Story on Kashmiri Women’s Problems

Nobody said marriage was a cake-walk, but for some non-Kashmiri women who are married to locals here, it has been a hard life. Doctors say some of these women are walking into their clinics and grappling with multiple problems – physical, emotional and psychological.

The number of non-Kashmiri women, who have been wheeled into emergency rooms in various hospitals in Srinagar following domestic abuse and are seeking help from psychiatrists to cure Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), has considerably risen.

These women are grappling with adjustment issues and have to deal with differences in language, climate, dress, food, living habits, culture and social customs. Delhi-resident Dr Shazia Trambu (name changed) lives in Anantnag. Dr Trambu is a 34-year-old gynecologist who married a Kashmiri pediatrician in 1998. It’s been over a decade still she doesn’t feel accepted by her husband’s family, “They are quite well-educated. And I listen to whatever my mother-in-law says, but even after all these years, she hasn’t accepted me.”

Being a Muslims doesn’t help, this mother of an eight-year-old boy confesses as there is a lot of difference between Kashmiri Muslims and Muslims in other parts of the country. Dr Trambu has also encountered many problems with language, food habits, lifestyle and cultural differences, but the biggest hurdle she feels trapped because of her gender. She says, “Earlier, when I used to travel by bus I used to get hostile stares from passengers, but since the last two years, because of more outsiders’ settling here, people’s attitudes have undergone a transformation.”

Dr Trambu reminisces, “In Delhi life used to start after 5 pm, but its not so here.” Nonetheless, Dr Trambu has adjusted to her circumstances, but depression is taking a toll on her. She has convinced herself to adjust so much that now she feels, “that my Delhi life was wrong”. When she goes to visit her sister in Delhi, they have noticed the “change” and tell her that she’s begun to sound unlike herself.

She informs that during her practice, she has come across many such cases of non-Kashmiri women undergoing marital trauma in Bogam, Anantnag. She elucidates, “The women were bought from UP, and have married into Kashmiri families here. They have endured bulling and teasing from locals. Because they are illiterate and poor, nothing is being done about this. In fact, one of the women was going through so much discrimination for being and outsider, that she couldn’t bear it anymore and got her sister married in the same village so that she could support her. In her case the harassment was very bad. Her in-laws never even used to let her use the toilet. Fortunately, her sister is being treated fine.”

Dr Traambu has also met four ladies from Bihar who were bought by the families they married into. “They belong to the labour class. Despite these issues they have a child a year – they’ve had five or six kids till now.”

Sadly, this problem doesn’t remain confined to just the lower social strata – it is an all pervasive one, says psychiatrist Dr Waqar Bashir, who has worked in the Government Psychiatric Diseases Hospital (GPDH). He explains the phenomenon of “being Bangalored”. “About ten years ago, there was a huge exodus of Kashmir youth to other parts of India. I know at least 40 boys who came back with brides from outside the state. Now, most of their marriages are on the rocks.” He adds, “In GPDH we sued to get three to five such cases on an average. The ladies were all suffering from Major Depressive Disorder (MDD).”

Dr Muzafar Khan, a psychiatrist, has also treated patients with similar problems and has observed such instances in his set of friends. “There’s one class of people who buy the women and treat them like slaves. Then there’s the educated class of people, who encounter difficulties in adjusting culturally, etc. The there’s another class of people who marry foreigners.”

He adds, in Kashmir, he has found marital problems amongst these groups due to issues surrounding in-laws, property, religion and culture. Dr Khan elaborates, “Here, one expects the woman to handover her salary to her in-laws. That is not easy for women from outside. Then there’s the issue of the children’s religion. Also, there’s domestic violence and violence in a workplace. Property disputes arise. When in-laws deny the women of her property rights due to discrimination, conflict arises.”

Despite these hardships that these women face, they are lucky compared to the ones that endure sexual exploitation and are solicited by their spouses. NGOs say illiterate girls from West Bengal and Bihar have borne the brunt of this crisis.

Afrina Islam (name changed), a 19-year-old Bengali girl visited her married sister, Mahab Mir (name changed) in Kashmir. During this visit in May 2009, her marriage was fixed with Nazir Ahmad, a Kashmiri man. Since then she has been living with her husband in Pulwama.

Afrina’s husband used to abuse her physically. Mahab alleges that Nazir would inject Afrina with drugs to make her unconscious for sexual exploitation by his own friends, who would then pay him. In October 2009, Afrina was admitted to SMHS Hospital in a traumatic condition. As per medical reports she had abrasions over face and neck, burn marks over right arm and lower back abrasions over both genital areas, bite marks over both her cheeks, abrasions over neck and chest.

After Afrina was discharged from the hospital she was shifted her to a shelter home in Srinagar. She now lives in Pulwama with her sister and aunt.

Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) Kashmir has been involved in tackling up such issues. HRLN, through its Women’s Justice Initiative has been monitoring trafficking of women from different parts of India to Kashmir. Reports state that most of these women are in the age group of 16-35 years and belong to Bihar and West Bengal. Almost in all the cases the reason of trafficking is marriage or domestic workers.

In April 2009, advocate Narjees Nawab of HRLN received a call, requesting for a support in shifting an ailing lady from SKIMS hospital to a shelter in Srinagar. The victim had recovered and only needed proper diet and nutrition to regain strength. When the ambulance carrying the victim reached HRLN, they realised the victim was almost in the dying state. She was readmitted to the hospital where she tested HIV positive.

The victim disclosed that the lady accompanying her was her sister, and they both hailed from Bihar. Her sister got married to one Baj Khan of Qazigund who had come to her village in Bihar along with one of the brokers who arranges women for Kashmiri men. This broker ultimately convinced the family member to get their daughter married to Baj Khan who would pay them money (Rs 16,000) and will also take their another daughter to Kashmir for marrying her off. Khan who was 15 years older to Arifa paid for both the girls. Things went well for first few weeks but then the violence and torture began. He stopped providing her food and clothing. Her sister Shameem was also sexually assaulted by him.

When Shameem (name changed) told the villagers about the sexual abuse, her brother-in-law was reprimanded. He then offered marriage to Shameem, to which she had no option but to agree. Finally after many months of trauma and torture, Arifa worst and she developed sores over all her body. The villagers paid Baj Khan Rs1500 to get her admitted in the hospital. He ran away after admitting Arifa and left the sisters alone. Two days after being readmitted to the hospital, Arifa expired on April 15, 2009.

First published in

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