India's Burnings of Young Brides

January 16, 1985

In its pursuit of human rights, the U.S. government has demonstrated concern for Soviet Jews, the people of Central America, and South African blacks suffering under apartheid. It's only right that these causes be supported in word and deed by a nation based on justice and freedom.

But there is another group against which atrocities are committed, and our government turns away. Every day in India countless women are burned to death, and in the rural areas their murders go unreported.

According to Indian women's groups, this slaughter of young brides is directly connected to the payment of dowries, a bridal payment made illegal 20 years ago but still widely demanded. Once the initial sum is paid, the groom's family often make further economic demands on the brides.

Although women's groups have documented case after case of these extortion demands, which are followed by fiery deaths, the government takes little action. The law is written so that this is not even murder. It is called "abetment to suicide." Arrests are exceedingly rare.

Under our present and newly reelected Administration in America, we have cut family planning funds to countries that include abortion under family planning. We profess loudly to the Third World that we believe in the sanctity of human life, and we put our money where our mouth is. Yet we remain silent about the slaughter of Indian women; we treat with respect the government that permits this horror to exist.

Where are the international pressures, the sanctions? Where is the justice? Why is it that the very lives of these poor women appear to mean less to the men in Washington than the potential of their wombs?

How can we not protest this abomination?

India has suffered terrible losses in the political struggles of the past month. The government is making every effort to restore peace and stop the slaughter of innocent Sikhs. Meanwhile, the quiet slaughter of young brides continues, and India neither enforces nor changes the laws that could stop it. America, champion of human rights, looks away. Could this failure to act be because these tragic victims have no link with an American constituency?

Today, while the nation based on justice and freedom fails to even speak out, India will allow two more of her daughters to be burnt to death in New Delhi. Tomorrow, flames will consume two more.


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