With an alarming rise in domestic violence cases women find themselves in a fix between reporting abuse and saving their marriages. Muntaha Hafizi reports crimes that often get dusted under the carpets
(A victim of domestic abuse who was set on fire by her in-laws. Representational Pic)
With 15 dowry deaths officially recorded in last two years, apart from an undetected figure that usually goes unreported, Kashmir shows a staggering rise in cases related to domestic violence against women.
Official figures reveal that as many as 428 cases of domestic violence were registered in 2013, with the numbers escalating to 468 in 2014.
An average of 6 women visits State Women’s Commission (SWC) every day hoping to fix and/or give their fallen apart relationships another chance. In past one decade, SWC has received more than 2600 cases related to domestic violence; mental, physical and emotional. Presently around 130 cases from Srinagar are being contested at the commission and about 35 cases from Jammu are under persuasion.
Desertion by husband, custody of children, torture by husband, dowry, are among few of the main reasons cited for domestic violence by the victims at the commission.
“I have been coming here since last two months. My husband is torturing me since last 10 years. Every time I try to reconcile, he starts beating me,” says Nelofar, a 45-year-old from, Baramulla.
Nelofar has sneaked quietly among a group of people, hiding her right arm that has an arm collar. She is married since last 18 years, and is a mother of three children. Last time, her sister-in-law had dragged her by hair, followed by her husband who had pushed her with such heft that her right arm fractured for the third consecutive time.
Nelofar carries a paper bag that contains her prescriptions. She has had multiple neck and shoulder fractures in last 10 years. Currently she is under treatment at Bone and Joint Hospital, Barzulla.
“It is better to die than live life like this,” says Nelofar with a tone defeated to existence. “It feels like my bones are pulverized. I never sleep properly.”
Nelofar’s problems, apart from a being a continuous subject of torture, are weighed down worrying about the future of her children.
“With what he’s doing to me, my children are in stress all the time. Every time I return to that place, they tell me, leave, otherwise he will kill you,” says Nelofar.
Moreover, fear of society and dependence has left women like Nelofar to be helplessly imprisoned in a cycle of abuse.
“I can’t get out of this marriage. I have nowhere to go to. I am entirely dependent on him,” says Nelofar, in a listless tone.
A young lady walks inside the cabin for her case, followed by her parents and in-laws. It’s her second visit to SWC.
Asiya, 26, is married for last 3 years. Today, apart from absolving her marital dispute, she wants to get custody of her daughter.
“I want to see my daughter. I have not seen her since last two months. I am a mother, not a stone,” says Asiya, trying to control her tears that finally flow through the bruise marks carved on her face a month back.
Asiya’s life has been manipulated in such a way that she is not only denied access to her child but is also restricted to meet any of her family members. “He wants me to stay in the room and not even meet my parents. What sort of life is this?” asks Asiya.
Asiya looks weak, her face has discoloured and her strength seems feeble.
“Men treat women like a commodity, they beat them and see this as something very normal,” says Nayeema Mahjoor, Chairperson, SWC.
In between the conversation, Asiya admits how a difference in social status turned into a blunder.
“I have lived a poor life, but that doesn’t mean I want money or gifts. What matters to me is happiness, a happy family,” says Asiya compassionately, her eyes reflecting a flash of hope.
After an hour long counselling session, Asiya and her husband are suggested to live alone for a month to understand each other, without any interference from their families.
“We need to understand that she is also a human being. You want her to work. Raise children. Do everything for you. How much do you want from her? Are you a parasite or a human?” asks Mehjoor bluntly.
Most of the women expect their lives to get better with nous of optimism, “One day things will be fine.” “He will understand.” “Things will change.” So they stick to whatever abuses they are put to, all the time keeping themselves from reporting the cases officially.
“Am I a burden to him that he doesn’t want to see me? Then why did he marry me?” asks 29-year-old Rahila.
Rahila hesitantly reveals how she has been a victim of a marital rape.
