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The Study of Sociological and Demographical Variables of Unnatural Deaths among Young Women in South Delhi within Seven Years of Marriage

Dr. Kulshrestha P., Senior Resident

Dr. Sharma R.K., Additional Professor

Dr. Dogra T.D., Professor & Head

Department of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi.

ABSTRACT

This study was carried out between July 1998 and November 2000 to study the dynamics of dowry deaths in South Delhi. A total of 117 cases were studied. Illiterate, issueless Hindu housewives of lower socioeconomic class were the worst affected. The most vulnerable age group was 21-25 years. The most common cause of death was burns followed by poisoning. 59% of the total deaths were accidental in nature followed by 30% suicidal deaths. About 23% cases had alleged history of dowry demands, harassment, torture and subsequent death. 57% of the victims died in initial three years of marriage, indicating possible maladjustment and strenuous relationship between husband and wife or that with in-laws. The associations between various social and economic forces have given shape to the phenomenon of dowry demands in India leading to dowry deaths of young girls. In this paper all such variables are discussed.

KEYWORDS : Dowry death, bride burning, and unnatural women deaths

INTRODUCTION

The ideology of stridhan (women's marriage wealth) has been associated with Brahma form of Kanyadan marriage from the ages in Hindu society. Whatever may be the notion and rationale of classical stridhan, it has got distorted into dowry to be transacted to the bridegroom and his kins in the contemporary Indian society in which the traditions and modernity must have intertwined within the framework of symbolism and substance. The modern dowry is different and has moved far from etymological meaning in the present context and connotation. As materialism and consumerism get priority and man's failure to get them by his own efforts, wife appears to him as the

Detailed analyzed results have been presented along with social & legal measures that can be taken up to prevent such deaths.

MATERIAL AND METHODS

The material for the study comprised of all cases of unnatural female deaths dying within seven years of their marriage and thus been investigated by sub-divisional magistrate of South district of Delhi. The cases included in study were those between July 1998 & Nov 2000 and got autopsied upon at Autopsy centre AIIMS or at Safdarjung Hospital (As AIIMS do not have Burns Unit & burn cases are thus admitted in Safdarjung Hospital ).

The necessary case details were obtained by complete & thorough postmortem examination, all required investigations and chemical analysis of viscera, wherever needed. Details of medicolegal aspects of case , socio-cultural and economic factors were obtained from the investigating officer, relatives, parents, husband or in-laws of the deceased and by going through the statements of witnesses & parents given to SDMs during interrogation.

OBSERVATION & RESULTS

Out of total 117 cases studied, 41 were autopsied at AIIMS, 59 were taken to Safdarjung Hospital for being burn cases and autopsied upon in eventuality of death. Postmortem was waved off in 16 cases on request of parents / guardians / relatives / husband as no foul play was suspected in such cases and there were no allegations from either side and cause of death was obvious and one case was autopsied upon in LNJP Hospital mortuary.

Wives in their early twenties came out to be the worst affected ones (55.5%) followed by those in late teens.

Table No. 1 Age-wise incidence

S. No.

Age group (yrs.)

Number of cases

percentage

1.

< 15

1

00.85

2.

16-20

33

28.20

3.

21-25

65

55.55

4.

26-30

17

14.52

5.

> 31

1

00.85

Total

 

117

99.97

About 66.62% of deaths occurred in initial three years of marriage, out of which nearly 22.22% were of the females in second year of their married life that comprised the single largest group affected.

Table No. 2 The running of year
after marriage
in which death occurred

S. No.

Year of marriage in

Number of cases

Percentage

 

which death occurred

 

 

1.

I

20

17.09

2.

II

26

22.22

3.

III

20

17.09

4.

IV

16

13.67

5.

V

10

08.54

6.

VI

14

11.96

7.

VII

11

09.40

Total

 

117

99.97

Hindus (103) comprised the single largest category followed by Muslims and then Sikhs. No female having died within seven years of marriage belonged to the Christianity religion.

Table No. 3 Religion wise incidence

S. No.

Religion

Number of cases

Percentage

1.

