The Times of India, New Delhi
December 31, 1987

Anti-sati march inspires many

JAIPUR: The recently concluded Delhi-Deorala anti-sati march led by Swami Agnivesh, proved the enormous strength and the inherent weakness of a religious organisation in taking up a multi-faceted socio-economic issue of women's rights.

The 19-day, 285-km march had to be ended abruptly with the marchers courting arrest and other social workers defying prohibitory orders at Jethpura village, 25 km short of Deorala on December 23, the martyrdom day of Swami Shradhanand. Earlier in the day, a "women's rights protection yagna" was held on the banks of the Bandi river, five km from Jethpura.

Though the march failed to reach its destination, it initiated a fresh debate on sati, dowry, child marriage and allied issues. The response to the march was considerable, especially in the villages, where women in purdah "woke up to the slogans of the sadhus".


The Swami, who had vehemently criticised the pro-sati Dharma Raksha Samiti as a "group of anti-socials and anti-nationals who pretended to be the wholesale dealers of the Rajput community", adopted a diplomatic soft-line after the march by responding to a proposal for talks with the samiti.

The samiti has not responded to the Swami's statement. According to sources the samiti was in utter confusion. A samiti activist, who preferred to be anonymous, said : "We are very cautious. The experience in the past one month shows that whichever way we deal with the marchers, they emerge winners. At the same time, we cannot ignore the Swami, as he has gained much mileage in the newspapers and among the public."

A number of official releases have been issued recently clarifying that the "Swami was never arrested and that the government had done nothing unlawful against the Swami". The releases claimed that the government had given full protection to the marchers. The clarifications by the government, though late, show the importance the state government gave to the march, despite pressure by the Dharma Raksha Samiti to do the opposite.

Whatever the complaints against the government in banning the march later, the fact that it was provided prompt protection till Jethpura cannot be ignored. The Dharma Raksha Samiti had reportedly planned to prevent the march from entering Rajasthan. When the march entered the state and Shajapur on December 11, the police acted immediately and sent back about 500 Dharma Raksha Samiti men, who shouted slogans against marchers. This timely action and the security provided by the Rajasthan Armed Constabulary made any attack on the marchers difficult.

Despite the heavy security, a group of samiti members, who had arrived in a hijacked bus, attacked the local organiser of the march at Amber, 10 km from Jaipur. The arrest of 24 persons checked further incidents in Jaipur and elsewhere. But the reason for the declaration of Section 144 in Chomu tehsil remains vague. However, the credit for arranging an incident-free course for the marchers goes to the officials.

The verdicts by the Rajasthan High Court on December 18 permitting the marchers to proceed upto Ajitgarh, and that on December 21 quashing the ban order of the sub-divisional magistrate, Amber, preventing the march from entering Chomu tehsil, provided a big boost to the marchers. It was a moral victory for the marchers, according to a lawyer.

The role of the lawyers and activists in taking up the case of the marchers is seen as a sign of growing awareness about women's issues. Two women lawyers, Mrs. Madhuri Singh and Ms Sunita Satyarthi, appeared for the Swami in the High Court while the Swami made a forceful plea for the rights of women. Two Janata Party leaders, Mr. Vimal Choudhary and Mr. Manak Chand Surana, MLA, assisted the lawyers. A number of activists of women's organisations and voluntary organisations extended support to the march at various centres .

Prof. Kedar, leader of the Janata legislature party, Mr. Surana and Mr. Chandra Mehta, Yuva Janata leader, were among those who turned up at Jorawar Singh gate to welcome the marchers. The biggest boost to the marchers was the presence of the secretary of the state unit of the CPI Mr. Ratiram Yadav, and the Janata Party leader, Mrs. Promila Dandavate. Mr. Yadav said left parties would support all reformatory movements.

The march was accorded a warm reception at various centres and many impromptu meetings were held. Local leaders joined the march. Mr. Bhawani Singh, former Janata MLA of Behror, participated in the march till the end. The sarpanches of Deorala and Amarasar said they were awaiting the march. Local organisers alleged that a relative of Roop Kanwar, who had agreed to join the march was forced to withdraw by the Dharma Raksha Samiti.

A major impact of the march was the isolation of the Dharma Raksha Samiti. The samiti withdrew its daily statements against the march and programmes of protest as the march received a big welcome in Jaipur. It had to drop the plan for a country-march at Deorala on December 23 too.



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