Over the past five years, 4157 cases of domestic violence have been registered under the Domestic Violence Act in the conflict-ravaged Kashmir Valley.
Baseera Rafiqi | Caravan Daily
“MATCHES ARE made in heaven” is a common adage adhered to marriages here in the Valley and the rest of the world also to some extent. But how much heaven is a married life for women in our society can be gauged from the fact that more and more women are coming out openly to separate from their husbands and in-laws.
As a bride is sent off to her new home, her parents have a standard advice for her: Now that is your home and come what may with it you have to bear it all, silently. This deep-rooted culture of suffering silently and compromise has always been a part of woman’s life.
However, not all succumb to the culture and the societal pressure. Caravan Daily talked to few women who chose to separate from their partners and took a stand to live a dignified life in peace.
As Ruksana sits in the corner, her fate is being sealed by the elder of her family and in-laws in the room. As the ink dries up on the paper, three lives are declared separated forever. Gloomy faces, a Qazi (a religious lawyer), lamenting family members and documents are all that is visible in this room in Zakura (10 kilometers from Srinagar city).
On the afternoon of December 25 Ruksana’s five-year marriage ended with a single stroke of pen. She wants to cry, scream but the only thing she utters is “Woni chukh cxei Khudayo” loosely translated as now I am in your hands Almighty.
Ruksana is in her early thirties and a mother of four-year-old Ateeb, but she looks way too older for her age. She has been living with her father for a year now and during this period no one from her in-laws contacted her.
“In a way it is good for me and my son; it’s better to live alone rather than dying at the hands of your husband,” says Ruksana, who firmly believes that separation is the only thing that will help her live peacefully.
The issue started two years back for Ruksana when she came to know that her husband was a drug addict.
“He was fine for two years of our marriage but then I somehow came to know about it. May be he was already an addict and my in-laws managed to hide it from me,” says Ruksana.
Their family business was flourishing and their baby was about a year old; for Ruksana it was a dream life, though her happiness was short-lived when true colors of her husband came to light that left her shattered. She tried to talk it out with her husband but he resorted to violence.
“I tried to motivate him to give up drugs but he wouldn’t listen to me. Eventually, there was dearth of money and our condition began to degrade as all the money he earned would go into his drugs. As money issues started, he couldn’t control himself and was depressed, and had anxiety with anger. After that he resorted to violence against me. I didn’t mind it much, as I knew it was the side effect of his drugs. I waited for a year but he showed no signs of improvement. Then I decided to visit my parents and told them the whole story. They were shocked that I had hidden all this for such a long time,” she reveals.
The fear to be left out alone in a society that does not accept it restrains many women to speak about violence incurred to them. The number of domestic violence would be huge in Kashmir but unfortunately these cases don’t get highlighted
After coming to know about Ruksana’s condition, her parents didn’t allow her to stay with her husband.
“She is our eldest daughter, and seeing her in such a condition was painful. With bruises on her forehead, cheeks and a broken arm I was shattered,” says Ruksana’s mother, while wiping her tears.
Knowing their daughter’s plight, their grandson’s future and the endless questions from people is making it difficult for the Mir family.
Ruksana’s family tried all the possible means to save the marriage, but when nothing came through, divorce was the only option left for them. Knowing the repercussions of their decision they still gave preference to their daughter’s will, and are prepared to help her.
“We know it will be difficult for us, but it is safe for her to live here than die slowly at the hands of her husband,” says Ruksana’s mother.
Ruksana does not earn but now she is planning to work, to make a future for her son Ateeb. She never speaks badly about her husband in front of her son; she wants him to love his father and not have any bad feelings for him. “I don’t know what is in store for me or my son; maybe he takes his son back someday. So I don’t want Ateeb to have any grudges against his father.”
Ruksana dared to talk about the violence she suffered in her married life that many other women don’t even admit to.
Zahida Javaid, now a grandmother, lives with her daughter and husband in Sopore. In her three decade long marriage, she was hospitalized many times when her husband would beat her to pulp, but she never went against him.
Last year, her husband threw a glass plate right on her face and her cheek bone got several stitches. “He is a nice person but when he is agitated he vents his anger on me, it has been a routine now. I don’t want him to leave me, were will I go?” says Zahida.
The fear to be left out alone in a society that does not accept it restrains many women to speak about violence incurred to them. The number of domestic violence would be huge in Kashmir but unfortunately these cases don’t get highlighted or reported; some accept it, others give up in order to avoid courts and police.
Over the past five years, 4157 cases of domestic violence have been registered under the Domestic Violence Act in the Valley. The data furnished by the JK Crime Branch states that 4825 cases of crime against women were registered in the state during 2014-2015; of these 11 were cases of dowry deaths and 868 were cruelty by husband, 400 registered in 2015 and 468 the year before.
“We receive 8 to 10 cases daily, regarding domestic violence, marital disputes, custody, alimony and harassments,” Nayeema Mehjoor, head of State Women’s Commission.
Scene in the only women police station of the Valley also remains very grim. Couples can be seen with their families waiting for their turn to put their cases before the police officials.
“Well, I listen to as many as 4 to 5 such cases daily and we try to negotiate by bringing both the parties to talk to each other face to face,” SHO, Women’s police station, Srinagar.
Many cases come to doctors including psychiatry wards, burn wards or primary healthcare units. The reason behind such heinous crimes according to psychiatrists is frustration, stress and clash of ideology between couples.
“Domestic violence patients come to me; these people have many psychiatric issues like depression, conversion disorder, stress reactions and more,” says Dr Maqbool Dar, senior psychiatrist at SMHS Srinagar.
“As a doctor, I cannot go that deep, but if we dig a little their problems are due to violence, either by their partners or in-laws,” he informs.
Dr Dar has been working on finding the actual cause of tension between the couples. “To me these people have either work overload or stress but mostly they are a mis-match. People are made to live together, who are entirely different which causes differences, and mounts to frustration that comes out as violence, anger and agitation. Dowry is also a cause of violence in marriages,” reveals Dar.
Incidents like burning of women have come to the fore in this year only and the burn wards are the testimony to the violence perpetrated on women in Kashmir.
“It’s very unfortunate but we receive some two per cent of burn cases that are incurred by husband or in-laws on women, each year. We take cognizance of such cases and ask the police to intervene,” says Dr Sajad, in-charge burn ward SMHS, Srinagar.
Sociologists, on the other hand, don’t see a direct relationship between violence and education, and argue that the West would not have had cases of domestic violence as their literacy rate is high.
“These days the awareness level is high and that is why more and more women report such cases. They know about their rights; there are police stations, commissions and stern punishments as well for such crimes. I don’t see a direct relation between education, else the West would have been nearly zero such cases,” informs Dr Manzoor, Assistant Professor Sociology, University of Kashmir.
“Kashmiri society is in a transit phase; independence of women has led to ego clashes between couples which creates tension among them and in many cases leads to violence,” he added.
Experts and doctors are of the opinion that awareness at ground level is the only solution to such societal issues.
“Women need to know their rights. We conduct awareness campaigns at colleges, universities to let women know about what is right and what is not,” informs Nayeema.
Baseera Rafiqi is a Kashmiri journalist and writer based in Srinagar, focusing on human rights and gender issues