Photo Essay - Flames of Desperation
Winner of Amnesty International Photojounalist of the year 2005
Photo Essay - Burning Brides of Bangalore -
Official figures from the World Health Organisation show that in India, 12 women per thousand died from burns in 2000. This is the highest of any country .
Most of the women are burnt in their attempts to commit suicide. They see the only escape from their horrendous lives of physical and psychological domestic violence is to kill themselves. The easiest and surest way they have to do this is to burn themselves with kerosene.
However, the women will state that the cause of their burns is accidental. The reason for this is that attempting to commit suicide is illegal in India. Further, if the husband or in-laws have abetted a suicide then they have committed a crime.
These female patients come from mixed religions - Hindu, Muslim, and Christian. They are generally from lower middle income families and have had some education. The women are in love and arranged marriages and most have been married for less than seven years.
Case studies of some of the female patients at the Burns Ward at Victoria Hospital show a very personal and revealing insight into what these women have lived through, why they attempted suicide and what the future may hold for the few that do survive.
Victoria Hospital is a government hospital and covers a population of 6 Million people, in and around Bangalore.
There are few methods available to women to kill themselves other than covering themselves with kerosene and setting light to it.
There is also a great importance of the purifying aspects of fire in Hinduism, poignantly, with Sita– who following her abduction, she proves of her fidelity and innocence to her husband by entering fire and not being burnt.
Educationally this may play a part along with the economic and social aspects. Women do not know what drugs and medication would kill them, also medication is sold singularly, and an accumulation of medication would be noticed both by the seller, the neighbors, also her husband, and his family economically.
In India, if a woman has an unnatural death within the first seven years of marriage, authorities under the Dowry Prohibition Act 1961 automatically investigate it. There is a presumption that the death is caused by harassment by her husband and in-laws over dowry. Consequently, 70% of the female admissions at Burns Ward Victoria Hospital Bangalore are officially attributed to dowry harassment –though dowry rarely is a factor in the women’s death.
female burns patient
Asma - 18 yr with an 18 month son and 6 months pregnant. On her pillow is her wedding picture. She miscarried the fetus and died of septicemia 4 weeks after she set herself on fire. Her son sustained some minor burns as well.
female patient on the ward
Amu 18, 5 months pregnant, a love marriage which became abusive when her alcoholic mother in law demanded money Amu wanted to keep for her baby, and turned her husband against her.
patient being admitted, her husband and his relative peel off burned skin.
One of the womens burns wards.
A legal statement being given by Laxmi - her mother in law (glasses) is forcing her to retract her previous statements.
neck contractor being released and skin graft carried out
Asma's son with her sister
Amu at the window. She had no visitors the 6 weeks she was in hospital
Back home, married to her first cousin she has no option but to return to her marriage and his family - her sons wait outside
an attempted homicide survivor, her now imprisioned husband tried to kill her over dowery issues
Asma's mother on the death of her daughter