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Domestic violence against women 'prevalent' in Kashmir

Caritas helps women be mentally and financially stronger in the face of patriarchal abuse

Domestic violence against women 'prevalent' in Kashmir

Muslim women attend a pre-dawn prayer outside a mosque in Kashmir in this file photo. Studies show that thousands of women are victims of domestic violence in Jammu and Kashmir state. (Photo by Umar Shah)

Published: February 27, 2017 03:37 AM GMT

Updated: February 28, 2017 02:54 AM GMT

As Tabasum Bano begins to narrate the ordeal, her hands tightly gasp the arm of the chair. Her features become livid, eyes haggard and lips agitated by a convulsive twitch.

Two years ago, and merely six months into her marriage, life for this 26-year-old woman from north Kashmir, began to fall apart.

"In the beginning, I just used to receive jibes from my in-laws for not bringing enough dowry. Then they started beating me up every day," Tabasum says.

Within a year, she began developing symptoms of depression. One day, when she went to her father's home for a brief stay, she sprinkled kerosene all over her body and set herself ablaze. Timely action from her sister saved her.

Currently, she is undergoing treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder at Kashmir's Psychiatric Hospital. Her younger sister, Fehmeeda Bano says her elder sibling has "constant mood swings" that "even if you find her in a good mood, she can abruptly start bashing things around."

"She is on tranquilizers and it is only the hope of her recovering one day that keeps us going," said Fehmeeda.

After Tabasum got divorced, her father, Ghulam Mohammad, filed a police case of domestic violence against his daughter's former in-laws but they were acquitted due to lack of evidence.

"Everyone called my daughter mad, but she was a happy girl until she got married. She became a victim of domestic violence," Mohammad said.

Unfortunately, Tabasum's case is just one of thousands in Kashmir, the Muslim-dominated northern Indian state.

According to data released by the government in February, 1,170 cases of domestic violence, abetment to suicide, cruelty by husbands or in-laws were registered by police in the past two years in Jammu and Kashmir. Police also arrested 2,818 persons for such crimes, said the government's figures said.

However, a survey published in January by the sociology department of the University of Kashmir reveals that more than 4,000 cases of domestic violence against woman are reported in Kashmir every year. Kashmir women are reluctant to file complaints for fear of causing disgrace to their families, it said.

Studies also show that more than half the complaints are withdrawn due to family pressure or after some sort of settlement between the parties.

The university's research indicates that more than 40 percent of women in Kashmir are physically or emotionally abused by their husbands, in-laws or both. Dowry payments, misunderstandings and even the birth of a female child can cause harassment.



Madhulika, a social service official of the Catholic Church, said that domestic violence against women in the state has been prevalent for a long time.

Madhulika, who uses one name only, is the coordinator of the Integrated Community Development, an initiative by Jammu and Kashmir's Catholic social service, Caritas.  "Earlier it was considered taboo to talk about such issues, but the alarming increase in suicides and suicide attempts has forced people to acknowledge the presence of this evil," she said.

"To make women self-reliant and empowered is one of our primary objectives. Keeping this in mind, we are running tailoring and beautician centers for women in several rural areas of the state to help them become more financially independent," she said.

Caritas has  formed 57 women's groups of 35 to 50 members each that serve as a platform for rural women who otherwise remain within the periphery of their houses. Madhulika believes such groups will help women come out and share their problems and support each other to become mentally and financially stronger. "Once the groups in each hamlet are formed, women share their situations and sort out their own issues," she said.


Psychiatric problems 

Kashmir's prominent psychiatrist, Mushtaq Margoob said that most psychiatric problems among women in Kashmir are due to domestic violence. "It is insecurity and lack of confidence among women because of abuse that, at times, leads to suicide attempts."

B.A. Dabla, Kashmir's leading sociologist and former head of Kashmir University's sociology department, in his research, claimed that it is the patriarchal society that supports violence against women. "The discrimination against women still exists. The narrow social and mental set up has resulted in increasing violence against women," Dabla says.

Most Indian families consider the birth of a girl a liability as she must be married and a dowry paid. Hindu families also long for boys as they believe the souls of parents will have eternal rest only when a son leads the funeral ceremonies.

Abdul Rashid Hanjura a social activist and lawyer, says that the situation is aggravated because many incidents go unreported and the guilty go unpunished. "Criminals go on committing crimes because they know severe action will not be taken against them," he said.

The university research also relates unemployment and the political unrest in the valley to the escalating domestic violence. In the last 30 years, an estimated 100,000 people have died in Jammu and Kashmir, including civilians, militants and army personnel, after groups began an armed struggle for freedom from Indian rule or to merge with neighboring Pakistan. Both countries claim the region and each administer a part.


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