Young women in India are three times as likely to suffer a fire-related death as young men, according to a new study. The study, published in the Lancet medical journal, looked at death statistics in India for the year 2001. Of an estimated 163,000 fire-related deaths, two-thirds of the victims were females, mostly aged between 15 and 34.
These deaths are attributed to kitchen accidents, self-immolation and different forms of domestic violence, such as dowry disputes.
The study, conducted by Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University and independent researchers, looked at hospital records, death registries and verbal autopsy reports to find their results.
By combining several health data sets, the authors found that in 2001 there were 106,000 fire-related deaths among Indian women, mostly between 15 and 34 years of age – a number six times higher than the police recorded.
In all their research, there were “alarming” spikes in deaths by fire in the 15 to 34 age group of females in India, the authors said.
This could be attributed in part to “sudden exposure to the cooking environment”, though some believe that many homicides are covered up as accidents and are considered a cultural norm, so the police do little to investigate or intervene.
The relative youth of the demographic most affected also corresponds with the age distribution of fertility. In addition, domestic violence is not unheard of in India.
Dowry deaths, in which a woman is doused with kerosene and then set on fire, are sometimes perpetrated by the family of the husband if the bride’s dowry does not meet expectations.
The Hindu practice of sati, the act of a widow’s suicide by jumping on to her husband’s funeral pyre, is illegal in India.
The study concluded that better research into fire-related deaths could produce policy measures that would prevent unintentional as well as intentional fire-related deaths among Indian women.
2 March 2009, BBC