Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Violence Against Women

Salman's commentary on violence against women is both an eye opener and a shocker

(Mr. Salman Nizami, 25, was born in Banihal tehsil of District Ramban. He completed his graduate degree in mass communication and journalism, and joined journalism in 2004. He began his professional life at The OUTLOOK magazine as a columnist, and then started writing for Greater Kashmir, Kashmir Times, Times of India, The Hindu, Asian Age, Statesman, Rising Kashmir , JK Reporter. Mr. Nizami later joined SAHARA television in New Delhi as Desk Editor, and rose to the position of Group Editor of The Rastriya Sahara. He is currently working as a Editor-in-Chief of The Revolution newspaper published from Jammu and Kashmir, Sahara television as Desk Editor and Resident Editor of MID-DAY covering Upper North India including J&K. He is also active with UNICEF India and the Hungary World (NGO) as Media advisor. In that role, he has travelled widely investigating on new developments in the media industry, taking a special interest in child problems including labour, marriage, poverty, education, etc. He is one of the first journalists to research and write extensively about the child growth in Jammu and Kashmir.)

The Height of Desperation

Even the poorest families in Kashmir have matches and cooking fuel. The combination usually sustains life. But it can also be the makings of a horrifying escape: from poverty, from abuse and from depression.

The night before she burned herself, Azra Bano (name changed) took her children to her sister's for a family party. All seemed well. Later it emerged that she had not brought a present, and a relative had chided her for it, said her son Maroof Ahmed. This small thing apparently broke her. Zahida, who was 45, the mother of six children and earned pitiably little cleaning houses, ended up with burns on nearly 60 per cent of her body at the SMHS hospital, Srinagar.

Srinagar's two main hospitals - SMHS and SKIMS - receive three to four such cases on an average weekly. A large number of people, mostly from villages, don't even reach the hospitals - they die on the way or in local health centers. The hospital records show that survival of people from rural areas is very low while those from Srinagar is higher. The main reason of course, is the lack of medical care and trained staff in rural hospitals and health centers. It takes hours for emergency patients to reach hospitals in Srinagar. As per records, around 30 per cent people with cases of burning survive in hospitals. It is shameful here to admit to troubles at home, and mental illness often goes undiagnosed or untreated.

Women in Kashmir have suffered enormously since the separatist struggle became violent in 1989-90. Like the women in other conflict zones, they have been raped, tortured, maimed and killed. A few of them were even jailed for years together. According to a study by the Medecins Sans Frontieres, Kashmiri women are among the worst sufferers of sexual violence in the world. “Sexual violence has been routinely perpetrated on Kashmiri women, with 11.6% of respondents saying they were victims of sexual abuse,” says the 2005 study, adding that the figure is much higher than that of Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka and Chechnya. A study by Kashmir University’s Department of Sociology in 2002 revealed 90% of the estimated 10,000 Kashmiri war widows didn’t remarry despite provision of remarriage in Islam.

Surveys have shown that more Kashmiri women commit suicide than men. Says prominent sociologist Dr Bashir Ahmed Dabla: “Throughout the world, it’s found that suicide rates are highest among men and more intense in urban areas, but in the Valley the reverse is true.” He cited the raging conflict as the underlying factor. The most sinister burn cases are actually homicides masquerading as suicides, said doctors, nurses and human rights workers. ''We have two women here right now who were burnt by their mothers-in-law and husbands,'' said the hospital's surgeon Dr. Nadeem Ahmed.

Engaged at sixteen and married at 18, Farzana Akther (name changed) resorted to setting herself on fire when her father-in-law belittled her, saying she was not brave enough to do so. She was 20 and had endured years of beatings and abuse from her husband and his family. Defiant and depressed, she went into the yard. She handed her husband their nine-month-old daughter so the baby would not see her mother burning. Then she poured cooking fuel on herself. For a very few of the women who survive burns, the experience helps them change their lives. Some work with lawyers and request a divorce; most do not.

Many women mistakenly think death will be instant. Halima (name changed), 20, a patient in the hospital in January , said she considered jumping from a roof but worried she would only break her leg. If she set herself on fire, she said, ''it would all be over''. The problem is grave amongst the widows also who, after losing their husbands, the sole bread earners of the family, had to single handedly children. The lack of financial and emotional support on part of the families and society has put these widows in peril. “Losing the sole bread earner of the family and a life partner brings disaster to women. The problems become serious when she is left with children, who are toddlers or teens. All off a sudden all the burden is put on her. She has to earn, support and bring up her children. The only thought of these pressures are too disturbing for any women,” said Dr. Nadeem of SMHS hospital.

He added that women, who lose support from in-laws and have no support from parents either, fall prey to severe mental pressure, giving rise to depression.
While some women are able to reside in their parents’ house, most are forced to live all alone with their children. “After losing husband, she feels insure. This feeling is augmented when her in-laws and sometime even parents are not in condition to provide financial and emotion support. She feels destitute, alone and insecure,” . The burden of responsibilities of earning, educating and bringing up children all alone becomes a life long pressure to these women most of whom prefer not to marry. “Since most of the widows do not marry for different reasons, they are put to pressure all life which are never shared. When this stress is perpetuated for years it gives rise to depression and hence she set her self on fire added the doctor.

In the hospital, Zahida rallied at first, and her son Maroof Ahmed was encouraged, unaware of how difficult it is to survive such extensive burns. The greatest risk is sepsis, a deadly infection that generally starts in the second week after a burn and is hard to stop. Even badly burnt and infected patients can speak almost up to the hour of their death, often giving families false hope. ''She was getting better,'' her son insisted. But the infection had, in fact, set in and the family did not have the money for powerful antibiotics that could give her whatever small chance there was to survive. Two weeks after his mother set herself on fire, Maroof stood by her bed as she stopped breathing.

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