NEW DELHI: A 75-year-old woman killed herself by jumping into her husband's funeral pyre over the weekend, allegedly in accordance with an old but illegal Hindu custom that persists in rural pockets of India.
Police suspect that Lalmati Verma's three sons did not try to prevent her from ending her life in a village in Chattisgarh state in central India, said police.
The practice of sati, where a woman burns herself to death on her husband's pyre, began in medieval times when Hindu women chose to kill themselves after their husbands died in battle, rather than be taken prisoner by invaders. It was banned by British colonial authorities in 1829.
No arrests have been made so far but police were investigating the role of her sons under the Prevention of Sati Act under which a person found guilty of abetting an immolation can be sentenced to death or life in prison.
Police said the woman had in the past told her sons that she would like to burn herself to death on her husband's funeral pyre.
"The sons never informed the police about their mother's wish and they appear to have done nothing to stop her from ending her life," an official said.
Three sati cases were reported two years ago. A fourth was stopped from burning herself to death two years ago when villagers intervened.
Thousands of sati temples, erected over the centuries, are preserved and worshippers still pray at them.
Anyone who promises financial or spiritual benefits to a woman's family for committing sati can be punished under law. Even standing aside as a woman throws herself onto a funeral pyre can draw a life term.
The anti-sati law was enacted in the wake of the 1987 immolation of Roop Kanwar, an 18-year-old girl who died on her husband's funeral pyre in a remote village in the state of Rajasthan.