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Love Burns; Bride burning

My mother-in-law used to say that my husband was too educated for me, that he didn’t get a fair dowry, said Bhargava, who now lives alone in a New Delhi slum.

It first started with emotional and verbal abuse that escalated into physical when her husband and mother-in-law scalded her with boiling water. Desperate and with no choice, Bhargava dowsed herself in kerosene and set herself on fire. 40% of her body was burned. “I miss my daughter and fear the evil that may befall her. Though I passed these times, somehow, to my children I am dead,” she said.

These men marry their wife’s “until death do us part”, and they make that happen too. After being condemned and banned, bride burning is still alive and well in India. The practice is used because it’s the most effective way to cover the crime. The family members can basically call it an “accident” or “suicide” since the fire destroys all evidence. Most of the burn victims gets infection and rarely survive so that prosecution is not needed.

One reason is that divorce is equal to shame in many societies and stains the family honour. To become a widow is better than having a divorce.

Pay up or else…

Dowry murder has become a lucrative business for greedy in-laws and husbands. The dowry may be paid and the family receiving it may be happy at the time, but they usually change their mind afterwards. If the bride’s parents won’t or can’t pay more, the bride is victimized. After abusing her, the in-laws usually end the problem by deciding to kill her in cold blood so that the son can remarry and get more dowry from another family. Legal attempts have been made to eradicate the dowry system from 1939 but the practice is still continuing. In 1989 an amendment of criminal law was passed stating;

One man’s death is another man’s bread

Dowry first originated in the upper class families as a wedding gift to the bride from the family. Then the dowry was meant as a help with marriage expenses and became insurance in case if the in-laws terrorized her. The groom often demands a dowry consisting of a large sum of money, farm animals, land, furniture or electronics.

In the Indian subcontinent, including Bangladesh and Pakistan it is reported that “dowry death”, often called “bride burning”, happens once every 100 minutes and there are between 4,000 and 25,000 victims. As bizarre as it may seem, yes, married women are murdered by their husband or their in-laws for the financial opportunities available once the bride is dead.

The theory behind the dowry is that the putative husband is taking over the responsibility of the bride’s family and as she has little value on her own, a dowry must accompany her to make the marriage worthwhile for the groom.

The Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961 makes it a criminal offence to both give and receive a dowry but the custom and traditions are so deeply rooted that it is still ongoing. After the wedding, demands will be made during the marriage that the original dowry was insufficient and additional dowry is required. The wife’s demise means the husband can keep his wife’s dowry and marry a second time with dowry if not get rid of her and then remarry.

While this horrific domestic abuse is against the law, India’s patriarchal society, including its police and Courts of Law, have not taken this inhumane violence as seriously as they need to. An amendment to India’s criminal law was finally enacted in 1986 which reads:

“where the death of a woman is caused by any burns or bodily injury or occurs otherwise than under normal circumstances within seven years of marriage and it is shown that immediately before her death she was harassed and put to cruelty by her husband or any relative of her husband in connection with demand for dowry, such death shall be called as “dowry death”.

It is estimated that at least one woman dies in related act of violence every hour in India. Some are set on fire, some are hanged, and some are fed poison or sleeping tablets. Most of these cases are not investigated as homicide by the police but are written off as accidents or suicides.

However, Indias National Crime Records showed that there were 8,172 dowry deaths’s including suicides in 2008 and less than 10% had been investigated. In India having a female is such a burden now because of dowry that many people are aborting female fetus’s because of the risk and toile it takes on one’s family safety and financial situation. Link

A 85 year old woman and her elder son were sentenced to life imprisonment including a fine on Rs 12,000 each for burning alive her younger son’s wife for failing to fulfill her dowry demands in India.  Their conviction came on the basis of the bride’s dying declaration where she told that her mother and brother-in-law used to harass and beat her for not fulfilling their demand of bringing a motorcycle and a television dowry.

22 October 2008, one day before the murder, the mother-in-law Husan and her elder son Nasim had beaten Gulnaz for failing to bring dowry. The next day when Gulnaz woke up, Husan picked a fight with her while Nasim doused her with kerosene oil and set her ablaze.  Her husband Nasuriddun and their nephew ran in hearing her cries trying to extinguish the fire. They took her to a nearby hospital where she died 2 months later.  The duo defended them by saying that they were not home and that the victim had caught fire accidently while she was igniting the stove to warm food for her husband.

