This Day in History – December 4th, 1829

The British Empire, and 19th century imperialism in general, made many changes around the globe as European nations seized many national assets and indentured the people around the globe, but was it all bad? Modern India cites Britain for providing its functional infrastructure making it the most populated democratic country in the world, and also in 1829 the rights and safety of Indian women were advanced under the stewardship of the British.

On December 4th, 1829 British Governor-General Lord William Bentinck issued a regulation declaring that anyone who abets suttee in Bengal is guilty of culpable homicide. The ruling to end the cultural tradition was met with fierce local opposition, but many women were spared their lives as a result of this decision.

Sati_ceremony

Suttee (also spelt sati) refers to a funeral ritual within some Asian communities in which a recently widowed woman immolates herself, typically on the husband’s funeral pyre.

SatiMention of the practice can be dated back to 4th century BCE. While evidence of practice only appears from the 5th – 9th centuries CE. Practice is considered to have been originated within the warrior aristocracy on the Indian subcontinent, gradually gaining in popularity from the 10th century CE to other groups and becoming generally sanctioned/recommended by the doctrines around the 12th century CE. With the military expansions outside of Indian subcontinent, the practice has been attested to have been practiced in a number of localities in Southeast Asia, such as at Indonesia.

The practice was outlawed by the British Raj in 1829 within their own territories in India (the collected statistics from their own regions suggesting an estimated of 500–600 instances of sati per year), followed up by laws in the same directions by the authorities in the princely states of India in the ensuing decades, with a general ban for the whole of India issued by Queen Victoria in 1861. In Nepal, sati was not banned until 1920. The Indian Sati Prevention Act from 1987 further criminalizing any type of aiding, abetting, and even the glorifying of sati practice.

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