In the times of late marriages and rising destitution, the mounting marital mess often shapes into a heartbreaking tragedy. Dumped and divorced Kashmiri women remain the most distressed aspect of this menace.
By Bilal Handoo
Behind the frequently barricaded life of Old City, a young, disheartened girl regularly fights her inner demons indoors. Two years back, at the peak of 2016 uprising, she was given a stirring send-off—short of Azadi chorus, which had then become a part of wedding defiance. But then, neither that marriage lasted, nor her usual happy self. “I was dumped for not being a ‘social’,” that’s how Shagufta introduces her life misfortune.
In the battered lanes of Downtown, she resides in a house whose windows open into the Nallamar Road. Quiet often—especially ever since the autumn has set in Kashmir—she turns up at her windowsill to gaze the footfall on the road. The very scene transports her to her past when as a protected daughter, she would hold her father’s finger and face the world on those streets. But now, she wants to be left alone.
“I don’t wish to be a recluse,” she says, as we sit to talk inside her house. “But when you face a traumatic tragedy in life, you need some time to recover.” Her current cheerless face defies the very cheerful countenance she wears on many framed photos hung on her wall. Her glum self perhaps talks about her larger woe — which often cuts some women loose by driving them on an extreme path.
At a stone’s throw from her residence, a junior engineer namely Mudasir had showed up with the same state of mind in recent past. Some passersby had seen her staring the troubled waters of Jhelum from the old Zaina Kadal bridge before jumping into it. Her parents later blamed her husband for creating a marital crisis in her life, and pushing her on an extreme path.
But as a well-meaning person, Shagufta doesn’t identify herself with the Mudasir’s path, but she’s quite assertive about the fact that ‘things do get on your nerves at times’.
Some year and a half ago, she had returned to her parent’s home in the disturbing state of mind after her marriage hit the rocks.
Her spouse was a Kashmiri technocrat, who had spent much of his life outside. She remembers how a shrewd matchmaker brought the marital proposal: ‘Ye gotsieow kismat aasun’ (You should be really blessed to get this match for your daughter.)
Then, Shagufta says, her parents enquired about her spouse’s family, and came home contented—after being told all good things about him, and his family.
What they were not told, however, was how the man was only getting married to nurse his heartbreak, and how he was never going to treat their daughter fairly.
Her spouse’s broken-hearted worldview soon came to trouble her marriage.
“At times, during night, he would quietly walk out of room and talk on phone at length,” Shagufta says, struggling with her reticence. “I didn’t think too much about it, initially, until it became a routine of sorts, and forced me to seek answers.”
To her rudest shock, her spouse made no bones about the person whom he was talking late night—his ex—sitting somewhere in Mumbai.
“I told him, if that was the case, then why he married me in the first place,” Shagufta continues, feeling emotionally choked. “He grew quiet for a while, before telling me that he wanted to move on, but couldn’t, after his ex-girl friend contacted him again.”
It was a very tricky situation for Shagufta, who was married by her parents with lot of fanfare after spending their lifetime fortune on her. But now, she was mired in a meaningless marriage—which was nothing but a change-seeking relationship for her spouse.
Days later, as her husband had almost patched up with his ex, he wanted to come up with some pretext to dump Shagufta—whose long woven, perfect wedding dream had already shattered like a glass.
“For guys like him,” she says, in a livid state of mind, “it was a no big deal to come up with some good cooked story to put me at blame, and get away with everything.”
Some three months after their marriage, when Shagufta was busy in kitchen, she overheard her spouse telling his mother: ‘Mom, this girl is impossible! She’s very much into herself—and doesn’t care about me. She’s not even ready to interact with my circle. I don’t think this is going to work like this!’
Although shocked to hear this, Shagufta understood that her spouse was only clearing decks for himself. She demanded no answers after her husband demonstrated doggedness to return to his faraway ex.
And then one day, when she was visiting her parents, her mother-in-law rang up her mother: ‘No need to send your daughter back. We never knew she would torment the life of our son like this. Take care!’
She didn’t explain much. After that, nearly 30 mediation attempts were tried to salvage Shagufta’s marriage, but it never helped.
At her home, especially on the windowsill, she often wonders, while looking at the deceptive pace of life on streets: ‘What was my fault?’
While the answer still beguiles her, Shagufta’s spouse has long left for Mumbai and is now closer to his ex, like never before. Dumping someone as a toy perhaps comes easy for such men, who take so much pride in their actions and thoughts, she reckons.
