Cries in the Night

There are voices crying out in the darkness. Their cries originate from the other side of the world, bounce off the clouds, echo from the sky, and reach my ears. I am listening.

They live as prisoners. Abused by their caretakers, they are neglected by family and avoided by neighbors. Nobody hears them or knows their predicament, and if their eyes betray their pain, or a bruise betrays the truth, who among them has the power to help? Most look the other way, avoiding the truth, avoiding involvement. Some wish the problem would just go away. Some perhaps accept it as a way of life. Even the authorities may pressure them not to speak the truth of their lives. They are living in despair; living a loveless, lonely life.

This is the story of a certain group of women. These women live in the southern part of Asia. In this culture, marriages are arranged by the parents. Often close relatives also get involved in the seeking of mates, and the ensuing discussions and negotiations. A young woman is promised to a man, a dowry sum is agreed upon, and the two marry.

But a shadow lurks. The young woman, full of hopes, finds her dreams shattered. The man she married, and often his family, ask for more dowry. She is mistreated by him, by his family, by his parents; even if she is able to provide the extra money, she is still tormented by her husband and his family. She lives a life full of abuse– verbal and physical. The very man that she is supposed to trust, the man who “pledged” to take care of her, protect her, is actually her enemy. If she fails to provide the extra money or gold, her very life is threatened– and she may be killed. She could become the next victim of a specific kind of domestic violence incident called a “dowry death”. There are no witnesses to hear or see the assaults on her, which often happen behind the walls of her home. And another beautiful soul, created in the image of God, dies.

These women, who die “dowry deaths”, live in a society that practices the giving of a “dowry”. A dowry is the money or goods  that a bride brings with her at the time of her marriage. It is often a large sum that is agreed upon in advance. Providing a large dowry is a heavy burden on very poor families.

The giving of a dowry is a common practice in India. According to Wikipedia, this practice is also common in other Asian countries, such as Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. And, even though the payment of the dowry was prohibited in India in 1961 under the 1961 Dowry Prohibition Act, the practice is still widespread, accepted, and common, among all social castes.

It is not unusual for a woman to be burned as a means of death; in fact, such incidents are sometimes labeled as “stove bursts” or “kitchen accidents”. If the woman survives a burning attempt, she will often be under pressure to say that the “stove burst”, but the stove-bursts are often cover-ups for a husband’s attempt (or his family’s) to kill or harm her. Once she is out of the way, the widower-husband is then free to marry someone else and receive a new dowry; hence, his motivation for the murder.

In 1995 Time Magazine reported that dowry deaths in India increased from around 400 a year in the early 1980s to around 5,800 a year by the middle of the 1990s. A year later CNN ran a story saying that every year police receive more than 2,500 reports of bride burning. ( source: Wikipedia)

Consider also these statistics also: Published on Frontline, by PARVATHI MENON, Aug 14 – 27, 1999.

Excerpt: … On an average, therefore, almost one hundred women have been dying violent deaths every month in the privacy of their homes. And these are the official figures. When 44 persons died of plague by September 1994 in Surat, the epicentre of the plague outbreak of that year, the epidemic assumed the proportions of a national crisis. Yet, public acknowledgement of the unnatural deaths of young women in Bangalore city is restricted to perfunctory two-line news items in the daily newspapers, where they are reported as “accidents” or “suicides” over “dowry harassment”. Thereafter, they drop from public consciousness into the anonymity of a police or court ‘case’.

And, here is a very recent news post about a suspected dowry death:

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/lucknow/Dowry-death-Woman-succumbs-to-burn-injuries/articleshow/5936135.cms

There’s more. Below is an article that is questioning the number of deaths of young women dying unusual deaths in the city of Bangalore, India:

http://www.hinduonnet.com/fline/fl1617/16170640.htm

In the above article, the author states the the dowry deaths outnumber the number of deaths caused by traffic accidents in the sixth largest city in India. If you know anything about traffic or driving in India, you’ll understand what that number really means. Traffic is congested, unruly, chaotic, and in this particular city, Bangalore, officials are trying to address the problem of traffic and its related casualties.

But the alarmingly high number of deaths of newly married young women does not get the same media attention. Why?

