I would like to tell you about Sangita — a young, bright and attractive Indian woman with a 4 month old child. Sangita was a teacher at Buddha’s Smile School until she left to get married.
Yesterday I visited her in a public hospital in Varanasi. She had been burnt all down her front — from her forehead to her knees. Her face (cheeks, eyelids, nose) were swollen and covered in a white cream, her lips, neck and ears were black and oozed blood. White cream mixed with red blood is not a pretty sight and when she saw us enter the hospital room she began to cry. Tears mixed with white cream and blood is even more sad and disturbing. I watched her with as much tenderness as I could muster. It was an effort. I didn’t want to look away, I wanted — needed — to look into her eyes so that she might know an ounce of what I felt for her predicament. I didn’t talk to her. I didn’t think she’d understand English and I can’t speak Hindi. So just being there and looking into her eyes was all I thought I had to offer her.
She says she doesn’t know how she was burnt. She says it was an accident, but others say different. They say she had kerosene thrown over her and that she was then set alight by her in-laws in order that her husband could leave her, re-marry and receive another dowry. But the fact that her in-laws wouldn’t pay for any of her medical bills or give her blood, the fact that her husband and his family were supposedly in the room when her clothes caught alight and the fact that none of them helped or called for an ambulance (she called her brother herself on a mobile phone 30 minutes after the event) seems to suggest something less than honourable.
I have been told that in Bihar and in Uttar Pradesh it is all too common for marriages to end in this way. Bride-burning or dowry-burning they call it. I suppose I shouldn’t be too shocked at the levels of unbelievable cruelty some people can descend to for money, but I am.
On Saturday January 13, 2007 at 6 am, Sangita passed away. She had suffered weeks of unbelievable pain and although we had moved her into the burns unit of a private hospital we were unable to save her life or make her last weeks on this earth pain free.
Sangita’s child is safe and being well cared for.
We will remember her always.
This photo has kindly been provided by Yoga & Health — Europe’s best selling Yoga magazine — who published an article about Buddha’s Smile School in February 2005. Sangita is the woman on the left. The woman on the right is Rajan.