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SATI Sati (Su-thi , a.k.a. suttee) is the traditional Hindu practice of a widow immolating herself on
funeral pyre. "Sati" means a virtuous woman. A woman who dies burning herself on her husbands funeral fire was considered most virtuous, and was believed to directly go to heaven, redeeming all the forefathers rotting in hell, by this "meritorious" act. The woman who committed Sati was worshipped as a Goddess, and temples were built in her memory. Sati was prevalent among certain sects of the society in ancient India, who either took the vow or deemed it a great honor to die on the funeral pyres of their husbands. Ibn Batuta (1333 A.D.) has observed that Sati was considered praiseworthy by the Hindus, without however being obligatory. The Agni Purana declares that the woman who commits sahagamana goes to heaven. However, Medhatiti pronounced that Sati was like suicide and was against the Shastras, the Hindu code of conduct. It is believed that they were not coerced, although several wives committed Sati. The majority of the widows did not undergo Sati. her husband's

The Mahasati (the great Sati) or the Sahagamana (joint departure) system of a cremating the woman alive on
the death of her husband is an ancient custom in India. Scholars of the Puranas trace the origins to the suicide of Satidevi in the Yajnakunda (sacrificial fireplace) of Lord Brahma, while a few attribute it to the pre-caste Vedic system of Indian society. In the Indian mythology of the Mahabharat, there is the instance of Madri dying

on the funeral pyre of husband Pandu, leaving the children to the care of the first wife Kunti. The feminists proclaim the Sati system as a cruel institution established by men against the womankind, while the lower-caste in India have felt it as another means of torture taxed on them by the upper-caste Brahmins.


Dowry is one of those social practices which no educated Indian would own up with pride, although many of us still adhere to this much deplorable practice. Dowry continues to be given and taken . Even among the educated sections of society, dowry continues to form an essential part the negotiations that take place in an arranged marriage. During the marriage ceremony the articles comprising thc dowry are proudly displayed in the wedding hall. Dowry is still very much a status symbol. A number of marriage-negotiations break down if there is no consensus between the bride's and groom' s families. Dowry deaths of a newly married bride are still regularly in the news. Although the practice of dowry exists in many countries, it has assumed the proportion of a challenge to the forces of modernity and change only in India. Many reasons are put forward for explaining this practice. It is said that a dowry is meant to help the newly-weds to set up their own home. That dowry is given as compensation to the groom's parents for the amount they have spent in educating and upbringing their son. These explanations may seem logical in the present day context, but they cannot explain how this practice originated. A search for the origins of dowry would have to move backwards into antiquity. Discussion about dowry has to take into account the less prevalent practice of bride price, which is but a reversal or dowry. Although it may not be possible to ascertain when and where these practices originated, it can be supposed that dowry and bride price are posterior to the institution of monogamy. This is the same as saying that dowry and bride price came into being after the practice of monogamous marriage had become prevalent. But monogamous marriage is itself a culmination of the human adaptation of animal promiscuity. Man's is the only species practicing monogamy, all other species are promiscuous. Thus it is a logical corollary that Man's institution of monogamy came into being at sometime in the long evolution of his species. The practice of monogamy itself evolved in stages as is evident from historical anecdotes as in the Mahabharata where the five Pandava brothers have one wife.

