//Visitors flock to 'sati' village

Visitors flock to 'sati' village

By Faisal Mohammed Ali
BBC News, Tulsipur


Janakrani ID

The dead woman Janakrani – pictured on her voter identity card

Until now a mere speck on the revenue maps, the village of Tulsipur in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh is seeing a flurry of activity.

People are flocking to the village where a woman, Janakrani, is believed to have committed the outlawed Hindu practice of "sati".

Sati, or the practice of a widow burning herself to death on her husband's funeral pyre, is believed to have originated 700 years ago.

The rare practice mostly happens in parts of northern and central India.

The state government insists the case is one of suicide and it should be treated as one.

Inquiry ordered

But the chairperson of the state women's commission, Relam Chauhan, says Janakrani committed an act of sati when she immolated herself on the funeral pyre of her husband, Prem Narayan.

A magisterial inquiry has been ordered into the case, while the National Commission for Women has asked for a report in a week.

Ms Chauhan, who is visiting Tulsipur to "do an on-the-spot inquiry into the whole affair", says: "It has to be verified if someone encouraged or coerced her to take this extreme step."

Residents of Tulsipur and many of the visitors to the village in Sagar district say they are impressed by Janakrani's "extraordinary devotion to her long-ailing husband".

In a voice full of admiration, one visitor, Ram Dayal, says he heard about the case and has come for a look.

Madhya Pradesh

A number of saffron-robed Hindu monks have also arrived here and everyone's first stop is the remains of the pyre – now a six by three-foot-long egg-shaped spot on the ground.

The police have taken the charred bones of the couple for forensic tests but a few tiny remains of Janakrani's clothes and bangles can still be recognised in the ashes.

A group of visitors from Deori, a small town 150km (100 miles) away, try to touch the ashes, but they are stopped by the police who are deployed here.

'Hindu ritual'

Janakrani's son, Ram Avtar, says his mother burned herself to death while they had gone to take a bath in the river after performing the last rites of their father and there were no witnesses to the incident.

"My mother told my wife she was going out for a while, but we became suspicious when she did not return for long and went to look for her. We found only her ashes, she was completely burnt," he says.

The police and state administration argue that since there was no ceremony and no one encouraged her, this cannot be called a case of sati.

Ram Avtar

Son Ram Avtar says there are no witnesses to the incident

Also, they say sati is a Hindu ritual and Janakrani was a tribal.

But many here say that some of the Hindu social and religious practices have been adopted by the tribes in the recent years.

Roop Kanwar case

Cases of sati are very rare in India.

The last incident, involving a 65-year-old woman, took place in Madhya Pradesh in 2002.

The most high-profile sati incident was in Rajasthan in 1987 when 18-year-old Roop Kanwar was burned to death.

The case sparked national and international outrage.

Police charged Roop Kanwar's father-in-law and brother-in-law with forcing her to sit on the pyre with her husband's body, but the two men were acquitted by an Indian court in October 1996.

Sati is believed to have originated some 700 years ago among the ruling class or Rajputs in India.

The Rajput women burnt themselves after their men were defeated in battles to avoid being taken by the victors. But it came to be seen as a measure of wifely devotion in later years.

The custom was outlawed by India's British rulers in 1829 following demands by Indian reformers.