Under Corona Crosshairs

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As families are rediscovering their shared spaces during the ongoing lockdown, a section of the society is witnessing a dramatic rise in domestic violence, reports Saima Bhat

An unknown work of installation art depicting frustration.

Longing to see her parents, Zubaida, a resident of Wazir Bagh left home on March 15 afternoon and reached Hawal in the old city of Srinagar. Happy to see her after a long time, the parents insisted she stays for a few days with them. She informed her family, accordingly. 

 A  days later, as Kashmir reported its patient zero from nearby Khanyar on March 18, Zubaida, a mother of two sons, grew anxious.  She decided to leave for her home.

 As Zubaida reached home, she found the gate locked from inside. The next thing she did was to call on all numbers. There was no response. Shocked, she initially knocked on the door and later banged it, but nothing moved. Even her shouting had no impact. “I kept shouting but they did not open the door,” she said.

Helpless, she lost patience and cried on the road. Finally, a response came. It was more devastating. “They denied opening the gate, telling me to go back and accused me of having the Coronavirus infection,” she said. Besides, all her family members including her husband and two sons, she alleged hurled abuses at her.

Fighting on the street to enter her own house, Zubaida said, she is a victim of domestic violence and the case is sub judice. “My case is going on in a local court and it is based on court orders that I am living in one room of my husband’s house under self-quarantine,” she said.

Disappointed over the behaviour of her sons, she says it is unfortunate to see even them rejecting her. “Unfortunately, my children are supporting their father and grandparents,”  she alleged insisting money is at the centre of the drama. “My father is not well-off but my husband’s family is. My children have chosen comfort over mother,” she believes.

Left with no option, Zubaida in desperation called the NGO – Sakhi One Stop Centre (OSC) that looks after women in distress. “When I got her call and after listening to her, I called the local police officer and requested him to intervene,” said Ruksana Alam, the coordinator of OSC at Srinagar office. After police intervened, Zubaida was allowed to enter the house.

Ruksana said she received calls from the family asking her to do the screening of Zubaida and the medical tests only after she would be allowed to stay in the house.

“Believe me I was so desperately trying all my contacts to get her tested even if she was asymptomatic. I called LD hospital but they said they can’t help as the lady was not having symptoms. Then I called an epidemiologist but he did not respond to my calls.” said Ruksana, who is also a psychologist. “I called the family back and made them understand the issue. I had to take Zubaida’s responsibility in case she might be carrying a virus”. 

Talking about the emerging situation post-pandemic, Ruksana said the cases of domestic violence have surged. “Right now perpetrators of the violence think that in times of Corona-virus, the police or the NGOs working for the rights of the women are already busy with other priorities so they won’t be arrested for anything,” she said.

Kashmir is not the only place to see a surge in the number of domestic violence cases. Like a pandemic, it seems the entire world is facing the crisis. On March 23, when the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed for an immediate ceasefire in conflicts around the world, he later had to shift focus to rising domestic violence cases. In his second message, he said there has been a horrifying global surge in domestic violence as fear of the Coronavirus has grown along with its social and economic consequences.

“For many women and girls, the threat looms largest where they should be safest in their own homes. And so I make a new appeal today for peace at home and in homes around the world,” Guterres said. Giving a hint of this crisis, he added, that in some countries, which he didn’t name, the number of women calling support services has doubled.

But the message seems to have fallen flat, at least, in Kashmir. Jammu and Kashmir’s Social welfare Department told the High Court that since March 2020, the UT has reported 16 cases of rape, 64 molestation cases and one eve-teasing case. This is in addition to 65 calls of violence by women during the lockdown period. In two months prior to lockdown, the UT had recorded 81 cases of domestic violence.

Arguments in married life is a routine but if not managed well, these lead to bigger problems

A Sikh family falling under the jurisdiction of police station Shergari went through a turbulent time. As the lockdown was imposed amid Coronavirus, the house owner Manjit Singh had nowhere to go. Known for his offensive language and cuss words, everybody maintains distance from him. But Manjit’s wife, his son and daughter has no option but to live with him.

