g) Sati and Hinduism
Dr Koenraad Elst writes in Hindu Human Rights– (Serving Hindus Worldwide) on
March 13, 2013 regarding the Hindu practice of Sati– Of course it already existed, going
back at least to Proto-Indo-European days. It is also recorded among the Germanic and
Celtic branches of Indo-European (in the Siegfried saga, his beloved Brunhilde follows
the hero into death). As a general rule, it was more frequent in societies where women had honour to uphold, whereas societies where women were treated as household
commodities (like the Greek) did not know the practice at all. Variations on Sati, with
harem wives and servants following their kings into death, are recorded in ancient Egypt, ancient China, Mongolia (where the introduction of Tibetan Buddhism put an end
to it) and other societies. So India was not that exceptional.
The Mahabharata confirms the practice’s existence among the aristocracy, esp. with the
self-immolation of Pandu’s beloved wife Madri (while his other wife Kunti does not consider it). She may have felt guilty, having seduced Pandu to have intercourse with her in spite of knowing that he was cursed to die from it; but she may also not have valued life without her husband. Greek sources of the last centuries BCE testify that the wives of Indian warriors killed in battle committed self-immolation.
One episode even describes how a dead soldier’s two widows quarrel over who will be
the Sati. Mind you, they quarrelled for the right to self-immolate, not to make the other one selfimmolate, for it was voluntary and indeed required some will-power to overcome the family’s resistance.
As for the Muslim period, typical for some battles was that Hindu warriors fought to the
death and their wives who had remained in the towns committed collective self-immolation or Jauhar, not to fall into the hands of the Muslims. This was a specific practice building on the long-existing Hindu practice of Sati, but not to be confused with it.
A reference to the childless widow Roop Kanwar 18yrs. performing sati one year
after marriage on the pyre of her husband who was 24, in Rajasthan deserves
mention.It was certainly not the last. Janakrani (in her 40s) in Sagar district of Madhya Pradesh, (2006); Vidyawati, 35, in Fatehpur district of Uttar Pradesh (2006); Kuttu Bai, 65, in Madhya Pradesh’s Panna district (2002); Rekia Devi, 65, in Bastipur, Bihar and Sita Devi, 77, in Gaya district of Bihar, Gahawa Devi in UP have met a similar fate since. For every case that comes to light there are scores of others that go unreported. There are more than 250 sati temples in the country with a steady flow of devotees and donations. Clearly, Bentinck’s decree and its modern avatar — the Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987, have failed to deter people from this “ritualistic suicide’ or self immolation. A photograph of the funeral shows a smiling Roop, bedecked in her wedding outfit and holding on to her husband’s body as the flames rise around her. The picture was widely distributed all over Rajasthan to prove the triumphant survival of an ancient tradition– namely, the voluntary choice of self immolation as the highest wifely duty, one that ensured for
the wife the ultimate accolade of sati, a wife wholly dedicated to her husband.
Multiculturalism may be fun as long as it’s about exotic cuisine or Buddha statues
in the garden, but here it gets really serious: actual difference between our and
their conception of the rights of woman. Here was a class of women who, even as
brides, knew very well that their husband’s death would leave them with the option of
self-immolation, and accepted the custom.
As I desist from further quoting instances galore, which are soul elevating and arouse
deep sense of veneration and respect towards chastity of womanhood that purifies fire in Bengal (As expressed by the Nobel Laureate Rabindra Nath Tagore in his peerless prose – ) shall mention only the experiences of the Moghul Emperor Akbar as described by the poet courtier Mohd. Reza Nabi in 1610. A girl whose to be husband (decided
to be married to) had died and her relations and associates could not desist her after best
persuasions from her resolve to commit sati was brought before Badshah Akbar. All his
assurance and appeal promising wealth and security for her fell on deaf ears and she
indignantly spurned all offers repeatedly asking for fire. Having failed to persuade her finally he had to grant her permission. Akbar sent his son Daniel with her to continue his utmost effort to bring back the girl from the burning pyre. Daniel also tried his best to restrain her, but the girl entered the flames. Inspite of this when Daniel continued to comment on such a death, the girl shouted from the sacred fire– Please don’t disturb! Please don’t disturb! Please don’t disturb! The Moslem poet, Mohd. Reza Nabi has eulogised this sacred material love, with love eternal for the Lord in his own inimitable style.
