I am here today to provide knowledge to my audience about the origins, practice and abolition of an age-old Hindu custom called Sati which was prevalent in some communities in India. I would like to take you all for a short journey to a modern village called Deorala which is situated in Rajasthan, a north-western Indian state. It was 4th September, 1987 and the entire village was drowned with sounds of bands, drums, hymns and religious chantings like ‘Sati ki pati ki jai’. An eighteen year old Rajput woman, Roop Kanwar, dressed like a bride, stumbled behind her husband’s body as if intoxicated, surrounded by armed youths. Soon after, she was buried under a heavy load of firewood in the funeral pyre of her husband and then burnt to ashes within a few hours. Her own brother-in-law lit the fire and whether she cried for mercy or not could not be ascertained due to the loud prayers and the cloud of pouring in the fire. None of the 90-odd people who witnessed the murder made any effort to help the flaming woman, maybe out of shame or lack of courage. Instead, she was called ‘Sati Mata’i.e. Pure Mother and a shrine was erected in her name. The embers of the pyre were kept alight for many days and stories of miracles and super-natural powers abounded, alluring the pilgrims who started flooding in with offerings and funds for the construction of a temple at the ‘Sati Sthal’ i.e. the place where this poor widow was burnt alive. This is the account of a true incident written in Death by Fire by Mala Sen, which created furore among all the feminists, media and the educated population alike. But what led to this inhumane human sacrifice and why? This is an age-old social custom which was prevalent in some Hindu communities in India during olden times and is called ‘Sati’. Sati was the religious funeral practice of immolation of widows on the funeral pyres of their dead husbands, either voluntarily or through coercion. Ms. Shakuntala Rao Shastri,...
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