Toxic, Torturous, Treacherous: Inside Kashmir’s Wronged Wedlock

Marriage is considered a fundamental unit of any society and Kashmir is no exception. But in several successful marriages, what makes some unsuccessful?

By Tabia Masoodi, Al Misda Masoom

WHEN Sumaiya first held her baby she had never imagined that she would be all alone, sitting on a hospital bed with a newborn in her arms and loneliness around.

Even though the maternity ward in a government hospital where she gave birth was bustling with the contrasting sounds of crying babies and their happy relatives, Sumaiya was staring into space, lost in her thoughts trying to comprehend the uncertainties that her future holds.

The new mother was jolted back into reality when her baby cried, only to be lost again. This time she raised a flurry of questions in a comatose state: “Why are marriages in our society so uncertain and turn into unending torture, especially for women? Why can’t husbands divorce their wives without causing them harm and keeping them hanging?”

Sumaiya had fallen in love with her college-mate Usmaan and to her joy, he reciprocated her feelings. They were inseparable in college.

“Like any love story, ours was also made of promises and dreams,” says Sumaiya, with moist eyes. “I dreamt of a happily ever after.”

After settling their respective careers, they wanted to get married but to their dismay Usmaan’s parents refused stating that she does not match their financial status.

Sumaiya’s family was also not in favour because they had two daughters to marry off before her. They feared it would cause a hindrance in finding a match for them and society would question their decision.

But the lovers left no stone unturned to make their parents understand. From cajolery to heated discussions, they did everything but it was all in vain.

“When our parents didn’t agree we were left with just one option,” says Sumaiya, with a pang of guilt in her tone. And that option was to elope and marry against the wishes of their parents.

Sumaiya started her new life in a rented apartment far away from everyone she once held dear. In the initial days of her marriage, everything seemed close to perfect and Sumaiya couldn’t ask for more until one day everything started to disintegrate.

The behaviour of her husband started to drastically change toward her. He started to misbehave with her. Sumaiya did everything in her power to make the marriage work for six years and she would have done it for the rest of her life if her husband hadn’t left eight months pregnant Sumaiya all alone in that rented apartment.

“My husband never wanted a child and forced me to abort the first two times. But the third time when I resisted he left me,” says Sumaiya. “He threatened me the first two times that if I didn’t do as told he would refuse to accept me as his wife.”

Perplexed with the situation, Sumaiya decided to take legal help. She appointed a lawyer and sought his advice on the further course of action. The lawyer advised her to deliver the child and afterwards they would file a case for maintenance of the child.

“When her baby was six months old we filed a case,” said Irshad Ahmad, her lawyer. “But Usmaan denied that Sumaiya was his wife.”

Sumaiya and her lawyer moved to another court and filed a civil suit to prove that she was Usmaan’s wife and the baby’s father.

“Whenever there is a matrimonial dispute, children suffer a lot. In this case, particularly Usmaan denied that he was the child’s father and as much emotional damage it caused, there are other implications as well. For instance, the child needs a domicile certificate, only a father can provide that,” says advocate Irshad.

Seven years of uncertainty, frustration and anger later, Sumaiya was finally delivered justice.

“When I first went to a lawyer I was eight months pregnant and when the case settled my child was eight years old. It is a lot to process and handle,” says tearful Sumaiya.

Even though the uncertainty ended in Sumaiya’s case, it’s not true for every matrimonial dispute.

Arfa has been in an uncertain marriage for more than four decades and it is still continuing.

In the first year of her marriage, she had this instinct that her husband Mushtaq was cheating on her. And not long before the instinct was proven right.

Like many nights Arfa was once waiting for her husband to come home. It was almost midnight and there was still no sight of him. As the clock ticked 12, Arfa stood up from her couch and left in search of her husband. Following her hunch, she reached exactly the place and found her husband with another woman in her house.

Even though Arfa always had a doubt witnessing the incident shook her to the core. Heartbroken, she left the place and went straight to her mother’s home. “My sister came at 1 in the night with a deathly pale face creating a gloomy environment in the household,” says Irfan, Arfa’s youngest brother.

Arfa could not comprehend the situation and was perplexed in taking any decision. Due to societal pressure and the common notion that it would bring shame to her and her family, Arfa did not ask for a divorce.

“With all the reasons of society and shame, I had another reason to stay in this marriage,” says Arfa. “After the incident, a month later or so, he apologised and wanted to take me home. So, I thought he had changed. But nothing ever changed.”

After Arfa went home, things were better on and off. And in this course of time, she delivered her first child. Mushtaq was not only a careless husband but was also a negligent father.

