More than 100,000 young women were killed in fires in India in a single year, and many of those deaths were tied to domestic abuse, according to a new study published Monday.
Young Indian women are more than three times as likely to killed by fire as their male compatriots, according to an article published on the Web site of the British medical journal, The Lancet. The victims largely fell within a 15 to 34-year age group.
Domestic abuse is a serious problem in India. Women are sometimes killed in disputes over dowries; often in such disputes the victims are doused with gasoline and set ablaze, and their deaths are claimed as kitchen accidents.
In the first study of its kind and using the most recent data available, The Lancet analyzed death registrations, official questionnaires in rural areas and census figures to arrive at an estimate of 163,000 fire-related deaths in 2001, or 2 percent of all deaths. That number is six times higher than the number of such deaths reported by police. More than 106,000 of those, or 65 percent, were women.
Women rights activists have long accused the government of not doing enough to fight the problem. Indira Jaising, director of the Women's Rights Initiative of the Lawyers Collective in New Delhi said authorities only pay the issue lip service.
"They say that it's a crime and it's shameful, but it's not enough to say that," Jaising said. "They have not been able to do anything to stop it from happening."
She said authorities must intervene earlier in dowry disputes and domestic abuse cases.
"Once the death takes place they are willing to investigate but by then it's too late," she said. "When women go to them with complaints when they're alive, those complaints should be taken seriously."
Officials at the Ministry of Women and Child Development did not respond to requests for comment.
The study's co-author Prachi Sanghavi of Cambridge, Massachusetts, said in the report that the fire deaths were usually caused by kitchen accidents, self-immolation and domestic abuse. The Lancet did not specify a university or organizational affiliation for Sanghavi.