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Dowry DeathsLinksThe Global Persecution of WomenGlossaryInternational”Dowry Murder” from UNIFEM, Violence Against Women – Facts andFigures. Downloaded fromhttp://unifem.org/attachments/gender_issues/violence_against_women/facts_figures_violence_against_women_200611.pdf, 16 Feb. 2007.Dowry murder is a brutal practice involving a woman being killed by herhusband or in-laws because her family is unable to meet their demands forher dowry — a payment made to a woman‘s in-laws upon her engagement ormarriage as a gift to her new family. It is not uncommon for dowries toexceed a family‘s annual income.While cultures throughout the world have dowries or analogous payments,dowry murder occurs predominantly in South Asia. According to officialcrime statistics in India, 6,822 women were killed in 2002 as a result of suchviolence. Small community studies have also indicated that dowry demandshave played an important role in women being burned to death and indeaths of women labelled as suicides . In Bangladesh, there have beenmany incidents of acid attacks due to dowry disputes , leading often toblindness, disfigurement, and death. In 2002, 315 women and girls inBangladesh were victims of acid attacks .(22). Referred to by General Assembly. In-Depth Study on All Forms ofViolence against Women: Report of the Secretary-General, 2006.A/61/122/Add.1. 6 July 2006. 90.(23) Carrin Benninger-Budel and Anne-Laurence Lacroix. World Organisationagainst Torture, Violence against Women: A Report 1999. Geneva. OMCT.(24) Bangladesh: Death for Man who Maimed Girl, New York Times, 30 July2003.Bangladesh"Bangladesh," DOS Report 2005.
Domestic violence was widespread. Although violence against women wasdifficult to quantify, recent research showed that up to 50 percent of allwomen were victims of domestic violence. Much of the reported violenceagainst women was related to disputes over dowries. During the year [therewere] 227 reported dowry-related killings. ...Laws specifically prohibit certain forms of discrimination against women,provide for special procedures for persons accused of violence againstwomen and children, call for harsher penalties, provide compensation tovictims, and require action against investigating officers for negligence orwillful failure of duty; however, enforcement of these laws was weak. In2003 parliament passed an amendment weakening provisions for dowrycrimes....Md. Asadullah Khan, “Dowry: The crime continues,” Daily Star, Dakha,10 Jan. 2004.Not only in the cities and towns but even in the villages of Bangladesh,terror has come stalking. Now the weapon of fear is not only the gun but acan of petrol or kerosene and a matchbox. A woman on fire has made dowrydeaths the most vicious of social crimes. It is an evil prevalent in the societyand despite efforts by some activists and womens rights organisation toeliminate this menace, the numbers have continued to climb. In villagesmarriage was once considered a very sanctified bond united in the worst orbest of times, in sickness or in health through the vicissitudes of life. Butdowry related deaths have shattered that bond of peaceful and happyrelationship.A recent survey by the Bangladesh Human Rights Organisation, andBangladesh Women Lawyers Association revealed that in 2001, there were12,500 cases of women repression, in 2002 the figure rose to 18,455 and inthe year ending in 2003 the figure climbed to 22,450.The grisly act of a brute and greedy husband in Chapai Nawabganj asreported in the newspapers on December 27 last is a story better not beheard. Having failed to realise a dowry claim of Tk. 20,000/= Shamsherkilled her wife Marina just on the 22nd day of their marriage. The mostgrisly side of the story is that Shamsher hired three other monsters for Tk300/= and Marina was slaughtered by Shamsher after she was forced to begangraped by four human monsters including himself.
Reports appearing in local dailies on September 6 last indicated that onehousewife at Dupchachia Upazila in the district of Bogra and the other atJhalakathi Fatema and Sajeda, respectively, aged around 19 years werekilled by their in-laws in collusion with their husbands on their inability tomeet increasing demands of dowry money. Its the brutality of these crimesthat has awakened the country to the beast that runs loose in these greedymonster-turned husbands. Criminologists as well as Crime Assessment Wingof the government and some NGOs assert that crime rate among the youth,especially such deviant young husbands, has gone up by as much as 40percent. And though crime wave flows across all races, classes and lifestyles, the survey makes particular mention of the fact that there is anoticeable increase in the dowry related crimes by young husbands frommiddle class or upper middle class families.The country wide survey conducted by the Bangladesh Women LawyersAssociation revealed that women repression incidents, mostly dowryrelated, has increased alarmingly over the last few years.Although many cases of dowry harassment cases were reported of late, astaggering number of such cases were not. Despite all attempts to preventit, an epidemic appears to be in the making. It is a phenomenon thatescapes easy answers due to complex mix of social trends. The suddenaffluence, of course of a section of people, that emerged starting from ruralareas to the cities in the mid-to-late 80s is the primary factor. The money,as social scientists say, was not channelised productively. Instead of using itto enhance womens education, for instance, it was used to perpetuateostentatious living. With get-rich-quick becoming the new goal of life, dowrybecame the perfect instrument for upward material mobility.Growing consumerism, flashy life styles and in most cases joblessness anddrug addiction are fuelling these crimes. If once a bicycle, a wrist watch ora small money for starting a business sufficed for the lower income groups,now a TV, home appliances and a motorbike or scooter other than cashmoney are the common demand. For the upper, middle class and bettereducated grooms the demand is soaring. They look for a flat ownership aplot of land at Dhaka or a chunk of share in business. People are inclined tobelieve that the quantum of dowry may still be higher among the upperclasses but 90 percent of the dowry deaths and nearly 80 percent of dowryharassments occur at the middle and lower strata.
It is hard to believe but harder still to comprehend. Some of these tales areso horrifying. Beauty Akhtar of Dhamrai Upazila was married to MuntajAhmed of Arpara village in Manikganj about two and a half years ago.Beautys father met his son-in-laws dowry demand by paying three lakhtaka. But Muntajs greed was insatiable. He started torturing her for moremoney and at one stage locked her in a room for three days without food. Itso happened that on November 12 last, the entire family including husband,father-in-law, mother-in-law and other in-laws beat her with iron rod in arow. Somehow this incident of torture reached her father and he lodged anFIR Savar thana.As reports go Beauty is recuperating at the Manikganj Hospital and herhusband Muntaj Ahmed, father-in-law Ashrafuddin Ahmed and brother-in-law Ariful Hossain have since been arrested. Unhappily, there are morestories of dowry harassment that ultimately lead to death than are reportedin the newspapers. For women it is a difficult battle to win. They arehandicapped by history, victims of a firmly embedded gender system.Some recent dowry related harassments and tortures leading to deaths thathave created ripples at home and abroad have prompted Prime MinisterKhaleda Zia to issue an appeal to all heads of public and private universitiesand Education Boards to wage a war against dowry in the country. Allfindings indicate that dowry demands in the country have multiplied tenfoldover the last one decade. Precisely speaking, there is a sticky web of issuessurrounding it. The much hyped luxury needs of the consumerist society isone. Most upper middle class families due to lack of proper education andculture have realised that this is an easy way to acquire wealth and livecomfortably in the society. Unhappily, there exists a toothless attitude in amajority of modern families who participate in dowry based marriagesinstead of opposing them. People talk glibly about dowry prohibition or anti-dowry movement but when it comes to the wedding of their own sons anddaughters, most people would do the same thing. P.M.s D.O. letter to headsof educational institutions will not create any tangible impact unless thepolitical parties have made it mandatory for members to take an oath thatthey shall neither give nor receive dowry. Shockingly true, down the yearsthe lack of collective political will to curb dowry has become obvious.The sons of land owners in the Dhaka Metropolitan city, owners ofapartment blocks besides the grooms with MBA degrees and computerrelated degrees and diplomas are considered top-notch catches in the groombazaar. The rich revel in the exchange of black money but the pressure on
other classes to ape them has serious social consequences. In most casesaffluent parents think that big dowries will strengthen their daughtersposition in the husbands family. But appallingly, should the marriage gowrong, there is no way that this fabulous gifts in the form of cash, jewelleryand property can be retrieved.More intriguing, in most cases girls do not have any knowledge orparticipation in the deal. Dowry is often a monetary deal between two men-- the brides father and the groom. Despite promulgation of Acid ControlAct, 2002 and Dowry Prohibition Act the numbers of dowry related atrocitiesand deaths are climbing up and it is true, as the P.M. has indicated, a bigsocial movement is a must to stop giving and taking of money. The law mayhelp take temporary punitive action, but later women need real social,financial, moral and ideological support to stand firmly against an age oldsystem that has almost got an unwritten societal sanction. Women facedouble peril. Inside the barred doors is humiliation, outside awaits publicire. Harassed and tortured women are now going to court or police forprotection. But even if appeals for protection are met only scorn greetsthem when they return home. Despite every stigma, dowry continues to bethe signature of marriage. The odd NGO groups, or women activists orWomen Lawyers Association may pursue one or two cases and rehabilitatesome tortured women, but appallingly by and large any major success orbreakthrough is hardly possible because social intervention is low andignorance high.No doubt, the laws remain stringent. But a dowry death is a relatively easiercrime than murder to prosecute and so the crime continues. Due to severalfactors, most go unreported. And in the court, a majority of the victimsbelong to the under privileged classes and they have hardly any means tofight out the lengthy legal battles. While court appearances and seekingpolice protection in all these types of torture and violence by husbandsappear to be a traumatic experience, most women prefer to sweep theirbitter experiences under the carpet. However, the strength must come fromthe society and the government. Almost all agencies tend to "exploitwomens labour without supporting it," maintaining it and enhancing it. In abid to weed out this menace from the system that scenario must bechanged.Fiji”Fiji,” DOS Report 2001.
