Madhya Pradesh court has sentenced the sons and brothers of a 62-year old woman with life imprisonment, after they forced her to burn with her dead husband on his funeral pyre on August 2002.
The special court in Sagar Wednesday sentenced Kuttu Bai's two sons and two brothers for abetting her death on Aug 6, 2002, in Patna Tamoli village of Panna district. Thirteen others were acquitted.
Judge A.K. Mishra convicted Kuttu Bai's two sons, Ashok Kumar (45) and Raj Kumar (35), and her brothers, Jai Narayan (34) and Deep Narayan (33) -- they prevented police personnel from rescuing the widow as she was being devoured by the flames.
According to the prosecution in the case, the victim's relatives assaulted the police personnel and prevented them from removing the woman from the pyre.
"The family of the deceased were aware of her intention of committing sati as she had already told them a few days before when she realised that her husband would soon die. The superstitious villagers were mute spectators and did not try to stop her," stated the National Commission for Women (NCW), which took suo motu cognisance of the episode and constituted a probe.
Instead of preventing Kuttu Bai's death, villagers gathered at the cremation ground with coconut, camphor and other offerings.
"The local public representatives also did not reach the site of incidence except for informing the concerned police station. Hence, they are accountable for such atrocities taking place in their area. Though the police reached the spot, but their numbers were not adequate," the NCW added in its report.
This was the third incident of its kind in the village and the inquiry committee observed a structure at the cremation site. It was constructed in memory of a sati that took place about five decades ago.
A police post was set up at Kuttu Bai's sati site to prevent its glorification.
Governments do try to take some token, punitive action. In this case, then chief minister Digvijay Singh's Congress government imposed an 'economic embargo' for two years on the village for not preventing the sati.
Sati, the traditional Hindu practice of a widow immolating herself on her husband's funeral pyre, was prevalent among certain sects of the society in ancient India. It was deemed a great honour for women to die on the funeral pyres of their husbands and they attained the status of 'sati mata'.
"It was believed that the woman who committed sati blessed her family for seven generations after her. Temples or other religious shrines were built to honour the sati," explained astrologer S.P. Shukla.
"Initially, the custom of sati was believed to be a voluntary Hindu act in which the woman decided to end her life with her husband after his death. But there were many incidences in which the women were forced to commit sati, sometimes even dragged against her wish to the lighted pyre," he added.
Sati was banned by the British in 1829 with Indian leader Raja Rammohun Roy among the first to eliminate the barbaric practice.
Clearly, it still continues despite the rapid strides made by Indian women in many other fields.
Sati matas are worshipped to this day in various temples around the country. The Ranisatiji temple in Rajasthan's Jhunjhunu is extolled as a testament to "feminine bravery" and is frequented by thousands of worshippers.