Police have arrested four brothers for allegedly throwing their 95-year-old mother into their father's funeral pyre, in accordance with 'sati'.
The incident took place on Wednesday evening in the village of Baniyani in Madhya Pradesh.
The brothers and villagers initially said the woman, Kuria Devi, climbed into the flames by herself, committing sati. Sati has been banned for nearly two centuries. However police investigating the death said she was too old and frail to have clambered up alone.
Even if she did, none of the 20 people at the funeral stopped her, so they will be arrested for abetting sati, local police chief Chanchal Kumar said. The brothers face murder charges.
India has struggled in recent decades to end sati. While rare, the practice persists mainly in rural regions where widows are often shunned because of a belief they will bring bad luck and tragedy to the community.
The brothers involved in Wednesday's incident persuaded the other villagers to back up their story with the promise of an auspicious sati temple in their village, local government official Omar Nath Pandey said.
However, other sources quoted the brothers as saying they had no idea sati was illegal and they regarded it as an act of honour.