UPSC Exam Preparation: This Day in History – Dec 4

4 December 1829

Abolition of Sati


What happened?

Lord Bentinck; Raja Rammohan Roy

The Bengal Sati Regulation (Regulation XVII) was passed by the then Governor-General of India, Lord William Bentinck making the practice of Sati illegal in all of British India.

Background

  • Sati was the practice of the immolation of a Hindu woman on the death of her husband in his funeral pyre. Although this practice does not have any Vedic sanction, it had become prevalent in some parts of India.
  • The widow was supposed to ascend to heaven and this was considered the ultimate sacrifice and proof of a woman’s devotion to her husband.
  • Many cases of Sati were voluntary whereas some were forced.
  • Raja Rammohan Roy, the great Hindu reformer from Bengal fought many societal evils prevalent in the Hindu society of Bengal and Sati pratha was one of the chief ones.
  • He had witnessed the live immolation of his own sister-in-law. He started his struggle against this practice in 1812.
  • William Carey, an English missionary also fought against this barbaric practice.
  • In the year 1817 alone, about 700 widows were burnt alive.
  • Even though the British initially allowed it, it was first banned in 1798 in Calcutta. However, the custom continued in the surrounding areas.
  • Raja Rammohan Roy was a vociferous campaigner against Sati (also spelt Suttee). He argued that the Vedas and other ancient Hindu scriptures did not sanction Sati.
  • He wrote articles in his journal Sambad Kaumudi advocating its prohibition. He stressed with the East India Company administration to ban this practice.
  • Lord William Bentinck became the Governor-General of India in 1828. He helped Raja Rammohan Roy to suppress many prevalent social evils like Sati, polygamy, child marriage and female infanticide.
  • Lord Bentinck passed the law banning Sati throughout the Company’s jurisdiction in British India.
  • The act was made illegal and punishable by the courts. Sati Regulation XVII A. D. 1829 of the Bengal Code:

The practice of suttee, or of burning or burying alive the widows of Hindus, is revolting to the feelings of human nature; it is nowhere enjoined by the religion of the Hindus as an imperative duty; on the contrary a life of purity and retirement on the part of the widow is more especially and preferably inculcated, and by a vast majority of that people throughout India the practice is not kept up, nor observed: in some extensive districts it does not exist: in those in which it has been most frequent it is notorious that in many instances acts of atrocity have been perpetrated which have been shocking to the Hindus themselves, and in their eyes unlawful and wicked….The practice of suttee, or of burning or burying alive the widows of Hindus, is hereby declared illegal, and punishable by the criminal courts.

  • After this law was enacted, similar laws prohibiting this custom were passed in princely states in India. In 1861, after the control of India went on the British Crown directly, Queen Victoria issued a general ban on Sati throughout India.
  • The State Government of Rajasthan passed the Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987 whereby the voluntary or forced burning or burying alive of widows, and the glorifying of such acts including the participation in any procession of Sati became punishable. This Act became an Act of the Indian Parliament in 1988 when the Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987 was enacted.
Also on this day

1910: Birth of former President R Venkataraman. 1919: Birth of former Prime Minister I K Gujral. 1924: The Gateway of India in Bombay inaugurated.

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