Chained like an animal, Shabina is finally having her rare bout of forced calm after being fed her sedative dose. Baggy under-eyes darkened by grief, bruised purplish face, forcibly chopped hair, damaged bluish lips all seemingly wailing over the slow chronic depression-driven annihilation of their possessor -the victim of domestic abuse now in chains. This reality of her daughter breaks the heart of Fazzi every single minute of this day but what pains her most are the chains. Chains which always have been a symbol of cruelty and restrictions for her, now serve as the only working protection formula along with sedatives for safeguarding the life of her daughter Shabina who in the past one week has tried to take her life fourteen times in a row i.e an average of two attempts at suicide in a day. From trying to touch red hot heater coils at home to jumping from the third floor to running on traffic full roads to almost drowning herself in the river, anxiety gripped Shabina has already given up on life. The only signals in her brain are those of hearing voices and the fear, continuously pushing her towards only one aim-an entry into the territory of death!
Born in an extended patriarchal family governed by patriarchal norms, Shabina dared to be a happy-go-lucky, fun-loving person in a downtown locality. Fashion fascinated her, and household chores least interested her. Her life was governed by a force of perfect balance-a balance between enjoyment and passion. Visiting shrines, buying herself matching things, exploring every single road in the vicinity (which even earned her the sarcastic label of road inspector), giggling with her friends during the daytime, and then working till late hours for completing the shawls and having juicy pickles in dinner was her idea of contentment. She lived a life that most of her female kin in the family openly envied and secretly dreamt of living!
At thirty, her life of freedom ceased. Traditional matchmaking process for Shabina began, with it began the torment of a series of uncomprehensible rejections having their basis in the jealousy-driven conspiracies themselves. After five years of torture that bred from societal criteria satisfaction, Fazzi and her sons were finally overjoyed for having found a groom for their favorite Shabina so much so that an anonymous letter hinting at the violent character of the groom was considered an attempt by enviers to malign the image of the guy. A year later, marriage happened.
In all the visits that Shabina paid to her family in the initial few months, she was very much happy and grateful for being blessed with a calm husband and caring in-laws. Turned out that the calm and care with which Shabina was treated were pretentious, intended to appease a stranger (Shabina) just for the sake of maintenance of a good, respectable image in society under whose vigil the marriage had brought them. In the weeks that followed, with the fading of the limelight of marriage, the true nature of inmates surfaced, and the lust for dowry drew its claws stronger. Without being given a chance to adjust and learn in a new environment, she was threatened with divorce at even a mere delay in serving tea by a few minutes. Just a try at explanation by her was declared a non-compliance which brought in punishment in the form of abuse hurling during the day by her in-laws followed by the inhuman treatment characterized by being pushed down, punched, slapped, and dragged by the hair across the floor by her high on Hashish husband every night, leaving Shabina in a state of excruciating pain every single day. While the taunting attitude of her in-laws pained her, that of her husband devastated the once fun-loving Shabina who now had even begun to forget the art of smiling. With the land-line being the only source of communication available at her matrimonial house, the locking of the dialer of same by diary shaped lock robbed her of the freedom to share her pain with people back home in downtown and find a way out of the forced hell for herself.
In such a toxic environment, the nine months of pregnancy did bring some temporary relief and hope of a good life, for the beatings were minimized and she was finally allowed to go to her parents’ home and be with her people. However, the behavior met out to her by her in-laws on her return for not giving birth to a baby boy psychologically paralyzed her. During her chronic anxiety attacks rather than being pacified and allowed to visit a psychiatrist, she was labeled insane, beaten, and kept locked in the storeroom while her baby girl was starved for hours. Untreated, her depression turned severe- the one characterized by hallucinations and suicidal tendencies. It was only after three months when her brother visited her and found her in a half-dead state, that the long healing journey began. For now, the psychiatric consultations have begun, however for the healing of emotional trauma, ensuring justice for victims of domestic violence like Shabina has to be the indispensable step.
A State commission for women is a must for justice delivery in women-sensitive issues. Unfortunately in J&K, the commission along with many other institutions was abolished after the abrogation of article 370 in 2019. Given the shortage of women police stations, the social stigma associated with the female visit paying to the male dominated police stations, the alarming rise of domestic violence cases during Covid, and the confinement of victims with perpetrators of crime, the dissolution of the support system- The J&K state commission for women only gave the due process of pursual of grievance redressal in cases about women violence and abuse a major setback.
While most of us were busy highlighting our worries in the pandemic, some selfless people utilized the opportunity to highlight the need for the restoration of the State commission for women. The advocacy efforts of Danish Zahoor, writer and educationist, along with Sahreen Shameen, a public policy student of Oxford University, and many others associated with WomCom matters (a non-partisan group), bore fruit when in August 2021 the National commission for women announced a Jammu and Kashmir special cell for addressing the plethora of issues related to women in the region.
The recent approval of the constitution of “Jammu and Kashmir Commission for Women” by the Union territory Government on February 8, 2022, is a welcome step, for knowing that they will have an option to fall back on in terms of crisis is empowering for women in this part of the world. In addition to strict enforcement of laws, If we genuinely want to protect daughters of today from being post-marriage Shabinas of the future, patriarchy bred inequality has to go for which the means of social influence and persuasion have to be used diligently, gender sensitization of our sons has to be done, our daughters have to be made aware of their strength, value and rights and above all the common misconception, “jane do, mard to mard hai Kuch Bhi Krake bach jayega, tum ladki ho izzat tumhari hi jayegi, rehna isi k saath hai, chup raho” has to be ripped off!
(The author is a writer and can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org)