A Critical Analysis of The Commission of Sati (Prevention) Rules, 1988

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Published On: 17th April, 2024

Authored By: Ratiksha Parate
Dr. Ambedkar College of Law, Nagpur


This article provides a detailed examination of the Commission of Sati (Prevention) Rules, 1988, a pivotal Indian legislation aimed at abolishing the archaic and inhumane custom of sati, wherein a widow immolates herself on her husband’s funeral pyre. Sati posed a grave threat to women’s rights and human dignity, deeply ingrained in society. These regulations, enacted in 1988, represent a crucial milestone in the advancement of Indian women’s rights by seeking to eradicate this practice.

Keywords: Sati, Sati Prevention, Women Rights, Social Evil, Sati Prevention Act 1987, Human Dignity


India responded legislatively to a dark chapter in its history through the enactment of the Commission of Sati (Prevention) Rules, 1988. The practice of sati, entrenched for centuries, often stemmed from deep-seated social and cultural norms. The Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987, paved the way for these Rules, providing a comprehensive framework to prevent and combat sati. Widows were compelled to self-immolate on their husbands’ funeral pyres, epitomizing the oppressive nature of this practice and patriarchal dominance. While not ubiquitous across India, certain regions and communities practiced it. The Act, preceding the Rules, defined and criminalized sati, empowering the state to take preventive measures and outlaw its observance. Subsequently, the Rules, aligned with the Act, furnished operational guidelines for its enforcement.


Suttee, an alternate term for the ancient Indian custom of sati, was a complex historical and cultural phenomenon where widows chose to self-immolate on their husbands’ funeral pyres. Its precise origins are challenging to pinpoint but developed over many centuries, with references found in ancient Indian texts like the Vedas and Puranas depicting wives performing self-immolation after their husbands’ demise. Sati was often depicted as a virtuous act, sometimes associated with spiritual elevation or purification. Hindu mythology, particularly stories involving goddesses like Parvati and Sati, contributed to the evolution of the concept, suggesting it as a selfless sacrifice or act of devotion. In India, sati became intertwined with specific cultural customs and traditions, particularly in certain regions where it was more prevalent due to deep-rooted societal norms.[i] Widows in traditional Indian society often faced precarious circumstances, including limited opportunities, financial struggles, and social ostracization. For some, sati may have been seen as an alternative to the challenging and disadvantageous life of a widow.


The Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987, stands as a pivotal Indian legislation aimed at abolishing the abhorrent practice of Sati, where a widow immolates herself on her husband’s funeral pyre. Enacted to urgently address and eliminate this cruel and outdated tradition, the Act’s primary aim is to criminalize and deter such acts, as well as any attempts to glorify them. It meticulously defines key terms like “sati,” “glorification,” and “attempt to commit sati” to clarify the law’s scope and application.

The Act proscribes various sati-related offenses, including commission, glorification, and aiding or abetting of sati, punishable by imprisonment and fines. Offenders may face different lengths of rigorous imprisonment depending on the offense. By holding those who attempt or encourage sati equally liable, the Act aims to curb the continuation of this practice. Special courts, called courts of sessions, are empowered to adjudicate cases under this Act, with provisions for evidence gathering and witness statements.[ii]

Empowering state governments to combat sati and prevent its sanctification, the Act mandates district magistrates to promptly intervene and suppress any sati attempts. It establishes a commission to investigate sati incidents, emphasizing the protection of witnesses and providing support for widows and their children’s rehabilitation. While respecting community customs and traditions, the Act ensures they do not lead to sati, overriding any conflicting prior laws.[iii]

Despite being a significant step towards ending sati, the Act’s effectiveness has been hindered by challenges like community dynamics, cultural sensitivities, and local authorities’ commitment. Consequently, the Commission of Sati Prevention Rules, 1988, was instituted to provide precise guidelines for implementing the Act and furthering sati eradication efforts.


The Commission of Sati (Prevention) Rules, 1988, marked a pivotal juncture in the battle against the practice of Sati in India. Aligned with the Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987, these regulations aimed to effectively deter sati and any efforts to glorify it. Implementing these rules necessitated close coordination among local communities, law enforcement, and government authorities.

