By Syed Suhail Yaqoob
It seems Kashmir is becoming increasingly unsafe for women. Domestic abuse is reported almost daily in the newspapers. The Khanyaar incident (where a woman was allegedly burned by her in-laws) is the latest one. These reports are highly disturbing given that Kashmir has provided women a special place.
It is also alarming that the sex ratio is showing a decreasing trend in the state. According to the 2011 census, overall female sex ratio in Jammu and Kashmir is 883 females per 1000 males while for India it was 914. Srinagar is slightly better placed; 900 females per 1000 males compared to Jammu district; 880 females per 1000 males. The state saw a slide in the sex ratio as compared to Indian states. Luckily, for second and third child, the sex ratio improves in favour of girls. That is why a balance is maintained between the male and females in the region. Low sex ratio for the “first child” shows a preference for boys.
The situation of women has become precarious due to militarisation in Kashmir. The dance of death on the streets of our state has increased the number of widows. Now the number runs into thousands. Women of all ages have been widowed in these years. They have gone through troubles of all kinds; emotional, psychological, stress and economic turmoil. Loss of bread earners have reduced their independence and increased their exposure to exploitation. Half-widows have also emerged in this period. Their husbands have been subjected to enforced disappearance in this period.
Economic relief such as ration cards, transfer of husband’s property and bank accounts are difficult to get as these processes require death certificate which of course half widows generally do not have as their husbands are officially not recognised as deceased. The failure of society and government to help women whose husbands, brothers and sons have been subjected to enforced disappearances during the past 27 years of conflict in Kashmir has compounded their sufferings. Many estimates have put the number of half-widows at 15,000. A study conducted by the late Prof Dabla, showed that one third of the widows are in the age group of 31-45. Over half of these women, 53.67 per cent, live alone and even though remarriage is not forbidden, only 8.66 per cent remarry. In fact, 89 percent said they did not want to remarry. The majority of the women (about 72 per cent) lived in villages and were insecure because of their meagre earnings and dependency on others. This shows the extent of problems they face. Women, now in Kashmir, face a triple burden: earn income outside home, manage home affairs and face psychological problems.
Women empowerment has received only lip service in the state. They have become invisible workers in agriculture where they are treated as second-class citizens. Many women are deprived of any inheritance and are left to fend for themselves. Even in the industrial sector women are not fairly represented. Women in Kashmir have low quality education and skill development as compared to men. The gender gap in literacy is still more than 10 per cent according to the census of 2011. At the highest policy decision-making level women find no place. Only two women are there in the state legislature.
The state has also failed to implement laws strictly. Although there are lot of strict laws that protect women from domestic abuse, lack of awareness keeps lawbreakers free. Domestic violence act 2005, Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act 1994 and Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act 2003 have not been implemented.
Government must focus for the development and empowerment of women. Economic empowerment will increase their independence and promote their safety in home and outside. Financially independent women are more secure in homes and are found to be less susceptible to domestic violence.
—The author is pursuing a PhD in the department of Economics at AMU. Feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org.