(Ms. Afsana Rashid, 33, was born and raised in Srinagar and attended the Minto Circle High School. She graduated from the Government College for Women with a Bachelor's degree in science, and completed her post-graduation degree from the University of Kashmir, obtaining her Master's Degree in Mass Communication and Journalism. Ms. Rashid works as a senior journalist in the Daily Etalaat. She has received numerous world-wide recognition and awards for covering economic depravation and gender sensitive issues in Kashmiri journals, which include Sanjoy Ghose Humanitarian Award, Bhorukha Trust Media Award 2007, and the 2006-07 UNFPA-Ladli Media Award. Her work on "Impact of conflict on subsistence livelihood of marginalised communities in Kashmir and Alternatives", was recognized by Action Aid India in 2005-06. She has travelled abroad attending a workshop on "conflict Reporting" by Thomson Foundation, Cardiff, UK, and a seminar for women in conflict areas by IKV Pax Christi, Netherlands. In February 2008, she compiled a book, "Waiting for Justice: Widows and Half-widows.")
Unfair Attitude Towards Fair Sex
There are still many pockets in the Valley of Kashmir where women face injustice on account of various fronts and their voices remain unheard. Caught up in a tangle, women at times find it hard to break social taboos that hinder their growth and development. Often women get discriminated and they don’t get a suitable environ to exhibit their skills. But whenever they get an opportunity, they avail it and prove their worth.
Rehmat Self Help Group formed under the aegis of Indo Global Social Service Society and supported by European Union and Welthungerhilfe, Germany in Moulaabad-Pattan in district Baramulla in north Kashmir is one such example.
The group formed five years ago is on roads towards success. This year, the group for the first time started an agricultural activity and planted potatoes on two kanals of land that they’ve taken on lease for 10 years.
“We’ve been involved in such an activity for the first time and we ourselves decided to plant potatoes this season. It gives us a satisfaction and an urge to work more. We are planning to take more land on lease next year,” said Fatimah Begum, a group leader.
The group informed that they got 60 kilograms of potato seeds from agriculture department. “We looked well after the farm. We got the land ploughed by carts and paid him an amount of 400 rupees and spend 200 rupees on fertilizers. Then, we ourselves planted potato seeds and did de-weeding as well. Everyone contributed well. We are expecting a good crop this season (in July). We’ve to give half production of potatoes to land owner as the land is on lease,” said the group leader.
She added once the crop would be ready, they’ll sell it to a trader from Pattan or Batamaloo. “We can’t consume entire production in a local market here as everyone in the village grows potatoes. So we’ve to find an outside market. We’ll plant carrot, spinach and other green vegetables in the next season,” she said.
The group has taken a remarkable initiative in the village and formed a local welfare committee, Razaa Committee. Though the initiative has been started by most of the group members but other village women too have joined hands. Begum heads the committee as well.
“Since men in the village never took any such initiative, so we decided to take a lead. We used to face immense problems during wedding season and in an event of death of any person like arranging many things from nearby areas, which was quite cumbersome and painstaking. As such, we took an initiative and committee purchased its own accessories like tents and utensils,” said Khazeerah Begum, treasurer of Rehmat self help group.
She added that the group purchased tent for 10,000 rupees and utensils for 3,330 rupees. The group plans to purchase more such utensils. Based on 14 members, group started its functioning in August, 2007.
“Initially, we had certain apprehensions, but today we are satisfied with our contributions. We started with 30 members, which later on reduced to 14. Many people scorned us. Today, many women wish to join us,” said Shafeeqa Begum, a group member. The group leader added that the group meets four times in a month, but during working season, it meets only once or twice a month. “In case of death of any group member, other family member would be appointed in her place,” said the leader, adding that the group started its contributions from one rupee per day and today it is 80 rupees per month.
The treasurer of the group stated that they had no concept about savings and they never stepped out of their houses. “Now, we feel lots of change. Earlier, we weren’t unaware how to deal with the bank. It was an alien concept for us. We lacked health awareness and had hardly been to city. Today, many of us have been on exposure visit to areas outside Jammu and Kashmir. We’ve been to Amargarh for 15-days training and then 4-days training at Raj Bagh and Manasbal,” she said.