On an average, therefore, almost one hundred women have been dying violent deaths every month in the privacy of their homes. And these are the official figures…  DOWRY-RELATED violence against married women by the families they marry into is a phenomenon that is on the increase all over the country, particularly in urban areas where such violence gets reported on. Women’s groups have been engaging with this issue at various levels in different parts of the country.

(source: http://www.hinduonnet.com/fline/fl1617/16170640.htm)

Disturbed yet? Here’s more:

An estimated 25,000 brides are maimed or killed each year. (source: http://www.indiatogether.org/wehost/nodowri/stats.htm#continue)

For a nation that has made such progress in computer science, space technology, that has increased the economic clout of its middle class… to allow bride burning, and not be outraged? Is this progress? Advancement? Achievement? Or are the numbers too small for a country whose population surpasses one billion?  Or, is it that these women, who cannot go to their parents’ house (due to social stigma and norms), who have nowhere to go, are like eyesores to us; we simply don’t want to see, don’t want to be responsible for the dung-pile of abused humanity some of our daughters, sisters, mothers, friends, have become?

In a recent issue of The Economist, titled “Gendercide: The Worldwide War on Baby Girls” (dated March 6, 2010), we learn that the sex ratio of boys to girls in India is skewed. In other words, modern technology has made it possible for parents to discover the sex of their child before birth and then selectively abort the female babies. Sons are highly preferred, and for families who only desire one or two children, having a girl baby takes the place of a son. Remember, only a son can receive a dowry; a daughter has to provide one. According to an old Hindu saying, “Raising a daughter is like watering your neighbours’ garden.” By the way, sex-selective abortion was banned in India in 1994. However, it is difficult to prove that an abortion was due to the baby’s gender. Yet, the statistics show the irregular number of boy births compared to girl births.

So we can see that India has a problem with the way it views women. Sons are greatly desired. Women are considered a liability, and are objectified, and subsequently are not viewed with the same level of respect or standing as a man.

Interestingly, women have attained high political and educational positions in India, and obtaining a high level of education is a desirable trait. But while publicly women may have made some strides, the reality is that a deep problem still persists. While bride burning may be more prevalent among the poor, even among educated families, there is widespread verbal and physical abuse.

The problems of India are huge. They are numerous, complex, challenging, multi-faceted. But there is much to say about America, too. I will share some statistics on domestic violence in the United States in a subsequent article. As individuals, as nations, we are guilty of letting the weak and powerless among us to be exploited by the strong and the powerful.

And, on a personal note, I have some things to add. I do not label myself as anything, other than a child of God. I follow his word, which says he created us in his own image, and we are equally loved by him, and equally share in his grace, his salvation, his inheritance. God treats a woman as a first-born son– which essentially, means as an equal to a son. In ancient societies (and even today), inheritances were passed down to sons, and a first-born son had a special status. God sees all his children as having that first-born status. I am not a feminist, a man-hater, or anything of the kind. I do believe there are honest loving men, just as I believe there are deceptive women. The converse is also true. None are sinless before God, we are all guilty, and not one of us can cast the first stone. My concern would be just as great if boy babies were being killed, or men were being killed.

And men, you should be outraged. Protect your women; your wives, sisters, mothers, daughters, friends, and those who cannot do it for themselves. Let go of your pride and take responsibility as men. Biblically speaking, your responsibility is to “love”. You are never to take advantage of those who are smaller or weaker than you. Verbal or physical abuse is never justified. NEVER.

I am grieved, saddened to see the plight of these women. I hear their cries.  I am listening.

But more importantly, God is listening. He is watching. Nothing escapes his eyes. He hears the cries of the oppressed. He promises to bind up the broken-hearted and to bring beauty from ashes. My God, the Everlasting Yah, will bring beauty out of the ashes of these burned bodies.

Okay, now, go grab some tissue. I just did.

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One thought on “Cries in the Night

  1. I had no idea of this silent tragedy. I’m grateful for the opportunity to now pray for these sisters across the world. May God work powerfully as His children rise up to challenge the darkness redeeming hearts and souls and lives. Thank you for sharing this.

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