The Reforms Movement against Sati

The period of Indian renaissance has a seminal significance in Indian social and intellectual life. New thought, approach and vision took place concerning life and ways of thinking. With this zeal, customs, traditions, beliefs, values, ideals which are not in keeping with humanitarian feelings or values but still being followed in the name of religion, became the object of criticism of reformers.

Ideas of liberty, equality and justice had a tremendous impact on Indian society. With this zeal, the untiring efforts were made by certain enlightened Indian reformers; Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Vidyasagar, Dayanand Saraswati and many others. They created a democratic social atmosphere that prompted and enhanced woman's question of liberty and developed anti-sati social thinking amidst people. “Among the great reformers of this period, Raja Ram Mohan Roy was astute champion of woman's rights. He felt great revulsion for many practices prevailing in India that enjoyed religious approval. His greatest achievement was the abolition of Sati in 1929. He realized that the practice of Sati was due to the extremely inferior status of Hindu women. In early 1818 he set out to rouse public opinion on the question of Sati. He advocated the rights of widows to remarry. To bring his ideas into practice, Roy founded Brahmo Sabha in 1828. It emphasized human dignity and condemned social evils like Sati Pratha.”

In a similar vein, Mahadev Govind Ranade (1842-1901) devoted his entire life to Prarthana Samaj. “He was the founder of the widow remarriage association (1861). He suggested that all customs that nurture woman's subjugation must be dismantled. He condemned the subjugation of women and opposed the then prevailing ideas that women were inferior to men in intellect or morality. Hence, the immolation of widows on the pyre of their deceased husbands is a social crime. Another outstanding reformer in Bengal was Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar (1820-1891). He dedicated himself to the cause of the emancipation of women. It was due to his sincere efforts that obstacles to the marriage of widows were removed through a law in 1856.”
Besides these pioneering thinkers there are many reformers who made great efforts to establish a humanitarian society in which women could be identified as human beings with wills of their own. So they could participate in and share the political and social arena.

Women's Organizations against Sati

In the case of Roop Kanwar protests by various women's organizations catapulted the issue into public focus. Hemlata Prabha, general secretary of the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) Rajasthan, Jaipur, said “Seven of us from different women's organizations went to meet the chief minister and demand for urgent intervention in the matter. The women's organizations were the only ones to raise a voice of protest against the incident.” They felt that “There was complete unanimity amongst both the opposition and the ruling party that the matter should be ignored”. Hence, woman's organizations led a procession to the Secretariat. Nearly 300 women from 11 organizations marched after few days of incident. Due to the government's apathetic attitude, the women's organizations decided to go to court. “They at large called Roop Kanwar's burning a murder and demanded a strong central law not only to prevent Sati but to deter its glorification. Following a public interest writ filed by Dr. Renuka Pamecha, a division bench of the Rajasthan High Court ordered that ‘the state government must ensure that no public function is held which may have the effect of glorifying the institution of Sati.” Women activists also questioned the warning of the police to open fire against the assembled crowd. Police blamed that women's organizations had blown the issue out of proportion and outrageous criticism of the role of women's organizations came from the Rajput lobby. “BJP leader Omprakash Gupta referred to the women activists as ‘bazaaru aurat’ who were unmarried and would remain so. How could these women know about ‘pativrata’c or the desire to commit Sat, he asked”. The activists have also been accusingly labelled as women with no respect for the Hindu religion and influenced by western ideologies. It was only after various women's organizations filed a writ in the Rajasthan High Court seeking a ban on the Chunri Mahotsav, that the CM made an appearance on television to condemn the incident. “On March 3, 2004, many women's groups including the Rajasthan University Women's Association (RUWA), Sathin Karmachari Sangh and the National Federation of Indian Women, under the banner of Mahila Atyachar Virodhi Jan Andolan, staged a march in Jaipur protesting the acquittal, on January 31, of all the accused in four criminal cases of glorification of Sati”. Pressure from women's groups led to the promulgation of the Rajasthan Sati (Prevention) Ordinance, 1987. “On the celebration of 400th anniversary of Rani Sati (Jhunjhunu), women's organizations filed a writ petition against immolation as it was against the dignity and democratic rights of Indian women.”22 They also demanded a ban on offering of the Kalash, the Chunri, Chhappan Bhog, Sati Puja etc., rituals they claimed were used by politicians for mystification of religion to preserve the supremacy of traditional and patriarchal structures.

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