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Indian Dowry Massacre: Mom kills 3 girls then herself

PNS Special Report - An Eye Opener Into Hindu Indian Cultural Traditions

LAHORE, Pakistan (PNS) – September 17, 2002. – In another tragic incident resulting from Hindu dowry traditions in India, a mother of three in Bhopal India committed suicide after killing her three daughters, aged between 1 and 5. According to male-dominated Indian marriage tradition, a girl’s parents have to provide lavish materialistic goods to satisfy the demands of the bridegroom’s family, also referred to as the bride’s ‘dowry.’

Mamta Mali’s in-laws demanded a fan and a television at the time of her wedding six years ago. Mamta, the mother of three little girls, was routinely tortured, mentally tormented and physically abused by her husband and in-laws, who often repeated their dowry demands. Yesterday, she took her three daughters with her and jumped into a well, killing all. The police recovered the bodies of all four victims.

Demanding and receiving a huge dowry is considered a social status symbol in Indian Hindu Culture. Most demands are intended to be ‘shown-off’ relatives and friends. In India, where the largest number of poor live, most parents of young girls are unable to fulfill lavish dowry demands. Young brides consequently are subjected to torture and are killed by their husbands and in-laws in ‘fake accidents.’

Human Rights activists have been demanding an end to this brutal Hindu Indian tradition and a strong action to be taken against perpetrators.

According to the data gathered by social activist Indira Jaisingh, every six hours somewhere in India a young married woman is burnt alive, beaten to death, or driven to commit suicide. Indira Jaisingh, who heads the Women's Legal Aid Center in Indian Capital, New Delhi, has been campaigning for new laws to deal with domestic violence and abuse.

Having daughters is also a considered a stigma in the Hindu Indian culture. Mamta Mali had three daughters.


Pacific News Service, June 16, 2000
Infanticide, Bride Burnings, Suicides: Dowries The Root Cause of Abuse of Women In India

By Sarita Sarvate

EDITOR'S NOTE: The flood of numbers that passes by our eyes every day often seem to blur more than they reveal. But one recently published statistic for one observer provides a window into a very unsettling reality about the treatment of women in India. PNS commentator Sarita Sarvate, born and raised in India, is an award-winning essayist for the San Jose, CA-based monthly India Currents and a regular commentator on National Public Radio.

A recent news report that there are now only 90 women for every 100 men in India is appalling. It should sound an alarm to women everywhere. Over the last century, when healthcare has become widely accessible and women outnumber men in almost every country, the female/male ratio in India actually decreased, from 972 to 1000 in 1901 to 900 to 1000 this year.

The reasons offered are horrifying and stem directly from the Indian dowry system in which the bride's family must pay for marriage. Reports of female infanticide and "dowry burnings" or "bride burnings" in which a woman is actually burned for bringing an inadequate dowry are too common to ignore. Recently, as the country has experienced some prosperity, dowries have skyrocketed. The parents of a newborn a girl know that her wedding some day could ruin them financially.

Affluent folks in the city can use high-tech measures such as the ultrasound to determine the sex of the fetus, and abort it in case it's female. But where this is not possible, the birth of a baby girl could well bring a murderous response.

It is clear that a daughter who survives is likely to be fed less well than her brothers, and unlikely to be taken to the doctor in case of illness according to UNICEF's Study on Domestic Violence.

So accustomed were we Indian women to being dominated by males in our society that we didn't realize we had been discriminated against until some of us came to the West and established our own lives.

At least we have had the chance to lead lives; even though it has come at a hefty price. In my case, it meant a painful divorce from a husband arranged by my father.

Yet, I was fortunate, relative to the sisters I left behind in India, who have neither the education nor the resources to escape death from bride burnings, suicides and infanticides.

But death is not the only pitfall of the dowry system; physical, emotional, and sexual abuse is another, according to the UNICEF report, which paints a picture of arranged marriage as "sanctified rape."

In my case, that was how it was. I was not an illiterate villager but a middle class girl who had been a National Merit Scholar, an Atomic Energy Commission Fellow, and a physics researcher.

But as a young woman in India, I had to submit to an arranged marriage. The alternative -- finding a job, moving out of my parent's home, and living on my own -- would make me a pariah, cut me off from the only world I had ever known.

Not that I was without stigma. I made the mistake of falling in love with a fellow-student -- a man who ditched me for a girl with a big dowry. If the romance were to be discovered, I would be branded a fallen woman, however innocent the liaison.

So my father arranged my match with a man I had seen only once, for five minutes. The bridegroom demanded as a dowry a Vespa scooter and all the wedding expenses. My father was forced to spend all his savings -- to back out of the deal would bring further stigma.

On my wedding night, I would discover that rape is horrible, sanctified or otherwise. I would spend the next seven years trying to escape my torturous marriage, eventually succeeding by coming to the U.S as a graduate student and subsequently divorcing my husband.

As a survivor of the dowry system, I ponder why India, with an enormous intelligentsia in science, literature and the arts, tolerates mistreatment of women?

The answer is that for thousands of years, India has been a hierarchical society, driven by class. Like Indian men, who have had little to gain from conceding any of their advantages to the "weaker" gender, women of the upper classes in India have had little incentive to forsake their status in favor of their downtrodden sisters.

The class system explains how India gave birth to one of the world's first women prime ministers, yet invented "dowry burnings;" a country that trains more women doctors than any other, yet under-nourishes its daughters.

The only solution to the problem is for Indian women, at home and abroad, to speak against the evil practice of dowry. As a group, they must refuse to succumb to the pressure the way I and millions of other women did. Only then will we be able to eliminate such evil practices as female infanticide in India., August 18, 1996 Web posted at: 11:30 a.m. EDT (1530 GMT)

Bride-burning claims hundreds in India

Practice sometimes disguised as suicide or accident

NEW DELHI, India (CNN) -- In parts of India, husbands regard their wives as property that apparently can be disposed of at will. Indian police say that every year they receive more than 2,500 reports of bride-burning -- a form of domestic abuse often disguised as an accident or suicide.

These women are burned to death over wealth -- because their husbands or in-laws are unhappy with the size of the dowry that accompanied them into the marriage.

The number such cases reported to police is rising, due either to an increase in the number of burnings or to more willingness by victims to report them. And should the woman survive, the toll is heavy.

Three years ago, Sunita Bhargava was married with children -- and, she said, emotionally abused by her husband and mother-in-law.

"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.

The emotional abuse eventually turned physical, she said, when her husband and his mother scalded her with boiling water. Desperate and in pain, Bhargava dowsed herself in kerosene and set herself on fire, severely burning 40 percent of her body.

"I miss my daughter and fear the evil that may befall her," she said. "Though I passed these times, somehow, to my children I am dead."

Police have set up special offices where women can report cases of domestic abuse, but Mohini Giri, head of India's National Commission for Women, said she believes the authorities need to do more.

"Fire was used by most people who did this kind of crime ... (because) they thought that they will not leave any evidence behind," she said. "Whereas if you use a knife, there is an evidence that someone else has done it."

The practice is unlikely to end soon, however, as long as current Hindu attitudes about the place of women in a marriage prevail. Those attitudes -- and the practice of bride-burning -- cast an ironic pall over a tradition of the Hindu marriage ceremony in which the bride and groom walk together around a flame.

Brian Yasui contributed to this report.

Indian Women Index