SHROUDED IN SILENCE

Domestic violence in Kashmir seems to be on an increase. Apart from the social and cultural contexts in which it happens, political turmoil also appears to have contributed to the menace. The state legislature recently passed a law to address the issue, but rules to make it applicable on the ground are yet to be framed. Saima Bhat examines the scenario.

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Shameema (name changed), 47, a homemaker, living in a single story house with her two daughters (22, 19) and a son (18), prefers to remain indoors. The house in Bag-e-Mehtab was gifted to Shameema by her mother. Her husband, Mushtaq Ahmad Shahis a driver. He rarely comes to stay with his family, and when he does, he beats his wife during the late night hours, either for the high expenses, or most of the time, for no particular reason at all.

After hearing their battered mother’s cries, the three children come to save their scared mother. Every day they step out of their house, they feel awkward, fearing that the neighbours have heard their mother’s cries at night. When their father is away, they try to live a relaxed and peaceful life, but when he is home—they are constantly awake, so they can be awake at night for helping their mother in case their father hits her again.

Just a few months ago, Mushtaq got into an argument with his supervising officer, and in return, he was fired from his job. When he was still employed, he would avoid coming home for six months—saying he had night duty. And for the six other months, he would be in Jammu with the Durbar move. But now, he is home and beats his wife all the time. “He says these children are not his children. He beats me because I pray regularly and visit Shrines. He feels I go to peers and fakirs to harm him,” says Shameema woefully while showing the marks her husband left on her body a day before after trying to strangle her.

“Yesterday it became impossible for me to save my mother from the cruel clenches of our father, and then I pleaded with the neighbourhood shopkeepers for help, who then saved my mother,” says Shameema’s distressed son, who is in 12th class who cannot concentrate on his studies since the day their father started staying home. He has been a merit holder in matriculation, but fears he may fail the upcoming board exams. “Yesterday, he told my mother he won’t kill her but will make sure we all commit suicide,” adds the couple’s only son. After the incident, their neighbours suggested they lodge a complaint in the police station. Mushtaq went to jail, but his sisters and brother bailed him out.

After 25 years of marriage, Shameema has decided to divorce her husband as her daughters have reached a suitable age for marriage. Shameema regrets that she didn’t take the step earlier. “It would have been better if I would have divorced him a long time ago when he started beating me,” she says. “But at that time, the concern of being a mother of two daughters stopped me from taking this step. I cannot tolerate him anymore because I fear he is really going to kill us now. And last night he abused not only a wife, but he also abused a mother. He told me these daughters are not his children, they can be his spouse,” says Shameema, who has seen him roaming around with a woman and fears he has an extramarital affair.

In another case of domestic violence, a couple is divorcing after 18 years of marriage. Fatima (name changed), 42, a mother of a 14-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son, says, “I don’t have anybody except my sister-in-law in my house, who tells her brother to beat me and he beats me. She tells him to throw me out of the house and he throws me out. She always asks me why didn’t I bring enough gold from my parents. I know my husband loves and cares for his married sister, who is in our house from the past 17 years because of her own dispute with her in-laws. She feels jealous when her brother cares for his own children”.

Fatima says in these 18 years of her marriage, she has only been in her husband’s house in Nowhatta for barely three years. Since their son’s birth, she has gone to her place only twice. After she delivered her son, the court ordered her to return home where her husband, Bashir Ahmad Shah promised to take care of his wife and two children. “When I went there, my husband and my sister-in-law beat me and then kicked my whole body for about 15 minutes due to which one of my kidneys’ burst, my urethra got blocked and I had to go for emergency surgery.

Then my brothers lodged a case against him and after that, he again pleaded before the court that he is ashamed of his behaviour and will not torture me anymore.  So the court directed me to return home again after 9 years,” mourns Fatima. She adds, “This time when I went there, my first night there my sister-in-law ordered me to stay in the kitchen and I agreed. But when I replied that I cannot sleep there as I saw only sheets were spread on the floor and I thought my children might get ill, my husband slapped me and now I cannot hear properly”. Fatima’s doctor has told her that her eardrum has been damaged.

Despite their difficult circumstances, Shameema and Fatima admit they are lucky to at least be alive for their children. Domestic violence is on the rise in Kashmir—more so in rural areas—according to lawyers and doctors dealing with such cases. In most of the cases, the reasons are the dowry, extra-marital affairs, interference from in-laws, misunderstandings, giving birth to female babies and it resulted in a steep rise of the number of domestic violence cases in Kashmir.