In addition to the rise in domestic violence, in previous years there havebeen a number of deaths of Indo-Fijian women that appeared to be brideburnings. (Bride burning is an attack on a wife by members of the groomsfamily dissatisfied with dowry payments. These attacks are often staged askitchen accidents or suicides and result in the fatal burning of a victim.)Police investigations concluded that the victims had committed suicide,burning themselves so severely as to cause death. However, the womensrights community asserted that these deaths were bride burnings. Therewere no confirmed reports of such deaths during the year.”Fiji,” DOS Report 2001.In addition to the rise in domestic violence, there have been approximately30 "suicides" by Indo-Fijian women that appeared to have been brideburning. Police investigations report that the women burned themselves soseverely as to cause death, but the womens rights community believes thatthe deaths are the result of bride burning.IndiaRebecca Ruiz, “India’s All-Women Police Pursue Dowry Complaints,”Women’s eNews, 13 September 2006.India has established roughly 300 all-women police stations to help curbdowry-related violence. One officer says the main benefit is establishingcomplaint records.BANGALORE, India (WOMENSENEWS)--In her three years working at theBasavangudi all-women police station in Bangalore, Constable MylaaiahRangajura has taken hundreds of statements of women with dowry-relatedcomplaints. Some are freshly bruised, others have been starved for days andsome fear that their husbands or in-laws will burn or strangle them to death,a tragically common end to a dowry dispute.When a wifes husband and her in-laws are called in for lengthy interviews,Rangajura listens as family members explain and often deny the accusationsof abuse and harassment.While dowry was once a gift from a brides family to a daughter oftenconsisting of cash, jewelry and fine clothing, it has increasingly come to beseen as a payment to her husband and his family that reinforces or improvestheir financial and social standing. Abuse frequently begins when additional
dowry demands are unmet. It is a form of emotional and physical blackmailthat continues until the wifes family finally relents."The in-laws will say that she is lying and that the woman will not adjust tothe in-laws," says Rangajura, who wears the same uniform as most malepolice officers: a khaki shirt and pants with a thick black belt.Rangajura takes notes as her supervisor tries to negotiate reconciliation, themost common approach to solving dowry disputes. "Sometimes there is nocompromise," she says, referring to the more egregious cases that involvesevere physical and mental abuse, "but you have to think about what bothparties want."Part of Overall Antiviolence EffortRangajura is part of Indias effort to address the problem of domesticviolence, particularly dowry-related violence.Though outlawed in 1961, dowry practices have continued to flourish,regardless of religion, caste, educational background or whether marriagesare arranged or "love" matches.Dowry-related violence increased more than three-fold between 1990 and2000. Dowry deaths rose by 38 percent during that same time period andsince then about 6,000 to 7,000 women have been murdered each year.In 2005, the National Crime Records Bureau recorded a dowry death every77 minutes. Still, many argue that extremely low reporting and convictionrates mask the true number of dowry deaths, which could reach as high as25,000 per year.In 1992, the government of Tamil Nadu opened the first all-female policestation in Chennai, largely in response to complaints that the social stigmaof confessing ones family problems to a stranger and the possibility of beingraped kept women away from male-dominated stations.Mangai Natarajan, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in NewYork, has authored the most extensive studies on female police stations inTamil Nadu. She says the stations give women a safer, more comfortableplace to report domestic violence. "They dont want to talk about theirpersonal relationships with a man," Natarajan says. "They think they wontget any justice."
In 2005, India adopted a federal domestic violence bill that offers victimsstate-sponsored advocacy and aims to speed up the legal process by creatingmore courts and hiring additional judges.India, in addition to Brazil, has pioneered the use of the all-women policestation. In 2005 India had 295 units. Brazil, which began opening the stationsin the 1980s, now has more than 300.Authority Figures and CounselorsPart authority figure and part counselor, the women who staff these stationsare supposed to be trained to field complaints ranging from violence toneglect to infidelity to dowry harassment.As leverage, they often use the pressure of social embarrassment to remindan errant husband and his family that their behavior is unacceptable and, inmany cases, illegal."Families do have a great respect for police officers," Natarajan says."Women will threaten their husbands with going to the police and itseffective."In 1990 the federal government created the National Commission for Womento ensure progress on issues such as female feticide, poverty and sexualharassment. In the years that followed, 26 state commissions weremandated to address these problems at a local level.Women who turn to branches of the womens commission often see it as amiddle ground between reporting a dowry crime at the local police station--which can put women at odds with their families--and seeking the help of anadvocacy group that doesnt have the governments backing.The emphasis on counseling and "patching things up" in the all-women policestations has left some victims feeling betrayed, says Ranjini Srikumar,temporary chair of the Kerala State Commission for Women."The women officers say, Oh, it doesnt matter, my husband beats me too.Dont make such a big deal, it happens to all of us," Srikumar says, addingthat some women have told her they had better experiences at regular,male-dominated stations.
Though female officers do receive gender sensitivity and counseling training,it often occurs infrequently and differs from station to station.Shobana Khatavkhar investigated dowry cases at the Basavangudi womenspolice station in Bangalore from 2003 to 2005 and acknowledges that someofficers can be callous and that training could be improved.Of the 75 or so dowry cases Khatavkhar examined, she says only fiveresulted in a conviction. The main benefit of filing reports, she says, is thatit creates a permanent police record."When asked about dowry harassment, they always deny it," she says,referring to the accused husbands and in-laws. "But (the station) keeps therecord and then they wont continue to harass because its on file."Detecting the Warning SignsA.K. Siddamma, an investigator for the Karnataka State Commission forWomen, worked as a police officer for 33 years and investigated 180 dowrydeaths for 10 of those years. She ticks off the signs of neglect and abusethat might escalate to murder: "The husband wont buy his wife properclothes, wont give her food, will beat her and threaten her."When a husband is asked to appear in her office as part of the investigation,Siddamma says she tries to restore the bond. "When you took your husbandor wife," she says, "you took him or her to look after. I tell them thatmarriage is more important than dowry."However, she says some cases must be referred to the police.Gouramma Venkata Ramana is a staff member at Vimochana, a Bangalorewomens nonprofit organization that has scrutinized unnatural deaths formost of the last decade.Through a translator, she said that the police often fail women who comeforward with complaints of abuse. "The police are given training to see thatwhile dealing with family matters, they ought to make sure the family doesnot break up and instead comes to an understanding," she says.Of the 714 unnatural death cases Ramana investigated last year, shedetermined that at least 150 of them were dowry-related.
Rampant domestic violence, she emphasizes, is the underlying problem anda likely contributing factor to the other deaths. She believes reducing thelevel of domestic violence requires encouraging women to step forward andhelping them once they do."Education is important," Ramana says. "But we are also here to support thewomen when no one else will listen or help."British Home Office, “India,” Country of Origin Information Report, 2006.6.428 As reported by the BBC on 16 July 2003, dowries and the problemsassociated with them have meant that many Indian families are desperate toavoid having girls. Legislation against sex determination tests was passednearly a decade ago, but the practice is still widespread. The Pre-natalDiagnostics Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act 1994(amended 2002) bans sex determination tests. [32bb]6.429 As noted in the US State Department Report 2005 (USSD) published on8 March 2005:―Providing or taking dowry is illegal under the Dowry Prohibition Act of1961; however, dowries continued to be offered and accepted, and dowrydisputes remained a serious problem. In a typical dowry dispute, thegroom‘s family harassed a new wife for not providing a sufficient dowry.This harassment sometimes ended in the woman‘s death, which the familyoften tried to portray as a suicide or accident. In 2004 the governmentregistered 6,250 dowry death cases under the Dowry Prohibition Act, inwhich husbands or in-laws murdered women for not providing sufficientdowry. In September the Delhi Commission for Women reported 677 cases ofabuse against women from January to July, of which 92 percent were dowryrelated and 22 percent a result of harassment by in-laws. In 2004 Delhipolice‘s crime against women cell recorded 7,987 dowry-related cases. Ofthese, police counselled 1,853 families to a compromise, filed criminalcharges in another 1,200 cases, and in five thousand cases the victim did notpursue the matter. In 2004 there were 122 dowry-related deaths in Delhi. InMarch the West Tripura sessions court sentenced three persons to five years‘rigorous imprisonment for abetting the suicide of a woman by torturing herfor dowry in 2003.‖ [2c] (Section 5)―The media often reported cases of dowry murder. On August 19, 19-year-old Charanpreet Kaur was set on fire and killed by her father-in-law because
her parents could not meet her in-laws‘ ever-increasing demands for dowry.Kaur made a statement to police before she died, and her husband and in-laws were arrested. At year‘s end, all accused were in New Delhi‘s centraljail awaiting formal murder charges.‖ (USSD 2005) [2c] (Section 5)The same report continues:―The Tamil Nadu government reported an increase in cases filed under theDowry Prohibition Act from 175 in 2003 to 294 cases in 2004. In 2004 thegovernment won convictions in 32 cases of dowry harassment, including 8involving murder. Lawyers confirmed that wife-battering cut across allreligions, caste, and educational levels. Convictions potentially took severalyears. For example, during the year the Chennai high court convicted twoaccused persons of a dowry death case initially filed in 1995.‖ [2c] (Section5)6.430 As reported in the US Department of State report 2005: ―Under thelaw, courts must presume the husband or the wife‘s in-laws are responsiblefor every unnatural death of a woman in the first 7 years of marriage –provided that harassment was proven. In such cases, police proceduresrequired that an officer of the rank of deputy superintendent or aboveinvestigate and that a team of two or more doctors perform the postmortemprocedures; however, in practice police did not follow these proceduresconsistently.‖ [2c] (Section 4)As reported by the BBC news service on 1 June 2000, if convicted, prisonsentences can stretch to 14 years. [32l]6.431 As noted in a BBC news article dated 16 July 2003, this type of murderis often referred to as ―bride burning‖ in India. Payment and acceptance ofa dowry has been illegal in India for 40 years but is still widely practised.Dowry Prohibition Act 1961 (amended in 1984 and 1986) bans paying andreceiving dowries. [32bb] As reported by the BBC on 16 July 2003, in 2003,Nisha Sharma, a prospective bride from Noida just outside Delhi had hergroom arrested after he demanded a dowry. The groom and his mother werearrested under the rarely enforced 1961 Anti-Dowry Act. Both were awaitingtrial. [32bb] According to a BBC news item dated 8 October 2003, NishaSharma became an instant celebrity as politicians and non-governmentorganisations honoured her for her boldness in calling the police. [32cb]According to the US State Department report 2004, in the case of NishaSharma, the potential groom was detained for 14 days while formal charges
