Author : Reshma Katragadda, Student at Manipal University, Jaipur.
Sati or Suttee Sacrifice was a ritual which was prohibited in India. Sati Scarifies means scarifying her life either by burring alive or burning the widow alive either by force or through her own will immediately after the death of her husband (during the husbands pyre or funeral).
The word “Sati” was derived from a woman named as Sati Devi as mentioned under Siva Puranas. Sati Devi was the daughter of Daksha. She was not initially widow when she scarified her life. The story behind her sacrifices was that her father Daksha organized a grand sacrificial ceremony and didn’t invite her son-in-law in order to humiliate him. Sati started a fire and jumped into fire to show the devotion towards her husband in order to save him from humiliation. After the incident, in order to show her honor and venerate the concept of sati sacrifices was derived.
CONCEPT OF SATI IN THE BOOK OF MAHABHARATAM
The concept of Sati Sacrifice was also mentioned in the book of Mahabharatham, an ancient history of India. The story where this ritual was mentioned is as follows- the King of Hastinapuram named as Panduraju had two wives names “Kunti Devi and Madri”. On a fine day King Panduraju went to the forest for hunting and died due to some unfortunate events but a few believed that he died due to a curse. After the death of King Panduraju, his second wife Madri sacrificed herself along with the side of her husband in order to show her devotion towards the King or her husband. But a question arises that why the first wife did not sacrifices herself to show her devotion towards her husband. It was mentioned in Mahabharatham that it was because Madri asked her to take care of their children, as she was not confident in doing so and thinking that she was not fit for taking care of the children.
In earlier times most of the ritual was followed by the wives and concubines of the Kings. Most of these tradition was followed in the states of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. This ritual was traced first in 4th century B. C. But most of the ritual were traced from 5th to 9th Century. Sati Scarifies is also known as a group suicide or a collective suicide. This system was tolerated as it was witnessed during British period where British official used to visit the place of sacrifices lead the people during such period to interpret as a permission to perform such ritual.
Around 500 Centuries ago, a traveler from Portuguese visited a destination in India, named as Hampi. After he left the place he wrote a story about the place as – Hampi is a place of Devotion towards god. Women there were taught with the culture of self-sacrifices to be made immediately after her husband death. As soon as her husband dies he is placed on the sticks organized with different flowers, the woman after her mourning of her husband is encouraged by her family members and relatives to sacrifices herself along with her husband as it is a tradition which was followed from very long time. For this sacrifices she organizes herself by dressing in a white saree along with along the jewelry she has and with different kinds of flowers. After she is dressed, her relatives and family members sing a song to encourage her claiming that she is going to her husband so don’t worry and then burn her alive along the side of her deceased husband.
As mentioned above and through above circumstances it was clear that Sati Sacrifices was a Hindu tradition and culture followed from very long time. But why this tradition was prohibited in India and why was there so much criticism to this tradition. Because earlier times, most of the marriages were child marriages that is, people of from the earlier period didn’t care about the age gap between the girl and the man when they were married. A girl of 10 years were married to a man of 70 years. And after even a single day of marriage if the husband dies due to suffering from illness or disease or age or any other event, such a small girl is treated as widow and she has to undergo the tradition of Sati sacrifices. She was forced to end her life at such a young age. This tradition of child marriage was practiced because of the poverty crisis and illiteracy during such period in India.
At the period of the Portuguese in Goa, and then was by Dutch in Chinsura and French in Pondicherry have banned the practice of Sati ritual or sacrifice. But, by the time of British Era the ritual of Sati still continued to take place and it was most commonly found practicing these Sati rituals in the places of Bengal and Rajasthan. As it was still legal to practice these rituals at that period of time but then the practice of sacrificing widows was banned in the place of Calcutta, (1789) but the surrounding areas still practiced the Sati Sacrifice.
