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The Legality Of Sati In Colonial India

1226 words - 5 pages

The legality of Sati in Colonial India.



During the years of British colonial rule in India an aspect of Indian culture that could not be ignored where the “8,134” instances of Sati that had taken place within lower Bengal area. The British colonial officials acted as the governing force within India that brought “concern for the status of women in India”. Sati is the act of a recently widowed Hindu woman who voluntarily or through forced coercion immolates herself on her husband’s pyre. In the Lata Mani’s article and in Raja Rammohun Ray’s writings on anti-Sati it underscores the various interpretations between Hindu scriptures by the “pundits” who sought to clarify sati ...view middle of the document...

The colonial officials believed that these acts of Sati where barbaric but did not want to cause religious turmoil by banning it outright. Thus Mani’s article provides an insight into the methodology the colonial officials use to narrow down Sati and why and in what ways sati could be justified if at all.
Sati was generally believed by the British to be a tradition which was widely accepted in India which was highlighted in Mani’s article however this was not the case. The British assumption that through governance by a central text in which the Vedas and Smiritis where all consulted they could enforce laws based on these texts. This proved not to work because in Hinduism there is so much regional variation that having a centralised text to abide by only added to confusion. This was most evident in Rammohun writings in which the source reveals how both the indigenous progressive and the indigenous conservatives differed on their opinion of what each scripture meant. The whole debate on Sati was based around Sati’s scriptural grounding and how it was interpreted. The conservatives view towards the British where that the British were trying to criminalize Sati on “erroneous readings of the scriptures”. Their perspective did have some merit in which they believed that customs of a religion like Sati are just as valuable the scriptures that are written. As stated previously the way in which the scriptures where consulted was that the older the text the more weight it carried. The indigenous conservatives that valued Sati also believed that ascetic widowhood, which will be discussed later, was a less desirable alternative than a “short term suffering” that delivers “heavenly blessings” when Sati is performed. In addition they felt that it “”prolonged material suffering” and an ascetic life that doomed the widows to be a burden for the family so conversative felt sati was a much better alternative.
In Rammohun’s primary source in which the translation of an official conference between an advocate and an opponent of the practice of sati is discussed reveals how insurmountable the opponent’s evidence is. In this extensive back and forth argument it becomes apparent that these “erroneous” claims of misinterpretation of texts are false. Rammohuns was known as the modernizer of the Hindu religion and sought reforms for women much like the British did unintentionally. The extensive knowledge of the scriptures by Rammohun on the side of the opponent reveal through a systematic breakdown of each scriptural word that in no way does the Vedas or the Manu promote sati. Referring back to Mani’s source in which Mani suggests that the “contemporary practice of sati” versus its real life implication hold no validity in the...

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