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Durable Link to this BlogWednesday, January 15, 2003

Why Women Commit Sati

Excerpts of a radio interview given to ABC Radio (Austrian Broadcasting Corporation) in Vienna, September 2002.

Why do women commit Sati ?

There are economic, social, and spiritual reasons which prompt some women to commit Sati:

  • Economic reasons -- Indian society is male dominated, and when her husband dies, the woman becomes a destitute. Her male children are supposed to look after her after the demise of the husband, but among the poorer classes this doesn't happen due to sheer poverty. There are no social security measures to make poor and uneducated women self-sufficient.
  • Social reasons -- Widowhood is considered a curse in India. A widow's presence at any joyous occasion in the family is considered inauspicious in many communities. They have to remain homebound, and lead a life of misery and social contempt.
  • Religious reasons -- A woman who commits sati is widely respected because many people believe that she goes directly to heaven. The woman who commits the sati suicide will become a goddess in the eyes of these people, and temples will be built in her honor. People will come and offer prayers in such temples, and ask for favors such as curing of diseases, happiness in marriage, and progeny.

Although the sati system was banned more than 150 years ago, the concept of Mahasati (Great Virtuous Woman) or Satimata (Mother Sati) prevails in India and evokes awe and respect among the population.

Who encourages women to commit sati?

Nobody encourages them. But if a woman is determined to commit sati, everybody appreciates it, admiring the extraordinary courage of the woman to welcome such a ghastly death. The superstitious folk think that they should not prevent a greatly virtuous woman (sati means a virtuous woman) from going to heaven, and indirectly they help her commit suicide by obstructing the police, and social workers who try to prevent the woman. Mass hysteria grips and takes an ugly turn.

Poverty, ignorance, lack of social security, and religious superstitions all combine to make a woman commit the sati sacrifice.

How far is it common?

It is not common at all. This recent case (Aug. 6, 2002, link to BBC Story) is a solitary one, which has drawn world-wide attention. But until and unless the above mentioned factors are addressed, there is every fear of a recurrence. 

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Jyotsna Kamat

Jyotsna Kamat Ph.D. lives in Bangalore.


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