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“Bombay journalist Narasimhan here offers an unnerving, carefully documented study of the Indian ritual whereby widows bring glory on themselves and their families by self-immolation on the pyres of their dead husbands. According to the author, the Hindi scriptures, which evolved from the second millennium B.C. to the second millennium A.D., sometimes suggest or sanction sati but this endorsement is equivocal. She further illustrates how, throughout Indian history, sati rituals must be seen as part of a wider canvas of social attitutes that denigrate women; a widow’s lot is particularly wretched and even today widows are routinely excluded from various religious functions and festivities. Although sati was officially outlawed in 1829, the rite persists: the book points to the 1987 self-immolation of 18-year-old Roop Kanwar in the presence of a crowd of 4000, an act that incited nationwide pro- and anti-sati sentiment. Narasimhan demonstrates how the combination of a number of factors—lack of education, religious and economic compulsions and male chauvinism—help to explain how a culture rooted in the tenets of compassion and nonviolence can encourage the burning of its widows.” —Publishers Weekly
“Stripping away the mystique of noble self-sacrifice, the author paints a stark picture of women’s life in India throughout its history. Even today, female infanticide and dowry burnings are still practiced. A good purchase for women’s studies collections and for large area study libraries.” —Ruth M. Mara, Agency for International Development, Washington, D.C.,Library Journal
“Narasimhan contends, sati reflects the persistent trivialization of women: often aborted simply because they are female, or abandoned after birth, seldom educated, exchanged in childhood marriages, secluded in purdah for most of their lives, married for their dowries or murdered if their dowries are insufficient—women, in addition to all this, are, upon the death of their husbands, encouraged to destroy themselves in order to avoid being burdens and to release their husband’s inheritance for their children. If they agree, they are celebrated; if they don’t, they are often coerced into sati or are ostracized. Fear, male domination, tradition, lack of alternatives in a society that does not allow widows to remarry, fascination with the mystique, or simply the opportunity to appear heroic in a life of degradation—each may convince women, some highly intelligent, to perform sati, which, in turn, enhances its power. Narasimhan recognizes the irony: How can an essentially pacifist society, one that discourages the sacrificing of animals, burn women alive and justify it? Clearheaded, informed, and persuasive, Narasimhan makes her points with a quiet yet powerful indignation” —Kirkus Reviews