While in Pakistan, divorce is possible but some families prefer murder rather than to divorce them. It is difficult to imagine how someone can kill their wife, the mother of their child over money or simply because they are no longer wanted. In many of these cases, the police are told that the victim was killed by an exploding stove and there will usually not be any persecution. Doctors however have reported that the injuries of many of the victims are not consistent with stove burns.

 

Saira Liaqat, 26 holds a portrait of herself before being burnt in Lahore, Pakistan. July 9th, 2998 at the age of 15, Saira was married off to a relative who later attacked her insisting her to live with him although the agreement was that she would move to his house after finishing school. After the attack, Saira have undergone 9 plastic surgery to recover from her scars with the help of Depilex Smile again Foundation in Lahore, an organization that helps burn victims to reintegrate into society through medical and psychological support.

The main problem in Pakistan first of all is the lack of investigation, arrest and prosecution of the perpetrators. Women are seen as property and not given any respect or value what so ever. This is a great shame, because these women are mothers, sisters, daughters and wives. These men’s mother was once a bride, and would they want the same for them? It’s a selfish act from people that has no respect for human life when they not only destroy a innocent person’s life but take the mother away from their children.

More specialized burn units are needed in hospitals and not least a new law that bans this custom and that does not collide with another law so that the perpetrators go free.

Roopa, a tragic story in India

Roopa was 14 when she fell in love with a boy 3-4 years older than her. Her family did not approve of him and wanted her to finish school, however Roopa decided to run away with him. Her family managed to bring her back home twice, the second time with the help of the police but Roopa wanted to marry the boy. Finally her parents relented but wanted nothing to do with the marriage.

Roopa then married the boy with his family’s consent. They also had a registration, where they showed her age as 18, the legal age of marriage without the parent’s consent. However a year later, when her parents visited her to see how she was doing, the in laws made a dowry demand. Her parents refused saying the marriage did not have their consent. More so, Roopa’s father in law is wealthy — and they saw no reason for them to give him more money. After the parents left, the abuse began. Roopa’s mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and husband took turns beating her. She was made to work like a slave for the whole family — cooking, cleaning, etc. Then they started starving her and forcing her to eat their left over’s. By the time she was 15 Roopa was pregnant and after her son was born, the abuse intensified.

Then the family separated the child from her and made plans to get rid of her. She tried to run away on two occasions but was brought back (by other villagers) and severely beaten. The second time they locked her in a room without food for 7 days. When they found out that the neighbors had been sneaking food to her, the mother-in-law, the sister in law and the husband, all together, held her down and forced acid down her throat. They then left the house assuming that she’d be dead by the time they got back.

Miraculously Roopa managed to get out of the house and the neighbors took her to the hospital where she told the doctors what had happened to her. Unbelievable 2 hospitals didn’t want to report this to the police and turned her down while the third was forced to take her in because she had passed out from pain. The in laws in the meantime found out that she had been taken to a hospital and as they were worried about an investigation they actually came to the hospital and paid her expenses for a month, after which the doctors said they could do nothing more and she was taken back to the village where they live.

The suffering continued but her parents had heard about the news. When they came to see her, the in-laws said that she had tried to commit suicide. The next day, her father came back to the village, this time with some male relatives. He knew they would kill his daughter if he didn’t take her out by force. First he tried to file an official complaint (FIR) with the local police but Roopa’s father-in-law was not only wealthy, he was on the village judiciary so the police refused to take the complaint. Roopa’s father then begged the police to help him get his daughter out, he said all he wanted to do was save her. Finally an armed police van was sent to escort him to the village.
Roopa is back with her parents and is now hospitalized and undergoing treatment. The acid had caused a lot of damage to her internal organs and for 3 months she has not been able to consume any food orally. She has to be ‘fed’ through a tube inserted into her stomach and lost a tremendous amount of weight. Her recovery will be a very slow and painful process with continued tests and surgery.

 

A woman is burned to death almost every 12 hours and the dowry murders are increasing. 90% of cases of women burnt were recorded as accidents, five percent as suicide and only the remaining five percent were shown as murder. Despite of bans and laws against it, convictions are rare and judges who usually are men is easily bought off with a nice sum of money.

What should be done?

  • Women and girls must be educated so that they know about their rights and can become economically independent. Then there must be opened more shelters that can provide help and protection for this women. Something that also would be useful is if the shelters would be given authorization to claim on behalf of the victim even if the family refuses to go to court.
  • Children must be educated in morals and ethics so that the younger generations will learn to respect each other and solve conflicts without the act of violence.
  • The media must increase awareness and publicize tragedies to help change the public perception on dowry violence, and for this, the censorship must be free.

