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Published:April 13th, 2007 06:01 EST

The Curse of the Sati System

By Subash Lamichhane

Water, water was the word he could only utter through his pale and dried mouth. His lips had turned so blue and through his eyes, drop-by-drop tears were falling. I could do nothing but to look after him and try to console him. He was breathing his last word and he was having a hard time getting the word to leave his body. The elderly people from the village were asking him to call God`s Name. Please say, Nayarana, Narayana. He could hardly utter a word and the word he uttered was water. I wanted to give him water but the elderly people from the village refused me to do so. They were talking that if a person that has diarrhea is given water then he will die soon. It was a dangerous disease and many people from the village had already passed away from it.

From the corner of the room, my sister was looking at her dying husband.  Her eyes were full of tears and she looked very pale as well. Her everything was going to be lost and several women from the village were consoling her to keep faith her in the Mercy of God. However, her heart was gathering all the pain of the world and her tears from her eyes were expressing so. I was sent from home to look after her and her husband.

Everyone had tears in their eyes and it`s was a sad time when my brother in law breathed his last breath where he had so much suffering. It is so sad that he could only have a drop of water at the end of his time. I thought if he is was given water he could survive but the elderly people and so called wise people refused me to do so and I could not go alone against their belief. My sister cried out loudly as if she had lost her whole world and nobody could console her. Holding her 8-year-old son, she was crying. My innocent nephew was also crying. He has lost his father and his future now to live without father in a society like this will be so tough for him. Moreover, he is now going to be orphan.

They bathed my sister and they broke all the ornaments she was wearing. Everything was quite now. They were discussing his funeral. Some people went to cut bamboo to tie the body to make it reach up to the place where the body could be burned. The place was a half an hour from the place on the bank of the river with some temples and the forest was nearby. It was a quite place and the river was really big. Finally, the body was now tied and all the rituals were fulfilled. The older man was shouting against the elderly woman that refused to allow my sister to be sati and go with her husband. She could not live because she had her son already too old. It was so a horrible time and everybody was so full of fear that the time will be approaching soon.

These customs were so important. Therefore, my sister was decorated in her clothes and other ornaments. The elderly women tried to console her, Oh, you are an unlucky one, it is sad that your husband died before you and now you have to go sati. It is sad and painful time, but take the name of God and everything shall be fine. "

My sister cried that she did not want to go sati. She wrapped her son in her arms and she cried, My dear, my dear you are going to be orphan. Please take care of yourself and stay with your uncles when I am gone. I will miss you miserably. "

My sister and her deceased husband were carried to Ghat where funerals were to be held. The elderly people were called upon to play some musical instruments so that the cries of my sister could not be heard.

It was a cruel activity that Humanity is going to have to face. Now that the body had reached the Ghat, they prepared a bed of wood. My brother in law`s body was kept on the bed of wood and my sister was kept with him. It was a horrible scene that I had to experience for being so young.  I was only 16 years old at the time. It was already getting dark and the sun had already gone down. I thought to myself, How could I stay up? " My rays refused to touch those miserable crimes, which is going to happen. After putting my sister on the bed of wood, some rituals were done and she was consoled that she will be going to heaven with her husband. My sister was looking at her dear little son and me. I had tears in my eyes and there was nothing that I could do. The priest asked my Nephew to carry the fire and say a word to his mother that she will be in heaven and he was lucky to be her son. My sister kept looking at him. Now the priest asked my nephew to light the fire to the pyre. As soon as my nephew lit the fire, he became unconscious. I held him. The scene was so miserable. I was seeing my sister crying with the pain, she was burning alive on the pyre with the misery of this culture and religion. It is such a shame. It was so dark and everyone moved far to ignore the heat. We could only see the pyre burning.

We now returned home when the pyre finished burning. Since my nephew was unconscious, I did the rest of the funeral activities. I collected the remaining ashes and unburned body parts and kept them inside a pot.  I made the pot to flow on the water while praying for my sister and brother in laws safe delivery to Heaven. We all returned home and did the rest of the Funeral. In my eyes, I was just seeing my sister dying with so much pain and I thought we were such savages and that our customs are even worse. I could not sleep nor eat for days, I felt like my sister was crushing all of us for our deeds.

