Sati Historical Background

The history of ‘Sati’ incidents, explicitly or implicitly, have a chronicled past, which are as old as the history of gender-based subjugation in social relations. In this subjugatory relationship the woman becomes merely a means for preserving the purity of the blood-heir, and is like a commodity. All kinds of social, cultural, political violence are the by-products of the secondary-status of woman in our present system.

World history, in general and Indian history, in particular reveals that ‘Sati’ was a widespread social phenomenon in patriarchal society. We find the history replete with hordes of stories, narratives, scriptures, sordid polygamous tales related to female circumcision. India perhaps has the longest history of assisted suicides, Ichha-Marana and Jauhar systems were essentially “self-immolation” mechanisms in ancient India.
Hindu mythology, in the Vedas, epics, puranas, exegeses, verses, hymns stories exhort the account of this act. Vedas, the genesis of Indian intellectual heritage, sanction the practice of Sati.

“Let these women, whose husbands are worthy and are living, enter the house with ghee (corrylium). Let these wives first step into the pyre, tearless, without any affliction and well adorned”. (Rigveda X, 18.7)
According to Vasishta's Padama Purana, a woman must, on the death of her husband, allow herself to be burnt alive on the same funeral pyre. Vishnusmriti gives two choices for the widow: “If a woman's husband dies, let her lead a life of chastity, or else mount his pyre.” (Vishnusmriti XXV. 14)
Brahma purana also sanctions Sati:
“It is the highest duty of the woman to immolate herself after her husband” (Brahmapurana 80.75)
“Long life is promised to the Sati” (Brahmapurana 80.76, 80.77)
Even in our ancient and most venerated epics, the Mahabharata, there are several instances where the women preferred to commit Sati on the demise of their husbands and consorts.
“Several of Krishna's wives performed Sati upon his death, including Rukmini, Rohini, Devaki, Bhadra and Madura”. (Mahabharata Mausalaparvan 7.18)
“Madri, the second wife of Pandu, considered an incarnation of the goddess Dhriti, performed Sat.” (Mahabharata Adiparvan 95.65)
“Mandodri, wife of Ravan committed Sati”. (Ramayana, Lanka Kand)

States in India where it was practiced

The practice of Sati was not peculiar to one region of the country; we find evidences across the spectrum from ancient to contemporary Hindu society. But, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Bengal and Uttar Pradesh reports extend upto the 21st century. “Some 30 cases of Sati from 1943 to 1937 in the Rajput/Shekhavati region are documented; according to a referred statistics, the official number being 28”. A well-documented case Rani Sati, Chavo Devi from Jhunjhunu and in 1987 was that of 18 year-old Roop Kanwar. “In 2002, a 65-year old woman by the name of Kutlu died after sitting on her husband's funeral pyre in the Indian Panna district, on 18 May 2006, Vidyawati, a 35 year old woman allegedly committed Sati by jumping into to blazing funeral pyre of her husband in Fatehpur district in the state of Uttar Pradesh. On 21 August 2006, Janakrani, a 40 year old woman, burned to death on the funeral pyre of her husband from Narayan in Sagar district. On 11 October 2008, a 75 year old woman, Lalmati Verma, committed Sati by jumping into her 60-year old husband's funeral pyre in Rajpur district, Chhattisgarh”. Interestingly, horrific evidence shows that sati tradition pervaded only in savarna castes i.e Brahmin, Kshatriya and Vaishya castes. There have been no reports whatsoever from tribal, scheduled caste and other backward castes.

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