Hindu

103

88.03

2.

Muslim

12

10.25

3.

Sikh

2

01.70

4.

Christians

0

00.00

Total

 

117

99.98

61 Victims had nuclear families and another 50 of them lived in joint families. In Six cases females at their time of death were with their own parents, out of which 2 were living after having separated from husband, two were living with their parents along with their husbands and two were found to have visited their parents' place and died thereafter.

 

Table No. 4 Type of family in relation to married female deaths

S. No.

Type of family

Number of cases

Percentage

1.

Joint

50

42.73

2.

Nuclear

61

52.13

3.

Living with her own parents

6

05.12

4.

Not known

0

00.00

Total

 

117

99.98

Single largest class was found to be those of illiterate women which comprised of about 50% of total cases. Rests 50% were literate of which non-matriculate were about 28% and only 22% were matriculate and above.

Table No. 5 Educational status of the deceased

S. No.

Educational status

Number of cases

Percentage

1.

Illiterate

59

50.42

2.

Primary

19

16.23

3.

Middle

14

11.96

4.

Matriculate

9

07.69

5.

Intermediate

5

04.27

6.

Graduate

7

05.98

7.

Technical / Professional

4

03.41

Total

 

117

99.98

Housewives (90) constituted the largest single occupation category amounting nearly 76.92%. About
5.98% were employed while 15% of total were labourers or maids.

Table No. 6 Occupational status and its relation with deaths of married females

S. No.

Occupation

Number of cases

Percentage

1.

Housewife

90

76.92

2.

Employed

7

05.98

3.

Self-Employed

3

02.56

4.

Laborers

5

04.27

5.

Maids

12

10.25

Total

 

117

99.98

In 43.58% of cases the income of the family was found to be between 1000-2000 rupees, followed by 29.91% having > 2000 rupees.

Table No. 7 Relation of family income per month with married female deaths

S. No.

Income groups (Rs.)

Number of cases

Percentage

1.

< 1000

31

26.49

2.

1000-2000

51

43.58

3.

> 2000

35

29.91

Total

 

117

99.98

51.28% of the affected females were those who never bore a child. Most of these females were in early years of their married life. This was followed by victims having only female issues (27), then having only male issues (20).

Table No. 8 Issues in relation to married female deaths

S. No.

Children

Number of cases

Percentage

1.

Both male and Female

8

06.83

2.

Only females

27

23.07

3.

Only males

20

17.09

4.

None

60

51.28

5.

Pregnant (at time of death)

5

04.27

Total

 

120 (Against 117

102.54 (against 100%)

 

 

cases studied)

 

Burns 72 (i.e. 61.53%) comprised the maximum number of cases in the present study. 13.67% cases were of suspected poisoning of which most of them were confirmed on basis of CFSL reports. Hanging constituted 11.96% of the total. Strangulation and Gunshot numbered two cases each. Accidental deaths (69) were most frequent comprising of 58.97% of total followed by suicides (35) comprising 29.91%. About 5.98% were of natural deaths while homicides reported had a share of just 5.12%.

Table No. 9 Cause of death in married females within seven years of their marriage

S. No.

Cause of death

Number of cases

Percentage

1.

Burns

72

61.53

2.

Poison

16

13.67

3.

Hanging

14

11.96

4.

Strangulation

2

01.70

5.

Gunshot

2

01.70

6.

Other (electrocution, drowning,

11

09.40

 

natural and fall from height)

 

 

Total

 

117

99.96

Accidental deaths (69) were most frequent comprising of 58.97% of total followed by suicides (35) comprising 29.91%. About 5.98% were of natural deaths while homicides reported had a share of just 5.12%.

Table No. 10 Mode of death in married females within seven years of their marriage

S. No.

Mode of death

Number of cases

Percentage

1.

Accidental

69

58.97

2.

Suicidal

35

29.91

3.

Homicidal

6

05.12

4.

