Sati

“Let these women, whose husbands are worthy and are living, enter the house with ghee (applied) as collyrium (to their eyes). Let these wives first step into the pyre, tearless without any affliction and well adorned.”-Rig Veda

Of the many horrifying violence committed against women, Sati remains the most appalling. Sati is a Hindu custom where the widow is required to immolate herself by sitting on her husband’s pyre (in some rare cases the husband too commits Sati, and a woman may commit Sati for her son as well). Sati was created as a voluntary act, however, in many cases it was observed that the pressure from the society/community and the traditions forced the woman to take such a decision. Many a times the relatives of the deceased would throw the woman’s body over her husband’s burning pyre.

The origins of Sati are not clear. While some argue that Sati is derived from Hindu Mythology, there is no real evidence in the myths to support this. Hence, this was seen mainly as a social custom. Though largely seen as Indian, the act in its various manifestations is seen to exist in Greek, Egyptian, and Scythian civilizations as well. It was started to prevent the widows to remarry after their husband’s demise, to prevent her from killing her wealthy husband, in order to claim his fortune. Many places like Rajasthan, where the Rajputs ruled for a long time, Sati was committed to restore the honor of women and thus the Rajput rule. Upon hearing the loss of battle, and the eminent capture of the territories of the kingdom, the King’s wives and concubines would light a huge pyre and kill themselves by jumping in it.

In order to banish Sati, reformists like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, argued for its complete ban. The British rule in India too opposed this medieval and barbaric act by making it illegal and punishment by death.