September 12, 1995
Web posted at: 9:20 a.m. EDT (1320 GMT)
From Correspondent Gayle Young
NEW DEHLI, India (CNN) -- For years, victims of so-called "bride burnings" have been crowding a unit of a New Delhi hospital -- young women whose husbands and in-laws have set them on fire in disputes over dowries.
In 1986 Mooni's in-laws burned her to death when her parents refused to give them more money. Her mother, Appa Shahjihan, says police laughed when she went to seek justice for her daughter. "I was humiliated," she remembers, crying.
So Shahjihan started a shelter and support office for victims of dowry disputes. Police say every two hours a woman in India is killed over a dowry -- and dozens of others are harassed or beaten. Women like Sudesh, whose husband's family tried to burn her.
---Sudesh, dowry victim
Burning is common because in-laws can then claim it was a cooking accident. "They had a can of oil and were pushing me toward the oven fire," recalls Sudesh. "But I managed to run away and scream so the neighbors came running."
Dowries are as old as India, but in recent years the stakes have risen. The bride's family is expected to hand over cash and gifts such as televisions, cars and refrigerators.
"There are so many consumer goods available," explains feminist author Mrinal Pande, "and there is a possibility that if you torture the bride as a sort of hostage then there is a chance that her father or brother will try and meet your demands."
---Mrinal Pande, feminist author
With most marriages arranged, there is little love lost between families fighting over the best deal possible. Police say between 1987 and 1991 the number of dowry deaths skyrocketed by 170 percent. Since then, women's groups and new protection laws have managed to stem the tide -- but not turn it.
Young women throughout India are still being harassed for dowries, and an estimated 5,000 a year murdered. All for an ancient custom, one that has clashed with a new form of greed.
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