On March 7, a young woman in Budgam district of Central Kashmir did not return home from her computer tuition class. Anxious about her whereabouts, her family felt compelled to lodge a missing report at the nearest police station.
Soon after receiving the complaint, the police raided several locations and detained several suspects, including Shabir Ahmed, a carpenter by profession, who was later found to have killed the 30-year-old woman. Ahmed had chopped off her head and sliced her body into pieces and dumped them at different locations, said the police.
The incident shocked the conscience of the people in the Valley, leading to protests at several places. Several young women posted messages on their social media handles that they were panicking when stepping out of their homes after the incident. The demand for capital punishment for the accused also echoed from many corners. The incident has raised concerns about the safety of women in the region, with many calling for stricter laws and harsher punishments for those who commit such heinous crimes.
Kashmir has seen an increasing number of incidents of violence against women over the last few years. In the male-dominated society of Kashmir, women find it hard to report crimes against them at police stations, and in most cases prefer to remain silent. Earlier, women would lodge complaints with the state women’s commission but, the victims are unable to lodge complaints and get justice since its disbandment. In the absence of a designated women’s commission in the Union Territory, victims find no place to seek justice.
What was the women’s commission, how was it helpful?
The State Commission for Protection of Women and Child Rights was a quasi-judicial body formed in the 1990s to investigate and examine matters relating to safeguards provided for women and ensure their protection, equality, and safety against any form of harassment and issues faced in the family and community. The commission, along with six others, stood disbanded on August 5, 2019, when the Narendra Modi government abrogated the special status of Jammu and Kashmir.
According to the latest National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report, there was a 15.62 per cent increase in crimes against women in 2021 compared to the year 2020 with over 7,000 arrests for the same in Jammu & Kashmir in 2021. The report shows that there were 64 lakh women in Jammu and Kashmir, according to the 2011 census, and the crime rate per lakh population in 2021 stood at 61.6. There were 315 cases of rape, 1,414 incidents of an attempt to rape, and 14 dowry deaths reported in 2021, and in 91.4 per cent of cases, the accused were known to the victim. Around 1,851 cases of assault attacks on women with the intention to outrage their modesty.
Former chairperson of the commission, Nayeema Mehjoor, says that half of the population in the region stands unrepresented with no institution for women available for the redressal of their issues relating to domestic violence or harassment at workplaces.
She tells Outlook, “I think the government seems least interested in women’s issues or their safety. Why is Jammu and Kashmir without a women’s commission when it is working in every state of India? The government needs to answer this.”
Mahjoor adds that there is “too much suffocation inside and outside the house” and that women do not prefer to go to the police station to lodge FIRs due to stigma and a lack of confidence in the police.
According to Mahjoor, eight to ten females would come daily for redressal of issues when the commission was there.
She says, “We solved more than ten thousand cases of domestic violence and harassment which were documented. Those seeking financial help were sent to the social welfare department for further action.”
In the past eight years, the Valley witnessed four acid attacks and all the accused in all four cases are currently under detention. There were thousands of unregistered cases in which the commission intervened.
“The complainants didn't want the police or judiciary involved. I did according to their wishes and resolved the cases,” says Majhoor.
Shameem Ahmed, 45, the father of one of the acid attack victims, says that his daughter was attacked on October 5, 2021 in South Kashmir's Shopian area.
“My daughter’s face, neck, and arms were badly damaged, and the government has not provided us full compensation. They provided us with only Rs 3 lakhs, but the surgery of my daughter cost Rs 15 lakhs. I sold a piece of land for the treatment of my daughter,” says Ahmed.
A senior woman journalist, who wishes to remain anonymous, says that there is nobody to listen to the Kashmiri women, especially the women employees, whose rights are being flagrantly violated and who are being driven to the brink of suicide by government officers as there is no place for the redressal of women's grievances.
Nazima (name changed), 31, says that her husband beats her on a regular basis. She wishes to lodge an FIR against him, but she is hesitant to file the report due to the lack of women police personnel in male-dominated police stations.
“The Women Rights Commission was our hope,” says Nazima.