Repairing Stressed Relations

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Since 2018 summer, an all India NGO is working in Srinagar and collaborates with civil and police administration in managing help to the people, mostly women, in distress. They have handled cases which, people believe, do not exist in Kashmir normally, reports Saima Bhat

Ruksana Alam, Central Coordinator, OSC, Srinagar.

Ruksana Alam, Central Coordinator, OSC, Srinagar.

After dating each other for almost a year, Soliha and Umar felt their relation lacks a future and decided to break off. But what they decided mutually turned out to be a nightmare for Soliha as Umar started blackmailing her for the pictures and videos that belonged to their happy days.

Disheartened Soliha attempted suicide but luckily her family shifted her to the hospital in time and she was saved. The situation turned bad to worse as Umar starting blackmailing the family now, threatening that he will upload her videos and pictures on social networking sites. Soliha’s desperate father has now sought help from a centrally sponsored helpline, One Stop Centre (OSC), an NGO working under the social welfare department. His plea is: “If the boy is not stopped, the whole family will have no options but to go for a collective suicide”.

OSC managers suggest the family call on their toll-free number 181 and register a complaint so that they can proceed with the case.

Started in Kashmir on May 1, 2018, OSC is integrated with 181 helpline that is already set up in Jammu. The complaints get registered on their software and automatically the cases from Kashmir are taken over by the team working in Kashmir. It is a 24×7 helpline across India but in Kashmir, Srinagar OSC works for only 8.30 hours a day. Beyond that time if a victim needs immediate rescue, Syed Ruksana Alam, Central coordinator at OSC Srinagar, said they seek help from local police in Rajbagh, where their office is located.

OSC runs a shelter home as well, for short stay, which became public only after the ‘mentally unsound’ unmarried girl who gave birth to a dead foetus on a street in Ganderbal. Before the Chief Justice of Jammu and Kashmir High Court took suo motto cognisance of her case and sent her home along with her father, she stayed at OSC’ s shelter home, for a while.

The complaints registered at 181, gets filtered between different sections including domestic violence, cybercrime, affairs including extramarital affairs, and then they get transferred to the offices as per their districts in the state. Presently, there are only three OSCs working in Kashmir including Srinagar, Anantnag and Leh, but one more is being added in Baramulla. As per the Central guidelines, OSCs have to be established in every district of the state.

One Stop Centre for female facing voilence.

One Stop Centre for female facing violence.

At OSC, Ruksana said, they follow deadlines to complete the cases, which could be the reason that they work fast. And every call, help and redressal, gets stored in the 181 software, that includes all call details and the written feedback following that case. They work as if in a call centre where every conversation gets stored on a computer.

“For domestic violence cases, we have to call both the parties and to do their counselling separately,” Ruksana said. “We try to mend their relationship. If that does not work at all then with the consent of the survivor, the case moves to the next desk of legal help; this is also a part of OSC.”

OSC is part of the Social Welfare Department and works in collaboration with most of the public offices including civil and administration, and the legal set-up. “We convince them or force them to work,” Ruksana said. “We go to the concerned officer and seek help, and I am glad they do help. This is the reason we have managed to solve many cases.”

Since May, the OSC has received 111 cases and most of these have been closed by January 2019. “I have 29 cases for counselling; many of them are nearing closure, and rest of them are at the legal desk,” she said.

But there are many cases in ‘deep freeze’. “These are about the victims of domestic violence who start living back with their husband but are apprehensive if their husbands start treating them badly again,” Ruksana said. “They (victims) request OSC not to close their case file but keep them on follow-ups.”

A government employee Shazia approached OSC Srinagar with a complaint that she is facing a life threat from her own parents. “Following many cases, this is not impossible in our society that a threat can be from parents,” Ruksana said. “When a survivor approaches us, we are supposed to trust her no matter what. We did same in this case, and ultimately, it turned out she was right.”

As per Shazia, her parents wanted her to marry one of her uncle’s against her will. “Shazia was from a well to do family, enjoying good influence in the administration,” Ruksana said. “Her parents and uncle had got in touch with us and we held the girl because we wanted to know the root cause of her problem.”

Immediately after, Ruksana said, “I started getting threat calls telling me that they will kill me and burnt down my office and that led to understanding the gravity of the issue.”

OSC team while working at Srinagar centre.

OSC team while working at Srinagar centre.

“Her parents wanted to get her married and then she would naturally adopt the relation, but Shazia, being educated and modern decided against living with her family now,” Ruksana said. Shazia first stayed at Nari Niketan in Shalimar. Later, she reported to OSC. “She was detained there and was not allowed to leave.”

At OSC, Ruksana said, her team first tried to get her out and kept her in their shelter home. “Her condition was very bad; she was traumatised. We had to give her a friendly environment first so that she develops trust and those days we used to leave office almost around 10.30 pm. Then Shazia was sent outside Kashmir.”

Most of the cases that are reported to OSC, as per Ruksana, are of domestic violence in Srinagar, mostly economic and verbal. If the other party does not come for the counselling then they proceed to a legal desk, which is followed by a medical test as well.

“Then we make her DIR and we go to the protection officer. In this, we take the legal course only if we have the consent of the victim,” Ruksana said. “All this is done free, without seeking any money. If anybody needs police, legal or medical help, we do not ask for any fees.”