Natural

7

05.98

Total

 

117

99.98

Most of the deaths were accidental deaths and had no acclaimed reasons behind. In about 11.96% cases the reason could never be known and that there were about 27 cases i.e. 23.07% cases where allegations of dowry demand and torture/harassment were made by parents / relatives of the deceased. In about 6.83% cases the precipitating cause was quarrel with spouse / in-laws. About 2.56% died under their phase of depression or mental disbalance. Four cases of infidelity were reported and only one case was seen where being issueless resulted in death of the female while seven victims succumbed to their illness.

Table No. 11 Reasons behind the death of female within seven years of her marriage

S. No.

Reason behind death

Number of cases

Percentage

1.

Dowry demand and Harassment / Torture

27

23.07

2.

Infidelity

4

03.41

3.

Infertility

1

00.85

4.

Quarrel with spouse / in-laws

8

06.83

5.

Illness chronic/acute

7

05.98

6.

Poverty

0

00.00

7.

Not beautiful

0

00.00

8.

Mental illness

3

02.56

9.

Not Known

14

11.96

10.

Accidental

69

55.55

Total

 

133

110.21

DISCUSSION

Dowry deaths are one of the most heinous crimes against women. On initiative of various social organizations and women welfare organizations, both legal and administrative steps have been taken by Government to give protection to young married women against cruelty at the hands of their husbands and in-laws. Criminal law was amended and the acts of cruelty on married women compelling them to commit suicide were included in the list of criminal offences. But no measures seem to have curtailed down the rate of deaths of married women.

Dowry deaths are well-planned crime executed within the four walls of a house by the family members. Most of the victims die on spot and those who survive hesitate to make a statement before magistrate either due to fear psychosis or traditional respect of husband or family members and many a times they are threatened or persuaded to give their statement in favour of their husband and in-laws.

I. Age-wise incidence

The victims belonged to age between 16-30 years. One case was seen where victim was merely 13 years and in another one case victim was aged 32 years. Most vulnerable age was 21-25 years (55.55%) followed by 16-20 years (28.20%) and last of all 26-30 years (14.52%).

This finding is consistent with the findings of Chandra et al (1972), BPRD (1981-83), Chandra et al (1983), Rao31 (1997) & Chandra Subhash (1988) who in his study showed that incidence of such deaths was highest in 20-25 years (45%), followed by 15-20 years (30%) and at least 25-30 years (25%)

Agnihotri AK et al (1998) in their study had however showed that age group most vulnerable was 23-26 years followed by 27-30 years age group and then 18-22, which is slightly in disagreement with those of, present study.

With the belief that age of marriage in most of the urban, metropolitan and sub-urban societies had certainly gone up to somewhere near twenty, the married female if falling prey to this social devil would in all probability lie in age group of 21-25 years if the incidence occurs in initial few years of her married life.

II. Time since marriage

Present study shows that maximum death of married females were in second year of their married life (22.22%) followed by first and third years (17.09% each). To conclude about 56.40% death occurred in first three years of married life.

These results are consistent with study of - Chandra Subash (1988) - which shows that most of death occurred in first year of married life (25%) followed by second (15.6%) and third year (15.0%). That is total of 55.6% death occurred in initial three years of married life.

III. Religion-wise incidence

Study shows that maximum cases (88.03%) were Hindu, Muslims comprised of second largest category (10.25%). Only 2 victims belonged to Sikh religion while no victim belonged to Christianity.

These observations are consistent with studies of Shah (1960), Vancoba Rao (1966), Chandra et al (1984), Gautam and Trivedi (1986), Satpathy (1995)32 & Agnihotri AK (1998). All of which have shown that the incidence is maximum in Hindu religion.

Chandra Subhash (1988) - had also shown that 94.4% affected were Hindus, followed by 3.2% Muslims, while only one victim was Sikh and that only two were Christians.

The author believes that marital / family discards and dowry problems are less in Muslim due to simple rituals and practice of "Mahr" / "dower" instead of evil practice of "dowry".

