Coming of Age in Colonial IndiaThe Discourse and Debate over the Age of Consummation in the Nineteenth Century

Subhasri Ghosh
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Girlhood is the cusp between childhood and adulthood, a hyphen that joins both, but nevertheless an integral and important phase that signifies the transformation to womanhood. Here I analyse the attempts made by the British imperial power to define girlhood in the Indigenous Indian context, more precisely to fix an age from which girlhood commences.1 Historiography has dealt in detail with late-nineteenth-century attempts to codify coming of age. Seen from the perspective of reformist, feminist and hegemonistic studies,2 which view the issue of fixing the age of consent as the culmination of the colonial government’s decision to brand India as a backward nation and project themselves as a saviour, these studies essentially focus on the Age of Consent Act of 1891. This thereby gives the impression that the combined efforts of the colonial government and the enlightened sections of the Indigenous society resulted in the passage of the 1891 Act, overlooking the fact that one needs to rewind to the early decades of the nineteenth century to reach to the core of the issue.