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  • Koel Addepalli

Sati: A Patriarchal Societal Act

“Sati was a custom religiously followed by a few, toed halfheartedly by rather more, sidestepped by many and ignored by most.”

Sati was the Indian custom of a wife immolating herself on her husband's funeral pyre or in some other way soon after his death. The word is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Asti’, which means “pure or true”. Sati was never widely practised all over India, but it was very common in places like Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. It was the ideal of womanly devotion held by certain Brahmin and royal castes where the widow followed her husband into the afterlife.

Presently, Sati is banned all over the country. The practice of Sati was deeply woven into the traditions of India, but it is an evil act. Historians say that the widow jumped into the fire after her husband’s death as closure to their marriage, and also to prevent herself from being dishonoured but later it was discovered that women were not jumping into the fire by choice. Earlier, widows had no place in society and were considered to be a burden. If they didn’t have any children to support them, they were pressured to accept Sati.

There were some societal exceptions to Sati. For example, any widow who was pregnant or had very young children couldn’t take part in this act.

It is said that many rulers tried to prohibit the practice of Sati between the 15th and the 18th century. Mughal Emperor Akbar tried to make sati illegal, and later Aurangzeb tried to end it again. In the end, Rajarammohan Roy and William Bentinck together abolished this horrendous act in the year 1829.

Sati ultimately established supremacy and domination of men, placing women at their mercy. It was another patriarchal societal act. It is derogatory to the status of women and if the British did one thing right, it was outlawing this archaic practice.

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