Illustration by Suhail Naqshbandi/ KI
Shabby investigations, rare convictions, and no family courts worsen the situation
On February 26, reports came in that the bodies of missing Afroza, 26, and her two-year-old daughter Zaira have been recovered from Jhelum. The bodies were locked in an eternal embrace as Zaira clung to her mother tightly, perhaps searching for some warmth in the cold winter. Few days ago such a hug would have been joyous and lively. Today it was cold and lifeless.
The deaths shocked South Kashmir with everybody saying, “ven ossa yi parrai.” (Was this left now as we saw enough deaths)
Blaming the husband and in-laws for the tragedy, the relatives of Afroza refuse to see the deaths as a suicide or an accident. “They killed her. It seems she was pushed into the river,” was the chorus at protest held by villagers and relatives of Afroza at Press Colony, Srinagar.
“My daughter Afroza was married to Bashir Ahmad Shah of Nambal Mattan. Her in-laws used to harass her, demanding dowry. We tried our level best to resolve the matter within families. But they continued to harass her on one pretext or another,” said Ghulam Nabi Thokar, father of Afroza.
While recalling February 7, the day when her daughter and grand-daughter went missing, he said, “She had stayed with us for few days from February 2. On February 6, she returned back to her in-laws. On February 6 evening, her husband called and said that Afrooza was weeping without any reason,” said Thokar. “Despite requesting, he didn’t pass on the phone to Afroza or even Zaira.”
Next day, Bashir Ahmad Shah, husband of Afroza, informed Thokar family that Afroza is missing along with Zaira. A police report was filed and the intensive search started which ultimately led to the tragic find after 20 days.
During the protests held at the Press Colony, they displayed a poster showing her Before-and-After pictures. Afroza and Zaira was shown parallel to their dead bodies. The family claimed that Afroza was bearing torture marks too. The Police officials say that they have already filed a case and arrested several persons including her husband in this regard. The initial reports from police sources suggest that Afroza may have been tortured and even tied with rope.
If proven to be a case of domestic violence, the double murder will mark a new low in the social degradation of Kashmir. Despite increase in literacy and awareness, the cases of domestic violence have been increasing during the last few years.
During the last three years 15 women lost their lives in the Valley over the demand of dowry or other domestic violence issues. However some quarters are skeptic over the numbers. They believe that in some cases the death of a woman is proved as being natural or suicide due to the flawed prosecution and investigation, and the actual number could be even higher.
According to official figures, 312 women committed suicide, most of them forced, from the year 2014 to 2016, and 361 persons have been booked in these cases.
The alarming trend is the overall cases of domestic violence, which is on the upswing. 5000 cases have been registered by police in the last seven years, roughly amounting to two cases per day. “There are so many such incidents which go unnoticed. Majority of the women don’t report to police and try to settle the issues amicably. Usually, only those cases of serious nature are reported,” said a top police official.
In 3960 cases during the last seven years police booked 5150 persons. Jammu leads the tally with 638 registered cases followed by Srinagar with 387 cases. The last position with just one case of domestic violence is taken by Leh district.
Nayeema Mehjoor, who heads the Jammu Kashmir State Women Commission (SWC), agrees that the incidents of domestic violence have increased but she partly attributes the trend to growing awareness. “As education and awareness is growing more women are coming forward with their grievances,” said Mehjoor whose offices on an average receives 8 to 10 such cases every day. “Earlier there used to be a concept of inside-the-four-walls, but now women are not ready to agree with those terms. They want to live with dignity and complete rights.”
Mehjoor said that people have become materialistic and greed has increased beyond comprehension. “Majority of cases we receive are related to dowry and harassment. Some men and families want easy money and they find it convenient to extract it from the helpless woman,” said Mehjoor. “Dowry demands are becoming a nuisance.”
Other cases that get registered at the Commission include family discords following birth of girl child or harassment on one pretext or other. Interference from in-laws, misunderstandings etc., also leads to major problems if not taken care of at an early age.
Not only men are involved in the crime, sometimes other women are also active participants. On February 10, the Police arrested a young woman in Bomai Sopore on the charges of throwing hot cooking oil on the face of her 38-year-old sister-in-law. The mother of three children suffered burns. The accused was booked on charges of attempt to murder.
