Krishna Ram became Roshan Lal's wife last June, and before long the fights began.

Even through Krishna, 22, had brought a $2,750 dowry of fancy saris rimmed in gold and silver, gold bangles and household goods -- a veritable fortune for her family whose month's pay is less than $50 -- her in-laws kept demanding more.

On Thursday neighbors saw smoke curling from the bathroom of the tiny apartment the Lals shared and Lal, 24, a hospital orderly, was spotted running out the back entrance. When they investigated, they found Krishna Ram burned to death in the bathroom.

According to police who charged Lal and his mother, Maya Devi, 45, with murder and theft, Krishna is the latest victim here to bride burning, a pernicious and barbaric crime that appears to be growing in northern India.

In New Delhi alone last year, more than 200 women were burned to death by their husbands and in-laws because they brought an insufficient dowry women's groups here estimate. Many more of these dowry deaths are believed to be disguised as suicides or household accidents.

Until last summer, when women's organizations began publicizing bride burning, police generally refused to investigate the cases. But the city's new police commissioner, P. S. Bhinder, said in a magazine interview that he is "worried about the increasing number of dowry deaths in Delhi."

The issue has become politically popular. A newly elected member of Parliament is demanding stiffer laws and calling for the police to set up a special unit to deal with allegations of bride burning.

Thus the issue of bride burning has became the major success story of India's embryonic women's movement, which is struggling against a centuries-old tradition that relegates women to a position of little more than chattel.

Their success on the issue has emboldened women to tackle other sexual abuses that until now had been barely whispered about. The two most common abuses are rape, especially of women belonging to the lower castes by police officers and landlords and "eveteasing," the coy word Indians use to disguise the crude pawing of women in buses and other crowded places.

Rape and the physical harassment of women occurs all over the world. But bride burning appears to be a purly Indian phenomenon.

It occurs most frequently, but not exclusively, among lower middle-class families striving to improve their status and gain more material goods.

Typically, the additional dowry demands of goods that are considered luxury items, such as motor scooters television sets, refrigerators and bottled gas connections for stoves.

While demanding a dowry has been illegal since 1961 brides' families feel it is a matter of honor for the young woman to be given a proper send-off.

Although dowries are not negotiated as much now, a wide difference often exists between what the groom's family expect and the bride's family gives.

Moreover, traditionally the bride move out of her family home to her husband's, where she falls under the thumb of her mothr-in law.

Last month, police charged a senior officer in the Food Corporation of India with helping his attractive high-caste wife commit suicide by burning. Her brother told the Indian Express newspaper he believes she is a bride burning victim since during her four years of marriage she complained of frequently of being beaten and taunted by her husband and in-laws for not bringing a sufficient dowry.

In another case reporeted in the papers here last month, the 21-year-old daughters of a truck driver was burned to death. He said his daughter -- for whom he had "begged and borrowed" a $2,500 dowry -- had been beaten and was a victim of bride burning. He said the police refused to take his complaint.

Another father told a women's meeting last month that he had spent three years trying to get the police to investigate the death of his newly wed daughter.

For deperate husbands, burning is the preferred method of killing because it is hard to prove it is murder. Indian women wearing loose flowing saris while cooking over open kerosene flames often suffer accidental burns.

But police says Krishna Ram was first strangled to death by her husband and then burned, after she found her gold bangles was missing from her trunk. Police charge they were taken by her mother-in-law.

Krishna, who had received the unusual opportunity of finishing high school, was the only daughter whose father was dead. Her wedding had been a festive affaiar since her brothers scrimped and sacrificed, depriving their own wives and children, to provide her with the dowry.

"That girl was the daughter of the house," said her oldest brother, Nota Ram, as her mother wailed loudly ouside the bare room the size of large walk-in closet that provides the family's living, sleeping and eating quarters. w

"It was a question of honor," continued Nota Ram, a government clerk, "we had to give her some status in life."

The marriage, like most in India, was arranged by the families. The Rams had been assured the Roshan Lal was a good man and had a bright future. She and Lal had met before the wedding, but never spoken.

The in-law's demands for more dowry started immediately after the wedding, her brother said, when they asked for about $60. "We had no money, but to preserve our honor we gave them $40."

Despite the demands, he said the family had no idea if Krishna was being mistreated. "her husband must have beaten her," he said, "but when she came home she seemed happy. She must have been very unhappy inside. But it is the duty of the Indian wife to serve her husband. It is not her right to complain."