The social construction of 'dowry deaths'

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Abstract

The classification of cause of death is real in its consequences: for the reputation of the deceased, for her family, for those who may be implicated, and for epidemiological and social research and policies and practices that may follow from it. The study reported here refers specifically to the processes involved in classifying deaths of women from burns in India. In particular, it examines the determination of 'dowry death', a class used in India, but not in other jurisdictions. Classification of death is situated within a framework of special legal provisions intended to protect vulnerable women from dowry-related violence and abuse. The findings are based on 33 case studies tracked in hospital in real time, and interviews with 14 physicians and 14 police officers with experience of dealing with burns cases. The formal class into which any given death is allocated is shown to result from motivated accounting processes representing the interests and resources available to the doctors, victims, victim families, the victim's husband and his family, and ultimately, the police. These processes may lead to biases in research and to injustice in the treatment of victims and alleged offenders. Suggestions are made for methods of ameliorating the risks.

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Belur, J., Tilley, N., Daruwalla, N., Kumar, M., Tiwari, V., & Osrin, D. (2014). The social construction of “dowry deaths.” Social Science and Medicine, 119, 1–9. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2014.07.044

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