The Sati Ritual

by Reema on June 15, 2005

in Books

I just finished reading this book called [Ashes of Immortality:Widow-Burning in India], it showed how a religion in India could be used as a weapon against women. In the Hindu religion the Sati ritual, which is a death sentence for women by burning, has raised an argument among people of different faiths. In India women’s freedom of choice is completely lost when it comes to the Sati ritual, it has become an ancient custom or a tradition rather then a religious ritual.

I agree that religious beliefs and traditions are one of the most controversial topics in different cultures. Here in America there are still some traditions and religious practices that are not accepted or frowned upon because it’s different from that of our own. Ignorance of another culture’s religious tradition leads to uninformed opinions that promote stereotyping, fear, and lack of appreciation for the people and tradition. In the world today people tend to judge actions as either right or wrong based on the values that they themselves hold. Do we have the right to question any religion or custom? and can we just stand by and observe men’s cruelty to women? Two questions that contradict each other but raise many debates.

There are Indian women who accept this religious custom and volunteered to do it, true that one would voluntarily commit Sati in this century is very difficult to comprehend for Westerners and many Indians, but we can’t erase the fact that these women “volunteered” regardless of the reasons for doing so. If these women volunteered to die because of religious customs does it mean that they were oppressed? or were they practicing their freedom of choice I don’t know the answer to these questions. As a Muslim woman I chose to cover my hair, but both my sister and mother don’t, does that mean I condemned myself? I don’t think so because I practiced my freedom of choice without cultural traditional pressure. Still I don’t think that’s a comparison so I asked my husband these questions and this is what he said,

“That’s a tough one, I could say they practiced their freedom of choice but at the same time it’s their religious custom, in my opinion this was embedded in them since childhood to perform this ritual without questioning it therefore making it natural for them to volunteer”

is he right?

Religious customs has also caused wars, united countries, and even motivated people to sacrifice their lives for its perpetuation. Some say we must learn to live with the beliefs and traditions found within these different cultures even if they conflict with our own. We do have a right to voice our differences concerning culture, it’s better than trying to change people who choose not to change. For example feminists, and political leaders stated that the glorification of Sati is a national disgrace and an immoral act. Many Indian feminists are fighting against the Sati ritual, some may not practice it today but they hold on to the moral value behind it that this ritual is a wife’s devotion to her husband. Religious customs is an exciting and powerful influence that has preoccupied mankind throughout history. If we really look close at the world we’ll find that it’s one big society with different ideology, we are all connected to each other.

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