were filed for violating the country‘s laws against dowries. The casereceived considerable publicity and the story has been included in theschool curriculum in Delhi to teach children the problems of the dowrysystem. [2c] (Section 4)6.432 As reported in a BBC news article dated 29 September 2004, ―The newEnglish textbook for the sixth standard – age 11 to 12 – in schools run by thegovernment of the Indian capital, Delhi, includes a chapter on NishaSharma.‖ The State Council of Education Research and Training whoprepared the book stated that the story was included to draw children‘sattention to social problems. Nisha Sharma became a role model aftercalling off her wedding because her fiance asked her parents for more dowrymoney. [32fj]6.433 As recorded in the USSD report of 2005: ―Usually at a disadvantage indowry disputes, women have begun to speak out against dowry demands. InFebruary a woman from Bhiwani, Haryana, refused to join her husband afterher marriage ceremony because of a dowry demand by her in-laws. Thelocal panchayat stood by the woman‘s decision.‖ [2c] (Section 5) Accordingto a BBC news report dated 28 November 2003, ―Thousands of people in thesouthern Indian city of Bangalore have staged a march and rally against thesystem of dowry.‖ The Karnataka State Women‘s commission (KSWC)organised the rally. Apparently the women were joined by many men.[32cd]6.434 It was reported by the BBC in an article dated 14 November 2003 thatIndia‘s illegal dowry system was still thriving, leaving women vulnerable toabuse. The Crime Women Cell is a women‘s crime unit in south Delhi set upto protect women in a male dominated society:―The police unit has been given new powers to arrest and detain suspects…Despite the corruption and bureaucracy, hundreds are convicted of dowrycrime every year... Crimes against women have soared in the last 10 yearswith many more being committed than are recorded, these are seriouscrimes. The head of the Crime Women Cell stated that dowry was the mainproblem, with increasing numbers of women going to the unit.‖ [32ch]6.435 As noted in a BBC news article dated 30 September 2004, a triplesuicide attempt was made by three sisters afraid any dowry demands fortheir potential marriage would financially cripple their father. The sisterswere from a village in Calcutta. The three drank pesticides whereupon the
youngest died and her two sisters survived but were in hospital. One of thesisters said that her mother had a brain disease and her father had struggledfor months to get sufficient money together for dowries. In their suicidenote the girls said they wanted to save the family from continuing strugglesfor dowry money which had led to bitter arguments. The father denied thesituation was that bad but admitted that on occasion marriages have brokendown because he could not find a dowry. ―He said the dowry system – whiletechnically illegal – is a way of life… If you have a daughter, you have to givea dowry, if you have a son, you will receive one when you are married. It isthe way of our society.‖ The article further states that although the dowrysystem is officially illegal in India, it is common outside the main cities. Adoctor at the hospital where the girls were admitted stated that a surveywas carried out some months earlier whereby it was found that 35–40 peopleattempted suicide in that area every month. He said that extreme povertywas the principle cause of suicides linked to dowries. [32gb]"India," DOS Report 2005.The Home Ministry reported that in New Delhi during 2004, there were 130reported dowry deaths....According to press reports, the rate of acquittal in dowry death cases washigh, and due to court backlogs, they took an average of six to seven yearsto conclude. ...Providing or taking a dowry is illegal under the Dowry Prohibition Act of1961; however, dowries continued to be offered and accepted, and dowrydisputes remained a serious problem. In a typical dowry dispute, the groomsfamily harassed a new wife for not providing a sufficient dowry. Thisharassment sometimes ended in the womans death, which the family oftentried to portray as a suicide or accident. In 2004 the government registered6,250 dowry death cases under the Dowry Prohibition Act, in which husbandsor in-laws murdered women for not providing sufficient dowry.In September the Delhi Commission for Women reported 677 cases of abuseagainst women from January to July, of which 92 percent were dowryrelated and 22 percent a result of harassment by in-laws. In 2004 Delhipolices crime against women cell recorded 7,987 dowry-related cases. Ofthese, police counseled 1,853 families to a compromise, filed criminalcharges in another 1,200 cases, and in five thousand cases the victim did notpursue the matter. In 2004 there were 122 dowry-related deaths in Delhi. In
March the West Tripura sessions court sentenced three persons to five yearsrigorous imprisonment for abetting the suicide of a woman by torturing herfor dowry in 2003.The Tamil Nadu government reported an increase in cases filed under theDowry Prohibition Act from 175 in 2003 to 294 cases in 2004. In 2004 thegovernment won convictions in 32 cases of dowry harassment, including 8involving murder. Lawyers confirmed that wife-battering cut across allreligions, caste, and educational levels. Convictions potentially took severalyears. For example, during the year the Chennai high court convicted twoaccused persons of a dowry death case initially filed in 1995.Usually at a disadvantage in dowry disputes, women have begun to speakout against dowry demands. In February a woman from Bhiwani, Haryana,refused to join her husband after her marriage ceremony because of a dowrydemand by her in-laws. The local panchayat stood by the womans decision.The media often reported cases of dowry murder. On August 19, 19-year-oldCharanpreet Kaur was set on fire and killed by her father-in-law because herparents could not meet her in-laws ever-increasing demands for dowry. Kaurmade a statement to police before she died, and her husband and in-lawswere arrested. At years end, all accused were in New Delhis central jailawaiting formal murder charges.Under the law, courts must presume that the husband or the wifes in-lawsare responsible for every unnatural death of a woman in the first sevenyears of marriage--provided that harassment was proven. In such cases,police procedures required that an officer of the rank of deputysuperintendent or above investigate and that a team of two or more doctorsperform the postmortem procedures; however, in practice police did notfollow these procedures consistently.John Lancaster, “Women on the Rise in India Feel the Riptide ofTradition. Course on How to Be a Dutiful Housewife Has StrongResonance,” Washington Post, 8 November 2004.Every year, more than 6,000 Indian women are murdered by their husbandsand in-laws -- sometimes doused with kerosene and burned to death inpurported kitchen accidents -- for failing to yield to demands for biggerdowries, according to national crime statistics.
Tim Sullivan, “In prospering India, dowry crimes take toll on daughters-in-law,” AP Worldstream, 22 July 2004.NEW DELHI – The ladies of the Tihar Jail dowry wing can tell you about allsorts of tragedies that befall daughters-in-law: kitchen fires and suicides,plunges from apartment balconies and mysterious ailments.What they tend not to mention is that they are accused – and sometimesconvicted – of involvement in those tragedies, alleged accomplices to atradition of dowry that is growing ever more voracious."Televisions and fridges, sometimes even cars, this is what people ask fornow," said Jyoti Chaudhary, an assistant superintendent who oversees thejails dowry wing, a cocoon of seemingly gentle women in a prison holdingsome of Indias most violent criminals.Around here, they simply call it "the mother-in-law wing.""Instead of earning these things, people now want to snatch them fromsomeone else," Chaudhary said.It can be dangerous to be a daughter-in-law in India, where marriage andmoney are tied together in ancient traditions.According to official figures, about 7,000 Indian women were killed in dowrycases last year, a number that rights groups say is perhaps half the actualtotal. The decade that ended in 2000, a time when Indias economy leapedforward, saw a 38 percent rise in killings, and a tripling in harassmentcomplaints.The fact that dowry has been illegal since 1961 means little. The vastmajority of Indian families, from the urban elite to illiterate farmers, stillpay some form of dowry to seal their daughters wedding agreements.Created long ago to ensure that brides had wealth of their own, thetradition has essentially become a fee paid by the brides family to thegrooms.When trouble arises, it can be horrific. Authorities talk of brides held downby sisters-in-law as husbands douse them in kerosene and set them alight,locked in closets until they starve or beaten in front of their husbandsfamilies.
Wealth has only compounded the problem.There has been a sharp spike in the number of dowry-related crimes inrecent years, closely paralleling a galloping Indian economy that has broughtthe trophies of middle-class life – TVs and motorbikes and matching diningroom sets – tantalizingly close for hundreds of millions of people.For some families, the call of advertisers is impossible to resist, anddemands for cash and gifts often continue long after the weddings.Women may be increasingly educated and well-paid here, but the traditionhas kept up with the times by growing even more burdensome to them. Thelure of easy money spans Indian society: rich, poor, educated and not,married by arrangement or for love."The economic changes are not making things better, theyre making peoplemore greedy," said Ranjana Kumari, director of the Center for SocialResearch, a prominent womens organization.The growing consumerism is reflected in the increasingly crowded cells ofTihars dowry wing, where about 100 women are held. A few have beenconvicted, but most are awaiting trials in Indias torturously slow judicialsystem, a wait that can last many years.A conviction can draw a life sentence, though mothers-in-law are morecommonly accused as accessories, and face terms that seldom go higherthan eight years.By prison standards, the dowry wing is fairly comfortable. Theres a grassyyard, cable television, ceiling fans to stir the stifling heat and largecommunal cells where the prisoners – "ladies" to their jailers – unrollsleeping mats every night.Behind the 20-foot steel gates, barred doors and concrete walls topped byguard towers, its an enclave of gray hair, middle-class dreams and, theprisoners insist, universal innocence."Not even one person here is guilty," said Durga Sharma, a fiftyishschoolteacher jailed after the death of her sons wife. "These are peoplefrom good families."
Sharma insists her daughter-in-law died of an unknown stomach ailment.The police says she was killed in a dowry dispute.The prisoners blame their fates on conniving in-laws, corrupt policemen andinvestigations that often entail arresting entire households. The husbandsand sons of most of these women were also imprisoned (though many areout on bail, leaving wives and daughters behind bars)."I didnt commit any crime ... no one in my family did," said Shanti Devi, asoft-spoken 59-year-old housewife whose daughter-in-law – depending onwhom you believe – either committed suicide or was pushed from a 5th-floorapartment. Who is said to have pushed her isnt clear."I never asked for dowry," insisted Devi, who said her daughter-in-law wasmentally ill, constantly screaming and pulling at her own hair. "But if herfamily wanted to give us something as a gift, we would happily accept it."In India, the relationship between mothers and daughters-in-law is oftendeeply complicated. Sons commonly remain at home with their parents, andtheir wives are expected to move in too, taking over many householdchores.Its a situation rife with potential clashes, and the relationship betweenmothers and daughters-in-law has long been a staple of neighborhood gossipand Indian soap operas.But TV dramas dont convey the horrors brides can face.Often, the murders are disguised as suicides or kitchen injuries from burstkerosene stoves, authorities say. Sometimes, the crimes are actual suicideswhere authorities say husbands or in-laws drove the women to killthemselves.The grim statistics in part reflect increased awareness and more reporting ofdowry crimes. More police units today are dedicated to protecting women,and prosecutions of dowry-demanding families occur fairly regularly. By law,women who die within seven years of marriage must be autopsied.For all that, filing charges remains difficult for the vast majority of women,requiring them to confront generations of tradition and often to find waysaround less-than-helpful authorities.
But the jump in dowry statistics also reflects growing demands.For a few, particularly in sections of the educated elite, dowry paymentshave become symbolic.But for many, marriage remains a hard-fought negotiation, and courtship isoften replaced by husband-shopping.Want to marry your daughter to a banker? The Times of India pegged his costat about $15,000, paid to his parents in cash and gifts. A businessman withan MBA is at least $32,000. And a member of the Indian AdministrativeService, the countrys elite bureaucrats: at least $44,000.Lower down the economic ladder, among the middle-class aspirants who fillTihar, the numbers have also changed.Where grooms families once asked for bicycles, today theyll demandmotorcycles or cars. Those who would have asked for furniture now submitlong requests for electronic goods.Mamta, a 22-year-old newlywed who asked that her full name not be used,said she was given a simple choice: "A motorbike or 25,000 rupees (about$550), thats what my husbands family told me I had to bring."The daughter of a construction worker from a working class New Delhineighborhood, Mamta said her dowry included the "usual things": atelevision, washing machine, refrigerator and some furniture.But days after her marriage, another new bride moved in down the street,bringing a new motorbike for her in-laws."My husbands family saw the motorcycle, and they told me I had to bringone for them," she said.When Mamta refused, her husband beat her and locked her in the house.When her brother paid the 25,000 rupees, her in-laws demanded a car.Threatened with more beatings, she fled to a womens shelter."I feel nothing for my husband, and he never had any feelings for me," shesaid in an interview two weeks after running away, her bruises only recentlyfaded.
