Anticipating help from police years after suffering from domestic abuse, deceit, physical /mental abuse and court apathy, 22-year-old Gujjar woman Razia Bano not only faced institutional insensitivity but was also re-victimised. But while fighting her demons, she found a group of women standing by her side to support her in overcoming her ordeal.
At 16, when shy and striking Razia Bano was enjoying her time with her cousins at a relative’s wedding, she was spotted by her soon-to-be mother-in-law. Coming from Khunmoh, Tangdhar’s poor Gujjar family, she was the eldest of all the siblings. When the marriage proposal came, many were shocked to learn that her prospective groom was more than double her age.
To begin with, Razia never like her to-be-groom Mukhtar Ganaie, hailing from Bonyar, Baramulla.
“His mother was aged and was not able to manage the daily chores at home,” says Razia recalling the time of her Nikkah (marriage) in 2011 when she was too naïve to understand what marriage meant in the first place.
Down with poverty, her father agreed on getting her married. “But when I was shown his photograph,” she recalls, “I immediately rejected him. I didn’t like his face. He was too old for me.”
She has no clue of how her ‘No’ turned into a ‘Yes.’ She believes her in-laws had done Voodoo to influence her.
“I heard they had gone to some Peers in Patan known for doing black magic,” she says. “I couldn’t understand how it happened.”
Describing how clueless she was at the time of Nikkah, Razia says, “The Qazi (magistrate or judge of the Shari’ah court) was asking ‘Qabool hai’ (Do you accept)? An aunt asked me to say, ‘Yes’. He repeated it. And I started laughing. I kept wondering what Qabool hai meant!” she exclaims.
At that point in time, she says, she was given Rs. 30,000 as Mehar (a mandatory payment, in the form of money or possessions paid by the groom, or by groom’s father, to the bride at the time of marriage that legally becomes her property).
“It was deposited in my account,” she says. “But due to some emergency situation, I had to use that money.”
For a month, everything had been fine, before Mukhtar’s behaviour suddenly changed towards her. He had asked her not to sleep near him.
“It wasn’t even a month. They didn’t even tell me what wrong I had done. He asked me not to sleep near him and they (in-laws) asked me to stay separately. I had no ration, no food. I went to my father’s place, got some ration and came back. I would feed him and myself and stay in a room with him. But separately,” recalls Razia, then expecting a baby.
Once she gave birth to a baby boy, she thought things will change for good now. She was wrong. She continued facing abuse.
“After the delivery, he (Mukhtar) took me to my parent’s home. When I came back, the ordeal continued. One day, I was making Chapatis when suddenly my mother-in-law started abusing me. I shut the doors, so as to avoid listening to anything she was saying,” says Razia, shuddering with recollection.
Next, she recalls being dragged by her mother-in-law along with her brother-in-law, Showkat Ganaie, a teacher.
“They dragged me from my room to another room. They kicked me in the abdomen. After my mother came to my rescue, they hit her, too. Another brother-in-law of mine, Mumtaz Ganaie tried to remove my Shalwar (trousers). They told me they’ll sexually abuse me,” she recalls, emphasising on her brother-in-law’s attempted assault.
Helpless, she had called her father.
“Eventually my family asked me to go back and assured me to watch my back, if they (in-laws) repeat it. But it never really stopped,” she says “We called SHO Uri and my husband. He got it in writing that he won’t hit me again.”
While staying with Mukhtar after reconciliation, Razia says, he asked her to let him sell off her belongings that her father had given her, as dowry.
“My husband told me he had no money and wanted to sell the fridge my father had given me. I denied. Then he asked me to give him the gas-stove instead. I denied. He hit me bad. And then sold off my earrings and a ring saying, it’s what they had gotten for me. I don’t know what he did with that money. He would tell me he’ll get another ring for me but that never happened,” she says.
But when she would complain about her brothers-in-law’s abusive behaviour towards her, the same husband would shrug it off.
“When I would sweep the floor, my brothers-in-law would subject me to an awkward position,” she says. “It would make me uncomfortable and I wouldn’t feel like getting up. Showkat would peep in my room to see me sleeping. It forced me to change the place of my rest.”
One day when she lost her cool, she confronted her brother-in-law, Showkat, saying, “You always abuse me. I’ve married one. How can you all try to be like husbands to me?”
“You don’t have an idea what we’ve done to you,” she recalls him as saying.
“After I saw my Nikah Nama without my sign on it, I understood his remarks,” Razia says.
Once she got pregnant again, Mukhtar out-rightly had given her money to abort the baby.
“I went to all the doctors in Khunmoh but they asked me about my husband,” she recalls. “They thought I was too young and had no husband with me. They inferred that I was carrying an illicit child in my womb. The doctors told me that it’s a sin and asked me to keep the baby.”
During that time, Mukhtar had met with a minor accident and was at her father’s place. He left and never came back.
Soon, Razia delivered a baby girl. Looking at the other women in the delivery room at the Lal Ded Hospital, Srinagar and the way they were taking care of their wives, she would tremble. It was 2014 and the flood furry had added to her miseries.
“My father gave me a pint of blood. But my in-laws or husband never came,” she shares. “My daughter is 4-year-old now, and he has not seen her. He sent me divorce papers when the situation had worsened in Kashmir but I’ve kept them safe, unsigned.”
Even after filing a case in Kupwara District Court, she did not get justice. Then she filed the case in Lower Court, Tengpora. “I did not get justice there, too,” she laments. “For 6 years, the courts have been deferring my case.”
Then she filed her case in Panthachowk, where she met advocate Subreen Malik, a founding member of a local NGO, Kashmir Women’s Collective (KWC). Without charging a single penny from her, the lawyer decided to fight her case.
The basis of this marriage, Subreen says, is flawed, as there is no mention / signature of her or her witnesses in the Nikah Nama, marriage contract.
“Her Nikah Nama has the names of her husband, his witnesses and his Vakil. As per Islamic tradition, the couple gives consent to one representative (each) known as the vakil,” Subreen says. “Razia and witnesses from her side have not been mentioned anywhere in the contract. Even her Meher was written as Rs 30,000, but on its top, Rs. 30 has been written.”
At the bottom, Maulvi Sahab’s signatures can be seen.
So, this Nikkah Nama, Subreen says, is not valid.
Mukhtar was aware of the invalidation of the marriage, she says, therefore it wasn’t a big deal for him to leave her.
“Also, he must’ve assumed that she belongs to Gujjar community that is usually deprived of the knowledge about their rights,” she says. “So, he wouldn’t have expected her to do anything and had started abusing her beyond measure.”
Meanwhile, to get back her articles—Fridge, Washing Machine etc, given as dowry by her father, by taking a loan—Razia got an order from the court.
“To execute that,” Subreen says, “it had to be done with the help of Boniyar police as she needed security to go to her in-laws place and get her articles back.” Certain things among them were missing, some even sold off. They are still with the police till the court orders.
“While talking to SHO Bonyar on phone,” Razia says, “I could feel something was not right. He asked me, ‘Ap karna kya chahti ho? Apko uske sath rehna hai ya nai rehna hai? (What do you want to do? Do you want to live with him or not?)
While asking her to reconcile, the SHO, says Razia, told her that the custody of children would go to husband.
“I told him they would stay with me till 18, and then the court will decide,” she says. “Then he said, ‘Kya hogya apko’ (What is wrong with you?) ‘Aise bhudday k sath shadi ki’ (Why did you marry this old man?) ‘Koie Jawan nai mila apko’ (Could you not find any young person?) ‘Ap itni achi ladki thi, meri jaan’ (You were so good yourself, my life!) ‘Jigar…’ (Used for loved ones.) ‘Apko kya hogya, yaar’ (What happened to you dear!)”
The conversation, she says, didn’t end there.
“Then he told me, ‘Wo mujhe milne ayegnege, Jaan’ (They’ll come to meet me, my life.) ‘Ap tension mat lo’ (Don’t you worry.) ‘Ap khush raho’ (You stay happy.) ‘Us din apke chehre pe bada gussa tha’ (You looked very angry the other day.) ‘Kya yaar, ap hasa karo’ (You should laugh.) And things like that,” says Razia. “I felt like he was trying to do something else and had ganged up with my in-laws. So, I lodged a complaint against him.”
Subreen recalls how awkward Razia had felt narrating that phone conversation.
“She told me she had felt embarrassed the way he had spoken to her. Apart from ‘Jaan’ and ‘Jigar’, he had used words that she couldn’t tell me. I asked her to record the call, in case he calls again.”
When KWC members finally took the matter with Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, she immediately called IG Police and asked him to suspend the SHO. Within hours he was removed.
“We removed him,” confirms Imtiyaz Hussain, SSP Baramulla. “Such behaviour is unacceptable. He won’t ever become SHO again.”
But the SHO says he hasn’t been suspended.
“I’m a reasonable SHO,” he says. “I’ve been in service for 32 years. She’s a little girl and I spoke to her keeping that thing in mind. But she told me she’ll commit suicide.”
But Subreen sees a fighter in Razia, who has taken care of two children for 6 years, all alone. “Why would she commit suicide now when she is still fighting the cases?” the lawyer says.
As for now, Razia’s lawyer says, the court has taken cognizance of her case.
“She had also been told that an order for Mukhtar to pay around Rs 2400/ Rs 2500 per month as maintenance has been passed by the court,” Subreen says. “However, not even a single penny has been paid by him so far, nor does he arrive in the court.”
But that hardly stops the ‘fighter’ Razia to take the bull by its horns.
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