Does Kashmir Know How Women Silently Survive The Domestic Violence?

by Shefan Jahan Gazi  

These case studies of physical and mental torture must force the larger society to ensure tackling it on priority. Otherwise, the family, the basic beautiful block of life, will collapse

Law students protesting against women. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur
Law students protesting against crimes against women in May 2019. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

Equality of genders is a philosophy that does not fit in well within the parameters of any patriarchal society. Therefore, inequities against the female gender are a universal truth. The underlying instincts of orthodox manhood are well preserved in the conservative perceptions and our social sub-consciousness.

One cannot help but acknowledge how these gender inequities result in subjugation and even violence, which threatens the family system of the society.

Domestic Violence

The socio-legal concept of domestic violence refers to any abuse-physical, emotional, sexual or financial abuse either by an intimate partner, spouse or relations living in the same household. The term domestic violence refers to abuse against both males as well as females, however, the former cases are less and even rare, therefore, usually specifies the violence against females in a domestic relationship.

We have international human rights norms and conventions that prevent the violation of the rights of women; then there are government schemes too in place to ameliorate and empower the female gender.

Convention for Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is a significant document, which ensures that all signatory states to which India is also a party that women enjoy economic, socio-cultural, civic and political rights, equality of status, elimination of discrimination and co-existence with dignity and elimination of all forms of physical aggression against women.

Art Work by Malik Yasir

However, the problem of gender disparities and violence inflicted on women in a domestic relationship is too deep-rooted in South Asian societies. As such cases increased manifold without a comprehensive redressal mechanism. India then formulated the scheme of Domestic Violence Act 2005 in addition to the provisions of cruelty, death, and maintenance as contained in the IPC and the CrPC.

Domestic Violence against women is increasing day by day; more and more horrifying incidents are reported. During the pandemic since last year, the National Commission for Women (NCW) has reported an exponential upsurge in such cases.

It’s a silent malady affecting the foundations of our home structure.

Is It Hierarchal?

In the dynamics of the social relations, a pertinent question arises: is such a state of affairs related to the hierarchal levels of the classes within the society and is such violence, brute force a culture of such classes, or is it a general phenomenon irrespective of the class structure?

Domestic violence can be of various forms as there is no general definition given under the Act. However, physical abuse, violence against the person of a woman whether a wife, a consort, a daughter, a widow or even a divorcee may be molestation, battery, incest even trafficking. Forced abortions, feticide or assault, the battery when she is expecting a child are also grave forms of such abuse. Marital violence also includes giving differential nutrition and healthcare access to females especially when in the family way.

While the cases of physical abuse are apparent and obvious of violence inflicted on the person of the female, mental abuse is the covert form of violence, the subtle ways of the violator are always and often difficult to deal with and even more difficult to prove as the abusers have ready explanations for their conduct.

Here are some of the case studies that I personally examined.

A Case of Bipolar Disorder

Sajida (name changed) aged around 72 years retired as a government teacher, but in her old age suffered from bipolar disorder. All her children were well settled and she resided with her husband who was doing some kind of business. Because of the irregularity in her behaviour, the couple used to have frequent scuffles and the husband would beat her to the pulp, and throw her out of the house that they had jointly constructed, and her share of contribution exceeded that of her husband. None of her children was ready to take her because of her degeneracy. The court gave her residential and maintenance orders under the Domestic Violence Act forbidding the husband to oust her from the house.

A Divorcee

Tabasum (name changed) was married with a lot of fanfare and two children were born to her of the wedlock. The marriage, however, ended in a divorce as the husband had extra-marital affair and remarried. While he retained the custody of the son, Tabasum was assigned the custody of the daughter. She lives at her maternal house. The father is quite old aged and her mother had expired. Her brother mostly maintains her apart from her father’s pension. The sister-in-law got offended and started giving her half the meals, taking away whatever money she had.

Ironically, the father of Tabasum’s daughter never bothered to pay any maintenance to his minor daughter. Tabasum suffers in silence, when asked to approach the court she cited reprisal from her brother and family honour as a reason for not doing so.

A Miraculous Survivor

Samiya (name changed) was married to a highly respectable and educated family when she was only 18 years old. Her first issue was a daughter. She pursued her education and her in-laws were supportive. She went on to do an MA in Sociology.

An 1870 lithograph showing a group of Kashmiri Mulsim women in Srinagar.
An 1870 lithograph showing a group of Kashmiri Mulsim women in Srinagar.

