A Quick Jot from The Life of William Carey – Burying Widows Alive

wcWilliam Cary was a missionary to India. His campaign against sati or widow burning was instrumental in getting it banned in 1829.  One thing that is not well known is that in addition to sati there also was another form of ritual widow death practiced. This was one where the widow was buried alive. Here is an account of the latter from the book, The Life of William Carey, DD: Shoemaker and Missionary, by George Smith.

“The burying alive of widows manifests, if that were possible, a still more abominable state of feeling towards women than the burning them alive.  The weavers bury their dead. When, therefore, a widow of this tribe is deluded into the determination not to survive her husband, she is buried alive with the dead body.  In this kind of immolation the children and relations dig the grave.  After certain ceremonies have been attended to, the poor widow arrives, and is let down into the pit. She sits in the centre, taking the dead body on her lap and encircling it with her arms.  These relations now begin to throw in the soil; and after a short space, two of them descend into the grave, and tread the earth firmly around the body of the widow. She sits a calm and unremonstrating spectator of the horrid process.  She sees the earth rising higher and higher around her, without upbraiding her murderers, or making the least effort to arise and make her escape. At length the earth reaches her lips – covers her head. The rest of the earth is then hastily thrown in, and these children and relations mount the grave and tread down the earth upon the head of the suffocating widow – the mother! – Why, my dear friend, the life of the vilest brute that walks upon the earth is never taken away by a process so slow, so deliberate, so diabolical as this.

“Every year more than seven hundred women (more probably fourteen hundred) are burned or buried alive in the Presidency of Bengal alone. How many in other parts of India?”

~pg. 74