Since Establishment of Women’s Cell in Kargil Unreported Issues Begin to Surface
“Body shaming, minor physical abuse, and financial constraints have sadly become normalized in many households in Kargil”, but as Incharge of the Women Cell at Police Station Kargil, Dechan Angmo revealed in a conversation with Voice of Ladakh correspondent, “The concerned civil societies for women receive cases only when they reach severe levels.” The revelation is shocking, considering that the Special Cell for Women in Kargil was established just a year ago and has already received around 150 cases related to women’s issues.
Following the formation of the Union Territory of Ladakh in 2019, significant strides have been made in addressing gender-related issues. The UT Administration took the initiative to establish the One Stop Centre (OSC) in March 2021, followed by the creation of a Special Cell for Women in October 2021. As these entities diligently raise awareness about gender-related concerns, an increasing number of cases have come to light within the district. It is worth noting that a Women Police Cell had already been in existence since 2015, and more recently, the Home Department of UT Ladakh has approved the establishment of a separate Women Police Station in Kargil, expected to commence operations within a month.
The establishment of the Special Cell for Women took place in October 2021, and it began its operations in November 2021. Strategically situated within the Police Station Kargil, its purpose is to ensure a more coordinated, comprehensive, and effective response to women’s issues by integrating high-quality psycho-social-legal services within the police system. On March 8, 2021, the One Stop Centre scheme was inaugurated by the LG Ladakh, and it commenced operations on July 4, 2022. As a sub-scheme of the National Mission for Empowerment of Women, sponsored by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, the One Stop Centre functions as an adjunct to the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) in Kargil. Notably, the Police Women Cell at the Police Station Kargil was established back in 2015.
Since its inception in November 2021, the Special Cell has received a total of 150 cases, predominantly involving domestic violence, cybercrime, and maintenance disputes. The cell initiates case proceedings upon receipt of a written application from the victim. Additionally, if further proceedings are deemed unnecessary or if the victim is unwilling to proceed, the cell offers one-time intervention to assist the victim. Haseena Batool, a social worker at the Special Cell for Women in Kargil, who currently manages the Women Cell alongside her colleague Khadim Hussain, revealed that out of the total cases, 51 have been selected for comprehensive proceedings, while approximately 100 victims have benefited from one-time intervention support.
On the other hand, since its establishment in July 2022, the One Stop Centre (OSC) in Kargil has received a total of 18 cases, with the majority pertaining to domestic violence and maintenance issues. In addition, the Police Women Cell at Police Station Kargil has filed five FIRs during the 2022-2023 period concerning women’s rights violations. These cases include instances of cruelty by husbands and in-laws, one rape case, and two cases of triple talaq. It is noteworthy that all the victims involved in these five cases are local residents of Ladakh, while one of the accused individuals is a non-local.
According to Ummul Banin, the Central Administrator of OSC Kargil, all 18 cases registered at the center have originated from rural areas. This can be attributed to early marriages and limited access to education among the affected individuals. Kaneez Fatima, another official at the One Stop Centre, explained that the prevalence of domestic violence is often connected to the fact that many girls from rural areas marry at a young age, typically between 17 and 20 years old. Consequently, when these young women become parents, they face challenges in meeting their needs due to unemployment, leading to livelihood issues. These underlying tensions can escalate into disputes and ultimately result in acts of violence. Some cases received by the center involve families that are already experiencing ongoing disputes, which further impacts the well-being of their children.
Kaneez further highlighted that, thus far, they have not received any cases from urban areas. She explained that in the urban areas of Kargil, women tend to be more educated compared to their rural counterparts. Additionally, they come from well-off families, which reduces the likelihood of facing similar issues. Furthermore, women in urban areas tend to marry at a more mature age, which contributes to a higher level of stability and potentially lowers the incidence of such problems.
Offering a differing perspective, Haseena Batool from the Special Cell expressed that cases are indeed received from both rural and urban areas. She emphasized that the root causes of gender violence remain the same, regardless of educational background or socioeconomic status. According to her, violence and cruelty can occur even within affluent, educated, and prominent families, but they possess the ability to conceal these issues from others.
