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Tuesday, 6 August, 2002, 17:03 GMT 18:03 UK
Indian woman dies on husband's pyre
A gathering of Rajasthan women
Sati was widely practised in Rajasthan
Police in India say a 65-year-old woman has burned to death on her husband's funeral pyre committing the outlawed practice of "sati".

The incident took place on Tuesday in the central state of Madhya Pradesh in accordance with the outlawed custom, which requires a woman to immolate herself after her husband's death.

Two policemen are reported to have been prevented from stopping the ceremony by some 4,000 villagers who had gathered to witness the event.

"Our men tried to stop them but could not because they were pelted with stones," a policeman in Panna district told the French news agency AFP.

Extra police have been deployed in the area to prevent attempts to glorify the incident - although local villagers insist they want to worship the woman as their new goddess or "sati mata".

Death penalty

Reports said the woman, Kuttu Bai, decided to kill herself on her husband Mallu Nai's pyre after he died from a prolonged illness.

Women outside a temple in northern India
Sati is still revered by many
Local journalists say her two grown-up sons did not try to stop their mother.

Cases of sati are very rare.

The last high-profile incident was in Rajasthan in 1987 when 18-year-old Roop Kanwar was burned to death.

The case sparked national and international outrage.

Police charged Roop Kanwar's father-in-law and brother-in-law with forcing her to sit on the pyre with her husband's body, but the two men were acquitted by an Indian court in October 1996.

However the widespread media attention surrounding the case led India to enact legislation calling for the death penalty for anyone abetting sati.

Outlawed

Sati is believed to have originated some 700 years ago among the ruling class or Rajputs in India.

The Rajput women burnt themselves after their men were defeated in battles to avoid being taken by the victors. But it came to be seen as a measure of wifely devotion in later years.

The custom was outlawed by India's British rulers in 1829 following demands by Indian reformers.

But despite the long standing ban, any mention of sati provokes strong respect among many villagers.

Four years ago police in Uttar Pradesh had to seal off a village after a woman committed suicide by jumping into her husband's pyre.

For several days thousands of people thronged the village to pay their respects to the dead woman but the police said it was just an impulsive act of suicide rather than a contemplated act of sati.

See also:

01 Aug 02 | South Asia
24 Jul 02 | Country profiles
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