Sunday, September 23, 2007

Remembering Roop Kanwar

The Hindu, September 23, 2007


On September 4, 1987, when the days were still warm
but the nights were getting cooler, a young girl of
18 in the village of Deorala in Rajasthan was
murdered. She was burnt alive on the funeral pyre of
her husband. Yet, according to local tradition,
Roop Kanwar had become a “sati” and had
“voluntarily” immolated herself as she
sat with her dead husband’s head in her lap
even as family members lit the funeral pyre and
curious villagers watched. Her cries for help drew
no response from the spectators.
Roop Kanwar’s name hit the headlines almost a
week later on September 12. This was a time when
print media was still supreme. Its prominence and
efficacy had not been undermined by 24-hour
television news channels that dominate and define
news today. Yet, although the media did recognise
the horrific nature of the act, the fact that it was
a crime as it had been outlawed more than a century
back and that there were many reasons to doubt the
ostensibly voluntary nature of the act, the reports
dwelt at length on the colourful chunri mahotsav
ceremony that took place on September 16 to mark the
13th day of Roop Kanwar’s death. Here was a
spectacle the media could not miss. The fact that it
represented the celebration of the murder of a young
woman was somehow forgotten.

Tougher laws

It is interesting looking back at the Roop Kanwar
incident in the light of the latest effort by the
government to amend the Commission of Sati
(Prevention) Act, 1987. The Ministry for Women and
Child Welfare has recommended that the entire
community be held accountable if such a deed is
done, that it be made a non-bailable offence, that
the prison term be increased from three years to 10
years and that the fine be enhanced from Rs. 10,000
to Rs. 50,000. It has also argued that it is
necessary to change the perception that the woman
involved is the culprit. She must be viewed as a
victim and the local functionaries like the
Panchayat head, should be held accountable if a
“sati” takes place in their village.

(For the rest of the article, click on the link)

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