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Sati: Govt has to admit it to end it

EVERY TIME a woman commits sati in any part of the state it is painted as suicide. As if suicide is a lesser crime than sati. Charan Shah, Raj Kumari and now Vidyawati, all according to police committed suicide and not sati. And they can prove it conclusively too! As both motivation and glorification of sati is a criminal act, no one ? neither the villagers nor eyewitnesses -- would accept the crime. They would only suppress it.

india Updated: May 21, 2006 00:01 IST

EVERY TIME a woman commits sati in any part of the state it is painted as suicide. As if suicide is a lesser crime than sati. Charan Shah, Raj Kumari and now Vidyawati, all according to police committed suicide and not sati. And they can prove it conclusively too! As both motivation and glorification of sati is a criminal act, no one – neither the villagers nor eyewitnesses -- would accept the crime. They would only suppress it.

Thus there is no point to enter into a debate on whether Charan Shah, Rajkumari or Vidyawati committed sati or suicide. (However, in the case of Vidyawati, one certainly doubts the sati theory in view of the fact that she was living with her paramour and not husband). Thus as denial of this horrifying practice has not helped the state government to end sati, perhaps it would be better to admit it as it may help in taking the bull by the horns. And as the centuries’ old tradition is limited to primarily Bundelkhand region of the state, it won’t be difficult to totally eradicate the horrible ‘pratha’, which was traditionally followed by the wives of vanquished warriors to save their honour. What, of course, is required is a joint concentrated effort of the state government and its various women’s organisations and NGOs engaged in this onerous task. Over and above is the need for political will and wish.

Let’s begin with the identification of the real culprits! And unfortunately the state government tops the list.  If only half of the alacrity with which the government tries to convert sati into a suicide case was shown in ending the menace, people by now would have forgotten sati. But let the intellectuals first remove the chapters like ‘Sati Savitri’ from textbooks.

Question is why sati temples are still flourishing in every nook and corner of Bundelkhand region? Why chants of ‘Jai sati mata’ are still heard in the region? Why nothing has been done to convince the people that sati is a crime and not a ritual?

After sati by Charan Shah had hit the headlines in 1999, the district administration of Banda had requested the National Women’s Commission to suggest a formula to check recurrence of such incidents in the area. Nothing more was heard from the commission or the Banda police? May be Vidyawati case may now stir them into action. Police say it is near impossible to check the rampant practice in the interiors of the district. But can’t they at least close down the temples? Don’t they help in the glorification of the crime? And if sati temples are functional in 2006, who is responsible?

Banda is dotted with sati temples. Though some of them are not functional, the tendency to deify sati prevails. Jaree village has a huge sati temple, visited by people from all over Bundelkhand region every Wednesday. The day is considered auspicious as 15-years-old Javitri had performed sati on that weekday in 1979, in the presence of thousands of people, including law enforcers. Women till date believe that ‘sati maiya’ fulfils all their wishes. This is not the only temple in the area. A sati temple is functional in Lucknow’s old area, though under the garb of a ‘devi temple’. It’s only when one enters it that one comes to know that even ‘sati puja’ is done there. If the state government is really serious about ending the practice, they should first initiate closure of all sati temples, remove ‘Sati Savitri’ chapter from textbooks and launch a drive to tell women that sati is not only a crime but a sin too.