Sikh though quite numerous in South Delhi region accounted for only two cases i.e. 1.70% of total cases because of the open and forward attitude of Sikhism which make their female socio-economically and culturally as strong as males and guarantees. Their equal participation in all activities of home both within the four walls as well as outside. Their role in productive activities secures their position in household and thereby provides them more respect, hence decreasing chances of such unfortunate incidences.

Very low population and higher and professional qualification and cultural differences may be responsible for no case having been reported from Christian religion.

IV. Type of family

Present study shows that deaths in nuclear family (52.13%) dominated the picture over joint family (42.73%), while only 6 victims (5.12%) were living with their own parents at time of death.

This goes in total disagreement with studies of Gautam and Trivedi (1986), Chandra Subash (1988) & Agnihotri AK et al (1998), all of which have shown that the incidence was common in joint families.

Changing religio-cultural patterns, life style and socio-economic relations are now causing disintegration of previous cool and calm joint families and might be held responsible for bringing up nuclear family pattern in the present day society.

Suicides were more common in joint families clearly indicating towards strained relations with in-laws/husband, dowry, torture-physical/mental, and maladjustment in new environment while cases from nuclear families were mostly accidental. Accidental : Suicidal death ratio for joint and nuclear families was found to be 1.04:1 and 4.7:1 respectively.

V. Occupation-wise incidence

The study shows that housewives (76.92%)

constituted the largest single occupation group affected. Labourers and maids contributed 14.52% of total while only 5.98% were employed.

These results are in total agreement with studies of Shah (1960), SM Das Gupta (1972), Chandra et al (1971 & 1983), Gautam and Trivedi (1986) & Agnihotri A.K. et al (1998), all of which have shown house wives as to be worst affected.

above of which hardly 5.98% were graduate and only 3.41% were technical / professional.

This was not consistent with study of - Chandra Subhash (1988) in which only 25% were illiterate, non-matriculate constituted 22.8% of total, 51.2% were matriculate and above of which 16.5% were graduates and 2.5% were technical / professionals.

This change may be because of change in life style, socio-economic conditions and population affected in the region of National capital. For the fact, that the mostly affected were immigrants from neighbouring states and belonged to low socioeconomic strata and were from major constituent of laborer class of the National capital, low literacy rate could have been evident.

VIII. Issues in relation to married female deaths

Study reveals that these types of deaths are common in all sort of families, with or without children. Victims having no issues (51.28%) comprised of single largest category followed by 23.07% of victims having only female babies. About 4.27% of total were found to be pregnant at time of their death. One case was seen in which female had delivered a dead fetus and later on died of natural death.

Study of Chandra Subash (1988) showed that 41.4% had both male and female, while 16.6% had only females while 27.5% of victims never born a child and that 6.2% of total were found to be pregnant at the time of death.

Of the total 60 victims in present study, who never had an issue, about 45 were in first three years of their married life.

The awareness towards population control, change in socio-cultural pattern of living, change in lifestyles and attitude, change in family patterns, sense of economic insecurity may be responsible for downfall in the fertility patterns.

IX. Cause of death

This study shows that 61.53% of victims had died of burns and thus was the largest single category. Second most common cause of death was poison (13.67%) followed by hanging (11.96%). Two cases each of strangulation and gunshots were seen. These findings are consistent with study of Agnihotri, A.K. et al (1998) & Chandra

Subash (1988) which showed that 80% cases were of burns followed by poisoning (9.2%) and then hanging (8.4%). Strangulation and gunshot reported were one each.

In present study electrocution and fall from height contributed two cases each while seven cases of natural deaths were seen.

X. Mode of death

Study reveals that about 58.97% of deaths were accidental, while suicide (29.91%), natural (5.98%) and homicides (5.12%) were second, third and forth in the category.

In joint families accidents and suicides were nearly same while in nuclear families accidents clearly outnumbered suicides.

These results were inconsistent with study of -

1. Chandra Subash (1988) - which showed that suicides with 54.2% share dominated the picture over accidents 40% and homicides 5.8% of total.

2. Agnihotri, A.K. et al (1998) - showed that homicides 78.1% were more than suicides while no accidental case was reported by them.

