The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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It is difficult to judge which is the greater crime, the practice of sati or the practice of ignorance. The pressure building up on sati has had the tragic effect of exposing the confusion of mind that is the primary reason behind the perpetuation of the practice. Recently, a twenty-eight-year-old widow committed suicide in a locked room when she was prevented from joining her dead husband on the pyre by her relatives. Once the deed was done, however, villagers of Ratanguan, next to Panna district where a woman committed sati a month ago, insisted that her body be placed next her husbandís for cremation. Fortunately, this request was denied and officialdom took over as is routine after a case of suicide. But in the larger perspective, it is official policy or its failure that is responsible for the persistence of such practices. Even in Madhya Pradesh, a state that now lays claim to remarkable advances in education, it is clear that general awareness, social beliefs and practices and the status of women are far from having reached a desirable standard.

It is not the towns and cities that are the index of a countryís development, but its villages. The responsibility for ignorance has ultimately to be laid at the door of the state. It is not any one government, but all of them since independence, that are responsible for the limitations in the spread and percolation of education. Superstitions cannot be removed in a day, neither can standards of living be raised in a short time. India has had enough time to ensure that all its people have access to basic education that would, in the long run, raise standards of living and health, improve the status of women and build up opposition to blind and destructive beliefs. It is irrelevant whether the woman killed herself because she was afraid of living a socially insecure life as a widow or because she believed she had to die with her husband. Both causes can be eliminated. And neither lessens the pity of the event.

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