Making Kashmir Home

   

Trafficking women into Kashmir for marriages is an old story. What is new is that not every one of the women lives an unhappy life, reports Raashid Andrabi

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A Bengal-born lady settled in Kashmir with her two kids. KL Image: Raashid Andrabi

Aasida Sadar, a 28-year-old woman from a small village in Kolkata, has been living in Kashmir for a decade. Her journey to the valley, however, was not of her choosing. Aasida was brought to the region by Maamu, a family friend of her father who promised her a good job and a suitable husband. Little did she know that her life was about to change forever.

Living in a cramped single room with her husband and three children, Aasida struggles to make ends meet in Bandipora. Her life is far from easy, but she has managed to build a new home for herself in a land far away from her birthplace.

Aasida’s journey to Kashmir began with a tale of deception. In April 2013, Aasida returned from her job as a hotel cleaner in Kolkata, only to find her family distributing sweets in the neighbourhood. When she asked about the occasion, her mother embraced her and exclaimed, “Congrats Aasi, You are going to be married soon, and that too in Jannat (Kashmir).”

“I was taken aback and elated at the same time. After hearing from all seven of Maamu’s daughters that a joyful life awaited me, I waited for three long months before setting off to Kashmir,” remembers Aasida. “As I arrived, adorned as a bride, I was led to a quaint village. Amidst a cacophony of foreign songs, I was embraced by unfamiliar faces, showered with flowers and warm hugs.”

Aasida’s neighbours claim there was some transaction but she believes it was merely a “gift amount” and not “my price”. Regardless of the true nature of the transaction, Aasida was forced into a marriage with a man 25 years her senior. The deception was complete.

Despite the initial deception, Aasida has managed to carve out a life for herself in Kashmir. She is a mother of three children now and works as a helper for a neighbour. Her husband is a skilled carpenter who earns a decent amount to keep them happy. Aasida never thought she would be this happy in a place where nobody knows her, but it turned out differently. She never feels like she is away from home.

A Carpenters Struggle

Fifty-three-year-old Mehraj Ahmad Ganai from Kashmir is one of many men in his village who have struggled to find a suitable bride within their local community. Ganai reveals that his family tried to find a bride for him, but the expenses involved were simply too high. “We had to buy gold, throw a feast, and there were many other expenses,” he regretted.

Despite his family’s efforts, Ganai found himself struggling to find a bride, particularly as he was over 40 years old at the time. “I was getting old, but I still couldn’t find a match,” he said. Eventually, he decided to take matters into his own hands and began searching for a bride outside of his community.

Ganai’s search eventually led him to a woman named Aasida. This was his only way-out to get married.

Ganai and Aasida have now been married for a decade, and they are both happy with their decision. “We have faced some criticism from the community, but we have learned to ignore it,” he said.

Trafficking

Aasida’s story highlights the complexities of trafficking and forced marriages. While some women may find themselves in a situation where they can make the best of it, others may not be so lucky. The lure of a better life can lead to a lifetime of misery and exploitation, leaving women trapped in a cycle of poverty and abuse.

Hidden behind Kashmir’s stunning beauty lies a sinister truth that many women from different parts of India have been trafficked into Kashmir for marriage. The surprise is that some of them are not living unhappy lives. Traffickers from West Bengal, Assam, Bihar, and Maharashtra lure vulnerable women with the promise of a better life and job opportunities in Kashmir. Despite the risk, these women leave everything behind for a chance at a brighter future. Insiders said that once these women reach Kashmir, they are sold to local families. The traffickers make a huge profit from these transactions, while the women are forced to marry men they have never met before. In most cases, they do not even speak the same language. The women are then left at the mercy of their new families, who may or may not treat them well.

The idea of getting married to a stranger in an unfamiliar place is terrifying. However, to the surprise of many, most of these women report being happy with their new lives in Kashmir. They talk about how they have found love and acceptance in their new families and how they have been able to build a life for themselves in a place that was once foreign to them.

New Lives

Fahmeeda (name changed) is another victim of trafficking who had been “sold” to a local family in the region. But what could have been a tragic tale of exploitation and abuse turned out to be a story of resilience and triumph. From the depths of despair, she found a ray of hope in the rugged terrain of Kashmir.

“I was initially apprehensive about my new life in Kashmir,” Fahmeeda recalls, “but my husband made every effort to make me feel at home. He has been my rock and source of strength in this new chapter of my life. Despite the circumstances that brought me here, I am grateful to have found love and happiness in Kashmir.”

Her journey to Kashmir began with a promise of a job at a boutique in Srinagar. But instead of finding employment, she found herself trapped in a nightmare of forced marriage. Yet, fate had a different plan for her. The family that bought her turned out to be kind and welcoming. They treated her like their own daughter, and she had never felt so loved and cared for in her entire life.

Amid adversity, Fahmeeda found solace in the love of her husband and the warmth of her new family. She was able to build a life for herself and started working in a local shop. She learned the language, adapted to the local customs and traditions, and made many friends in the area.

Fahmeeda’s story is one of strength and survival. It is a reminder that in the face of adversity, there is always hope, and that love and kindness can triumph over even the most difficult circumstances.

On the flip side, the harsh truth remains that numerous trafficked women in Kashmir are caught in a vicious cycle of poverty and hardship, leaving them with scant chances of breaking free.

Painful Story

In a country where women’s rights continue to be violated, Ruksana’s story is just one example of the ongoing human rights abuses that take place in India.

Ruksana’s ordeal began when she was just 17 years old, living in Rajasthan. She was promised a job in Kashmir and eagerly accepted the opportunity, hoping to find a better life for herself. However, upon arriving in the region, Ruksana’s dreams were quickly shattered.

“It was like a nightmare,” Ruksana said, recounting the moment she was sold into marriage with a man in his late 40s. “I had no idea what was happening to me. I was so young and naive.”

Ruksana’s husband was a poor man who owned a small shop on the outskirts of Srinagar. It soon became apparent that her life was not going to be the fairytale she had imagined. Instead, she found herself trapped in a cycle of abuse and misery.

“He never used to talk to me,” she said, her voice trembling with emotion. “I was so scared of him. I felt like I was living in a prison, alone in a world full of noises.”

Despite the horrors she faced, Ruksana did not leave her husband. She had no family or support network in Kashmir, and she was unable to find work opportunities that would allow her to build a new life. Over the years, her husband’s business began to decline, leaving them both in poverty and despair.

“I had no freedom, no independence, I was completely trapped,” she said, tears streaming down her face.

While there are some support services available for victims, they are often inadequate and underfunded, leaving many women without access to the help they need. That is why the path to relief, recovery and rehabilitation is something that victims normally avoid.

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