Organizations like Amnesty must publicize this so citizens from around the world can be made aware of the situation’s gravity and help support the ban.

Harmful Practices to the female body; Part 4 Female Infanticide

“I lay on my bed weak after childbirth. My mother-in-law picked up the baby and started feeding her milk. I knew what she was doing. I cried and tried to stop her. But she had already given her milk laced with yerakkam paal [the poisonous juice of the oleander plant]. Within minutes, the baby turned blue and died.”

This is just one of thousands of stories told by women giving birth to newborn girls. In the west were the mothers first reaction is to get the baby lied down n her chest so that mother and child bond together, women in India has to witness their baby taking their last breath. One of the popular methods of killing newborn girls is to use the oleander plant looking like a pleasant flower but a milky sap that if ingested, can be a deadly poison.

Female infanticide is the intentional killing of baby girls due to the preference for male babies at or soon after birth. This twisted custom was common in China during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) due to the overpopulation and the second half of the twentieth century due to the one child policy. The practice was so common in Greece of 200 BC that among the 6,000 families living in Delphi, only 1% had two daughters. Arabs before Islam used to kill their newborn daughters but was prohibited when Islam came (“And when the female (infant) buried alive (as the pagan Arabs used to do) shall be questioned; for what sin she was killed?”

Today, this practice is most common in China, Taiwan, South Korea, India, Pakistan, Caucasus (Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia), Artic (Inuit tribes especially) and some sub-Saharan African countries, among the Yanomani in Brazil, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, China, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan. Some methods used globally vary between starving her to death, suffocating her by wrapping her tightly in a quilt, poisoning her, strangling, drowning, or breaking her spinal cord by snapping it.

In India it made awareness to the international world when in the 19th century, when it was found out that in some villages in India, no girl babies were found at all and in other cities, there were 343 boys to 54 girls.

The reasons behind it are almost always cultural rather than directly religious. It remains as a head ache in the third world countries but two of the most populous countries are notoriously famous for the high number of killing newborn girls, China and India. In India, family and social pressures to produce a son are immense. In most regions, sons are desired for reasons related to kinship, inheritance, marriage, identity, status, economic

  • Earning power: Men are usually the main income-earners, either because they are more employable or earn higher wages for the same work, or because they are able to do more agricultural work in subsistence economies. Since male babies have a greater income potential, they are less likely to be killed.
  • Potential pensions: In many societies, parents depend on their children to look after them in old age. But in many of these cultures a girl leaves her parental family and joins her husband’s family when she marries. The result is that parents with sons gain extra resources for their old age, when their sons marry, while parents with daughters lose their ‘potential pensions’ when they marry and move away.
  • Dowry: Some girl babies are killed so that the family doesn’t have to pay a dowry when they get married. In Indian society it is tradition for the parents of the bride to give a dowry to the groom and his family. The dowry consists of large amounts of money and valuable goods. For families with several daughters this can be a serious financial burden.

Mothers are often helpless to do anything, having no rights over their children while the women on the husband’s side commit the killing. The methods used have been handed down from generation to generation and there is a variety of them. Babies are fed milk laced with the sap from poisonous plants or pesticides, given paddy (rice with its husk) to swallow, which will slit their throats, fed salt to increase their blood pressure, stuffed in clay pots, swallow poisonous powdered fertilizer while others were smothered with a wet towel, strangled or allowed to starve and dehydrate to death.

INDIA

According to census statistics, “From 972 females for every 1,000 males in 1901. The gender imbalance has tilted to 929 females per 1,000 males. These numbers shows a serious imbalance that over time will have serious consequences.

A study of Tamil Nadu by the Community Service Guild of Madras similarly found that “female infanticide was common” in the state, though only among Hindu (rather than Moslem or Christian) families. “Of the 1,250 families covered by the study, 740 had only one girl child and 249 agreed directly that they had done away with the unwanted girl child. More than 213 of the families had more than one male child whereas half the respondents had only one daughter.” (Malavika Karlekar, “The girl child in India: does she have any rights?,” Canadian Woman Studies, March 1995.)

Fetal Murder

The number of female babies killed by feticide is greater than the number killed by infanticide. Abortion is legal in India under certain conditions, but sex-selective abortions or female feticide is a crime.The missing status of innumerable women (more than 100 million women are reported to be missing worldwide) points toward female feticide, infanticide, and other forms of gender discrimination as resulting in the high mortality of females at most stages of life. Abortions are most common among rich couples who can afford ultrasound scans to illegally check their unborn baby’s sex according to a research done by the UNPF. At one point, several clinics have been closed as hundreds of foetuses were found outside.

