April 28, 2006

Sati, Suicide, Murder, Rose-Whats In A Name

Filed under: India n Me,Most Read,Random,Suicides murder women,This Gets To Me — Kaveeta Oberoi Kaul @ 1:52 pm

India, the land of mystics and mysticism, snakes and snake charmers, elephants and mahouts, Maharishis and Maharajas.

While all of the above fail to make news any more and are nearly as extinct as the soon to be ‘black buck’ of Salman Khan fame..what lives on is Sati- a ritual where the widow burns herself on the funeral pyre of her husband.

A recent incident invited attention to this dehumnanising practise which Raja ram Mohan Roy and Lord William Bentick had abolished almost 175 years back, or so it appeared.

It is alive(?) and well in rural India. There are almost 250 temples in the country with a continuous flow of devotees. The most high profile and hyped self-immolation was that of Roop Kanwar, all of 19, who died on the pyre of her 75 year old husband. There have been scores which have gone unreported, for every one with its story in print.

History bears evidence that this practise was adopted to save the widows from being captured alive by attacking forces,of the neighbouring countries. What has remained under wraps however is whether the act itself was intentional or one of coercion due to various factors. There have been rampant incidents of aspersions cast on the dishonorable intentions of relatives who, in their avarice and greed for the wealth/property of the deceased would rather have the widow ‘out of’ the fight for inheritance.Therefore, cloaked in fanfare and ritualistic ‘tamasha’ the innocent and helpless wife found herself burnt alive, and a temple built, as a mute evidence of the most heinous of crimes. A ‘halloed honor ‘ for a murder most foul.

“Sati-Mata”..Right.. So long as she graces the temple as a stone idol!

The Sati(Prevention) Act of 1987, minus teeth, was unsuccessful in curbing the practise. What is heartening is the news reported by The Times Of India that a bill to the effect of putting the onus on preventing sati on the family and village, is under way..A bill incorporating new clauses will be introduced soon in the Parliament where”it will be presumed that the sati was attempted under duress and that the immediate family was in a position to stop her but did not.” a progressive piece of legislation where the proposed law makes no distinction between ‘passive observers and abettors’.

The widow, will thus be protected by law from being coerced to end her life if destiny has decided to end her husbands. Fair enough. Would that however spell financial relief, social acceptance, and familial respect? NO. A society which has been anaesthetised into accepting an age old practise as mere spectators has also in the process convinced itself of its validity and relevance. Judicial intervention is not going to be welcomed with alacrity.

“How can we stop her from committing suicide?” In all probability this will be the resigned response from relatives of another widow, from that community when news of her death surfaces. Sati, albeit , a new name, Suicide.

Women Dispensation is the reality, Women Empowerment .. a myth

Consider for the sake of hypothesis, that the widow does genuinely care enough for her deceased husband. Would she even in the given scenario agree to extinguish her life or opt for it under duress? Or the fact that she fears for her safety in any case? This itself is a relection of the bindings and social stigma at work in rural India.

So India is a land of diversities.. Whats new about that!! nothing.. Here is another reason ‘To Die for’..latest report of a Dowry death.

I love my country..Which other, the world over, boasts of such ingenuous methods and reasons for murder?


  1. bring this to DC

    Comment by temporal — April 28, 2006 @ 6:51 pm | Reply

  2. Was planning to write my usual thesis but decided against my normally weak rant!!!

    First off, there is no way that any semantical argument can be accepted for the killing of another human being whether its Sati, Dowry Death or Female infant- and foeticide. Secondly, none of the above has any legal sanction whatsoever.

    It is up to us and members of the so-called ‘civil-society’ to ensure that such incidents do not happen in this country. Let us not just shrug our shoulders and make a comment like ‘Shit happens’ and go back to drinking our whiskies and soda, the next time we hear about it.

    Kudos, Kaveetaa, for bringing the topic up. And yes… I love my country too and therefore would like to ensure a murder is treated like a murder and not cloaked behind ‘cultural traditions;. .. Death of human being has never had and can never get a cultural or a traditional sanction!!

    Comment by Chameleon's Karma — April 28, 2006 @ 8:19 pm | Reply

  3. When an outsider narrates to me incidents of the kind in India, I get worked up and challenge it. But finally one has to see truth in its face and accept it, for any lasting change to occur..It is a shame!Even in this day and age,such incidents make your blood boil.

    Comment by doublebarrel — April 28, 2006 @ 10:15 pm | Reply

  4. Dear Kaveetaa, I have read of this ancient tradition; under this law, I am surprised women marry at all?

    I am so glad Kaveetaa, there are people like you, with good intentions for her homeland; to bring standards of respect for human life, up to par with modern expectations of a free’r nation.

    Hopefully, the upcoming time in the courts will be ushering in a new dawn for women in India, and elsewhere, that are treated less than human.

