The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Dowry demand drives to death

Dowry demands drove the mother of a two-month-old daughter to despair and death late on Sunday.

Unable to bear the constant cruelty inflicted on her, 20-year-old Rita Pandit set herself ablaze in her Regent Park home. Gautam, her 23-year-old husband, has been arrested.

Rita was married to Gautam early last year. Both hailed from Munger, in Bihar, but Gautam worked here in a paint factory and the couple lived in a rented apartment in Congress Nagar, Regent Park.

According to the complaint lodged by Rita’s family, Gautam started torturing her for “more dowry” soon after their marriage. There were times when Rita would flee to her parents’ home (her father is a businessman here), but they would urge her to return to her husband and try to be “patient”.

Matters came to a head on Saturday night. After Gautam returned from work, the couple sat down to dinner. Soon, a quarrel broke out and Rita left the room.

According to the police, Gautam waited for Rita for half-an-hour, but when she didn’t return, he went to bed.

After a while, he smelt something burning and soon spied smoke coming out of the bathroom. He broke down the door, only to find Rita in flames.

“She was screaming in agony. Gautam collected some jute bags and tried to smother the flames. He, too, suffered some burns while trying to save Rita with the jute bags,” said an officer of Regent Park police station.

“Preliminary investigation suggested that Rita had doused herself with kerosene before setting herself ablaze,” he added.

The neighbours, alerted by Rita’s cries, rushed to the apartment, forced open the front door and entered the flat, only to find Rita lying unconscious on the floor of the bathroom and Gautam writhing in pain.

A team from the Regent Park police station arrived and took the couple to M.R. Bangur Hospital. Rita was admitted to the hospital with “80 per cent burn injuries”. Doctors tried for hours to save her life, but late on Sunday, Rita succumbed to her burns.

Pabitra Kumar Ghosh, Regent Park police station officer-in-charge, said Rita’s father had stated that his son-in-law had a foul temper and that his daughter had often complained of ill-treatment.

Police arrested Gautam as soon as Rita’s father lodged a complaint. “We have arrested the husband on charges of abetment to commit suicide. A detailed probe will be initiated as soon as the post-mortem report reaches us,” said Ghosh.

Police interrogated Gautam till late on Monday, besides checking with the neighbours. “They, too, said Rita was often tortured by her husband,” said an officer of Regent Park police station.

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