All medical tests that can be used to determine the sex of the child have been banned in India, due to incidents of these tests being used to get rid of unwanted female children before birth. The selective abortion of female feotuses is most common in areas where cultural norms value male children over female children, especially in parts of People’s Republic of China, Korea, Taiwan, and India. A 2005 study estimated that over 90 million females were “missing” from the expected population in Bangladesh, China, India, Pakistan, South Korea and Taiwan alone, and suggested that sex-selective abortion plays a role in this deficit.

In order to cope with the problem, the Indian state has taken some measures in Tamil Nadu for families with one or two daughters and no sons; if one of the parents undergoes sterilization, the government will grant the family $160 in aid per child as instalments as the girl goes through school. She will get a small golden ring and on her 20th birthday, $650 will be paid to serve as dowry or to pay the expenses of higher education. Another campaign driven by the Delhi government deposits 5,000 rupees ($202) in the name of a girl at the time of her birth and 25,000 more through her childhood as long as she stays in school.

Indian Girls Bear Dowry Burden

After birth, it is also usual for girls to eat less than boys and to eat when the male has finished his meal. In cases of illness, it is usual for boys to get more healthcare than girls and more money is spent on clothing for them rather than the girls.

2001 census reports show that Punjab and Haryana reported fewer than 900 girls per 1,000 boys. Like China, there is a strong son preference for various socio-economic reasons, such as the son being responsible for carrying on the family name and support in old age.

Families pay large sums in order to marry off their daughters. Although dowry was prohibited in 1961, newspaper reports illustrates that the phenomenon is continuing. There has also been escalation in dowry demands and related offenses such as harassment of the bride’s family, the acid burning of a bride, and even her murder. The advertisements for sex determination in the 1980s bore slogans like, “Pay five hundred now to save fifty thousand later.” The gender-based oppression of women in India starts at birth in the form of infanticide and feticide.

Going by a rough calculation, nearly 6,000 female babies must have been poisoned to death in Usilampatti taluk in the last decade and births are registered only if the deliveries take place in the hospitals. “There is also this widespread belief among the Kallars that if you kill a daughter, your next child will be a son.”

Many Kallar families realise that they are committing a crime, but they are convinced that, given their difficult circumstances, they are taking the only course open to them. A villager woman once said; “How can we poor people rear so many daughters in this painful dowry situation? The village panchayat and the village administrative officer have no right to investigate or interfere in our personal affairs. If I and my husband have the right to have a child, we also have the right to kill it if it happens to be a daughter, and we decide we cannot afford it. Outsiders and the Government have no right to poke their noses into this.” Her husband, Andi, concurred: “we have no money to keep our daughters alive.”

China

A missionary (and naturalist) observer in China the late 19th century interviewed 40 women over age 50 who reported having borne 183 sons and 175 daughters, of whom 126 sons but only 53 daughters survived to age 10; by their account, the women had destroyed 78 of their daughters.” (Coale and Banister, “Five Decades of Missing Females in China,” Demography, 31: 3 [August 1994], p. 472.)

According to Zeng et al., “The practice was largely forsaken in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s but the number of “missing” women showed a sharp upward trend in the 1980s, linked by almost all scholars to the “one-child policy” introduced by the Chinese government in 1979 to control spiralling population growth.

Jonathan Manthorpe reported a study by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, claiming that “the imbalance between the sexes is now so distorted that there are 111 million men in China — more than three times the population of Canada — who will not be able to find a wife.” As a result, the kidnapping and slave-trading of women has increased: “Since 1990, say official Chinese figures, 64,000 women — 8,000 a year on average — have been rescued by authorities from forced ‘marriages’. The number who have not been saved can only be guessed at. The thirst for women is so acute that the slave trader gangs are even reaching outside China to find merchandise. There are regular reports of women being abducted in such places as northern Vietnam to feed the demand in China.” (Jonathan Manthorpe, “China battles slave trading in women: Female infanticide fuels a brisk trade in wives,” The Vancouver Sun, January 11, 1999.)

Although the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) created laws to provide equal rights for women and men, female infanticide has increased dramatically since 1989 and the one child policy. This policy was created to prevent the increasing population and children born outside the plan would not be issued residence cards which would deny them education and other benefits. The parents would risk fines, salary cuts and even imprisonment.

The preference for male babies coupled with the “one child per couple” policy has led to an increase in female infanticide, the concealment of female births, sex-selective abortion, and the abandonment of infant girls. If parents choose to hide the birth of a daughter, she will have no legal existence. She will face difficulties receiving healthcare, education, and other state services.

