"Mamma has gone to take rest. She will be back on Eid," says three-year-old Midha, when one asks about her mother Shazia Majeed, a librarian at the Islamic University of Science and Technology.
One could easily have believed the child, but for the hard fact that Shazia won't be back: She was found hanging in her kitchen last November.
Another Eid is only days away and Midha is still waiting for her mother to arrive. Whenever someone mentions 'Shazia', the child's cheeks turn red as if she knew "everything" now but refuses to lose hope. She keeps recalling everything that she can about her mother; every little incident, says Munawar Sultana, her maternal grandmother.
Shazia, a university gold medallist, was allegedly a victim of prolonged domestic violence. Her relationship with her husband had been tumultuous and she had only returned to her in-laws' house when she decided not to take it anymore. "A day before her death, she went to live with him after a legal notice was sent to her to return," said her father Majeed Bazaz, grieving for his only child.
"But before that she left a letter for the nearby police station asking for security. It read 'I have apprehension that my husband would definitely resort to his previous brutalities, thus endangering my daughter's life and mine'," he said.
Majeed refuses to accept that his daughter's death was a suicide. "It's a cold-blooded murder by her engineer husband Jaweed Ahmed Wani," he claimed.
"Shazia kept tolerating it for her daughter's sake, thinking that single parenting after divorce would be a stigma to live with but destiny has left her child orphaned now." After months of protests by civil society groups and students against increasing domestic violence, triggered after the death of Shazia, reports filed in police stations paint a grim picture of domestic violence cases even in educated families.
"There is a flow in cases registered by female doctors against their husbands from the same profession. The reasons are mostly extra-marital affairs," says Gulshan, inspector at the women's police station, Rambagh.
According to a study based on a sample of 200 interviews of women by the valley's prominent sociologist Prof BA Dabla, around 31% respondents claimed physical harassment/beating at the hands of their husbands and in-laws. While a majority of such women (75%) experienced physical harassment only once, yet for some (07.00%) it was a regular feature of domestic life. A 39.49% respondents faced dowry demand by in-laws and another 9% respondents were asked by their husbands for gifts.
"In the past few decades, the women in the valley have got empowerment and education but it gave rise to different sets of demands in the wedlock. Boys started demanding working women with more dowries," said Prof Dabla. Unlike Shazia, Rehana (name changed), a doctor by profession, saved herself and her daughter on time. Her husband, a renowned dentist in Srinagar, was allegedly dating his assistant at the clinic, due to which he was giving Rehana medication to suppress her. "He gave me sedatives like diazepam whenever I raised my voice against him. My in-laws would also support him," Rehana alleged.
She said all educated males like her husband were "animals" and emphasised that "there are many such animals existing in our society". Another victim Sumaira has yet to go for a divorce legally. "In the eighth month of my pregnancy, I was kicked. I too thought like most women that it will get better one day but now I am glad to come out of it," she remarked.
A doctor, Mehbooba Ahangar suggested women counselling cells in the Kashmir valley where traumatised women can seek advice and speak out about their agonies before the situation worsens. "It is high time that we have helplines from social sector, not just common NGOs," Ahangar said.
While Bazaz mourns for his only daughter, he wises to convey a strong message to the people: Do not raise princesses in your houses but strong daughters, emotionally at least.