But she still wants to go back. Shes hoping a shelter counselor can work outan arrangement with her husband and his family to guarantee her safety.Her alternatives, she says, are limited. Divorce would bring shame, possiblepoverty and no guarantees."If I get married again, my new husband could be even worse than this one."Amanda Hitchcock, “Rising number of dowry deaths in India,” WorldSocialist Web Site, 4 July 2001.May 27: Young housewife burnt alive for dowryLUCKNOW: For nineteen-year-old Rinki dreams of a happily married life wasnever to be. Barely a month after her marriage, she was allegedly torturedand then set ablaze by her in-laws for dowry in Indiranagar in the smallhours of Saturday. Daughter of late Gyan Chand, a fish contractor whoexpired a year ago, Rinki was married to Anil on April 19... However, soonafter the marriage, Balakram [Anil‘s father] demanded a colour televisioninstead of a black and white one and a motorcycle as well. When Rinki‘smother failed to meet their demands, the teenage housewife was subjectedto severe physical torture, allegedly by her husband and mother-in-law... OnSaturday morning she [her mother] was informed that Rinki was charred todeath when a kerosene lamp accidentally fell on her and her clothes caughtfire. However, prima-facie it appeared that the victim was first attacked asher teeth were found broken. Injuries were also apparent on her wrist andchest.June 7: Woman ends life due to dowry harassmentHAVERI: Dowry harassment claimed yet another life here recently. Jyoti,daughter of Chandrashekhar Byadagi, married to Ajjappa Siddappa Kaginellein Guttal village (Haveri taluk) had taken her life after being allegedlyharassed by her husband Ajjappa, mother-in-law Kotravva, sister-in-lawNagavva and father-in-law Siddappa for more dowry, the police said. Policesaid that the harassment compelled her to consume poison... The Guttalpolice have arrested her husband and father-in-law.June 7: Body found floatingHAVERI: The police said that a woman‘s body was found floating in a well atTilawalli (Hanagal taluk) near here... The deceased has been identified as
Akhilabanu Yadawad (26). The police said that Akhilabanu was married toAbdul Razaksab Yadawad five years ago. In spite of dowry being given, herhusband and his family tortured her to bring some more dowry. Her father,Abdulrope Pyati in his complaint, alleged that she was killed by them. Herhusband and his two brothers have been arrested, the police added.These three chilling reports from the Times of India are typical of the manyaccounts of dowry-related deaths that take place in the country every year.One cannot help but be struck by the offhand way in which a young woman‘slife and death is summed up, matter of factly, without any undue cause foralarm or probing of the causes. It is much as one would report a trafficaccident or the death of a cancer patient—tragic certainly, but such thingsare to be expected.The character of the articles points to the fact that the harassment, beatingand in some cases murder of women over dowry is both common andcommonly ignored or even tacitly condoned in official circles—by the police,the courts, politicians and media. These crimes are not isolated toparticular groups, social strata, geographical regions or even religions.Moreover, they appear to be on the rise.According to an article in Time magazine, deaths in India related to dowrydemands have increase 15-fold since the mid-1980s from 400 a year toaround 5,800 a year by the middle of the 1990s. Some commentators claimthat the rising number simply indicates that more cases are being reportedas a result of increased activity of women‘s organisations. Others, however,insist that the incidence of dowry-related deaths has increased.An accurate picture is difficult to obtain, as statistics are varied andcontradictory. In 1995, the National Crime Bureau of the Government ofIndia reported about 6,000 dowry deaths every year. A more recent policereport stated that dowry deaths had risen by 170 percent in the decade to1997. All of these official figures are considered to be grossunderstatements of the real situation. Unofficial estimates cited in a 1999article by Himendra Thakur ―Are our sisters and daughters for sale?‖ put thenumber of deaths at 25,000 women a year, with many more left maimed andscarred as a result of attempts on their lives.Some of the reasons for the under-reporting are obvious. As in othercountries, women are reluctant to report threats and abuse to the police forfear of retaliation against themselves and their families. But in India there is
an added disincentive. Any attempt to seek police involvement in disputesover dowry transactions may result in members of the woman‘s own familybeing subject to criminal proceedings and potentially imprisoned. Moreover,police action is unlikely to stop the demands for dowry payments.The anti-dowry laws in India were enacted in 1961 but both parties to thedowry—the families of the husband and wife—are criminalised. The lawsthemselves have done nothing to halt dowry transactions and the violencethat is often associated with them. Police and the courts are notorious forturning a blind eye to cases of violence against women and dowry associateddeaths. It was not until 1983 that domestic violence became punishable bylaw.Many of the victims are burnt to death—they are doused in kerosene and setlight to. Routinely the in-laws claim that what happened was simply anaccident. The kerosene stoves used in many poorer households aredangerous. When evidence of foul play is too obvious to ignore, the storychanges to suicide—the wife, it is said, could not adjust to new family lifeand subsequently killed herself.Research done in the late 1990s by Vimochana, a women‘s group in thesouthern city of Bangalore, revealed that many deaths are quickly writtenoff by police. The police record of interview with the dying woman—oftentaken with her husband and relatives present—is often the soleconsideration in determining whether an investigation should proceed ornot. As Vimochana was able to demonstrate, what a victim will say in astate of shock and under threat from her husband‘s relatives will oftenchange markedly in later interviews.Of the 1,133 cases of ―unnatural deaths‖ of women in Bangalore in 1997,only 157 were treated as murder while 546 were categorised as ―suicides‖and 430 as ―accidents‖. But as Vimochana activist V. Gowramma explained:―We found that of 550 cases reported between January and September1997, 71 percent were closed as ‗kitchen/cooking accidents‘ and ‗stove-bursts‘ after investigations under section 174 of the Code of CriminalProcedures.‖ The fact that a large proportion of the victims were daughters-in-law was either ignored or treated as a coincidence by police.Figures cited in Frontline indicate what can be expected in court, even incases where murder charges are laid. In August 1998, there were 1,600cases pending in the only special court in Bangalore dealing with allegations
of violence against women. In the same year three new courts were set upto deal with the large backlog but cases were still expected to take six toseven years to complete. Prosecution rates are low. Frontline reported theresults of one court: ―Of the 730 cases pending in his court at the end of1998, 58 resulted in acquittals and only 11 in convictions. At the end of June1999, out of 381 cases pending, 51 resulted in acquittals and only eight inconvictions.‖Marriage as a financial transactionYoung married women are particularly vulnerable. By custom they go to livein the house of their husband‘s family following the wedding. The marriageis frequently arranged, often in response to advertisements in newspapers.Issues of status, caste and religion may come into the decision, but money isnevertheless central to the transactions between the families of the brideand groom.The wife is often seen as a servant, or if she works, a source of income, buthas no special relationship with the members of her new household andtherefore no base of support. Some 40 percent of women are married beforethe legal age of 18. Illiteracy among women is high, in some rural areas upto 63 percent. As a result they are isolated and often in no position to assertthemselves.Demands for dowry can go on for years. Religious ceremonies and the birthof children often become the occasions for further requests for money orgoods. The inability of the bride‘s family to comply with these demandsoften leads to the daughter-in-law being treated as a pariah and subject toabuse. In the worst cases, wives are simply killed to make way for a newfinancial transaction—that is, another marriage.A recent survey of 10,000 Indian women conducted by India‘s HealthMinistry found that more than half of those interviewed considered violenceto be a normal part of married life—the most common cause being thefailure to perform domestic duties up to the expectations of their husband‘sfamily.The underlying causes for violence connected to dowry are undoubtedlycomplex. While the dowry has roots in traditional Indian society, the reasonsfor prevalence of dowry-associated deaths have comparatively recentorigins.
Traditionally a dowry entitled a woman to be a full member of thehusband‘s family and allowed her to enter the marital home with her ownwealth. It was seen as a substitute for inheritance, offering some security tothe wife. But under the pressures of cash economy introduced under Britishcolonial rule, the dowry like many of the structures of pre-capitalist Indiawas profoundly transformed.Historian Veena Oldenburg in an essay entitled ―Dowry Murders in India: APreliminary Examination of the Historical Evidence‖ commented that the oldcustoms of dowry had been perverted ―from a strongly spun safety net twistinto a deadly noose‖. Under the burden of heavy land taxes, peasantfamilies were inevitably compelled to find cash where they could or losetheir land. As a result the dowry increasingly came to be seen as a vitalsource of income for the husband‘s family.Oldenburg explains: ―The will to obtain large dowries from the family ofdaughters-in-law, to demand more in cash, gold and other liquid assets,becomes vivid after leafing through pages of official reports that dutifullyrecord the effects of indebtedness, foreclosures, barren plots and cattledying for lack of fodder. The voluntary aspects of dowry, its meaning as amark of love for the daughter, gradually evaporates. Dowry becomesdreaded payments on demand that accompany and follow the marriage of adaughter.‖What Oldenburg explains about the impact of money relations on dowry isunderscored by the fact that dowry did not wither away in India in the 20thcentury but took on new forms. Dowry and dowry-related violence is notconfined to rural areas or to the poor, or even just to adherents of theHindu religion. Under the impact of capitalism, the old custom has beentransformed into a vital source of income for families desperate to meetpressing social needs.A number of studies have shown that the lower ranks of the middle class areparticularly prone. According to the Institute of Development andCommunication, ―The quantum of dowry exchange may still be greateramong the middle classes, but 85 percent of dowry death and 80 percent ofdowry harassment occurs in the middle and lower stratas.‖ Statisticsproduced by Vimochana in Bangalore show that 90 percent of the cases ofdowry violence involve women from poorer families, who are unable tomeet dowry demands.
There is a definite market in India for brides and grooms. Newspapers arefilled with pages of women seeking husbands and men advertising theireligibility and social prowess, usually using their caste as a bargaining chip.A ―good‖ marriage is often seen by the wife‘s family as a means to advanceup the social ladder. But the catch is that there is a price to be paid in theform of a dowry. If for any reason that dowry arrangements cannot be metthen it is the young woman who suffers.One critic, Annuppa Caleekal, commented on the rising levels of dowry,particularly during the last decade. ―The price of the Indian groomastronomically increased and was based on his qualifications, profession andincome. Doctors, charted accountants and engineers even prior tograduation develop the divine right to expect a ‗fat‘ dowry as they becomethe most sought after cream of the graduating and educated dowry league.‖The other side of the dowry equation is that daughters are inevitablyregarded as an unwelcome burden, compounding the already oppressedposition of women in Indian society. There is a high incidence of gender-based abortions—almost two million female babies a year. One article notedthe particularly crass billboard advertisements in Bombay encouragingpregnant women to spend 500 rupees on a gender test to ―save‖ a potential50,000 rupees on dowry in the future. According to the UN Population Fundreport for the year 2000, female infanticide has also increased dramaticallyover the past decade and infant mortality rates are 40 percent higher forgirl babies than boys.Critics of the dowry system point to the fact that the situation has worsenedin the 1990s. As the Indian economy has been opened up for internationalinvestment, the gulf between rich and poor widened and so did theeconomic uncertainty facing the majority of people including the relativelywell-off. It was a recipe for sharp tensions that have led to the worsening ofa number of social problems.One commentator Zenia Wadhwani noted: ―At a time when India is enjoyingunprecedented economic advances and boasts the world‘s fastest growingmiddle class, the country is also experiencing a dramatic escalation inreported dowry deaths and bride burnings. Hindu tradition has beentransformed as a means to escaping poverty, augmenting one‘s wealth oracquiring the modern conveniences that are now advertised daily ontelevision.‖
Domestic violence against women is certainly not isolated to India. Theofficial rate of domestic violence is significantly lower than in the US, forexample, where, according to UN statistics, a woman is battered somewherein the country on average once every 15 seconds. In all countries thisviolence is bound up with a mixture of cultural backwardness that relegateswomen to an inferior status combined with the tensions produced by thepressures growing economic uncertainty and want.In India, however, where capitalism has fashioned out of the traditions ofdowry a particularly naked nexus between marriage and money, and wherethe stresses of everyday life are being heightened by widening socialpolarisation, the violence takes correspondingly brutal and grotesque forms.Surinder Awasthi, “Crime against women on the rise in Punjab,” Times ofIndia, 9 January 2001.Dowry deaths have also increased - from 169 in 1999 to 182 in 2000 - anincrease of about eight percent. Besides, the cases of cruelty towardswomen by their husbands and family members have increased in the recentpast and according to one estimate about 400 cases of such cruelty werereported in 1998 alone. Only two cases of dowry death were reported in1966 while the first case of dowry harassment was registered three decadesago in 1971.Freedom House, “India,” Freedom in the World, 2000-2001.Each year, several thousand women are burned to death, driven to suicide,or otherwise killed, and countless others are harassed, beaten, or desertedby husbands, in the context of dowry disputes. Although dowry is illegal,convictions in dowry deaths continued to be rare.Meeta Rani Jha, "Chappal Sticks and Bags," SikhNet, posted 19 Sept.2000.Dowry has always been part of marriage in India, but the dramatic increasein dowry-giving in the post-independence period, reflects the decliningvalue of women in the Indian society. Though the giving and taking of dowryis a legal offense since the passage of a legislation in 1961, the custom hasflourished, invading lower castes and working class communities amongwhom this was not a practice.
