Her charred, wasted body gave up on Friday. Sangeeta Verma, 36, died at Delhi's Safdarjung Hospital a week after she was allegedly attacked with acid and diesel fire by her husband and in-laws over an unfulfilled dowry demand of Rs 25 lakh.
MAIL TODAY first reported on Wednesday that the schoolteacher from Uttar Pradesh's Ghaziabad district was brought to the institute this week with 90 per cent burns.
The attack followed years of harassment and torture over dowry, she told this reporter. While the Hindu wedding custom has been illegal since 1961, brides' families often feel it is a matter of honour for the young woman to be given a proper send-off. Though dowries are not negotiated as much now, a wide difference often exists between what the groom's relatives expect and the bride's parents give.
UP's minister for women welfare Rita Bahuguna Joshi told MAIL TODAY, "We are deeply saddened by Sangeeta's death. Strict action would be taken against her in-laws. The district magistrate and state women welfare ministry are keeping a close watch on the matter and officials from the ministry met the family members on Friday."
Joshi also said that the state government will give all permissible support to Sangeeta's family members and two children as it is a case of dowry and domestic violence.
Experts say burning is the preferred method of killing for desperate husbands and in-laws because it is hard to prove it is murder. Women in India wearing loose flowing saris while cooking on gas or kerosene stoves often suffer accidental burns.
'WILL MAKE EVERY POSSIBLE EFFORT TO ENSURE JUSTICE IS DONE'
Union minister for Women and Child development Maneka Gandhi took to Twitter to express her condolences. "Deeply saddened upon hearing that Sangeeta passed away at Safdarjung Hospital, late last night. May her soul rest in peace. We will make every possible effort to ensure that justice is done," she wrote, also citing MAIL TODAY's report published on Friday. "This loss must be shared by all, as another daughter of our nation has lost her life to dowry."
A senior official from her ministry said Gandhi is likely to meet the victim's family to ensure justice. She has also sought an action-taken report from Ghaziabad police.
A senior doctor from Safdarjung Hospital told MAIL TODAY, "Preliminary post-mortem reports suggested that Sangeeta was burnt alive with diesel and acid. She passed away at 12.30am.
Sangeeta's body had suffered 90 per cent thermal burn injuries due to which she succumbed. In this type of burns, there are minimal chances of survival." While police have arrested her husband Sanjeev Nagar, a hunt is on to catch her absconding in-laws. "I had been pleading with my father and family to help me get divorce from my cruel husband for 15 years," Sangeeta had told MAIL TODAY.
"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."
India has the highest number of recorded acid attacks, which are often a form of revenge by angry spouses or rejected suitors. "A report has been submitted to National Commission for Women (NCW) and main accused Sangeeta's husband has been arrested now. Investigation is on," said Ghaziabad's senior superintendent of police Deepak Kumar.
According to her brother, Sangeeta's husband had bought liquor and indulged in other revelries with the Rs 1.5 lakh she had saved for their kids' school fees, books and uniform. This led to massive arguments.
On April 13, the fight over dowry turned ugly and her husband and in-laws allegedly attacked her with acid just before she was about to leave for school. She was first taken to a neighbourhood hospital and later moved to Safdarjung.
"For the past 15 years, Sangeeta was physically and mentally tortured by her husband and in-laws. Today, she is not with us, but we will fight for justice," said Pradeep Verma, Sangeeta's brother, who is now taking care of her sons - Avni, 13, and Akash, 12.