I am writing in response to an article, “Stove-burst deaths unusually high, Gujarat cops say hands tied” by Sreenivas Janyala, published in your newspaper on December 18, 2006 (http://indianexpress.com/story/18850.html). This article is nonsensical and poorly researched. Domestic violence is a very serious issue and requires great attention. When one assumes that domestic violence must have occurred it does more harm than good because it hurts innocent people.
The statement that “Women victims give declarations absolving in-laws, husbands, prevent investigation for suicide or murder” is meaningless. Why would a woman’s dying declaration “prevent” investigation? If a woman says that her family is not responsible for her death, that is what she means. In cases where there is no dying declaration, there should be a burst stove which can be examined to investigate the cause of the accident.
The article shows pictures of three women as “three recent victims of stove bursts”. The caption also says, “Over 300 have died this year alone”. These three women have suffered stove bursts and they are alive. The author of the article is talking about “dead women”. Are these three women examples of accidents? Or have these women testified that their respective husbands and in-laws were responsible for the stove bursts? What prevents investigation in their cases? Why has nothing been said in the article about these three cases?
Next, the author makes another nonsensical assertion: “…most victims are young and recently married, and invariably the police treat the cases as accidents, based on dying declarations.” There is a difference between police “treating these cases as accidents” and dying declarations “preventing investigation”. Why would police treat a case as anything other than an accident if the injured person said it was an accident she caused? It is absurd for radical women’s organizations to insist that all stove bursts should be assumed suspicious.
Take a look at numbers of stove bursts cited in the article: “in 2005, 343 women across the state died in kerosene stove explosions; this year there have been 330 deaths so far.“ Gujarat has 2,10,41,937 females over the age of 7. There is approximately one stove burst per 1,00,000 females. We can expect that young women, who may not have much experience using wick or kerosene stoves, will make more serious mistakes. Again, radical women’s advocates have not demonstrated cause for assuming that every stove burst related death of a woman is an act of domestic violence.
The author concedes that there is a preponderance of “wick stoves” which are more likely to explode and adds that, “unusually, by police figures, in 62 per cent of the cases, the stoves that burst are of ISI-approved brands.” An ISI rating cannot prevent careless misuse of stoves. Nor can a BIS automobile approval prevent vehicle accidents. Certainly, an stove accident rate of 1 per 1,00,000 women in Gujarat does not suggest a level of domestic violence worthy of the wild claims made by this article parroting the statements of radical activists.
The author states that “Burns specialists and forensic experts — and sometimes police officers — say they know most of these cases are suicides, often in the face of harassment by husbands or in-laws, or plain murders.” Unless burn specialists or forensic experts are able to interview corpses, it is impossible for them to find that a burn was a suicide caused by harassment, or a murder. Police are in a better position to ascertain facts at the scene of the event and record them for appropriate handling. The public focus should be on making sure that the police handle suicide investigations properly. Assuming innocent husbands and in-laws to be criminals or falsely incriminating them under stringent anti-dowry laws is senseless, and is destroying families, and placing men, women, and children in desperate situations that lead to substantially higher rates of suicide.
Gender-obsessed activists are unable to see that stove bursts happen to males and females of all ages. Here are a few news items for example:
http://www.tribuneindia.com/2005/20050705/j&k.htm#5 – Father, son killed as stove bursts
http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/life/2006/09/08/stories/2006090800110200.htm – A fire accident that badly disfigured a child’s face also helped bring into the world a skilled plastic surgeon.
http://www.tribuneindia.com/2002/20021130/ldh1.htm – Teenagers, woman die in stove bursts
http://www.hindu.com/2006/06/09/stories/2006060915260400.htm – Couple die of burns in stove burst
http://www.hindu.com/2004/02/19/stories/2004021913430300.htm – Four sustain burns in stove burst
http://newstodaynet.com/25apr/ld5.htm – Succumbs to burn injuries (A woman dies, husband and child suffer injuries)
http://www.telegraphindia.com/1040518/asp/calcutta/story_3260616.asp – Stove burst death (woman in her mid-thirties dies)
http://www.deccanherald.com/deccanherald/nov14/c2.asp – Stove burst kills teenager
http://www.telegraphindia.com/1050331/asp/calcutta/story_4554978.asp – Stove burst (14 yr old girl dies)
Mr. Janyala quotes anonymous police officers saying, “But investigations are stone-walled by the dying declarations which, police officers say, could have come under pressure or coercion, or from the woman’s unstated fears for her children’s future and of bringing her family a bad name.” As stated earlier, it is preposterous to assume that dying declarations could have come under pressure or coercion, thus making a serious issue such as domestic violence into a mere guessing game.
In addition, it has to be noted that, in India, the word of a woman who is alive and dandy is taken for granted even if she is blatantly lying and criminal cases are registered against innocent husbands and in-laws. Why is it that a dying woman’s declaration that her husband and in-laws are innocent not taken to be the truth? Is it that, in India, only a woman’s statements against her own husband and in-laws will be considered to be the truth? It is absurd that the author is suggesting that a husband and his family are to be assumed guilty even when all the evidence suggests otherwise. Is it that an Indian husband and his relatives are punishable by law by default, and women, police and judiciary have to diligently work towards that goal?
Mr. Janyala also quotes H.G. Patel, a former superintendent of police, who investigated about two dozen cases. He does not say when Patel investigated these two dozen cases. Did he investigate them 20 years ago? Or did he investigate two dozen cases in his entire career? Are the two dozen cases of Patel representative of the 300 plus stove burst related female deaths per year in the state of Gujarat?
Here’s another ridiculous assertion, by Dr. Raibagkar, the head of a burns ward: “Even if the patient doesn’t tell us, we know from the depth and degree of burns, patterns, areas burnt, whether it is accidental or suicidal.” How can one look at burns and be sure to say if they were “accidental or suicidal”, especially if they are all over the body and the victim is dead? Serious burns all over the body or the depth of burns depends on the intensity of flames, what the person was wearing (the garment and the material it is made of), what kind of things the person was surrounded by and/or what the person did as a reaction to the fire. Yes, the police should investigate cases but they do not. Instead, they presume all men and their families to be guilty (maybe because that is much easier than doing their job of investigation), and arrest innocent individuals. These arrests and all the cases of female burn victims are conveniently used as cases of bride burning by radical feminists in India and abroad, to beef up statistics of harassment and domestic violence against women, and, to argue for the existence of horrendous laws that victimize thousands of innocent men and their relatives.
Finally, the author gives an example of Raman Solanki, whose daughter-in-law died of burns but made a declaration that her husband and in-laws were not responsible for her suicide. The woman is said to have stated that her husband “was having an extra-marital affair and was harassing her”. Nothing is mentioned about how he was harassing her and what he was harassing her for. Nothing is said about what section of IPC the husband was booked under. It also appears as though in-laws can be booked under Indian criminal law just for knowing about their son’s affair. In fact, considering the rate at which false dowry cases are increasing, it is evident that in-laws are deemed criminals just for having given birth to a male child or just for sharing a womb.
I am not sure what the purpose of this article is other than to raise some sensation in the mind of a reader who has limited ability to discern. It makes me wonder about the kind of training your journalists are getting and what kind of social responsibility the Indian newspapers fulfill in terms of doing some honest and intelligent reporting. I expect that the editors of Indian Express are a little more watchful of what kind of articles are being published and that they maintain the dignity of the profession of journalism.