1829: Burning Widows at Stake Banned

1829: Burning Widows at Stake Banned

For centuries there was a custom in India of burning widows on the funeral pyre of their deceased husband. At first, the widows were not required to do so, but that act was highly appreciated because it was believed that the husband’s sins are erased by the self-sacrifice of his wife. Widows who committed such a suicide were revered after death, almost as local deities.

With time, widows were forced to such a death because they would be considered  unworthy if they did not do so. During the funerals of wealthy maharajah, numerous wives and concubines were burned. In doing so, they were sometimes bound to a stake or drugged, so they would not run away from the fire. The British banned this custom in the area of Bengal on this day in 1829. However, despite the fact that it was illegal, the burning of widows still occurred from time to time.

Even the current Indian laws, which prohibit the application as well as the glorification of this custom, have failed to completely abolish the practice. For example, in 2008, one woman in India immolated herself on her husband’s funeral pyre.

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