CHAPTER III. CASTE AND CUSTOM.

“There is no people upon the face of the earth who are afflicted with so many self-imposed, and therefore remediable, evils as the Hindus.”

Sir Madhava Rau,

An educated Brahman.

 

 

GOSHA ” ; ” Murrevu “—what do ‘ these words mean ?

A month ago a comrade-0 friend on the hills told us about a young wife whom she was visiting. ” Her limbs are being slowly twisted up with rheumatism. They want to try a quack medicine, but are too poor to afford it ; or rather her husband does not care enough to be willing to spend anything upon her. And after all it would not do any good. It is sunshine she wants, and that is just what she cannot get. She is Gosha.”

One day she took me to see her. She lives in a room facing north, and walled in on the south, so that no sunshine ever enters it. The floor was damp that day; she was crouching on it, but rose as we went in. A woman with a sweet wan face which must have been beautiful once, but the shadow of Gosha had crossed it, and stamped the beauty out. Now it is full of pain, though so patient. One’s very heart ached for her. She showed us her poor hands, twisting, thickening at the joints. She spoke of the medicine, and my friend told her again it was sunshine she needed. She shook her head : “I am Gosha.”

There outside was the sunshine, shining straight down as it does out here, where the sun rides overhead. Within two steps from her door it was filling the street with its warmth and light. Only two steps away, yet utterly out of her reach. For she must live shut up inside. This is what Gosha means.

And there she is, fading away like a flower in the dark. Who cares if she pine and die ? Her husband can get another wife—wives are cheap in India. Nobody cares what happens to her, if only the Gosha laws are fulfilled—for that to them is everything. Oh, this terrible Gosha !

One realised the power of Mahommedanism afresh, even if only viewed from an external point of view, as we stepped out into God’s free sunshine, so near her, yet so far away, and left her behind—in prison.

Of the spiritual antitype I need not speak. It is so evident. But just for a moment think of her. When you read these lines she will most likely be just as she was that day—only perhaps suffering more, as the weary pain gains ground inch by inch. Think of the system which shuts her down, fastens her on the rack, holds her there, kills her, should she wish to be free. ” We take it all too easily, far too easily. We see them Perishing, and we know they are perishing; but yet we go about our ordinary avocations as though there were nc such thing as perishing people, and as though we could not do infinitely more than we are doing to try to save them ! ”

« * *

Murrevu — another language, and meaning Gosha, so to speak, for a prescribed time, differing according to caste. What Gosha is in Mahommedan work, Murrevu is in work among Hindu caste-women and girls. And caste is a thing with an iron hand : it grips, and it grips to the death.

We were missioning in a large Hindu town a few weeks ago, when we came across a girl-widow of eighteen, a very fair girl, with luminous, starlike eyes, and a cloud of wavy hair. We heard her story. Oh, the pathos of it !

A little while since she was married ; within twenty days she was widowed. They took her beautiful silks away, and her precious jewels and trinkets, and robed her in the widow’s white —the hated, dreaded white ! Then she sat and wept, and wailed. ” Oh, my husband ! my Lord ! the light of my life, my heart’s desire ! you have left me swinging in empty space. I look all round ; I see you not ! I wander hither and thither in vain. Oh ! sinner that I am ! There is no comforter ! ”

And so the days passed, for she must never cease to mourn, and fast, and weep, if haply the sin, her mysterious other-birth sin, about which she often wonders, may be forgiven her.

It was so we found her. She was sitting in the little house doing nothing, just mourning for her dead.

We showed her the Wordless Book. Her eyes lit over the gold-leaf page, and she said : “Is there a way to that Golden City (one of their names for Heaven). Is there a way by which I can go? Oh, tell me ! ”

We seldom hear this sort of question ; I had never heard it before, and it flashed across one’s mind : Would she come with us and learn ?

There were such possibilities open, if only she would ! We asked her. Her mother might come, too, we said. (They live alone together —two widows.) They could learn then every day, and very soon they would know the way to the Golden City.

The girl was leaning forward, her dark eyes shining with excitement. She turned to her mother. “Mother! ” she said, half breathlessly. For a moment no one spoke. Could this daring thing come true ? Oh, would they come ?

Then, “She is in Murrevu.” Not another word. It was enough. We asked “For how long ? ” ” For twelve whole years. She may not go out even to draw water. She is in strict Murrevu. It is our custom.”

Again we went to see her, and again she listened heart and soul, as it seemed, to the good tidings of great joy, meant for her, even for her, a widow ; but a question arose about caste. Slowly the awful involvings dawned upon them. The mother broke out in lament. ” Would you steal my daughter from me ? Would you leave me to die without her ? Shall my eye grow weary with longing ? Must they fail with watching for her ? Faint, I shall cry for water ; but thirsty I shall lie ! And this is your good religion ! Alas ! that you call it good ! ”

Still she listened, and still we prayed, and we marvelled that the house was kept open, for one such visit usually shuts the door, and once shut it rarely opens again.

One evening the girl asked : ” Could you not come every day ? ” We had to tell her we could not. There are so many other towns, and many, many villages, and we have no one to send to them. She said: “Come every day when you come to our town ; ” and we promised indeed we would. The mother smiled grimly, and said: “Don’t think you are going to win her! She is in Murrevu, so how could she be a Christian ? ”

Then, as if to prove the absurdity of it she pointed to the verandah running round the house; “See! she maj’ not even put her foot upon that; so how could she be a Christian ? ”

We pleaded with her ; but no. ” My heart is stone when you talk of your God ; talk as far as you may, not an atom moves within me.”

