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Most dowry victims in Punjab are poisoned
Rural areas account for 71 pc deaths
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, May 27
One young married woman becomes a victim of dowry in Punjab every week. On an average, 55 women aged 18 to 35 die every year due to their inability to meet dowry-related demands.

A major scientific study on reported unnatural deaths of 1000 young married women in Punjab presents many other alarming statistics. Conducted by Dr D.C. Sharma, state chemical examiner at Punjab State Chemical Laboratory from 2002 to 2006, it establishes links between the state’s low sex ratio and the problem of dowry.

This is for the first time an authentic study based on chemical examinations at the state laboratory has been conducted to reveal trends of crimes against women in Punjab.

A copy of the report, in possession of The Tribune, shows that out of 1000 registered (reported to police) cases of unnatural deaths of married women aged 18 to 35 years, 176 related to dowry. Registered dowry deaths comprise 9 per cent of the total reported unnatural deaths among women in Punjab, in general.

In 84.7 per cent of the 176 dowry cases, poisoning was the cause of death and not burning as is usually assumed. The problem lies with free availability of lethal insecticides used in the farming sector.

Dr Sharma points out: “Poisoning was the alleged cause of death in 122 cases, but viscera examination revealed it had caused death in 149 of the 176 cases.”

Strangulation topped the “non-poisoning” category by accounting for 13 dowry deaths out of 27 caused by hanging, drowning, burns etc. Of the 11 victims allegedly hanged, five had traces of poison, the study found.

Similarly, nine women alleged to have died of drowning also had traces of poison. “The chemical report of viscera is the most vital document about the cause of death, ” said Dr Sharma, district health officer, Patiala.

Alarmingly, the chloro-compound group of insecticides used in farming accounted for 45 per cent of the poisoning cases (67 out of 149) and 38 per cent of dowry deaths. Sulphos, the wheat preserving chemical, caused death in 40 per cent cases (60 out of 149) and accounted for 34 per cent of dowry deaths. Organo phosphorus compound pesticides - sprays used in fields - caused 21 poisoning deaths out of 149. The insect killer carbamate group caused death in 2 per cent poisoning cases.

The incidence of dowry deaths was found to be higher in rural than urban areas, perhaps due to free availability of pesticides in rural households. Rural areas accounted for 71 per cent of the total dowry deaths (125 out of 176).

Further, of the total 176 deaths, 43 per cent (76) happened in the age group 23 to 26 - the prime age for marriage. Women aged 19 to 22 years were victims in 58 cases. “The group between 19 and 26 is the most vulnerable as 76 per cent victims (134 out of 176) are from this group,” the study states.

Now about geographical prevalence of the evil -- Doaba, Punjab’s NRI belt, with 19.6 per cent of its population, accounts for 33 per cent dowry deaths in the state.

District-wise, Hoshiarpur and Gurdaspur top the list with 26 victims each out of 176 (14.8 per cent), though they house only 6 and 8.6 per cent respectively of Punjab’s population.

Percentage share of other districts is - Jalandhar, 17 dowry deaths (9.6 per cent), Amritsar, Ludhiana, Patiala, 13 deaths each (7.4 per cent), Sangrur, 11 deaths (6.3 per cent), Moga and Kapurthala, 9 deaths each (5.1 per cent), Nawanshahr, Muktsar, Bathinda, 6 deaths each (3.4 per cent).

In Malwa, Patiala tops the list of dowry deaths. The lowest deaths were reported from Faridkot and Ferozepur.

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