The Indian government has shelved a move to stiffen punishments under the anti-Sati law. Sati is burning the wife on the funeral pyre of her husband, and the practice continues in some parts of northern India.
It was 20 years ago that the first law was enacted in the uproar that followed the burning of a woman in Rajasthan. Still such incidents are sporadically reported. And worse, the woman so burnt alive is worshipped as a goddess subsequently - thus the horrific practice becomes an honoured tradition.
While the community is thus encouraged to catch and burn the wife, the women themselves are encouraged to believe that immolating oneself on the husband's pyre is a noble act of sacrifice.
As the despicable practice persisted, the federal government had proposed some amendments to the Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987 in order to fight better such regressive tendencies. But the move met with some stiff resistance in the Cabinet itself, Times of India reports.
The amendments would have increased the prison terms for those committing as well as glorifying the practice while holding the entire community responsible for the act.
Sources in the Women and Child Development ministry confirmed the amendments had been dropped under political pressure.
Cabinet members, including Minister for Mines Sis Ram Ola, and Science and Technology Minister Kapil Sibal had objected to the amendments, it is reported.
Ola, who hails from Jhunjhunu in Rajasthan, raised several issues. He said the proposals could hurt community sentiments. What would happen to the Sati temples and how would the government deal with the tradition of worship at these temples, he wanted to know.
Sibal, a leading lawyer himself, had pointed to certain grey areas in the bill that hold the local authorities and onlookers responsible for "participation" in bride-burning. The bill had recommended that the village be heavily fined and the panchayat be made responsible for alerting the police and the district magistrate to any such incident.
The proposed legislation also recommended that coercing a woman to commit Sati be made a non-bailable offence. The amendments were cleared by a ministerial committee in August 2007, but nothing more would be heard of those amendments for sometime to come.
And the move comes at a time when a bill to provide one-third reservation for women in the parliament and legislatures has been relegated to the backburner, again under political pressure. Male leaders won't relish any whittling down of their own hold.
Ironically all this is happening when the president of the ruling Congress is a woman, Mrs.Sonia Gandhi, who hails from Italy and who is known to push for measures to release Indian women from the clutches of tradition.