Anti - Sati Campaign

Anti - Sati Campaign

Newsletter Oct 1987  

We have been in the recent past quite concerned with the Sati issue. At present in Delhi we have joined hands with a number of organizations to raise the demands for putting an end to the glorification of Sati.

The importance of Sati is not just that it is a heinous crime, but that it stems from the concepts of purity and virtue associated with a woman's life after marriage - a life which becomes worthwhile only when it is sacrificed at the pyre of her deceased husband.

The pro-Sati fervor which emerged after the protests by women’s organizations from Rajasthan and elsewhere is also worth considering. What after all lies in the psyche of a whole community which makes it so callously active in not only abetting a crime but also in glorifying it? We felt we needed to answer this question - how come the proponents of Sati are so organized and so zealous.

We believe the answer to this is woven into the entire socio economic and political fabric of the country. It is the integrated outcome of people’s aspirations of an independent nation, the self interest of an anti-people ruling class and the entire politics of channelizing people’s energies away from central issues.

Specifically in the case of Rajasthan, it is worth noting that Sati is not a custom of Deorala but is a tradition superimposed from other parts of the state. It has gained roots recently and is now being propagated by some Rajputs of this area, who are using it as a symbol of their valor. On the other hand, the glorification of Sati through building of temples, holding fairs, etc. is being propagated by members of the migrant trading community from the area. This group, which besides gaining cultural dominance by affiliating with a socially dominating group, is also gaining financially from this institutionalized religious practice. As a result "Sati Mata" has come out from family closets to became a force to reckon with via 140 temples spread throughout the country.

This resort to medieval practices and mores is by no means an isolated happening. Such fundamentalist trends are visible in many other communities which are dissatisfied with their relative gains from the nation’s development. The Muslims, under attack from majority communalism and being bypassed from the mainstream; or the Sikhs under pressure from growth of capitalist agricultural development, have also shown similar behavior. Invariably, the leadership of these communities is not in the hands of toiling masses but in the hands of a privileged few who collude with the ruling classes in a bid to maintain the status quo.

The ruling elite can obviously not remain in power if it raises the real demands of the people. Hence it diverts attention away from the miseries of the people at large. The demands which are raised and met mean hardly any loss for the elite and no material gain for the masses. It is easy to mobilize people and maintain a stranglehold over them if the demands stem from the common identity of the community, i.e. demands rooted in customs, and religious identities. We call these "false demands" because the people are made to believe that their identities is at stake, whereas in reality only the power of the elite is at stake.

In reinforcing these identities someone has to suffer, and most often it is the women who are the silent sufferers. It is in this context that we need to view the abortive demands of Sikh Personal Law and the successful enactment of the Muslim Women's Bill. Both these efforts were aimed at depriving women of their existing rights in the name of religion.

It is also worth noting that inherent in all these demands were some financial interests - money making from glorification of Sati, retaining family property through Chadarwari among Sikhs and not having to pay maintenance among the Muslims.

Seen in this light, Sati is a manifestation of anti-people politics. While women are the main sufferers. Sati is not a women’s issue alone. The prevalent political climate being dominated by communalist forces, bringing about legislation to ban the glorification of Sati is not going to be an easy task. All those working towards creating a just society will have to join hands to fight communalism along with raising issue specific demands.

Therefore we request you to carry out a signature campaign among all you know. Please return the signatures at the following address. These will be released at the close of the Asian Conference on Women and Religion and Personal Law being held in Bombay.

Anti-Sati Signature Campaign

Recent incidents in Deorala and Rajasthan have been a cause of grave concern to us. We have been appalled by the continuing occurrences of Sati, the failure of the State machinery to prevent it, the organized revivalist propaganda, financial capitalizing on a ghastly incident by pseudo-religious forces, and harping on medieval values to justify the commission of a heinous crime.

Attempts to glorify Sati are very similar to depriving Muslim women of the right to maintenance and the attempted move of demanding a separate Sikh Personal Law forcing widows to marry their brothers-in-law.

On the surface, these moves appear to be reassertions of communal identities, which are seemingly getting destroyed. Yet we believe that these are false issues being brought the fore by the combine of anti-people elite-religions, political, economic - which are channelizing people’s dissatisfaction for the consolidation of their own power. Instead of people demanding their rights which will cause any real redistribution, they are duped into asking for concessions which the elite can grant without any loss to itself while retaining its power and influence.

In the process of the elite maintaining their power, vested interest gain financially. With a Hindu woman being pushed into committing Sati a small village like Deorala has made almost a crore of rupees. The deprival of maintenance for Muslim women has saved irresponsible husbands from financial commitment to their wives. The Sikh proposals had sought continuing consolidation of property in the deceased man’s family.

• We condemn these trends in current politics which deprive women of their existing rights.

• We oppose the systematic efforts at further communalization of politics.

• We are against the glorification of Sati and other such customs which attempt to push women back into the dark ages.

• We will not tolerate the financial exploitation of such practices.

Name, Profession/Organization, Address, Signature