Delegation of Sati Virodhi Sangharsh Manch Meets Minister  Newsletter May 1988

Anti-Sati Campaign Update

Delegation of Sati Virodhi Sangharsh Manch Meets Margaret Alva

Newsletter May 1988

On 21st April ‘88 a delegation of the Sati Virodhi Sangharsh Manch (Delhi) met Mrs Margaret Alva, Minister for Women, Child Development, Youth Affairs and Sports. The purpose of the meeting was to apprise her of the need to include some amendments in the recently passed “Anti-Sati Act”. This is necessary not only to take care of certain loopholes and weaknesses the Act has, but also to bring about the immediate implementation. Our suggestions were to the effect that the woman who is forced to commit Sati should not be held punishable by law. Secondly, companies giving donations to the glorification of Sati should be held guilty too. 

As soon as the delegates began making their suggestions, Margaret Alva’s hasty response was that this Act was passed as a consequence of her own and the government’s concerted efforts only. Hence it is not advisable to tinker with it so soon. And then she tried to project the danger of a powerful pro-Sati lobby which believes Sati to be a part of the ancient eternal Vedic religion of India. 

When the delegates tried to point out that fundamentalist forces are able to gather strength only because of the laxity and apathy of the administration to enforce the laws, Margaret Alva responded that her government is aware of all this but does not get any cooperation from the opposition. She pointed out how the leftist government of West Bengal is not able to put a stop to the flouting of laws there as if this gives a blanket excuse to the Congress-I to ignore the same throughout the country. 

She herself started telling how the Shankaracharya of Puri has challenged anybody who is anti-Sati to debate over the issue. The delegates pointed out that the Shankaracharya is allowed to be worshipped and listened to by millions of people thereby flouting the terms of the Anti-Sati Act, while Swami Agnivesh who attempted to prove the Shankaracharya wrong is arrested and put behind bars. Margaret Alva immediately spoke of law and order situations as if it is only an anti-Sati stand that breaks the law and order of the country. Not only this, the government is also not able to prevent the circulation of pro-Sati literature in holy places like the Varanasi ghats and temples. 

When we referred to the daily puja and weekly melas at Deorala, she was taken by surprise and asked her secretary to note it down. She replied how she had not come across any such news in her various tours of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, etc. She did not feel the need to find out from the delegation how the state administration is supportive of obscurantist and religious fanatics and influenced by them. Reactionary religious elements like the Shankaracharya of Puri are given allowances and accorded social prestige by the ruling party while the voices of those who wish to put an end to this practice go virtually unheard. Hence, full scope is provided for such fanatics to distort scriptures and justify heinous practices like Sati or subject Muslim women to be deprived of all security and even subsistence allowance if her husband considers her unworthy of his affections. 

She objected to adding the word “donation” along with “contribution” to various activities associated with Sati as she thought that the latter being a general term, includes “donations”. The delegation feared that “donation” would be used as a category to bypass the law. But she clearly refused the need for any such inclusion. 

Finally, before we could discuss anything at length, she asked us to hand over the suggestions for changes in the Act, which she would forward to the Prime Minister. She mentioned how various pro-Sati teams have also been approaching her. 

It is clearly evident from the attitude shown by Margaret Alva that: 

1. Any decision of importance is taken only by the Prime Minister. 

2. By not taking any clear stand or action, the government is increasingly supportive of reactionary and obscurantist forces in this country. 

3. The government does not have any fixed value based policy. It gets swayed over by any strong pressure with the sole purpose of continuing to remain entrenched in power. 

4. The government is unable to bring about any changes in terms of mass-awakening or social upliftment due to its vested interests in electoral politics. Hence it shall continue to support reactionary and fundamentalist forces in the country at great cost to the nation.