Widows in some states of India still immolate themselves on the funeral pyre of their husbands in accordance with sati, an ancient Indian practice of burning oneself alive, Interfax reports.
Indian authorities are aware of at least two cases of sati that took place in the last few months. On May 18th, the 35-year-old widow immolated herself in a village of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. The woman is survived by three children.
“The relatives of the deceased husband persuaded the woman that her life would have been unbearably disgraceful and she’d be better off dead by fire,” said a police spokesman.
The other case involved the 77-year-old widow in the eastern part of India. The woman burned herself alive on the funeral pyre a month earlier.
The practice of immolation of a widow on the funeral pyre of her husband existed among higher Hindu casts in the past. The practice stems from the Hindu legend of Sati, one of the reincarnations of Parvati who is the wife of Shiva and the benevolent form of the Mother Goddess. According to the legend, Sati immolated herself because she was unable to tolerate other deities insult her husband.
The practice of sati was banned by British colonial authorities in 1829. The British authorities described it as “dishonest and inhuman.” The Christian missionaries and Indian scholars shared the view at the time. However, the practice has endured through the years. The public in today’s India keeps debating whether the fight against it is worthwhile.
In December 1987, the Indian parliament passed a law to ban the practice of sati. The law provides that a woman who attempts to immolate herself will be subject to criminal prosecution, she will be either incarcerated for up to 12 months or imposed a fine. Alternatively, she may be ordered to pay a fine and then sent to prison. In case a woman dies during immolation, her next of kin will be subject to criminal prosecution for instigating suicide.
According to experts, in most cases a woman in driven to immolation by her husband’s relatives who either seek to take possession of her husband’s property or hate the prospect of taking care of a widow, Asia News reports.
At times attempts by the police to prevent a ritual self-burning of a widow cause strong discontent and protest of Hindus. In May last year violent protests broke out in a village of Rajasthan, western part of India following the police action to prevent immolation. A few dozen supporters of the Sati ritual pelted the police with rocks, they also smashed windows in nearby buildings and cars. More than 20 people were injured and about 30 arrested during the clashes.
This July the Indian parliament is due to discuss a bill aimed at adopting measures to fight the practice of sati. The bill is intended to protect a widow against the psychological pressure and open legal proceedings against a widow’s relatives if they fail to reason her out of immolation.
Translated by Guerman Grachev