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Widow Burning was an Inherant part of Hinduism
The Practice of Sati
Many Hindu thinkers and writers have opined that Sati was a later day extrapolation in Hindu thought and came to the fore after the Muslim invasion of India. They point to the fact that as the Muslims defeated the Hindus; their women had no recourse to anything to save them from dishonor and thus committed sati on the funeral pyre of her husband. Die hard Hindu supporters also say that Sati was a "voluntary act" . What actully is sati?. It is a custom where a woman commits suicide by burning herself on the pyre of her husband. It was a sort of enforced death and in modern parlance is equated with murder
But a look at the history of the earliest period one finds that Sati is mentioned at each and every corner. The Ramayana also refers to Sati and the chroniclers who came with Alexander the great in 325 BC also refer to sati. Thus sati is an age old custom that has deep roots. It is possible that it was not rigidly enforced , but sati is something built into the Hindu ethos and continued for over 2 thousand years till the arrival of the English.
There was an attempt by Aurangzeb that much maligned ruler of India to outlaw Sati, but he failed. He however must take credit for being the only Indian ruler who outlawed sati, which he did by his Firman (order) in 1664.
This practice was given official buriel in 1829 by Lord William Bentick Governor General India .
Hindu Goddess of Sati is an Aberration
Sati is a timeless phenomenon and in a way it is an inherent part of Hinduism. The God Shiva who is one of the foremost gods in the Hindu pantheon was in love with the goddess Sati. She committed her death by burning and reappeared in Shiva's life as his consort Parvathi. Thus Sati gets legal sanction as a goddess and many women who committed Sati are revered in Hinduism as " Sati Mata" and temples called Sati Mandir are available all over India.
The Hindu religious reformer Raja Ram Mohan Roy a Bengali realised that Sati was an obnoxious custom and he started an agitation to ban it. His campaign had an effect and the British Governor general was convinced it was just plain and simple murder. Accordingly after the Firman of Aurangzeb, an act was passed in British India banning Sati and equating it with murder. The spirit behind this was the then governor General Sir William Bentick. The act was passed in 1829 and put an end to almost 2000 years practice, which nobody had dared to end.
Diehard Hindus however petitioned the House of Lords stating this custom was integral to Hinduism and the act be abrogated. The House of Lords and the Privy Council heard the case and by a slim majority upheld the Governor General’s contention. It was thus equated with murder. It was a great piece of reformative legislation and credit must also go to Raja Ram Mohan Roy for his tireless campaign to ban Sati. There were also many Christian missionaries who campaigned against Sati. Foremost amng them was Sir William Carey who was born in England and died in India in 1835.
The Situation Now
Aftre 200 years of British rule and efforts by reformers, this ill of Hinduism is almost 99% eradicated. Unfortunately one cannot say that there is 100% eradication as once in a way a case of sati still emerges from the vast sub continent. The perpetuators are ofcourse arrested and tried for murder, but the fact that even 1% accept Sati is a dangerous portend. This after the Indian penal code was passed by the English in 1861.
The truth is that some Hindu revivalist organizations are silent on sati. However the wheels are moving forward and one can say that Hindu women are more free now than they have ever been for the last 200 years, when Alexander the Great invaded India, in this we rememeber the 19th century when Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Lord Bentick appeared to give a new lease of life to a moribund society