If Sati is savage, barbaric and inhuman, what about war? Is it not infinitely more so? Why not the whole army, with its general and officers incarcerated for all attempts at committing suicide? Why are not expeditions for Climbing Himalayas and for Poles penalized? What about abortion both medical and non-medical? What about wholesale universal slaughter to fill the belly? What is hunger strike? What is fast unto death? What is Satyagraha ? Are they suicide or not? What is birth control? What is family
planning a fine euphemy for diabolical foeticide? Is it because these are sinner’s paradise and, sati is not?
Sri Jeevan Rao Kulkurni the historian and a representative of Institute for Rewriting of Indian History, New Delhi say that Ram Mohan was being claimed and even taught in the school curriculum that he abolished Sati or voluntary immolation of Hindu Widow on a pyre with her dead husband. That was not only fabricated but a blatant lie. Rammohan made the public, live in fool’s paradise. History reveals that he was no body with Sati Act. He was a great friend of the British government, and when he talks about Sati, that should not be taken seriously.Ram Mohan narrated a picture of agonies, when his sister in law performed Sati under brute force. Can anyone tell the name of that woman and the exact date on which that sad incident occurred? As every case of Sati in Bengal was recorded since 1790 onwards it is certainly impossible, that this particular incident will go unrecorded. Raja Rammohan’s claims seem unfounded. In spite of the fact that his own parents and three wives remained utterly neglected to the extreme, he is still wrongly trumpeted as a great reformer and emancipator of Hindu women. The actual reason behind Rajas visit to England was different. The Delhi Emperor
Akbar-II wanted to send him to England as his representative in connection with
enhancement of his pension. Lord Bentink did not approve of this plan and refused to
grant passport. This occurred one month before promulgation of the act of abolishing
Sati. So to achieve his end Ram Mohan Ray made a tactical move. He wrote to Lord
Bentinck that his visit to England was intended to remain present at the hearing of Sati
proceedings at the Privy Council. So he was granted, passport. Akbar-II made him Raja
as a reward for the service rendered by him for the benefit of Mughal Emperor (Akbar
II). On reaching England, he did not keep his promise and became active only for the
cause of the Delhi Emperor. He was not even present at the Privy Council throughout the
Sati proceedings as he was in France at that time (Reference – Vedanta and Bengal
Renaissance by Niranjan Dhar, Minerva Publication Calcutta, Page 9-60).
Before imposing a legal ban on Sati, the House of Commons invited reports from all
over India from responsible British Officers. All those reports were published in one huge volume by the Parliament. The very title of the volume thus printed in 1823 speaks for itself– “The report on Hindu Widows and Voluntary immolation”. When the opinion of important British Officials were asked for the purpose of enacting a law to ban Sati, many of them viz H.T. Colebrook, H.H. Wilson, Holwell, Tonathan Duncan, etc. gave adverse opinion that Sati should not be banned by enacting a law since there was no compulsion exercised in the rite. All the officials agree unanimously that the custom of Sati was in vogue only among the noble and higher castes. There was no single case recorded where Sati was performed by force and family pressure. On the other hand, those revered Sati if opted to live they could have enjoyed the wealth most certainly In The Calcutta Review, Jan-March 1972 issue (Volume III, No.3) ‘Raja Rammohan Roy
–A Historical Review’, the eminent historian R. C. Majumdar puts very clearly, that Raja
Rammohan was almost a nonentity at that time, and had nothing-to do with the passing of the Sati Act.
(To be continued)