Haroon Reshi

Violence against women: a reality that goes un-or-under-reported, and largely unnoticed in Kashmir!

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Srinagar, Aug 12: On the evening of August 08, Laila Qureshi, a well-known psychologist and mental health counsellor in Srinagar, through social media platforms, sought financial help for a female victim of “domestic violence”, who according to Qureshi had been “brutally beaten” by her husband causing her “a miscarriage” some time ago. The husband allegedly threw her wife out of the house and now she is living in a pathetic condition in a rented room.

Earlier, last month, Qureshi shared ordeal of a woman on her Facebook wall, who was beaten up and injured by her brother. She also shared a picture of a medical prescription from SMHS Hospital confirming injuries to the victim. Ironically, the woman, from Srinagar’s downtown, has already been subjected to alleged domestic violence by her in-laws and now she lives at her parental home, where she was beaten up by her brother.

“The information about such incidents, occurring in every part of the Valley, comes into our notice on a regular basis. I also get complaints about such incidents through social media platforms. Usually, I try to meet the victims in-person to ensure their situation doesn’t go out of control. In most cases, I do well to settle the matters by using counselling methods. However, sometimes cases of serious nature come to me and I immediately inform the police and other law-enforcing agencies about these cases,” Qureshi told ‘Kashmir Images’, adding, that the incidence of domestic violence has risen in Kashmir, particularly since the outbreak of the Covid pandemic last year.

The situation in terms of domestic violence in the Valley can be gauged by the fact that several deaths, allegedly caused by the domestic violence, occurred in recent months.

In early March this year, a 32-year-old woman, mother of two little children,  in Rampora village of north Kashmir’s Bandipora district, died by suicide. Her parental family accused her husband and in-laws of forcing the woman to kill herself. They claimed that the deceased was being constantly harassed for dowry by her in-laws.

In another incident, on April 07, Raja Banoo, 54, succumbed to burn injuries in a Srinagar hospital. She was allegedly set on fire by her in-laws at Aakhoora Mattan of south Kashmir’s Anantnag district on March 25. She had suffered burn injuries on more than 50 percent of her body.

During her treatment in Srinagar’s SMHS Hospital, Banoo had recorded a video clip, in which she accused her in-laws of assaulting her and setting her ablaze.

This video went viral on social media platforms. Her kin claimed that the victim had been subjected to domestic violence since her marriage nine years ago.

A couple of days later, on April 10, a 32-year-old woman, also a mother of two kids, ended her life by suicide in the same district. Police registered an FIR against her husband for abetment to suicide and domestic violence.

Following the incident, the outraged relatives of the dead woman torched her in-laws’ house. They accused that the in-laws of the deceased, who was into seventh year of her marriage, forced her to take this extreme step.

The National Family Health Survey (NFHS) conducted by the Union Ministry of Health has revealed that 9.6 percent of women in the age group 18-49 experienced domestic violence in 2019-20. The report released last year states that most sexual harassment and domestic abuse cases occur in rural areas.

According to this survey, five percent of rural women of age group 18-29 have experienced sexual violence at the age of 18 while 1.4 percent of urban women have faced sexual violence at the age of 18.

The latest data in terms of the violence against women in Kashmir is not available yet, however, 3,069 cases, including rape, molestation, and domestic violence in Kashmir in 2019, have been reported by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).

The data from Women Helpline (@whl181), which was launched in October 2017 by the government, also suggests that crimes against women are a matter of routine in J&K.

According to the last year’s data as many as 992 cases, including 619 cases of domestic violence, have been registered through this service only between April to September 2020.

Experts say that cases of domestic violence are under-reported in Kashmir.

“We do not have any research-based data available here to gauge the actual situation about domestic violence. As per my understanding, most of the domestic violence cases are not reported here, mostly because of the social stigma attached to these incidents. The cases are also under-reported because of the traditional mindset of our woman folk. We traditionally feed our daughters that they are supposed to be tolerant to the excesses by their in-laws.” Ezabir Ali, who works for the rights of women in J&K, told ‘Kashmir Images’.

She says that J&K lacks proper investigating mechanism and law-enforcement in terms of the crimes against women.

“Closure of State Women Commission has added to the helplessness of already distressed women.”

Pertinently, the Jammu and Kashmir State Commission for Protection of Women and Child Rights (commonly known as Women’s Commission), along with six other commissions, was closed down in J&K following the abrogation of Article 370, two years ago.

“To establish a new commission here is indispensable. There were hundreds of cases related to the crimes against women pending in the commission when it was closed down. Government should restore the earlier commission here.” Vasundhra Pathak Masoodi, a Supreme Court lawyer and the last person to head the J&K State Women’s Commission before it was closed down post-August 05, 2009, told ‘Kashmir Images’.

She added, “It is really a matter of discomfort to see how domestic violence cases are cropping up in Kashmir, which is otherwise a place where people are known for their high moral values.

“During my tenure as head of the Women’s Commission, I came across many women who have been tortured and harassed, even burnt for dowry. Even, at this time, I get complaints regarding domestic violence in the Valley through my personal contacts. The government needs to restore the commission here,” says Masoodi.

More than a year after the Women’s Commission was closed down in J&K, the National Commission for Women (NCW) held a three-day public hearing of the cases, including cases of domestic violence, in Srinagar on February 12-14 this year.

After the event, Rekha Sharma, chairperson of NCW told the media that she was had not expected that there would be complaints about the dowry issues, which is one of the causes for the domestic violence here.

Mir Suheel, a senior researcher at the University of Kashmir, who has plenty of case studies about domestic violence in Kashmir, believes that usually women are being treated and controlled like objects in Kashmir as if they do not have souls and emotions.

“Womenfolk in Kashmir are continuously subjected to suppression. In many cases, they are not allowed to speak up or express their feelings and emotions. Due to the constant oppression, many women have even forgotten to complain or seek their rights. The taboos have been attached to their mental states to the extent that they have stopped speaking up,” Mir told ‘Kashmir Images’.

He added, “Ours is a patriarchal society. It is almost always the women who are subjected to domestic violence, not only after their marriages but even before marriages at their parental homes. We have a large number of documented cases pointing to the horrible condition of the women in our society.”

Clearly, Jammu and Kashmir needs a comprehensive policy to stop the incidence of domestic violence and to protect the rights of the womenfolk. To stop the rising crimes against women the UT needs a good investigation mechanism and fast-track courts to ensure distressed women get justice.

(The writer is Laadli Media Fellow 2021. The opinions and views expressed are those of the author. Laadli and UNFPA do not necessarily endorse the views.)

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