Anokhi DIY / Culture & Lifestyle / Remembering Satya Rani Chadha: The Face Of India’s Anti-Dowry Movement

Remembering Satya Rani Chadha: The Face Of India’s Anti-Dowry Movement

Anokhi DIY Culture & Lifestyle Jul 14, 2014

Satya Rani Chadha, the woman who sparked a movement to stop dowry-related deaths.

On July 1, Chadha passed away at the age of 85, never having reached her final goal of justice for her daughter, but having paved the path for change, and increased rights for generations of other mothers and daughters.

Chadha was the name that launched the anti-dowry movement in Delhi and across India. She was compelled by her own daughter’s death by burns and spoke to parents across India who had lost their daughters in dowry-related deaths, and together with another mother whose daughter also suffered a dowry-related death, turned her tragedy into a movement that sparked change for women's rights in India.

That fire did not die till Chadha’s own death at the age of 85 this month in New Delhi. She was ailing.

Chadha's daughter, Shashi Bala, was a graduate of Delhi's Lakshmibai College, and in her early 20s when she married Subhash Chandra. Ten months into their marriage and six months pregnant in 1979, she died. According to reports, the kerosene stove where she was cooking burst into flames.

Under the provisions of the law, dowry was defined as consideration of marriage. Just two days prior to his wife’s death, Chandra had demanded a scooter from his in-laws, making veiled threats about what would happen to his wife if he didn’t get what he claimed he was owed. Because of his demand for a scooter, Subhash could not be charged or arrested. Chadha approached the Supreme Court, but the law was upheld.

Women Working Together

Chadha united with another grief-stricken mother, Shahajehan "Apa" whose daughter had also been allegedly murdered for dowry. Together, the two came together to establish a Delhi-based gender-rights advocacy group and became the anti-dowry movement's most well-known faces. These two mothers, united by a common tragedy, toiled to ensure that fewer women would suffer similar fates.

Throughout the 1980s, dowry-related deaths were commonly passed off as kitchen accidents and described as acts of bride burning. Chadha and Shahajehan "Apa" attended rallies, seminars and protest marches – campaigns that led to stricter laws and special cells in police stations to monitor crimes against women.

Their work paid off, as the movement grew and the government created stricter laws against dowry-related deaths by shifting the burden of proof and making not only the husband – but also his close relatives – culpable.

The Final Verdict

In 1980, Chadha filed charges of murder and abetment to suicide in a lower court against Chandra and his family. After being found guilty, Chandra was released on bail in just two months. By the time the case was upheld and brought to the Delhi High Court in March of 2013, Chandra had disappeared, whereabouts unknown.

After more than three decades of fighting the case in court, Chadha had won, but with no comfort. "She was full of fire and epitomized the cause. You could feel her passion," said lawyer Sanjoy Ghose. "She turned up once at a seminar for lawyers and judges with actual dowry victims. She turned the focus on those victims."

Featured Image: globeandmail


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