India - New Delhi


India: State of Dowry Deaths

By Shuriah Niazi

Bhopal (Women's Feature Service) - Kanta Chauhan
killed herself in July 2006. She was 26, and pregnant.
She had been harassed for dowry by her husband,
Hemant, and in-laws for the two years that she had
been married. Arguments over dowry were a common
occurrence in this household in Ujjain, Madhya
Pradesh. Unable to endure the trauma any longer, the
young woman hanged herself in her bedroom while her
husband was at work. He was arrested promptly.

Beena Saktawat, a young woman, died of burns under
suspicious circumstances in Bhopal, the capital of
Madhya Pradesh, in December 2006. The police
registered a case against her husband for allegedly
instigating his wife to commit suicide as a result of
his incessant demands for dowry. Investigations by the
police, the medico-legal reports as well as statements
made by Beena's relatives established that her death
was not accidental.

According to recently-released data of the National
Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), a total of 2,276 female

suicides as a consequence of dowry disputes were reported in

2006. The numbers can be translated as around six dowry
deaths a day over one year. The figures were 2,305 and
2,585 in 2005 and 2004, respectively.

Ironically, India has a number of laws intended to
protect women from marital violence, abuse and
extortionist dowry demands. The Dowry Prohibition Act,
1961, prohibits the request, payment or acceptance of
dowry, "as consideration for the marriage". Dowry is
defined as a gift demanded or given as a precondition
for a marriage. According to the Act, the giving or
taking or abetting the giving or taking of dowry is a
punishable offence. However, gifts given without a
precondition are not considered dowry, and are legal.

Then, there is also the Protection of Women from
Domestic Violence Act, 2005, whose Section 5 defines
domestic violence as those acts that harass, harm,
injure or endanger the aggrieved person with a view to
coerce her or any other person related to her to meet
any unlawful demand for any dowry or other property or
valuable security.

While there does seem to be a marginal decline in
dowry deaths across the country, Madhya Pradesh
continued to top the national list for the fourth time
running with 585 cases - accounting for around
one-fourth of the total number of such incidents.

Situated in the heart of India, the state of Madhya
Pradesh is fast becoming famous for the wrong reasons.
In addition to tipping the scales in the number of
dowry-related suicides, the state has witnessed one of
the most ghastly killings - again related to dowry.
Bhoomi Ramchandani, 19, was married to a businessman
in Indore. In September 2006, her body was found,
chopped into pieces and placed in two bundles near the
jogging track of a popular park in the city. The
ghastly incident was brought to light when
neighbouring residents found the mutilated body and
notified the police.

As suspected, the guilty were her parents-in-law,
Dhanwantari and Jamnadas, and their son and Bhoomi's
husband, Manoj. Speaking up in her defense,
Dhanwantari was reported to have said that her
daughter-in-law would never listen to her and that
there were constant arguments between the two. The
real motive, it emerged, for the gruesome murder was

But what is the reason behind the increasing number of such
cases in Madhya Pradesh, a state known for its large tribal
population that accords its women with respect?  Vijay
Pathak, a social worker, believes that the influx of
people from other cities is certainly one of the
causes for the rising number of dowry deaths. Another
reason for the increase in such incidents is the slow
rate of conviction.

In 2004, disgusted by the trend of dowry, the priests
in Chhatarpur district had united against the social
evil and resolved not to solemnise any marriage in
which a dowry demand had been made. Unfortunately, all
priests in the state did not comply with the decision
and the initiative did not grow into a movement.

Pramod Soni, a sociologist, believes that people's
urge to become rich effortlessly has resulted in the
increasing demands for dowry.

Pressurising a bride's family seems the easiest way to
make easy money, as it is felt that people are ready
to do anything for the sake of their daughters. Either
the bride endures the trauma or urges her family to
give in or, in extreme circumstances, eventually takes
her life when neither she nor her family can tolerate
any further harassment, he explains.

Not that a suicide prevents the guilty groom from
seeking another match or rather another chance of
acquiring easy wealth. Says Asha Mishra, National
Coordinator of Samta, an NGO that works among women
across 22 states of the country, "The biggest problem
the girl's family members face is that they have to
prove that the girl has been murdered and that, too,
for the sake of dowry. In most of the cases, they are
unable to prove the crime due to the collusion between
the police and the boy's family."

Further, lengthy judicial procedures are often
demoralising, restricting family of victims from
getting justice.

What may help counter the many obstacles a harassed
woman and her family may face in the pursuit of
justice, are the Family Counselling Centres, located
in the Mahila Thanas (women-only police stations) and
set up by the state in order to resolve marital

Alternatively, if a woman is unable to get to such a
centre, she could lodge a complaint by dialing 100 and
asking for the Women's Help Desk.  Each of the 38
districts of the state has one such help desk
functioning out of a prominent police station. Once
the telephone report is registered, trained
counsellors, available round-the-clock, swing into
action to solve the problem.

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