Sharat Pradhan in Lucknow | May 20, 2006 11:02 IST
India's Constitution may have banned the social practice of widows immolating themselves at the funeral pyre of their husbands, but in the heartland of India's most populous state Uttar Pradesh, the practice continues to this day.
35-year-old Vidyawati gave up her life on Thursday evening by jumping into the blazing funeral pyre of her husband in a village in Fatehpur district, about 170 km from Lucknow.
Even as local cops were debating whether it was a case of sati or 'forced suicide,' information reaching the state headquarters in Lucknow said the incident took place around 6 pm in Rari-Bujurg village under Binkdi police circle of Fatehpur district.
Sati is the ancient Indian tradition where a woman immolates herself in her husband's funeral pyre.
Fatehpur district superintendent of police Veer Bahadur Singh told rediff.com: "The incident followed the recovery of the body of Vidyawati's husband Lakhan Singh who had been missing since May 15."
"Since Lakhan's body was in a highly decomposed state, it was taken directly for cremation after the post-mortem; Vidyawati came down to the cremation ground on the pretext of offering her last homage to her husband. No sooner than the pyre was in full flames, she jumped into it," he added.
Eyewitnesses told police that one of her relatives did make an attempt to pull Vidyawati out, but failed to do so, and Vidyawati was consumed by fire before the eyes of scores of villagers who had gathered to attend the funeral.
However, some eyewitnesses made contradictory statements, alleging that Lakhan's family members pushed Vidyawati into the pyre. The police have registered a case against Lakhan's brother in the case.
‘Forced sati’: Fatehpur village shocked numb
Rao Jaswant Singh, Indian Express, Fatehpur (Bindki), May 19:
IN a shocking incident that indicates the presence of sati in the country’s heartland, a “forced sati” was witnessed this evening at Raari Khurd village, under Bindki police station of Fatehpur, when locals “humiliated and provoked” Vidyavati, 45, to jump into the funeral pyre of her husband Lakhan Lodhi.
The Bindki Police has registered a case of provoking for suicide under Section 306 of IPC against 200 villagers, including three brothers of the deceased.
Kalyanpur Police meanwhile took Lodha’s son Neeraj into custody for interrogation.
According to reports, Vidyavati had an extramarital affair and lived with one Rohit of Gazipur block (under Kalyanpur police station) for the past two years with her three children. Her husband Lakhan Lodhi, who worked as a vendor, lived in the village, reports said.
Vidyavati reportedly sent a message through Neeraj, 20, to her husband on May 14, evincing interest in meeting him. Lodhi, missing since that day, was found dead on Thursday — his body was recovered from a pond in Revari village under Kalyanpur police station.
According to reports, when Vidyavati arrived to offer prayers late this afternoon while the cremation was on in a field in Raari village, the locals, who held her responsible for Lodhi’s death, first humiliated her for the alleged extramarital affair before some of them pushed her into the funeral pyre and forced her to remain in the fire till she died.
Inspector (Bindki) Siraj Ahmad Khan, however, told Newsline that though Vidya had extramarital affair with Rohit she committed suicide, fearing arrest on charges of murdering her husband.
Superintendent of Police Veer Bahadur said the villagers incited her to jump in the funeral fire as they held her responsible for Lodhi’s death. “A complaint has been registered against Lodhi’s brothers — Ram Vilas, Prem Lal and Kartar — and all villagers present at the spot,” he said.
Sub Divisional Magistrate Gyanendra Singh told Newsline: “Either she committed suicide out of humiliation, or she was pushed into the pyre by relatives. These are just the possibilities…but the picture would be clear after the police arrests the absconding Rohit and Lakhan Lodhi’s brothers.”
Meanwhile, terrified into silence, the villagers refused to answer the media’s queries. “We don’t know anything”, or “we were not present when it occurred” was all said.
On repeated queries, a villager, identifying himself as Pitambar Lodh, told Newsline that “Vidya had a bad character and had illicit relationships with more than one person”, before going silent.
Another villager, who refused to give his name, said: “Vidyavati and Rohit called Lodhi to his house, served liquor and then murdered him. Later, they dumped the body in the pond.”
The Kalyanpur police said they were conducting raids to arrest Rohit, absconding since the incident.
According to reports, Rohit, who was an insurance agent, had done Lodhi’s insurance for Rs 10 lakh, and that the latter had paid only two instalments of Rs 4,000 each.
Security tightened after ‘sati’ case in UP village
UNI, Friday, May 19, 2006 15:30 IST
FATEHPUR (Uttar Pradesh): A woman allegedly committed 'sati' by jumping on to the funeral pyre of her husband in Rari village of this district.
Police, however, termed the incident a ''simple suicide'', while an FIR has been lodged against the family members of the woman — Vidyawati (40) — and 200 villagers.
Additional forces have been deployed at the village to prevent people from reaching the spot where the incident occurred on Wednesday.
Additional Superintendent of Police Uday Singh said that though FIRs have been lodged against many, no arrests have been made.
A case has been registered against three brothers-in-law of the woman, her son and her alleged lover. ''We are investigating the matter and those involved would not be spared,'' the ASP said.
Vidyawati had jumped on to the pyre of her husband Lalchand Lal Lodh whose strangled body was found on May 15 at a railway crossing.
The couple reportedly shared an estranged relationship and had separated five years back. Vidya stayed at Fatehpur town with her children Neeraj(20), Arti(17) and Puja (15) and she was allegedly having an affair with a man named Rohit.
Reports said Lalchand was on his way to meet Vidya on the day he died. The villagers allege she was behind the killing as she was the one who directed people to the spot where he had died, but said they did not force Vidya to take the extreme step.