Indian police have arrested four brothers for allegedly throwing their 95-year-old mother onto their father's funeral pyre, in accordance with an old but illegal Hindu custom that persists in rural pockets of India, media reports said yesterday.
The incident took place on Wednesday evening in the village of Baniyani in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.
The brothers and villagers initially said the woman, Kuria Devi, climbed into the flames by herself, committing sati, as the ritual suicide is known. Sati has been banned for nearly two centuries.
However police investigating the death said she was too old and frail to have clambered up alone.
Even if she did, none of the 20 people at the funeral stopped her, so they will be arrested for abetting sati, local police chief Chanchal Kumar told the Hindustan Times newspaper. The brothers face murder charges.
India has struggled in recent decades to end sati. While rare, the practice persists mainly in rural regions where widows are often shunned because of a belief they will bring bad luck and tragedy to the community.
Under Indian law, promising financial or spiritual benefits to a woman's family for committing sati can be punished by a life prison sentence. Even standing aside as a woman throws herself on a funeral pyre can attract a life term.
The brothers involved in Wednesday's incident persuaded the other villagers to back up their story with the promise of an auspicious sati temple in their village, local government official Omar Nath Pandey told the newspaper.
However, the Asian Age newspaper quoted the brothers as saying they had no idea sati was illegal and they regarded it as an act of honor.