On a sunny August afternoon in 2019, when Kashmir was reeling under communication blockade with phone services completely shut, a man dropped at Zahoor Ahmad Dar’s house at Goripora, Batpora village of south Kashmir’s Anantnag district informing them that their daughter had consumed some poisonous substance.
As the family rushed to her place, they found her lying dead.
The shattered parents took the body to their native place and buried her there.
Neither her husband nor anyone among her in-laws participated in the last rites.
Taking cognisance of the incident, Police lodged a case of abetment to suicide and domestic violence under FIR No 69/2019 under sections 498 A and 306 of the Ranbir Penal Code (RPC) in Police station Frisal and the investigations were taken up.
However, 18 months on, the family still longs for justice.
The victim Shafia Jan, 22, of Batpora Khanabal was married to Nadeem Hanji, son of Bashir Hanji of Kharpora Frisal in Yaripora area of Kulgam.
Though it was a love marriage, only a month later Shafia had reluctantly complained of harassment by her in-laws and husband.
“In her seven-month marital relation, Shafia’s in-laws used to harass her both physically and mentally for not getting dowry of their expectations. As it was a marriage of her choice, she initially hesitated revealing it. However, she did tell about the treatment she was being meted to her aunt and when the abuse did not stop, she revealed it to me,” her mother, Naseema Jan said.
The family had alleged foul play saying that their daughter was murdered by her in-laws.
Subsequently, Police conducted an autopsy.
However, 18 months on, investigations still remain inconclusive with the culprits neither booked for murder nor for abetment to suicide.
“The body of our daughter bore visible marks of violence and even the local pharmacist to whom she was rushed to told us the same,” Jan said.
She said it seemed that she was hit with a wooden object, apparently a bat.
“Her mother-in-law and sister-in-law were particularly harsh on her and would often beat her up. Though I insisted my daughter to return home till we solve the issue, she did not,” Jan said breaking down.
Shafia’s parents have been moving from pillar to post to seek justice.
“Her husband, brother-in-law and father-in-law who were arrested in abetment to suicide case and domestic violence were later let off,” said Dar, Shafia’s father, who is a labourer by profession.
He has remained confined to home since past more than three years as he is suffering from a severe eye ailment.
“My eyesight has been affected badly and whatsoever money I had, I spent it on my surgery. I still can’t see properly and I am not even able to resume work for my living. Now this tragedy has broken my back,” Dar said. “We fail to understand why the culprits were not taken to task.”
He said that the culprits were not arrested for abetment to suicide or murder.
“Now we are being told that she died of a natural cause even as her in-laws themselves initially confessed that she consumed some poisonous substance,” he said. “I have lost all hopes of justice.”
Like Dars, there are many victim families who were assured of justice that remained a distant dream.
Last week a 32-year-old and a mother of two from Aishmuqam area lost her battle with life in a hospital after being “burnt alive” allegedly by her in-laws in Aakhoora Mattan area of Anantnag.
In yet another incident, recently a CRPF man from outside J&K strangulated his wife at the rented accommodation inside a camp at Andernag Sherbagh.
On Tuesday, a 35-year-old woman from Kaimoh, Kulgam was injured after being assaulted by her in-laws and husband at Batengoo when she had gone there to get her belongings.
The duo was living separately for quite some time now.
However, despite the growing incidents of domestic violence, many do not get reported.
Mission Director ICPS and Mission Director for Empowerment and Protection of Women, Shabnum Shah Kamili told Greater Kashmir that the reason women do not turn up to register complaints was because of the lack of trust in the system and social stigma attached to it.
She said that the government had established ‘One Stop Centres’, which was one of the components of J&K’s resource center for women in every district.
“The victims of domestic violence need to call on 181 and their complaints get registered automatically,” Kamili said.
She said that though the centers were working in a right direction but a lot more needed to be done, particularly when it comes to awareness.
“We receive complaints from women usually when her husband takes away a child from her possession or things turn too ugly,” Kamili said.
Associate Professor Women Studies, University of Kashmir, Shazia Malik argues that people come to know about the violence or abuse against woman only after she is beaten to death or ends her life, or reaches a hospital in an injured condition.
“This is the only time these cases hog the headlines. However, most of the time, women remain silent sufferers,” she said.
The pattern of domestic violence suggests it is not only the men – husband or father-in-law – who are involved in the violence against woman, but in most cases, a mother-in-law or a sister-in-law who or harsher.
Specialist Gender, State Resource Centre for Women (SRCW) Sameena Mir said, “Yes, gender role is there but the authority and power the abuser holds is a major factor in domestic violence. That is why we often see the mother-in-law or sister-in-law being more severe on the daughter-in-law.”