How the British Raj’s abolishment of Sati saved Hindu women

Shivaji's eldest widow Putalabai died by Sati this day in 1680

Shivaji’s eldest widow Putalabai died by Sati this day in 1680. She was from Palkar Family and married Shivaji in 1653.

By Ahmed Khan,
Founder, TheRahnuma.com, Editor-In-Chief (Online English)

(Rahnuma) In late March 1674 Shivaji Bhosale I was finally recognized and crowned as the Chhatrapati of his realm at Raigad inside the Mughal Empire. In 1680, his dreams came to an end, when he fell ill with fever, dying around 3 April 1680 at the age of 52.

But today’s story is not about the aspirations of the son of a Maratha general who served the Deccan Sultanates to finally be king, rather about the death of his fifth and eldest wife to a cultural practice which thanks to the British Raj, was finally ended in India, thereby saving the lives of potentially millions of Indian Hindu widows.

Eldest of the five wives

Acording to historians, Putalabai, the eldest of the five wives of Shivaji committed sati, by jumping into his funeral pyre (a heap of combustible material, especially one for burning a corpse as part of a funeral ceremony).

Putalabai was described as a fierce woman who acted as the king’s confidant, eldest wife and most loyal advisor.

Power Vaccum

Putalabai’s death by Sati created a vaccum of influence in the court among the other surviving wives of the dead king.

Taking advantage of the situation, Shivaji’s second wife Soyarabai made plans with various ministers of the administration to crown her son Rajaram rather than her stepson Sambhaji as his successor.

Succession

On and on 21 April 1680, Shivaji’s ten-year-old son by Soyarabai, Rajaram was installed on the throne at Raigad as his successor.

However, within days, his eldest son Sambhaji took possession of Raigad Fort after killing its commander, and on 18 June acquired control and formally ascended the throne on 20 July. His ten-year-old step-brother Rajaram, his wife Janki Bai, and mother Soyrabai were imprisoned, and Soyrabai executed on charges of a conspiracy that October.

This tragic tale demonstrates how Sati negatively impacted the lives of Hindu women even in recognized royal families, and why some reforms by the British Raj must be appreciated.

The Bengal Sati Regulation

The Bengal Sati Regulation which abolished the barbaric Sati practice in all jurisdictions of British India was passed on December 4, 1829 by the then Governor-General Lord William Bentinck.

The British regulation described the Hindu practice of Sati as revolting to the feelings of human nature.

A practice among Hindus

Sati, also spelled as Suttee, is a practice among Hindu religious communities where a recently widowed woman, either by force or voluntarily, immolates herself (suicide by burning oneself in fire) over her deceased husband’s prye.

Widows were shunned in Hindu communities throughout India and therefore, the only solution for a life without husband was to practice Sati for most Hindu women.

The Great Mughals

Sati was regarded as a barbaric practice by the secular rulers of the Mughal Empire.

In the 16th century, Enperor Humayun was the first to issue a royal decree (farman) against the barbaric practice.

Mughal Emperor Akbar issued the first official orders prohibiting the barbaric involuntary practice of Sati. It was thanks to Akbar’s prohibition on the Hindu community that it transformed into a strictly voluntary act by women.

Emperor Akbar also issued orders that no woman could commit Sati without a specific permission from his chief police officers.

Akbar had also instructed his police to attempt to delay the woman’s decision for as long as possible, to give her a chance to reconsider.

Banned

By the end of the 18th century, the practice had finally been totally banned in territories held by some European colonial powers.

Sati has occurred in some rural areas of India in the 21st century

According to some official reports, around 30 cases of Sati, from 1943 to 1987, were documented in India, and the practice still occurs in some parts of India today.

Sivaji Bhonsle (April 6, 1627 — April 3, 1680)

Ahmed Khan is the Founder, Editor-In-Chief & Publisher of The Rahnuma Daily (theRahnuma.com), the online global English daily edition of The Rahnuma-E-Deccan Daily (ReDD), India’s oldest Urdu daily print newspaper established in 1921. More than 81.1 million Indians identify Urdu as their language, and as per the annual INA (Indian Newspapers Association) report, ReDD ranks among the top 5 most widely circulated and read Urdu daily print newspapers throughout India. Ahmed resides in Hyderabad at his maternal ancestral home and can be contacted at, editor@therahnuma.com

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