If any individuals or groups are tempted to glorify Saturday’s sati by Lalmati, 70, in Chechar village, Chattisgarh, as seems likely from the ground report, let them recall the law of this land. The “punishment for glorification of sati” is jail up to seven years and a fine up to Rs 30,000.
The Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987, says, “…sati or the burning or burying alive of widows or women is revolting to the feelings of human nature and nowhere enjoined by any of the religions of India as an imperative duty.” If the offender survives, she gets a one-year jail term and a fine. Those who abet sati “either directly or indirectly, shall be punishable with death or imprisonment for life and shall also be liable to fine.”
Acts of abetment include “making a widow or woman believe that …sati would result in some spiritual benefit to her or her deceased husband or relative… encouraging a widow or woman to remain fixed in her resolve to commit sati; preventing or obstructing the widow or woman from saving herself from being burnt or buried alive”.
It was Roop Kanwar’s sati-suicide in Deorala, Rajasthan, on September 4, 1987, that got this law slammed into place. Jayendra Saraswati, Shankaracharya of Kanchipuram, upheld this law then and the pro-sati Puri Shankaracharya publicly abused him for doing so.
The British abolished sati in 1829 after 8,134 satis were recorded in the Calcutta city area alone between 1815 and 1829. Besides modern law, those still in the emotional grip of such practices could also recall the sutra of Rishi Jaimini, the ancient Hindu lawgiver, who said that the law of the land is above scriptural law (shastras), which in any case do not prescribe sati. He says that if forced to choose between two laws, opt for the newer, kindlier one. And he is clear that “the law of the land is above shastraic law. However, worship at ‘sati mata’ temples reportedly continues unhindered in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and the Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh.