Harassment

A young, abandoned mother’s anguish: ‘If you can’t help me, don’t hound me either’

A victim of domestic abuse, harassment, deceit, official apathy and re-victimization, 22-year-old Razia Bano is now facing the wrath of the judgemental society. Here, in a first person narrative (as told to FPK’s Special Correspondent Marouf Gazi), she recounts her trials and tribulations.

My name is Razia Bano. I’m a 22-year-old Gujjar woman. I recently managed to remove a Station House Officer from his post after he had not paid due respect to me, as a woman. But before some of you’ll become judgemental about me—as some people at Khunmoh, Srinagar recently became—I want you to know my story.

Writing this, in the times of free judgements and open bias, is mandatory — because I don’t want any other Razia out there to suffer my fate.

I was a bubbly girl living happily with my parents at Tangdhar. Ours is the place located deep in northern Kashmir. Life was simple in our village. Small things would give us lot of joy. But I never knew that all this would change with my unexpected marriage.

My torment began the day when as a free-spirited 16-year-old girl, I had decided to enjoy myself at a relative’s wedding. I never knew that some prying eyes were already on me. I was spotted there by my prospective mother-in-law.

Days later, she sent a marriage proposal for her eldest son, Mukhtar Ahmad Ganie for me. They lived in Boniyar, Uri. He was double my age. When I saw his picture, I turned it down. He looked like an uncle to me.

But how did they manage my marriage with him, I never know. I don’t rule out a black magic, given how some people resort to it, for getting their things done.

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Within the first month itself, the marriage became a bumpy affair. I faced an abusive mother-in-law and an equally indifferent husband. He soon separated our bed, for reasons best known to him. I was left in a lurch and had to manage a separate kitchen with the help of rations that I would bring from my parent’s home.

For a sixteen-year-old girl, it was too much to handle. I was naive and wasn’t yet aware about that terrible side of marriage. I was better-off, as a carefree girl in my hamlet, than a sorrowing wife — being repeatedly abused and insulted for the heck of it.

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Even as I became a mother of a baby boy, I kept facing abuse at my in-laws. My brothers-in-law—one of them, a teacher—would drag me by my hair, and once threatened to tear my trousers. They would subject me to awkward touches and teases, as if I was up for grabs!

Some of them would even peek into my room to watch me sleeping. Once I got a whiff of it, I changed my sleeping place. But they continued playing perverts.

Fed up, one day, I decided to confront them. I told them I haven’t married all of them—so they must stop harassing, and abusing me.

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But that teacher guy among them shocked me, saying that I had no idea what they’ve done to me. It set me thinking and for a while, I couldn’t understand anything—until I found mandatory signs of mine missing on our Nikah Nama.

My Nikah Nama has the names of my husband, his witnesses and his Vakil. As per Islamic tradition, the couple gives consent to one representative (each) known as the Vakil. I and my witness have not been mentioned anywhere in the contract. Even my Meher was said to be Rs 30,000, but its only Rs. 30 written in the marriage document.

So, clearly, this Nikkah Nama was not valid.

And perhaps mindful of the invalidation of the marriage, it wasn’t a big deal for my husband to abandon me, which he eventually did.

Meanwhile, the abuse continued.

To preserve my sanity, I went to live with my parents. Finally, SHO Uri’s mediation sent me back, to live with my husband, again. He seemed a changed man after facing police. But he couldn’t play that good guy role for long.

He was soon forcing me to sell my articles—including a fridge and a washing machine—which I had brought from home as a bride. When I resisted, he gave me a mouthful, besides a sound beating. Without my consent, he did sell some of my things.

And when I became pregnant with our second child, he gave me money to abort it. I was shocked. But I had to oblige, lest he would kick me out.

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In a local health centre, where I had gone alone for abortion, the doctors thought that I was carrying an illicit child in my womb. Their doubt on my abusive character killed me inside.

But they were no to be blamed for it. They had simply doubted a bulged belly of a teenager who had walked alone to terminate her pregnancy. Once I told them my story, they could only empathise with me and motivated me against committing a big sin called abortion.