    May the Godness of All, let it be so!


    Comment by North — April 29, 2006 @ 5:31 am | Reply

  5. Ck,

    Exactly. more than the event what gets me is the apathy of the average man towards an event of the kind.. I cannot fathom as to why is it that their blood does not boil.

    Desensitisation of the human psyche has taken place to such a degree that until n unless a tsunami like occurrence does not happen, no one wants to lift his little pinky.. and if someone like me does not want to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to these very age old traditions, then it is considered unneeded.

    If we as an aware and enlightened society do not sound the death knell of practises which reek of cruelty and a debased mentality, then what is our purpose of considering ourselves worthy of being humans?

    It is on account of this ‘chalta hai’ attitude that things have gotten to this stage. I have always taken keen interest in incidents of the kind n raised awreness and my disgust at them. The tale of suffering which precedes such ‘murders is ghastly.. inhuman and barbaric.


    Thanks for the wishes. For those of us who live in metros and cities, with recourse to education and privileges, life has taken on a more civilised turn. But for women living in the villages, it is yet an uphill task, They are so steeped in traditio n culture that social ostracism and its ensuing fear, has led for many a suicide and helpless aceptance of even sati.

    Imagine a society deciding that it is now time for you to say goodbye, since your husband has .And the fact that it can happen even today is appalling. If a 10000people can watch as silent spectators , ten it is apparent that it has the passive acceptance of those which can multiply into lakhs of those conforming to that ideology.

    That is scary.

    Comment by Kaveetaa Kaul — April 29, 2006 @ 11:01 am | Reply

  6. Definately, inhuman and barbaric Kaveetaa…it is so disturbing to know; that in some country’s these cultures treat women(life-bearers of man) with such little respect and regard, as to burn her alive with her husbands corpse.

    this must be abolished without haste!

    I read on the conditions of women in India; and other places in the world Kaveetaa,,,it is heart-wrenching how little we are regarded as,,,in the eyes of the world at large..


    Comment by North — April 29, 2006 @ 6:39 pm | Reply

  7. North,

    On the oher hand, we as a nation are devout worshippers of goddesses..

    But not in the female human form.

    Also, it has been said that our ancient texts had contributions of women as well. So it is not as if respect for women and her pace in society is totally an alien concept.

    That is what is strange.. the wide chasm that exists between two opposing mentalities.

    Hopefully things are looking up. Man and woman are both an integral part of a home, society and nation. One cannot do without the other. And should not. The relationship which the two should ideally share has been inspiration for the greatest literature, or art in any form. Sad that we lose out on it, mostly because we lack the persistence to make it work, unconditionally.

    It makes me very perturbed to see marriages/relationships disintegrating. So much of love suddenly transforms into sour ed emotions and all vanishes.

    Comment by Kaveetaa Kaul — April 29, 2006 @ 11:18 pm | Reply

  8. I have read the reports that you have linked and also the news papers. Frankly my first reaction was to ignore and move on.After reading you blog have realised that there are issues we take for granted as ‘shit happens” ..just like Ck mentioned. It is very true. I think if an incident like this were to take place in a metro , and there was a candle light demonstration, it would have taken on a new meaning. Very few bother with what is happeneing in the villages of India. Sad but true.

    Cases of this sort have decreased. That does not mean that even a single life is worth losing this way.Because it shows the thinking of Indians, and something we ought to be ashamed of. Hopng it will die a death..Sati will die a death.

    Btw.. count me in as your team member for those afflicted with your ‘malaise’ is infectious. I will write you an e mail soon.:)

    Comment by Anonymous — April 30, 2006 @ 3:16 pm | Reply

  9. Anonymous,

    honesty is always refreshing.. ofcourse one does not expect an uniform level of emotional responses from all across the board. By and large however the thumb rule for me is endeavouring to be ‘a voice for the voiceless’.

    Nothing is more tragic than to see a wrong that has been allowed to ferment and rot coz no one was willing to bell the cat.

    as far as sat , and whether or not one can hope to see a complete stop to the practise, is Imo, not very imminent in the near future at least.

    this is the reason why..

    This is a report on a congregation at a Sati temple.

    “Women’s organizations are understandably distressed over the public response to the congregation at the Rani Sati temple in Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan, in early September. Over 15,000 pilgrims – men, women and children – attended the three-day annual puja (prayer) at the temple, thereby reinforcing the controversial practice of sati. The puja was held after a gap of several years, following the Rajasthan High Court’s recent go-ahead to the puja – at the Rani Sati temple, as well as the Dhauli Sati temple in Sikar district.”

    This kind of moral, social backing is the root cause which may hinder the wiping out of the practise as a whole.

