widowed children had decreased from about
  it’s suggested that only about three million girls and two million boys
  were forced into a child marriage; the largest percent of these marriages
  were between Muslim children. The bill’s census report, however, shows
  that the law reached and affected the masses, even if the numbers are very
  slight. However, the Act remained a dead letter during the colonial period
  of British rule in India.
Women as Focus of Social Reform
Civilizing Mission of British In the nineteenth century, the “woman
question” loomed large. This was not a question of “what do women want?”,
but rather “how can they be modernised?” It became the central question in
nineteenth-century British India because the foreign rulers had focused their
attention on this particular aspect of society. Enamoured with their “civilizing
mission,” influential British writers condemned Indian religions, culture and
society for their rules and customs regarding women.
Ideas Influencing British Rulers The ideas which gained currency among
the British rulers of India included humanitarianism, utilitarianism, social
Darwinism and nationalism. Positivist and social Darwinian theory developed
rankings of religions and cultures showing India lower on the evolutionary
scale than countries of the Middle East or Western Europe. If there was any
hope for India, it would follow from the introduction of Western ideas and
institutions. Yet, few Western critics of Indian society really believed total
regeneration was possible. At any rate, a new gender ideology and
modification of the actual treatment of women would be the necessary
prelude to any positive change.
Indian Response to Colonial Challenge
Redefining Gender Relations Colonial domination set the change in
motion; Indians reshaped the imported ideas and institutions to fit the social
and cultural milieu. The impact of imported ideas can be seen first in the
Bengal Renaissance, when intellectuals in eastern India were rediscovering
their past and engaging in new         intellectual activity. The ideology that