“I had accepted my fate that my marriage is in shambles and will remain so but he was the same with our three children as well,” recounts Arfa in a dejected voice.

Mushtaq never for once took the responsibility of his children and provided for them. The entire responsibility fell on Arfa’s shoulders. The only relief at the point was that she was a government employee and was able to manage all the responsibilities but the unstable lifestyle took a toll on her children. They had to constantly move in and out of their home. With that came shouting, fights and unending ache and longing for a place that could provide them with constant comfort.

“With everything that our mother did for us, it is highly appreciable, but it would have been better if she had taken a firm stand and left that man,” says Shugufta, Arfa’s eldest daughter.

The uncertainty in the Arfa’s household raised three disturbed individuals. All the children are married now and managing to build a stable family except the youngest daughter.

While the elder two got a chance to escape physically from the traumatic situation because of their higher studies, the youngest daughter lived with her mother and was continuously witnessing the situation. Due to this she developed trust issues and carried them with her into her own marriage.

However, to her relief, her husband proved to be supportive and understanding. He helped her to see the other side of the coin.

“When children are not rehabilitated they take the insecurities and emotional trauma into their own marriages,” says Wasim Kakroo, consultant psychologist, centre for mental health services. “The cycle of abuse continues.”

Mushtaq and Arfa are now grandparents but the uncertainties and disputes are still unresolved between them.

Marriage is considered a fundamental unit of any society and Kashmir is no exception. But in lakhs of successful marriages, a few thousands are unsuccessful as well.

Maerthi kaednam (I will only leave my husband’s place after death),” says Heena.

Heena has been married for over ten years now and these ten years have been nothing but a living hell for her. But she still holds a belief that a woman is nothing without her husband.

From physical to verbal abuse and humiliation she has been continuously suffering. Even though her family has been telling her to end her suffering, she is herself reluctant stating that her children need their father and her position will be reduced in society.

“I know it’s a dead-end and he will never change but I don’t see any other way for me. It is easy for everyone to talk,” expresses Heena. “As foolish as it sounds, there is always a hope though.”

At the beginning of her marriage, everything seemed dreamy but just within a few months, Heena’s husband Altaf started to behave indifferently. Heena at first did not understand the cause behind this indifference. But then someone from her in-laws told her that he wanted to marry someone else and is still in contact with her. Hearing this, Heena was shattered.

“I just cannot understand why he married me then,” asks Heena. “What was the need of this suffering and ruining my life?”

Heena gathered some courage to confront her husband and asked him if he was cheating on her. But Altaf denied any such allegations. He was furious.

Heena poured her heart in front of her family and told them about everything that has been happening to her. But she did not let them take any step fearing that he might divorce her.

“We want to confront him and his family but she never lets us,” says Rukaiya, Heena’s elder sister.

Due to the stressful situation, Heena even lost her child. She miscarried her first child. In all this, one thing has always remained consistent — Heena never for once left her husband’s place, no matter how many atrocities she faced there.

Living with Altaf was never a paradise for Heena. The constant stress lurking in her life has endangered the lives of her children. After losing her first baby, she first delivered a baby boy and then a baby girl. But Heena’s both babies were born premature and had a very less chance of survival.

“I’ve always been alone in my problems,” she says. “Altaf has never provided me with support as a partner.”

In the last ten years of her marriage, whenever she has felt ill, her husband was never there to take care of her. “Altaf has never taken care of my sister. He has always left her to die,” says Heena’s sister. “He never provided her with medication and a proper living.”

Mental health specialist, Wasim Kakroo talks about the children raised under the shadow of bad marriages.

Just providing physical comfort is not enough for a child to grow, he says. “If children have seen the dispute between the parents for years it becomes a part of their personality. These children can develop Borderline personality disorder. If the dispute has been continuing for years and the children are too young it is counted as an adverse childhood experience. It is emotional abuse.”

In a day, Wasim provide consultation to at least ten patients and among these five to six have emotional disorders whose roots can be traced back to the disturbing childhood due to the matrimonial disputes.

“There needs an acceptance in the society that such happenings lead to a lifelong trauma and emotional abuse and it needs medical help,” says Kakroo.

Today, while Arfa’s and Heena’s children have to live with this disturbing situation, Sumaiya’s story differs a bit in this aspect.

After getting divorce, she never imagined that she would have to fight for her son’s rights too.

“I had to again file the maintenance case over my son’s father,” says Sumaiya.

“But it didn’t stop there. For the sake of my child, I was forced to file another case on that man when he denied access to all those necessary documents which a father needs to provide for their children. It feels like I have spent half of my life in court seeking justice for myself and my son. Unfortunately, I was part of marriage made in hell and suffered severe consequences for it.”


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