Violence within four walls is reportedly rising and throwing up disturbed homes. To tackle the menace, paucity of protection officers and shelter homes as ensured by the 2010 Domestic Violence Act have now shifted the responsibility on the shoulders of a woman volunteer wing. But given the sordid stories of unbridled abuse, is volunteerism enough to manage the mess?
In 2005, for the first time, the definition of domestic violence was widened by the Indian Parliament in The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act. It included not only physical violence, but also other forms of violence such as emotional/verbal, sexual, and economic abuse.
Jammu and Kashmir took five more years to come up with The Jammu and Kashmir Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2010. The 5-year delay was justified, on grounds of ‘paucity of funds’.
The Act requires a state to have Protection Officers (PO) and Shelter Homes (SH) for the victims of domestic violence.
Appointed by government under Sub Section 1 of Section (8) of the Act, the job of a PO (usually a social activist) is to connect a domestic violence victim to the police or hospital or any place that the victim needs to visit immediately. Similarly, the government notifies a Shelter Home for the purposes of this Act.
Following the implementation of the Act in 2010, it was reported in 2015 that PO and SH would be made available for the victims. But so far, nothing has been done.
Asiea Naqash, Minister of Social Welfare, was not available to comment, on why the requirements of the Act aren’t being fulfilled and what the government is doing about it?
In absence of these facilities, the victims have no choice than to deal with it on their own, or approach any other organisation for help. One such organisation is Kashmir Women’s Collective (KWC).
About year and a half ago, KWC was formed as a network of women helping other women. With only a few members, including some men, the network started building as a voluntarily setup of different professionals, doing the job of the protection officers and attempting to provide aid to the victims of domestic violence with their own money, or helping them get in touch with someone who can help them.
Since its inception and amid the absence of PO and SH, KWC was approached by many women. The cases of domestic violence they’ve come across are the harsh reality of the society.
Too Much Trust
During a stone pelting incident in Kashmir, a girl (name withheld) felt perplexed and looked for ways to run. A bearded boy saw her and helped her escape. The two somehow clicked. The boy promised that he’ll marry her. He was apparently a religious person and would ask the girl to cover her head and body, and to offer prayers 5 times a day.
One fine day, when the two met, the boy gave her “the holy water of Muslims – Zam Zam,” telling her that it was good for her. The girl drank the water and soon lost her consciousness. She woke up only to find out that she had been sexually harassed.
Devastated, she shortly came to know that the boy was already engaged. In absence of a PO, the girl tried approaching the police, but the fear of family involvement held her back.
The girl finally approached social organisation KWC. The group helped her legally. The boy was made to sign a bond; spent a night in jail and apologized.
In this case, the victim spoke, despite having apprehensions like what would happen if the family would come to know. However, that never stopped her from trying to get justice.
From day one, she said that the boy had played the religion card and had won her trust.
While in this case, the abuser apologized, however, there are cases like that of a man who in the court of law had openly admitted to the fact that he had hit his wife and made her do ‘Kaan Pakdi’.
“He almost yelled, ‘Yes, I hit her; made her hold her ears. But you will not ask me why I did that!’ He said that she had done this and that, and was quite okay with whatever he had done,” says Advocate Subreen Malik, a founding member of KWC. “There was no regret.”
Amusingly, the psychiatrist in touch with KWC says that men go in the market and buy medicine to increase their sexual vigour.
“The women complain that these men have sex with them until they faint,” says Mantasha Binti Rashid, a bureaucrat and founding member of the KWC. “Who would such women go to?”
In a place where social stigma is attached to women visiting a police station, how can she go inside and talk about sexual abuse? This is where a PO could play a vital comforting role.
Speaking about another case, Subreen says a woman was thrown out of her home; kerosene was sprinkled on her, and the property that she owned was sold by her husband. Her family was nowhere to be seen. She was in need of a shelter. In that moment of distress, she approached the social organisation.
“But the problem was,” Subreen says, “her husband would apologize to her and next day she would come to me saying that she wants to withdraw the case and this happened for many times. She had her share of 50 percent in their home and her husband had sold it all. Somehow, I managed to get her share of Rs 10 lakh.”
Then, all of a sudden her brothers appeared and said that they would keep her.
“Next day they were supposed to file for her divorce,” the lawyer says. “But the woman didn’t answer my calls and when she finally called, she broke the startling news to me: ‘My brothers have fled to Goa with all my money.’ I mean, what will anyone do in such a situation — where your own family members add insult to injury?”
In another case, Subreen says, a 50-something childless woman working as a government teacher was dumped by her husband as soon as she retired from her job. The husband had remarried. And she had no Shelter Home to go to.
In yet another case, a Kashmiri man got married to a non-Kashmiri woman. They were in love. However, after 2 months of their marriage, the man had started to beat her. Her in-laws would call her names, based on how her nose looks like. She was thrown out on the road by her husband soon after her surgery. Her stitches and wounds were still fresh.
She tried to contact her mother-in-law, who instead of taking her home resorted to name-calling and left her disappointed.
In absence of any SH or PO, she was also forced to look for help elsewhere. With help from social organisations who helped her approach the police, today her case in the court. The woman is not in a position to go back to her parental home, and is going through a financial crisis.
Pain to Pen
Deeba, a poetess who would love writing and reading, was taken to the police station by her in-laws accusing her of stealing gold while she was pregnant.
“Gold, to me, is nothing,” Deeba says. “My mother-in-law took me to a police station and accused me of stealing gold which did not make any sense to me. She would often taunt me about my habit of writing. One day I made a mistake and she told me to write about it in my book. I replied that I will definitely write, but not about the mistake I made but about the taunt she stabbed me with.”
She compiles her pain in the form of poetry and short stories that most of the Kashmiri women will relate to. She has given time to her husband to think about what he wants to do.
All these human tragedy stories are perhaps the larger windows of the derailing social setup. While social organisations are trying their best to help these silent victims of domestic violence, the larger responsibility still lies with the society, and the government that is only making farce of its own laws.
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