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Roop Kanwar, 1987

The cult, As in 2019

Yeshika Budhwar & Shoeb Khan, Sep 5, 2019: The Times of India

The trial of those accused of glorifying sati following Roop Kanwar’s death in 1987 is in its final stages — 32 years after the incident at Rajasthan’s Deorala village on September 4.

The case led to the Sati Prevention Act (1987) that outlawed glorification of sati which had been banned in 1829 but continued in some parts till the late 20th century. Still being tried are eight of 45 people arrested, a year after Roop died on her husband’s funeral pyre, for taking out a march commemorating her passing. Of the accused, 25 have been acquitted, six are dead and six absconding. Final arguments are going on at a special court in Jaipur that was constituted for cases under the Sati Prevention Act.

Roop’s brother Gopal Singh Shekhawat, who spent some months in prison for glorifying sati, told TOI while he was “against forceful sati, if any woman willingly did so, the government should not stop her”. 

‘Sati wrong, but it was her decision’

The sentiment finds favour at Deorala. Keeping alive memories of Roop, who was 18 when she died, is her room at her inlaws’ house. It’s been kept as a shrine, with visitors from across the state trickling daily in quiet reverence.

Acquitted long ago in the case along with his wife, the father-in-law, Sumer Singh, previously a teacher, said he doesn’t want to talk about it. “I am in no condition to speak,” he mumbled.

In the village, Roop is still venerated as a symbol of “caste culture”. Local residents, young and old, are vociferous that Sati is not acceptable but they don’t fail to add that “respect for her” will never fade from their hearts. They remain firm in the community legend that she took her life “willingly”.

Jawan Singh, a village elder, said, “We are absolutely against Sati but this decision came from within her and so no one can say or think anything negative about her.” A youth, who did not wish to be named, said, “There is no scope for this now, obviously. I wasn’t even born in 1987 but we have grown up hearing her stories. Sometimes I too go in the evenings to light incense sticks at the spot. It is just a matter of faith.”

Fondly recalling events of the day, Shekhawat said in Jaipur that he was informed by a journalist over phone that his sister was ready to observe Sati. “I shared the news with my siblings (four brothers and a sister) who were filled with pride and rushed to the cremation in Sikar.” The family was minutes late and reached only when Roop was afire, said Shekhawat. “But I remember the crowd chanting slogans. Over 10,000 villagers were there. My sister sat on the pyre with folded hands. She became immortal for following the centuries’ old practice of Rajputs.” He then went on to describe how the pyre was encircled by young men holding swords to prevent police from interrupting. “Roop had a lot of devotion for our caste culture and rituals,” the proud brother said.

Thousands of pilgrims from across the country still visit the 400-year-old Rani Sati temple in Jhunjhunu all year around. It was constructed, so the legend goes, after 13-yearold Narayani Devi committed Sati. The sprawling temple complex has rooms and dormitories for visitors. (With inputs from Intishab Ali)

Male sati

2021/ Kalahandi

Riyan Ramanath, August 26, 2021: The Times of India

Brooding over his wife’s death as her funeral pyre burned, a 70-year-old man suddenly broke away from the huddle of mourners and jumped into the flames to end his life in a remote tribaldominated village of Odisha’s Kalahandi. The horrifying act of former panchayat member Nilamani Sabar choosing to die on his 65-year-old wife Raibari’s pyre came days before what will be the 34th anniversary of the controversial Roop Kanwar sati case in Rajasthan.

Kalahandi SP Sharvana Vivek said the incident took place at Sialjudi village in front of family members and relatives, including Nilamani and Raibari’s four sons. The couple had been married for several decades and known to be active in community welfare — he as an ex-panchayat samiti representative and she as a sitting village ward committee member.

“After the pyre was lit, some of the villagers escorted Nilamani’s four sons to a nearby pond for a bath. Nilamani suddenly got up and jumped onto the pyre. By the time the villagers realised what had happened, he was severely burnt. They tried to get him out but the raging fire made it difficult,” the SP said. Raibari had died in her sleep earlier in the day.

The police said since nobody came forward to report the incident, they took suo motu cognisance of it and registered a case of unnatural death under Section 174 of the CrPC. “We have since recorded the statements of the villagers, including the sons of the deceased. They have all corroborated what we know — that the man jumped onto his wife’s pyre on his own,” Vivek said.

According to sarpanch Danara Bag, a villager identified as Benu Chinagun had tried to save Nilamani. “I was about 50 metres away from the pyre, waiting to accompany Nilamani to the ghat. I was tired and unmindful. By the time I realised what he had done, it was too late,” Benu was quoted as saying.

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