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Sati revisited in Bundelkhand

Over the past decade, at least five women committed sati, barring an attempt by 32-year- old Radha Bai in Banda which was foiled by the police.

india Updated: May 23, 2006 03:09 IST

Bundelkhand is caught in a time warp-- transfixed in a twilight zone between medieval feudalism and liberal ethos.

Sounds outlandish, but women still worship sati in the region where a case is reported every two years. Alarmingly, the caste barriers are breaking. Confined to the upper castes till a few decades back, it is now spreading among the backward castes as well. Last week’s “sati” by a woman, Vidyawati, has swivelled the spotlight back on the malaise. And the official machinery is humming.

The culprit is the mind. Officials and NGOs working in the three affected districts of Banda, Hamirpur and Mahoba say the numerous sati temples dotting the rugged countryside reflect the popular mindset-- steeped in stigmas, superstition and parochial beliefs.

Though motivation and glorification of sati is a crime under the Sati Abolition Act, dozens of small and big shrines are flourishing unchecked. Some of them are as old as 200 years and others as recent as 1989. The belief is that married women should venerate sati for their well-being of their spouses. And people here don’t mind raising slogans of “Jai sati maiya” as law enforcers turn a blind eye to the practice.

In Jari village, a temple was erected at the site where a 15-year-old Brahmin widow Javitri had committed sati in 1989. The temple draws hordes not only from UP, but also from Madhya Pradesh and Bihar. Brides usually visit the temple before entering their new homes. On Basant Panchami, married women offer prayers with the belief that “sati maiya” fulfils every wish. The brick structure of the two-storied temple is proof of the donations that pour in.

Dense foliage camouflage the temples. Pargana is yet another area where a sati temple thrives, so much so that owners not only organise “mela”' during monsoon, but also collect local tax. The carnivals stopped after the court intervened. But the temple functions till date. A study by an NGO has revealed the presence of temples in at least 25 villages in the area. However, it is reluctant to go to town with the facts fearing retaliation. To avoid prying eyes, sati-puja is often held at home.

Officials admit that till steps are taken to change the mindset, it is not possible to stop the practice. But how? A few years ago, officials had requested the National Commission for Women to come up with a shield. But nothing came of it.

Over the past decade, at least five women committed sati, barring an attempt by 32-year-old Radha Bai in Banda which was foiled by the police.

First Published: May 23, 2006 03:09 IST