Editor's Note: The latest National Crime Records Bureau statistics show an 83 percent increase in crimes against women, with as many as 39 cases reported every hour across the country. There are several thousand more instances that go unreported. And yet, such felonious acts represent only a limited view of the manner in which women in this country must face brutality. In this series of reported pieces, Firstpost examines those societal forces that, while beyond the ambit of law, have the same deleterious effect on women as criminal acts.
Srinagar: Known as the "messiah of women", Mehbooba Mufti was the beacon of hope for the women of Jammu and Kashmir when she took oath as the first woman chief minister of the violence-ridden state. But after the end of her two-year-long spell, the women in the state are among the most disappointed lot.
Political and women rights activist Hameeda Nayeem points out how "state violence" against women in Kashmir increased manifold after Mehbooba took oath of office.
"Since her takeover, dozens of women were killed and blinded within their homes. Her crocodile tears (when she was out of power) were meant to fool the people to get a foothold in the society for electoral power,” Nayeem, who also heads Kashmir Centre for Social and Developmental Studies, said.
Violence against women increased after Mehbooba took over
Statistics are enough to prove this. The lone women’s police station in the summer capital received around 188 complaints in 2016 from women victims of domestic and other forms of violence in Kashmir. The number jumped by over 300 percent to 650 in 2017.
The number of abduction cases of women and girls also increased from 775 in 2016 to 877 in 2017. On the domestic violence front, the number increased from 348 in 2016 to 399 in 2017.
Cases of harassment and other violence against women double in 2017 as compared to the number of cases received by the State Women’s Commission (SWC) in 2016. The numbers jumped from 2,000 to 4,000.
Safina Beigh, state president of People’s Democratic Party (PDP) women’s wing, rues that she was expecting Mufti to take bold initiatives like political reservation for women in the state, but the former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister didn't speak even once about it.
"Even if the bill would have been introduced for the sake of argument, she could have weighed the reaction and response from her partymen and opponents. Its approval would have had been historic for women empowerment,” says Safina, wife of PDP MP Muzaffar Hussain Beigh.
The image of 'saviour of women'
Expectations were high from Mehbooba not just because she is a woman but because she had led several campaigns against violence on women in Kashmir. Images of Mufti sympathising with family members and relatives of state-sponsored violence had helped her craft a public image of the "saviour of women".
Sticking to it after her swearing-in as chief minister, she had declared that the special focus of her government will be on women. She even went on to propose the government's first "women-specific" annual budget in 2016 with measures like waiving off fees for girl school students, a women’s reservation of 10 percent in industrial estates, two entrepreneur development centres in Srinagar and Jammu and commitment of Rs 5 crore for "women only" city bus services.
Such initiatives, however, drew flak as nothing much changed at the grassroots level. The dropout rate in primary and upper primary classes saw a considerable increase from 6.93 percent and 5.36 percent, respectively, in 2015-16 to 10.30 percent and 10.20 percent in 2016-17.
Her government’s fee-waiver order for girl students hardly saw any implementation on the ground. A senior official of Directorate of School Education, Kashmir, says the department lacks funds to implement the order entirely.
The then finance minister, Haseeb Drabu, also announced that the government will set up four new women’s police stations in Pulwama, Kupwara, Kathua and Udhampur districts of J ammu and Kashmir. Besides, a proposal of constructing exclusive toilets for women in all state-run hospitals and health centres of the state was also listed in the budget.
The police stations are however yet to be established.
Later on, Mehbooba launched other schemes like subsidised two-wheelers to promote girl education and then went on to abolish stamp duties levied on property purchased and registered in the name of women.
Life for women beyond tall promises
Beyond tall promises, the situation of women started deteriorating barely three months after Mehbooba became the chief minister.
The summer agitation of 2016 witnessed intense violence against women when dozens of young girls were blinded by pellets. Students who protested against security forces faced the wrath of the government and many girl students were injured in clashes. Till the Mufti government collapsed, more than nine women had fallen prey to bullets of security forces.
It is being alleged that not a single government agency or department approached the families of these victims, mostly underprivileged, with relief.
Mehbooba preferred silence. Or, whenever she spoke, she defended the “brutality” of security forces and their “oppressive policies”. And then there was the security nightmare of braid-cutting incidents which had a life altering effect on thousands of women.
Probably, the only positive development during Mehbooba’s rule was that in infant mortality rate. IMR dropped from 34 to 26 per 1,000 live births in a single year. Health experts attribute it to strengthening of child care facilities and control of diseases in different hospitals over the years across Jammu and Kashmir.
Nayeema Mehjoor, who resigned few weeks ago as chairperson of State Women’s Commission (SWC), told this reporter that women in Kashmir have reached a “breaking point” as being the soft target after suffering heavily during the past seven decades.
“The year 2016 proved worst (for women) due to use of pellets which was very unfortunate,” she said adding that the women in Kashmir were expecting Mehbooba to take “bold initiatives” for women and their empowerment but “unfavourable circumstances” hampered any such initiative of the government.
PDP’s chief spokesperson Rafi Ahmad Mir says that whatever happened during the last two years should not have happened at all.
“It were the circumstances that led to all this,” Mir says, referring to the use of excessive violence by his government and the worsened condition of women in the Valley.
The author is a Srinagar-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters
Updated Date: Aug 13, 2018 14:53 PM