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Ghastly domestic abuse: burning women


February 10, 1997
Web posted at: 3:30 p.m. EST (2030 GMT)

From New Delhi Bureau Chief Anita Pratap

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- In India, Hindu brides are sometimes burned to death for bringing an inadequate dowry to the marriage, a severe form of domestic abuse long opposed by human rights activists.

But burning women is confined to neither religion nor nation. In Pakistan, Muslim and Christian women are being burned in what are regularly termed "stove burnings" -- the victims' relatives say the woman was burnt accidentally while cooking.


"What has been happening in the garb of stove burning cases ... it has been used as facade and the women have been victimized, kerosene oil being thrown at them and they being put to fire and the stove being blamed, said Rawalpindi Police Superintendent Shoaib Dastgir. icon (256K/23 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

Activist Shahnaz Bukhari, whose investigations in just two hospitals showed that more than 500 women have been burned to death in the past three years, says that stove burning is the common ruse since these lower middle class women spend a lot of time cooking.

And the victims, she says, are complicit in the cover up, because they have no place to go -- if they do recover.


"It's my fate," says one victim, Noreen, who says her kitchen stove caught fire. "From childhood, I have seen nothing but suffering."

The reasons for such drastic action are plentiful. Sometimes brothers burn their sisters for daring to fall in love or a man wants a new wife. Often, the reason is unbelievably petty.

"It can be as trivial as why did you use my soap," says Bukhari, "(or) for overcooking the food or more salt in the food."

Zuleika Bibi's daughter Shamshad was burned to death in January, allegedly by her in-laws.


"If they had poisoned her or shot her, I wouldn't have been so distressed," the mother says.

All she wants is justice, but convictions are few.

Activist Bukhari believes that all kitchen accidents should be registered by the police -- as they are in India.

While the victims in India are mainly Hindu, in Pakistan, the victims are Muslim and Christian. Two years ago, Irene, a young Pakistani Christian woman, was burned by her in-laws. They claimed the stove burst when she was warming milk for her baby, when in actuality, she breastfed her 18-day-old infant.

Shahnaz calls for support center and homes for women "so that they know there is some place they can leave before being burnt."

There is precedence for such care -- at one state-run home for destitute women, all the residents are victims of domestic violence.


One resident, Gulnaz, ran away from home after her adopted parents tortured her for daring to marry a man of her choice.

Kamal Bibi, a widow, ran away from her second husband who abused her and is now fighting for divorce.

These women left situations that could have led to the ghastly fate of other women of Pakistan who are burned to death or left hopelessly scarred.


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