After Kulgam domestic violence related death, a friend on a social media platform had raised a compelling question; why aren't we talking about domestic violence here? A crisp one-liner comment to the post from a netizen was 'because it won't make anyone's career here' (covertly referring to conflict industry). This question and the reaction, cover a lot of unsaid and unwritten, but certainly not unfelt that happens in the valley and in our homes routinely now. The Kulgam tragedy is a horrendous example and came out only after the victim was on the death bed reflecting women's perpetual and conventional thinking that 'things will get better soon' and therefore such a silence that hides this monster of everyday violence is a serious thing to talk about and the state and the society both need to be serious on this. After a few days only Anantnag (Moominabad) tragic incident of suicide by a young woman happened followed by the reaction of setting her in-law's home on fire by her relatives in rage. For a few days it too generated hue and cry on social media and then again the usual calm and our collective forgetfulness. Are we waiting for another murder or another burning incident and then talk about it? Such tragedies have become a new normal now and age old patriarchy, pandemic, lockdowns, joblessness, greed, insensitivity, ignorance, collective silence, non active civil society, material lust and lack of contentment and taking things for granted and more importantly lack of enough platforms of justice delivery and redress mechanism including too little emphasis of religious scholars on such shameful matters are responsible for such a normalisation and sustenance of domestic violence in our context.
The social stigma and victims' backup problems
Women in Kashmir generally are though aware of their rights but what stops them from speaking up is the lack of proper backup/support, level of awareness, resources and accessibility. These dependent women fight daily emotional battles in their heads and thus have residual effects on their brain and soul leading to suicidal tendencies or acute depression and stress.
All of us know that the cases that actually come out or the number of complaints filed by women or distress calls made reveal just the tip of iceberg. There may be thousands and lakhs of cases that never come out actually due to our established cultural stereotypes and false sense of honour and social stigma, acute dependence of victims, poor or no backup by parents, siblings, relatives, etc,
Domestic violence happens almost in every home in different forms and patterns though. Somewhere elderly are ostracised, somewhere daughters-in-law and somewhere mothers-in-law and somewhere husbands, and parents even. Somewhere other dependents like step children, differently abled, issueless women, unemployed siblings or children or unwell people, servants, etc, but it happens in our society even if in a normalised, polished-polite and covert forms.
The dependence factor and the hypocritical society
The young women's suicide at her home in Anantnag by hanging herself is very reflecting and raises some painful and shameful questions that need to be asked to our so called civilised and cultured society. Why do women take such an extreme step? It is not just the torture they face at their in-laws but the poor backup they have and the dependence they are trapped into. Although it is also not true that independent women don't face violence at all, there are examples where women at good positions were even physically abused by their families. However a woman prefers to kill herself than to go back to her parents or return to her brothers, why? There are reasons for this; some financial and some emotional, she knows her brother even parents at times are reluctant to accept her wholeheartedly and with pride. She also knows that they will not be happy to give her the share of her inheritance, she knows the cycle of violence will continue even at parents home by other women (brothers spouses) who will call her names and make her feel that she is now their burden. She knows they will convert her to an unpaid labourer even if she stays with them at the cost of her dignity and her children will suffer. Why don't too many victims gain courage to speak up, simply because they feel alone and isolated and are not encouraged to fight for their dignity and rights, they fear society and family honour, they are pressurised even by their own parents or siblings to keep quiet, and sometimes given religious delusions like sabr karo (have patience). Even in majority of homes emotional abuse that is equal to physical abuse is hardly taken as abuse and is justified in many families as advice (Beizzati equal to Nasihat) and those who do this routine beizzati think that they are doing a favour to the victim and even try to make them believe that it is actually their (victim's) fault. In majority of cases, it is not physical always but actions like degrading, humiliating, blaming, screaming at, withholding finances or controlling or over regulating, spying, doubting one's partner, etc., that is plainly domestic violence. Also in our context, we usually have a Tez Mizaaz member (a person of irritable temper) in almost every extended or joint family, who can do anything with impunity, assault, insult or even hurt anybody emotionally and is always taken for granted because he/she is deemed as Tezz and therefore a belief that he/she can even get away with a murder.
She knows that she will still not be able to live a life of dignity or seeking a separation will spoil her children and therefore hardly seeks divorce from the abuser. It is a vicious trap, therefore she prefers to die than to return or seek any exit out of the violent and abusive situation. We must acknowledge that kinship bonds have drastically gone weak and there are not relationships now only diplomatic relations now.
There are many married daughters who while visiting their parental home keep a low profile before their sisters-in law and keep silent even if they see them abusing their parents just to save their possible future backup. Why daughters aren't able to take a stand on their elderly and dependent parents at times is also well established in our society. They are hardly able to take them to their husbands' homes just because of the dependence factor, an established culture of patriarchy and lack of decision making powers.
There are instances of our so called rich ethos society where brothers took their wives (veiled) to the magistrate's office in the guise of their sisters to give the statement that they don't need any property share and hence must be given to their brothers solely. The real sisters never knew that they were kept away from the property by such forgery tricks.
Is surviving violence a way-out?
Majority of victims though survive but being able to just survive doesn't mean it is alright or the abuse was ever okay. We must understand that silence is not resilience when it is domestic violence. Our society and extended family is full of predators, somewhere sisters-in-law, somewhere brothers-in-law, even distant relatives abuse women. We have many of those abusers who pose as gentlemen to outsiders but are literally monsters at home. Also the factor of silence by others in the family (extended or joint) who witness this violence against a family member but don't intervene, which is detrimental and therefore encourages its perpetuity.
Dr Adfer Shah is a Delhi based Sociologist working in Jamia Millia Islamia. Author is Associate Editor of Women's Link Journal and Eurasia Review.