Bonded by custom

A poor widow tries everything to get her daughter a divorce from a bad marriage but is unable to repay the Pachil money she received from the groom’s family. Syed Asma reports.

A Kashmiri bride.
Pic: Bilal Bahadur

Rubeena’s eyes are moist. A small blink will set the tears rolling down her face. She is staring at the floor to avoid looking into the eyes of her mother sitting opposite to her. The eyes of her mother, Zaitoon Begum, are also moist but there is a pretentious smile on her face. “I think I should leave now otherwise I’ll miss the bus to home”, says Zaitoona Begum. Rubeena gives a painful nod without looking into her mother’s eyes. Eleven-year-old Rubeena will babysit an 11-month-old child to supplement the family income. Tears roll down Rubeena’s eyes when her mother kisses her good bye and leaves her.

“It is difficult to leave a child at strangers place, I am helpless. I hope she will manage”, says Zaitoona while leaving her daughter with a family in City. “Her brother is not happy with Rubeena working outside but we have no choice,” she says.

Sending an 11-year-old daughter to work with strangers away from home worries Zaitoon but the predicament of her teenage daughter agonises her. Zaitoona, a mother of five, is a widow who married her four children – two sons and two daughters. She lives with her younger son Shabir in a forest village near Preng in Ganderbal. Her other son lives at Wangath village, 12 kilometers from Preng, with his family.

Their village is a long walk on the muddy road from the nearest bus stop. “I have only seen either people walking or trucks travelling from this road, no small cars or buses have ever come to our village,” says Zaitoon.

They live in a Kotha, a wood and mud house, with two 8 feet by 10 feet rooms. One room is used for cooking. Zaitoon’s husband,Yousuf Baniya, was a laborer who met with an accident. “He lost his leg in that accident and was bed ridden for one and a half years. Doctors said some poison has spread in his body. He died leaving me with three big responsibilities and no source of income,” says Zaitoona. Until his death only two of her children were married.

Two years ago her fourth child, Shakeela, was married to her brother’s son. In the marriages in their Gujjar community the custom of Pachil, where a groom gives some amount to the bride’s family for marriage expenses, is widely prevalent. The custom of Pachil was also followed in Shakeela’s marriage.

But the marriage did not go well for Shakeela. She returned and has been staying with her mother since a month and a half. She refuses to go back to her husband’s home. She says he treats her badly.

“My husband used to torture me, abuse me, humiliate me every day and nobody would dare to interfere. He loses his temper on trivial things,” says Shakeela, “I have many times been beaten with ropes and wires leaving painful wounds on my body”.

Seeing her condition, Zaitoona also believes it is insane to send her back.

“They used to make her work like a donkey, I still didn’t mind, I never questioned them but now knowing about the torture and seeing her condition, I don’t think she is safe in their hands. That place is a hell for her,” Zaitoona adds, “She threatened of committing suicide if I ever told her to return to her husband.”

Zaitoon has asked for a divorce for her daughter. Her son-in law agreed but asked for a compensation of Rs 50000 to let her daughter go. The poor widow can’t afford the amount.

“I lost my husband because we could not afford his treatment. I had to send an eleven-year-old child out for earning. Where can I get that much money?” says Zaitoon.

The only way Shakeela can walk out of that marriage is to return the Rs 50000 demanded by the groom’s family.
“They will kill her if I sent her back. Everybody in the locality has tried to help me in their own small ways but 50,000 is a big amount, very big amount,” says Zaitoon.

“There are many people who came forward with a big amount of money, offered it as Pachil and were ready to marry Shakeela but she is not getting convinced,” says the mother. But Shakeela would not agree. “Having been treated terribly by her husband and in-laws she does not want to marry again,” adds Zaitoon. “I believe she will take some time to get back to normal.”

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