One year ago, people were in for a rude shock when Vismaya, an Ayurveda medical student from the southern Indian state of Kerala, took her life following the dowry-related abuses from her husband. The death of an educated woman under mysterious circumstances at her husband's home raised questions about the lack of adequate laws or the lack of implementation in protecting the lives of young women.
Last week, a Kerala court sentenced Kiran Kumar, the husband of Vismaya, to ten years in jail and fined Rs12.50 lakh for abetting the suicide.
Kollam Additional Sessions Court judge KN Sujith found Kumar, who was an Assistant Motor Vehicle Inspector, guilty of the various crimes put forward by the prosecution, which included abetment of to suicide and tormenting the victim in the name of dowry, among other things.
Special Public Prosecutor G Mohanraj told reporters that the judge also sentenced Kumar to six years and two years imprisonment for abetment to suicide and dowry harassment under the Indian Penal Code. He has also been sentenced to six years for taking dowry and one year for demanding dowry under the Dowry Prohibition Act. The court said the sentences would run concurrently.
Vismaya was found hanging at Kumar's home in Kollam district on June 21, 2021.
Kumar was unhappy with the brand new car, 1.20 acres of land and 100 sovereigns of gold he got as dowry. He was harassing Vismaya as the Rs 1 million car gave low mileage, and hence he wanted to sell it off and buy a new luxury car. Kumar was arrested and dismissed from service after the case evoked a public outcry.
Vismaya's mother, who was disappointed with the quantum of punishment, said the family would approach the higher courts as the 'punishment was not enough'.
"We expected a life sentence, and since that has not happened, we will approach higher courts," said the mother, who was keenly watching the news on the TV channel at her home. The mother said she does not believe her daughter got justice.
However, Vismaya's father said there are rules, and for a dowry case of this nature, this is the maximum punishment.
"Still, we will seek legal steps after speaking to experts as we feel there are more accused in the case," said the distraught father who was at the court to hear the verdict.
Earlier in the day, Vismaya's father left for court in the car, which was given as dowry. He told the media that his daughter loved the car, and he believes her soul is there with him in the vehicle.
Of the fine amount, Rs 200,000 will go to Vismaya's parents.
In their charge sheet, Kerala Police said that Vismaya committed suicide due to dowry harassment. Police finished the probe in express time, and the 500-page charge sheet lists 102 witnesses, 96 documents and 56 material objects as evidence.
A day before the incident, Vismaya had sent WhatsApp messages to her relatives over the alleged harassment by Kumar over dowry and photos of wounds and marks of beatings on her body.
Her father had said that 100 sovereigns of gold (800 grams) and over one -acre of land, besides a car worth Rs1 million were given as dowry to Kumar during the wedding in 2020.
However, Kumar did not like the car and wanted Rs1 million in cash. When Vismaya's father informed him that it was not possible, Kumar used started to torture her.
Kerala witnessed several dowry-related deaths last year. A woman Archana, was found ablaze at Venganoor in Thiruvananthapuram district in one incident in June 2021.
On the same day, another woman Suchitra was found hanging in Alappuzha district. The mother of Archana said that her daughter underwent torture from her husband on money and property. She got married to Vishnu, a soldier in the Indian Army, on March 21, 2021. While Vishnu was in Uttrakhand, Suchitra took the extreme step just months after the marriage. The relatives of Suchitra alleged that her in-laws had tortured her by demanding Rs1 million more as dowry. They said the amount was raised even after giving 51 sovereigns of gold and car dowry for Suchitra.
It was in 2021 that a Kerala court handed double life imprisonment to a husband who killed his wife using a cobra in their bedroom. It was the second time that Uthara, who was differently-abled, was bitten by a snake as she earlier survived a viper attack as well at Sooraj's house.
Actor's wife death
Actor Unni P Dev, son of the late actor Rajan P Dev, was arrested for the suicide of his wife Priyanka, in June 2021. Priyanka's relatives alleged that she faced mental and physical harassment over dowry. Priyanka, a resident of Vembayam in Thiruvananthapuram district, lived with her husband at his residence near Kochi. A few days after returning from her in-laws, Priyanka was found dead in her house on May 12, 2021. She had bruises on her body when she returned home, her relatives pointed out.
Dowry deaths in Kerala
Despite Kerala being one of the most literate states in India and social activists having an active presence, the number of dowry harassment cases at an alarming level. According to the Police's Crime Records Bureau, the state witnessed 66 dowry death cases in the last five years. More than 15,000 dowry harassment cases have also been registered.
According to news reports, a total of 1,04,015 cases relating to marital disputes have been pending before 28 family courts in Kerala. The police have also registered 223 cases under the Dowry Prohibition Act from 2011 till February 10, 2022, government data showed. Another alarming fact is that despite charge sheeting in around 80 per cent of such cases, the conviction rate is a pathetic four per cent. Out of the 176 cases charge sheeted, the accused were convicted only in seven cases, a report highlighted.
In the last three years, 34 women lost their lives in the state and charge sheets were filed in 20 between 2018 and 2020. However, there was no conviction in any of the cases so far, the government data indicated. A total of 18 cases were registered in 2018, 10 in 2019 and six in 2020.
The number of dowry harassment cases shot up last year, according to the data. A total of 75 cases have been registered, and 45 of them were charge sheeted.