At OSC, victims are provided counselling, legal help, medical and temporary shelter, for which they have their designated team of eight members, who are working under Aman Satya Katchroo Trust, a Delhi based trust that was assigned by the state Social Welfare department to do this work for them. The six members, operating from their office, include Ruksana, the central coordinator and a psychologist, three case coordinators, one IT professional and a helper, as a balance, two, a male and a female, are looking for the awareness programmes in Srinagar. They go to colleges, universities, villages and far-flung areas where they do awareness programmes and make women understand their rights and 181 helpline.

OSC makes women understand that violence is not always physical. If a husband does not pay his wife for her expenses – even if the wife is working – it is violence, according to OSC. Ruksana thinks women are aware of their rights but their target audience is men and the young boys, who ‘do not’ know what comes under violence.

“We are living in a society where many conflicts are parallel to each other, but we witness not many people raise voice against domestic violence,” Ruksana said. “I have seen such problems are more in high profile people, even if they are educated, have much exposure and have money but they don’t report it because their image will get kharaab (affected). This is mental backwardness.” Her experience says uneducated women raise their voice faster than educated.

OSC’s awareness campaign also includes telling the women that if the husband sends a divorce to his wife by post or through court, it does not mean a divorce unless she puts her signature on it.

“We tell them it is not divorce until she (wife) agrees and signs it in the court,” Ruksana said. “Women tend to mingle Shariah and the Court and both have different rules for divorce. She has to say it before the judge that she is in the agreement or does not accept.”

Ruksana said that laws against domestic violence have made women secure legally.

Mother of two kids, Ruksana, said the women will have to take the first step to secure themselves. “In Kashmir, when we raise voice for Mehr, people say it will lead to Fasaad,” she said. “The fact is that if a lady asks for her rights at the times of her Nikah, she will be secure. A man will think twice before doing anything wrong to his wife.”

Of late, OSC in Kashmir has started getting an increasing number of cyber-related crimes as well. Ruksana receives at least one complaint a day related to the internet.

Shaheen was in a relationship, but lately, she has come to know that her boyfriend Ajaz was into drugs. She asked Ajaz to stop taking drugs but he didn’t listen to her. As she walked out of her relationship, Ajaz started blackmailing her.

“Although Shaheen was trying to be friendly with me, however, she told me that her parents should not come to know about it,” Ruksana said. “I did her counselling and encouraged her to raise her voice so that he does not treat other girls the same way.” Later, Shaheen called 181 and registered her complaint.

Things like poison and strangulation, Ruksana says, do happen in Kashmir society now. Apart from the gang-rape of a mentally unsound lady, OSC said, they have cases of marital rape cases as well.

She talked about a 25-year old lady who was married to an elderly person. “She was a victim of marital rape,” Ruksana said. “When she narrated her ordeal, I literally cried. And then she said she can’t take divorce from her husband, because her parents will break down and her other sisters won’t get a good match; the irony is her parents were aware but were not taking any action. They would say her to compromise as they had no other option; this is very hard.”

In the era of Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao, Ruksana said, there are bad things happening around. “We had a victim from Doda whose father-in-law was abusing her physically; the worst part of it was that her husband was aware about the same,” Ruksana said. “That girl was educated and we admitted her in the medical asylum.”

Under cybercrime, OSC Srinagar also received a case of Shahnaz who had applied for an air hostess’s job.

A poster encouraging women to call the helpline number displayed at OSC's office in Srinagar.

A poster encouraging women to call the helpline number displayed at OSC’s office in Srinagar.

Shahnaz was asked to deposit Rs 70,000 in an account. Sometime later, she realised she was duped. In distress, she lodged a complaint with 181 and her call got transferred to OSC Srinagar.

“When we followed the case, the bank account in which she had transferred the money belonged to a resident of Uttar Pradesh, and for the same, we had to get help from UP police as well. Our local police talked to them and together we managed to solve the case,” Ruksana said.

OSC Srinagar has started receiving complaints from men as well who face problems. Sharing details about a different case, Ruksana said, they were once approached by Altaf and his mother, who complained that Altaf’s wife Toiba goes frequently to her paternal house along with their minor kid and then prefers not to return.

“It seemed very interesting to us as it was a mother-in-law who was a part of the complainant. When we followed the case we found that Altaf and Toiba actually had a love marriage and it was Toiba’s mother who was creating problems between the couple,” Ruksana said. “Actually, Toiba’s brother was settled outside the state so she wanted her daughter to stay with her and in that desire, she was creating misunderstandings between her daughter and her husband.”

OSC tried to call Toiba’s mother but she was very offensive to them and did not allow her daughter to speak to them. “The case was getting difficult as we were not able to reach out to the other party. I spoke to our boss who suggested Altaf should go directly to meet his wife along with some gifts, which will be visible from a distance. Altaf did same and it worked; luckily, they are living together now.”

For the OSC team, every day starts with a new case which invariably is a new challenge. But they sometimes become sad when people tell them ‘Koerien Chew Hawa Dewaan (by helping women you tend to add fuel).

(All the names of the victims and culprits in the story have been changed to protect their identities.)

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