//Sati: A religious custom or a customary murder?

Sati: A religious custom or a customary murder?

Ritam Banati, Zee News

Sati was in the news recently when a 77-year-old woman burned herself in the pyre of her dead husband in the Gaya district of Bihar. The villagers who witnessed the heinous act hailed this. Social conditioning or whatever might be the reason behind this, there is no ambiguity on its criminal intent and action.

Sati was supposed to be a glorious tradition of brave Rajput women, who immolated themselves to save their honour in the event of the defeat or demise of their husbands in battle. Sadly, this has been reduced to a shameful practice of burning the widowed womenfolk on the pyre of their dead husbands in the present times for absurd reasons.

During the 3rd century BC when Alexander invaded India, the women whose husbands got killed in the war preferred immolating themselves on the funeral pyres of their husbands rather than succumbing to the demands of the enemy soldiers. This system was proudly referred to as "Jouhar". Rani Padmini of Chittor who preferred death to dishonour in the not so distant past has found an honourable place in our history.

This practice to escape abuse has been converted to its present form of drugging and torching a widow for purely economic reasons. Dayabhaga system in Bengal prescribes that after her husband`s death, the wife is but naturally the inheritor of all his property and also is legally entitled to his share in ancestral property. The tradition has become a weapon in the hands of evil minds to prevent what is lawfully the widow`s and her children`s.

There have been people in the ancient and medieval times who strove hard to eliminate it. Akbar tried to curb it albeit unsuccessfully. The Brahmo Samaj of Raja Ram Mohan Roy succeeded in the endeavour. We cannot deny the contribution of the British Governor of Bengal, Lord William Bentinck who passed the Sati Regulation, XVII of 1827 following which the system was legally banned in 1829.

But this did not prevent its continuation. One such incident is the Roop Kunwar incident of 1987. It had created quite a furore when all 11 politically influential people were acquitted by the Court in 2004 which stated that prosecution could not prove that the actual crime had indeed taken place. The high court issued directions banning the Chunri ceremony but it was held in total violation of the court`s order. Following the heat that this generated, the Commission of Sati (Prevention) Bill was introduced which came into force on March 21, 1988.

It is fine to have a law on the statute book. At the same time law is impotent if the state lacks the will or/and inclination to implement it. Why the law did not prevent people from treating it like a spectacle to be watched in the Gaya district of Bihar this year is the moot question.

Why talk of the illiterate villagers when literate people whose business is to govern us, acknowledge the sanctity of this degrading custom. When the temples dedicated to "Sati Mata" are used as a means to attract tourists. When an "educated" Chief Minister of a state offers tributes at a Sati temple instead of invoking an outright ban on all temples that in any way glorify the evil practice.

It is indeed horrendous that in the so-called modern era we are witnessing such acts. God alone knows how many go unreported. There is a need for awareness that it is not sati that is glorious, but its antidote which is. There is a stringent need to propagate the belief that witnessing such a crime is tantamount to its felicitation.