Kashmir: “When I Saw Her Condition, My Questions Left Me”

April 2, 2017

SRINAGAR, INDIAN-ADMINISTERED KASHMIR — I was reading some local newspapers and saw a story about a woman who was harassed by her in-laws over the terms of her dowry. The story struck me. I began to research the topic and found that some police officials say domestic abuse, including bride burnings, is on the rise in the Kashmir Valley.

Newspapers often carry stories of accidents and suicides, but now another topic has become common: domestic violence.

It’s not simple to find sources who are willing to talk. I contacted some women who initially agreed to speak with me, but they declined when I met them in person. Some women feared their husbands, and some feared their in-laws.

Finally, someone told me about a woman who has been burned by her husband and in-laws. She agreed to speak with me.

I did my homework and prepared questions, but upon entering the room, I was dumbstruck. When I saw her condition, my questions left me. It took an hour to get to the point where she began to tell her story. I didn’t want to rush things. Sometimes her sister came in with medicine, then she began to tell her story again. Her mother added details. She was in pain and couldn’t move, but she wanted her story to be heard.

Patience is the key. I spent a lot of time with her and got her full story.

I took some pictures of her without showing her face, then left. While I was writing the story, I could visualize what she told me.

Another challenge came when I had to reshoot the picture. That can be difficult, because sometimes people don’t want to sit for another photo. I was apprehensive. I went to her home, where she greeted me with a smile. I asked her about her recovery. After some time, I asked if I could photograph her again, and she permitted me to. I said goodbye with hope that she’ll find justice.

It’s surprising to me that some women prefer to live with husbands who abuse them physically and mentally. They prefer to remain silent and bear the pain. When I went to a police station, an official told me that some women do not even file a report when abuse occurs, because they fear stigma. They go back to their husbands’ homes.

I hope that situation here changes, and women who face such abuse report their cases. Remaining silent is not an answer.

This story has taught me to be patient, both patient with finding the sources and patient while interviewing.