Plight of women in J&K

Rajan Gandhi
Recent incidents of rape, dowry deaths have not only stirred the conscience of the nation but the sheer brutality involved has shocked and ashamed every Indian and our State is not an exception. Though Jammu claims to be ‘City of Kanjaks’ and Kashmir claims to be ‘Savior of Islam’, the barbaric incidents time and again have jolted us and adduce how much females are safe in our State. According to a 2011 census, the literacy rate of J&K is approximately 68.74 per cent but of women it is only 58.01 per cent. The female dropout rate is also much higher and one out of every three adult women in J&K is unable to read or write in comparison to one out of five adult males. The rural female literacy rate is only 53.36 percent to 70.19 percent of urban female literacy rate. Less literacy means few job opportunities thereby more dependency on their families with the resultant more discrimination.
A total 15 cases of dowry deaths were reported – 5 in 2014, 6 in 2015 and 4 in 2016 across J&K , 41 people were arrested for their role in the death of 15 women over demand of dowry by the in-laws. 639 cases of domestic violence were registered in 2014 , 1108 persons were arrested while as 571 cases of domestic and social violence were registered in 2015 for which 1127 people were detained, 422 cases of domestic violence were registered by J&K police in 2016 for which 583 persons were arrested. These entire figures just puncture our tall claims about women safety in J& K. With marriages in both Jammu and Kashmir getting more expensive, the burden seems to be getting bigger and bigger for parents of a daughter. Tragedy is even though dowry is not a Muslim custom, it has become a norm in Kashmir also as they say greed has no religion or region. Education, social status and religious abhorrence are no deterrent. According to the State Commission for Women (SWC) whatever the nature of complaints, the roots of all are mainly dowry. Under the Jammu and Kashmir Dowry Restraint Act (India), a person can be booked and punished for taking or giving dowry. But the situation on the ground tells a different story. Women and parents are afraid to go to a court of law as there is a stigma attached to it.
Shocking figures of at least 595 rape cases were registered in Jammu and Kashmir in two years 2015 and 2016, 213 rape cases were registered in Kashmir and Ladakh while 382 cases were registered in Jammu province. Of the 213 rape cases in Kashmir and Ladakh, 125 rape cases were registered by police in 2015 and 88 in 2016. 193 rape cases were registered by police in Jammu province in 2015 and 189 in 2016.No recent data of year 2017 is available on web sites of either JK Police or Crime Branch. As per NCRB report released in August 2016, the rate of crimes against women in J&K is 57 as against national average of 53.9. The rate is a measure of crimes reported per one lakh population. Steep increase in the number of cases registered for abetment to suicide of a woman is a matter of great concern as against 25 cases of abetment to suicide were registered in 2014 whereas in 2015, the figure rose to 50 and the figures are increasing year after year. At the beginning of 2016, over 118,537 cases of rape were pending at the courts throughout India. At the end of the year, the pending cases went up to 133,813, an increase of 12.5%. For crimes against women overall, pending cases increased from 1,081,756 to 1,204,786. Our state is no different as except recent Kathua case that too on the directions of Supreme Court for day to day hearing rest all cases are gathering dust in the courts with a resultant poor conviction ratio. These are only the reported cases. There are no figures for those that go unreported.
All the tall claims by our State Government for welfare of women of our state are hollow slogans only. The principle of citizenship operates on the assumptions of equality between men and women and the right to citizenship is a fundamental human right recognized by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But in the case of Jammu and Kashmir, there are conspicuously unequal terms with regards to citizenship among men and women. The orthodox position has been that if a native woman from J&K marries outside state, she immediately loses her capability to inherit, own or buy immoveable property in the state. In contrast, no such law applies to a male who marries outside. It has been proclaimed by secular and ethno-nationalists that only by protecting the true uniqueness of J&K culture, can a state of J&K interact with today’s globalised world and not lose the essence of its identity. The inequality in citizenship is justified on these grounds of preserving the individuality of the state. Our PM Modi pointed out this discrepancy during general elections regarding the different treatment given to CM, Omar Abdullah and his sister by the State laws and it raised many comments from different quarters about the rights of the daughters of our State. Despite ground breaking verdict by on 7th October 2002, which was contrary to the established legal position and the High Court declared that by marrying an outsider, the women of J&K did not lose their permanent resident status but the discrimination continues as women from the state who marry outsiders are entitled to these rights right now but not their husbands and children. The consequence of this verdict was that political parties in the state drafted a bill, known as “The Daughters Bill” or “The Permanent Residents’ (Disqualif-ication) Bill” that did not allow women to keep their permanent resident status upon marriage to an outsider. It was argued by the law minister of the time, Muzaffar Beg of PDP, that it was “universally accepted that the woman follows the domicile of her husband.” When subsequently NC came to power it also tried to pass this law once but both the times bill couldn’t be passed by legislators. This discriminatory Article 35 A is right now pending in the court with State Government trying to defend it tooth and nail.
Plight of village women is more woeful as not only they have to do household work but also help men in fields, dairy work, manage small shops as well. On the other hand working women find it extremely difficult to balance their lives between families and job specially those who have to travel long distances as for Government transfer is an industry, not practically a social issue to be considered while transferring. The situation on the ground appears bleak – men do not want to displease their parents while women do not want to create problems for theirs. But the situation will not change unless the men and women who are the actual participants in a marriage initiate a change. Things will only look up when the groom says no to dowry and the bride declines to give one. While Government has time and again promised a slew of measures to increase the legal and support networks for women, these announcements have not translated into any tangible steps. The scarcity of women in police force and only few women police stations have often been pointed out by experts as grave lacunae that threaten the safety of women in the state. There is also no progress on the establishment of safe homes for women in distress, a woman victim of violence finds herself in hospitals and mental health institutes or even police stations. Supreme Court Committee monitoring the functioning of Mental Health Institutes all over India had found J&K deficient in ‘half-way homes, rehabilitation home, residential continuing care centres’ and had pressed upon the Government to establish such centers in state as the funding for such centers is being provided to states under the GoI scheme for setting up of ‘One Stop Centers’ for women.
Though former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti distributed scooties to girls of different colleges of the state but the incidents of sexual harassment at Universities and GMC by teaching staff, Government officials including police officers getting convicted in recent notorious Kashmir sex scandal judgment, police officers involved in murder of daughter or wife and so much so even minister resigning over allegation of molestation or anganwadi workers on strike for such a long period along with acute shortage of gynecologists in all districts have negated whatever claims government make. It has been pointed out time and again that the need of the hour is to have all measures in place to provide better protection to women, a parameter where the state has been complacent over the years. Time has come to acknowledge past mistakes and safeguard women of our state.
“For a nation to become resilient, women have to be empowered.”