In 2013, Anandi, then a 33-year-old woman, lived in Chennai with her husband and two children—an infant girl, and a seven-year-old boy. Anandi’s nine-year marriage had been tumultuous. Her husband was an alcoholic whose emotional and physical abuse had become a regular feature of her life. Her constant anxiety was exacerbated by the financial problems that had propelled their family into debt. “I could not step out of my house without creditors questioning me about the money my husband owed them,” she said. One evening that year, after 40 days of sobriety, Anandi’s husband came home drunk. An altercation ensued, during which he beat Anandi. She could not sleep that night. “I thought things were getting better. But that night I felt that he had not changed at all. I was very upset and his alcoholism kept coming back to me again and again,” she told me when I met her in November 2016.
It seemed from my conversation with Anandi that such incidents of abuse had pushed her towards thinking about drastic measures. On the morning that followed that particular evening, she took one. She seized her opportunity when her husband left the house, telling her that he would be back soon. “I don’t know what came over me,” Anandi said. “But when I saw the can of kerosene, I picked it up, poured it on myself and lit a match.”
Anandi’s mother-in-law had taken her infant away earlier, but her older child witnessed the incident. Nearly 44 percent of Anandi’s body was burnt. Her mother-in-law took her to a hospital immediately. She instructed Anandi to tell the authorities that the burns were a result of a stove that had burst; otherwise, she claimed, the hospital would not admit Anandi.