Promiscuity gave way to Polygamy/polyandry, and after various permutations and combinations, monogamy became the established system. As long as promiscuity existed there was no question of dowry or bride price. The origin of these two practices could be linked up with the discarding of promiscuity in favour of Polygamy and Polyandry. These two forms of marriage are themselves mutual opposites. While in polygamy there is pairing between one male and But the existence of the diametrically opposite practices of dowry and bride price, possibly owe their origin to polygamy and polyandry. The formation of polygamous and polyandrous forms of marriage could have been made necessary by changes in the demographic balance between the sexes. A rise in the number of females as compared to that of males is a congenial situation for the emergence of polygamy. Mere the chances of more than one female member of society being in wedlock with one male member are more. In Absence of polygamy, in a society having a larger number of females as compared to males, many female members would have to deprived of marital life. The obligation to get more than one female member into wedlock with one male member could have been the situation which gave birth to dowry as a price exacted by the male and his family from the female's family. The origin of bride-price could have taken place in opposite circumstances where the sex ratio favoured females and as there was a large number of males for every female, polyandry and bride-price could have been the result. Along with this generalised hypothesis there were many factors specific to different situations which gave birth to dowry and bride-price. These factors can be identified with more certainty. In India' s context, these practices can be seen to be a result of the dialectics of our caste system. The conflict of opposing tendencies of the caste hierarchy, as we know have resulted in endogamy, preventing inter-marriage between members of different castes. A reason for the origin of dowry and bride-price can also he seen in the same conflict. Hence discussion on these two practices would have to be intertwined. Dowry (Dahej/Hunda) as we all know is paid in cash or kind by the bride's family to the groom' s family alongwith the giving away of the bride (Kanya-dana). The ritual of Kanya-dana is an essential aspect in Hindu marital rites: Kanya = daughter, dana = gift. A reason for the origin of dowry could perhaps be that the groom and his family had to take up the 'onerous' responsibility of supporting the bride for the rest of her life. Bride-price on the other hand involves the receipt of presents, in cash or kind, by the bride's family in return for giving away of the bride. Hence bride-price has the character of an exchange. One feature about dowry and bride-price that is conspicuous is that dowry is prevalent among the higher castes while bride-price exists mainly among the lower castes and tribals (Adivasis). We can only conjecture as to why this curious combination could have come into being. In the caste hierarchy it was the lower castes, the Vaishya's and Shudras who did most of the physical labour and menial work. lie have discussed in an earlier chapter that the various occupational divisions into Jatis exist only among these two castes. The two upper castes, the Brahmins and Kshatriyas had only priestly and martial duties allocated to them and hence no occupational sub-division existed among them. Thus among the lower castes, the coming of a bride into the family meant an increase in the number of members ~ who could work along with other members and become a source of income for the family. While the family from where the bride came sufferred the loss of one earning member. Hence a bride-price was paid to the bride's parents to compensate for this loss. Contrarily, among the higher castes to whom no manual labour was assigned in the caste hierarchy, the reverse logic applied. A marriage meant an additional member who was to be supported and hence was a burden on the groom's family as the bride did not go out to earn and contribute to the family income. Thus a dowry was collected to provide the additional burden resulting from a bride's entry into the groom's family.


Child-marriage is another 'blessing' of the medieaval age and it was born from the same compulsions that ; perpetuated Sati.Child-marriage was not not prevalent in ancient India. The most popular form of marriage was Swayamvara where grooms assembled at the bride' s house and the bride selected her spouse. Svayam-vara can be translated as self selection of one' s husband, Svayam = self, Vara = husband. Instances of Swayamvara ceremony are found in our national epics, the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Various types of marraiges wereprevalant in ancient India Gandharva Vivaha (love marriage), Asura Viviha (marriage by abduction) etc., But among these Bal-Viviha is conspicuous its absence. There are many reasons to believe that this custom originated in the medieval ages. As mentioned earlier in the turbulent atmosphere of the medieavel ages, law and order was not yet a universal phenomenon and arbitrary powers were concentrated in the hands of a hierarchy led by a despotic monarch. In India the Sultans of Delhi who held the place of the despotic monarch, came from a different type of culture. They were orthodox in their beliefs with a fanatical commitment to their religion and a ruthless method in its propagation. Intolerant as they were to all forms of worship other than their own, they also exercised contempt for members of other faiths. (See note at the end of this chapter). Women as it is are at the receiving and during any war, arson, plunder, etc. During the reign of the Delhi Sultans these were the order of the day and the worst sufferers were Hindu women. During these dark days were spawned customs like child-marriage and selection of women from the rest of the society, wearing of the Ghungat (veil). This age also perpetuated customs like Sati and looking upon the birth of a female baby as an ill omen, even killing newly born baby girls by drowning them in a tub of milk. Amidst the feeling of insecurity, the presence of young unmarried girls was a potential invitation for disaster. The predatory Sarasenic feudal lords and princelings of Sarasenic origins who stalked all over India in the middle ages were a source of constant threat . Hence parents would seek to get over with the responsibilities of their daughters by getting them married off before they reached the marriage age. The custom of child marriages with the 'bride' and 'groom' still in their cradles was a culmination of this tendency. This way the danger to a growing girl's virginity was somewhat reduced.