Such requested products as videocassette recorders, washing machines,refrigerators, and scooters reflect the higher dowry demands asked from thegirls family. Sudha Tiwari of Shakti Shalini (a womens shelter in Delhi),blames the excessive demands by the boys family on the western influenceof capitalist materialism and the promotion of mindless consumerism by themass media.The first protests against dowry in the contemporary Indian womensmovement were made by the "Progressive Organization of Women" in thecity of Hyderabad in 1975. Though some of their demonstrations numberedas many as 2,000 people, the protests did not grow into a full-fledgedcampaign. The Mahila Dakshata Samiti was the first womens organization inDelhi to take up the issue of dowry and dowry harassment, but it was StriSangharsh whose campaign made "dowry murder" a household term. Theseorganizations use many different methods: investigation and collection ofevidence; recording witness accounts; working with specialist lawyerscollectives; using the mass media; mobilizing anti-violence womensnetworks; organizing local and national marches; lobbying the courts andthe Government with high level of publicity; publicizing corrupt policesystem which colludes with the batterer and his family.If a girls parents are not able to meet the demands, even after the marriagethe violence may escalate over many years, forcing many woman to eitherkill themselves to escape daily torture or be killed. Madhu Kishwar and RuthVanita, in their book In Search of Answers: Indian Womens Voices fromManushi, tells the tragic story of Dr. Shakuntala Arora, who was a lecturer ina womens college and who died of burns. Her family and her colleagues feelthat emotional and physical abuse and torture over many years drove her tokill herself.The harassment of Dr. Shakuntala Arora started at the time of her wedding,when the bridegroom insisted on a scooter as an item in the brides dowry.Shakuntalas parents had to comply with this demand or else the weddingwould have been called off. When Shakuntala moved into her in-laws house,she was asked to pay off wedding costs of 25,000 rupees, which she wasforced to obtain from her parents. Any resistance on Shakuntalas part led tophysical and emotional abuse. Shakuntala was allowed a meager pocketmoney from her salary as a lecturer for food and transport. At the birth ofher first child, she received no help from her husband. Her husband becameincreasingly more violent at her second delivery; he kicked her in thestomach before taking her to the hospital. Only a few weeks after her
cesarean section, Shakuntala, badly beaten and in tears, with a small babyin her arms, entered her mothers house to seek temporary respite from thetortures of her husband. She had no money to pay off the taxi. These weresome of the economic, physical and emotional tortures that turnedShakuntalas life into a nightmare. Two days before her death, she wasbeaten up and forbidden to attend her brothers marriage ceremony,because she had failed to get money from her widowed mother.The term dowry and "dowry deaths" has become synonymous with wife-battering and domestic violence. It has become a key issue and rallying cryin practically all movements in which women are active. However, we needto remember that dowry is only an excuse used by patriarchal families tocontinue to torture and kill women. The unfortunate consequence of usingthis term as a rallying cry is that it minimizes the regular abuse and killingof women. The result is that dowry-related wife murders and suicides arecriticized, but other domestic violence may not be since it is thought thatthe wife could have been provoking the abuse.Parvathi Menon, "Dowry Deaths in Bangalore," Frontline, 16(17), August14-27, 1999, pp. 64-73.Investigations by a women’s group in Bangalore point to a high incidence ofunnatural deaths among newly married women following dowry-relatedincidents, with the persons responsible for them largely being acquitted.Hoardings put up by the traffic police at prominent places along Bangalore‘straffic-congested road exhort reckless drivers to go slow. Grim statisticsloom over traffic snarls – 704 men and women died in traffic accidents in thecity in 1997, 726 in 1998 and 168 until June 1999. Reckless driving is truly aproblem in India‘s sixth largest metropolis, and the seriousness with which itis being addressed is gratifying to the citizens of the city.There is, however, another category of deaths that occur on a daily basis inthe city, for which no such public recognition or concern is awarded. Thesefigures far outnumber traffic-related deaths (or indeed any category ofavoidable death).They are exclusively of women - mainly young, newly married women. Inpolice records they are classified under three specific categories, whichinvoke different sections of the law. They are dowry murders" (committedby the womans husband or members of his family for additional dowry or
non-payment of promised dowry); "suicides" (forced or voluntary, but inmost cases related to dowry demands); and "accidents" (a majority classedunder "stove-burst" or "kitchen-accident"). Deaths under these threecategories add up to an alarming figure. In Bangalore city, 1, 1 33 womendied in murders, suicides and accidents in 1997, 1,248 in 1998, and 618 tillmid- July 1999 (see Table 1).On an average, therefore, almost one hundred women have been dyingviolent deaths every month in the privacy of their homes. And these are theofficial figures. When 44 persons died of plague by September 1994 in Surat,the epicentre of the plague outbreak of that year, the epidemic assumedthe proportions of a national crisis. Yet, public acknowledgement of theunnatural deaths of young women in Bangalore city is restricted toperfunctory two-line news items in the daily newspapers, where they arereported as accidents" or "suicides" over "dowry harassment. Thereafter,they drop from public consciousness into the anonymity of a police or courtcase.A dowry murder comes under a distinct class of violence. Motivated mainlyby greed, the crime is committed within the four walls of a home on anunsuspecting wife by her own husband or his family; there are rarely anyeyewitnesses who are prepared to give evidence against the murderers. Thelarge number of these deaths is an indication that the law is not a sufficientdeterrent for those who commit these crimes. Nor have these grotesquelyviolent murders sparked the kind of social outrage that could pressure thegovernment and its law-enforcing machinery into acting swiftly and firmly inenforcing the law. The scale of this problem, its causes and consequences,have not been adequately acknowledged by the state and its agencies, themedia, or the public at large. "Such figures certainly impress upon us theneed to relook at what we understand by the police classification of―unnatural deaths‖, says Donna Fernandes of Vimochana, a womensOrganisation which first uncovered the horrifying dimensions of the problemin Bangalore. Our investigations have proved that for large numbers ofmarried women, the right to live in safety and in a climate free fromintimidation and violence is under great threat. Why is there this socialunconcern when women are dying in such large numbers?DOWRY-RELATED violence against married women by the families they marryinto is a phenomenon that is on the increase all over the country,particularly in urban areas where such violence gets reported on. Womensgroups have been engaging with this issue at various levels in different parts
of the country. In the absence of comparable data from other cities, it maybe premature to conclude that the high incidence of unnatural deaths ofyoung women in Bangalore is, in some way, a problem specific to this city.What has put Bangalore on the map of cities with a high incidence of dowry-related atrocities against women is an exceptional research-cum- social-intervention project by Vimochana. This study has, for the first time,quantified this problem and put it firmly in the public realm. Vimochana‘ssustained two-and-half-year campaign on the issue of unnatural deaths ofwomen resulted in the setting up, on April 7, 1999, of a Joint HouseCommittee on Atrocities against women to investigate these deaths andmake recommendations for their prevention. The Joint Committee, whichwas chaired by BJP MLA Premila Nesargi, presented its report on July 1.There are therefore two detailed public documents on the phenomenon ofthe high rate of unnatural deaths of women in Bangalore - the Vimochanadocumentation and campaign material and the House Committee Report.There is also detailed, month-wise statistics compiled and maintained by theState Crime Records Bureau, which Vimochana has collated and analysed inits study. Together these provide a reliable database on the numbers ofwomen dying; the classification of their deaths by the police (whethermurder, suicide, accident); the ways by which they die (burning, hanging &poisoning, and so on); the reasons for the death; the nature of the policeinvestigation into each of these cases; the reasons for the slow pace ofjudicial redress; and the reasons why so many dowry death cases end inacquittal of the accused. Vimochanas database, which it began compilingfrom early 1997, also includes a detailed register of the women who areadmitted into the burns ward of the Victoria Hospital, their ages, maritalstatus, reasons for death, and case, details. ...[Regarding] unnatural deaths and stove-bursts in the early phase of thestudy, as it collated police statistics, Vimochana noted a major anomalybetween its figures and those of the police.It found that a large number of deaths were being classified in policerecords as "accidents" under "UDR" (Unnatural Death Register). The categoryof "dowry deaths‖ in a technical sense only included those cases that hadbeen booked by the police under the relevant sections of the law. The―Accident‖ cases that were closed for want of evidence, however, werelargely due to ―stove-bursts‖ or ―kitchen accidents‖. On the basis of itsfollow-up investigations with the families of the victims of these co-calledaccidents, Vimochana camp up with some startling findings that changed thewhole perception of this social problem, the assumptions that underlay it,
its causes and the course that remedial action must take. Vimochana allegedthat a large number of murders and suicides, punishable under law, werebeing made to look like "accidents" by the husband and members of hisfamily. These cases were closed by the investigating police officers for wantof hard evidence of a crime. When a professional eye looked at the wholecategory of unnatural deaths (and not just dowry deaths‘), the number ofwomen dying in suspicious circumstances rose sharply. Vimochanascontention is that a large number of the cases simply escape detection andpunishment in the prevailing social conditions.Frontline attempted an independent assessment of some of the findings ofthe Vimochana study, as well as of the House Committee Report. Dataprovided to Frontline by the police department! for Karnataka as a wholeshow that out of 3,826 deaths recorded as accidents in 1997, 1,715, oraround 50 per cent, were connected with fire accidents, including stove andcooking gas cylinder bursts. V. Gowramma, a Vimochana activist and therecipient of this years Neerja Bh anot award (which was instituted inmemory of the 23-year-old Pan Am airhostess who died showing exemplarycourage in helping passengers escape during a hijack attempt in Karachi in1986), says: "We found that of 550 cases reported between January andSeptember 1997, 71 percent were closed as kitchen/cooking accidents andstove-bursts after conducting investigations under Section 174 of the Codeof Criminal Procedures. When the cause of death in a majority of registereddowry death cases is due to burning, such a high rate of "stove-burst"accidents involving daughters-in-law can hardly be regarded as natural orcoincidental. ...―It is an unfortunate fact that in a strictly legal sense, an accidental stove-burst is not an offence under the law," Bangalore City Police CommissionerL. Revannasiddaiah observed to Frontline. However, what is the use of aninvestigation if it does not arrive at the truth? If there are two or threestove-burst accidents in a day, in which only daughters- in-law die, we mustlook behind the formal facade and take up investigations immediately."Noting that the police are now trying to do this, he asked: "Have you everheard of a mother-in-law or a husband dying in a stove-burst?"Since September 1997, two Vimochana volunteers have been postedpermanently at the burns ward of the Victoria Hospital, where most of theserious burns cases in the city are admitted. About seven cases areadmitted on an average every day, with the numbers going up to tenfollowing certain traditional festivals, when it is the practice for women to
