How the beautiful Kashmir is turning into a haven for touts and human traffickers with many women being forced into slavery and worse. Some women are lured into jobs and are deceived later; while some are married to handicapped, old men. As there is no way out for them out of the Valley, they continue to suffer in silence. Baseera Rafiqi reports from the Valley
Baseera Rafiqi |Caravan Daily
AS THE afternoon sun sets in, the 10 by 12 raised tin shed warms up. This is a single room that serves as a bedroom, kitchen and dining room for the three-member family of Afsaana (25) in Bemina, on the outskirts of the city. As her four-year-old daughter fumbles few Bengali and Kashmiri words, Afsaana utters words in Kashmiri that is beyond comprehension.
Afsaana speaks in broken Kashmiri and there one can easily guess that she does not have Kashmiri native roots. The 25-year-old was brought from Kolkata to Kashmir by an agent five years back. “I am from Hugli, Kolkata. Someone I knew had married his daughter in Kashmir and we had heard good things about this place. I come from a very poor background and finding a match became difficult. I was neither beautiful nor educated, so the broker insisted on trying Kashmir. We consulted our neighbours, relatives and after paying the broker a hefty amount, I came to the Valley,” says Afsaana.
She recalls the winter of 2014, when she first stepped into the state, away from her home, family and siblings. “My parents reposed all trust in the broker as he was a Kashmiri but had been visiting our place a lot. Initially, I was scared. He kept me in a house in Safa Kadal where I stayed for nearly 10 days without talking to anyone, not even my parents,” she recalls.
With passing days, she got adjusted to the cold and new environment of Kashmir. Within a month, her marriage was fixed but till the last day, she hadn’t seen her would-be-husband. “I got married to Ishfaq on March 1, in a very simple way. Later, I came to know that he has polio in one of his legs, but I had married him and there was no going back. Today, he makes furniture, earns wells and we are about to admit our daughter in a school. He is a nice man,” she informed.
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A chain of such events followed after that.Many of Ishfaq’s neighbours’ asked him to arrange a non-native bride for them as it was economical. He didn’t help anyone but many of the locals are now a part of thisnetwork and have a widespread reach.
Manzoor Ahmed, 42, owns a tea stall right outside the Jhelum Valley College (JVC), Hospital. He limps, has two children, and is married to a girl from Bihar, who is way too young for him. His step-mother is also not a native Kashmiri. He works as an agent for getting women from outside Kashmir. After a lot of hesitation, he agreed to talk about his side-business – trafficking.
THERE IS NO CHECK ON THE ILLEGAL BUYING AND SELLING OF BRIDES BROUGHT INTO THE STATE, AND HENCE THIS BUSINESS IS FLOURISHING WITH TIME.
“I used to sell Kashmiri goods outside the state; I visited a lot of places from Bihar to Kolkata, Madhya Pradesh. I lost my leg to an accident which made it difficult for me to get a match here in the Valley. So I decided to explore options outside Kashmir. I got married to an 18-year-old girl in a simple ceremony in Bihar. I am happy with my marriage and after a year, my father too insisted on getting a non-Kashmiri bride and that is how it all began.I was asked by a lot of people to find a match, so finally I started it as my side-business. Besides, it gives good money and there is a lot of demand for such women in the market,” added Manzoor.
Young brides find their way into the Valley through agents but not everyone finds a good match, and not everyone among them finds living here easy. Some are lured into jobs and are deceived later while some are married to handicapped, old men. As there is no way out for them out of the Valley, they continue to suffer in silence.
No one talks about the misery of these non-native brides as they suffer within their four walls.
Living in one room, parted in two sections, Nazneen, 18, holds her son in her lap while she is expecting another child soon. She couldn’t talk, so her neighbour narrated her story.
“I saw her last year for the first time. She looked so innocent, naïve and scared, so I went to her and initiated a chat but she didn’t respond. After repeated attempts, she finally told me her name. She is almost deaf and is already expecting her second baby in two years. I hear her cries sometimes when her husband beats her. She is living in misery. We want to share her pain and help her out but she doesn’t understand anything which makes it difficult for us to help. Men here buy them at cheap rates and keep them as slaves. I don’t know where we are going with this,” says Arifat Jan, Nazeen’s neighbour at Shalteng area of Srinagar.
There is no check on the illegal buying and selling of brides brought into the state, and hence this business is flourishing with time. . “There is a lot of money in trafficking business and there are some 14 agencies registered with us. We look into it if underage children are trafficked into the state but we are yet to formulate any checking policy into the trafficking of girls and the trade of bride selling and buying,” Farooq Ahmad, DSP anti-trafficking cell, Srinagar said.
“I cannot say with authority, but yes this kind of trade is prevalent here among the lower strata of the society. The only reason behind this is that these brides are bought at low rates and hence are preferred by the poor men,” added Farooq.
Riffat Mir, 54, a grandmother living with her family in a single story house at Nowgam, Bypass, for over three decades still longs to go back to her own family. “I came with my father here in 1988, and a person offered me a job in handicrafts. We agreed to it and I stayed at his place. So my father went back to Lucknow. As things started to turn ugly, I insisted on going back, but that person said that all non-locals, Hindus are being killed outside. I was scared. The family I was staying with plotted against me and made me marry their widowed son in order to keep me here. Later, I came to know that it was a ploy. I tried to escape three or four times but didn’t succeed, and eventually, I stayed here,” says Mir.
Mir still wants to go home and visit her father’s grave once in her lifetime but she is not optimistic about it.
The suffering doesn’t end with the women. Even their children aren’t treated well by the society; they are abused and humiliated at every place for no fault of theirs. “People curse us and abuse us for having mothers who don’t belong to this soil. I would like to ask them, why they don’t treat us with dignity as we are the blood of the Valley?” said Suriaya Mir, Riffat Mir’s teenage daughter.
This trend of bringing non-local brides in the state is seen by some as an invasion and breach of the culture. “This is our own fault, we have raised the standards of marriage and no one is ready to marry his daughter to a poor boy. It forces them to marry elsewhere. I blame the so-called modern society for this. Don’t we have enough girls and boys to marry here, but no we are not ready to accept a girl or a boy with any kind of disability. Earlier, it was not like that. We would obey our elders and whatever they decided for us but today’s generation is lost in money, fame and that is how a situation like this has arisen,” said an octogenarian, Ghulam Qadir Khan.
(Baseera Rafiqi is a Kashmiri journalist focused on civil society issues and concerns.)