And when she was expecting again, her mother-in-law would wish her in the morning by taunts, ‘Oh! But now it must not be a girl.’ She endured the taunts but lost her weight. In the fifth month of her pregnancy, her mother-in-law took her son into confidence and tried to force Samiya to go for a banned gender determination test. When she resisted she was battered and her pregnancy got aborted. In a few years, she was again in the family way. This time she was unassumingly fed some concoction, where after she developed severe complications in her eighth month, and went into labour. Her uterus came out along with the dead baby girl.

Samiya’s life was saved only to live with remorse and agony for the rest of her life. Her mother-in-law persisted in a divorce as Samiya was able to beget only girl children. So much vision she had!

A Cop’s Wife

Saleema (name changed) hailing from Kandi Rafiabad, a young maiden married to a policeman. Her parents had a terrible tale to tell. They wanted their daughter to be divorced as her husband was a drunkard, he would often bring his friends home and then ask his wife to gratify them in their inebriated state. She would lock herself inside her room and hide under the bed till morning would arrive. The shame and the physical affliction had traumatized her psyche as well as her body. Someone close to the family said the girl was finally free from the devil who had even remarried.

A Hawker’s Wife

Sharifa’s (name changed) husband was a vegetable selling hawker going door to door. One day, he died a sudden death due to cardiac arrest leaving her to fend for herself and her four minor children. She remarried and her second husband is an SPO earning R. 6000/ or so. He works overtime as an auto-rickshawala and takes good care of the family of these orphans. He even married off her eldest daughter.

Nishat (name changed) is 19 and has a 2-year old male child. Her husband a carpenter lives in a distant village of Baramulla. After 2016, his work suffered and he was rendered jobless. He then started torturing her for dowry and took away all her belongings. She filed a case under the DV Act. As soon as he got a summons from the court, he started giving life threats to the family. Knowing the background of the carpenter, Sharifa was extremely scared for her SPO husband, who she knew had a vulnerable job. She wanted her daughter to withdraw the case after receiving such threats. Without elaborating the events further, the dispute ended in a divorce and the father retained the custody of the male child only after putting forth the condition ‘either dowry or divorce’. Dowry didn’t have divorce became an option.

The cases of physical violence are more frequent among the rural and uneducated class, while psychological/mental abuse is more prevalent among the educated urban class.

There is a lot of mental abuse in vogue. These are some of the cases:

Devastated Dreams

Maria (name changed) got married to a software engineer who settled in the US. She liked his American accent and sophisticated demeanours. One month after the marriage he left without her, promising to send her the visa once he was back. She kept waiting for the visa. Slowly the communications lessened and she went back to her maternal house. Three years later, she was still there, meanwhile suffering from sleeplessness and bouts of depression. This alliance too ended in a separation.

No Child Required!

Tabina’s (name changed) husband suffers from epileptic fits. This is part of his family history. This health fact was hidden from Tabina and her family. Knowing his health condition he didn’t want a child, so he would keep a stick beside his bed just in case his wife should come near him. And if she ever asked him the reason, he would quarrel with her and send her to the maternal house making her life miserable and threatening to kill her if she should crave for a child causing her mental agony. Elders prevailed, but ultimately the marriage failed.

Women with wicker basket moving through a mustard field in North Kashmir’s Bandipora district.

Misbah (name changed), a professional entered into wedlock with unemployed but postgraduate youth. Initially, he had a contractual job or so. But the family was highly respected. She thought together they would make everything work. After marriage her husband disallowed her from working, pertinently he himself had no source of income or employment. However, her parents supported her needs. Meanwhile, her daughter was born, and by now she discovered the dark side of her husband’s temperament, who would threaten to divorce her on a mere pretext or even a small manageable argument.

She endured it with patience, thinking the bad temper may be due to stress and frustration. However, he remained unconcerned, unaffected about the welfare of the child or his wife even when he was gainfully employed. Every time Misbah would raise the issue, he would shout divorce at her. Every time Misbah would go to her maternal house, he would ring up her relatives and tell them that she has left him. She would never be able to explain the reason or the unreason. Time went by but her husband a temperamental bully never changed disassociating himself from the matrimonial responsibilities. Misbah somehow found the courage to counter him before his relatives but he levelled false baseless accusations of infidelity against her. Once spying on her, he asked his colleague to contact Misbah and then created a huge fuss over the issue threatening to divorce her. Ironically, the said colleague narrated how her husband had encouraged him to contact her and even felt sorry for her.