“I could’ve filed a divorce and moved on,” Shagufta says, lifting her dark-circled eyes in a thoughtful manner, “but my family wants to make an example of him, so that his ‘troubled heart’ won’t trouble innocence of another girl.”
On the other side, her husband and in-laws don’t want to initiate divorce, she says, because they feel it would give them a bad name. “They supposedly take so much pride in their caste and status in society,” Shagufta says. “And therefore, they want us to initiate the process.”
Such skewed worldview might not make a sense to any well-meaning person in the society, but the fact people like Shagufta’s husband still exist and get away with their social felony, indeed calls for some social action plan.
And while Shagufta is suffering indoors, her likes can be seen frequenting two places—quite often—for seeking justice: Courts and Shrines.
For last six years, a burka-clad woman in her early forties has been frequenting Makhdoom Sahab shrine with the stroke of the first light. Unlike earlier, when she would even devoutly broom the stairs in reverence, Shameema now gasps for breath to reach out to the hill-abode saint.
At his gates, she quietly walks through the crowd of worshippers and sits near a window opening into the mausoleum of the Sufi saint Hazrat Sheikh Hamza alias Makhdoom Sahab.
What follows appears to be a trance moment. She silently stares at the saint’s resting place—as if complaining to him: ‘How much I’m still supposed to suffer now? Hadn’t I, as a maiden, tied a knot at your shrine and implored you to watch my back? Why I’m still suffering, despite frequenting your abode…” Once done with this silent conversation, she heads back home.
Shameena lives in a single-storey rundown house in Hawal locality. The murky ambiance of her home tells upon her disturbing solitude—although her aged parents and siblings add their own meaning and colour to the house. But life for Shameema is a stark contrast—which, however, wasn’t always like this.
Some fifteen years back, when she was in her early twenties, the prospective suitors in town would fall in line to woo her. Gifted with grace and good looks, she was finally married to her relative’s son, who was a middle-rung government official.
“I had my reservation about it, but my mother convinced me saying that marrying government employee means secure and stress-free life,” Shameema recalls, as the street shrill outside drowns her voice.
In the long run, that marital decision was going to prove disastrous for her.
Soon after her marriage, she realised that her husband is a miser, who questioned her more, and provided her less. He didn’t even treat her well, and never considered her an equal life partner.
Often in her spouse’s home, Shameema would be silenced for ‘not making sense’ of things. ‘Keri tschoupi tcheeri!’—shut up stupid—would become a common retort from her husband.
“Such a remark would simply leave me devastated,” Shameema says. “With the passage of time, as he coined new derogatory phrases to insult me, I gathered some spine to counter him one day: ‘What wrong have I done to deserve all these lowly labels from you? Is this how you treat a woman, who’s someone’s daughter?’ This provoked his male ego so much that he lunged on me like a poacher, and left me with a swollen eye and badly beaten body.”
Much of that ruthlessness came from her husband’s invasive sense that ‘wives are meant to be contained and controlled’—with or without force.
At times when she would pay visits to her parents with swollen body parts and grief-stricken face, they would claim to understand her pain, but advise her: ‘Stay patient, dear daughter. Allah is there to do justice. Men do that, out of habit and dominating nature. But you shouldn’t make much of it.’
But one day when she came home with stitches on her eyebrow, her family finally realised that they had indeed wedded their daughter to an incorrigible beast.
“Perhaps my only fault was that I wasn’t able to conceive,” Shameema vomits out the bitter truth of her life. “But then, am I alone in this world who suffers that fate? Do I deserve to be treated like an animal for my inability to have children? And who knows, maybe, the fault [impotency] lies in him.” But that would be simply too much to ask, given how her husband cloaks himself with a pseudo-pride.
Amid Shameema’s unanswered queries, it’s been six years now, since her abusive husband divorced her. Her ailing parents want her to remarry, but she is yet to sink the abuse and shock from her estranged marriage, which even put her on anti-depressants.
But when even pills failed to restore her mental calm, she became a shrine regular. At the saint’s abode, she often unburdens her troubled heart, and returns home composed.
Shameema’s case might sound familiar in the valley caught in perpetual state of conflict, but given its distressing details and depth, it’s appears to be an underreported social setback story. Especially, in many urban pockets—plagued with pervasive poverty—the heartbroken characters like Shameema regularly emerge, and suffer silently.