These situations ultimately result in mental torture and physical assault by the husband and in-laws. Acts of physical torture include pushing, shaking, throwing something at the woman, slapping, arm twisting, hair pulling, punching, kicking, dragging, beating, trying to choke or burn her on purpose, and threatening her or attacking her with a weapon. Acts of sexual violence by the husband include physically forcing the wife against her will to have sex or perform other sexual acts that she does not want.

A WHO multi-country study found that between 15–71 per cent of women reported experiencing physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner at some point in their lives. But in Kashmir, there is a gradual rise in the women being brutally murdered by their husbands, sometimes even with the consent of the husband’s parents. The WHO has reported that up to 70 per cent of female murder victims are killed by their male partners.

Hafeeza Muzaffar, member secretary, State Commission for Women (SCW) believes domestic violence always existed, the only difference is that now, it is documented.“We have more documented cases from urban areas, as urban women are more aware than rural areas. Education has helped women come out, as they are now aware of their rights”. Hafeeza says she has seen violence in every sector of society—against women who work, and those who are homemakers as well.

Hafiza Muzaffar

In a recent incident, on the day before Eid ul Azha, Shazia,28, a mother of a 3-year-old girl, was found dead under mysterious circumstances in her house in Bagh-e-Mehtab. She was working as a librarian at the Islamic University of Science and Technology, Awantipora and had disputes with her husband, Javaid Ahmad Wani ever since they got married.

Shazia was her parent’s only daughter. She was given all the required gifts on her marriage, but still, her husband would tell her that she didn’t bring anything. Abdul Majid, Shazia’s father, says that Javaid would always beat and torture Shazia for dowry. Shazia always preferred to remain silent and only informed her parents when Javaid would throw her out of the house.

Then after the intervention of elders from both sides, she had to return to Javaid again. “But then after delivering a baby girl, Javaid called  Shazia and divorced her telephonically. He complained about the payment he had to pay in the hospital at the time of delivery and about why she delivered a baby girl. After that, one day Javaid came and reconciled and tendered a written unconditional apology for the wrong he committed. Under social pressure, my daughter had to return to the father of her daughter. I feel guilty—why did I give preference to Javaid’s educational qualification of doing a Masters’ in engineering. Instead, I should have seen how mature he is.”

In the meantime, the couple had planned to buy a house for which both would give an equal share from their respective salaries. As per a written document, which Shazia has addressed to the SHO, Women’s Police Station, it is clear she has been tortured by her husband from time to time. However, she planned to stay with her husband, only for the sake of her daughter. There were even times when she would not be given food for days together.

According to her father, Shazia had acquired a loan to buy the house, in which she had been a 40 per cent partner with her husband. But then, Javaid asked his parents to come and live in their house. His parents always wanted Javaid to marry another girl who can look after them “properly” since Shazia had a tight work schedule. Finally, on the day before Eid, Shazia was found dead in her kitchen. Her father blames her husband Javaid Ahmad for her death. According to RPC, Javaid and his family are the culprits unless they prove otherwise.

The law says that if a woman dies an unnatural death within 7 years of her marriage, it is assumed that she has been killed by her husband or in-laws, unless and until they prove they are innocent. After Shazia’s death, some of her relatives have told her family they had seen Javaid roaming around with another girl.

Another tragic incident of domestic violence involves a woman who had been married for just eight months. Waheeda Akhtar of  Kanigund Budgam was beaten and attacked with a sharp-edged weapon by her husband. Waheed received 250 stitches all over her body. Her husband claimed that his new bride was helping her own family with his money.

There are many murder cases like that of Ruksana Bano, murdered by her police officer husband from Batamaloo, Sameera Jan from Kralpora, Chadoora who was married to her cousin, who then killed her, Ateeqa from Bodebugh, Rafiabad and many others are still waiting for justice.

But there are no women-specific laws in Kashmir, says Faisal Qadri, a lawyer who works with the Human Rights Law Network.  “This is why there are very few, or we can say no number of cases where culprits have been convicted,” he adds. Such cases of domestic violence can be filed under RPC and Section 488 in CRPC which is for maintenance.

Kaneez Fatima, Principal District Judge of Srinagar says that there are a fewer number of convicted cases in domestic violence because they lack strong evidence, and sometimes, after just a few hearings, even witnesses change their statements.“And most of the cases don’t reach to courts as the families go for settlements at the basic police levels,” adds the Judge.

The Jammu and Kashmir legislature in July adopted a law, Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, which was enacted by the Indian Parliament in 2005. But it has been three months since and the law is still to be implemented as the rules have not been framed yet. Hafeeza says “we are planning to introduce it on the block level so that women get benefited at every section as we have only one commission which looks into the matters from the whole state of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh”. The general belief is that the new law will help reduce violence against women. The legislation was driven by the United Nations Committee on Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

According to Hafeeza, it has been seen that woman in abusive relationships remain silent about their suffering out of fear for family dishonour. “Women here prefer to talk to their friend or relative instead of filing a complaint against the perpetrators. However, it has been found that in extreme cases women file for divorce”.