Apart from members, the group says it has offered assistance to non-members also. The group has turned boon for Khazeerah Begum as she has set-up a provisional store in the area as part of her individual activity in a group. She has pinned high hopes with the shop and expects it to financially support her family.
Begum has a dispute with her husband for past 11 years. She was married to her cousin, who lives in the same village. Begum’s husband lived with his in-laws after his marriage. The couple has four children out of the wedlock. She said that her husband, who was a labourer, used to beat children, unnecessarily and she asked him to refrain from beating them. This led to a dispute between them.
As part of conflict resolution, Begum’s family was asked by the village elders to pay one and a half lakh towards her husband, shared Begum. “It was an amount that was calculated as his earnings during his stay in our family. They further said that he would utilise the amount to construct a tin-shed for himself. But he never built that shed,” said Begum. Though the couple lives separately, neighbours believe that there could be reconciliation between them some day. Begum however, is not of this opinion. She lives with her brother, who supports her and her family. “He has his family also. He has to look after 11 family members – his own family and mine. He is a labourer and it is hard for him to manage both families, financially,” quips Begum, adding there has been no support from her husband, in any form, since their separation.
Five years back, Begum came across IGSSS and like many other women found concept of self help group unique and helpful. She joined the group as treasurer and engaged herself in various activities of the group. To begin with, the group started sheep rearing as a joint activity and then as part of individual activity she set-up a provisional shop. “The activity has helped me a lot. IGSSS came as a rescue for me. I plan to look after this shop and get my daughters well-settled. That is my aim in life now,” she comments, while adding “apart from sending my daughters to school, I want them to learn handicraft skills. I believe one has to be financially independent and skills always help.” She remarked “even today a differentiation is made between a boy and a girl child in rural areas. I am often made to realise that I have no son. The feeling is made stronger by the people around, who always keep hammering this and make you realise this every moment.”
She pointed that awareness among parents to send their wards to schools has increased manifold. “When we were young, we couldn’t study due to poverty and parents weren’t interested in sending their children, especially daughters, to schools. Now, times have changed.”
Begum’s eldest daughter, Fahmeeda couldn’t continue with her studies due to her ill-health. She studied up to fifth standard only. Her second daughter studies in 10th standard whereas her third daughter, Sabika studies in sixth standard and the youngest one, Kowsar Jan is going to ICDS centre. “I plan to send my second daughter to Iran for further studies,” said Begum.
Few kilometers away, Ghulam Mohammad Bhat, a village elder from Buren-Pattan in Baramulla district said that the concept of ‘ghar path’ (boy living with his in-laws after marriage) continues even in the contemporary society. “But this happens in exceptional cases like being the only child of her parents or being physically challenged or likewise.” He added in past, ghar-path was a regular feature in the society that led to several problems.
Another such example is Shahi Jamal Self Help Group framed just two months back in north Kashmir’s Narinara- Sumbal in Bandipora district. Its group leader, Asmat Ara shared that 10 local women gathered together and thought to move ahead as a group and earn benefits.
“Earlier, we were engaged with ari-work and middlemen usually exploited us and offered us peanuts. We decided to form a group so that we can work independently. Ari work is our group activity and we plan to work without interference by the middlemen. Currently, we are working with middlemen as we don’t have resources to work on our own,” said the group leader.
Explaining further, Atiqa Begum, treasurer of the group said that they are paid Rs 150 per piece for embroidery (ari work) of bed cover per piece when its market value is more.
“Similarly, we get Rs10 for the embroidery (ari) work of bag per piece when its market value is more than Rs 100 per piece.” She added if they had enough financial resources, they would invest in the activity and reap more benefits. Lalli Begum, a group member said though ari work is a collective activity of a group, the members work on individual basis as they’ve to spend time on household chores as well.
When asked if women in their area inherit property rights, the group members smilingly replied that those from well off families get a share in their fathers’ property.
Men and young boys in the area mostly work as vendors and often move outside their village to far-flung areas within valley and across country to earn their livelihood.