It is important to note that, according to the 2011 census, the total population of Kargil district was recorded as 140,802, with 63,017 being females. Within the district, the population of women in rural areas was 56,761, while the urban population stood at 6,256. Additionally, based on calculations in 2018, the projected population of the district is estimated to be approximately 170,370.
Due to being a newly established center for women in the region, the One Stop Centre initially encountered difficulties in receiving responses from women who appeared hesitant to bring their cases forward. Despite facing these challenges and encountering a relatively poor response from the public, the officials at the center have made commendable efforts to raise awareness in remote villages. The objective of these awareness campaigns is to encourage victims of gender violence to seek assistance from the center, facilitating the resolution of their problems.
Ummul Banin, the Central Administrator of OSC Kargil, has reported that the Centre has successfully conducted more than 40 awareness programs, with a primary focus on rural areas within the Kargil district. These initiatives have been implemented strategically, considering that a majority of the cases received by the Centre originate from rural areas. By organizing these awareness programs, the Centre aims to effectively reach out to the rural population and raise awareness about the services and support available to them.
The impact of these awareness programs has been notable, with victims coming forward or notifying the Centre about their issues within a span of just two or three days after attending the program. During these informative sessions, officials diligently educate the participants on women’s rights, emphasizing the significance of girls’ education, and shedding light on the challenges faced by women in society. To ensure widespread dissemination of the message, the staff members of the OSC and Special Cell distribute pamphlets in both English and the local vernacular language, leaving no stone unturned in their efforts to reach every potential victim and address their concerns.
Given that victims prioritize confidentiality, the officials at the Centre make every effort to maintain the privacy of the cases and handle them discreetly within the confines of the Centre. Kaneez Fatima, an official at OSC, emphasized their commitment to preserving anonymity, stating, “We do not approach or engage with victims in public places to ensure their confidentiality.” This approach underscores the Centre’s dedication to respecting the privacy and ensuring the comfort of the victims they serve.
The procedures followed for handling a case are quite similar at both the One Stop Centre and the Special Cell. When a domestic violence case is received, the centre first conducts a medical check-up of the victim to assess her physical well-being. If no harm is found, the centre proceeds to provide the victim with legal information pertaining to her rights. Depending on the victim’s willingness and consent, the centre takes appropriate action, which may involve initiating legal proceedings or providing counseling to the victim, her husband, or family members, as deemed necessary. In order to pursue legal action, the centre promptly informs the police and collaborates with the District Legal Services Authority (DLSA). The DLSA extends support by assigning an advocate to the case, and the services of the advocate are provided free of cost.
If the victim expresses a desire to resolve their issues through mediation with their husband, the Centre facilitates the process by providing counseling sessions. These sessions are conducted separately or jointly for the couple, as per the need. The counseling is conducted over a period of 3-5 days, aiming to foster understanding and communication between the partners. The One Stop Centre is equipped with a skilled and trained counselor who offers dedicated counseling services to the victims, assisting them in navigating their challenges and working towards resolution.
In general, a common observation in Kargil is that victims of gender-based violence often lean towards seeking a mutual resolution. They tend to involve their husbands in the process, hoping to prevent any adverse actions or consequences from their spouses. However, among the 18 cases received by the centre thus far, it has been noticed that many women do not clearly articulate their problems or express them in a straightforward manner.
The One Stop Centre has a provision to offer shelter to victims, if required, although such cases are rare in the district of Kargil, according to the official. The Centre can provide shelter for a maximum of five days, utilizing the four to five shelter rooms available at the OSC Kargil office. In cases where the victim is accompanied by a child, shelter is also provided to the child. If the case remains unresolved after the initial five days and the victim’s family is unable to provide shelter, the Centre has arrangements in place to refer the victim to Shanti Sadhan, a facility that offers shelter for up to three years.
When asked about recommendations for women to resolve such problems, Ummul Banin from OSC emphasized the importance of providing quality education to girls. She believes that through education, girls can develop an understanding of their problems and approach them wisely in the future. Additionally, she advised women to avoid hiding their problems, as doing so can have detrimental effects on their physical and mental well-being in the long run.
Haseena Batool from the Special Cell appealed to faith leaders to intervene and sensitize both genders about rights, responsibilities, and fostering healthy behavior within couples and family units.