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Feeling Like a Child: Narratives of Development and the Indian Child/Wife

  • Ishita Pande
Part of the Palgrave Studies in the History of Emotions book series (Palgrave Studies in the History of Emotions)

Abstract

‘Please let me sleep with you, didi [elder sister], don’t make me go to his bed; I beg of you, save me; that weight crushes me; I simply cannot sleep in that room.’1 Thus opens a novella-in-verse, written by a male author, in the form of a series of dialogues between the 12-year-old Sarojbala and a slew of female relatives, who appear in sequence to chide her for her misplaced reticence and to educate her on the duties and pleasures of conjugal sex. While a didi rebukes her with a not-so-friendly threat of a kick to the face, an aunt consoles her that even though the ‘first connection might hurt a bit, that would ultimately melt into the glow of marital bliss’.2 An older relative encourages her with salacious details from her own childhood when, as a young bride, she willingly — no, insistently — slept with her husband starting from the age of 11. Do the words of the reluctant young bride allow us to gauge the feelings of a child, forced into premature marriage and precocious sex, in the late nineteenth century? Do they alert the reader to the greatest scandal of child-marriage — of wives confronted with the prospect of marital rape — a phenomenon that was widely discussed after the death of a child-wife ‘on her wedding night’ in 1889?3 Or does the author’s twisted plot simply offer insights into an emotional regime that saw no conflict in the 12-year-old’s assumption of conjugal duties? Did a 12-year-old feel like a child or was she expected to love like a wife in late nineteenth-century India?

Keywords

Sexual Desire Child Marriage Young Wife Premature Marriage Hindu Nationalism 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 3.
    Tanika Sarkar, ‘Conjugality and Hindu Nationalism: Resisting Colonial Reason and the Death of a Child-Wife’, in Hindu Wife, Hindu Nation: Community, Religion, and Cultural Nationalism (New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2001), 191–225.Google Scholar
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    The duality of instinct/emotion was common in sexological and psychoanalytical writing by the 1920s, with the two often understood as bodily change and psychical phenomenon, respectively. While emotion was explained as the ‘subjective’ aspect of instinct, debates raged into the 1920s as to which took precedence. See e.g. Henry C. Link, ‘Emotions and Instinct’, American Journal of Psychology 32 (1) (1921), 134–144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. The problem was frequently discussed in India, as evidenced by articles such as S. Ghosh, ‘Child Psychology: Play Instinct’, Indian Journal of Psychology 9(4) (1936), 72–76. I thank Stephanie Olsen for pushing me to reflect further on this distinction; a fuller response will take me well beyond the limited parameters of this brief chapter.Google Scholar

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© Ishita Pande 2015

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  • Ishita Pande

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