Sociology in Sati

“A woman”

Does the worth of a woman exist only in relation to a man? Is it justified on the part of the narrow-minded hypocritical society to persecute a woman in the name of protecting her or in the name of doing greater good of people? Is it even human to jeopardize the freedom, aspirations, individuality and life of a woman by tying her up in the shackles of dogmas and baneful irrational norms?

This article is a sociological perspective on a practice that is an outright defiance of humanity and disrespect of the very right to life of the gender that is unduly underestimated all across our society.

Sati (also called suttee) is the practice among some Hindu communities by which a recently widowed woman either voluntarily or by use of force or coercion commits suicide as a result of her husband’s death.  The best-known form of sati is when a woman burns to death on her husband’s funeral pyre.  However other forms of sati exist, including being buried alive with the husband’s corpse and drowning. In today’s era of escalating feminism and focus on equality and human rights, it is difficult and amiss to digest the ruthless Hindu practice of sati. Indeed, the practice is outlawed and illegal in today’s India. The law now makes no distinction between passive observers to the act, and active promoters of the event; all are supposed to be held equally culpable. Other measures include efforts to stop the ‘glorification’ of the dead women. Yet it occurs up to the present day under coercion or by voluntary burning and is still regarded by some Hindus as the ultimate form of womanly devotion and sacrifice.

In a country that shunned widows, sati was considered the highest expression of wifely devotion to a dead husband. It was deemed an act of peerless piety and was said to purge her of all her sins, release her from the cycle of birth and rebirth and ensure salvation for her dead husband and the seven generations that followed her. Because its proponents lauded it as the required conduct of righteous women, it was not considered to be suicide, otherwise banned or discouraged by Hindu scripture. It won’t be wrong to mention here that the society has always found ways to veil its malicious norms and practices.

Rise, come unto the world of life, O woman: come, he is lifeless by whose side thou liest.
Wifehood with this thy husband was thy portion, who took thy hand and wooed thee as a lover.
While the hymn actually calls for a widow to rise from the pier of her dead husband and now move on to take the hand of her new husband. So this terrible falsification was made to justify the burning of the widows to demean Hinduism.

There is need to understand the sociological concept of Sati. Sociologist Emile Durkheim in his classic study Suicide: A Study in Sociology, defined Suicide and distinguished four main types of suicide according to causation. Two of them are relevant to the topic at hand. In an altruistic suicide, the individual is too strongly integrated into society- a society which encourages or even requires the individual to sacrifice his or her own life. A fatalistic suicide is likely to occur when commitment to group norms is excessively strong.

Sati has for long been considered an altruistic suicide as the wife was expected to commit suicide on her husband’s death. What needs to be understood here is that the practice of Sati is not just a consequence of over integration into the society but also because of the overbearing and rigid norms hovering over women. Hence, it’s completely justified to say that Sati comes within the ambit of Fatalistic suicide.

Another significant point to be noted here is that Sati was a scripted form of suicide and since it is a little unambiguous as to what extent a woman’s will was involved in this, it is rendered more akin to murder than suicide.

All in all, it must be recognized that the tradition of Sati in India has multiple facets and only a veracious and astute sociological analysis of the same can help in the deeper understanding of the phenomenon, and further provide suggestions for eradicating it. Since, despite the existence of the state and country-wide laws prohibiting the act and its glorification, incidents continue to occur every year and may be on the increase, the occurrences confirm that deeply rooted and deeply cherished norms cannot be changed simply by enacting laws no matter how detrimental, depraved and discriminatory they may be. As these social evils both originate from as well as hamper the society itself, the first and foremost need of the hour is that the people must inculcate a positive, rational and humanitarian approach so as to uproot them and pave a progressive path for the society.

This article is Written by Kalyani Rai Bansal



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