Girls are less likely to be given adequate healthcare and nutrition than their the males. If abandoned or given up for adoption, Chinese infant girls risk horrible neglect and mistreatment in state orphanages. The infant girls spend their days tied to wicker “potty” chairs. They are provided with no toys, physical attention, or mental stimulation. Disease runs rampant in the orphanages, and an estimated one in five children die (Woods, Brian “The Dying Rooms Trust”).

The Chinese government has taken a number of steps to combat the practice of female infanticide, as well as promote and protect women’s rights. The Marriage Law and Women’s Protection Law prohibit female infanticide, and the latter prohibits discrimination against women who give birth to daughters.The Sex Selective Abortion Law and Maternal Health Care Law of 1994 were created to put an end to sex selective abortions, and the latter prohibits the use of medical technology to determine the gender of a fetus but unfortunately, the practice continues in China despite these efforts.

A crime against humanity

  • According to a recent report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
    up to 50 million girls and women are missing from India’ s population as a result of systematic gender discrimination in India.
  • In most countries in the world, there are approximately 105 female births for every 100 males.
  • In India, there are less than 93 women for every 100 men in the population.
  • The United Nations says an estimated 2,000 unborn girls are illegally aborted every day in India.
  • Upon marriage, a son makes a daughter-in-law an addition and asset to the family providing additional assistance in household work and brings an economic reward through dowry payments, while daughters get married off and merit an economic penalty through dowry charges.

The lack of education, low financial productivity and old customs and traditions have played a high role in this crime. Although many young people try to defy this act, you can still find female infanticide in every part of the country. Not only in the villages and poor areas but among rich families who desire a son.

This human rights violation of denying birth to a female child or not allowing her to live because she is a female is a crime. It not only affects the communities it also impacts in many ways on the national and international communities where female infanticide and feticide may not occur. Social unrest as a result of the disproportionate female and male gender ratio may manifest itself as crime in these societies, such as, the kidnapping of young women, forced marriages, sex crimes, wife purchasing, frustration-related psychological problems, and an increase in prostitution. Sadly some of these effects have already been reported in China.

Alarming Facts:

  • In 1992 Amartya Sen calculated that 37 million women were ‘missing’ in India . The UN in 2001 estimated that there were 44 million missing women in India.
  • A report by Palash Kumar published on Dec. 15, 2006 says India Has Killed 10 Million Girls in 20 Years. The report says “Ten million girls have been killed by their parents in India in the past 20 years, either before they were born or immediately after, a government minister said, describing it as a “national crisis”.
  • Punjab loses every fourth girl. “By the 2011 census, we would be killing off 10 lakh (1,000,000) girls a year.” (Stop Murdering The Girl Child, Tribune, Correspondent or Reporter, Sep 26, 2007)
  • Every year in India, an estimated 500,000 female foetuses are aborted because they are female.
  • In Tamil Nadu recent analysis of statistics indicates a shortfall of about 13,000 daughters per year, 67% due to pre-birth deficit which suggests a high rate of female foeticide and 33% due to infanticide, and neglect.
  • Data compiled for 2008 by the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) showed that there were 8,172 dowry deaths in the country, and for the same year, there were 81,344 cases of cruelty towards women by husbands and relatives. The actual numbers are probably much higher since many cases go unreported, or are reported as suicide.

What can be done?

Eliminating the practice requires changes in the way girls and women are valued by society. In India, UNFPA supports the Government in a comprehensive approach that includes building media interest, creating community-based networks to advocate against the practice, sensitizing health providers and involving youth and other key stakeholders. In Haryana State, where the sex ratio imbalance is one of the highest, function as women’s social action groups that promote the rights of daughters. These groups have convinced families and doctors not to practice sex selection.

Following a campaign by health and human rights activists, legal measures to ban the use of prenatal diagnostic techniques for sex selection were first passed in the Indian state of Maharashtra in 1986. Among the advocates against female infanticide were United Nations organizations, including UNFPA, UNICEF and WHO, who were working alongside international NGOs and India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

1. Support legislation and organizations that will increase access to education for girls. When more girls become educated there will be more opportunity for them to achieve success and for there to be more value placed on women and girls in society.
2. Outreach to health professionals, young women and men about stopping this practice In rural areas, poverty, lack of education, economic resources and inadequate healthcare facilities lead to the killing of infant girls whereas in urban areas selective abortion is commonly employed by individuals with access to modern technology that allows for early sex detection.

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