Sati in India

Sati-the Burning of The Widow

Sati is the practice through which widows are voluntarily or forcibly burned alive on their husband’s funeral pyre. It was banned in 1829, but had to be banned again in 1956 after a resurgence. There was another revival of the practice in 1981 with another prevention ordinance passed in 1987 (Morgan 1984). The idea justifying sati is that women have worth only in relation to men. This illustrates women’s lack of status as individuals in India

FAQs on Sati Courtesy:  Miral Patel and Ekta Bhattarai

I.  What is Sati?
Hindu custom in India in which the widow was burnt to death on her husband’s pyre.
Can be a voluntary choice or force upon a woman by her in-laws.

II.  Reasons for Sati
A widow’s status was looked upon as an unwanted burden that prevented her from participating in the household work. Her touch, her voice, her very appearance was considered unholy, impure and something that was to be shunned and abhorred.
A woman was considered pure if she committed Sati.

III.  The History Behind Sati
Sati, the wife of Daksha, was so overcome at the demise of her husband that she immolated herself on his funeral pyre.
Sati was the consort of Lord Shiva. She burnt herself in fire as protest against her father, Daksha did not give her consort Shiva the respect she thought he deserved.

IV. Theories of Origin
Even though Sati is considered an Indian custom or a Hindu custom it was not practiced all over India by all Hindus but only among certain communities of India.
Sacrificing the widow in her dead husband’s funeral or pyre was not unique only to India. This custom was prevalent among Egyptians, Greek, Goths, and others.
Ramayana- Sita walks through fire to prove her purity.
Mahabharata- Madri throws herself on her husband, Pandu’s fire.

V.  Outside Views Impact
A few rulers of India like the Mughals, tried to ban this custom.
Italian Traveler Pietro Della Valle (1586-1652) has documented the Sati ritual that he witnessed in the town of Ikkeri in November of 1623.
Colonel William. H. Sleeman (1809 – 1856 A.D.) served as the collector of  Jabalpur.

VI. Sati in the Modern times
In general, before this custom was outlawed in 1829, there were a few hundred officially recorded incidences each year.
The efforts of Raja Rammohan Roy and other Hindu reformers greatly impacted the movement to outlaw this practice.
Even after the custom was outlawed, this custom did not vanish completely. It took few decades before this custom almost vanished
In 1987 an eighteen years old widow, Roop Kanwar, committed Sati in a village of Rajasthan
The ‘Sati’ version is that Roop told her father-in-law she wanted to commit Sati.
Roop was forced to commit Sati.
The case went to court, but no one was charged with her murder.
Even in the year 2000, you hear about Sati occurring in rural villages.