Mother India

by Katherine Mayo. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co. 1927. 8vo. xvi-(-421 pp. Illus. $3.75.
MISS MAYO went to India ‘to see what a volunteer, unsubsidized, uncommitted, and unattached, could observe of common things in daily life. Leaving untouched the realm of religion, of politics, and of the arts,’she confined her’ inquiry to such workaday ground as public health and its contributing factors.’ Many journeys she made ‘up and down and across’ India; visited sittings of all-India and provincial legislatures, municipal boards and village councils, also agricultural stations, cattle farms, animal asylums, schools of all sorts, common bazaars, rich homes, poor homes, and many hospitals; talked with Indian and English officials, doctors, nurses, health officers, educators, peasants, untouchables, princes, politicians, religious leaders. ’The frankness of their talk’ — ‘this excellent Indian frankness’—enormously helped her investigations, and her facts are facts. The incubus of the caste system — Brahmin domination and the reduction of sixty million Indians to a subhuman status and literal ‘untouchability’; the political disunity and narrow communal rivalry and selfishness which continually obstruct the attainment of Swaraj — home rule; the almost universal illiteracy and ignorance of hygiene, the often barbarous therapeutics, the appalling insanitation, the regularity of seasonal epidemics, the prevalence of Venereal disease, the heavy mortality; the subjugation of women, and the atrocities of child marriage, which requires girls to be married before they are twelve, even though the bridegroom be seventy, and ends not uncommonly in the intra-marital ravishing of little girls of seven and eight, in cripplings, paralysis, insanity, and agonized deaths; the almost incredible infant mortality, and all too credible death rate of child mothers and purdah women; the suffering and vice commonly following on enforced widowhood in the higher castes; the shocking temple prostitution of deradasis and muralis; the sexual extravagance, premature impotence and old age; the sickening cruelty to animals, not only in the passive cruelty of neglect and starvation, but in the active torture of the phuka practised upon cows, the prodding of the testicles of draft animals, the brutal disjointing of the tails of draft bullocks, their merciless beating and overloading, the skinning alive of goats, the savage harrying and killing of sacrificial buffaloes; the resistance of the masses to change, the indifference of many of the intelligentsia and their complete satisfaction with talk in the place of constructive, corrective work — all, all these things to anyone who has lived long in India and in close contact with Indian life are an old story, and of none of them except of sexual extravagance has Miss Mayo said as harsh things as have Indian reformers themselves, from Raja Ram Mohan Roy down to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. The late Pandita Ramabai once wrote a book on the sufferings and wrongs of Indian women and girls, so awful that it could not even be published.
Yes, an old story, a true story, and increasingly disturbing. The night after I had read Mother India I could scarcely sleep for remembering sufferings I had seen in India. And yet — this Mother India is not the mother her children love. To us she is more than her sins: we know her sweetness. America-visiting swamis will not love Miss Mayo, but she has nothing to fear from those who, all over India, are working to free their great mother from her bondage. Truth cannot hurt greatness, and Katherine Mayo ‘hath wrought a good work.’