International Women’s Day 2014, had a theme ‘Equality for Women is Progress for all’. But in Kashmir, the day was observed by highlighting the ten violations suffered by women in a hushed manner. Durdana Bhat covers the event and the tales that unfolded
In a serene picturesque setting, on the banks of river Jhelum, Pirzoo restaurant Srinagar was buzzing with activities on International Woman Day. It was Saturday and afternoon sun was gazing over a group of youngsters who were about to observe the day with a ‘difference’. A few skits followed, portraying the plight of some women on daily basis. The display of violence towards women had held audience captive and glued to the makeshift stage. But perhaps, the best part was yet to come. It unfolded towards the end of the event when the book on ‘violence against women’ was released.
No sooner the book was released; it became obvious that instances of rape, battering, harassment and abuse are the harshest realities of Kashmiri society as well. The guests were soon speaking that the only way to put an end to this harassment is to raise voice against the injustice. The message was clear: to safeguard women, so that they will no longer live with “fear in their homes, their workplaces, their religious assemblies, or their communities.”
The event was organised by a group, who call themselves members of Change and Kashmir Civil Pulses. It is the group of young professionals and students. The book, which was released by Deputy Commissioner Srinagar, Farooq Ahmad Shah and others, is a compilation of anecdotes written during a gender sensitization workshop (One Billion Rising Campaign) on February 16, 2014.
The book consists of various autobiographical tales of women ranging from domestic violence to sexual harassment at workplaces. Some accounts in the book are:
Molested by her neighbour
Right from my school, my parents taught me not to talk more, not to catch attention, and not to express myself freely. Even if someone comments on you, on your dressing or looks, you should ignore and learn not to get angry. Today, I am a working lady—a professional, and even today, I am forced to make compromises, everyday.
During my school days, a boy used to stalk me. He used to pass vulgar comments which were very uncomfortable for me. I didn’t know who to talk to. I started fearing going out of home. One day, the suffocated and scared voice was dominated by a strong angry voice and I confronted him.
Since he lived in my neighbourhood, the word spread fast and the news of my publicly thrashing him reached my home. My family and neighbours advised me to keep my temperament under control. They said, as I even remember today very vividly that, “he is a boy and boys behave like this. But you are girl, and girls are not supposed to do this.”
It seems a small incident, but it has affected my personality deeply. My heart is filled with anger for that boy and all those boys to whom the society give right to behave the way they want to.
Harassed by a clerk
I completed my graduation and wanted to appear in an entrance test conducted by Board of Professional Entrance Examination (BOPEE) for Bachelors in Education (B.Ed). For the same purpose, I visited their office and submitted my form which contained my personal details, including phone number of my home and other details.
After few days, I went there to enquire about my hall ticket and examination date but the concerned official was beating around the bush and his behaviour made me to feel a little uneasy. He gave me his cell number, saying “You don’t bother yourself by coming here to enquire. Call me, and I will give you the information about the availability of hall ticket.”
I called him up just to enquire about issuance of hall ticket, but he started talking more than the required. Finally, I hung up in irritation. After that, he started calling on my cell phone, but I never answered. When he got no response, he started calling on the landline number of my home. The frequency of calls increased and it became a nuisance.
Once my mother answered a phone and he told her to inform me to come over and collect my hall ticket. I was petrified and didn’t want to go and collect my hall ticket. I sent someone else, but he, on the pretext of obtaining candidate’s own signature returned her empty-handed.
I decided not to collect it at all. As a result, I didn’t appear in the examination. And, I ended up losing one precious year of hard work to his cheap advances.
Abused by her father
I was a blessed child with a nice family. But the whole perspective of my life changed in 2007. I was 17-year-old that year when I realized that it is not a kiss of a father, when he asked me, if I can say a sentence which was sexually titillating, while kissing me. I got baffled and no words can explain how I really felt. I wanted to believe it didn’t happen that whatever I heard was wrong, that it was a nightmare.
I thought that my father must be unwell and must have been suffering from some mental disease. But unfortunately none of this was true.
One day, I was alone at home and my father tried to touch me as I was sleeping in my room. I felt someone’s hand on my body and was terrified to see it was my father! I managed to run away for help—all shiver and tears to my uncle’s place, who didn’t live very far. I spoke to them and my mother was there too. After narrating everything, my mother started blaming me, instead of believing me.
My relatives thought that I am possessed by some spirit or suffered some mental ailment. My mother said that I have brought shame to the family by revealing it. She beat me up with a broom, with a cricket bat and kept me confined to home and warned, threatened me not to reveal it to anyone.
Then again in June 2013, my father tried to outrage my modesty. And my mother on knowing it said, “I lost my husband!” She believes that it was my fault, “else how could a father do such a thing,” she often says.
And soon I was quizzing myself: Was I wrong? Am I too beautiful that my father got tempted? Was I a burden, a shame, a disgust or a sin. I was losing my mind. My mother decided to marry me off. I got married and now have two kids, I escaped a hell. I have no ties with my family and I still don’t understand what my fault was? My heart bleeds even today.
Empowered, but a victim
My mother is highly educated. She is a Principal of a Government school. She is someone I look up to. But my father is very bad person. No one can handle his rage. He thrashes mom badly. It happens in front of my eyes and I want to save her from his wrath, but I fail.
My mom shares her weak moments which are shadowed by terror and threat with me. I often ask her, “Why don’t you get out of this hell and free us too?” But she says, “I have daughters to marry. How can I face the society!”
She is suffering silently. Her students at school perceive her a brave and bold lady. Could they really guess what is behind that boldness?
My mom refers her life as hell and I cannot do anything in taking her out of this hell. I feel sorry and helpless.
I often wondered why I was born a girl. And why a girl was so easy to touch, to cause harm to. How could any random man just do what he pleases to do with a girls’ body in a public place like a bus? How could an unknown man make me cringe and cry in moments? How could he make me feel so dirty and impure even when I had done nothing wrong?
I remember being scared of getting into buses, and walking alone on roads. I had been brought up in a culture that asked me to be demure, to remain silent. And taught me if I ever were harassed it would be because of my own fault.
In one summer day, I was travelling back home from tuitions in a bus when a guy came down and sat next to me. He started spreading his legs, touching me covertly, pressing his elbow against me. I looked at him many times, angry and afraid at the same time. I looked at the passenger who was standing there noticing everything that was happening. I looked at him imploringly to put an end to my suffering. But he just looked on. That’s when I turned to the guy in rage and shouted, “Will you stop it?” He got down from the bus, red-faced as the passengers murmured among themselves. For all I know they must have been discussing ‘my fault’ in all this.
The book consists of ten autobiographical tales of women ranging from domestic violence to sexual harassment. The event, it seems, has indeed given voice to otherwise buried tales of torture.