Prakash Ramchandra Gangan, a Mumbai resident, recalls the tragic incident of his sister Sanjana’s death in a Mumbai chawl.
She had set herself on fire after enduring years of harassment at the hands of her in-laws. Her husband saw her set herself on fire but did nothing to stop her and took her to the hospital only on the insistence of neighbours.
Prakash Ramchandra Gangan, Mumbai
It was around 10:15 pm on February 4 this year. I had just returned home from work when a neighbour frantically rang our door bell. When I answered the door, he said that my sister, Sanjana, had set herself on fire.
Sanjana lived with her in-laws only five minutes away from my chawl. I rushed to her house but she wasn’t around. I worriedly started inquiring her neighbours about the incident.
“She was on fire when she came down from her mezzanine floor room to me. Her husband was walking behind her.
I shouted at him and said that he could at least try and douse the flames. He was initially unbothered, but on my constant yelling, he put a piece of cloth on her, bundled her in an auto rickshaw and took her to a hospital,” a neighbour told me.
I informed my elder sisters – Surekha, 50 and Sushma, 46 – who are married and live elsewhere in the city and we all reached Rajawadi hospital.
Sanjana, the youngest of us, had sustained serious burn injuries and doctors told us that she was critical. Her husband still looked unbothered with the happenings around him.
We informed the Kanjurmarg police and they arrived at the hospital, they took Sanjana’s thumb impression on a blank piece of paper, asked her what had happened and told us that they would write the statement on that paper later. When we insisted that they should do so in front of us, they refused.
Upon our insistence of registering a first information report (FIR) against my sister’s in-laws as they had pushed her to a point where she took the extreme step, the police said that they wouldn’t do so unless she died.
Despite constant pleading with the cops, no complaint was registered for four days. On February 8, my sister succumbed to her burns. We performed her last rites and I requested people from my neighbourhood to accompany me to the police station and help register a case.
Police asked us what our complaint was and we alleged mental and physical harassment at the hands of Sanjana’s husband Sanjay Kolwankar, 42, mother-in-law Vanita, 62, sister-in-law Pragati, 44, brother-in-law Raju and his wife. They had made my sister kill herself.
However, we were in for a shock when we checked Sanjana’s statement on the blank paper which had her thumb impression. They had falsely written that Sanjana, in her statement, had stated that she had taken the drastic step as per her own will and that no one was to be held responsible for her act.
I met the senior inspector of the police station, sought help from the local media and it was only after that the police started cooperating with us and arrested the five accused. They were subsequently granted bail.
Sanjana tied the knot with Sanjay on June 23, 2007 in an arranged marriage. About two years later, their son Tatendra was born.
Since Sanjana was constantly mentally and physically harassed, the child spent most of his time at my house where I live with my parents – Ramchandra, 86 and Mangla, 70, and my wife.
Sanjana’s husband and in-laws would make dowry demands indirectly. Her mother-in-law would taunt her saying that she had given so much to her daughters when they got married; however, Sanjana’s parents were unable to do so. The fights would then snowball and they would assault my sister.
On one such occasion, her sister-in-law slapped her in front of all her relatives who had come home for a celebration. Our family met her in-laws and told them that such behaviour could not be tolerated. This was not the first time we had arranged such a meeting.
On the day when my sister set herself on fire, her mother-in-law had been fighting with her — hurling obscenities saying that she should get out of the house and arrange an accommodation for herself.
Sanjana, who had mentally broken down by then, told her husband about it and asked him if he would speak to his mother. He replied that he wouldn’t talk to her mother about the harassment and that she was free to do what she liked. She then poured oil on her and set herself ablaze.
He watched her burn. The five-year-old child, who could not convince his father to help his mother, rushed downstairs to his aunt to seek help.
She was not forthcoming either. Tatendra remembers the incident in parts. He is afraid, misses his mother and has been living with me ever since her death.
I work as a security guard and live by modest means but I am going to give everything to this child. He is all I have left of my sister.
(As told to Puja Changoiwala)