After some days, I returned to my home. My home was on the bank of the same river. It was such a pleasant place and all of my sadness was gone when I got the glance of my village. I found my mother and father so sad and as if, they were already dead. To loose a daughter had cost them a lot. Nobody liked this custom but it was made to follow. It was the most crushed part of the religion. My father was crying for God for his deeds. Several days later, I took goats to the grassland which is a peaceful place by the bank of the river and forest nearby. I was looking after my goats as they were grazing so well. Suddenly, I could hear something moving around nearby me. I tried to approach the sound and I reached near a place, which was like a ditch. It was such a secret place and it was an appropriate for hiding. I saw something like black and when I reached near it, I saw a naked and dark person, which was so hard to recognize. I called to that person, and suddenly the person turned towards me. It carried out suddenly to me, my brother, my dear. I was so frightened and I was so shocked. Sister! Sister I called her. I could not recognize her. Why are you here? I asked her. She replied that she had escaped from the fire when the pyre was burning and she had jumped off the pyre into the river. I thank God for his mercy and my sister was alive but I cried so much and asked forgiveness of her. She had wounds all over her body. She was naked and she seemed so sick. She must have been so hungry. I gave her the food that I had brought with me and I brought some water from river. She approached to the food as if she had never seen it before and I cried and kept looking at her while she was eating her food.

Oh my God, what a misery women have in a religion like ours .Seeing my sister I was crushing myself because being male, I may some day have a wife,  a daughter and my mother will even have to face the same condition. It was killing me inside. She asked how her son was. I said everything was fine and soon I will be letting her see him. I moved towards home. I could not take her with me. If anybody sees her then the villagers will kill her and they will kill us too for going against customs. I asked her to stay in the same place and be safe I shall be returning after sometime. I went to home and talked about this to my mother. My mother was astonished and she thanked God for keeping keep her daughter alive. My mother gave me some clothes and she asked me to make a plan for her escape.

I then went to my sisters house and with nephew I came back home. I asked my nephew to be quite and understanding so, that he could get his mother back. He was so happy and seeing his smile on the orphan face, I wanted to do anything for their escape no matter if I will have to give up my life. I went to my sister. She was waiting for me. I gave her some clothes and asked her to get prepared for escape; we will be going to some far place where no one will know us where there will be no custom like this. Again I went to home again, I packed up my good and my mother cried and said to me, please son fight against this customs that makes a son to born his mother alive, that makes a brother so weak, makes a father hate himself having a daughter. Please take promise of the milk I have feed you and have made you come up to this stage that you will keep the value of my milk and keep your sister alive and will be able escape. I was being so strong now. It was the mission of my life. I took my nephew with me and I went towards my sister. When my sister saw her son, even he was the one to burn her alive she grabbed him, kissed his face, and cried so much. It was as if she had her heaven, it was the true heart of mother. It made me cry and I was so sad when my nephew asked for forgiveness to his mother   almost burning her alive. She cried it was not his fault, the cursed society and their customs are responsible for it.

After that through the way of forest, we walked down. We were passing by the village of my sister through the forest so that nobody could see us. We could see the Ghat (the funerals place). There today also there was some funeral going on. We kept looking at it. There as Sati this time also, it was a day light time so it was bad luck for her that she could not escape. When the fire was lit on the pyre she tried to escape, her whole body burning she jumped off the pyre and ran towards the water but the villagers and priest saw her and with the bamboo stick they killed her to the death and her body was again kept on the pyre for burning. This scene made us so shocked and we had tears in our eyes in our hearts to see the misery of that woman there, oh my God, poor one, she could not escape her death and those merciless people are forcing her to go heaven.

We walked three days and we are sorting out of food and water now. We were in different place from our village and very far away only the blue sky was same all other different. We were into different village. It was 1950 Bikram Sambat. We were sitting by a shop and we heard the man discussing about the end of Sati system announced by PM Chandra Shamsher Rana. It was such a glorious day for us. The curse has finally ended and those whoever again try to impose the sati system will be punished bitterly. We had smiles on our faces. Still the law was to be implemented. We walked further and reached a place called Rara where it was peace and there was not more people living there. We decided to live there until we would have this system totally banned. I was happy that my sister had her life back and now she will not be made to go heaven. She shall have her heaven here in this land now.

The curse of the Sati system tradition has made many children orphans. How could a son burn both of his parents on the prye? Thanks to the British Administration of William Bentinck in 1929, the Sati System was banned. Now our future generations shall only hear stories of the Sati system and no more shall their lives be ruined and no more they shall their be any more orphans. No more mothers shall be forced to go to heaven and become SATI.