A week after the lockdown, cries were heard from the house. Late one evening, as the neighbours witnessed the ruckus, nobody was willing to interfere. A common consensus was to inform the police to avoid any untoward incident. 

When the police reached the house, Manjit’s family narrated horrific details. They complained of being assaulted physically and tortured mentally. “The police warned Manjit. In their presence, he agreed not to repeat the behaviour.”

The following day, however,  cries were heard from the house. Manjit was back to beating his family. Police were informed.  The family was shifted to Gurdwara in Rainawari.

Manjit did not stop. He went to Rainawari and asked the Gurdwara administration to throw his family out. He also is alleged to have resorted to character assassination of his wife and daughter.

But the family says the Gurdwara administration did not budge and was generous enough to shelter them till the time they felt safe to go home.

Unlike the family of Manjit, Shaheena had no shelter. A resident of the northern part of Srinagar, Shaheena was helplessly crying outside her ancestral house.

It all started after her marriage. Once married, the discord between the couple started. With no way to reconcile, they had no choice but to go for a divorce. The case was filed and is currently pending adjudication in the court. As she left her husband’s house, her natural choice was to return to her parents’ place. Once back, she started to live with her widow mother and married brother. Unwelcomed by her sister-in-law, she managed to live with a lot of unease.  With courts also stopping work due to Coronavirus,  Shaheena’s case too stalled.

This annoyed her brother and his wife. The couple thought the delay would be too long to accommodate her at their place. “They feared that I would be a burden on them. They think they may have to take care of me all my life or I may ask for my share in the property,” said Shaheena. 

“They openly told me that I should vacate their house. I have nowhere to go. This is my father’s house but he is dead and before dying he did not give it in writing that I or my mother is a shareholder of this property”.

As of now, Shaheena has nowhere to go. She has been calling all of her possible contacts to arrange for accommodation at least till this lockdown is over but so far there is no positive response from anywhere.

Couples tend to fight more in a section of the families during the ongoing lock-down restrictions

The virus has affected the mediators as well. Ruksana said they too have limited their activities. “I work from home. I mostly do counselling sessions on the phone because meeting physically with the victims is not possible,” she said.  “New cases are directly heard by 181 helpline number and in case of emergencies the case gets transferred to us.”

Working from home, Ruksana says is difficult for married women and that too managing discords. “At home, married women have to manage their husbands, in-laws and also children.  In offices it is a different setup,” she said.

On the contrary, Ishrat, a banker is enjoying every moment spent at home. “I am a banker and maybe you might have got the idea of how difficult my normal routine must be. I was married in May 2019 and had very less time to spend with my husband and in-laws. My husband understood my work but it is difficult to make your in-laws understand that,” she said

Since this lockdown, Ishrat attends her office but it is as per the roster. In between she gets holidays and she is making most of them.

 “The days I am home, I try to make different dishes as per the taste and mood of my mother-in-law. I make her feel that she is important. This lockdown has helped her in thinking that I take her seriously too,” Ishrat said with a laugh. “Sometimes I believe it is a cold war which will never end and sometimes it seems everything is good now.”

On social networking platform, a female exclusive group on Facebook, Yakjut, where around 20,000 females are connected and have developed a bond to share their problems; many females have started uploading pictures of their new dishes with their recipes.

When a message was sent on the group about their times spent at home amid the lockdown, many of them shared their happy moments saying that their husbands have started taking part in cleaning their homes, which they believe is a positive sign.

“You won’t believe these days my husband is working more than me in the kitchen and at the same time he does not feel offended helping me.” a woman posted.

“My husband and brother-in-law helped me in cleaning the window panes of the whole house. This happened for the first time in my decade long marriage. Thanks to lockdown,” added another woman

 (All names in the story have been changed on request.)

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