XI. Reasons/motives of death

Most of the deaths were accidental (55.55%) and thereby had no reasons behind. Of the rest 44.45% about 23.07% cases had allegations of dowry demand, harassment and torture by husbands/ in-laws and subsequent deaths. In

11.96% cases reason could never be known of which most were of suicidal mode. Quarrel with spouse / in-laws were seen in 6.83% cases. 5.98% had died of their illness while infidelity was reported in 3.41% cases and mental sickness / depression was reason for death in 2.56% cases and only one victim had committed suicide for being issueless. No death had reason of poverty or ugly looks behind it.

Study by Chandra Subash (1988) had also shown accidents (40%) to be the foremost category and had reported 10% of cases with dowry allegations, quarrel with spouse/in-laws with about 6.8%, all of which are moreover consistent with present study. But infertility (13.7%) and mental illness (13%) reported by him are in disagreement with present study. Infidelity (10%) was certainly much more than in present study. Poverty and ugly looks were reason for death in two cases each.

Out of the study of 117 cases there were 133 reasons of death i.e. there were 16 more reasons than number of deaths. I.e. at least sixteen deaths had two or more reasons for death.

Analysis of cases with dowry allegations

Out of 27 cases with dowry demand and harassment allegations it was seen that 24 affected were having joint families while only 3 had nuclear families. In nuclear family deaths - one was accidental, one committed suicide by hanging after short time of her marriage and had story of demand of money, quarrel and even infidelity on husband's part behind. Third one in her statement has said that she was burnt by her brother in-laws who forced their way into her's.

Out of 12 who died of burns only two cases were of typical bride burning (homicidal) of which one occurred in joint family while other took place in nuclear family. Of the total 8 cases of hanging, only one occurred in nuclear family while rest seven victims belonged to joint families. Of the 27 victims in 18 cases there was no clear clue for her death, one had left behind suicide note, alleging her tensions for being harassed by in-laws for dowry, four victims had claimed themselves having caught fire accidentally in their dying declarations. Three had alleged their in-laws of having harassed them of dowry and thereby having compelled them to commit suicide and one of the victim in her dying declaration submitted that she had committed suicide by setting herself ablaze for being issueless

It is remarkable that one case with dowry allegation was from Muslim religion.

CONCLUSIONS

1. Maximum deaths occurred in age group 21-25 years followed by 16-20 years and then 26-30 year group.

2. Maximum deaths in married females occur in first three years of their married life after which incidence show much of declining pattern which could be due to improved relations between wife and in-laws and husband with passage of time.

3. Maximum females died under such circumstances were Hindus followed by Muslims and then Sikhs, while no married female dying within her 7 years of marriage of unnatural death belonged to Christianity.

4. Maximum incidence was seen in those having nuclear families followed by those in joint families while only a few had died at their parents house. This may be attributable to changing socio-cultural and family patterns in metropolitan and sub-urban regions.

5. About half of the victims were found to be illiterate and among those literate, non-matriculates formed more than half of the core. Graduates and technical / professional combined constituted merely 9.39% of total.

6. Maximum young married female having died of unnatural deaths within 7 years of their marriage were housewives. Followed by those who were either maids or laborers.

7. Lower middle income group (1000-2000/- per month) was the worst affected. Followed by middle middle class (> 2000 per month)

8. Incidence was more among the females having no issues followed by those who had only female babies.

9. Maximum victims had succumbed to burns. While poison and hanging were found to be II and III most common cause of death.

10. Seven victims were found to have died of natural cause of death. While maximum met with an accident followed by suicides.

11. Dowry death cases accounted for only 23.07% of the total.

RECOMMENDATIONS

A. Socio-economic measures

1. Mobilizing masses against the despicable practice -

People should be persuaded by audio-visual shows / public notices / columns in newspapers/various ways of media, proclaiming dowry to be not only illegal and immoral but also uneconomical and hazardous in long run for the person who demands it. More and more grounds should be gained in nearly every possible sectors of day to day life to mobilize the opinion against the magnitude, gravity and ill effects of practice of dowry on society.

