DEORALA, INDIA, Sept 4, Reuter: Police and a tough stand by the government prevented a massive festival planned on Sun day to commemorate the death of an 18 year old girl who threw herself on her husband’s funeral pyre a year ago.

Suttee, the act of widows hurling themselves on the cremation pyres of their dead husbands, has been outlawed for 150 years.

But isolated incidents still bring reverence and glorification from conservative Hindus who believe that the rite is the ultimate mark of a virtuous wife.

Thousands watched as Roop Kanwar leapt into the flames last September 4, eight months after her marriage, and villagers grateful for the glory it brought this dusty comer of Rajasthan state planned a temple for the site of her death. But on Sunday the villagers kept indoors and police kept vigil at the site where a faded yellow scarf hung on a trident symbol of the God Shiva. All around the village, volunteers pasted anti-suttee posters.

So strong has been the government campaign in the obscure sugarcane growing village of Deorala that resides now deny the pride they appeared to take in the young girl’s death.

The father and two brothers of Mal Singh, Roop Kanwar’s 21 year old husband, are charged with murder of the young widow, although they are now free on bail.

Mal Singh’s father Sumer Singh Shekhawat, a school principal said he had no memory of the day. “I became unconscious after hearing about the death of my son,” he said.

“I don’t know what happened. I think she committed suttee of her own. I am sure the family tried to stop her.”

When Roop Kanwar died the village was ecstatic, People chanted, “Suttee is immortal” as the flames engulfed her, and at the time witnesses said she looked calm as she sat cradling her bus band’s head in her lap and chanting hymns.

For 13 days people poured into the town, nearly a million of them in total, to share in the glory of her death.

But subsequent accounts in newspapers said she attempted to flee the blazing pyre.

Women’s rights groups were up in arms, and not long after Roop Kanwar’s death the government passed a law preventing the glorification of Suttee.

Today, nobody admits to witnessing the incident.

Article extracted from this publication >> September 9, 1988