Glorification is a vague term. The Rajasthan high court has forbidden the holding of the annual fair at the most famous of sati temples, the Rani Sati temple in Jhunjhunu district in Rajasthan. It has passed a similar order with reference to the Rani Khemi temple in the same district and the Dholi Satiji temple in Sikar district. The Rani Sati Temple Trust had approached the court to plead against a state government order which banned the fair. In both cases the high court, going by the Supreme Court statement of 1987, has reiterated that there should be no “glorification” of sati. The Rajasthan Sati (Prevention) Act was also enacted in 1987, after the death of Roop Kanwar at the pyre of her husband in Deorala. This piece of legislation is the origin of the government’s ban. The question, of course, is whether a ban on an annual fair can prevent “glorification”. The high court has allowed “prayers and offerings”, with the warning that all “ceremonies” should be confined to the grounds of the temple. But the unavoidable truth is that praying in a sati temple is ultimately the glorification of an act considered criminal by the law of the country. All sati temples are built on the spot at which an event of sati once took place.
The counter-argument has been that the devotees pray to the “mother goddess”, they do not “glorify” sati. This is a quibble that would not fool a child. The obvious truth is that the temple trusts and the temple towns concerned flourish on the rich harvest of the belief in sati. There could be no clearer manifestation of glorification. The high court’s order is a good example of the limits of legislation. It can outlaw and penalize a particular act, it cannot change a belief or dismantle at one stroke an entire local economy that is based on this belief. In the end, it is education and changes in socio-economic conditions that are the solution. Activists in women’s organizations are predictably dissatisfied with the court ruling. It is important that greater awareness be generated about the issue. But the mix of faith and economics is an alliance difficult to breach. The sati culture has to be fought hard and long.