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Sati (A Writeup of Raja Ram Mohan Roy About Burning of Widows Alive)

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Item Code: UAT249
Author: Mulk Raj Anand
Publisher: B.R. Publishing Corporation
Language: English
Edition: 1996
ISBN: 9788170188988
Pages: 199
Other Details 9.00 X 6.00 inch
Weight 390 gm
Book Description
About The Book

This publication of Ram Mohan Roy's two conversations and other appendices is by way of a reminder to the contemporary intelligentsia that, in spite of the law forbidding Sari, the barbarous rite is still being practised, overtly or covertly, and being glorified by some of the ignorant folk in the name of tradition, backed by the chauvinist Hindu fundamentalist, thus degrading the lofty cosmic idealism of India's 'perennial philosophy".

Ours is still dominantly a man's world, where a woman is enslaved, behind cover of Vedic rites, often sold in marriage with dowry, unable to remarry if widowed, despised for bringing forth female children, victim of paternal pride, a part of humanity's oppressed half, in a country in which the constitution has adopted universal human rights for men and women.

Ram Mohan Roy, the first precursor of India's resurgence from the 'filth of Hindusm' to some purity of feeling and thought in early 19th century, is said to have written his two dialogues, between a protagonist and an antagonist Sati, from the compulsion of the shrieking out from the pyre of his sister-in-law when the flames touched her, but who was forced down by the devout with bamboo poles.

He had researched in the Shastras and found no sanction in Manu, Yaganvalkya, or in the Vedas, for the heinous practice of burning of widows alive.

His impassioned writings inspired a co-thinker, Lord William Bentinck, himself a radical follower of Jeremy Bentham the utilitarian philosopher, believer in the greatest good of the greatest number, to abolish the odious rite by law, in spite of the worldly wise counsels of even his most knowledgeable countrymen.

Orthodox Hindu protested against Bentinck's ban on Sati and appealed to the King in Council in Britain to repeal the law.

The appeal was lost. The law prevailed only for some time. It has been flouted frequently for over a century, until Government of India was compelled to pass a bill against the practice of Sari penalising the widow if she agrees to be burnt alive, and all those who either presuade the widow or coerce her. This book should be in the hands of the Intelligentsia. Perchance, some of them may re-adopt the mission of Ram Mohan Roy.

About the Author

Mulk Raj Anand (1905), B.A. (Hons.), Ph.D., London was Lecturer, School of International Cooperation, Geneva in 1927-29. He was with the BBC during 1942-45. He was the founder of Marg Publications in 1946 and Tagore Professor of Literature in Panjab University in 1962-65. He was Chairman, Lalit Kala Akademi for five years, Member of Sahitya Akademi, Laureate of International Peace Prize of World Peace Council in 1952. He is author of several novels, short stories and critical essays.


A preface is generally an apology for offering words to the public which may not be acceptable.

In the reissue of Ram Mohan Roy's writings on the theme of Suttee, after more than a hundred years, I have no reason to ask the readers for forgiveness. To give our people the opinions on the question of burning widows alive of the 19th century thinker, scholar and publicist is to give a gift of conscience from the acknowledged 'great' initiator of the modern Indian renaissance, to our people, who still persist, in traditional India, on perpetuating the inhuman rite of Suttee.

The pertinacity of instinct with which the compassionate Ram Mohan Roy seized on the moment of pain of the widow, who goes to the pyre (willing, or unwillingly), and the agony she feels as the flames first touch her and she shrieks out, was the cue for passion behind the discourses which he wrote on this burning question.

And his deep awarenesses of all the Shastras, into which he had researched in his ardent youth, gave him that unquestionable mastery of the arguments for and against the practice of Suttee.

Ram Mohan Roy had noticed the justifiable criticism of Christian missionaries of Hindu idolatry. Lord Hastings words castigating the Hindus as 'being nearly limited to animal functions', may have stung him to the quick. He had admitted the decay of the Hindu faith into unholy rituals. And he had translated the main Vedas, writing long dissertations on them, interpreting Hinduism as a pure faith in the Cosmos as deity.

So he inquired into the barbarous custom of burning widows from the point of view of the sanctions in the Shastras, if any. He revealed that the most influential commentators like Manu and Yaganvalkya had certainly not recommended the practice.

Undoubtedly, Lord William Bentinck, the brilliant eccentric Governor General, who had the courage to abolish the rite, when others including some of his (even learned) countrymen, quailed before the prospect of Hindu reaction, owed much to the inspiration which the humanism of Ram Mohan Roy gave to his utilitarian radicalism.


Of the many motives which made Ram Mohan Roy to espouse his campaign against the burning of widows alive called Sati in the name of Hindu religion, during the early 19th century the main cause seems to have been his compassion for the helpless women, specially widows who suffered humiliations in the Hindu joint family.

The immediate cause is said to have been the shock of seeing his own sister-in-law, wife of his eldest brother, who had voluntarily wished to be concremated with her dead husband, shrieking to jump out of the pyre, when she felt the flames envelop her but who was forced down with bamboos. Some scholars have doubted whether he actually saw this tragedy happen.

But whether he saw this tragic death, or witnessed some of the 544 widows concremated in 1818, or was struck by the courage of the Englishman Job Charnock, initiator of John Company's Calcutta, rescuing a Hindu woman from the flames, and marrying her because she was rejected by her devout in-laws, certainly, he became one of the few eloquent propagandists against this horrific practice among the Hindus of that time and after.

Of course, from his vast learning of ancient literatures, in Sanskrit, Persian and Arabian, he could speak with authority on traditional injunctions and practices.

It is likely that he knew of his predecessors who had dared to speak and act against the custom of Sati.

He had probably heard of the legend of the Mughal Emperor Akbar, riding day and night to prevent Sati of a Princess of Jodhpur. And he had read of Akbar's comment on the Ain-i-Akbari of Abbul Fazal, where the enlightened Emperor was reported to have had remarked.

**Contents and Sample Pages**

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