They marry, they fall in love, they have kids, they have a happy family and they live happily ever after. This is how the usual line goes. But, is that for real?
When I stepped into Kashmir’s only women’s police station I saw an entirely different world. A shocking, harsh and bitter reality of the society was unwinding before me. Families caught in marital discords and brought here to patch up were doing anything but that. They were freely trading abuses, threats and at times beating up each other right at the police station in full public view.
It was difficult to get a conversation going with anyone in the midst of the ruckus. Somehow, I managed to speak to a young lady at the police station. Veiled from tip to toe, she told me she had been married for the past two years. I asked her what brought her here. She was reluctant to reply. Then she eased up. “I have registered a murder case here against my husband,” she said. I pushed her for more details, but she was hesitant to share any. With a little encouragement she opened up. “My husband tried to rip my throat with an axe.” That obviously was her part of the story.
The girl’s old father who sat close by was a sad portrait of helplessness. I could sense the pain he was half hiding, half revealing in the wrinkles of his face. “She was assaulted because she had not brought sufficient dowry for her husband and in-laws,” he told me. “Soon after engagement he asked for a car, but I belong to a poor family I knew my father couldn’t afford it,” the daughter added. Her parents and relatives had told her to break the knot. “I didn’t agree. When an engagement breaks up, everyone blames the girl. It then becomes a stigma for her.”
This girl could have taken a stand, but she chose to suffer. Why? I am still wondering.
This girl isn’t alone in her ordeal. The State Women’s Commission gets scores of such cases every month. “Most of the marital discord cases we receive are dowry-related,” Nayeema Mehjoor who heads the Commission told me. She said there has been an increase in domestic violence against women. “Women don’t know about their rights. They think that they are helpless. They think they are alone. They have a notion that men have the right to divorce them anywhere, anyways and they have to comply,” Nayeema said, explaining the reasons behind this.
There is also a law that protects a woman if she feels that she is being tortured physically or mentally by her husband or in-laws. But, as Mohammad Yusuf Bhat, an advocate at the Srinagar High Court, said women weren’t aware about the rights and protections law granted them. “If a woman is tortured by her husband and in-laws and if she feels her husband isn’t treating or maintaining her well, she can seek redress under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 43 of 2005. Under this Act a woman can claim maintenance, compensation, damage, etc., by filing a single case,” Yusuf said.
Under 488–CRPC a woman can also claim maintenance and under 498 (A)–IPC a woman can file a case of cruelty against her husband or her husband’s relatives.
While some women are being tortured, harassed or killed because of dowry some are being cheated upon by their spouses. The distressing things I saw and heard at the women’s police station didn’t let go their grip on me for days. I decided to go back there to find more.
A young woman who had come to the police station was caught in another kind of marital problem. “My husband has an extra-marital affair. I warned him many a times but he didn’t budge,” she told me. She said when things got too out of hand, she asked her husband for divorce. “But he is neither ready to leave me nor that other woman he is having an affair with.”
Cases of marriages ending up on the rocks because of extra-marital relations seem to be frequent.
There was this young girl at the police station with her family seeking termination of her marriage. Her dream of a ‘happy marriage’, whatever that means, had already miscarried. “I was on cloud nine when I was getting married. Every girl dreams of becoming a bride one day, so did I, but it turned into a mourning within a week after my marriage,” the girl said. When she went to her parents after a week following a ritual, her husband dropped the ultimate shocker. “He called me and said, ‘I don’t want you to be back. I don’t need you.’ That was when my whole world upturned.” The girl told me that she tried to make him understand “the value of this beautiful relationship.” But, when nothing worked, she decided to stay back at her parents place. “I gave up. I couldn’t fight anymore.”
I caught up with Ezabir Ali, a women’s rights activist, to know more why extra-marital affairs are becoming commonplace in the society. “There can be different reasons for this, but probably it is a lack of interest between the husband and wife,” Ezabir said.
A changing society where social and moral values are increasingly becoming a tertiary consideration is, I believe, also a strong contributing factor.
Adil Bashir who teaches sociology at Kashmir University believed technological change and high social exposure also affect marital relationships, leading to breakups. “Earlier in a traditional family a couple would abide by the family norms and religious values, but now it is not so. We remain busy with electronic gadgets. We don’t sit as a family, interact and discuss things. Relationships are breaking up from within,” explained Adil.
It is not that marriages were all heaven in the decades gone by. There were spats even then too. But, for good or worse, couples would then often compromise whatever the complication. And because the society was conservative and pretty closed, marital disharmonies would hardly spill into the public domain as they do now.
Ali Mohammad, 75, married for over 50 years gave me a picture of how he would handle troubles with his wife. “Yes, we used to fight and have arguments with each other, but we never thought of leaving one another,” Ali told me. Values of those days also ensured in keeping the relationship from falling apart, Ali suggested. “When we would argue we would make sure our parents or the elders in home didn’t hear it. We would be upset with each other for days together, but would behave normally in front of our elders. That was because we respected our elders. Now couples have become so arrogant and aggressive they fight in front of everyone.”
Lily Want who teaches at Kashmir University believes marital discords are coming in the open because women have become assertive. “Earlier women were completely oppressed and voiceless. There was a passive resignation to fate. Women used to think that they were destined to suffer. But now because of education and financial independence women have found their voice,” Lily explained. She made another point she thought continued to complicate marital relations. “People haven’t changed their mindset. They haven’t readjusted themselves to the changed pattern and orientation of today’s family.”
More often than once, it is the woman who ends up with a bigger share of troubles in situations of marital disharmony. And in our kind of social setup, it is often the woman expected to make all the compromises. Time doesn’t seem to have changed that.
I spoke to this woman in her sixties and she gave me a pretty disturbing picture of her younger days. “I remember when I was getting married my brother told me, ‘We have dug a grave for you, whether it’s tight or loose don’t blame us. Don’t raise a voice. It’s your fate.’ This is how our parents or elders would give us life lessons,” the woman said, chronicling her times. She felt girls today didn’t know how to negotiate marital disputes. “Today girls are short on patience.”
It seems it is just not the girls who are short on patience, but both the families. Miscommunication or breakdown of communication between the families often makes an ugly situation worse.
Farah Qayoom who teaches social sciences at Kashmir University says the society lacked any mechanism of negotiating and redressing marital disputes. “Parents, kin groups and friends can play a vital role in resolving marital discords of their dear ones,” suggested Farah. She also felt partners have to be “accommodative” to save this basic institution of the society. What she told me half as an advice, half as a statement would probably count as the last word on this issue: When you bind yourself in marriage, you just don’t have to make it work, but make it work well.