be sent to their natal homes with additional demands for dowry," explainedDonna Fernandes. "The burnings usually take place past 1 a.m., well pastcooking time, which itself throws the ‗stove-burst theory into doubt.Women come with burns of 7O per cent and more, and on their death leavebehind babies and small children."There are several reasons why murders or forced suicides often getregistered as a "stove-burst". "The first reaction of a woman who has beenburnt by her husband or his family is to say it is a stove- burst," saysRudrappa Hanagavadi, Special Executive Magistrate for Bangalore, who isresponsible for the conduct of inquests in cases relating to women who havedied under suspicious circumstances. "Her dying declaration, which issupposed to be taken in private by the policeman in the presence of adoctor, is invariably a public procedure, and she is afraid to tell the truth."Members of the husbands family often threaten to harm her children andher natal family if she does not say she was injured in a cooking accident.Often, relatives and friends of the victim are reluctant to raise doubts aboutthe nature of the death as they fear harassment by the victims husband andhis family. They also do not want to get involved in laborious police andlegal proceedings. The police, for their part, do not try to penetrate thiscommunity resistance to look for evidence of what really could havehappened.HERE are pressures on women to conceal the truth about what happened tothem even when they know they are dying. This correspondent visited theVictoria Hospital burns ward on July 13. On that day, five women wereadmitted. There was Shabrin Begum, 20, who had been married for onemonth, and had been admitted with 90 per cent burns; Selvi, 18, marriedfor two years and admitted with 80 per cent burns; Lalitha, married foreight years and admitted with 80 per cent burns; Aniyamma, 40, with fivechildren, admitted with 60 per cent burns; and Rehana Taj, 15, from Kolardistrict, unmarried, and admitted with 45 to 50 per cent burns.In her first dying declaration, Shabrin, an articulate PUC student, said shewas injured in a kitchen accident. In her second declaration, she said herhusband and mother-in-law set her on fire; based on this declaration, thepolice have filed cases against them under Sections 498(A) and 302 of theIndian Penal Code (IPC) (FIR Crime No. 479/99 filed on July 16, 1999 at theMadivala police station). Selvi gave three dying declarations: in her firstdeclaration she said she was injured in an accident; in her seconddeclaration, she said she had attempted suicide; in her third declaration,
she alleged that her mother-in-law attempted to murder her. A case hasbeen booked under Section 3O2 of the IPC(FIR Crime No. 261/99 filed onJuly 16, 1999 in the Srirampura police station). Lalitha gave two dyingdeclarations, the first saying that she was injured in a kitchen accident, thesecond that she did it to herself out of "despair. Her relatives did not wishto file a complaint, and Lalitha herself said nothing about dowry demands.With tact and persuasiveness, the police could have elicited the real causesbehind Lalithas despair. But her case (UDR No. 17199) was closed as asuicide after her death on July 16, 1999.Who Is dying and why?*Manjula smiles shyly from out of her marriage photographs. She wasmarried in May 1998, when she was just 18, to Vruthesh Prasad, a, mechanicin the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation. Her father gave her adowry worth almost Rs.2 lakhs. Manjula used to complain to her mother andsister that she was being harassed by her husband, his brother and othermembers of his family for more dowry but her family told her she mustadjust and that they would try to meet the demand. On July 7,1999, morethan a year after her marriage, Manjula was dead. She was found in herbrother-in-law‘s bathroom, a pool of blood under her head and between herlegs, her upper torso and face burnt. Her husband‘s family said she hadcommitted suicide (there was a tin of turpentine and a box of matches lyingnear her), but her own family filed a police complaint. A case has beenbooked against four persons under Section 498(A) and 304(B) of the IPC (FIRCrime No. 388/99).*‗I never imagined that he would be like this,‖ a shaken B.P. Krishnaswamysaid of his son-in-law, H. Narasimhamurthy, a primary school teacher atBapu Palika Mahila Prautha Salai in Yeshwantpur. Krishnaswamy trades invegetables. His daughter, B.K. Rojavathi, a primary school teacher inSeshadripuram Primary School in Yelahanka, narrowly escaped an attempton her life by her husband. She was married in May 1999; her husband wasgiven a dowry of Rs.30,000 in cash and another lakh of rupees worth ofjewellery and household goods; soon after the marriage, Rojavathi‘shusband and father-in-law demanded more dowry from her. On July 16, herhusband, under the pretext of taking her to a temple, took her instead tothe isolated Soldevanahalli forest and tried to strangle her with a chain thatshe was wearing. When that was not successful, he returned with a cane ofkerosene from his scooter, and poured it over her. A forest guard saw himjust as he tried to light a flame. Narasimhamurthy fled the scene, the police
was informed and Rojavathi was quickly taken to hospital. Cases have beenbooked against her husband under Sections 498(A) and 307 of the IPC (FIRCrime No.446/99 files on July 16 at the Nelamangala police station). He isabsconding, as is the rest of his family. Rojavathi, the whites of her eyessuffused with blood owing to the effects of strangulation, and her bodybruised from the blows she sustained, is slowly recovering from her injuriesand shock.* H.T. Indira, a young wife and mother, died in November 1998; herhusbands family tried to pass it off as suicide by hanging. A charge-sheet(CC No. 2033/99) was filed within a month of her death under Sections498(A) and 304(B) of the IPC; it names four accused - her husbandP.Thyagaraj, brothers-in-law P. Sivakumar and P. Krishnamurthy, andmother-in-law Padmamma. Says Indiras sister Chandramma, who hasundertaken a out of the house with the child an s slept on the steps thatnight. She told a neighbour that she was leaving as she could bear it nolonger." According to Chandrammal Inctras brother was to have brought herhome but she died before that. This is not a suicide, I know," assertsChandramma. My sister was forced to commit suicide."These three recent incidents share a certain pattern of social behaviour andindividual response. The giving of dowry, an act illegal in itself, is notperceived by the victims families as socially condemnable, or as havingmade the womans position vulnerable right from the day of the marriage.The husband and his family view her primarily as a money-source andincrease their pressure until it results in her death or suicide. What is alsosignificant is the absence of support structures for the woman - acounselling centre, a shelter home, concerned neighbourhoods –which couldprevent the worst from happening. She cannot even turn to her own familywhen in the throes of distress.Some broad generalisations have been made from the database nowavailable on unnatural deaths of women. Its victims are generally young(Vimochanas study, in fact, looks only at the death of married womenbetween the ages of 18 and 40), and in a large number of cases the deathoccurs within the first two years of marriage. A large number of victims (andperpetrators of the violence) are from poor or lower middle-class back-grounds, although this is not an issue that affects poor women alone. Inmost cases, the woman would have undergone mental and physicalharassment prior to her death. Lastly, a majority of dowry murders andsuicides are by burning. Police figures made available to Frontline on suicide
deaths alone show that more than 50 per cent of suicides are committed bythe woman setting herself on fire. In one of the several studies thatVimochana undertook, it found, for example, that out of 711 women whodied in 1998 under unnatural circumstances, 454 died of burns. Significantly,441 were between the ages of 18 and 30.In 90 per cent of the cases I deal with, the women are from poorbackgrounds" Hanagavadi told Frontline. "Migrants, like construction workersand those who live in slums, account for a large number of those involved insuch cases."The House Committee recommendationsVimochana and the House Committee concur on one point. The special lawsthat are in place to deal with atrocities against women are undermined atevery stage of investigation at both the police and judicial levels. The HouseCommittee made exhaustive recommendations covering every stage of thepolice investigation and judicial procedure - the registration of thecomplaint when a death or injury under suspicious circumstances takesplace, the preparing of the First Information Report (FIR), the recording of avictims dying declaration, the inquest proceedings, the postmortem andforensic investigations, the framing of the charge-sheet, and the judicialprocess after that. The Committee presented five draft bills to the Housedealing with atrocities against women. One of these, the KarnatakaPrevention of Domestic Violence and Atrocities Against Women Bill, 1999,deals specifically with the issue of marital violence and dowry-relateddeaths.The Investigative processWhile the reasons for the large number of violent crimes against womenmust be sought in a fast-changing social and economic milieu whichreinforces rather than retards patriarchal notions and values, accountabilityfor the failure to prevent such crimes must be shared by the institutions ofcivil society: the legislature, the police, the judiciary, and, to some extent,the media as well. The death of a woman in unnatural circumstances has togo through two procedural tiers. The first is investigation by the police andthe inquest officer (a government official at the level of a districtmagistrate) with assistance from doctors who perform the postmortem aswell as forensic experts. Upon the thoroughness of this investigationdepends the fate of the case once it gets admitted into the courts. This is
the second procedural tier. If the charge- sheet in a particular case hassound investigative backing, it will have a much better chance of standingup in a court of law.Deaths, whether murders or suicides, that are related to the relentlessdemand for dowry constitute a special category of crime. Given the culturalcontext, tremendous social pressures operate upon the victim and herfamily, pressures that seek to obscure truth and scuttle the investigation. InBangalore, there is a swell of resentment among the families of victims andactivist groups against the police department for what is perceived as a lackof thoroughness and integrity in pursuing cases of unnatural deaths amongwomen. The House Committee was severe in its criticism of policeinvestigations and set out elaborate ecommendations on how theinvestigative mechanism could be sensitised, streamlined and improved."There is only one institution in this society that is charged by law tointervene in a situation like this, and that is the police," saysRevannasiddaiah. But you must understand this institution too is a productof this society. We have not been structured, resourced, motivated and keptin readiness to meet this requirement, and we too proceed on the old track.But he adds that the old mind-set of the police force is changing and that heis making a conscious effort to sensitise the force in its perceptions andinvestigative approach towards domestic violence against women.The Vanitha Sahaya Vani was set up seven months ago by the policedepartment for women in distress to call in for help and counselling. Whilethis was initially welcomed by women‘s activists, it has come in for somecriticsm as the success of this facility, they say, is now being measured interms of the numbers of ―reconciled‖ cases, and not by the additonalnumber of offences detected. For a woman desparate enough to call thehelpline, advice to ―adjust‖ to the unequal terms of her marriage closes onemore door or escape route.Under Revannasiddaihs initiative, the police department work withVimochana and a group of concerned IAS officers to bring out a manual ofguidelines for investigating offences against women. He has also constituteda new forum, Parihar, under the police department, which he hopes willmeet the needs of women in crisis - in homes or at workplaces.Registration of a complaint