    A matter of concern also is that witnesses refuse to give testimony in courts, despite being present in thousands, for aiding and abetting as well as glorification Of the practise of sati, as is evident from the report below.

    (Info Change News & Features, March 2004)

    Sati glorification: Crime, Society and the Wheels of Injustice

    by Rakesh Shukla

    On March 3, 2004, women’s groups including the Rajasthan University Women’s Association, Sathin Karmachari Sangh and the National Federation of Indian Women, under the banner of Mahila Atyachar Virodhi Jan Andolan, staged a march in Jaipur protesting the acquittal, on January 31, of all
    the accused in four criminal cases of glorification of sati, which was abolished in 1829 by Lord Bentinck. The accused include, among others, a former minister, a former IAS officer, an advocate and the president of the Rajput Maha Sabha.

    The cases go back to Deorala 1987, and have a chequered career. The Rajasthan High Court quashed the chargesheets in December 1987 itself! The Supreme Court finally reversed the high court judgement and sent the cases back for trial in January 2003.

    On September 4, 1987 in Deorala, a nondescript village in Rajasthan, 18-year-old Roop Kanwar burned to death on the pyre of her husband Maal Singh. Dressed in bridal finery, Roop Kanwar walked at the head of the funeral procession to the centre of the village and ascended the pyre. The family lit the pyre fully aware that she was sitting on it, alive, with hundreds of onlookers watching the proceedings. In fact, relatives even fed a thousand people in honour of ‘Sati Mata’.


    Under the ordinance, 22 criminal cases pertaining to these rallies were filed for ‘glorification of sati’. On October 11, 1996, the additional district and sessions judge at Neem-ka-Thana in Rajasthan pronounced all 32 accused, including Roop Kanwar’s father-in-law, ‘not guilty’ with regard to the immolation. They were acquitted. The main reason for their acquittal was stated to be the absence of eyewitnesses to the immolation, which took place in the presence of hundreds of onlookers.

    The court’s finding brings us to the acquittal, on January 31, 2004, of all the accused including former minister and vice-president of the state’s BJP Rajendra Singh Rathore, former Bharatiya Yuva Morcha president and nephew of vice-president Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, Pratap Singh Khachariawas, president of the Rajput Maha Sabha, Narendra Singh Rajawat, former IAS officer Onkar Singh and advocate Ram Singh Manohar in four of the criminal cases under the 1987 ordinance.

    Under the ordinance, ‘sati’ constitutes the burning or burying alive of any widow along with the body of her deceased husband or with any article, object or thing associated with the husband, irrespective of whether such burning or burying is voluntary on the part of the widow or otherwise.

    The court, duty-bound to apply the definition of sati as laid down in the law, instead declares that ‘sati’ means a “woman being virtuous, having strong character, completely devoted towards her husband and having a relationship with only one man during her whole life”. Applying this subjective meaning, betraying a patriarchal mindset, the judgement refers to Sita and Anusuya as ‘satis’ and observes that the invocation of their name would obviously not make a person guilty of sati glorification.
    (Rakesh Shukla is an advocate with the Supreme Court)

    So one does what one can and should. Not turn a blind eye and a deaf ear . To raise ones voice against something so inhuman and barbaric. Deep rooted cultural beliefs, are a tough obstacle to overcome. But one is hopeful, that India will emerge in all its glory, free of the shameful practises that are prevalent, re-awaken as a society conducive for the progress of our Gen Next.

    Thanks for the offer of joining me.. it was very sweet. I honestly mean to have a dedicated lot at sachiniti.

    A few good men and women can change in a year what the average masses may do in a century.. so says Swami Vivekanada.

    But for that come out of hiding:) awaiting your email

    Comment by Kaveetaa Kaul — May 1, 2006 @ 10:50 pm | Reply

  10. In my studies at college, it is said that women were actually the leaders and rulers of countries, “because” they were life-bearers.

    To make a very long story short; one day, men decided they’d have nothing more with women telling them what to do!

    Men took over. Look at the mess they made! Are we surprised?

    I hope Kaveetaa; one day you will be able to write a blog saying guess what? this and that, has been abolished and banned!! : )


    Comment by North — May 4, 2006 @ 8:13 am | Reply

  11. If you want to read a reader’s feedback 🙂 , I rate this post for four from five. Decent info, but I just have to go to that damn msn to find the missed bits. Thank you, anyway!

    Comment by How to Get Six Pack Fast — April 15, 2009 @ 11:49 pm | Reply

  12. i think sati is a rily bad thing. in sociology class i;ve done it. and since that i’m interested of learning more on that but when i’ve read its shocking. sati practise is something rly……. i thank god that this has stop otherwise all woman will be buried alive. zats rly sily. the woman has no fault at all….

    Comment by Ashwinee — June 20, 2010 @ 4:10 pm | Reply

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