Another time he threw the windows of the washroom wide open from outside when Misbah was taking a bath only to humiliate and subjugate her and destroy her self-esteem. He tried his level best to malign her reputation and she kept enduring all his misdemeanours, neglect and isolation for the sake of the honour of the family she belonged to and that into which she was wed. Every time she tried to walk out of this painful marriage her elders stopped her asking her to think of her child first. Perforce she is joined in matrimony to a person who takes sadistic pleasure in hurting her.

Accusing a wife falsely of infidelity, mental derangement or unsoundness of mind, levelling baseless allegations on the legitimacy of the child or chastising the wife for the birth of a girl child is cruelty. Even torturing the wife for the incapacity to bear a child or even a second child or refusal to go himself for any required treatment is mental abuse. A constant threat of withholding money, maintenance to children, sustained intimidation to walk out, humiliation in an objectionable manner is also mental abuse.

A Grave Situation

The gravity of such acts, however, is clearly demarked from the regular wear and tear of married life otherwise mere excuses will jeopardize the institution itself.

Perpetrators of domestic violence thus come from all socio-economic cultural and educational backgrounds. The stressful life, greed or vicious temperaments are causes of such violence against women. Criminality, poverty, substance abuse, drugs or alcohol by the male spouse contribute to the problem. Not to mention the delinquency or addiction among the children are also causes of violence within the family against the females.

Ultimately, the women have to bear the brunt of all these factors. And, pertinently there is often no workable solution for such victims. If they walk out of the abusive marriage they face social stigma and taboo. Their circumstances are as between the devil and the deep sea.

The worst issue in such cases is that outwardly they may be having good reputations, so the abusers become vengeful and violent maligning and defaming them if their women raise a voice and in extreme cases leading to suicide or even murders.

Financially Independent Better

The women who are financially independent and also have the support of their families opt-out of such vile marriage alliances, but many are financially dependent on their abusers, and they fear their inability to support their children under such circumstances. Lack of support too is a contributing factor for staying in the relationship. Many fear reporting the abuse because of the apathetic approach of the police. They endure everything for the sake of their children and family honour.

Employees at Rajbagh Silk Factory say there were a lot many women working but now their number has reduced to quite a few. (KL Image: Bilal Bahadur)

The sensibilities of people vary according to their status and education, environment and grooming or family traditions therefore we see the variation in the kind of abuse. The subjugation of wives, disallowing them from pursuing careers even beating is much a part of the chauvinistic culture of every patriarchal society, howsoever educated it may be.

Men are the controlling authorities even in Muslim societies where women have been given an alleviated status and have been given so many rights. The husband is the regulator of home affairs and the guardian of his wife and children. If he has any dominion over his wife, can he possess her soul? It’s a big question. As such he has to do adl (justice) to her as guaranteed to her by Al Quran and promised by the Holy Prophet (PUBH).

Though there is a change in perceptions now, however, at ground level it’s quite minimal and superficial.

Maintain The Balance

Love warmth, care and companionship, expression of concern build the emotional and psychological security to form the foundational bedrocks of a robust family system. The delicate balance has to be maintained throughout the subsistence of the marriage. Such families promote order and stability within the society.

Otherwise, merely being together is insufficient and a refrain to the society from gossiping about two people whose lives may otherwise be empty.

While it is a fact that the structure of the family has changed, women are educated and qualified. They pursue careers. They have carved out their niche in their professions and have their own status in society. They are no more the bourgeois wives of public men.

Widow Remarriages?

There is also a steep rise in the number of single parents due to the rising number of divorces. The institution of marriage, however, declines when there are no remarriages after divorce. It is extremely difficult for a divorced female to find an equivalent match and that too if she is a mother. Unmarried men are forbidden by the societal norms and men even if divorcees prefer not to marry them. How hypocritical is this! A divorced female is as pure as that of a divorced male. I ask you, readers, why these double standards?

After all, no reasonable person marries to bargain and endure physical violence, psychological abuse or unbecoming conduct of addiction. It causes anguish and distress to the wife, it’s something she doesn’t she hasn’t chosen in the marriage.

Fisherwomen wait for customers to show up as moderate snowfall.

