On Saturday, 4 September 1987, at 1:30 pm, Mrs Roop Kanwar was publicly murdered by immolation here in Deorala, Sikar District, as Sati. She was burned to death before a crowd of 2,000 plus in broad daylight.
In 1987, 18 year old Roop Kanwar was immolated following the death of her husband in Deorala, a small village in interior Rajasthan. There has been some speculation as to what degree her death voluntary. After her death, Roop Kanwar was hailed as Sati Mata (pure mother).
A trip to Deorala revealed her shrine still stands today, widely, if somewhat secretly worshiped.
What is Sati?
Sati is a ritual of the past where wives of Rajput warriors threw themselves (voluntarily) into their husband’s pyre for fear of the dishonour of being raped by his killers. The Rajput clan were pretty serious about their honour-and-pride-above-all attitude.
Relevance of Sati today
Slowly, Sati became a thing of honour. As traditions are passed down in folklore, and misunderstood, their true meaning gets lost.
Many temples of Sati in India are widely worshipped today. The wars have passed. Wives of dead Rajputs don’t want to dive into a fire or burn to death. But today, Sati is still revered, encouraged. Enforced.Can you imagine a place where suicide is worshipped? Even encouraged. Sometimes forced…
What happened that day?
In the presence of 3,000 people (almost the entire village), young Roop Kanwar reportedly climbed into the funeral pyre of her husband. Many present at the ceremony allegedly claimed that she was heavily drugged, and forced into the fire.
My trip to Doerala, the scene of crime
To explore this case further, I drove down to Deorala in 2014. Following the Glorification of Sati Act, the very villagers who cheered Roop Kanwar to immolate, were hesitant to speak of the incident. I was told that I should not enquire about the past and invite trouble for myself. I was told that the site of Sati was abandoned, and no one went there any longer.
At the site were however, signs of recent cleaning, a fresh new red cloth (a Hindu offering of worship) adorned the shrine of Sati Mata, and a fresh coconut lay there, reminiscent of a tradition that was outlawed yet secretly honoured in the minds of people living there.
Is Sati legal?
This incident stirred defiant outcry throughout the world, and acted as a catalyst for The Commission of Sati (Prevention) act, and Glorification of Sati Act. Since at the time of the incident, no such laws were present, 45 people present at the ceremony were booked under Murder, and 11 people including state politicians were charged with Glorification of Sati, all acquitted 16 years later in 2004 for the lack of evidence.
Other Sati sites
Rani Sati Mandir in Jhnjhunu (Rajasthan): The 400 year old shrine in the Shekhavati region of Rajasthan is still widely worshipped. A beautiful shrine, it has no idols; only a trident which is worshipped. It houses intricately painted walls and a striking portrait of Rani Sati. A massive festival of worship takes place on a moonless night every year. Narayan Sati Temple, Alwar (Rajasthan) Dholan Sati Temple, Raipur (Chhattisgarh) Rani Bhatyani Temple, Jasol (Rajasthan)
These temples stand today, proud and erect; stunning sentinels of how blind faith overrules humanity in the consciousness of various widespread segments in India.