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Dowry burns grip infotech capital

In the last month alone, 81 women, mostly young, were admitted due to burns, reports Sanchita Sharma.

india Updated: Feb 02, 2007 16:27 IST

India’s infotech capital has a grisly underbelly. Two to three burnt and mangled young women are admitted into the overcrowded 45-bed Victoria Hospital at Bangalore Medical College every day. The police list the cause of accident as ‘stove burst’. But social workers call them dowry deaths.

In the last month alone, 81 women were admitted, most of them between the ages of 18 and 40 years. The nature of the burns indicate an intent to kill, say social workers. “Most of the women admitted have second and third degree burns, involving severe damage to all the skin layers and the underlying tissue,” says Dr Shankarappa, head of the hospital’s plastic surgery and the Burns Ward. “Most cases are either attempted suicides because of harassment, or attempted murder. Ninety percent women with 50-60 per cent burns die.”

There are 71 patients in the wards at present: 31 of them are women, all of them with 50-60 per cent burns that make survival difficult. “Infection rates in such severe burns is quite high, and though they insist their clothes accidentally caught fire while cooking, we can tell by the nature of the burns – upper body and torso burns, burnt face and hair, strong smell of kerosene etc—that they either doused themselves or were doused with kerosene before being set on fire,” says Dr Shankarappa.

These are the statistics at just one government hospital. “In 1997, we came across one dowry or harassment-related death each day. In 2007, it has been three, with burning accounting for half. Hanging and poisoning account for the rest,” says Donna Fernandes who heads Vimochana, an NGO that has been tracking the unnatural deaths of women in Bangalore and its outskirts for over a decade.

At times, daughters are killed along with their mothers, as happened in Bangalore suburb, Hoskote last fortnight, when a woman called Gangamma was killed along with her seven-year-old daughter Anusha.  “The two were buried without a police complaint being registered, and it’s only when social workers intervened that the police registered a complaint,” says Fernandes.

Even as the women in the burns ward writhe with pain, they are reluctant to utter the words ‘dowry’ or ‘harassment’. Most blame their injuries on gas and kerosene stoves.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau of India, there were 7,026 dowry deaths in India in 2005. So severe is the problem that an all-women police station has been set up in Basavangudi, Bangalore to make it easier for women to file complaints against harassment. Inspector Shobana Khatavkhar confirms that of the 75 so dowry cases she has investigated, only five have resulted in convictions.

Unlike men who usually report burns caused by electricity shock, women are usually brought in at night with up to 60 per cent of their upper bodies burnt, including the face and torso. “No one accuses their husbands or families, but our records show that most women are burned in the presence of their husbands,” says Satya Devi, a social worker who spends her mornings talking to women here along with two others from Vimochana. “It is no coincidence that girls never get burnt in their own parent’s homes,” she says.

Most of the women have nowhere to go, if they survive. “No one wants to think they will die… they all keep hoping to recover and go back home, often to little children who they are told will become orphans if the husband is jailed,” says Satya.

Email Sanchita Sharma: sanchitasharma@hindustantimes.com

Women admitted with burns at Victoria Hospital

September 2006 to January 2007:
September:  71
Octorber:  90
November: 61
December: 72
January: 81