It’s a human tendency to crave a deeper relationship rather than a mechanical and superficial life. Therefore, the man to whom she submits her life as a wife has to be her support system, espousing her, protecting her and being in charge of house affairs; cooperating with her and desisting from turbulent passions and acts which impair marital integrity. She does not need a salary to be the wife but needs her spouse to shoulder his share of worldly responsibilities and build together a home in a house. Only then does a relationship become harmonious and fondness between the couple grows. In a lighter vein, after all, there is no potion for building a blissful harmonious matrimonial life. The Key is love and understanding; bereft of this life is a mess.

It needs to be hammered home that a female has her limitations too. She too has her levels of tolerance exhausted and humanely cannot always be expected to be patient. It wears out and ultimately affects her health draining her of the psychological and emotional capital rendering her unproductive.

Self Harm

Often times such victim women inflict injury as a sort of punishment on themselves, flagellating themselves going hungry in extreme cases even leading to suicide. And, abetment to suicide is a crime.

Domestic violence produces diminished self-esteem, helplessness, depression and feelings of aloofness in such females. They maintain silence over the years; suffering and never speaking out openly, maintaining a hush on such conversations for the fear of chastisement even from the womenfolk who already accustomed often justify and condone such abuse granting impunity to the offender only to embolden them.

The threat of divorce is in fact a threat to her ability as weaker sex to protect and fend for herself and the children. Living single howsoever bold and independent she may be makes her vulnerable and exposes her to suspicion and gossip.

The essential concept of marriage is a legal contract of the relationship between couples. Therefore, if a male spouse wants to remarry and divorce his wife, let him do it gently without maligning her reputation and destroying her personality. Often women endure such pain for years in the hope that things will change only to be released/divorced at a late stage of their lives; when they are rendered hopeless and homeless. A break up of one relation destroys many more for we as a society are closely knit. This affects any prospects of her better future life. She becomes a victim of society’s whim and caprice.

Women make great sacrifices to keep the family intact and an abusive marriage going, but attitudinal inflexibility becomes a burden to deal with.

Apathetic System

Often times the police is apathetic towards the victims as there is a stereotypical presumption that a female has always to be patient and compromise whatever the situation be and more generally the patriarchal notion that she must be wrong.

Media can play a gender-sensitive role by creating awareness and reporting objectively. But uploading the statements of the victims by different media persons at different times only sensationalizes the cases and creates ambiguities which are later on harped by the accused during the trial of the cases. Therefore, short of reporting media trials should stop. Further due to laxity in the legal procedures the offenders take it very easy and aren’t much deterred by the legal consequences.

Issues By Pandemic

The pandemic has seen an abrupt increase in complaints of domestic violence due to unemployment, instability, impulsive aggression and frustrations that fuel friction between couples. Restricted mobility, confinement increases violent behaviour and dependence on addictive’s. There is expected an increase of such cases as we head for further lockdowns.

The neighbours and relatives can play the role of pacifiers. During the pandemic, there has to be a robust support system of online counselling also. Mental health needs to be prioritized and highlighted. At the micro-level women can build small informal chat groups, it helps to talk. There should be involvement of NGOs for such women at the macro level.

An expecting mother waits for her turn to offer samples for the Covid-19 test. All the expecting mothers in most of Kashmir were tested for the virus in anticipation of childbirth. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

Reportedly women helpline was launched in Jammu and Kashmir also and received more than 50 calls within just two days. The National Commission for Women in the month of Feb 2021 also heard 85 cases in Srinagar as against more than 7000 pendency’s in the erstwhile State Women Commission.

Have You Ever Considered These Basics That Make A Marriage Successful?

There is a crisis at hands and remote controlling practically doesn’t work. Our institutions have to be in place. We also need to rise to the occasion as a society. Our institutions of faith are strong. Therefore, religious leaders can play a key role in stopping the situation from exploding into an irrepressible epidemic.

Shefan Jahan Qazi (Lawyer)

They need to speak up and exhort people without their personal egos to wake up the dormant consciences. The need is to teach the significance of fikr (right thinking) so that fikh (jurisprudence) can be learnt. The smaller basic aspects need to be understood first before we embroil ourselves into the deeper conceptual intricacies of the religion.

On a concluding note, Life is not all poetry! The prose has to be written sometimes with consideration and at other times with caution. No doubt every relationship in our life has its own significance but the heart is a frame in which only one person can fit in. When we create different frames in the mainframe it becomes a motel. Even though I daresay this is a damned logic. Gossip destroys happy relationships.

(Author is a practising lawyer in the Jammu and Kashmir High Court. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Kashmir Life.)

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