The Religious, Caste and Psychological Factors

We are a part of such society in which the sole source of our thoughts and behavior is religion. In its connotative traits religion constructs two world views:
Transcendental and transient. In its epistemic form it adopts a metaphysical methodology rather than a dialectical one. A world outlook, in which one dreams of ‘heaven and hell’, social cruelty and oppression get consent in the name of values. Ceremonial killing of widows in the name of ‘Sati’, is its ultimate example. Vehement defenders of Sati offer spiritual cake with a frosting of eternal virtue. Quintessentially, it promotes anti-people values. By this rhetorical jargon not only they legitimatize crime against women, but also portray it as a value and an ideal.

Woman, for example, is an idol of sacrifice, love, penance etc. Commemoration of Sati in the name of eternal status and liberty, glorifying the social disgrace of woman becomes the mechanism for perpetuating the social killing of women.
Sativarta, chunri mahotsav, sakti sthal terms reflect terms of disguise for cruelty towards a widow. Agni purana declares that:

The woman who commits ‘Sahagamana’ (joint departure) goes to heaven. Hindu mythology reiterates that those who died with the love of their life were united with the man in heaven in an eternal nuptial bond.

The inhabitants, who do not admit witnessing Sati and attribute their account to others, give graphic descriptions of the events leading up to the act. The girl, they say, acquired Sat - a supernatural power which is akin to a trance-like state where the woman's body burns to the touch and her eyes redden and glow. No one dared dissuade her in the fear of being cursed by Sati Mata. Roop Kanwar, they say, had only raised her hands and pyre itself was set ablaze. About 4,000 to 5,000 people watched the event. “A lot of gulal was thrown in the air blessing the crowd assembled there and chanting the gayatri mantra, Rajput youth carrying rusty swords shouted slogans like “Ek do teen char, Roop Kanwar Ki Jai Jaikar”, “Jab Tak Suraj Chand Rahega, Roop Kanwar Ka Naam Rahega”, “Sati Mata Ki Jai”, “Desh Dharm Ka Nata Hai, Sati Hamari Mata Hai”. Both her parents said that it is only ‘by the grace of God’ that one becomes a Sati: Showering blessings on them. tenth standard school girls reacted, “I won't become be a Sati. But my parents say only a very good woman becomes Sati. Most families believe that if you stop such women from becoming Sati, they can curse you.” The chief minister's statement was even more ridiculous. He opined that “Roop Kanwar committed Sati voluntarily.” The Rajput lobby emphasized that Sati was a voluntary act performed by woman who possessed great courage and valour. They asked: “Roop Kanwar committed Sati voluntarily, then why should her family be arrested?” This, for them, was interference in their religious rites. But again we are afraid of the term ‘Voluntary’. A society in which power relations between two sexes exists, comes subjugation, oppression, suppression, torture, deprivation, etc. and sheer compulsion is portrayed as a voluntary act. In the case of Roop Kanwar, an old widow woman reacted that “Roop Kanwar was lucky enough to find the opportunity to perform suicide at the time of her husband's death”. Slavery, loneliness and sexual harassment are synonymous to the life of a widow. The condition of a widow is more dreadful than that of a slave. Widows were always very stoic and they were forced to lead a horrible life of torture, disfigurement, tonsure and deprivation with an enforced strict ban on their dreams. Self-immolation on her husband pyre must have been more preferable rather than dying every day. The pathetic status of widows shows that the treatment meted out to them is a major factor underlying the Sati phenomena.

For a widow life was as good as over. Widows were expected to sleep on the floor, avoid eating spicy food and eschew dressing in certain colors. They had to be up before the other family members and sit away from everybody at all functions. In the fear of losing self-esteem as a woman, fear of evil eyes, the purveyors of ill-fortune, she would willingly embrace the flames. She perhaps favoured death to humiliation; maybe it is the materialism of spiritualism. Fearing social stigma, even if death by Sati was voluntary, it was outrageous. Even if it is ultimately proved beyond doubt, it must be remembered that she is a product of patriarchal society in which she grew up and lived. History shows that the psychology of a human being is conditioned by the social system. In a male dominated social structure, the status of women is so low that there is very little room for women to exercise their ‘free will’. The Khap- Panchayats practice absolute control over the choices and lives of women. Under such control would Roop Kanwar or any other 18-year old girls like her have been allowed to voluntarily choose their husbands or opt for re-marriage? When seen in this context, the arguments put forward by defenders of this practice of a ‘woman's will’ to commit Sati, stand exposed.

Rani sati temple in Jhunjhunu

There is a negative aspect of this phenomenon too. Businessmen, religious and community leaders and the government, for their own interests, project sati temples as tourist destinations. The grand fountain head of sati is the temple built in memory of sati in Jhunjhunu district. Throughout the year thousands of national and international tourists and pilgrims come to visit this sati temple. In the case of Roop Kunwar, attempts were made to collect funds for the construction of a temple at the site where the incident took place. Though the practice of sati may be simply falling out of vogue, yet the magnificence of the temple attracts visitors. The temple industry thrives around the sati temple.
But the issue in 1987 came under spotlight when the infamous incident of Roop Kanwar took place. The concept and practice of Sati emerged anew. “On October 4, 1987, a young educated woman Roop Kanwar was burnt alive on her husband's funeral pyre in Deorala village in Sikar district. She had married Mala Singh, 24, a graduate and a sick person. Roop Kanwar spent most of her time with her parents, in the eight months of her married life she spent barely 20 days with her husband, few days immediately after marriage and a few before their deaths.
Dressed in bridal attire, Roop Kanwar walked at the head of the funeral procession to the centre of the village and ascended the pyre. And placed her deceased husband's head in her lap and her husband’s family members lit the funeral pyre. 400 villagers watched, and not one had the gumption to protest, not a single police man appeared in the vicinity.”25 After her death she was hailed as ‘Sati mata’ which translates as ‘pure mother’ and a shrine was set-up on the site of her immolation. Most of the inhabitants opined that Roop Kanwar's death was “A voluntary act of heroic courage” which had turned her into a goddess. But there is also another side to the mirror. According to the poorer inhabitants of the village, many of whom did not dare speak openly for fear of offending the murdered woman's well to do father-in-law, she had screamed and begged for help as the flames consumed her.
“The girl was swaying from side to side as she came out of the house and walked to the cremation ground. She was surrounded by Rajput youths till theend.” Another boy who claimed to have watched the entire incident said: Roop was frothing at the mouth. Eyewitnesses questioned by the police said they heard her shout ‘Bachao’. She cried for help and struggled to get out but the coconuts and the heavy logs of firewood buried her. Because of the gulal in the air and crowds craning to get a glimpse, they could not see the pyre. Roop's parents were not informed, given the proximity of Deorala and Jaipur. Interestingly, at a meeting of “the Dharam Rakha Samiti in Deorala, leading members of the Rajput community, BJP leaders expressed again and again their determination to go ahead with plans to build a temple at the site. “Any disruption in our plans to build a temple will be an insult to the Hindu religion. Roop Kanwar was a woman of extraordinary powers and a goddess. Deorala is no longer a village. It has become a devgava (village of goddess).” They advocated that every village should have a Sati temple to commensurate it. The government cannot afford to antagonize the Rajputs.
One of the most disturbing fall-outs of the incident was the revival of Sati as an honourable tradition by very strong vocal segments of the Rajput community, led by prominent religious and political leaders. Every year Rajput's households perform the Roop Kanwar Sati puja according to Hindu calendar on Gyaras.

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