The Hyderabad State’s efforts and challenges it faced to prohibit sati

November 12, 2022 08:45 pm | Updated 08:45 pm IST - Hyderbad

It was a time when incidents of sati were reported across India, and Hyderabad State was no exception. While the Nizam’s government had issued orders banning the practice, it was 146 years ago in November that the Hyderabad State reaffirmed its commitment, after noting certain lapses, to put an end to sati.

On the 25th of Shawwal of the Hijri calendar, corresponding to November 12, 1876, the Hyderabad government issued an ishtihaar, a notification, warning officials of the consequences if the orders banning sati were not implemented. The notification was addressed to those in the administration – taluqdars, tahsildars, jagirdars and inamdars.

“In 1876, Salar Jung was the Regent of Hyderabad (State). The ishtihaar was issued during his period when it was found that the previous notifications, those issued in 1267 of the Hijri calender, were not being properly followed. Those orders also included a ban on human trafficking as well,” said Zareena Parveen, Director of Telangana State Archives and Research Institute (TSARI).

This ishtihaar averred that given that some members of the public were unaware of the previous notifications, issued nearly 26 years prior, incidents of sati were reported. It then warned that along with those committing the act, these officials too would be liable for action.

It is at the TSARI that correspondence on this issue recorded in Persian, then the official language of Hyderabad State, is preserved.

Documents show the British Resident in Hyderabad had taken note of and expressed strong disapproval of sati. It was on October 1846 that the Military Secretary wrote to Siraj-ul-Mulk, the Diwan, informing him that the Residency was appraised of one such case. Describing the act as unacceptable, he urged the Diwan to put an end to the practice.

There exists a back-and-forth of letters between the Residency and the Hyderabad government, and a cascading of orders within the latter.

Dated 23 December 1846, the Office of the Governor-General of India, through the Resident, wrote a letter informing the Hyderabad government that an incident in Hingoli, where locals had attempted to consign a widow to flames, had come to their knowledge. The attempt, though unfruitful, was an “atrocity”.

Touching upon the same incident, a letter from the Nizam’s government informed the offices of the Resident and the Governor General that despite the protestations of locals and their description of it as a centuries-old practice, they were convinced against performing sati with “love” and “fraternity”.

Other records on the same subject show the office of the Military Secretary pointing to a Company officer that the Resident was “by no means satisfied with the conduct of your chowkeedars” in connection with a sati case. Officials should have been more proactive and should have “forcibly interfered”. These were letters between Military Secretary Johnstone and Capt W O’ Brian.

Records imply that the Hyderabad government too had taken taking measures early. For, another correspondence shows dated February 5, 1847 pointed out that as many as three orders prohibiting sati in the Nizam’s Dominions were issued. The text was forwarded to all concerned officials.

The record list at leave five villages including Khamgaon where incidents of sati were recorded. The victim here was a woman by the name Sakoo. An investigation was launched to hold those accountable. The inquiry continued at least till 1850, records show.

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