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Bride burning on the rise

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Every hour a women is killed in India, Pakistan and or Bangladesh in a form of domestic violence known as bride burning, a category of dowry death, which results in one of the most horrific deaths possible, being burnt alive.

Dowry is an ancient tradition among the upper castes, but it has spread among all sections of society probably in the late nineteenth century. With increasing commercialization, this acquired a new meaning — it became an opportunity for men and their families to get their hands on cash, jewellery, durables, and various other commodities.

Dowry death occurs when a husband and his family seek to exploit the bride’s family by asking for more dowries after the marriage has taken place. When the bride’s family refuse or cannot afford to pay more dowry then the bride becomes the victim of domestic violence.

Official records

In 2010, there were 8391 reported cases of dowry death in the country. That works out to a shocking one death every hour approximately. Bride-burning is reportedly on the increase and in 2000, there were 6995 cases.

Shruti Kapoo, founder and CEO of an organisation called SAYFTY deals with cases of dowry death and says that it’s been prevalent in India since 1993. SAYFTY is an organisation based in India that educates, equips and empower vulnerable women so that they can better protect themselves against violence.

“We run online campaigns provide more information to create awareness; we conduct self-defence workshops and provide personal safety products, things like pepper spray and safety alarms all of which play an important role in women’s safety,” says Kapoor about her organisation.

“SAYFTY was founded in 2013 and we have been very active both in the online and offline space of raising awareness.”

Official figures from India’s National Crime Records Bureau revealed that 8233 young women, many of them new brides, were killed in so-called dowry deaths in 2012. National crime records for 2013 indicated that 8083 had died in this way. However, Kapoor mentions that this number could be higher as many crimes against women go unreported or women that do survive the burning fail to prosecute their husbands and his family for fear that they will eventually be killed by their spouse.

Social construction

Kapoor says that there are four main theories as to how this practice was born. India is a very patriarchal society and the role of a woman has already been defined before she was born. Men are viewed as assets and women are viewed as extra mouths to feed.

“So whenever there is a girl child born in India then she is seen as a burden and her status as an economic liability promotes the idea that men are superior compared to women. As a result when a woman is married to a man she is bound to his will and society expects that women should show obedience to her husband,” Kapoor explains.

The second theory relates to consumerism. With more and more access to western societies and ideas, dowry has become a new way of gaining wealth and moving up the social ladder.

“Indian families who are greedy and want to move up to a higher socio- economic status, think that the easiest way to do so is to ask for dowry for their sons at his marriage,” Kapoor went further.

“The third theory is that bride burning and asking for dowry was one way of distinguishing between the Muslim and Hindu cultures and that was the system that created the further divide within the caste so a higher dowry would indicate a higher status and distinction from Islam.”

“The last one is that this practice came out of the same concept that they wanted to differentiate between different forms of marriage between different castes and the dowry system was established within the higher castes,” Kapoor continued.

Legislation

Although the government prohibited dowry through legislation in 1961, it was never implemented properly. Prohibition officers were supposed to have been appointed in each district, taking the battle to the grassroots but nothing happened. And, the tide of greed driven murder of young brides continued unabated.

“You must understand that dowry death is a form of domestic violence so there are many laws prohibiting it. In 1961 the government passed the dowry prohibition act which makes demanding dowry in wedding arrangements illegal,” Kapoor added.

In 1986, the government added dowry debt to the domestic violence crime and an offender to dowry debt can be sentenced from a minimum of seven years in prison to a maximum of life.

“So there are various laws that have been set in place by the government, but that’s not the problem. The problem is the implementation of these laws,” says Kapoor.

There is an added problem in reporting such incidents. While about 30 percent of incidents result in conviction, often women do not have the means and resources to take up any forms of dowry related acts to the courts. Even if they can approach the government or the police with any form of complaints then she is not taken seriously.

Kapoor adds that there are plenty of women’s rights organisations in India that try and support victims of domestic violence and dowry debt and they assist by providing shelters and counselling to victims.

The government has started some grass root organisations wherein they provide family counselling centres. The idea is to strengthen family ties and reduce legal intervention.

Kapoor goes on to say that the problem still exists largely because it’s not just a legal problem but rather due to cultural and social issues.

“Unless people change their mindsets and unless more and more women come forward and complain about their abuse and provide evidence there won’t be so much that they can get.”

“And unless we put an end to the dowry practice and change our mindset on how we perceive women and girls things will still be different even though we have the same rights on paper,” Kapoor concluded.

For more information on SAYFTY you can visit their website at http://sayfty.com/


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