There’s a story I read a long time ago. I don’t remember any of the details, but I suspect its true.
Basically, in the early days of the British occupation of India, a British Viceroy outlawed the practice of burning a widow to death on her husband’s funeral pyre. Shortly after that, a delegation of local worthies came to the Viceroy and said, “This is a long-standing Indian custom.”
The response from the Viceroy was, “Its a long-standing British custom to hang those who burn women to death.”
Now, the British occupation of India had its positives and its negatives. There were some horrific massacres along the way. But they made India into something that can be said to be partly an English version of Southeast Asia. And this little story, I think, indicates how its done. Had they done the alternative – going along with local custom – burning a widow to death on her husband’s funeral pyre might still be done today.
Where the Brits simply signed off – say, on the caste system, whatever they signed off on is still there. What the Brits were willing to hang even their allies in order to accomplish, whether such a change would have been for the good or for the good or bad, got changed.
Consider this a follow up to my post on Iraq earlier today.