Posts Tagged ‘December 4’


Posted in General, On This Day on December 4th, 2009 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

December 4, 1829: Britain Waives the Rules

In the good old days, one of the few pleasures of being in an airport was being accosted by Hare Krishnas. If I had the spare time–and the airlines always guaranteed that I did–I would ever so innocently ask my would-be missionary about the practice of “suttee.”

Western literature has its macabre romance of a widow dying of a broken heart. In India, suttee ensured it. The widow was expected to hurl herself on her late husband’s funeral pyre. The practice was limited to the upper castes; after all, who else could afford the pyrotechnics.  The dutiful kindling was promised a higher reincarnation–probably as a man. 

Although suttee is now being espoused by University of Chicago economists as a way to “reform” social security, the British were appalled by it.  Using Imperialism in a rare instance of benevolence, the British Governor General outlawed suttee on this day in 1829.  (Whitehall debated his decision but finally concurred.)

Even today there are still reports of suttee in India, but it is no longer officially sanctioned or included in tourist itineraries.

p.s. Of course, widowers were never expected to throw themselves on a funeral pyre. They were free to remarry a future piece of kindling.

p.p.s. The Taj Mahal was built by a Moslem.