A girl, barely eleven years of age, died from brutal marital rape in Calcutta in 1890. There was a huge uproar when her death intensified reformist pressure for increasing the minimum age for cohabitation for women, and when the colonial state brought forward a bill to raise the age of consent within and outside marriage. Outrage expressed in the Bengali press eventually threw up an entirely unprecedented form of political action : anti state public demonstrations on the streets.
I argue that this should be considered as the point when a full fledged Extremist nationalism became active, diverging radically from an earlier Moderate nationalism of polite petitions which pleaded for specific changes in administrative policies. I try to explain why an event of rape and death within a Hindu family inaugurated such a massive and decisive political change.
Tanika Sarkar retired as Professor, Modern History, Centre for Historical Studies, JNU. She has also taught at St. Stephen's College, Delhi, University of Chicago, University of Witswatersand, and Yale University. Her latest publication is Rebels, Wives and Saints : Designing Selves and Nations in Colonial Times (Permanent Black, Ranikhet, and Seagull, New York, 2009).