The Marquis of Lansdown
said, he had a Petition of a peculiar nature to present to the House, to which he wished to call their Lordships' attention for a moment. Their Lordships, doubtless, were acquainted with the fact, that Lord William Bentinck, as Governor-General of India, took upon himself some years ago, after giving to the subject that calm and serious attention which it demanded, to issue an order, by which a 577 most inhuman practice, that of burning widows on the funeral pile of their deceased husbands, was forbidden. That enlightened individual took upon himself the responsibility of abolishing so barbarous a custom, and thus prevented widows from being so permitted and encouraged to destroy themselves. In consequence of this, some months after the order was carried into effect, a number of individuals, Hindoos by profession of faith, assembled together, and signed a petition, deprecating this intervention with their religious ceremonies, and condemning the interference of the Company and their agents, in thus forbidding the fulfilment of an ancient rite. The petitioners prayed that the subject might be investigated before the Privy Council. The petition was forwarded to the Privy Council, and if it were the wish of those persons to be heard before that body, it would be the duty of the Privy Council so to hear them. But since that petition was presented, an individual who, he believed, was known to some of their Lordships, and whose abilities were very generally acknowledged in the East — a Brahmin of India, Ram Mohun Roy—called upon him and stated, that, under the impression which existed in India, that such a petition as that which he had described would be presented, not to the Privy Council, but to the House of Lords, a number of the most influential and intellectual natives of India had met together, and determined to send a counter-petition (that which he held in his hand) to the House of Lords. In that petition they expressed the great approbation with which they viewed this act of the government of India; and they stated their decided conviction, after looking into the Shasters and Vedas, that the inhuman custom which had been abolished was not authorised by the Hindoo religion. They observed, that it was first instituted by certain Hindoo princes, for private and personal reasons; and they further declared, that one of the most important injunctions of Menu was, that widows should live in the observance of purity and virtue after the death of their husbands—that they should lead a life of chastity and austerity, but that they should not destroy themselves. In his opinion, every humane mind must rejoice at the abolition of such a custom. Many of those who had governed India were, he believed, shocked at the reflection that a 578 practice of this description prevailed, and that they were without the power of preventing such disgusting scenes.
§ The petition, which was from certain natives of India, was laid on the Table.