“I don’t think of all the misery but of the beauty that still remains.”
Current reports document that 25,000 women are victims of bride burning in India each year. Since many cases are left unreported, this is considered to be a significant underestimate of the total number of victims to this horrific crime.
Bride burning is related to the dowry system. While the tradition of demanding a dowry has been illegal since 1961, it is still practiced, particularly in village areas. In cases where the agreed upon dowry has not been paid after the marriage, or if the groom’s family demands more, a threat may be made to burn the bride if demands are not met. If the bride’s family does not comply, the groom’s family may choose to follow through and set the new bride on fire.
In the city of Bangalore, there is only one government hospital and five beds available to burn victims.
Agni Raksha was founded in 1999 by Dr. Prema Dhanraj. Dr. Dhanraj was herself a burn victim when, as a child, she was severely burned by a kitchen fire in her home. Prema eventually completed her medical studies and accepted a position to work at the Christian Medical College and Hospital, eventually becoming the Head of the Reconstructive and Plastic Surgery department. She has been the recipient of many international awards and provided training to open the first burn treatment facility in Ethiopia, the country with the highest number of burn victims in the world. In 1999, Dr. Dhanraj launched the foundation Agni Raksha, which literally means “protection from fire,” to provide treatment to local burn victims as well as an opportunity for skills training and income generating activities.
The key focus of Agni Raksha is the overall development of the individual patient. The primary objective is to provide trauma treatment, ongoing medical care through reconstructive surgeries and physical therapy, psychosocial rehabilitation, and job training for a holistic approach to healing and recovery. Agni Raksha strives to give each individual hope in their future through rehabilitation programs that address the physical, psychological, and spiritual needs, as well as education, vocational training, and funding for small businesses. These vital components of rehabilitation address the practical life needs and equip a woman to be financially independent to support herself and her children for a promising future.
Since 2008, Wellspring International has provided funds to purchase critical needs such as a Suzuki ambulance, an air conditioning unit, and two generators for their small medical facility that they have named Safe Haven Clinic. Fifteen hospital beds were added to the clinic and a nurse’s quarters added to allow for 24 hour care. Ten patients received two reconstructive surgeries each for a total of twenty surgeries, and the micro finance loan center was launched. Twenty women began skills training classes in tailoring and eight women were approved for a loan and started an independent business. All micro credit beneficiaries are on a payment program that serves to finance the revolving credit fund. Each woman is mentored by an Agni Raksha’s Self Help Group to provide accountability and support.
In the upcoming year, Wellspring International aims to provide $85,000 USD to Agni Raksha to invest in the skills training program, medical supplies and reconstructive surgeries, ambulance driver and part time nurse.
There is a significant need for funding toward a fully equipped onsite surgical center to adequately treat patients. Presently, they must use the surgical facilities of two area hospitals, but the relationship has many limitations. Gaining permission, scheduling and staffing are a constant challenge. An operational surgical facility will support a greater number of surgeries to include victims currently on a wait list.
Please contact us for more information concerning this significant project.