2. Promoting women liberation

More and more institutions should be createdproviding education to women exclusively. Vocational training, job oriented courses should be provided through these institutions, so that it creates more job potentials for women and that they become economically independent and free from all socio-cultural bandages.

3. Running anti-dowry campaigns

These can be effectively run through various NGO's, welfare organizations, academic and industrial organizations with an aim to impress on the women in general to resist all pressings which simply turn them into chattels. At least a day,, if not a weak, should be declared and observed as "Anti-dowry day". Serious multiple and prolonged efforts shall be made by all leaders - whether social / political / religious to avoid the greed and desire of men in general to achieve wealth through alternative and easy means.

4. Social boycott

Costly and ostentatious marriage rituals should be discouraged and society should boycott the tainted man and their families in all future marriage negotiations.

5. Counseling / guidance

Centres shall be developed to provide free counseling to the families and newly wed couple about their expected problems and their solutions in initial years of their interaction and formative years of new social and familial relationship so that story of their rest of the life in their new role is nicely scripted.

B. Legal and administrative measures

1. Registration of marriages shall be made popular and compulsory with proper disclosure of list of items gifted to newly wed from either side and declaring women as having all rights over these and that the gifts given shall have name of source by its side and that it should be checked that value

of gifts lie within the economic range of the parental side of bride.

2. Concept of family court shall gain grounds so that any such crisis is solved effectively and promptly and that these courts shall have a jury with its head elected and appointed from amongst the general public after a fixed period of time.

3. Time frame shall be decided for lodging of FIRs and case trial so that cases are expedited and justice is attained at the earliest.

4. Special courts should be created to try these cases expeditiously.

5. Proper formatting shall be done and a question set be prepared by psychoanalyst for recording dying declaration of female, so that not only it remains uniform from case to case but in probability can additively throw some light on mental status / psyche of the female at verge of her death.

6. Investigations into the death in such cases should be investigated upon by all the necessary experts, essentially beginning from scene of crime specialists to the DNA fingerprinting specialist and all modern techniques shall be used for proper and prompt investigation of all alleged dowry death cases.

7. Anti-dowry cell and women protection cell concepts shall be brought up more. Besides police personals, these cells shall also comprise of social workers, psychiatrist, counselors and other trained staff with proper training in effective dealing with the crisis and also preventing and controlling such crimes.

REFERENCES

1. Chander S.; Comprehensive study of medicolegal aspects of dowry deaths of South Delhi, 1988, p.1.

2. Paras Diwan and Peeyushi Diwan; Laws Relating to Dowry, Dowry deaths, Bride Burning, Rape and related offences, p. vi. Published by Universal law Publishing Co Pvt. Ltd.

3. Chandra et al; Medicolegal aspects of burn cases, 1968.

4. Chandra J et al ; Suicide in India : Some medicolegal aspects. Police Research and Development, 1972, II, 17-22.

5. Bharat Singh et al ; Pattern of suicide in Delhi : A study of cases at the police morgue, Delhi; Medicine, Science and Law, 1982 Vol. 22, No. 3, 195-199.

6. Chandra et al ; Homicidal numbers in South Delhi, 1982. A study of Burn injuries in South Delhi, 1983.

7. Chandra et al ; Study of suicides in South Delhi, 1984.

8. BPRD ; Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, 1982, 195-199.

9. Sharma R.K., Dogra T.D. ; Dowry deaths. Indian Journal of Criminology and Criminalistics, 1985, VIII July-December, 1988.

10. Agnihotri A.K., Sinha U.S., Kapoor A.K., Srivastava P.C. The epidemiological study of dowry deaths with special reference to burn cases in Allahabad range (UP); International Journal of Medical Toxicology and legal Medicine, 1998, Vol. 1, No. 1, July-Dec 1998.

11. Nagesh Kumar G. Rao : Study of fatal female burns in Manipal, JFMT, 1997, Vol. 14, No. 2, 57-59.

12. Satpathy, D.K.: Burning Brides - A medicolegal study. Med Law. 14: 547-552

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