http://allafrica.com/stories/printable/200601310454.html Indian Dowry Woes: Test for Law Makers New Vision (Kampala, UGANDA - Africa) NEWS January 31, 2006 </B> Posted to the web January 31, 2006 By Alice Emasu Kampala TWO weeks ago, Navpreet Kaur, 22, of Indian origin, residing in Kampala tasted the wrath of her parents Mr and Mrs Garbax Sigh of Old Kampala. Crime: She refused to marry the men of her parents' choice. Navpreet was tortured and taken out of Citizen Secondary School where she as in S.5. "Money is not my parents' problem. They simply want me to marry against my wish. When I got myself a job to raise money for school fees, my parents refused," says Navpreet. Only a week later, an Indian mother of one, also residing in Old Kampala who had been forced into marriage three years ago, was burnt by her partner in their house. She died on the way to Mulago Hospital. The man says she attempted to commit suicide. A concerned Indian who preferred anonymity said. "The man returned from Arua district where he works and proceeded to a nightclub. When he came back from the club at midnight, he picked an argument with his wife. The following morning, he rushed the badly burnt wife to Mulago Hospital. Whenever you hear of an Indian case like this, where the man claims the wife or daughter committed suicide, most likely it is murder," says the source. These are not isolated cases. There are thousands of dowry-related cases that occur regularly within the Indian communities. Some of them are quietly happening here in Uganda. In 1997, Ugandan women activists, together with members of the Indian Women Association in Kampala led a demonstration protesting the murder of Renu Joshi, wife of Kooky Sharma, an Indian businessman. Kooky is now on death row at Luzira. Joshi was killed with electric shock on Christmas Eve in 1997 at her home in Old Kampala. According to BBC 2006 reports, Indian Government statistics show as many as 7,000 women were murdered by their husbands and in-laws in 2001 in disputes over dowry payments. Sometimes women are tortured to squeeze more money out of their families and in extreme cases, they are killed so that their husbands can remarry and get more dowry, the report says. According to the study, the birth of a girl in most Indian families is mourned, which contributes to the rate of female infanticide in India today. Female babies are regarded as a burden to the father. It means he must work and save money to marry her off. "The dowry problem is one of the factors driving most Indian families to use sex-selective abortion to avoid having female children. More than 10 million female births in India may have been lost to abortion and sex selection in 20 years," the BBC research suggests. But without clear laws to address dowry issues in the country, dowry-related deaths might escalate. Navpreet's father says Ugandan laws do not affect the Indian culture of forced marriages. He says ever since Navpreet went public on the matter, his wife has deserted their marital bed blaming him for not being hard enough on the girl. He says if Navpreet does not get married, his wife will be criticised for bringing up the girl poorly. "I have the right as the father of Navpreet to choose a partner for her. Being in Uganda doesn't mean we should disrespect our (Indian) laws," Gearbox Sigh says arrogantly. But Indian sources in Kampala say most girls who oppose the marriage arranged by their parents are often deported to India, where maximum pressure is exerted on them until they yield to the marriage. Jackie Asiimwe Mwesigye, a lawyer and woman activist in Kampala says most Indian women just like most of their Ugandan colleagues, tolerate all forms of abuse and subsequent death because society has made them believe that domestic violence is a family matter that should only be resolved at home by family members. "It is unfortunate the Indian community is closed. Many young Indian women quietly go through Navpreet's experience, irrespective of their level of education. Even when women have reported cases of abuse, the community shields the culprits. This is a challenge for women activists," Asiimwe argues. Asiimwe says Ugandan laws apply to both citizens and non-citizens in the country. She says according to the 1995 Constitution and the Marriage Act, forcing any one into marriage is a crime. "At worse, if a non-citizen is found guilty of an offence, he or she can be deported. But not all crimes attract deportation. Some crimes require the offender to be detained for a few days," she says. She regrets that Uganda does not have shelters where domestic violence victims can be protected from their abusers. She calls upon the Indian women activists to work closely with their Ugandan colleagues to end domestic violence. Ann Kampire, head of conflict disputes management at FIDA says Navpreet is now safe. She says her parents were not prosecuted because the girl is not interested in having them punished. She observes that if Navpreet wanted her parents punished, they would have been charged with confinement and torture. Navpreet has since fled her homes and initially had to seek refuge at FIDA-Uganda. Currently she is under the care of the Indian Women's Association (IWA) in Kampala. Initially, she feared to involve the IWA saying the Indian community would not understand why she refused to marry the men of her parent's choice. But Navpreet's case has lessons for the women activist in the country. The activist have to intensify their advocacy for a clear family law to adequately protect women's rights. Atuki Turner, the Africa Domestic Violence co-ordinator for Amnesty International, says Navpreet's case offers women activists a better opportunity to reflect on the existing laws and identify gaps that need to be improved to adequately address issues of domestic violence. She regrets that the Domestic Relations Bill (DRB) has been shelved, yet if passed; it would be the starting point for women activists to advocate clear laws on domestic violence. She argues that issues of domestic, dowry or bride price in particular, are difficult to address because of the dynamics of religious and cultural beliefs. Dipali Sharma, the general secretary for the IWA, condemns Garbox's act towards his daughter but says the association has handled similar cases in the recent past. "Her problem could be dowry-related. But if it is about education, Navpreet could still get married and continue with her education. I believe every parent wants the best for their children," she says. She says IWA members secured for Navpreet a job at Shell Petrol Company, in addition to accepting to take her back to school. She says Navpreet's decision against reconciliation has, however, caused tension between her parents and IWA. The resolution was made at the regional police headquarters after attempts to reconcile Navpreet with her parents failed. She says today, many Indian parents especially those that are highly educated are liberated and are likely to allow their daughters to choose their partners. The 2002 national population census shows the population of foreigners, of which Indians are the majority, stands at two million people. It is, therefore, crucial the Government makes a deliberate move and come up with a family law that will protect all women including, the likes of Navpreet. 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