The desertion and abandonment by husbands is also one of the major types of cases in courts and commission. A private school teacher, who has been married to a Kashmiri working in Dubai, found herself abandoned after eight years of marriage. “For eight years the husband never took her to Dubai. She had a daughter too and whatever she earned, she used to give it to her in-laws obediently,” said one of the relatives of the woman. “The in-laws treated her badly and eventually kicked her out. When the husband came from Dubai, elders intervened to resolve the issue. The woman was taken back but only to be thrown away once the husband left for Dubai.”
Now the woman is fighting for her rights in the court.
Another woman, a mother of two, was forced to consume poison by her in-laws. She barely escaped death and had to be fed through pipe for many days. The husband got out on bail just after ten days. He swiftly abandoned the wife at her father’s house. “The husband dumped the woman at her father’s house and literally kidnapped the two kids,” said her relative. “Now the case is going on and God knows what will happen.”
In all the cases the law and working of state machinery is in favour of men. Sometimes the situation is so bad that a woman is abandoned by her husband and refused to be taken by her parents.
In one case a woman, who was beaten up by her in-laws in a posh locality in Srinagar, had to take refuge in a dumpster along with dogs for an entire night. Her phone was taken away and she couldn’t muster courage to cry for help and go to her father’s house 10 Kms away. “It was one of the most painful nights of my life. For two years I had to bear with them hoping that someday situation will change,” said the woman. “But that night he tried to kill me by choking. I somehow ran to save myself and remained in the huge dustbin.”
After a lengthy battle, the woman finally got divorce but not before her husband took away all her jewellery and refused to give maintenance. “Just one month before divorce, he told me that all jewellery has been stolen by thieves and together with complicity of police he got away with the lie,” she said.
Despite the rise in the crime against women, the state machinery is woefully ill-prepared to deal with the situation. The state government has failed to set up the Investigative Units on Crimes against Women (IUCAW) in Jammu and Kashmir that was proposed by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) way back in 2015. The MHA had proposed to set up IUCAW in 20 per cent of the districts of each State on a 50:50 cost sharing basis between the Centre and State governments.
According to sources, the state has not even made a DPR for the project which could have been submitted to Union ministry.
The State is also dragging its feet on the creation of 24X7 emergency helpline, which the SWC had also strongly recommended to it. “We have recommended to government for the creation of two shelter homes for women in Srinagar and Jammu. In addition to it we have also pitched for 24X7 helpline that can reach out to women in distress anywhere and at anytime,” said Mehjoor.
Till date there is no progress on any of these proposed steps.
One of the major problems plaguing the system is low rate of conviction. “I have been practicing for around 15 years and I have hardly seen anybody being convicted. Even sometimes in case of murder the accused gets out due to shabby evidence gathering progress and investigation,” said Advocate Urfi Mir, who is dealing with number of cases of domestic violence. “I think out of 100 perpetrators 90-99 get scot-free. This thing encourages more crime.”
The lawyers and activists have also been demanding setting up of Family Court in Srinagar that could have exclusively dealt with the cases of domestic violence. “There is a family court in Jammu but in Srinagar there is none. Here all cases are to be heard in a simple court. The establishment of family court could be very helpful in speedy disposal of cases of domestic violence,” said Urfi.
With the rise in such cases, the divorce rate is also increasing. “Sometimes some women compromise and in-laws also mend their ways. But in extreme cases divorce is the final verdict. The well educated and working women feel that food is not enough and they want to live with dignity. When there is no dignity they simply prefer to separate,” said Mehjoor.
There is a common perception that somewhere along the path of progress the society has lost touch with the real education and values. “In marriage everybody has to compromise but now the level of tolerance has gone down a lot. Perhaps the conflict has also played a role for the worse. Women feel that outside it is hell and if there is no peace inside the house, why will they compromise,” said Mehjoor.
The commission wants establishment of counseling centres in the twin capital centres. “Counseling can play wonderful role. We have many success stories that were possible due to counseling. The couples have to be educated,” said Mehjoor hoping that the counseling centres will be established soon.