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16 Bentinck - William Bentinck report to the Council of the...

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William Bentinck, report to the Council of the British East India Company on the suppression of sati , November 8, 1829 Bentinck (1774-1839) was a successful British soldier in the Napoleonic Wars. In 1811 he went to Sicily as commanding officer of the British garrison there, and played a major part in overthrowing Sicily’s reactionary queen. He attempted (but failed) to persuade the British government to annex Sicily, and then in 1814 launched an invasion of mainland Italy using British and Sicilian troops. He pronounced Italian independence and unity, but the British government had other plans for Italy, and recalled Bentinck in 1815. Bentinck served as a Whig (liberal) Member of Parliament from 1815 through 1827, where he was a close ally of John Stuart Mill’s father. In 1827 he was appointed Governor General of Bengal (roughly modern Bangladesh), with the mission of turning around the finances of the British East India Company, which was operating at a loss. Bentinck succeeded, making the Company highly profitable by the time his term ended in 1835, and also championed a liberal and Westernizing approach to ruling Bengal. This report was written in 1829 to persuade the Company’s Council to outlaw sati , the Hindu practice of having widows burn themselves to death (or be burned to death) on their husbands’ funeral pyres. Whether the question be to continue to discontinue the practice of sati , the decision is equally surrounded by an awful responsibility. To consent to the consignment year after year of hundreds of innocent victims to a cruel and untimely end, when the power exists of preventing it, is a predicament which no conscience can contemplate without horror. But, on the other hand, if heretofore opinions are to be considered of any value, to put to hazard by a contrary course the very safety of the British Empire in India, and to extinguish at once all hopes of those great improvements affecting the condition not of hundreds and thousands but of millions—which can only be expected form the continuance of our supremacy, is an alternative which even in the light of humanity itself may be considered as a still greater evil. It is upon this first and highest consideration alone, the good of mankind, that the tolerance of this inhuman and impious rule rite can in my opinion be justified on the part of the government of a civilized nation. While the solution of this question is appalling from the unparalleled magnitude of its possible
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