To raise public awareness about the Rules and their consequences, the government organized awareness campaigns in collaboration with relevant agencies and non-governmental organizations. These initiatives stressed the illegality of sati and the legal consequences for those involved.

An essential feature of the Rules was the identification of regions with a history of sati incidents. It was incumbent upon law enforcement and district authorities to pinpoint these areas and establish procedures for monitoring and reporting sati incidents promptly.

The Rules placed significant emphasis on evidence preservation, recognizing its crucial role in prosecuting perpetrators and ensuring justice. They outlined procedures for charging individuals involved in sati, while also making provisions for the rehabilitation of victims and their families, acknowledging that victims were often coerced into the act.

In implementing the Rules, a balanced approach was necessary to respect local traditions and customs while ensuring they did not perpetuate sati. Cultural sensitivity was paramount in this regard.[iv]

Recognizing the need to support families and sati victims, particularly in cases where victims did not survive, the Rules provided monetary assistance and aid in rebuilding lives. They emphasized efficient cooperation between local law enforcement organizations and police, with specialized training provided to handle sati-related cases and conduct thorough investigations.

The implementation of the Commission of Sati (Counteraction) Rules, 1988, involved a comprehensive approach requiring collaboration from various stakeholders. These regulations played a vital role in raising awareness, establishing a legal framework, and guiding efforts to combat and prevent sati in India. Despite persistent challenges such as societal attitudes and local dynamics, these principles represented a significant milestone in the pursuit of women’s rights and national integrity.

The Rules mandated the identification of regions with a history of sati incidents, facilitating targeted allocation of resources and preventive measures where the practice was prevalent. They outlined procedures for prosecuting those involved in sati, while also providing for the rehabilitation of victims and their families, recognizing that victims were often coerced.

Emphasizing the importance of protecting individuals vulnerable to sati, the Regulations underscored community vigilance and support networks to prevent coercion or pressure. Provisions were made to assist victims’ families, particularly in cases of fatalities, including support for rebuilding lives and financial aid.

The Rules prohibited the glorification of sati in literature, art, or any other medium, aiming to challenge social norms that perpetuated the practice. These pivotal provisions helped establish a legislative framework supporting victims and their families, combating sati, and raising awareness of the issue.[v]

The enactment of these regulations in 1988 represented a watershed moment in India’s history in the fight for women’s rights and human dignity, providing a comprehensive strategy to address this pervasive social injustice.


In the endeavor to halt the practice of sati in India, the District Magistrate (DM) assumes a pivotal role in enforcing the Commission of Sati (Prevention) Rules, 1988. As a senior administrative officer overseeing a district, the DM plays a crucial part in preventing and addressing sati incidents.

Key responsibilities of the District Magistrate concerning sati prevention include promptly intervening in areas prone to sati occurrences, ensuring communities are aware of the legal consequences, and available support for victims. In the event of an actual or attempted sati incident, the DM oversees a thorough investigation, coordinating with law enforcement agencies to gather evidence and document the circumstances.

The DM collaborates closely with law enforcement to ensure proper handling of sati cases, including efforts to stop, investigate, and prosecute participants.[vi] They also play a vital role in safeguarding vulnerable individuals from coercion or pressure to engage in sati by working with local communities to identify and protect them.

Providing support, including financial assistance and aid in rebuilding lives, to sati victims and their families is a crucial aspect of the DM’s duties, facilitating their recovery process. Additionally, the DM engages with the community to dispel sati myths and raise awareness of its negative impact, fostering a shift in societal attitudes towards the practice.

Monitoring and recording the application of the law within their jurisdiction, the DM ensures that legal requirements are adhered to and those involved in sati face appropriate legal proceedings. Cultural sensitivity guides their enforcement efforts, respecting local traditions while ensuring they do not condone sati.

In addressing sati incidents, supporting victims and their families, and working towards changing societal norms, the District Magistrate plays an indispensable role. As the local governing authority, they are entrusted with ensuring the correct implementation of regulations in each district, ultimately striving to eradicate the practice of Sati in India.


The Commission of Sati (Prevention) Rules, 1988, stands as a pivotal component in the comprehensive strategy aimed at eradicating the practice of sati in India, encompassing provisions for educational initiatives. These initiatives were designed to educate the public, debunk myths surrounding sati, and raise awareness, recognizing education as a potent tool for reshaping social attitudes and halting the perpetuation of this practice.