Such a marital mess, amid escalating number of overage unmarried girls in the society, has already created a crisis situation. Now, it’s even forcing Kashmir’s head priest, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq to regularly sound like a doomsayer. While presiding over ‘Nikkah’ ceremonies, the cleric keeps appealing Kashmiris to guard and regard their sacred marital institutions.
But given the rate at which Kashmir is witnessing broken marriages and shattered lives, it might take some serious social reforms to deal with the crisis. Till that happens, these cases keep feed the court activities.
In Srinagar’s Lower Court, a fresh-faced lawyer Rukaya was lately spotted crying in her cubicle by her colleagues. Once consoled and comforted, she told them that she had enough of these court cases revolving around women. Soon she was narrating a marital mess story, which had almost driven a young bride to suicide.
The case in point was about one Islamabad teacher married to a businessman, who shuttles between Srinagar and South Kashmir on ‘trade trips’. Some six months after their arranged marriage, the husband’s growing absence set the young wife thinking.
‘I’m out on a business deal,’ he would tell her, and disappear from home for days together. Without reading much into it, she would keep herself busy with work and home — until one day, she learned that her husband was visiting his another wife in Srinagar on pretext of business trips.
“What was she supposed to do after hearing that,” the tearful advocate told her colleagues while narrating story to them. “Her hennaed hands were yet to fade, when she got this shuddering shock of her life. She almost tried to kill herself by consuming some pills at home.”
While her colleagues advised her to be a thick-skinned as an advocate, it soon turned out that the inconsolable lawyer was only narrating the story of her own best friend.
But perhaps, such marital deceit stories aren’t unknown to the society. In recent past when three wives of a Dalgate man protested against him and his wayward ways in Srinagar’s Press Enclave, the marital crisis—often being attributed to abnormal behaviour of a select few deviants of the society—became a reality check for many.
While some of these abused women move on with their lives, others simply succumb. The rising cases of suicide among young and married women, who either take their lives by consuming poison or jumping bridges, often have their roots in the marital mess.
The case of Saiqa Wanchoo, a school teacher from Srinagar—found dead under mysterious circumstances at her in-laws in early 2016, is fitting in this regard.
For almost a decade, Saiqa had resisted the desperate advances from her to-be-spouse. But when he finally got her as a wife, she felt suffocated with his eerie behaviour. Her husband is being accused by Saiqa’s family of having extra-marital relationship, which they believe drove their daughter on the death path.
While any headway in Saiqa’s case is yet to be achieved, many other—unreported—cases are relentlessly breeding the marital mess in the society. Unlike in past when husbands would mainly dump or divorce their wives on the notorious Sher-Bakra lines, these days, they seem to have ample reasons, mainly frivolous ones, to severe the ties with their spouses. One of them is infidelity.
When Kulsum was married to a young grocer of uptown Srinagar in 2017, she never knew that she would face the ugly reality of her marriage very soon. Despite being a ‘flawed’—a stammerer—she was strikingly beautiful girl, who had some best marriage proposals coming her way.
But she chose Farooq, the ‘funny man who vowed to be there for her, in her thick and thin’.
“You know how we girls are,” Kulsum says, as we meet to talk in a city cafe. “I was so stupid to trust him and his sugar-coated words.”
Soon after the marriage, her husband started behaving uncanny. As a new bride, Kulsum would look forward to serve and attend him at the end of his day job, but Farooq would be mainly drawn to his sister-in-law — his elder brother’s wife, who had knack of acting and behaving like a default matron in the family.
“From asking food to discuss matters at home, he would prefer his sister-in-law over me,” Kulsum says, without touching a tea cup in front of her. “At times, their proximity and flirtatious nature would make me feel downhearted.”
Fighting her tears, she takes a long pause to gather her strength, before continuing, “He was supposed to show that behaviour to me, to his wife. But no, it was the other way round. So, it set me thinking and then one day, I decided to speak up: ‘Did you marry me, only to sleep with me?’ He was stunned hearing this, because he wasn’t expecting that sharp retort from someone, whom he considered as a pretty dumb.”
Once shown the mirror, Farooq at once turned livid and told her: ‘Think whatever you want to. I don’t give two hoots about it! And listen, I’m not going to severe my ties with CP [alias of his sister-in-law], whom I love! You can leave, if you want to.’
The marriage soon ended with a divorce. But being a divorcee is now coming in way of her life—like in case of many divorcee women.
Today, almost a year after their divorce, Farooq is happily living with his sister-in-law, while Kulsum’s family is still struggling to find right match for their supposed ‘flawed’ daughter. And this is where this whole marital mess is getting uglier.