Domestic violence is on the rise in Kashmir

In 2004, Jameela (name changed) was coerced into marrying Mohammad Mustafa Dar, a jawan in the Central Industrial Security Force, and a resident of central Kashmir’s Budgam district. A year later, physical abuses were meted out to her by her husband.

domestic violence (1)Jameela had lived all her life in the uptown Srinagar. She had agreed to marry under parental pressure, and when she sought help from her parents against the violence she faced in her marital home, she was asked to “compromise” in order to avoid social stigmas.

“He would often beat me with a belt,” Jameela said, “Even an argument would lead to serious beating and abuse.”

The violence continued and Jameela stayed on, giving birth to three children. Eventually, she was diagnosed with various stress-related diseases.

One fine day, Jameela got a chance to meet a lawyer in Srinagar by mere luck. The meeting changed her life. On hearing Jameela’s story, the lawyer not only counselled her but helped Jameela to file a complaint against her husband under Section 498A. The Section deals with cruelty at the hands of the husband or in-laws.

Traditionally, women in Jammu and Kashmir have quietly suffered violence at home. Suicides, bride burning and dowry cases have not made it to the local papers; leave alone to the court of law.

Many such incidents go unreported and thus, the guilty gets no punishment. Even if such events do get reported, the conviction rate is low or say negligible.

“In Kashmir, everything becomes subservient to the larger political conflict and what does not suit the political agenda, statist or separatist, is given no importance,” said Mantasha Binti Rashid, a Srinagar-based civil servant and gender expert.

She said that this is the reason that violence against women not only goes unnoticed but is given no importance and is very often denied.

However, women are slowly beginning to speak up against their attackers as well as the unquestioned patriarchal structures that have given men unchecked power and authority. This change is majorly happening in the urban areas where women now have a better understanding of law and rights due to awareness camps that different non-profit organisation like Kashmir Women’s Collective and other groups organised working for the welfare of women in Jammu and Kashmir.

Shaheen (name changed), a resident of south Kashmir’s Kulgam area was married off to Rafiq in an arranged marriage tradition set-up in August 2017. To her surprise, the mistreatment started after three days of her marriage. Being a newlywed bride, she was apprehensive to discuss the matter with her parents about her marital life and the problems she was facing.

After few weeks when Shaheen found her husband spending hours conversing on phone, she grew suspicious. “One day, I generally asked him why your behaviour towards me is cold? To which Rafiq furiously replied, I had an affair with a girl and wanted to marry her but my parents disapproved it. Now, I will show them what I can do and you will have to face the brunt.”

With this hope that time will set things right, Shaheen began to put in additional efforts to smoothen relationship with her husband Rafiq and save the nuptial knot, but, he began to abuse and insult her right before his parents, in a way to malign her image.

After few months, Shaheen became pregnant. When she visited the doctor, she was diagnosed with some major health issues. Shaheen was advised to take complete bed rest. “Rafiq was well aware of my poor health condition and the complications I had despite that on one night he forced himself that resulted in a miscarriage.”

Shaheen, who now lives with her parents, holds an M.Ed. and M.Phil degree from Kashmir University.

Now, when the matter has been highlighted to the Mohalla committee, Rafiq is requesting her to accept an apology. “Recently, I went to Jammu with my father to see my sister, there I heard that Rafiq had falsely told people that I had eloped with a man to Rajasthan just to defame me. Now, how can I even go back to him and accept the apology?” Shaheen stated.

Shaheen is not ready for any negotiation. She doesn’t want to go back to him but definitely wants to file a case against Rafiq, however, financial constraints are a major roadblock before her as she is financially dependent on her retired father and an ailing mother.

“In such situations what can one do? She is in a circumstance where PO (Protection Officer) only can help her in order to get financial aid or any free legal help. The job of a PO (usually a social activist) is to connect a domestic violence victim to the police or hospital or any place that the victim needs to visit immediately but the government said it has no funds for creation of fundamental positions under the law to make its implementation effective,”
explains advocate Subreen Malik.

The domestic violence law provides for the appointment of the Protection Officers (PO) to ensure justice to the victims under Sub Section 1 of Section (8) of the Act.

“The Jammu and Kashmir Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2010, is incomplete without Protection Officers (PO) and Shelter Homes (SH) for the victims of domestic violence,” Subreen further added.

“The number of cases of abuse reported at the Jammu and Kashmir State Commission for Women has increased since it was formed in 2000,” said Nayeema Ahmad Mehjoor, Chairperson of the J&K State Commission for Women.

In 2014, the Commission received 142 complaints, 155 complaints in 2015 and in 2016, the year in which Kashmir was under curfew for 60 days received 177 complaints respectively. However, there is a huge increase in cases in past one year. Mehjoor said, “The commission registered a total of 335 cases from January 1st to December 30th, 2017. Out of these 335 cases, 277 are from Kashmir division and 58 are from Jammu division. Among these cases, approximately 95 per cent cases are of matrimonial disputes i.e. abuse, divorce, child custody, and maintenance. ”

“Men were confined to their homes due to the continuous political unsaturation prevailing in the state,” Mehjoor told Tehelka explaining the reason for the increase in cases.

Although, State Women’s Commission claims they have resolved a maximum number of cases through counselling but in reality, there is not even a single trained counsellor appointed by the commission who can counsel the victims. Only one law officer is available to counsels the victims single-handedly.

“There are a lot of factors that lead to domestic violence in a conflict zone. There is also an increase in reports of abuse but we still have to walk a long path as we have just touched the peak of an iceberg,” Mehjoor added.

Psychologists are unable to draw any conclusions since no extensive study or research has been carried out, but they too believe that the rise in complaints of domestic abuse reflects the underlying political conflict as well as poor understanding of the rights among the women.

“Earlier, the awareness regarding domestic abuse was less which could be a cause for under-reporting,” said Dr.YumanKawoos, a senior resident doctor at the psychiatry department, Government Medical College, Srinagar.

“People still don’t know the difference between tolerance and abuse. In our out-patient and hospital settings, we find most of the cases pertaining to emotional, verbal and financial abuse and fewer cases of physical abuse.”

Patients do not open up about physical violence on their own, so, doctors discover that something is amiss on digging deeper into patient’s history and probing questions.

At the Women’s Commission, Mehjoor said her team is organising workshops and programmes to create awareness among the people.

Srinagar’s crime branch has registered 342 cases of cruelty by husband in 2016, and 353 in 2017. In a region where domestic abuse is often unreported, the crime branch was able to document six dowry deaths in 2015, six in 2016 and eight in 2017.

In Kashmir, the emphasis of legal institutions is not on registering cases but on ensuring compromise and
reconciliation. Jameela, who fought a case against her husband, was hopeful that things will change for better but it went worst.

Her husband was ordered by the high court to pay her an equal share from the sale proceeds of their house which he sold fraudulently. After receiving over 10 lakh rupees as compensation from her husband, she willingly handed over the amount to her brothers with the hope that they will deposit it in the bank on her name, but they deceived her and took away all the money. Jameela is now caught between her abuser husband and fraud brothers.

Today, Jameela has no choice but to compromise with her abusive husband and live with him as she has no place
to go.

She was forced to take this decision as there is no state protection for such cases. Jameela said, “I was not able to mend this relationship despite facing all the problems, so, I decided to move out with this hope that time will heal everything slowly, but, everything turned upside down. I just want to give my children a better life now, which is filled with love and not violence.”