Law against Sati

Sattee or ‘Widow-burning’ could not just be abolished overnight. It has been a subject of much concern to different rulers. Historically, efforts to prevent Sati by formal means were attempted even before the Mughal rulers came to power. Many rulers had tried to stop the practice of Sati.

“In 1508 A.D. Albuquirk declared it as a crime. Jahangir had proclaimed death penalty for those pushing a widow into the funeral pyre of her dead husband. Aurangzeb and Akbar insisted that no woman could be allowed to commit Sati. Pensions, gifts and rehabilitative help were offered to the potential Sati to wean her away from committing the act. But efforts to stamp out Sati were formalized only under Lord William Bentinck after 1829. With the help of Indian reformers, a law was passed in 1829 in Bengal presidency which was later extended other parts of the country.”
In independent India, the
Indian penal code came to existence. Sati was prohibited. Sati was a barbarous practice which could brook no justification.
According to “Section 300 IPC 1860, if on the facts, the ritualistic public burning or
burying alive of a woman is shown to be in voluntary, it is murder plain.”
In the unlikely event that the woman was a willing participant, her death would still amount to culpable homicide, or at the very least, to abetment to suicide even where a Sati is deemed to be a suicide,
i.e. voluntary self-killing, the presence of any intoxicant or anything which in fact inhibits ‘freewill’ makes the abettor culpable-i.e., as if he had helped the victim to die. The punishment for this is exactly the same as for murder.

“Under the present IPC no one who abets a Sati should escape the consequences of his act. Abetment can take the form of instigation, conspiracy to do an act or make an illegal omission, intentional aiding, or willful concealment.
There are enough and more laws on the statute books to punish those guilty of making any human sacrifice including widow burning.”
Following the basic urge and spirit of
Indian penal code, “the central government has passed the Commission of Sati Prevention Act of 1987.” “ The new Sati act forbade any glorification of Sati, made it punishable with up to 7 years imprisonment and a possible fine of Rs. 30,000/- (Section 5).” Glorification in relation to the practice of Sati includes, among other things, “the observance of Sati or the creation of a trust or the collection of funds for the construction of a temple with a view to perpetuating the honour of or to preserve it.”
“Following the outcry after the Sati of Roop Kanwar, the Indian government enacted the Rajasthan Sati Prevention Ordinance 1987 on October 1, 1987. The Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987, makes it illegal to support, glorify or attempt to commit Sati; this can be punished by death sentence or life imprisonment. In the memory of the persons committing Sati, enforcement of these measures is not always consistent.” “The National Commission for Women (NCW) has suggested amendments to the law to remove some of the laws’ prohibition of certain practices, such as worship at ancient shrines; this is a matter of controversy.”

Role of the State and its Machinery

In the caste-based and hierarchical society, the state and its agencies take up cudgels on one or the other side but in general they play safe. The only paramount consideration of the extent of involvement in any such case is electoral gains and losses. Politicians played politics over the whole issue. The case was not different in Roop Kanwar's incident. Ministers, judges, police, politicians, an entire gamut of obscurantist forces were convinced about protecting this barbaric practice as a ‘glorification of womanhood’. What does one say, when even a lady minister considered it a ‘precious ritual’ of the Hindu tradition? It is not only the villagers who believe that Roop attained Sat and obtained the supernatural strength to make the pyre light itself. “This view is shared by powerful Rajput politicians, Kanyan Singh Kalvi, the then state Janata Party minister, who was actively opposing the ‘interference’ of the government in what he considered a religious rite. He narrated that she became oblivious to everything around her and when her aunt tried to touch her, she was almost scorched by the burning heat of Roop's Sat. As long as he could he actively participated in ceremonies glorifying Sati and made provocative pronouncements about the freedom of religion and the sanctity of religious practices.” The attitude of the chief minister was also indifferent and brusque. Regarding the matter when women's organizations met him he merely said: “Main behas nahin karna chahata hoon (I do not want to debate on this).” The women's organizations sent telegrams to the prime minister and minister of state for women's welfare; Margaret Alva, who in turn promised to ‘interfere’ in the matter. But there was complete unanimity amongst both the opposition and the ruling party that the matter should be ignored. Organizations led processions to the secretariat but “The chief minister was absent from his office. From the home minister to deputy minister, none was present in the secretariat .They refrained from doing anything more than registering an FIR. They made no attempt to collect on the spot, eyewitness accounts.” Police took the matter as a routine crime and investigated with the same spirit. Such officials and politicians opined that the high court ban would only serve to antagonize the Rajput lobby and compound the problem. In all events and purposes, Roop Kanwar's sati practice in the state is a normal occurrence and its glorification was a part of Rajput culture.

Kalvi said: “I am against Sati as a practice. It should be punished as suicide. But,
once it is done, what is the point of harassing innocent people? There are certain
rites which must be done. No one can interfere with these rites.”
The political scene in the country is increasingly being dominated and determined by caste and religious fundamentalism in a variety of guises. There are politicians who are constantly on the look out for issues around which they can whip up public sentiments and thus garner support for their narrow electoral ends. This barbaric tradition, where a woman pays the price, the power wielders use for political ends, is a male political preserve.
But there can be no denying that there is a silver lining, that gives a hope of positive effort on the part of police in the recent years. “Three Sati attempts have been made since 1981 but they were all prevented by the police. In one such instance, a woman in Devipura, barely two kilometers away from Deorala, tried to commit Sati after her husband died. But on hearing of it a police officer rushed to the spot. A crowd had already assembled and there seemed no way they could be stopped. The officer then told the woman and villagers that by custom the woman sets herself on fire automatically through Sat and that no one must help her or light the pyre for her. She was put on the pyre and the village waited for two hours for the ‘miracle’ to occur. At the end of the two hours, the police officer made her descend the pyre and took her into custody 2009. 60 year old Sharbati Bai attempted to commit Sati on her husband's pyre in Sikar district. She could not because the village and the police stopped her just in time.”


Sati tradition acts as catalyst for bringing to the foreground the tough social fabric of Indian society .This is actually another expression of power structure in society. Therefore, the argument is not only about the legitimacy of the sati but much more than that- the position of women in Indian society, about the sensitive relationship between man and woman in social life and also the issue of private property. This debate also demonstrates the dangerous nexus between religion, caste and politics. The key question is that of the orientation of the women’s movement. In order to develop the right perspective, we must adopt a dialectical and historical approach in our analysis. The question of prime importance is whether sati itself is the problem or is it a consequence of an insensitive system that has high tolerance for such acts? Such a system provides widows two choices –either to burn in the husband’s pyre or to go to Haridwar and Vrindavan and live a life of abstinence and suffering. Therefore, it is not merely about inner or individual change, it is about questioning the patriarchal system. Through such traditions and heteronormative ethical values, the system establishes its control over woman’s mental and physical life.


Traverse- travel across or through.
Siblings- each of two or more children or offspring having one or both parents in common; a brother or sister.
Pampering- indulge with every attention, comfort, and kindness; spoil.
Mollycoddling- treat (someone) in an indulgent or overprotective way.
Indulgence- In the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, an indulgence is "a way to reduce the amount of punishment one has to undergo for sins" which may reduce either or both of the penance required after a sin has been forgiven, or after death, the temporal punishment, (not "time," as Purgatory like Heaven and Hell is said to exist "outside of time,") in the state or process of purification called Purgatory.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes an indulgence as "a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints".
Turmoil’s- a state of great disturbance, confusion, or uncertainty.
Applause- approval or praise expressed by clapping.
Tangible- perceptible by touch.
Cerebral - of the cerebrum of the brain.
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