Heeralal Yadav, 46, a farmer of Maita village — a tribal-dominated area in south Rajasthan — talks about his daughter, Nitesh, who was burnt to death by her husband and in-laws for dowry.
When on the morning of May 7, 2014, my daughter Nitesh called me, audibly distraught and frantically begging me to rescue her from her in-laws, little did I suspect the gory end she would meet in the coming hours.
She was crying and saying that they (her in-laws and husband) would kill her. She asked me to come as soon as possible and save her from their clutches. My wife and I, along with some relatives, immediately left for her village, Bagdar which is about two hours away from our house.
On the way, I received a call from a relative that my daughter was in hospital with 95% burns on her body. We reached the government hospital in Jhalawar around 11 am and saw the burnt body of our daughter. My wife fainted at the sight.
Nitesh was just 22 years when she was married at a mass marriage ceremony of our Ahir community in May 2010. I gave dowry according to my ability, household items, furniture and Rs. 51,000 in cash.
Nitesh had studied till Class 9 while her husband Om Prakash Yadav, 23, was a class 10 passout. His family runs a provision store in Bagdar village in Jhalrapatan, the constituency of chief minister Vasundhara Raje.
Soon after the marriage, the boy’s family started troubling Nitesh for dowry. They demanded Rs. 3 lakh cash. They taunted her, threatened her, beat her and would even throw her out of the house. She kept shuttling between my home and her in-laws. They would leave her at my house for months and take her only at time of harvest or occasions when they required her to work.
I tried to speak to the in-laws to work things out but they would always go back to their old ways. We even got out community panchayat to talk to them but it had little effect.
On April 2011, Nitesh gave birth to a girl. I took care of her through her pregnancy and even after the baby was born, her in-laws and her husband did not take her back for 8-9 months.
However, things did not change for the better after this and the beatings and insults continued for another two years. She would confide in us that her in-laws, husband and her two brothers-in-law used to harass her. I felt helpless but could only tell her to be patient and hoped that things would turn better.
On April 18, 2014, I left my daughter at her in-laws’ place, gave them Rs. 50,000 and promised a payment of Rs. 2.5 lakh in a few months.
We had no contact with her for a month. On the morning of May 7, they burnt her.
We registered an FIR on May 9 and Nitesh gave her statement to the magistrate on May 10. In her statement, Nitesh said her two brothers-in-law Mahendra and Sonu held her hands while her mother-in-law Jagmati Bai poured kerosene on her and her father-in-law and husband lit a match and set her on fire.
But the police did not arrest anyone. We finally came to the CMO in Jaipur on May 24 and after an official’s call, police arrested the husband and mother-in-law.
Nitesh passed away on June 6 after enduring a month of unbearable pain and discomfort as her burnt flesh rotted away. She was pregnant at the time. She used to dip in and out of consciousness, screaming and crying.
When the matter was highlighted in local media, police arrested the father-in-law and the elder brother–in-law as well. A charge sheet has been filed while the younger brother-in-law, Sonu, has not been arrested.
Nitesh’s three-year-old daughter misses her and cries for her. Nothing is the same anymore.
Nitesh’s case reflects the gender bias and violence against women that continues in Rajasthan’s feudal and patriarchal society. The state’s sex ratio of 928 women per 1,000 males and child sex ratio (0-6 years) of 888 females per 1,000 males is among the worst in the country.
As per the 2012 state crime records bureau data, 478 dowry deaths were reported in the state, there were 13,312 cases of cruelty by husband and relatives while 39 cases were recorded under the Dowry Prohibition Act.
“Despite successive governments reiterating their commitment to women’s security, the situation in Rajasthan will not improve until the people’s mindset changes,” says state women’s commission chief Lad Kumari Jain.
(As told to Urvashi Dev Rawal)