G C Lichtenberg: “It is as if our languages were confounded: when we want a thought, they bring us a word; when we ask for a word, they give us a dash; and when we expect a dash, there comes a piece of bawdy.”

W H Auden: "But in my arms till break of day / Let the living creature lie. / Mortal, guilty, but to me/ The entirely beautiful."

Will Self: “To attempt to write seriously is always, I feel, to fail – the disjunction between my beautifully sonorous, accurate and painfully affecting mental content, and the leaden, halting sentences on the page always seems a dreadful falling short. It is this failure – a ceaseless threnody keening through the writing mind – that dominates my working life, just as an overweening sense of not having loved with enough depth or recklessness or tenderness dominates my personal one.”

John Gray: "Unlike Schopenhauer, who lamented the human lot, Leopardi believed that the best response to life is laughter. What fascinated Schopenhauer, along with many later writers, was Leopardi’s insistence that illusion is necessary to human happiness."

Art Spiegelman: "You know words in a way are hitting you on the left side of your brain, music and visual arts hit on the right side of the brain, so the idea is to pummel you, to send you from left brain to right brain and back until you're as unbalanced as I am."

विलास सारंग: "संदर्भ कुठलेही असोत, संस्कृत, इंग्रजी, बुद्धिवादी, तांत्रिक, इतिहासाचे, खगोलशास्त्राचे, आधुनिक पदार्थविज्ञानाचे, शिवकालीन व पेशवाईतील बखरीचे, अगणित ज्ञानक्षेत्रांचे, अशा वैविध्यपूर्ण ज्ञानावर लेखन- विशेषत: कवितालेखन- उभं राहत."

Friday, December 28, 2007

Where is Suttee in the Barchart?

This post is in memory of graceful Ms. Benazir Bhutto.

I hope her death will marginalise extremists in Pakistan the way Mahatma Gandhi's death marginalised Hindu extremists in India for 40 years.


Cherie Blair has brought up the subject of widows and “suttee — a widow burning herself alive on her husband’s funeral pyre” in The Mourning After : NYT December 18, 2007.

“…The centuries-old practice of suttee — a widow burning herself alive on her husband’s funeral pyre — has all but vanished. But the few cases of self-immolation that do occur are a reminder of how bleak the future is for many widows…

…In rural areas of Nepal and India, widows may still be expected to shave their heads, sleep on the floor and hide from men for the rest of their lives.

In Afghanistan, where two million women have lost their husbands in decades of fighting, widows are prevented from working and have no way to provide for their children. In Tanzania, among other countries, the legal system makes it difficult for widows to inherit their husband’s property...

…In India alone, there are estimated to be some 30 million widows struggling to bring up children. Across the developing world, there may be as many as 100 million in a perilous state. Conflict, ethnic cleansing and AIDS are increasing these numbers by the day and creating younger widows. In countries where disease or conflict are most rife, half of all women can be impoverished widows…”

Suttee in New York Times in 2007?

Not surprising.

This year Times of India published two reports on the subject of suttee in July 2007:

“The entire community will be held accountable for any incidence of sati under new amendments being brought into the Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987, which were cleared by a Group of Ministers on Friday.

The proposed changes seek to make the law act as a strong deterrent to the crime while protecting unwilling women who are forced into the funeral pyre. Under the amendments, proposed by the ministry for women and child development (WCD), the act of coercing a woman to commit sati has been made a non-bailable offence. Imprisonment under the law has been increased to a minimum of three years, going up to 10 years, and the fine has been enhanced from Rs 10,000 to Rs 50,000…”

And

“Devils among us- The latest amendment to the commission of Sati Prevention Act proves, yet again, that social evils are very difficult to eradicate.”

Frontline January 4, 2008 said: "There has been an escalation of all forms of violence against women in India in the past two decades...The violence against women takes many forms. They are killed in the womb; they are traded for sex and labour...Domestic and marital abuse is made more possible when women have fewer options for escape out of such oppressive relationships because of lack of assets or economic security in the form of gainful occupations... " (See barchart at the end of this post)

Suttee is just another form of violence against women. Indeed, it was.

“…particularly in Bengal, suttee was sordid and cruel…in nine cases out of ten, the woman in Bengal went to the flames in fear and horror…she was usually tied to the corpse, often already putrid; men stood by with poles to push her back in case the bonds should burn through and victim, scorched and maimed, should struggle free…”

(Source- The Men Who Ruled India by Philip Mason, 1953)

Have you read anything more barbaric than the above in entire human history?

But it was glorified in our culture quite a lot.

Vinayak Janardan Kirtane विनायक जनार्दन कीर्तने wrote a book “Elder Madhavrao’s Death थोरले माधवराव यांचा मृत्यु “ in 1861. It was staged in 1862. It was the first independent, literary and published Marathi play.

It had a scene of Madhavrao’s wife Ramabai रमाबाई going suttee on his funeral pyre.

A woman going suttee was considered almost a goddess. To create publicity stunt, theatre company who was staging the play started bringing few ladies from the audience on to the stage to worship Ramabai.

Soon the scene became so popular that it alone would last for a couple of hours! People forgot that the actor who was playing Ramabai was a male – Vishnu Vatave विष्णु वाटवे! They took home suttee’s prashad (like flowers, wheat/rice grains, vermillion/ turmeric etc.) from the stage!

(btw- This may sound familiar to those who know Hindi film "Jai Santoshi Maa" (1975) which used to convert cinema halls into temples.)

(Source- D G Godse द ग गोडसे, “नांगी असलेले फुलपाखरू Stinger Possessing Butterfly” 1989)

I wonder what Lord William Bentinck (1774-1839), who was responsible for banning the practice of suttee सती in 1829, would have made of this? After all he was the first Governor-General who was prepared to take the risk of provoking a general cry of religion in danger.

Even sensible and rational writer Vasudev Krishna Bhave वासुदेव कृष्ण भावे seemingly justified suttee in his classic "Maharashtra During Peshwa-times पेशवेकालीन महाराष्ट्र"(1936).

Not all widows landed up on funeral pyre.

They fought all odds to play significant roles in India's recent history upto 1829:

Jijabai (Shivaji's mother), Radhabai Bhat (wife/mother of Peshwa), Gopikabai Bhat (wife/mother of Peshwa), Ahilyabai Holkar, Kittur Rani Chennamma ...

Artist: James Thurber The New Yorker 12 February 1949


Causes of Death among rural women aged 15-44 in Maharashtra, 1996