Thursday, January 6, 2011

Effect of conflict on Kashmiri women

Two decades of conflict have not only resulted in irreparable loss to life and property, but also has caused trauma to women in Kashmir

By: Salman Nizami

In modern times, Kashmir is known more for violence less for scenic beauty. Two decades conflict has not only done irreparable loss to life and property but has done unimaginable harm to the women folk, who are at the receiving end directly and indirectly.

The state authorities in a combat situation used strict measures which include curfew, search operations, arrests and third degree torture which inflicted a devastating impact upon native population, particularly on women community. It has been estimated that around one lakh people mostly youth have lost their lives in conflict and 10 lakh have been injured. It has also been estimated that about 50,000 women has lost their partners. The number of persons disappeared is 4000. Sexual violence against women not only occurs but is an essential aspect of conflict history. In Kashmir security forces have used it to punish, intimidate, coerce, humiliate and degrade the women folk. However most of the crimes committed in Kashmir through security agencies went unnoticed because the victims used to face intimidation and social stigma. Conflict caused disruption in their education, job opportunities, and over all development, besides mental disorders assumed considerable importance among women in Kashmir due to on going conflict. According to studies, the psychiatric morbidity in patients increased from 9 to 25 per cent in 1995. However, there were no comparable statistics available on the number of crackdowns, killings, disappearances, bomb blasts, injured persons at the village level. However, the worst hit villages, according to the District Administration, were the two districts of Kupwara and Pulwama. From this list I selected five villages in each of the districts based on systematic random sampling procedure. While visiting the villages I collected information from the village sarpanches about the number of deaths associated with conflict, number of youths killed, number of widows. I also prepared a list of all households in the villages and selected 30 households randomly from each village. I used two types of questionnaires: Household and Women’s questionnaire. The household questionnaire helped me to identify eligible women with whom I wanted to have in-depth interviews. The criterion for eligible women was that she should be married age 18-54 years. The household questionnaire helped us to identify 256 eligible women but interviews were conducted with 220 women only. Of these 220 women I identified 28 women who had conceived during 1995-2000, the peak period of terrorism and in depth interviews were conducted with 28 women to get detailed information regarding the reason of their late marriages. Insecurity was the biggest problem for women. Life had become uncertain as it has became so insecure that people were not sure if they would return home safely in the evening after a day’s work or reaching their destinations once set out. The sense of insecurity was greater among girls and young women who became virtual prisoners in their houses because of the threat of abduction and sexual abuse. Marriage system changed from night to day. Due to killings, disappearance and unemployment girls have become a burden on the shoulder of parents. However, due to the collapse of the education, mass copying and mass promotions in the examinations led to an increase in the age at marriage for both boys and girls. A study by the sociology department of University of Kashmir – “Emergence of late marriages in Kashmir” says that the average marrying age has increased from 24 to 32 years in boys and for Females 21 to 28 years. The socio-economic, educational and political developments in the J&K state have affected the practices, rituals, values and norms of marriage, the study says adding, conflict, poverty, modern education, dowry, unemployment, caste consideration as the major reasons for late marriages in Kashmir. Many people believe advent of modernization, unhealthy customs and traditions, and “irreligious” attitude in the society have played their part in pushing up the average marrying age. “This two decade long insurgency had to leave a distinct mark on the social and cultural structure of the society apart from politics,” says Professor Bashir Ahmad Dabla, the supervisor of the research. “Marriage is already delayed by many years when the employed person starts looking for a suitable spouse. A highly educated person looks for relevant match that delays the process further,” said Jabeena Begam, a mother of four. “Late marriages are taking a heavy toll on the mental health of Kashmiri youth. When a person has no one to share his feelings with, frustration is likely to occur; whether it is physiological or psychological. Many unmarried patients come to us with complaints of depression; half of their problem is solved when they are being listened to patiently,” says senior psychiatrist, Dr Aijaz Ahmad Khan. “One out of every 700 children is born with Down’s syndrome. But when the mother is in her late 30s and early 40s chances of birth of mentally retarded child increase manifold,” says Dr Khan. Late marriages alter social fabric with pre-marital and extra-marital affairs creeping into the society. “Late marriage and sexual promiscuity cannot be avoided in a conflict situation,” says Professor Dabla. “Modernization gave rise to materialistic outlook and highlighted the ill effects of early marriage. But absence of a partner results in the crimes, immoral activities and drug addiction,” says Dabla. Apart from financial uncertainty and political instability, many young boys and girls hold their parents responsible for their delayed marriage by compelling them to go for extravagance. “Every person needs someone to be with and rely on. Life seems worthless when you have none. But when your own parents commit sin and make you suffer for their desire of your extravagant marriage, you cannot help it but wait,” laments Shabir Ahmad, 29. The huge amount of money needed in a traditional Kashmiri marriage has turned it into a burden, says Dilshada, a housewife. “An average person spends around Rs 10 lakh in a marriage; almost a decade rolls by till all the money is gathered,” she adds. Besides dowry and pomp and show, the traditional wazwan - local multi-cuisine feast - has become expensive and unaffordable for many people. To make marriages simpler and inexpensive, Humsafar Marriage Counselling Cell was established by Islamic Dawa Centre in 2005. The bureau organises marriages in austere and religious manner and discourages extravagance. In a place, like Kashmir, where women still are not considered as the bread winners of the family, those with government jobs are preferred for marriage pulling many women towards higher education. With the warnings like decrease in population, mental depression and suicidal tendencies; solutions suggested by the experts include guest control and legal ban on dowry practice, and marrying children at early age in religious manner without extravagance. Author is a free lance Journalist and can be mailed at