John* with India Partners says this goes to show the low view of women that still permeates parts of Indian society today.
“This is true both of men and women. It’s not just of men itself. Most women see the other woman as in an inferior position and not able to recognize her rights as a human being.”
This low view of women affects how women’s roles are carried out in Indian culture, including marriages.
“In these rural districts, when a woman gets married, she will go to her husband’s village. Part of the ritual is she is never supposed to look in her in-laws’ eyes. If you see these women, you will see that their pallu from their saree, the loose end of the saree is pulled down over her face so she does not accidentally look into their eyes. So this woman — whether it’s your wife or your daughter-in-law or whomever — a woman takes this very relegated and low role in society.”
Even recently, while not a bride burning case, a 20-year-old woman in Uttar Pradesh was set on fire by two male neighbors who attempted to sexually assault her. The woman’s father reported the situation twice to the police, but no action was taken.
Afterward, the men came back to the field where the woman worked, doused her with kerosene, and lit her on fire as revenge. The woman suffered severe burns and was hospitalized. Her attackers were arrested and three policemen suspended for negligence.
John explains that bride burning is a type of assault on women motivated mostly by greed and money.
“Horrible things like this happen, and many times they happen because of dowry deaths. Before marriage, the families will agree upon a dowry that the bride’s family generally will pay to the groom’s family…. After marriage, the groom’s family sees the leverage of threatening the girl and asking for more money. So they will begin threats, they will begin beatings, and the rule of thumb is something like the more money you want, the more you need to beat her.”
The beatings a woman suffers at the hands of the groom’s family can escalate quickly as they demand more money. Dousing the woman with flammable liquid and setting her on fire is an ultimate show of intimidation. It’s not uncommon for these tactics to lead to the woman’s death.
John says rural districts like Uttar Pradesh tend to see more bride burning cases “because you’re less likely to get prosecuted there. But the harassment happens everywhere. In the harassment of women, your caste doesn’t make any difference. How much education you have doesn’t make any difference.”
India Partners’ work includes equipping women with skill sets they can use to earn income. By doing so, the organization empowers Indian women in their marriages, gives them hope, and makes bride burnings less likely.
“If a woman is earning something, then it takes away that thought of ‘we can get more money.’ Because she is earning something, you don’t have the benefit of beating her. If you beat her, then she can’t earn any more.”
For example, John explains, “By learning tailoring, a woman is able to take that skill and apply it in her own family and be able to stitch their clothes and be able to take care of them. But she is also able to tailor and stitch clothes for other families and earn that income. By having that income in the family, it raises her status within the family.”
However, he adds, “Not every marriage is like this. Not all people are like this. You know, 8,000 [annual bride burning cases] is a huge number, but in the size of the country it is, it’s a smaller number. Just as a comparison, far more people die of handgun violence here in the United States than die of bride burning [in India].”
You can play a part in raising the value of women in India and giving them deeper hope. Click here to support a woman starting a business with the help of India Partners! Or you can sponsor a sewing machine here that will enable a woman to earn a living.
*Name changed for security purposes.
Header photo courtesy of unsplash.