TYRANNY OF CUSTOM
Customs, traditions and usages are the result of long experience of people living at a particular period. When certain things are found to be useful for a certain society, these things are being adopted by the people of that time. Later on those practices are transmitted to the posterity, and then they take the form of the customs and traditions. Customs are therefore, the expression of the accumulated wisdom of our ancestors. Our ancestors in all walk of life setup, Customs and traditions. Thus, we have social customs, political customs, racial customs etc.
Customs of the earlier stages of their operation were not tyrannical. They were wholesome and salutary. They regulated the life and the habits of the people of a particular time. Acting in accordance or in conformity with the customs and traditions set up by experienced people, human beings could easily follow the path of progress and advancement. Customs became the torchbearers and beacons of hope to the people of those times. Customs continues to exercise their healthy effect on human society, so long as the condition, in which they operated, continued to prevail. The tyranny of customs began to be experienced or felt by the people when customs began to be applied blindly even when the social conditions had undergone a change. Customs really proved to be tyrannical when they were followed or pursued even when they had become out-of-date.
Certain social customs began to show their tyranny and cruelty with the passage of time. For example, the custom of Sati which was once a good one when devoted wives voluntarily chose to die with their dead husbands began to be tyrannical when women were forced, much against their will to embrace flames which consumed the dead-bodies of their husbands. Similarly, the custom of keeping the widows in their widowhood without allowing them to remarry became extremely tyrannical and the Bengali widows had been the worst victim of this tyranny of customs.
Let us take the practice of Purdah, which is a feature among ladies of high social status in certain countries of Asia and Africa. Ladies, accustomed to Purdah cannot dream of playing the role of Chand Bibi or Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi. Like a bird, kept in the cage they feel ill at ease outside the confines of their dwelling houses. Being deprived of opportunities for studying life at various levels, they remain poor in worldly wisdom and their outlook remains narrow. Instead of making their due contribution to the cause of their community’s progress they constitute a drag on it.
The custom of putting women’s feet in a pair of tight wooden shoes all the time and for long periods, was universally observed in China and Japan till recent past and has not perhaps, wholly disappeared even now. The purpose of this custom is alleged to be to prevent women from growing their feet to the usual normal size which may help them to walk and run like men and elope with a paramount at the first available opportunity. This artificial check on the growth of a limb, locked up in a hard wooden case at an early age, causes an extreme—rather unbearable—pain in the imprisoned organ and the victim has to bear the nerve splitting agony weeping in silence, as moaning or crying would he considered a shameless and immodest act.
From the few examples, cited above, we can realize the tyranny or baneful influence of customs in our social life. Customs check progress and advancement, and adherence to the old customs mars the growth and development of healthy life. Customs prove to be impediments in the free will of a person and make him a slave in his outlook; under the force of custom it becomes impossible for a person to have his own way and act according to his own free will.
Many reformers from time to time raised their voice to throw off the yoke of baneful customs. Mahatma Gandhi, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, Swami Dayanand, were some of the great social reformers who waged war against many social evils and tyrannical customs, like child marriage, untouchability, Purdah, feast for the dead etc. To a great extent they did succeed in their noble missions. In the modern age every democratic government is doing its bit to purge the people of the evil customs. For doing away with the evil and tyrannical customs, it is essential for the new generations to evolve a broad and cosmopolitan outlook. Our government, with the help of legislation will not be able to tackle this crucial problem, which has its roots in the social and moral soil. We need a new type of social and ethical education which is to create a new orientation of our social and moral outlook and develop in us an enlightened and reformative attitude towards our society and the country. Tyranny of social customs must be done away with once and for the good or else our new India will not take her place in the community of great nations of the world.