LAHORE - Braving blazing Saturday, a number of people took 32-year-old burnt woman to the press club to vent their rage over the in-laws’ atrocity for dowry. Aqeela, 32, was set ablaze by her in-laws for bringing meager dowry and police, as usual, stooped as low as they can.

“They (policemen) have declared innocent the culprits. The man who set my daughter on fire has been released,” said Ejaz Akhtar, the father of victim. “Look what they have done to my daughter,” he said and burst into tears. Ejaz, a poor farmer in the suburb of Lahore also said that he had no money to get the medical treatment of his daughter, fighting for life for the last couple of weeks.

Severely cooked, Aqeela, who contracted marriage with Ghulam Rasool about one and a half year ago, was lying unconscious on the plank (chorpoy) on the road in sizzling weather. Her father says the in-laws set Aqeela on fire by sprinkling petrol over her body because he had failed to give her dowry as they had demanded. “The attitude of the in-laws was very rude towards her since she was married as we could not give her attractive dowry,” he said while cursing himself.

The sisters-in-law of Aqeela along with their accomplice, identified as Faiz, tied the hands and feet of the victim and then set her on fire. The Barki Hydyara police registered a case against the accused persons but declared them as innocent during the course of investigations, Ejaz said. He alleged that the police investigators received huge bribe to declare innocent the culprits.

On the other hand, in-laws of the victim told the police that Aqeela attempted suicide by setting herself on fire. Soon after her sisters-in-law insulted her over dowry issue in routine, she attempted suicide by sprinkling fuel over her body. A police official said that the main accused Faiz had secured bail from the local court and the police had not declared him as innocent yet.

With every passing day, the menace of dowry is becoming a social menace in this status-conscious society. The dowry menace is the major factor behind the oppression on women, physical violence on the bride, causing a financial and emotional stress on the parents of the bride as well.

The country has seen a surge in the values of dowries in recent years. The extravagance of dowries is condemned by many people because it is not based on Islamic laws. But most the families yet prefer to receive a bridal with attractive dowry including cars and properties apart from jewelry, clothing, and money.

Dowry deaths are also a widespread problem in the poverty-hit country and often referred to as “stove deaths” to blame the deaths on accidents, killing a bride by setting her on fire is the preferred method.

In 2008, the Upper House passed Dowry and Marriage Gifts (Restriction) Bill 2008, unanimously. The bill restricts dowry to Rs30,000 while the bridal gifts should not exceed Rs50,000.

The list of dowry and bridal gifts should be attached with the marriage certificate (Nikahnama) and at the time of divorce, wife would own the said gifts and dowry. The government passed the bill considering it would provide relief to the poor parents and also save the lavish expenses on marriage.

The 1976 act restricted the lavish expenditure on marriages dowry to Rs 5000 but it could not be enforced. “The legislation has no worth unless it is implemented across the board. Unfortunately, no government or political party ever seriously thought to wipe out the menace of dowry from the society,” said advocate Mushfiq Khan.

Every year, the government releases millions of rupees to the Punjab Baitul Maal (PBM) to provide financial assistance to the needy, and to arrange dowry for the poor girls.

“As a matter of fact, the government is regularly releasing grants to the PBM ever since it took over the Punjab province in 2008. But these funds remained unused because of one or the other reason,” an official said.

Bait-ul-Mal is a federal institution and viewed a social safety network, which provides financial assistance to arrange dowry for poor girls besides running food and rehabilitation centres for beggars and gives financial support to the handicapped.

Since April this year, thousands of poor patients, students and disabled persons are running from pillar to post to get financial assistance, thanks to the mismanagement in the Pakistan Bait-ul-Mal (PBM). The authorities oblige the favouites on the recommendations of politicians while distributing the dowry grants and a major chunk of the funds is embezzled by the officials.

A recent study conducted by the Institute of Social and Cultural Studies, University of the Punjab, has revealed that the attitude of police towards cases of violence against women encourages the perpetrators owing to under representation of females in police department and discriminatory behavior of male police stations.

“The study revealed that incidents of women violence are not reported to the level that it could sensitize the society. Such underreporting violence also exonerates the police department to take stern action against culprits.”