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Sati: Belief beyond the law

india Updated: Oct 17, 2008 01:08 IST
Sunita Aron and KS Tomar

Though motivation and glorification of sati is a crime under the Commision for Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987, dozens of small and big temples flourish unchecked in Bundelkhand, Uttar Pradesh, and across Rajasthan.

Sati was first banned in 1829 but after a resurgence, had to be banned again in 1956. There was another revival of the practice in 1981 with another prevention ordinance passed in 1987.

In fact, a huge sati temple was built in 1989 at Jari in UP’s Banda district where Javitri, a 15-year-old Brahmin widow, committed sati. This temple draws crowds not only from across the state but also from Madhya Pradesh and Bihar.

At the indoctrination end, Hindi school textbooks in UP have retained a chapter on ‘Sati Savitri’ despite a public demand for its removal from the course.

Girija Vyas, the chairperson of the National Commission for Women and a vociferous protester against the ‘glorification of sati’, says: “I have taken up with the Rajasthan government the issue of a book on sati temples written by Mahendra Bhanawat, commissioned by the Tourism department, which publicises the sati temples in the state.”

Pargana in Bundelkhand is yet another area where a sati temple is thriving.

Until a few years back, its owners not only organised commemorative fairs during Sawan (July-August) but also imposed a local ‘tax’. Though the mela was stopped by law, the temple continues to function.

After the infamous Roop Kanwar case at Deorala village in Sikar district in September 1986, the Rajasthan High Court ordered in May 2007 that no glorification of sati would be allowed at the popular Rani Sati temple in Jhunjhunu district that commemorates 13 satis of the Jalan family and at Dholi Satiji in Fatehpur in Sikar district.

BJP leader and Speaker of the Rajasthan assembly, Sumitra Singh, who belongs to Jhunjhunu district, said: “The Rani Sati temple has been exempted by the Rajasthan High Court from a ban on prayers but no glorification is permitted.”

Says Prem Kumari, a housewife: “I have faith in sati mata, but nobody should violate the court’s order in this regard.”

Meanwhile, two non-governmental organizations — Vanangana and Aali — have been researching this practice in Bundelkhand since 2001.

Says Huma Khan of Aali: “There have been four satis and 10 sati-attempts in Bundelkhand in the past seven years. Banda district alone has about a dozen actively revered sati sites, while an area called Rath has 30 such sati chabutaras (platforms).”

Satis are worshipped just as quietly at several other Rajasthani temples: Narayani Mata and Sati-Savitri temples (Alwar), Dhandhan (Sikar), Kamla Sati (Jaipur), Susani Mata ka Mandir (Bikaner) and the Maha Sati temple in Aahad village (Chittorgarh) that commemorates Rajput women who immolated themselves in jauhar to escape invaders.