“He beats me like mad. There have been nights when till dawn I had to sleep at the entrance waiting for him to let me in,” says Rahila.
After her miscarriage during her first pregnancy, Rahila can’t bear children anymore. Her husband often terms her “worthless” “insane” and “a piece of garbage”, and she quietly endures all the brutality when her husband either violates her or continuously beats her down to tears and pain.
“I thought my life will change. And now it has changed forever,” says Rahila nimbly. “I want to end this life and solve all the problems forever.”
Studies reveal that when a person is subjected to constant environment of stress and abuse, the chances of suicide increase. “Our circumstances, our support system and the kind of personality we have, determines how this idea of suicide can turn into execution,” says Ulfat Jan, professor psychology.
She is also concerned about the menace of violence in a conflict zone like Kashmir. “It is horrible to see women being abused. They have always been shock absorbers in the family, taking front seat to safeguard their men in times of conflict and distress,” says Ulfat Jan.
Jan laments the fact that despite endless atrocities women are subjected to, they rarely lodge complaints against their husbands. “She still wants to save you. But you continue to torment her. What kind of conscience do you have?”
There are cases where denial of access to resources and money has made women helpless. Such women are switching to alternative ways to meet their expenses.
“My husband refuses to give me or my children money. I sold every bit of my jewellery to meet my expenses. Now I don’t understand should I spend this amount for the education of my children, household expenses or for my medicine?” says Mehjabeen, who is in her late forties.
Mehjabeen is suffering from chronic kidney dysfunction. Her medicine costs around 10,000 a month.
Religion, Culture and Society
Surveys show that the notion of women being weak, unintelligent, or somebody having less/or no importance has, more or less, stemmed from misinterpreted status of women in religion, disturbed “social order”, and undue customs coming down through generations – giving men a “self-created” authority to beat women, and continue to perpetuate her regardless of her dedication, her intellectual capacity, or her social status.
A Srinagar based counsellor who wishes not to be named claims that she has come across cases where women stay silent because their opinion or suggestions anger their husband. “They torment their wives for merely voicing their opinions,” she says. “You want her to bear the responsibilities but without any say in the family decision making.”
In Maroofa’s case, a 27-year-old medical graduate and a single mother since last 2 years, her job led to the dispute.
“He wanted me to quit my job. This lead to a perpetual erosion of our relationship, which he never understood,” says Maroofa.
After Maroofa’s plea was rejected by her Mohalla president, who had told her, “Ye chu hukm, ye chui cze karun” she approached a civil court to dissolve her marriage.
Suicide vs Murder
The culture of abuse has been institutionalized to an extent where women either kill themselves or end up being tossed, dragged and burnt down to death.
“Tem maer myen koor (He killed my daughter),” says 68-year-old Khajya. “We didn’t trust her. She used to tell us that she didn’t want to go back,” says Khajya, regretfully.
Khajya’s daughter was allegedly set on fire by her husband, and her in-laws. First she was beaten, then tied up for entire day, and finally set on fire.
A recent study conducted under Dr Shabir Iqbal, HoD, Plastic Surgery, SMHS, reveals that district Bandipora sends maximum number of domestic violence cases followed by Kupwara, Islamabad and Srinagar.
In a fortnight, SMHS receives more than 5 cases of domestic violence. The cases are mostly about poison intake, and self immolation. “Only few cases are actually of self burning. Most of the cases are in reality violence against women but posed as accidents,” claims Dr Shabir. “As long we don’t have proper implementation of laws, there will be no end to it.”
According to the Medical Records Division, SMHS has received 88 cases of poison intake and 31 burn cases in 2015. Officials say most of the cases are related to domestic violence, tussle with in-laws or some major family problems.
Muneer Khan, IG Crime Branch, says there are around 4 cases under surveillance right now. While Women’s Police Station Rambagh, has 2 cases related to domestic violence.
In 2014, Women’s Police Station handled 42 cases of domestic abuse, while 31 such cases have been reported so far this year.