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)


‘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?


Sexual Desire Child Marriage Young Wife Premature Marriage Hindu Nationalism 
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© Ishita Pande 2015

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  • Ishita Pande

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