The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Women as targets of women
- Chronicle of violence within the family over dowry demands

It’s women against women. Mothers-in-law and sisters-in-law are the perpetrators, bahus the hapless victims.

A cliché too oft repeated, too oft reinforced by the ‘K’ clique inundating living rooms across a nation. But to bring the issue — with all its brutal reality — back into the news, a scribe has put together the accounts of six victims of dowry demands and the violence it brings with it.

Seema Sirohi’s Sita’s Curse was launched at Oxford Bookstore on Saturday, amidst much debate and much impassioned discussion. Formally released by Mahasveta Devi before an audience of Calcutta’s activists, leaders, diplomats and interested citizens, the US-based Sirohi, with a long association with the city, read excerpts from the case studies she has spent three years researching.

The testimonies include information gathered from interviews with victims — the few who had survived — as well as families, friends, lawyers, police on the case, even judges.

“I have chosen cases where the victims or the families took a stand on the issue,” explained the first-time author. “And I wanted to show that dowry is something that goes beyond religion, community or socio-economic background.”

Satyarani Chaddha’s epic battle to win justice for her daughter in 1979, six-month pregnant, body covered with 90 per cent burns, is the subject of the first account, titled Mother Courage. Twenty years in and out of courts saw the son-in-law sentenced to “seven years’ rigorous imprisonment”, a few months into which he was released on bail.

“This subject was contemporary 100 years ago. It was contemporary 50 years ago. It is contemporary even now,” said writer-activist Mahasveta Devi, recounting how a father who did not want to give dowry in cash, gifted instead “three NGOs with FCR registration”.

It was during the interactive session that opinions about the persecution of women by other women within the family raised its head, rejecting the “gendered” turn to the question of violence within the family.

“Men are not so helpless that they cannot take a stand,” elaborated Sirohi. Human rights activist Maitreyee Chatterjee explained this phenomenon in the context of the “power politics” of a patriarchal society.

Trinamul Congress leader Saugata Ray also turned attention to the new laws that have been enacted to tighten the net against offenders of this crime. But initial conviction rates suggest that “tighter laws also mean greater difficulty in prosecution”.

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