Next time we went the girl was gone. The old mother watched our disappointed faces with malicious delight, explaining how her daughter had gone to her mother-in-law’s to a great feast, and would not be back for a few days. Where is the mother-in-law’s village ? ” Oh, a long way off to the west.” “Its name?” She smiled as she answered. The village she mentioned does not exist. We saw further questions were useless. The answers were all to?put us off the track. The girl was gone. That was all we knew for certain.

But after a while she became less wary, and l>y mistake the truth came out. It was just what we had expected. The mother-in-law heard of our visits and came down upon the mother for letting us come. ” Oh ! we had such a family fight! She tore me with her words. She told me about you. How you went to two caste houses such as this, and dusted magic powder on two girls’ faces, and they broke caste, and fell into the pit of Christianity, and you bewitched them still further, and took off their jewels and sold them ; and now you are going to marry them to low caste men “—a flight of imagination, this. ll Oh, it is very bad ! How could you do such things? So she took my daughter away by night, shut up in a covered cart, and nobody here knew. So her Murrevu is not broken. And she will always live with her mother-in-law, and you will never see her again ! ”

” But how sad for you ! You will not see her either ! ” ” Oh ! yes, I shall. I see her every day. I saw her this morning.” Then suddenly realising she was telling the truth she relapsed into lies, and we heard no more. But we concluded she is somewhere quite near, only hidden as any girl here may be hidden, even if she is within one wall’s distance from us.

As I write we are daily, hourly watching lor the Lord to work for us concerning another girl, for truly we are shut up to waiting for Him. I have never once been allowed to see her because of the myth about the magic powder. Some of our workers have seen her for a minute or so at a time, and they say she is being kept wonderfully brave and true. Beyond this we know nothing, except that she is fighting against tremendous odds, with nothing to help her except a little Gospel of St. Matthew which we managed to send her, and which she keeps hidden in her dress, and reads when she has the chance. She is in strict Murrevu, too, and still more in very strict guard. She is never alone day or night for one moment, lest she should escape to us.

She believes herself to be of age, but cannot prove it, and we have reason to know that we cannot, and all the other castes have for once combined, and tell her that if she dares to disgrace herself, her family, and her village, by becoming a Christian, they will all unite and back up her parents in a lawsuit—and of course as false witnesses are cheap here (fourpence a head) any number will be found read) to swear away as many years as are required to prove her a minor. I hardly like to write more of her yet. The issue is too uncertain. Twice she has been hurried away to a distant village. Once, at least, she has been seen crying under the lash. There is a cruel wrist-twisting torture in vogue here ; she may have that to go through. But worst of all is the danger from the powers of evil all round her. Will she hold out ? Will she give in ? Oh ! who will pray for a victory here, just where the fight is hottest ?

And friends, as I write it, the thought comes —who among you who will read it can really pray ? Surely only those who at all costs have given (if they could not come) to heathendom. Bishop Hill put it solemnly when he said : “Look at the millions without Christ, and you will find an Altar. And may God help you to be a sacrifice! ”

Lastly, and will you not forgive this way of answering the thought which always seems to rise where God’s altar comes into view : ” Yes, you may sacrifice if you choose ; but let those you love best sacrifice ? Never ! Never at least, where it costs.'”

Three day’S ago in the late evening I stood by the side of one who was dying. The courtyard was full of people. They were all very still. The room was even more crowded. But no one spoke. They all watched. In the midst lay the dying woman. She lay in mortal pain. Every breath was a stab, her hand was burning in fever. She could not speak, she just looked. Never shall I forget that look. Helpless, hopeless, utter fear! That long look haunts me still.

I had to leave her, and come home. An old man walked in front with a lantern. It was dark all round, and there was a great silence.

Then it seemed as if all nations, and kindreds, and peoples, and tongues of India were passing on towards a mighty gate. And they knew not what lay on the other side. But I knew that it was the Gate of Death.

There were very few to tell them so. Still, here and there were a few, and they turned some back from the Gate of Death.

Then the darkness lightened into day, and I saw, as it were, in a glory cloud, the passing on toward another Gate of some who had given those few to turn whom they could from the Gate of Death. And one (in the words of the old tale I tell it) ” passed over, and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side,” and one to whom the way had been rough said as she neared the Gate : ” However the weather is on my journey, I shall have time enough when I come there to sit down and rest me;” and so was comforted. And for all it was pure joy, for they knew what lay on the other side.

‘* And they had the city itself in view, and thought they heard all the bells therein to ring to welcome them thereto. Oh! by what tongue or pen can their glorious joy be expressed ? Then they came up to the Gate.”

And among the Shining Ones who met them were some whose faces beamed as they saw them, and they welcomed them with a special welcome, the words whereof I could not hear. But I saw that those who had entered in understood, and rejoiced with a wonderful joy, for they knew they had helped to fill Heaven.

And down on this lower earth a song seemed ringing sweet and clear :—

“Oh ! if one soul from India

Meet them on God’s right hand, Their Heaven would be ten Heavens In Emmanuel’s Land ! ”

 

Share to Facebook
Share to Google Buzz
Share to Google Plus
Share to LiveJournal
Share to MyWorld
Share to Odnoklassniki
Share to Yandex
This entry was posted in From the Fight. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.