It was during 2014 floods that I gave birth to my second child, a daughter at Srinagar’s Lal Ded Hospital. I was lying there on the bed — pale and haggard. When I saw new mothers around me being comforted by their husbands, I became tearful — feeling the absence of my tormentor, who had even paid me for killing our new born!

It was my father who gave me a pint of blood, as I had grown very weak after becoming a teenage mother, for a second time.

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But as my husband didn’t turn up, I decided to seek judicial help. I was let down by the law on many counts. But I chose to fight with the help of a Samaritan lawyer of mine, Subreen Malik—with whom I bumped into, inside a Srinagar court.

On a court direction, SHO Boniyar was supposed to send his men along with me to get my things from my in-laws. But instead of helping me out, he started getting sleazy with me. He tried to lure me—calling me his Jaan and Jigar. When he went an extra-mile, I recorded his sleaze talk and made chief minister Mehbooba Mufti to hear that. She immediately called for his removal.

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All these bad and bitter brushes with life have made me an insightful person today. But at times, I crave for that simple Tangdhar girl, who was wedded with a brute of a man, and sent to suffer in the house of wrongdoers.

Now surviving on my own, I often fear people might attack me once I go out. In absence of my parents in Srinagar, I along with my children called in my maternal uncle who accompanies me wherever I go. But again, I faced the hostile society over this, too — questioning the absence of my husband, who is nowhere to be seen for last six years.

I was called a lousy woman for staying with my maternal uncle, my Namahram—an unmarriageable kin with whom marriage would be considered haram, illegal in Islam.

But I never minded such loose talk, as I can’t shut all those mouths around me. My six years of gruelling struggle has made me thick-skinned and somebody who has learned to rise above the biases and judgements.

However, at times, it does take a toll on your nerves, like it did, on May 22.

That day I had visited Numberdar Nazir Ahmad Khan’s office at Khunmoh, Srinagar, asking him to help me write an application for applying for cooking gas/ ration.

For the living, I’ve been asking people in authority to help me financially. I also approached Ashraf Bhat, Chairman of a Yateem Trust in Khunmoh for the same purpose. He promised help.

That day, I saw Bhat sitting in Khan’s office. I reminded him of his promise. That is when my character assassination began.

He hurled choicest abuses on me. Pushing and passing judgements on me, he shouted, ‘You’re a disdainful woman! I’ve heard a lot about you. Even if you’re divorced, you must not have left your husband. I’ll hit you. Go, get lost!’

That was a 60-year-old chairman of a welfare institution for you — shut-shaming me for simply reminding him about his promise.

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As a fracas of sorts broke out, some locals gathered around me. Among them, a belligerent woman asked Bhat to step aside. She pulled my bag, tore it apart and took my cellphone. Bhat told me I wouldn’t get it back.

I told them that they had no right to pass judgements on me or take my cellphone. I did not abuse or hit them.

Next, they told me that I’ve something wrong to do with a person staying with me. He is my maternal uncle, I told them. He’s here because my parents aren’t here. We’re two women and kids here. He comes with me when I’ve to go out. I can’t go out alone. When I go alone, the local residents bother me. They comment on my clothes, saying that the clothes I was wearing were too good for a victim to wear and the cellphone I was using inferred that I’m not poor.

ALSO READ: Trapped in a maze: Kashmiri Women in disputed wedlocks

Does having a cellphone make someone rich?

After facing an agitated mob, I called my advocate, Subreen Malik and reported the matter to the concerned DSP. He called the concerned Police station and had them arrested.

Later, Bhat spoke to me over phone, asking—What I expected of a 60-year-old man? I questioned his judgement, and the fact that he’s the chairman of an orphanage!

Then the elderly men of the area came to apologise. Keeping their age in view, I took back the complaint.

But my painful marital journey, trysts with the law and that particular incident made me realise that eventually all of us will be judged. But then, for a change and goodness, I believe, we must learn to leave the crestfallen and tormented lot alone.

If you can’t help me, don’t hound me either.

 

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