Child Abuse

Kashmir’s reluctance to report abusers cost Shagufta her school, solace

Children play near the half burnt jhuggi in the outskirts of Jammu. [FPK Photo/Sajad Rafeeq]

As Kashmir is lately witnessing series of abusive cases, here’s a story of a daughter who lost her campus and composure to one such unreported obnoxious behaviour.

Shagufta hardly had any wish to visit her parents, but her son was lately insisting to see his grandparents and maternal home. 

“Don’t you miss your home, Mom?” he would often ask her. “I want to meet my Naani.”

Shagufta recalled how days after their wedding, she had told her husband, Saliq, “I just don’t want to go to my parents’ house. Never compel me to go there.”

Looking out of the car window, she wondered how on reaching the place she would react at the sight of those people she had almost forgotten. When perchance she recalls any of those events during her household chores, her hands stop functioning. At night she wakes up at such a memory.

Yet, the car tyres going round and round on the road are taking her to a place where she doesn’t want to go. 

She recalls her wedding when her mother embraced her before she could leave and how she was unable to hug her back, how her arms went numb and she left the home where she grew up without shedding a single tear. She fears if even today she’s unable to hug her mother…

With a sudden jerk, their car stops. They’ve reached Shagufta’s home. 

Her excited son Umar gets out of the car hurriedly but for Shagufta it’s hard to find that strength in her legs to walk back to a place that gives her nightmares. She gathers some courage and walks towards her home.

Shagufta opens the main door. Her mother is cooking some special dishes for Umar. She had received their call few days back. Shagufta had to inform her because the disappeared daughter was afraid if her mother wanted to see her or not. 

“There,” says Shagufta with a shaking voice, “she is your Naani.”

Hearing Shagufta’s voice, Naani came running to the door. The visitor’s heart started throbbing but to her relief her mother went straight to hug her son. The overjoyed grandmother sat on her knees to hug her grandson properly, kissed him and took him inside. Shagufta realised she shouldn’t have feared facing her mother or embracing her. She didn’t have to. She entered the house by herself and sat besides her mother and son.

“How’re you, Shagufta?” asked her mother, still looking at her grandson.

“I’m good,” replied Shagufta not making an eye contact either. “Where’s uncle?”

“Your father?” her mother curtly replied. “He’s out for some work, he shall be back by evening.” 

The grandmother takes Umar in the front yard to play with him, while Shagufta retires to the guestroom. She opens the cupboard and looks for her box. It lies still in a corner untouched. She takes it out and it opens up for some old books — a pair of broken glasses and a few used pens, none of which belonged to her. These are the belongings of her father whom she had lost to brain haemorrhage when she was 16. She had kept whatever she could find that time and used to unbox these things and the memories related to them often until her marriage.

Her father was a teacher by profession and unlike her other family members and relatives had always supported her in growing up differently. It was him, who went against his elder brother and made Shagufta’s education his prior responsibility. 

Shagufta still remembers her last evening with her father. He was teaching her poetry. 

Shagufta,” he had told her, “you’ve to continue getting education all your life, be it with or without me. You’ve to be an encouragement for younger girls like you in the neighbourhood.” 

Her father perhaps knew that he was running short of time, as his hypertension was increasing each day. 

The same night Shagufta heard her mother arguing with her father over poetry. “This is not for girls, poetry makes girls shameless,” she had lambasted him. “Girls are made for serving the family and taking care of the house, not for this nonsense. Why are you spoiling your own daughter…

“Here comes your Naanu,” Naani’s voice not only brought Shagufta back, but made her nervous too. She slapped the box close, put it back and hurried for the bed. She drapped herself in the blanket and pretended to be asleep. She did not want to meet her stepfather who was actually his uncle but after his father’s death got married to her mother. 

Shagufta never called him dad. She couldn’t. This was the part she feared the most. He was the reason she never wanted to come back. She had some horrifying memories of him.

But after her husband died, Shagufta’s mother was glad that her brother-in-law stepped forward to take her and her daughter’s responsibility. However, Shagufta was against this marriage. 

