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?