Child Abuse

Behind closed doors, a bogeyman is harrowing children in Kashmir

According to the UNICEF’s report, “Behind Closed Doors”, the impact of domestic violence on women is well documented in some countries but the devastating effects on children, who see their care-givers in an abusive relationship is brushed aside. In Kashmir, the story appears no different.

Ahmed, a ten-year-old boy anxiously rises and looks for his sister. With a pounding heart and sweaty forehead, he cries her name, “Sadia! Sadia! Where is Sadia?”

As he frantically moves from one room to another, his sister wonders: why is he looking for her when she is sitting right beside him.

Ahmed may not know it, but he’s suffering from severe anxiety and ADHD, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.

At this blooming age, the thing that made him go through all this is the domestic violence that he has witnessed since he got hold of his senses.

Every time his mother is beaten up by her abusive husband, it leaves an imprint on his mind enhancing the hate he has for his father to another level.

Ahmed has been witnessing how his father oppressed his mother at every stage of his development.

Rukhsar, his mother got forcefully married 11 years ago to a man whom her brother suspected to be her boyfriend.

“He caught him talking to me and denied to hear the explanation. I don’t even have the option of divorce because there is no one to provide me living expenses. My brother won’t let me stay with him if I get divorced,” says Rukhsar, who teaches at a school nearby her residence, where she is paid Rs. 2000/month which hardly helps her make ends meet.

Representational Picture.

As she puts her children to sleep, it’s time for her to rest after a long tiring day. Just then, she says, the door bangs open and her husband steps in, asking her to remove her clothes which she is unwilling to. The “no” goes unheard and the man satisfies his desire.

“I’m hurt every time he touches me but the society we live in has sealed my lips,” Rukhsar says as she wipes her tears. “I’m ashamed and traumatized every time.”

The misery of Rukhsar hasn’t just traumatized her, but has equally inflicted mental torment on her son, Ahmed. And sadly, in contemporary Kashmir, Ahmed’s mentally-disturbed tribe is only growing.

In fact, in a region where domestic abuse often goes unreported, Crime Branch Kashmir has registered 342 cases of cruelty by husband in 2016, and 353 in 2017. Crime Branch—whose sleuths were instrumental in bringing the Rasana perpetrators to justice—was able to document six dowry deaths in 2015, six in 2016 and eight in 2017.

Even the former SHO of Rambagh Women Police Station lately informed Women’s Conclave Budgam that most cases they get are related to domestic violence. But what goes unreported is how these cases are affecting Kashmiri children.

“Children who grew in troubled marital homes carry disturbed mindsets,” Dr Majid Shafi Shah, Consultant Psychiatry, Department of Health Kashmir says.

These kids are likely to develop psychological problems like low self-esteem, academic failure, failure to thrive, etc. They’ve the potential, the doctor says, but can’t attain the goal.

“They suffer from disorders like ADHD, Borderline Personality Disorder and anxiety. More often these persist through their adulthood like depression, which sometimes has relation with childhood trauma,” Dr Majid says.

This further complicates their relationships with people. And they suffer from long term insecurity as one can see in the case of a 22-year-old woman who plugs her ears with her fingers and rushes to another room while the pressure cooker whistles.

Representational Picture.

Aisha is freaked out, not only by the sound of the cooker, but whenever someone bangs the door or she hears her father’s voice getting amplified. She gets a panic attack, trailed by shivering and soaring heart rate.

The girl has seen her mother suffer from domestic abuse since childhood and therefore is suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder — a mental health condition that impacts the way one think and feel about oneself and others.

It includes a pattern of unstable intense relationships, distorted self-image, extreme emotions and impulsiveness.

Aisha has grown up with the fear of abandonment which hazardously impacts most of her relationships.

As she uncovers her arm, there are uncountable marks of self-harm, some new, some over 10 years old. The scars testify her urge to end her life and get rid of the pain she has been going through from the past 22 years.

“I’m so overwhelmed by pain that I can’t control but let the blood ooze so that it gets an outlet,” says Aisha, as she shares her experiences of suicide attempts.

She says that her mother compromised to provide them a better future because she wasn’t economically settled, but the outcome was calculated in material means only.

“If she had taken a divorce, we might have less to eat but would have been in the right state of mind,” says Aisha.

She was prescribed medication for insomnia and anxiety at SMHS and also recommended Dialectical Behavioral Therapy by a psychologist, which improved her condition to some extent.

In mild to moderate cases, Dr Majid says, counselling and psychotherapy is helpful but in severe cases pharmacological steps are also taken to improve the condition of patients.

“Children who have a normal childhood are very lucky,” sighs Aisha. “I wish I was one of them!”


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