This is our traditional religious practice. We are following this for hundreds of years. Please do not interfere in our religious customs. Government should not try to change it.
In India we hear this again and again from believers of all religions. Recently when there was a discussion about having a Uniform civil law regardless of religion, many Muslims were against it. They were arguing that as a minority they have the right to practice their religion as per their traditions. They do not want to raise the legal age for marriage or to ban polygamy or triple talaq. When some women protested against entry ban in some Hindu temples, government was asked not to interfere in religious customs.
This is not something new. Throughout the history of humankind, change, especially in religious beliefs and customs, was resisted quoting traditions. Many archaic and cruel customs found proud defenders. Those who want to reform were termed apostate aiming to destroy religion.
One of the most famous of such an attempt to reform traditional customs was the successful campaign of reformists Hindus in Bengal in British India against Sati. It was led by Raja Rammohan Roy,who asked for a ban on this cruel and oppressive practice of wife burning to death in husband’s funeral pyre, prevalent among a section of Hindus Conservative Hindus opposed reformists vehemently. They submitted this petition to the British authorities. Many of the arguments are interesting and are seen repeated in present day India.
…That the Hindu religion is founded like all religions on usage as well as precept and one when immemorial is held equally sacred with the other. Under the sanction of immemorial usage as well as precept Hindu widows perform of their own accord and pleasure and for the benefit of their husbands’ souls and for their own the sacrifice of self immolation called suttee—which is not merely a sacred duty but a high privilege to her who sincerely believes in the doctrine of her religion—and we humbly submit that any interference with a persuasion of so high and self annihilating a nature is not only an unjust and intolerant dictation in matters of conscience but is likely wholly to fail in procuring the end proposed…..
…….We learned with surprise and grief that while this is confessed on all hands the abolition of the practice of suttee is attempted to be defended on the ground that there is no positive law or precept enjoining it. A doctrine derived from a number of Hindus who have apostatized from the religion of their fore-fathers who have defiled themselves by eating and drinking forbidden things in the society of Europeans and are endeavouring to deceive your Lordship in council by assertions that there is no law regarding suttee practices and that all Hindus of intelligence and education are ready to assent to the abolition (of them) on the ground that the practice of suttee is not authorized by the laws fundamentally established and acknowledged by all Hindus as sacred. But we humbly submit, (on) a question so delicate as the interpretation of our sacred books and the authority of our religious usages none but pandits and brahmins and teachers of holy lives and known learning and authority ought to be consulted and we are satisfied and flatter ourselves with the hope that your Lordship in council will not regard the assertion of men who have neither any faith nor care for the memory of their ancestors or their religion: and that if your Lordship in council will assume to yourself the difficult and delicate task of regulating the conscience of a whole people and deciding what it ought to believe and what it ought to reject on the authority of its own sacred writers that such a task will be undertaken only after anxious and strict enquiry and patient consultation with men known and reverenced for their attachment to the Hindu religion, the authority of their lives and their knowledge of the sacred books which contain its doctrines. And if such a satisfactory examination should be made we are confident that your Lordship in council will find our statements to be correct and will learn that the measure will be regarded with horror and dismay throughout the Company’s dominions as the signal of an universal attack upon all we revere…….
………Before we conclude we beg to request your impartial consideration of the various acts of parliament passed from time to time since the reign of his Majesty George the Third and which have ever since been strictly preserved. The substance and spirit of which may be thus summed up viz: that no one is to interfere in any shape in the religion or the customs of Hindu subjects. These acts conceived in the spirit of trust wisdom and toleration were passed by men as well acquainted at least as any now in existence with our laws. Our language our customs and our religion have never been infringed by the wisest of those who have here administered the powers of government and we trust will be preserved for the future as for the past inviolate as they are a most solemn pledge and charter from our rulers to ourselves, on the preservation of which depend rights, more sacred in our eyes than those of property or life itself—and sure we are that when this most important subject has been well and maturely weighed by your Lordship in council the resolution will be abandoned and that we shall obtain a permanent security through your Lordship’s wisdom against the renewal of similar attempts.
Fortunately supporters of Sati were in a minority and overall consensus was for banning it. British banned the practice in Bengal in 1829 and extended it to other areas under their control next year.
Sadly in present day India, the authorities are conceding too much ground for arguments based on traditions.