, moreover,
freely illustrated with capital woodcuts, which bring the scenes of labour vividly before the reader. Miss Billington goes into much detail about the various industrial occupations in which native women take part, and draws some significant. contrasts between their condition and that of -our poorest class of working women at home. She takes as an example of the English woman-worker of the former sort, "one who considered herself fortunate in being able to earn regularly 5s. 6d. a week in a cardboard-box factory," and who, out of this slender wage, had to pay 2s.. a week for a wretched room, and buy food, clothes, furniture, and fuel for herself and two or three children ; and compares her lot with that of a poor widow at Berhampore, of whom she tells us that :—
" With industrious labour, She could earn at reeling the pierced cocoons of silk from half to three-quarters of an anna [that is to say, about three-farthings] a day, which far more than sufficed for the simple diet of rice, grain, and vegetables, which satisfied her. There was a corner for her to sleep in the family hut ; she had nothing to provide toward the feeding arid clothing of the children, the cost of firing was infinitesimal; except her simple vessels for cooking and eating, her furniture was a negligeable quantity, for among the points in which the balance of advantage distinctly lies on the side of the Indian woman, is that of climate. It saves her in house-rent, fuel, and clothes If she lives outside a town, her palm-leaf hut costs her nothing, save the labour of her men-folk in building it and keeping it in repair ; if she be within the city walls, the mud walls and thatched roofs of the native quarter are far less costly than "two-pair backs," or even garrets and cellars at home. A few sticks or the slowly smouldering cake of dried cow-dung—the preparation of which is among the minor industries of the community—suffices for the cooking of the simple meals, and a pie or two buys a week's supply of this. Thin wheaten cakes in the North-West Provinces, or rice generally elsewhere, form the staple of the food, which becomes an almost luxurious meal if some curry, or a chili, an onion, or a little phi (clarified butter) can be added. The desire for meat, which makes it almost a necessity in our own working people's existence, she knows not, and, indeed, many castes may not touch it at all: = kt1/4een tea she does not want, while any form of intoxicating drink she never dreams of taking. If her cloth and sari were coarse they were clean, and she could dispose them with folds as graceful as the wealthiest ranee or begum of the East; and while she draws them round her for her midday rest and ease, she realises 'The inde- finable pleasure of the doice far niente that the more energetic races rarely attain unto. Yes, for all her three-farthings,a day, I think that poor old Hindoo woman might sometimes Jiave been envied by her who nominally was making twelve times that sum."
On the whole, Miss Billington recognises that progress must have its way, though its track leaves some ugly marks in the vulgarisation of native taste and the disturbance of woman's resignation, and though she does not expressly say so, she cannot fail to recognise that the attitude of mind she admires in the Indian woman is not in itself antagonistic to Christian ideals :— "In India the intense strength of the family tie and the hereditary traditions of woman's self-effacement seem to me to have imparted a kind of compensating mental attribute, that perhaps is not very much less valuable a possession than a power to read without the discriminating faculty what to read. Accord- ing to modern ' emancipated ' lights, the answer of a poor Mahommedan woman in Calcutta to my question as to what she regarded as the chief happiness she would desire for herself might seem a contracted one. 'To see my husband happy, and to know that what I have cooked and done for him has helped to make him so; to see my sons grow up'as men, honest and strong, and to know that my daughters are well married.'"