ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Anti-Sati Legislation: Necessary Amendments

Recent changes proposed to the nearly 20-year old Commission against Sati (Prevention) Act 1988 seek to make the legislation more women-oriented and also to make punishment under its various provisos more stringent. The two new clauses proposed are related to the issue of a woman’s culpability under the legislation. The first clause presumes that ‘sati’ (legal opinion very comprehensively defines sati as the burning or the burying alive of a woman along with the body of her deceased husband or any other relative or with any object associated with the said deceased, while historians have argued to the contrary that the term sati denotes a virtuous woman) was attempted under duress and that the immediate family being in a position to stop the woman committing the act, did not. If this first provision of “abetment” is proven wrong, the second clause presumes that “social conditioning” led to the sati attempt. Only if this too is not established does a case of presumed sati becomes a case of suicide.

In the face of the Rajasthan Bharatiya Janata Party government (that came to power in December 2003) not filing an appeal against the 2004 verdict, activists filed a writ petition that has been admitted by the high court, arguing that the special court judge sought to relate “glorification” to the sati incident itself, when the provi s ions of the s t a t e l egi s l a t ion c l e a r ly separated these. The Rajasthan government’s inaction reveals its fundamental unwillingness to confront the aspect of “glorification” of sati in a state where notions of clan patriarchy persist and with a history that extols notions of rajput chivalry and virtuosity. More recently, the government was compelled to withdraw, after protests by civil society and women’s groups, references to sacrosanct sati temples in a government tourism brochure.

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