Her face and body changed in an instant, permanently, and so did her life.
Ghaziabad resident Sangeeta Verma, 36, was brought to Delhi's Safdarjung Hospital this week with 90 per cent burns after her husband and in-laws allegedly doused her with acid. The government school teacher says the attack followed years of harassment and torture over dowry.
"Papa, please help me get divorce from my husband," she had told her father and family members many times. Though the payment of dowries for marriage is illegal in India, they remain widespread across caste, class and educational divides. Doctors at Safdarjung say chances of Sangeeta's survival are slim. Her two sons, 13-year-old Avni and Akash, who is a year younger, have no idea where their mother has been since last week.
HOW DID IT HAPPEN
Sangeeta was going about her daily morning rituals last Thursday- getting the kids ready for school, cooking food for the family, etc. She was about to leave for work when an argument with the in-laws over the alleged Rs 25-lakh dowry demand turned ugly. She narrated her trauma to Mail Today at the hospital with great difficulty. "I had been pleading with my father and family to help me get divorce from my cruel husband for 15 years. The in-laws too always abused and tortured me for dowry to fulfil their desires. But none of my family members listened to me due to societal pressure. Now, see where I am..."
Doctors say chances of Sangeeta Verma's survival are slim.
The government has made attacking someone with acid a specific offence with a minimum prison term of 10 years. It has also tightened controls on sales of some acids, but cleaning agents are still easily available. Sangeeta's in-laws had always been pressuring and torturing her physically and mentally for Rs 25 lakh dowry. "The harrowing incident happened around noon, when I received a call from them saying that she had burnt badly," said the victim's brother Pradeep Verma.
"We all rushed to her place and took her to a nearby hospital in Ghaziabad and looking at her extensively burnt body, doctors there referred us to Safdarjung Hospital."
'YOUR CHILDREN WILL PAY THE PRICE, IF YOU SAY ANYTHING'
"Sangeeta's father-inlaw Richhpal Singh Nagar is a retired section officer from the ministry of urban development. He is absconding now along with his wife, Rambhuli", said Pradeep. The victim was allegedly frequently threatened by her in-laws that if she spoke out about her harassment, her children would have to pay the price.
Earlier, she was reluctant to tell the truth about her burn injuries. But, knowing that her chances of survival are slim, on Tuesday she gave a statement to the police in an FIR that she was burnt by her in-laws, Pradeep said. Sangeeta had saved Rs 1.5 lakh for her children's school fees, new books and uniform, but this was allegedly used by her husband, Sanjeev Nagar, to buy liquor and on other revelries.
A senior doctor in the burns unit, on condition of anonymity, told Mail Today, "Sangeeta came to our department late Monday evening in a distressed state. She has little chance of survival." A police FIR has been done and Sangeeta's family members informed us about the arguments and fights between the husband and wife.
Sangeeta has an MSc degree in Botany and a BEd and wished to study further. "Had we listened to her earlier, she would not have been lying here today," said her sister Babita. Experts say the custom of dowry began in India largely because, under Hindu law, parental property was not allowed to be shared by female children. In compensation, parents would give daughter a gift at the time of her marriage. In time, bridegrooms and their families made handing over the gift as dowry an institutionalised demand.