The educational endeavors aimed to enhance public understanding of sati, its legal implications, and available resources for victims and their families. It was imperative to convey the illegality and inhumanity of sati, particularly in areas with heightened risks. Emphasizing the importance of government and local authorities disseminating information on sati prevention, these efforts involved conducting awareness campaigns, distributing educational materials, and utilizing various media platforms.

Educational institutions, including schools and colleges, were identified as crucial platforms for imparting knowledge on Sati prevention. The Rules advocated for incorporating awareness and education modules into the curriculum to educate students about the repercussions of sati.

In addition to formal educational settings, community involvement was promoted through workshops, seminars, and open forums, with the participation of religious leaders, community figures, and local authorities anticipated.[vii] These initiatives were tailored to address specific issues or geographic regions, targeting historically affected areas or marginalized communities where sati was prevalent.

The educational programs aimed to dispel myths and false beliefs perpetuating the practice of sati, presenting factual information to counter misconceptions about its religious significance or virtues. Legal awareness programs were also integrated to inform individuals about the legal provisions of the Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987, and the accompanying Rules, ensuring awareness of the consequences associated with engaging in or supporting sati.

Community and religious leaders were encouraged to play a pivotal role in raising awareness and informing their followers about the intolerable nature of sati, particularly in regions where the practice was deeply entrenched.[viii]

The Rules mandated the tracking and assessment of the success of educational initiatives, including evaluating their impact and making necessary adjustments to enhance effectiveness. These educational endeavors played a crucial role in broader campaigns to eradicate the practice of sati in India, aiming to foster a responsible and knowledgeable society intolerant of this cruel practice by challenging cultural norms, educating the public about legal implications, and raising awareness.


While significant progress has been made by many states in preventing sati, it’s essential to acknowledge and address the remaining unanswered questions and challenges in order to continue working towards a solution. One of the primary hurdles has been navigating the cultural sensitivity and regional customs associated with sati. Given its deep-rooted connections to religious and cultural beliefs, enforcing rules required delicately balancing the imperative to eradicate the practice with respect for cultural norms, avoiding potential backlash from local communities.

Strong opposition from communities where sati was practiced was a common obstacle to enforcing the rules, as they perceived interventions as an infringement on their customs. Fear of social rejection or retaliation hindered witnesses or informants from reporting sati incidents, complicating efforts to gather necessary evidence for prosecution.[ix]

Coercion of sati victims, often occurring in private settings, posed challenges in identification and proof, hampering authorities’ ability to take decisive action. Insufficient manpower and financial resources hindered efficient rule implementation, particularly in remote or isolated areas with limited law enforcement presence.

Many residents in high-risk areas were unaware of available legal protections and resources to combat sati, hindering efforts to encourage reporting and deterrence. Building trust and communication with local communities was vital, despite barriers such as mistrust or language differences.

Addressing these challenges required a comprehensive understanding of the cultural and social contexts surrounding sati, alongside collaboration among local government officials, community leaders, and women’s rights organizations. Enforcing the rules was a complex and ongoing process, necessitating community involvement, legal enforcement, and awareness campaigns to make sustained progress over time.


[i] Richa Jain, The History Behind Sati, a Banned Funeral Custom in India (https://theculturetrip.com/asia/india/articles/the-dark-history-behind-sati-a-banned-funeral-custom-in-india)

[ii] The Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987 | Ministry of Women & Child Development


[iii] K. Sangari, S. Vaid, Sati in Modern India: A Report, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 16, No. 31

[iv] “Sati” A Critical Analysis of Socio-Religious Tradition imposed on Widows, Muhammad Sani and Abida Parveen

[v] Commission Of Sati (Prevention) Rules 1988 – B&B Associates LLP


[vi]  Reshma Katragadda, Critical Analysis of Sati, Journal for Law Students and Researchers

[vii]  Sotik Biswas, Sati: How the fight to ban burning of widows in India was won (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-65311042)

[viii] S.K. Pachauri, R.N.C. Hamilton, Sati Problem – Past and Present, Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, Vol. 63 (2002)

[ix] Kanksha Raina, How Did Sati Get Abolished In India?                    





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