Sati and the Plight of Indian Widows

Torched by protestors, a piece of the set of Water burns
Torched by protestors, a piece of the set of Water burns
Sati is the traditional Hindu practice of a widow burning herself to death on her husband's funeral pyre. Sati, in Hindu, means "virtuous women". It is believed that a women who sacrifices herself after the death of her husband is ultimately virtuous, and will go to heaven. These women are worshiped as Goddesses. If they didn't commit suicide, the widows were considered cursed, and would not receive child support, and were shunned from society.

  • What is the history of this issue?

    • Sati is not unique to India, it began in the north Indian state of Rajasthan and is associated with the Rajput warrior cast. These people culturally viewed Sati as the extreme expression of marital valor. This tradition later spread south to India, and was banned in 1829 by the British within India.
  • How do Indian citizens justify or explain it within the context of Indian culture and society?

A woman who burns herself on her husbands funeral pyre or partakes in Sati is highly honored by some in India. This is because many people in India interpret the hindu religion to mean that women who commit Sati go directly to heaven. This belief seems okay for people in India because it is a very patriarchal society, and woman are are valued very little.
  • Is this an appropriate way for women to be treated? Was it appropriate at one point in history? How have times and traditions changed throughout history that allow us to look at these issues differently?

    • This is not an appropriate way for women to be treated because they are getting hurt and killed by this ceremony, either by choosing to do so, or are pressured into doing it. This would happen if the family that the wife is in is very religious, they would probably put social pressures on her so that she would end up doing it.
    • Sati, at one point in history, has been appropriate because it was thought that the women would go to heaven and be with their husbands even after death. Since they would go to heaven, it was considered the right thing to do.
    • The times have changed because other people are looking towards the ceremony and find it wrong. Not only that but women have gained power in the world so pressure on them is less great, and can be ignored.
    • This tradition is taken much more seriously today, meaning that if someone were to commit Sati nowadays, it would be a much bigger deal than if someone were to commit it 50 years ago.
  • Do these issues extend to the rest of the world? Find an example of a similar tradition in another culture? How are they dealing with it in contemporary times?

    • In the Jain tradition, their is a suicide practice called Sallekhana, when one dedicated their soul in prayer. although there are numerous instances in which women have preferred Sati over Sallekhana - especially in the cases of untimely deaths of the husband. Sallekhana asks for the wife to abstain from eating until they die. This is not considered "suicide" because its not hasty. The women are given time to reflect on their lives and karma.
    • Crimes against women, devaluing the woman's life, occur across the world.
      This woman was tortured and killed by her tribesmen in Delhi. Her crime was that she refused to perform Sati the funeral practice among all Hindu communities in which a recently-widowed woman would either voluntarily or by use of force to immolate herself on her husbands funeral pyre however Indian media DOES NOT cover the importance of Sati and highlight false statements as denying of such practice.
  • What strides are the Indian government and Indian society trying to take to eradicate such traditions? Are they effective? What are some of the obstacles to their success?

    • The Indian government delegalized Sati in 1829. It doesn't occur as often, but still happens in some rural cultures. It is also illegal to be a bystander while Sati is taking place; they are required to snitch on those involved to the government.
    • Although the practice of sati has been virtually non-existent elsewhere in India after the British banned it in 1829, about forty cases have taken place since India‚Äôs independence in 1947. Twenty-eight of these cases have occurred in Rajasthan, mainly around the Sikar district.
    • Obstacles in the goal of entirely eradicating Sati are very abstract. You can't constantly monitor every cast and village in a country as large as India, with as great of a population.
    • America has not yet gotten involved, and probably because we don't fully understand Hinduism, and their cultural beliefs, and because it isn't a huge issue, inhumane acts against women occur all over the word. America condones equality and women's rights, but there is nothing we could do to help.