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A woman walking by a polling booth in Srinagar, Kashmir. Photograph by Sanna Irshad Mattoo for The Kashmir Walla.

Srinagar: Till a year ago, a teenager from south Kashmir’s Shopian district would spend hours gazing at herself in the mirror appreciating herself. Now, she can no longer look at her own face and cries upon seeing her reflection.

Aaliya Nisar, whose name has been changed upon request, was attacked with corrosive liquid near her home in Kral Chek village in October 2021 by a jilted lover. Numbed by the unbearable pain, Aaliya collapsed on the ground after the attack. Multiple cosmetic surgeries followed in the coming months.

“When she sees her old pictures, she doesn’t stop crying,” Nisar Ahmad, her father, told The Kashmir Walla. “What was her fault?”

Aaliya isn’t the only woman who fell prey to the rising gender-based violence in Kashmir. The region has been waking up to horrifying headlines of crimes. Mother killed by son. Woman burnt alive by her in-laws. Daughter sexually assaulted by teacher. Woman’s body chopped into pieces.

However, for years, the Kashmiri society is marred by internalized patriarchy that often spilled over in spells of domestic violence.  In 2021, the crimes against women in J-K recorded an increase of 15.62 percent and more than 7,000 people were arrested, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) noted in a report. 

In 2021, as per the latest report by the NCRB, J-K and Ladakh recorded 3,937 cases of crimes against women compared to 3,405 in 2020. In 2019, the number was 3,069.

As per a study conducted by the Department of Community Medicine, Government Medical College, Srinagar, 6.5 percent women in Srinagar started experiencing domestic violence during the Covid-19 lockdown. 

The study has revealed that “the effects of preventing a COVID-19 health crisis have had unintended consequences on domestic abuse (DA) victimization, social distancing measures inherently change micro level human interactions, as they force people to spend more time at home”.

“Women are abused since history as they are always considered a weaker gender with no voice of their own. The abuser usually abuses as they try to vent their frustration on their women at home,” the study noted.

Last month, a woman tweeted a video after she was stalked and harassed in Srinagar, seeking help from the police. Both of the eve teasers were arrested. While the police continue with swift actions against such incidents, the violence seems to be rising against women amid condemnation by the society.

Shazia Malik, assistant professor of women’s studies at the University of Kashmir, said that “over the years, increased misogyny has resulted in more hatred towards women.” 

“Men are not held accountable for anything. From wife beating, burning them, women committing suicide to chopping the bodies now … all these crimes are being justified by victim blaming,” she told The Kashmir Walla.

On 12 March, a man killed a 30-year-old woman by chopping off her head and cutting her corpse in the Mohanpora area of central Kashmir’s Budgam district. In order to hide the crime, he subsequently dumped the body parts at various locations around his neighborhood.

When the Budgam woman’s graphic killing hit the news, Muntaha Shah, a 26-year-old sales executive by profession in Srinagar, was jittered. “It was scary and inhumane,” she recalled. “But nothing has been able to stop such incidents.”

Shah was 19 when an unknown car stopped near her as she walked with her mother near the Women’s College, in Srinagar. “A man in the passenger seat took a puff of cigarette and directed the smoke on my face,” she said. “I was furious. I dragged that person out of the car and beat him.”

She is yet to let go of that disgusting feeling, she said. The incident made her protective of her younger sister. “I tell her to stand up for herself and give it back to anyone who makes her feel uncomfortable,” Shah said.

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