Another ex-employee of SCW adds, “Urban women don’t come openly to talk about her disputes as there is a social stigma attached and if a woman is working she prefers to remain more silent so that she won’t be looked down at her workplace and she usually try to confine her boundaries. Compared to her, rural women talk freely to other women about her problems and that way she feels relaxed after sharing with others.”

It is generally believed that the traditional society of Kashmir about 60 years back was absolutely crime-free. The majority of the population had neither witnessed nor heard of any major crimes committed by its members. But, today, the same society stands at its opposite extreme. According to Bashir Ahmad Dabla, HOD Sociology, University of Kashmir, “this has happened in a brief period of three to four decades in a particular social context with specific factors contributing to its dynamics and continuity.

Broadly speaking, this alarming situation has emerged in the valley in the background of two distinct processes of modernization and militancy-militarization”. He opines the urbanization has created a ‘dual role’ for women, one in the home and other in the office.  In this process of adopting new role and status, they expose themselves to the new problem of ‘domestic violence’. While at home, they face problems like competition, conflict, jealousy, discrimination, harassment, dowry-demand, post-marital discord and disharmony, mental and physical torture, dowry-deaths, psychological problems and so on. This violence against women is not only of inter-sex nature but of intra-sex too. It means that violence was committed against women not only by men only but by women too.

According to Dabla’s research, 31.84 per cent of married educated women faced physical violence at the hands of their husbands and the brothers.  About 40 per cent of victims preferred silence while the rest opened up.

Two sisters weeping on the gate of Women’s Police station say they feel bad that because of them their brother had to enter the gate of a police station. Both sisters were married on the same day to two brothers. From day one their mother-in-law, father-in-law and brother-in-laws started enquiring about the property of the girls’ family and started demanding costly gifts. They say they brought more than what they were “supposed to get”. Still, their mother-in-law abused them and once the elder sister was cooking dinner her father-in-law came and threw a boiling oil pan on her face.

Dismay started when the elder sister delivered a baby girl and her mother-in-law asked her why she didn’t deliver a baby boy and then never looked back to see the mother and her daughter. After 6 months, the younger sister delivered a baby boy but their in-laws didn’t bother to see them. It has been two years now that both the sisters are living with their parents.

“Four days back a person from our in-laws’ side came and told us to leave an application in the Mohalla committee near our in-laws’ house. We went there along with kids. Somehow, our in-laws came to know we are there, they came and fled away with both the children,” says the wailing elder sister. The other sister adds, “It has been four days now they are not giving us our kids back. We heard when our kids cry their grandmother gives them diazepam, sleeping pills in milk so that they sleep for longer”.

The elder sister has received a call from her husband that he is going to divorce her and younger sister too has got a call from her husband that he loves her but cannot do anything against the wishes of his family.

Jammu and Kashmir have a spousal violence rate of 13 per cent compared to the other states which range from 6 per cent in Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan at 46 per cent and 59 per cent in Bihar. Other states with 40 per cent or higher prevalence of spousal physical or sexual violence include Tripura, Manipur, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, and Assam.

The SCW has received 300 cases of domestic violence in 2011 so far, out of which they say they have solved 67 cases. In 2010 they had received 150 cases.

According to SMHS burn unit’s records, in 2009, 113 female patients (in the age group of 16 to 70, married as well as unmarried) were admitted in the unit out of which 30 died. In the year 2010 till November 2011, 196 female patients were admitted out of which 151 were discharged and 45 died. According to SKIMS burns unit, in the year 2011, 26 female patients were admitted among them 10 were married and 16 were unmarried. And among the 10 married, five died.

“We mainly receive suicidal burn patients in our burns ward. They don’t speak the truth instead say it was accidental. Such cases are registered as Medico-Legal Case outside our state but in Kashmir, people don’t want to get involved in police cases so they say it was accidental” says Dr  Adil, HOD Plastic Surgery, SKIMS. He says the burn patients SKIMS receive are in the ratio of 10:1, 10 being the rural women.

In Kashmir, the political turmoil has also taken a serious toll on womenfolk resulting in domestic violence and later in divorces and breakups. A 60-year-old woman whose husband was a labourer from Sopore district shares her experience and says when her husband used to leave home early in the morning for work, most of the times he was bullied by the soldiers. “Those days militancy was on its peak, whole Kashmir was afraid of Army that nobody could object if someone was interrogated in public view. So my husband was not an exception. So in the evening when my husband was back home he used to bully me instead to lessen his fear and anger.”

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