Home » The Tragic Legacy of Sati: Why This Practice Must Remain in the Past

This is a blog post I never thought I would write. To be honest, I’ve never really considered this topic before. So, why now?

For context, I am in a WhatsApp group with “scientific” in its name, but it mostly features debates about the same things over and over. I joined during the pandemic after attending a webinar, thinking it might be interesting since I was starting to learn more about Hinduism. It turned out that most of the members are men from the same region as my father, and they hold very patriarchal views (sometimes bordering on misogynistic). Why didn’t I leave, you ask? Initially, I wanted to leave the group, but then I thought it might be interesting to see their point of view on things, so I could understand the background or why some of my relatives behave in ways that are very different from my upbringing and principles.

Anyway, for a long time, I only read the messages. I tried commenting a couple of times, as have other women, but we were quickly rebuffed. So now, almost no woman shares her opinion in that group, even if explicitly asked (LMAO). However, I do often find good information on Hinduism there; someone frequently shares good articles or books to read, so it’s not all bad.

A couple of days ago, someone brought up the topic of Sati. Most members agreed that it was a practice from the past that doesn’t suit current society anymore. But surprisingly, one member, who ironically shares my family name, was very much in favor of it. Aside from religious justifications, he argued that women are weak creatures and that widows are the source of sin and have a bad reputation. Maybe he wrote more, but after just leaving a 😮 on his post, I couldn’t continue reading the group’s messages. Maybe it’s time for me to leave this group (I left).

So, this is going to be a long post; please bear with me.

The practice of Sati, where a widow self-immolates on her husband’s funeral pyre, is one of the most controversial and tragic customs in history. While its roots are deeply embedded in certain cultural and religious contexts, the practice has been rightfully abolished and condemned for its violation of basic human rights and ethical principles. In this post, I will explore why Sati is not only harmful but also fundamentally at odds with the values of compassion and non-violence in Hinduism.

The Historical Context of Sati

Sati, known locally as “masatya” in Indonesia, particularly in Bali, was historically practiced in some Hindu communities. The origins of Sati are not precisely documented, but there are references dating back to the 4th century BCE in India. The practice was often associated with the idea of ultimate loyalty and devotion of a wife to her deceased husband.

However, it is important to note that the major Hindu scriptures do not provide a clear endorsement of Sati. While certain texts and historical accounts mention instances of Sati, these are often misinterpretations or specific cases rather than prescriptive commands.

Ethical and Moral Considerations

Human Rights and the Sanctity of Life:

  • Every human life has intrinsic value and must be protected. The practice of Sati directly violates this principle by causing the death of an individual.
  • Modern human rights principles, which are widely accepted globally, oppose any practices that harm or end the life of individuals against their will.

Ahimsa (Non-Violence):

  • One of the core tenets of Hinduism is Ahimsa, which advocates for non-violence and compassion towards all living beings. Sati is fundamentally at odds with this principle.
  • Compassion and empathy should guide human relationships, not coercion or expectations of self-sacrifice.

Legal and Social Progress:

  • Sati has been outlawed in many countries, including India and Indonesia, due to its harmful nature. Legal systems around the world recognize the practice as a violation of human rights.
  • Societies evolve, and practices that were once considered acceptable can be re-evaluated and abolished as we progress in our understanding of human dignity and rights.

The Misinterpretation of Religious Texts

Many proponents of Sati cite religious justifications for the practice. However, it is crucial to understand that:

  • No Major Endorsement: No major Hindu scripture explicitly mandates Sati. The instances often cited are typically misinterpretations or historical accounts rather than religious directives.
  • Diverse Interpretations: Many respected Hindu scholars and leaders have spoken out against Sati, emphasizing that Hinduism values life and the well-being of its followers.

Historical and Cultural Misuse

Sati has often been used historically to control and oppress women, reflecting broader social inequalities rather than religious imperatives. The practice was more prevalent among certain communities, particularly the royal families and nobility, where it was seen as a demonstration of loyalty and family honor.

The abolition of Sati is a testament to the progress humanity has made towards recognizing and upholding the inherent dignity and rights of every individual. It is a reminder that cultural and religious practices must be continuously re-evaluated in the light of ethical principles and human rights.

And now, back to the context at the beginning, comments about women/widows…that according to that one man in the group, are weak creatures. If their husbands die, they will become fragile. As widows, they are likely to fall into sin and gain a bad reputation. Wow, is it really that negative to be a widow? Better to be death following the husband as living as a widow?

In reality, women who lose their husbands (whether through death or divorce) have proven to be able to survive as single moms—I’m one of them. How many men in Indonesia immediately remarry as soon as they lose their wives? Who is more fragile here? And the notion that a husband is the savior of his wife—I’m just going to LOL at that. How many women nowadays are the breadwinners of their families, even though they still have husbands? Especially on that island, where many (not all) husbands spend their time gambling and doing minimal work, while the wives have to work to earn extra income, take care of the house and children, and also look after in-laws and other relatives. And you say women are weak creatures who need to be saved by their husbands? And this is your justification for Sati, to prevent women from falling into the abyss of sin? Because husband and wife are one even after death. What’s your explanation if the wife dies first? Why is it okay for the husband to remarry but not recommended for him to sacrifice himself?

I am really done with that group full of patriarchal men. Okay, I’m finished with my ranting. What are your thoughts about this?



Pic above from here.

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