On April 23, I received a call from my sister who usually never calls me during the daytime. As I picked up her call, I learnt about a heinous incident of domestic violence that had happened in Assam. This time, the girl was the daughter of Sanatan Das, who worked as a library assistant in my sister’s office.
Hailing from Guwahati, Sangita, Sanatan’s 19-year-old daughter, married her boyfriend Khitish in March 2015. It was a love marriage. Her parents had initially expressed their disapproval since she was yet to complete her Class 12 examinations. However, after her repeated requests, they decided to marry her off. It was a grand affair where the father tried his best to give the best gifts to his son-in-law and daughter.
Sangita, who was close to her father, spoke to him regularly over the phone. She never shared her woes with him as she knew that her father had borrowed a lot of money for her wedding. It turned out that the in-laws used to taunt Sangita for not bringing a refrigerator along with her other gifts. They used to regularly not give her food and also abused her both mentally and physically.
On April 20, Sanatan received a call from her early in the morning, requesting him to come as early as he can and take her away from that place. The father immediately left home for Barpeta which is about 100-120 kms away from Guwahati. Before he could reach her, he was called and informed that her in-laws had set her on fire. By the time he reached, she had already suffered 90% burns. In her statement, she narrated that her father-in-law and mother-in-law held her tightly while her sister-in-law poured kerosene and her husband set her ablaze. Before burning her, the brother-in-law and her husband had beaten her badly.
The neighbours saw her burning and immediately rushed for help. A case was filed in the local thana in Barpeta by her relative.
Sangita was rushed to Guwahati for medical care. Fearing that they had been caught by the neighbours, the husband’s family pretended that they did not do it and even accompany Sanatan to help Sangita get medical care.
The Guwahati Medical College and Hospital, unfortunately, doesn’t have adequate services for severe burn care treatment. Seeing his daughter’s condition, Sanatan decided to take her to a private hospital, where her maternal uncle worked. The doctors first refused to treat her owing to the costs related to it, but after repeated requests from Sanatan and his office staff, they took her in.
Sangita was 98% burnt as observed by the doctors and she needed emergency care. Meanwhile, the husband’s family filed a counter FIR in Guwahati citing that the father had beaten up the husband and was demanding money. This caused unnecessary hassle and trauma to the father who already was undergoing a lot.
Having worked on similar issues for some years in Guwahati, I got in touch with the Commissioner of Police and informed them of the whole incident. It took quite some time for police to arrest the husband. I also got in touch with some women’s rights NGOs and a family court lawyer.
It was sad to witness the lackadaisical attitude of the system towards a case like this. This isn’t the first time though. In my past six years of work in the region, there seems to be a common trend where those in charge snowball their responsibilities.
Since the media only reports incidents in the North East when there is militancy or riot, there was no coverage in the mainstream. Thankfully, a few sensible reporters covered this news on April 29.
I came home on May 4 to the news that Sangita had succumbed to her injuries and died earlier in the morning. Before her death, she asked her father to get her justice. The family is in inconsolable grief.
Another life lost, to the greed of a handful who felt that burning a 19-year-old girl is the best way to take revenge on a father who did not gift a refrigerator. Lost to the dysfunctional and unempathetic legal system that did not respond to the case, lost to the apathetic public healthcare system, lost to the snowballing games of those who are responsible to handle such cases.
Perhaps we shall never get justice for Sangita, amidst the corridors of justice, her poor father would not be able to win since it requires money and patience to fight this long battle for justice that digresses from one pillar to one post in the halls of courts. This is the reality for so many Sangitas who are killed by patriarchy every day.
I die a little inside every time I witness this attitude of normalising violence against women, this world isn’t a place for women at all.
Signing off with a heavy heart.