Widow Sacrifice Ritual: Indian Woman's Suicide Sparks Debate Over Tradition

A female engineer in the Indian state of Gujarat committed suicide after her in-laws allegedly pressured her to perform Sati, an ancient, now illegal practice in Hinduism where a widow sits on top of her deceased husband’s funeral pyre.

The victim, identified as 28-year-old Sanghita Lakhra, was a native of Bhilwara in the state of Rajasthan. She killed herself by jumping into the Sabarmati River and drowning herself. A report from the Times of India also said that she allegedly left a suicide note detailing her misery after her husband died in an accident last February 2022.

Ramesh Lakhra, Sanghita’s father, who also runs a grocery store in the city of Surat, filed a complaint with the Sabarmati Riverfront (West) police station in the city of Ahmedabad. He said in his complaint that his daughter’s mother-in-law and four other members of her husband’s family subjected Sanghita to domestic violence, which caused her to commit suicide.

Ramesh also noted in his first information report (FIR) that Sanghita experienced depression after the death of her husband. The report also stated that the suicide note she allegedly wrote was found in her diary.

The purported suicide note by Sanghita narrated that her mother-in-law, Kailash Devi Lakhra, and four other members of her husband’s family constantly pressured her to perform Sati to prove her good character. The FIR filed by her father also detailed how she was forced to move back to her parent's home in Surat after her in-laws kept harassing and taunting her after her husband’s death.

Sanghita was reportedly missing on May 10th, and her body was found in the Sabarmati River the next day. The FIR also stated that she left audio and text messages for her brother and apologized to him before she took her own life, as cited by police sources.

Before her death, Sanghita worked at a mall in Surat and pursued a post-graduate computer engineering degree.

The case sparked conversations over the tradition of Sati, also called Suttee. British Governor General Lord William Bentinck repealed this ancient Hindu practice in 1829.

After gaining independence from the British Empire, the practice persisted, and 30 cases of sati or attempted sati were recorded from 1943 until 1987, when an 18-year-old widow from Rajasthan, Roop Kanwar, performed sati and killed herself.

This well-documented case reignited debates on sati and prompted the Indian government to pass The Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act of 1987, which prohibited the practice and the encouragement of sati. Nevertheless, the law needed to be applied more consistently and adequately, as cases of sati were still recorded well throughout the 21st century.

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