The teenage girl could not replace her dad or watch him being replaced, but she was shut quiet.

After the marriage, as Shagufta had feared, her uncle made her drop the school and her mother started looking for a suitable match for her. This got her even more depressed, but she had some books hidden which she used to read by herself. 

One day when her uncle found her hidden treasure, he raised a hand on her. And that was the most Shagufta could bear. She could not stay in the house where the principles and morals of the person who once owned that house were not valued at all. 

The girl decided to get married with Saliq — the boy who would take tuitions from her late father. Even her mother was interested in him. But Shagufta gave her nod only after Saliq promised to support her education after marriage. 

There was one more condition—her stepfather won’t spend a single penny on her wedding. “He has done a lot for us,” her mother angrily responded to her condition. “Instead of thanking him, you act like an arrogant girl all the time.” 

Shagufta’s mother thought that Shagufta hated her stepdad for suspending her schooling, but only her daughter knew what was lying in the folds of her heart.

Naanu knocked at the door of the guestroom but Shagufta played asleep. “She won’t let me in,” her stepfather said and went outside to look for Umar.

“Shagufta,” her mother called out her name. “It’s me, let me in.”

“Is it just you?” asked Shagufta.

“Yes,” replied her mother.

She opened the door slowly to let her in, but shut it back quickly.

Shagufta goes back to the bed and sits there. Her mother sits beside her and keeps her hand on her daughter’s shivering hands. 

“It has been 8 years, Shagufta,” the mother said. “I really missed you. You just went away one day and never came back like your father. It was not in his hands to stay back, but you abandoned me willingly.”

The mother waited for her reply, but the daughter sat mute.

“I know I’ve not been a very good mother,” she continued in tears after a pause, “but I did not really have much choice after your father died. I missed him each day of my life but I had you to not give up for. So, I got married again, so that I could raise you well, marry you well…”

“And did you?” Shagufta said cutting her in the middle of her sentence.

Her mother wiped her tears and replied, “I did not know you would not understand my sacrifices, it was your decision to not have a wedding ceremony.”

“And whose decision was to make me drop school?” asked Shagufta, looking straight into her mother’s eyes.

“Shagufta, he’s your father, he cannot wish any bad for you.”

“He’s your husband, my father is dead.”

Her mother stood up from the bed, saying, “I was wrong. You can never understand these things and you know why because you don’t want to. I was so stupid to think I can make you understand that he is not a bad person. He may not be as good as your own father, but he has always loved you. It’s nobody’s fault that your father died but you make him feel like he’s the reason for everything that happened.”

Shagufta noticed her mother was crying while saying this. “So what, he slapped you one day for something? Does he not have any right over someone whom he considers his daughter? Do you realise in between the stubbornness of you two, it’s me who is getting hurt.”

Shagufta cannot bear her mother crying in front of her. She decides to take out her heart. Scratch out what she had buried in. She realises her mother must know the truth.

“Mom, it’s not that slap that made me hate him,” said Shagufta.

“Then what’s it, my daughter?”

“Uncle used to harass me,” said Shagufta, her voice cracking.

“What do you mean?” asked her mother with stiffness in her voice. She wasn’t crying anymore. She looked like she was preparing herself for a shock.

“He used to harass me sexually, Mom!”

Shagufta’s mother sat down again, this time on the floor. Her daughter had finally spoken up.

“He used to touch me at unusual places in an unusual manner,” Shagufta said. “I was young to understand all this besides no one would listen to me even if I said anything. He used to threaten me that he will poison you if I came to you.”

Her mother’s vision darkened, everything started fading away in front of her. She had spent her life with a person who molested her own daughter.

“One day,” Shagufta was still speaking in tears, “he took me to the bathroom and made me remove my shirt. And Mom, I was…” 

After that, even Shagufta’s voice faded away for her mother. All she could hear was a whistling sound. The daughter kept speaking and her mother kept losing her senses.

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