The women's commission in Kerala handled more than 1,000 cases in the last ten years. According to a 2021 World Bank report, Kerala "exhibits stark and persistent dowry inflation since the 1970s and has the highest average dowry in recent years."
Data from the National Crime Records Bureau of India showed that more than 10,000 complaints over dowries and around 7,000 dowry deaths had been reported in India in 2020.
Following is the list of dowry-related deaths that were reported from Kerala:
- 2016 - 25
- 2017 - 12
- 2018 - 17
- 2019 - 8
- 2020 - 6
- 2021 - 10
- 2022 – 2
As per the Indian law giving and accepting dowry is an offence and it was outlawed under the 1961 Dowry Prohibition Act. However, it is common practice in many marriages to give and accept dowry in the guise of 'gifts'. In the 1980s, India added new sections into its penal code, permitting police to charge men and family members related to a dowry death. They can be also be charged in cases of suicide related to dowry and harassment. The woman who suffers domestic abuse is protected under the law, including the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005. Under section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, the husband or relatives of the husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extendup to three years and shall also be liable to fine.
Women facinges domestic violence can call Dhwani, a national domestic violence hotline: 1800 102 7282. They can also use the national helpline for women in distress: 1091, besides the Scheme of Universalisation of Women Helpline (WHL) number 181. WHL is a 24 hours helpline that provides emergency help to women who have been affected by violence in public and private spaces. The helpline links to police, hospital authorities, etc. The WHL will also trace the call if the woman is unable to explain her full problems or if there was an interruption.
Vismaya Dowry Death: Timeline
September 12, 2019 - Engagement
Vismaya and Kiran Kumar met each other via a matrimonial website, and their engagement was on September 12, 2019. Eight months after the engagement, they got married.
May 31, 2020 - Wedding
Their marriage took place on May 31, 2020. According to the charge sheet, Kumar started abusing Vismaya on the second day of their wedding. The first argument was related to the brand of car that was given as a dowry. Kumar initially wanted a Honda City but later agreed to settle for a Volkswagen Vento but received a Toyota Yaris as dowry. A disappointed Kiran, who sought a replacement for car, started abusing Vismaya regarding this incident. Vismay’s family said they gave 100 sovereigns, one-acre land and a car as dowry. Vismaya narrated the events to her father just after nine days of her marriage. A voice record of Vismaya, which surfaced later, indicated that she had already conveyed Kumar’s unhappiness to her father. Vismaya told her father that she wanted to come back to her home. “I will do something. I cannot bear it anymore,” Vismaya said. The father consoled her by suggesting that Kumar might be fighting against her because of his anger.
On June 9, Kumar transferred 42 sovereigns of Vismaya to his own locker.
When Kumar and Vismaya were returning from shopping, they had an argument, and the former stopped the car and physically assaulted her. Vismaya ran away from the vehicle, took shelter in a nearby house, and stayed there for nearly an hour. The resident of that home later became a key witness in the case.
January 2, 2021
Months later, when Kumar and Vismaya were getting ready to go to the latter’s home on January 2, 2021, Kumar, under the influence of alcohol, physically abused his wife. Even after Vismaya reached her parent’s home, Kumar continued fighting with Vismaya, even in front of her family. Kumar told her parents, “You dumped a waste woman and a useless car on me.” Kiran also slapped his wife in front of her brother and parents. Kumar hit and broke his arm when her brother, Vijith, tried to approach Visamaya.
January 3, 2021
Visamay’s family decided to file a case against Kumar and approached the Chadayamangalam police in Kollam district. However, due to the intervention of Kumar’s family and friends, they returned home without lodging a complaint against Kiran. However, Vismaya decided to stay at her parent’s house.
January 4, 2021
The next day, Vismaya went back to her husband’s home to collect the hall ticket for her examinations and stayed at Kumar’s home.
January 11, 2021
Her father and brother visited Kumar’s home to invite them to Vijith’s wedding. Vismaya, who went back with them to her own home, stayed there for more than two months.
When Vismaya went to her college to write her exams, Kumar reached the campus and asked her to go with him to his home. Vismaya obliged, but Kiran continued his abuse after arriving home.
April 17, 2021
After an argument with the couple, Kumar destroyed Vismaya’s phone and warned her not to contact her father or brother. If she wanted to talk to her mother, she could use his mobile, Kumar told her. According to the charge sheet, Kumar hit Vismaya’s face with a shoe. Though Vismaya explained the incident while talking to her mother over the phone, the latter did not inform other family members, hoping that the matter would be settled amicably.
June 19, 2021
Vismaya informed her cousin via a WhatsApp message about the abuse she faced. She also sent images that showed the injuries on the face, hands and shoulders.
June 21, 2021
Vismaya hanged herself in her marital home on June 21, 2021. After the death of Vismaya, her mother told reporters that Kumar did not allow Vismaya to contact her parents. “On June 20, Vismaya called me and asked for Rs 5,500 as the fee for her exams. That time I did not have money and asked her to inform Kumar. She said he would scold her. She was allowed to call only me, and Kiran had blocked the numbers of my husband and son. When she told me about the abuse, I told her to come back home, but Vismaya was worried about society's opinion,” Sajitha told reporters.
On the night of Vismaya’s death, Kumar surrendered to the police and a case was filed based on the complaint from Vismaya’s parents.
With inputs from Agencies