The group members have cultivated a piece of land belonging to Atiqa Begum’s family. “We thought the activity would fetch us more benefits. We’ll sell the produce in a local market,” says the group member. Though the area has availability of tap-water, it lacks water for irrigation purposes. “As such tube well is required for cultivation of vegetables. No tube well has been offered by the government till date. We asked Sarpanch to grant us the same, which he promised but so far we haven’t received the facility. An alternate source, River is far away from here.”
The group members further share that they contribute 100 rupees per head per month. “There were 2-3 self help groups already existing in the area, but we weren’t aware about such a concept.” Shafayat Hussain, IGSSS local organizer said as they were conducting survey about below poverty line (BPL) families in the area, the concerned village level worker (VLW) told them about the village and interest of women here.
The group conducts four meetings in a month, on every Monday. Group members emphasized that IGSSS made them aware about number of things including utilization of land that they had never thought about.
Situation in urban areas is no different. Sabreena Akther (name changed) alleged that her husband, Showkat Ahmad (name changed) often harass her that he will go for second marriage and doesn’t care well about her and the child.
She shared that due to torture at her in-laws place she asked her husband for separate accommodation, which he did. “We live in a tin-shed, few steps away from my in-laws, but he doesn’t care about me. He often returns late in evening. Even if I cook food for him and wait for him he says he has already taken dinner at his parents’ house. This is a greatest torture for me and I can’t bear it,” shared Akther.
She added that her husband doesn’t even provide her the expenses incurred on treatment of the child and asks her to get expenses from her parents. She further added that she has been living with her parents for more than a year and her husband never bothered to look after her and the child or pay their expenses.
Ahmad in his argument said that his wife regularly goes to her parents’ house after he leaves for his routine work and she misbehaves with her in-laws.
Akther filed a suit in the court of law. The court had forwarded the case to a mediation centre established last year. After hearing to both sides, the mediator observed that husband should pay 25,000 rupees as amount of maintenance to his wife and child and wife shouldn’t visit her parents on daily basis but once in 15 days.
In another case, Shabnam Jan (name changed) had filed a suit against her husband Mohammad Ashraf (name changed) wherein she demanded maintenance from him. She said that her husband ignores her, doesn’t care about her and the child and pays no expenses towards her.
Her husband claimed that she often goes to her parents’ house and since past six years of marriage she has hardly been at his home. The wife also demanded separate accommodation as she refused to go with her husband on the ground that her in-laws harass her. This led to accusations and counter-accusations. The mediator after hearing both sides deferred the case for next hearing.
Ghousia-ul-Nisa Jeelani, retired district and session judge and mediator said “increase in court cases led to establishment of mediation centres. Due to awareness about their rights, masses start approaching courts for redressal of grievances.
Courts took time in disposing of matters and at times aggrieved party used to go for revision or appeal. This way cases in the court of law took more than 20 years and judicial system got very expensive as counsels had to be engaged, plus there are other expenses like court fee. To overcome all these problems, it was thought that some other procedure be adopted so that cases are settled at the earliest.” She said that a mediator facilitates parties to settle disputes on their own terms and conditions. “A mediator only facilitates parties and never gives his/her decision or terms and conditions. A mediator is third independent person who takes two parties in cordial manner away from judicial atmosphere and then conducts individual sittings and joint sessions with parties; listen to both parties and then make parties understand advantages and disadvantages of settling their disputes amicably on their own agreed terms and conditions.”
Jeelani said “mediation is infact win-win position for both parties. After settlement of terms and conditions, an agreement is drafted. That agreement is then referred to concerned court where from the case was referred for mediation. Then concerned court decides the case as per agreement reached by parties. Not only the case that was referred for mediation gets settled but all other cases pending disposal and those which are outcome of dispute between parties get decided in same agreement. These cases get decided by the court after they receive a copy of settled agreement.” The decisions in mediation centres aren’t challengeable, she emphasized.
(The article is part of Indo Global Social Service Society’s (IGSSS) Media Fellowship Programme under European Union’s EIDHR project jointly implemented with Welthungerhife in J & K. The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect views of European Commission, Welthungerhilfe and Indo Global Social Service Society.)