“It is amazing how stove bursts kill only the wife; not the mother-in-law, not the sister-in-law and surely not the husband,” said Vimochana's Donna Fernandez.

Her sarcastic comment is in reaction to the disturbing statistics compiled by her colleagues at Vimochana who found that 8,205 women were treated for burns at the government-run Victoria Hospital in the city in the last 10 years.

Many cases unreported

The report also shows that 87.26 per cent or 6,043 of the 6,925 victims between 2003 and 2010 were married. And one in every four victims was between 25 and 29 years of age. A parameter that was added post-2005 found that most of the victims were married for less than two years. Satya, who played a key role in the study, admits that these numbers are by no means comprehensive and several cases go unreported.

The report, still in its formative stages, was put through a process of consultation on Tuesday, where suggestions for improvement were invited from a cross-section of activists, doctors and lawyers.

While the participants raised certain concerns about the methodology employed and pointed out some grey areas that needed further research, nobody was in doubt they were staring at a set of grave numbers.

Dubious police role

Some of these are murders, some abetted suicides, rarely stove bursts though largely recorded as cooking accidents and stove bursts. Ms. Satya, who has interviewed an average of 40 victims each month at the Victoria Hospital for the last 10 years, said that the police helped the offenders escape in most cases.

“In several cases the police never visited the site and based their enquiry solely on the statement of the victim, who is most of the time tutored,” she said. She started visiting the homes of the victims where she found damning evidence of foul play.

“Stoves are supposed to burst in kitchens,” she said. But in several cases, where the family had claimed that the burns occurred due to stove burst, she found that the burning had happened in the bathroom or living room.

Over-emphasis by the police on the victim's dying statement was identified as a serious problem area. Lamenting the legal system that leans in favour of these last statements of victims, lawyer Aarti Mundkur said that the police don't bother to collect circumstantial or material evidence.

The aspect of law that criminalises suicides was also criticised. “In order to save the victim from further harassment by the law, the police also register suicides as accidents,” said one participant. But by this, the people who drove the woman to take the extreme step go scot-free.

A break-up of the class, caste, community, geographic region and educational qualification of the victims is likely to be some of the improvements to the study in the coming days.

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