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Living in the British empire - India
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A print from 1815 showing the Hindu religious custom of Sati
(By permission of The British Library, Foster 165)
  • This print was produced in 1815. It was produced to support the campaign of Christian missionaries to get the Hindu custom of Sati abolished.
  • When Hindus die their bodies are burned on fires called funeral pyres. In the Sati tradition the wife of a dead Hindu man might voluntarily throw herself on to the pyre.
  • Christian missionaries were horrified by this practice. They believed that women were often forced to burn themselves to death by relatives who wanted to inherit the man's property.
  • It is possible that Christian missionaries exaggerated the scale of the practice. They met a lot of opposition to their efforts to spread the Christian faith in India. Prints like this suggested that Hindus needing 'saving' from their own religion. This helped missionaries to get support back in Britain.
  • The British made Sati illegal in 1829. This is a rare example of British rule interfering with local religious beliefs. On the whole the British rulers did not do this. After the great rebellion in India in 1857-8 the British treated Indian religions with even greater respect.
  • The banning of Sati is a good example of why British rule in India was controversial. The British saw Sati as barbaric, but did they have the right to interfere?
  • Also, Indian historians believe that Sati was already in decline before the British abolished it. Many Hindus believed it was not a good tradition.
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