Many marriages during the middle ages were performed in the cradle itself. The predatory Sarasenic feudal lords and princelings of Sarasenic origins who stalked all over India in the middle ages were a source of constant threat . Hence parents would seek to get over with the responsibilities of their daughters by getting them married off before they reached the marriage age. The custom of child marriages with the 'bride' and 'groom' still in their cradles was a culmination of this tendency. This way the danger to a growing girl's virginity was somewhat reduced. Alongwith this principal reason, there were a few other reasons arising from the nature of the feudal society which were conducive for the prevalence of this practice. In a feudal society, qualities like rivalry, personal honour, hereditary friendship or enmity are rated very highly. Because of this, military alliances play a very important role in preserving or destroying the balance of power between the various kingdoms and fiefdoms. To ensure that the military alliances entered into were observed by both parties, practices like exchanging Juvenile members of the respective families who were educated and brought up at each other's palaces were followed. They were a sort of captives who were held to ensure that the military alliances between the two kingdoms or clans were honoured. But a more lasting bond that could back up military alliances were-matrimonial alliances between members of the two famlies . But such matrimonial alliances could be worked out smoothly only if the bride and groom were ready to accept each others Young men and women of marriageable age are bound to be choosy. This difficulty could be avoided when the marriage was between two children or babies where there was no question of their having any sense of choice as to who their partners in life should be.

Female foeticide and infanticide KILLING OF THE GIRL CHILD

INDIA has the notoriety of having one of the lowest female to male child ratio (in the age group of zero to six years) in the world. On December 15, 2006, UNICEF issued a report which said 7000 fewer girls are born each day in India than population models project because of abortions based on sex selection. It is a case of female foeticide aided by ultrasonic diagnostics. In addition, there are unknown numbers of female infants being deliberately killed by their mothers and/or her close relatives. WHY? Havent we all read or recited the cute verse, What are little girls made of? Sugar and spice and everything nice, thats what little girls are made of? Perhaps not, when it comes to

those who commit such atrocities. Are those who commit female infanticide and foeticide, heartless monsters? If they are committing such a heinous crime, although reluctantly, is it due to the fact that society is imposing a constraint on them? Why is it happening? It is somewhat interesting to note that in days of yore, dEvadAsis used to celebrate the birth of a female child. That ensured the continuance of their chosen profession of serving the temple and the arts through generations. Along the way that sacred tradition of the dEvadAsis got tangled up with the lustful exploitation by a few ignoble souls and the profession got a bad reputation. Hindu religion glorifies the mother through the devotional songs addressed to goddess Parvati, the mother of the universe, seeking her blessings. Why then her human equivalents are not accorded the same respect and care especially the tiny ones? One of the principal reasons has to do with dowry that needs to be given when the girl child grows up and is given in marriage. Raising young girls is considered a liability. This practice stems from ignorance and illiteracy that pervades the community which resorts to female infanticide and foeticide. The female child is being held at a sub-par value compared to a male child. The gender bias is also related to the fact that male children are called upon to work in the fields and provide income to support the family in poor rural families while the female child is considered incapable of such activity although that trend is changing now. It is estimated that some 10 million girls were lost in India over the last 20 years. The national average gender ratio (female to male) has gone down from 972 in 1901 to 933 in 2001. The number is a lot lower (as low as 500-700) in some selected areas of various states. Subramanya Bharathi wrote, ANum peNNum nigarenak koLvadhAl aRivil Ongi ivvaiyam thazhaikkumAm (by treating men and women equal the whole world will prosper). He also wrote, vaRpuRuththip peNNaik kaTTikkoDukkum vazhakkaththaith thaLLi midhiththiDuvOm (let us get rid of the practice of getting our daughters married by force to anyone) and eTTum aRivinil ANukkingE peN iLaippillai kANenRu kummiyaDi (let us celebrate the fact that in mental caliber the woman isnt deficient when compared to the man). Did Bharathi fight for the empowerment of women in vain? Why are we treating the female child as undervalued and unwanted? Religion and history: It appears the practice of female infanticide has some roots in the Vedas. The earliest war tribes had little use for women. The preference for male offspring was obvious. There are statements like, Let a female child be born somewhere else; here, let a male child be born (Atharva Veda V1.2.3). Child marriage of girls as young as 5-6 years was common as late as 100 years ago. The Hindu code book Manu (IX.94) declared, A man, aged thirty years shall marry a maiden of twelve who pleases him . While this was intended to protect the abuse of unmarried adult women it also bred subjugation in a different sense. The Manu code (IX.72) also required young girls to retain their virginity but did not stipulate that for young men. The code states, Though (a man) may have

accepted a damsel in due form, he may abandon (her if she be) blemished, diseased, or deflowered, and (if she have been) given with fraud. Such girls were then condemned by society. This background did not forebode well for future generations of women. The British tried to undo some of this injustice to women in the native population by enacting certain laws. The Sati Abolition Act (1829), Widow Remarriage Act (1856), and Raising the Age of Consent Act (1891) were some well-intentioned efforts to prevent discrimination against women. They also launched a fierce campaign against female infanticide. However, most conservative Hindus opposed those measures. While laws are necessary to prevent abuse they are not sufficient if society ignores them.