In Bengal, there was myth that people belonged to Kuline Brahman were very honored and respected. On the basis of this myth women family forced to marry the male member that belonged to Kuline Brahman. As there was a shortage in men that belonged to Kuline Brahman the females were forced to marry that men who belonged to that of Kuline Brahman even if he was married either once or twice or many more, sometimes which may extend up to 50 wives or even more. After marriage if the husband dies due to any illness or any other reason all the widows were either forced or by their own will in practice of Sati. If any widow was not nearby to the deceased husband they take any piece of clothes or any other item belonging to her deceased husband and throw themselves in to the fire. It is believed by the family members that by doing the Sati Sacrifice they would be mire honored and respected. Due to illiteracy the woman could not grasp that it was just a myth that was believed for no reason. Innocent women use to accept the practice but the women who reject were forced or directly thrown into the pyre.
Time flowed at the year of 1815-1825 and it was recorded that more than 5000 widows were sacrificed while practicing the ritual of Sati in Bengal alone. Before, in 1812 Raja Ram Mohan Roy started a movement called Anti-Sati in order to stop the sacrificial rituals of the widows. The reason to start this movement or resolution is because he has witnessed his own sister-in-law who was forced to sacrifice herself in the ritual. He was very hurt by seeing a woman sacrifice herself weather on her own will or by forced.
Later on the Britishers, after knowing what the ritual and sacrifices is all for and has banned the ritual with the help of Lord William Bentinck in the name of companies Jurisdiction, Raja Ram Mohan Roy could succeed in banning the Sati in the places of Bengal and the surroundings of Bengal by the time of December 4th of 1829. People who are found still practicing these rituals were declared to be held of guilty for “Culpable Homicide”. It is also said that Bengal was the first place to be banned from practicing the Sati ritual.
The act was made illegal and punishable by the courts:
“The practice of suttee, or of burning or burying alive the widows of Hindus, is revolting to the feelings of human nature; it is nowhere enjoined by the religion of the Hindus as an imperative duty; on the contrary a life of purity and retirement on the part of the widow is more especially and preferably inculcated, and by a vast majority of that people throughout India the practice is not kept up, nor observed: in some extensive districts it does not exist: in those in which it has been most frequent it is notorious that in many instances acts of atrocity have been perpetrated which have been shocking to the Hindus themselves, and in their eyes unlawful and wicked….The practice of suttee, or of burning or burying alive the widows of Hindus, is hereby declared illegal, and punishable by the criminal courts.”
Later on the ban was challenged in the courts and when the case went to Privy Council in London, the Council has declared that case is to up held the ban. But in the Princely States it was remained legal such as the state of Rajasthan where it was very common that we find the Sati Sacrifice until later it was declared that even in the Jaipur it was banned in the year of 1846.
In 1861, as the control over India has gone into the hands of British Crown, Queen Victoria has issued a permanent ban on the Sati sacrifices throughout the India. And in the year of 1987 the State Government of Rajasthan has passed Satiwhich declared that if found practicing the Sati Sacrifice, they are to held charges and to be held guilty as a punishable offence.
Later on the matter went to the parliament for enactment of the Act which applies to whole of India. Therefore in the year of 1988 Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987 was enacted by the parliament of India. In this Act it was provide that any person who was found practicing the Sati Ritual was to be sentenced with an imprisonment which may extend to 1 year or with fine or with both. It was also mentioned that any person who is found or involved in mere sightseeing shall be awarded with a sentence of imprisonment of life. And any person who glorifies the practice of Sati sacrifice shall be awarded with an imprisonment which may extend up to 7 years and along with the fine.
Even after the enactment of Sati Act, this practice was found to alive when it was reported in the village of Latur, Maharashtra. It was reported by the villagers that the widow was found half burned on of her deceased husband pyre. A case was registered in Maharashtra calming to be the practice of Sati Sacrifice.
 Year 1515
 Sati Regulation XVII A. D. 1829 of the Bengal Code
 in the year of 1832
 Prevention Act, 1987
 in 2015