The House Committee Report has drawn attention to the need for the policeto register a complaint immediately after receiving information aboutgrievous injuries sustained by a woman under suspicious circumstances."After they receive a complaint the police should go to the house and seal itoff, which they do not always do," notes Hanagavadi. They tend to wait untilthe death of the woman, by which time valuable evidentiary material slipsout of their hands. The FIR must, on the basis of initial investigations, booka case under the relevant sections of the law. "Who decides whether a deathin suspicious circumstances is a murder or a suicide or caused by a cookingaccident or a stove-burst?" asks Donna Fernandes. "If done by anincompetent investigating officer, a chance of a cursory investigation is veryhigh. We believe from our investigations that the temptation to classify andreduce unnatural deaths as accidents and suicidal burns is high as it reducesworkload and suits the purposes of reporting." Members of families ofvictims who testified before the House Committee had grievances relatingto the FIRs and the carelessness with which they were made. It is mandatoryfor a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), and in cities an AssistantCommissioner of Police, to investigate all cases of attempted suicide anddeath, under suspicious circumstances, of young married women within thefirst five years of marriage. However, according to Vimochana activists, thepolice do not always follow this injunction.The dying declarationThe recording of the statement of the victim, which often becomes herdying declaration, is a part of the investigative procedure, but it often turnsinto a procedure for absolving the real perpetrator of the crime. It is quitecommon to find a burns victim giving more than one dying declaration.Meant to be recorded in privacy, the dying declaration is often taken in thepresence of the victims husband and his relatives. As mentioned earlier inthe story, when this correspondent visited the burns ward of VictoriaHospital, there were three women who gave more than one dyingdeclaration each. One of them, Selvi, gave three in the course of oneafternoon. "Such a case is unlikely to stand in court. The defendant lawyerwill present it as conflicting evidence," a Special Public Prosecutor inBangalore told Frontline.The inquestA crucial part of the investigative process, the inquest, is to be conductedby an officer of the level of a magistrate. He must visit the spot of the
death, examine the body, collect physical and verbal evidence, and give areport that indicates the cause of death. Both Vimochana and the HouseCommittee have recommended that the inquest be made an independentinquiry accountable to a higher review committee. The House Committeehas also recommended that the magistrate hold a public hearing within aweek of the womans death, at which all evidence, including thepostmortem and forensic reports, should be presented. The final reportshould be a public document."Because of the alarming increase in the incidence of dowry-related deaths,Assistant Commissioner were appointed to assist Tahsildars in conductinginquests," explains Special Executive Magistrate Hanagavadi as we drive toKengeri where he is to conduct an inquest in the case of a death by hangingthat had been reported. "It is a horrible job, seeing the deaths of youngwomen every day." As an Assistant Commissioner, Hanagavadi has threeother charges and is on the move the whole day. The post of SpecialExecutive Magistrate (SEM) was created in March 1998 to look exclusivelyinto unnatural deaths of women. A person is appointed to it for a year andthis is extendable by another year. Bangalore has two SEMs.A large crowd had gathered outside the one-room dwelling whereBhagyamma, a young wife and mother, had hanged herself from the ceiling;her four-month-old baby lay in a crib nearby. On examination of her body, itwas found that she had written her suicide note on her two legs, obviouslyhoping that it would escape detecti6n until the police arrived. In it shesquarely blamed her husband, a grounds man at the stadium of the SportsAuthority of India, for her death. She could no longer-bear his torture, thesuicide note said She asked that her child be taken care of by her motherafter her death. Bhhdammas inquest report (No.42/99-2000) was sent onJuly 20, 1999 to the Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrates Court.The judicial processOnce a case enters the courts, it often takes months for it to be heard andtried. In Bangalore, there used to be only one Special Court to try cases ofatrocities against women. By August 1998, there were 1,600 pending casesin the court, "the highest pendency rate for a sessions court anywhere in thecountry," a Special Public Prosecutor told Frontline. Three new courts wereset up that month to clear the backlog of cases. The average time taken forcase to be disposed of is six to seven years.
There is a high rate of acquittals in cases of dowry murders or suicides. Thesame Special Public Prosecutor told Frontline that of the 730 cases pendingin his court at the end of 1998, 58 resulted in acquittals and only 11 inconvictions. At the end of June 1999, out of 381 cases pending, 51 resultedin acquittals and eight in convictions.What are the reasons for this? Families of the victims, ignorant of the lawand its procedure, get demoratised with the long wait before a case can bedecided. "In 90 per cent of the cases, witnesses turn hostile," the SpecialPublic Prosecutor told Frontline. "Money plays a major role. Since most ofthe aggrieved families are poor, they are willing to make out-of-courtsettlements. It is common to find that during the trial, they will suddenlychange their story and say that the victim had a health problem or that herdeath was an accident. In fact, in eight of my cases, the parents gave theirsecond daughter in marriage to the same person after the case was filed!"The second reason, according to him, is the perfunctory police investigationthat spoils the case right from the start. The "half-hearted presentation ofcases by the prosecutors who are burdened with 10 to 12 cases at any givenpoint of time" is yet another reason he cites for the high rate of acquittal.However, the "most important reason" according to him" is the liberal viewtaken by the judiciary in cases of dowry deaths."Vimochana, in collaboration with the National Law School University,proposes to have a public hearing before a Truth Commission from August 15to 17, 1999 in Bangalore. The Commission will comprise representatives ofthe Law Commission, former judges, lawyers and women activists.Complaints from parents who have lost daughters in suspiciouscircumstances, in which justice was not perceived to have been done, willbe heard. The findings of the Truth Commission will be made the subjectmatter of a public interest petition before the Supreme Court with a view tobringing relief to the aggrieved families. Geetha Ayappa, a lawyer who hasbeen working with Vimochana in the campaign, looks ahead to a new stageof pressing for action: "We will use the evidence we get to invoke theSupreme Courts intervention to protect a womans right to life."”Why do dowry deaths occur?” PUCL [People Union for Civil Liberties,India]Bulletin, Sept. 1982.Why do dowry deaths occur? This was the central point of concern of asociological study by Nalini Singh based on a survey of the marriages of 38young women, aged 17-24 years, in each of which the wife died an unnatural
death, reportedly due to harassment over dowry. She suggested that it isprimarily the societal perception of woman being less productive than manthat define womans place in society. This manifests in what she calls "Zero-political Status", and denial of basic civil rights to them. She observes thatdowry is a clear affirmation of the fact that ones gender determines onesworth or significance. Since worth is distributed unequally amongst thesexes at birth, worth-deficiency amongst females can be offset by materialadditives that is dowry. The roots of this worth deficiency of women are sodeep-rooted that even the brides who earn more than their husbands aremade to feel an obligation to supply dowry goods and services along aftertheir marriage just as are the women who earn nothing.The dowry deaths, therefore, she observes, do not occur because there is amismatch between gifts demanded by in-laws and presents received, butbecause young married women customarily have no political significance intheir new families. The continuous demand for dowry is but one of the waysin which the deficient political status is exploited. This deficiency is used tomaltreat her in countless other ways too. Therefore, she says, the termdowry-deaths is a misnomer because dowry related harassment occurs aspart of a larger mandate to oppress a human with zero-political status.Dowry is hardly ever the single cause of so called dowry deaths. In otherwords, even if demands for dowry were to be satisfied fully, young womenwould continue to face torture and harassment in their in-laws homesbecause of their custom-sanctioned-inferiority that robs them of their basichuman rights.According to Nalini Singh, from the earliest days of a marriage the in-lawsruin the life of a bride on the assumption that the young woman hassurrendered her total being to them; she bends over backwards todemonstrate that she has no political status, and slips in the bottom of theauthority structure; while her parents reassure her that self-effacement isvirtuous in woman. If there is much agreement on womens mute compliancewith predetermined norms, then why are our daughters dying in marriage?As revealed by Singhs survey, the truth is that young women do notreconcile themselves to the complete absence of political significance intheir affinal family. Yet they simulate absolute obedience, because that iswhat their fraudulent upbringing recommends. This obedience is taken forthe real things by those in authority over them. In pursuance of in-lawsperception that the brides parents owe them an unlimited amount of dowry(or Compensation), they, the in-laws, establish a conduit for this flowthrough the bride. Stripped of a political locus stand, she cannot oppose this
demand on grounds of injustice and appears to exercise either one or bothof the two options-one, she succumbs, and procures the demanded goodsfrom her parents (after initially deflecting some of the hard edge of thedemand by tolerating physical brutality herself), and two, she does notcomply, clothing her stand with the unsurrendered fragment of her persona.It is noteworthy, she states, that many women finally adopt the secondalternative at great personal risk, and high emotional cost, and offersustained resistance to demands for dowry.This resistance proves extremely provocative to authoritarian familymembers of the husbands family, not so much because of the monetarydeprivation, but because of its real potential for destabilizing the powerstructure which sanctions exploitative behaviour within the family. Theyoung womans subdued non-cooperation with the demand for extortion ofdowry from her parents might not be the solitary issue on which she resistsblind authority, but there might be some other issues, which expose her asopinionated, as for instance, the desire to work or study, despite familyopposition. All such actions are regarded as signals of disrespect and revolt.When a young woman, who is a political amputee by tradition, resistsprestigious traditions such as dowry, she is a logical candidate for retaliationby the in-laws. Dowry death are a manifest example of this retaliation bythe flag-bearers of patriarchial authority. In some cases, the retaliatorywrath of the in-laws expresses itself in murders of the young women byburning with kerosene (most frequent in urban areas) or drowning (commonin rural areas). Other methods employed to murder include poisoning andphysical battery.PakistanDuring the year, the press reported on hundreds of incidents of violenceagainst women, and drew attention to the killings of married women byrelatives over dowry or other family-related disputes. Most of the victimswere burned to death, allegedly in kitchen-stove accidents; some womenreportedly were burned with acid. For example, in December, MohammedSajid was convicted of attacking and blinding his 17-year-old fiancée withacid in Punjab. The court sentenced Sajid to seven years in jail and ruledthat Sajid be blinded by acid in a public setting. Police said the defendantwas likely to appeal his conviction and sentence. During the year, in Punjab,99 burn cases were reported. Human rights monitors asserted that manycases were not reported by hospitals and that, even when they were, thepolice were reluctant to investigate or file charges. Furthermore, human
rights monitors agree that most "stove deaths" in fact are killings based upona suspicion of an illicit sexual relationship or upon dowry demands.Increased media coverage of cases of wife burnings, spousal abuse, spousalkilling, and rape has helped to raise awareness about violence againstwomen.Uganda”Dowries blamed for Ugandan wife beatings,” BBC News, 25 March 2004.The Ugandan practice of wedding dowries - known as the bride price - isto blame for much of the countrys domestic violence, experts say.A grass-roots womens organisation, Mifumi, has been leading the campaignin Uganda for the abolition of the practice where a man pays his futurewifes family for her hand in marriage.Should the marriage end, the wife is expected to refund the bride price -often paid in livestock. But as women tend to have less wealth than theirhusbands, many are trapped, advocates say."Because women are paid for with the bride price, it is like they arebought," Dr Dan Kaye, a gynaecologist and student of womens studies atMakerere University, told BBC World Services Outlook programme."So depending on where they go, they dont have much power."Dr Kaye explained that this meant they had no decision-making ability, andno option to do anything to which their partner did not consent."For contraception, for immunisation, even going out of the home to seekaid if they have a medical problem, they need permission," he said."This permission they dont have, because they were bought."BondedMifumi director Atuki Turner said the groom was able to "treat or mistreat"his wife as he wanted because the bride price was a contract between himand his wifes father.
