Mudasir Ali Lone
Domestic abuse is a universal phenomenon and Kashmir is no different. I believe if we have to understand any particular society and how it functions we should take a look at their day-to-day language, the way they converse about various things, the terms, words, and phrases they use. It reveals a lot about that society, a lot more than what other studies would do. And it reminds me of the fact that we live in a society where our language reflects violence against women and encourages it.
In Kashmir, when a woman is beaten by her husband people just say, “yih kuas baed kath chhi, khaandaar chhi manz manz khaandaarnih choab tih diwaan (it’s not a big deal, a husband beats his wife sometimes).” Domestic violence is always met with a blunt statement, “sahluee chhi (not a big deal).” We have made violence against women “sahal(easy/okay)”. Not only men, I have heard women say such things too, because it has been so normalized in our society that it has eventually led to its internalization by women. If a woman faces abuse from her husband, people just think of it as a very normal thing, they will go on with their lives saying, “pannee khaandaaran loayus, bay kaansih maa loayus, sahluee hasa chhi (it was just her own husband who beat her, it wasn’t somebody else, it’s okay).” As if men have a divine right to beat women? Unfortunately, a lot of people do believe that too. If someone protests against the beating of a woman, he/she’s simply told, “khaandaaras chhi haqq aasaan kih suh hekih khaandaarnih tsaend laayith (it’s husband’s right that he can beat his wife).”
A lot of men consider women as less intelligent beings that are in this world to disturb and destroy the fabric of society and consider themselves as the saviors of this world that’s about to fall to chaos because of women. One often hears men saying things like, “yim zanaan chhi aasaan bayqal, yim chhi aasaan hadas manz thawin (these women are foolish, they need to be kept in control)”. Therefore, it’s considered the primary duty of men to keep women under control and maintain the balance in the society, because god-forbid if women are free and they get to make their own decisions, the society will be decimated, there will be chaos all around and qayamat will descend instantly upon us! After all, isn’t freedom of women an aakhirat’ich nishaani (a sign of end-days)?
A man who doesn’t beat his wife or keep her ‘under control’ is mocked and taunted. People talk about him as a less-of-a-man who has ‘given too much freedom to his wife’, the usual remark that people make about a man like that is, “suh chhin pannih khaandaarnih hidaayatuee karaan (he doesn’t admonish his wife).” And if a man listens to his wife, he is called zanaan yezz (hard to translate this one, it kind of means a man with womanly characters) and he’s repeatedly taunted by friends/family for not being manly enough and for being a sissy. Everyone goes on to say, “suh kuss mohnyoo chhi, suh chhi pannih zanaanih hund boazaan (what kind of a man is he, he listens to his wife).” I have come across numerous such instances where a man who doesn’t beat his wife or control her is told, “chu kyaazih chhay’hann’nuh panin zanaan hadd’as manz thawaan (why don’t you keep your wife under control).” A man is often told to control his wife, one of things that I’ve often heard people suggest to a man about his wife is, “tamis lagaayezihaa tsaend akh, che kath chhathan suah yelluh traawmuch (you should slap her once, why have you let her loose).” Even women say such things often, it has been largely internalized by them.
Living under the fear of violence by husbands has become quite a norm for women. Abusive husbands are not really questioned, rather their actions are justified by the society under the belief that women must be kept under control to maintain the structure and moral fabric of society. Imagine the level of fear women suffer from when they say about their husbands, “yel patt buh wanaan chhasas kyehn, oaruh chhi choab dinn wathaan (and then if I say something back to him, he raises up to beat me).” This is a very revealing statement, it tells us how women constantly live under the fear of violence from their husbands, so much so that they don’t even dare to openly express their opinions lest they may offend their husband and invoke his wrath.
There have also been numerous cases that were also reported in the news where a woman was harassed and in some cases even killed by her in-laws for dowry. In such cases, the husband is encouraged to beat his wife and be violent towards her by his family. The woman is repeatedly taunted for not having brought enough with her, for being from a shikaslad (pauper) family.
Noted sociologist B.A. Dabla in his book “Social Impact of Militancy In Kashmir” points out that the ongoing conflict in Kashmir, the heavy militarization of the state complicates the issue of domestic violence and the stress caused by daily disturbances makes it worse. The physical abuse and harassment that men in Kashmir face at the hands of armed forces reflects badly on their domestic lives and leads to more violence at their homes. I can say with conviction, that there is not a single sphere of life in Kashmir that hasn’t been affected by militarization; anybody who has lived there can vouch for that.
The violence against women affects the children too. I may be wrong here, but I think domestic violence impacts children in two ways, either they grow up highly sensitive to it and grow up to deeply abhor it. Or they see domestic violence as an exercise of power by men against women ‘who should be always kept under control’ and they turn out to be the same as their abusive fathers.
The lack of financial independence among women in Kashmir really worsens the problem of domestic abuse. In my observations from the place where I come from many women are fully dependent on their husbands financially and socially. A woman cannot leave her husband and survive, even if she was able to the concept that’s totally unacceptable in Kashmir. These things result in women staying in abusive marriages because if they will separate from their husbands they will find it hard to even find a shelter. It also explains why the friends, family, and parents of a lot of women often advise/pressurize them to endure the abuse and hope that it will stop soon, because they know that if she gets divorced she will lose the only existing support-system she has and a single-woman is quite a taboo in our society. The dignity of women in such cases is totally shattered because they have to live with an abusive person just to survive! The institution of marriage as we see in Kashmir and elsewhere has always been problematic. It would not be wrong to say that the violence against women stems from the very institution itself. It needs a serious intervention and serious reforms from religious scholars and the civil society.
I don’t know much except what I’ve seen, heard, and experienced myself while living in Kashmir. I’ve limited myself only to that in this article. I have just pointed out the problem of domestic violence as I have seen it in Kashmir, and my perspective, knowledge, and understanding of it is very limited. There needs to be an open conversation on this menace in Kashmir and remedies need to be devised so that women don’t have to suffer from abuse all their lives. There needs to be a mechanism where women find it safe to report abuse from their husbands and there should be an assurance of support, a well-functioning support-system (financial, social etc.) for such women so that they don’t live in the fear of aftermath once they have reported. There have to be changes at the policy level and the way it’s implemented. Most importantly, it’s us, the men, who need to reflect upon our opinions/actions and then rectify the huge number of problems that lie within us.
Mudasir Ali Lone is pursuing M.Tech (Computer Science) at Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Kashmir Lit Editorial Desk adds a few links to cases of extreme domestic abuse that became headlines in 2017. Click the links read more.