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Lack of familial and govt support in Jammu and Kashmir drives oppressed women to suicide

Editor's Note: The latest National Crime Records Bureau statistics show an 83% 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.

Read the series here.

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Srinagar: Outside a desolated single-storey building of the Jammu and Kashmir State Commission for Women in Srinagar, 50-year-old Zareefa (name changed), clad in a black burqa and half-torn slippers, is desperately awaiting her turn.

To kill time, she calls a relative who counsels her often. After three to four attempts, she finally answers her call. The conversation begins with Zareefa's shrill voice saying, "Baaji, ab main kya karun? (sister, what should I do now?).

Zareefa has been visiting the women's panel's office for the past six months having suffered from trauma for three years. All she wants from the commission is reconciliation with her husband, who had threatened her with divorce in a letter in 2014.

 Lack of familial and govt support in Jammu and Kashmir drives oppressed women to suicide

Representational image. Reuters

This is her second marriage. Her first one ended in divorce after her family forced them to separate because of differences between her husband and her brother. Disturbed deeply, Zareefa decided to marry again, this time a man of her choice for emotional support.

After a few years of love and peace, this relationship, too, ended with a divorce notice. "It was a shock for me. My husband used to thrash me regularly. I came to know later that he had told his family that I would be a maidservant to them after marriage," she said, adding that her family had objected to the marriage on the grounds of his low caste.

Nine years after marriage, Zareefa is caught between a rock and a hard place, fearing rejection from her brothers, as well. A victim of marital abuse, she is now ready to accept divorce if her husband provides financial assistance. "Where will I go now? Everybody has failed me. I am being treated like an animal who keeps knocking on relatives' doors," she said.

Like Zareefa, the commission receives nearly 10 complaints on average every day from women who live in despair after being abandoned by their husbands and families.

What drives victims to suicide

Conflict-torn Jammu and Kashmir has witnessed a surge in crimes against women in recent years. Last year, the police registered more than 3,000 cases, including of rape, murder and dowry deaths. So far this year, around 600 such cases have been reported from the Kashmir region alone.

Domestic violence and the absence of avenues are forcing these women to commit suicide. The family of Mudassir Aziz, an engineer from Illahibagh who had allegedly committed suicide in September, has not recovered yet from the shock of losing her.

Family members said that after much opposition from them, they had allowed her to marry Javaid Ahmad Bangri in 2012. "Her death is a mystery as nobody knows what actually happened," said Irfan Aziz Botta, her brother, while showing photographs from their wedding.

He added that five years after her marriage, Mudassir's alleged suicide, which her family believes was a murder, has left several questions unanswered for them. "She never said anything about her husband mistreating her. She would deceive us with her smile and happy face," Botta said.

Missing support system for women

An activist for women's rights and former chairperson of the Jammu and Kashmir State Commission for Women, Nayeema Mehjoor, said the women in the state suffered rejection at social, economic and religious fronts. She believes that the three-decade-long conflict in the Valley has made women the most vulnerable section of society.

"In a place like Kashmir, which is a highly-militarised zone surrounded by killings and tortures by security forces, women ultimately have to bear the brunt. They cease to express their problems to their husbands, who, too, are suffering at different levels. Nobody listens to women's problems," Mehjoor said.

There is also the issue of social stigma and lack of cooperation from families. "Women don't speak out against injustice as their families are the first to mock, ridicule or even torture them. In many cases, I have seen a rape victim's family ask her to remain silent as they believe it will hamper her marriage," Mehjoor added.

She pointed out that Jammu and Kashmir does not have shelter homes or other counselling centers to empower and rehabilitate women in distress.

"During my stint as the women's commission chief, I had no option but to allow these women to live with their cruel husbands or in-laws because of a lack of these facilities," Mehjoor said. She believes that the society was doing its worst by ignoring the plight of women. "A stage will come when she will collapse. We already know that depression is common among the womenfolk here now."

A study by Medicines Sans Frontiers in 2015, conducted in collaboration with the University of Kashmir and Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, found that women made up a major chunk of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder patients in the Valley.

Izabir Ali, founding member of Ahsaas — an organisation that works primarily for the betterment of women in Jammu and Kashmir — said that the patriarchy prevalent in the state hindered women's security.

"Most of the victims don't have the society's support, but when they take an extreme step like suicide, the same people find it their moral duty to attend her funeral. May be if she was supported at the right time, it could have prevented her from committing suicide," Ali said.

She suggested increasing participation of mohalla committees and women-centric NGOs to prevent their exploitation.

In 2015, the Ministry of Home Affairs had proposed setting up Investigative Units on Crimes against Women in 20 percent of the districts of each state, with the Centre and state splitting the cost. However, the Jammu and Kashmir government paid no heed to the recommendation and did not establish any such unit.

Moreover, only Jammu has the 181 helpline service, not Kashmir.

The author is a Srinagar-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com

Updated Date: Aug 15, 2018 18:45:00 IST