"If the woman is in an abusive relationship, she cannot leave because she isbonded to that marriage," she said."If she want to leave, she must return the cows."You need to live in a rural area with women to see them beaten, hurt,humiliated, burnt - and all in the name of the cow. Because when men fightand beat women in our villages, they say I am beating my cow. That is whatwe are fighting against."Bride price is defended as a traditional practice in Uganda. Dr SylviaTamale, of Makerere Universitys womens studies department, said it wasimportant to look at its "historical context"."We should realise that it wasnt always a commercial issue, as it is today,"she stressed."It used to have values attached to it, traditionally."But she acknowledged there was now a strong link between bride price anddomestic violence."What you have is something completely different - and yes, I believe itcontributes to womens violence, it contributes to the bondage of women invery abusive relationships," she said."Therefore I think it should go."Violent mentalityBeatrice Appolot, a regional councillor, described her experience ofsurviving a horrific attack by her husband."On that night, my husband beat me badly, stabbed my body all over,including my private parts," she said."I became unconscious. I was taken to hospital and stayed for four months."However, she added that getting rid of bride price would not in itself enddomestic violence in Uganda.
"African men - especially Ugandan men - have the mentality of being violentto their spouses," she said."Bride price alone may not solve the problem."Meanwhile, on the streets of Kampala, not all are keen to see the end ofbride price."Bride price is gesture of appreciation that I have taken your daughter," saidone man, Paul Kabile."If Im a parent and my daughter has been taken, I would want something."Therefore if you bring me a car, I will always look at that car and think thisis my daughter, she is doing well elsewhere."Background ResearchIRB, Human Rights Briefs: Women in India. Ottawa: DIRB, October 1995.The government officially banned dowry in 1961 with the Dowry ProhibitionAct, but this law proved ineffective (The New York Times 30 Dec. 1993; ILSAJournal of International Law 1992, 115-116; Calman 1992, 132). In fact, thepractice is reported to be on the increase (San Francisco Chronicle 7 Mar.1995; Dallas Morning News 7 Mar. 1993, 3; The New York Times 30 Dec.1993). The director general of the Anthropological Survey of India, K.S.Singh, in his report on an eight-year study of Indian habits and customs,indicates that 40 per cent of the 4,635 communities in the study believed indowry giving (India Today 15 Apr. 1993, 50-52). While it was formerly thepractice only among Brahmins, dowry giving has spread to all castes as wellas other religions (FEER 28 Oct. 1993, 41; India Today 15 Apr. 1993, 52;Calman 1992, 56; Kumari 1989, 7-8).The pressure to provide a dowry is keenly felt by families. Female foeticideand infanticide are said to occur in part because families consider girlchildren to be poor investments (WIN News Autumn 1990a, 22; Calman 1992,126). Whereas a boy is viewed as an asset, a girl can have a devastatingeconomic impact on a family since dowries can cost up to five years salary(ibid.; ILSA Journal of International Law 1992, 112). The pressure to providea dowry is also felt by female children themselves. In Kanpur three sisterswere reported to have committed suicide in order to spare their parents thehumiliation of not being able to provide a dowry, without which they could
not get married (IHDSF 15-18 Feb. 1988, 9). One study indicates thatincreasing development and education do not seem to be eradicating thepractice of dowry (Kumari 1989, 23).The Dowry Prohibition Act was amended in 1984 [ The Dowry Prohibition(Amendment) Act of 1984 was strongly criticized by womens groups and inthe media. See Calman (pp. 134-137) for a critique.] and 1986. The 1986amendments reverse the burden of proving that there was no demand fordowry to the person accused of taking or abetting the taking of dowry (ILSAJournal of International Law 1992, 115-116; Calman 1992, 132, 134-137).They also increase the minimum penalty for acceptance of a dowry or forassisting in the negotiations for a dowry from a 6-month to a 5-year jailterm and a fine of around $US 1000.00 (San Francisco Chronicle 7 Mar.1995). The law, however, is "rarely enforced" (ibid.).While illegal, it is customary in India for a brides family to provide a dowry:the practice is viewed variously as a way for the bride to make an economiccontribution to the marriage, as a means of paying for her maintenance oras a form of inheritance which ostensibly tries to redress the fact thatwomen have fewer property rights than men (Calman 1992, 125; ILSAJournal of International Law 1992, 110; Kumari 1989, 2, 8). Despite two1985 supreme court judgements which declared the property given as adowry to belong to the bride, in practice, the dowry goes to the husbandand his family (Kumari 1989, 21 n.12; Calman 1992, 126) and their desire forwealth and status frequently overrides the merits of and putative concernsfor the bride (Kumari 1989, 1; ILSA Journal of International Law 1992, 110).Through their daughter-in-laws dowry, families can acquire material goodsthat may otherwise have been outside their means, and they commonlydemand more dowry after the wedding (The New York Times 27 Aug. 1994).Brides often become victims of mental and physical abuse when they fail tomeet these demands. In a large number of cases the abuse culminates insuicide or murder (ibid.; FEER 28 Oct. 1993, 40; The Irish Times 30 May1994; Kumari 1989, 1; ILSA Journal of International Law 1992, 110). Awidower can remarry and collect a second dowry (Dallas Morning News 7Mar. 1993, 3; Calman 1992, 127).The 1993 census indicates that approximately 5,000 dowry-related deaths,including suicides, were reported in eight states and the capital. The highestnumber were recorded in Uttar Pradesh (1952), followed by Maharashtra(746), Andhra Pradesh (575), Madhya Pradesh (370), Bihar (336), Rajasthan
(271), Karnataka (266) and Punjab (147). New Delhi reported 107 dowry-related deaths for that year (The Irish Times 30 May 1994; Press Association5 May 1994). Official estimates are believed to under-report the actualnumber of cases, and numerous cases are dismissed as attempted suicides oraccidental deaths (ILHR Mar. 1991, 5; Calman 1992, 127; ILSA Journal ofInternational Law 1992, 113). Many of the deaths are attributed toaccidental burns caused by kerosene stove explosions or "mysterious kitchenfires" (ibid.; The New York Times 27 Aug. 1994; Kumari 1989, 2; Calman1992, 127). Reportedly, some 40 to 80 per cent of all burn cases in India areyoung, newly-married women (ILSA 1992, 113; ILHR Mar. 1991, 6). Althoughmost of this type of violence occurs in urban areas, dowry deaths arereported to be increasing in rural areas as well (ibid., 114).The 1986 amendments to the Dowry Prohibition Act also address dowryviolence, making dowry-related murder a crime under the Indian penal code(ibid., 137; ILSA Journal of International Law 1992, 117) and creating apresumption of guilt against a husband or his relatives in cases where awoman has died under questionable circumstances and where it is proventhat she was subjected to harassment or cruelty in relation to demands fordowry (ibid.; Country Reports 1993 1994, 1350). The 1983 Criminal Law(Second Amendment) Act, which defines "cruelty" and makes it an offenceunder the Indian penal code, requires authorities to conduct a post-mortemin the death or suicide of any woman married less than seven years (Calman1992, 137; ILSA Journal of International Law 1992, 117). The 1983 legislationattempts to strengthen the prosecution of dowry deaths further by makingthe "abetment of suicide" an offence; it also introduces an amendment tothe Indian Evidence Act which raises a presumption of abetment against ahusband (or his relatives) whose wife has committed suicide in cases wherethey were married less than seven years and where there is proof that he (orhis relatives) subjected her to cruelty (ibid.; Calman 1992, 137).A number of sources consider these laws a serious effort on the part of thegovernment to bring an end to dowry deaths, but all point to the lack ofadequate enforcement as a major problem (Kumari 1989, 81; ILHR Mar.1991, 6; BCTWLJ 1993, 71; ILSA Journal of International Law 1992, 118). Thenumber of reported cases has increased significantly since 1986 when,according to government statistics, 1319 dowry deaths were registered(ibid.; ILHR Mar. 1991, 6; Country Reports 1993 1994, 1350). CountryReports 1992 points out that approximately 95 per cent of reported dowrydeaths do not result in convictions (Country Reports 1992 1993, 1144; seealso ILSA Journal of International Law 1992, 118). There have been a few
exceptions. For example, in March 1993, three family members weresentenced to death in a dowry case (Country Reports 1993 1994, 1350).According to the South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre (SAHRDC),a documentation network which investigates, documents and disseminatesinformation on human rights in the region, and Country Reports 1993, of the329 arrests for dowry deaths between 1989 and 1991, only 45 cases went totrial and only 3 persons were convicted (SAHRDC Feb. 1992, 33; CountryReports 1993 1994, 1144). At the same time, government reports indicatedthat the total number of dowry deaths in 1991 alone was estimated at5,157, "up about 7 percent from 1990" (ibid.). In most cases it is difficult forthe plaintiff to meet the burden of proof (ILSA Journal of International Law1992, 118). Acquittals have reportedly been obtained due to corrupt policeand physicians who tamper with evidence (Human Rights in DevelopingCountries Yearbook 1991 1991, 184; Country Reports 1992 1993, 1144).Critics suggest that there is tacit acceptance of the dowry system by thelargely male-dominated establishment and accuse the police of deliberateinaction in dowry cases (ILHR Mar. 1991, 7; see also ILSA Journal ofInternational Law 1992, 139-140; Rhoodie 1989, 399). Country Reports 1993states that "... lawyers handling dowry cases complain that judges andprosecutors (usually men) are uninterested in cases of domestic violenceand are susceptible to bribes" (Country Reports 1993 1994, 1350; see alsoILSA Journal of International Law 1992, 140).The 1986 amendments to the Dowry Prohibition Act call for the appointmentof regional dowry prohibition officers to investigate claims of dowry abuse(Calman 1992, 137). Another attempt to address the issue has been made bythe Delhi Administration Directorate of Social Welfare, which set up areconciliation-cum-guidance bureau and Anti-Dowry Cell to educate thepublic and to provide counselling and mediation services or legal assistance.The Anti-Dowry Cells are intended to provide a place for women who arevictims of dowry violence to discuss their situation in private (Kapur 8 Aug.1994). The organization has, however, been described as "ineffective";complaints reportedly remain unattended for too long and counselling lacksprivacy and professional continuity (Kumari 1989, 85-86). According to NainaKapur, some people have criticized the Anti-Dowry Cells for merelyespousing "traditional family values" and counselling women to return totheir husbands. She states that there are often complaints that the officersinvolved do not believe the women who approach them and will not file thecase in the appropriate police records (Kapur 8 Aug. 1994).
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