Del Mar plastic surgeon helping victims of dowry burning in India

Accepting dowry illegal in India since 1961

SAN DIEGO - The recent gang rape and murder of a medical student in India has brought the ongoing issue of violence against women in the spotlight again in that country.  

Several laws have already changed since the case was fast-tracked to trial. The men involved face the death penalty.  

However, another horrific form of domestic violence in the world still continues today in India and is on the rise.  

A local plastic surgeon who helps brides who've been burned talked exclusively to 10News Anchor Kaushal Patel with the lives he's trying to change.

Dr. Munish Batra, a prominent Del Mar plastic surgeon, said, "They won't even leave their house; hostages in their own environment because of how disfigured they are.

"It may start off as, 'I was burned accidentally,' and then the story becomes 'my husband did this because I didn't pay the dowry or my family wasn't able to afford the dowry,'" said Batra.

Batra recently returned to San Diego from India. He has been going there for the last 10 years on missions with a group of Indian plastic surgeons offering free surgeries to anyone who needs them. He said he has seen an increase in dowry burnings.

"This last trip to Bilaspur, over 10 percent of our patients had 3rd-degree burns to the face, neck, extremities," said Batra.

One of Batra's patients over the years is 39-year-old Kapila Taneja, who was burned by her husband with battery acid.

"Because they're burned on their face, everything sort of melts together into one structure … they can't close their eyes," Batra said.

"We've had situations where their elbows are burned and they can't feed themselves and can't hold their children. It's a very depressing situation; our goal is to restore function," said Batra.

Accepting dowry has been illegal in India since 1961. It is an ancient tradition where a bride brings money or goods to a marriage. While it's not widespread, it still thrives in rural towns and villages.

Dr. Anita Raj from the UC San Diego School of Medicine has been studying this problem for years and her research focuses on violence against women in India.

"What I hear and what we've seen is they don't even get the chance to engage with society this is hidden. It's a shame and a hidden secret," said Raj.

Because of that shame, getting accurate numbers on this crime is nearly impossible, as hundreds of cases go unreported every year. For the ones that make it to court, it takes decades for them to get justice.

There is also the issue of a divorce dishonoring the family.

"One of the things I'm most struck by when we hear stories from India and most places we work is that the women remain in these situations because they don't have another place to go," said Raj.

The sad reality for girls in India is major policy changes by the government may not happen anytime soon, meaning the illegal act of dowry and bride burnings will continue.

Batra said, "It's going to take not just the 40 years from 1961 to now, but another 100 years for women to be treated as equal citizens."

The crime of dowry burning or bride burning is not just isolated to India. The problem goes on in a number of countries in other parts of Asia and the Middle East such as Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal and Bangladesh.

Batra considers these women lucky because most don't survive their burns. He plans to go back to India next year to continue providing free surgeries.

Batra has donated at least $20 million in charitable/free surgeries over the last 10 years.

Read more about dowry burnings and how you can help volunteer or make donations by visiting:

Coastal Plastic Surgeons: www.coastalplasticsurgeons.com

American Society of Indian Plastic Surgeons: www.asipsurgeons.com

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