LAWS TO prevent sati might finally get teeth. The Ministry of Women and Child Development is pushing for amendments to the laws to punish up to an entire village where a sati case is reported.
The maximum punishment for abetting sati is death. The amendments could be taken up in the Parliament session beginning November 22. “The matter is now with the Law Ministry and a Group of Ministers headed by HRD Minister Arjun Singh is taking a look at the proposed amendments,” a ministry official told HT.
“Let the entire village be booked for abetting the act, along with the victim’s relatives, if they are found to be even remotely involved,” says Women and Child Development Minister Renuka Chowdhury. “People throng to witness such gory acts and this is what adds to the spread of the myth. We want to stop this publicity and make the law a real deterrent.”
According to Section 3 of the Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987, attempt to commit sati is punishable with imprisonment up to one year and a fine.
Section 4 of the Act states that those guilty of abetting Sati can be punished with death if the crime is commissioned or life imprisonment if the victim survives.
The law as it stands now is not only largely toothless but also anti-victim. “If the woman survives, she is booked for trying to commit suicide. That clause is being struck down in the proposed amendment,” Chowdhury says.
The mediaeval practice of Sati — in which a woman is burnt alive on her husband’s funeral pyre — is still prevalent in rural pockets of India, particularly in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Chhatisgarh, Bihar and Jharkand.
Officials in the ministry say several Sati cases almost go unnoticed as they take place in remotes areas. In most cases, women are forced to do it by relatives. “Often, property is the reason the woman is forced to commit Sati,” says Deepa Jain Singh, the secretary in the ministry.
The ministry is hoping that the proposed amendments come up in this winter session. “It is going to be a short session. We are keeping our fingers crossed but past experience shows that such bills are rarely taken up in the short sessions. The standard plea is that Sati cases are too few and far between,” says an official. It is this attitude that the amendments seek to change some day.