Field Notes: “But Why Do You Want To Know? What Will It Yield?”


I met B* in a park outside a police station in Srinagar where she went after her husband attacked her with a kangri, a clay fire-pot used by people to keep warm during Kashmir’s sub-zero winters. 

B kept blaming herself and trying to absolve her abuser. She had filed a police complaint against him but asked me whether she was “overreacting”. She shivered that gloomy autumn day, even as the harsh winter was still two months away. “Cold,” she said, but it was more than that – she was nervous about reporting the violence against her.

“He gives me a roof,” she said, which is more than her parents would give her. Kashmir, unlike other states and union territories, has no shelter homes for abused wives and women, as the law requires. 

“What’s new that I can say… It is the story of every household,” she said. 

That was the point of departure for most conversations I had with women enduring abusive marriages and finding there were – despite a law meant to protect them – no legal remedies. It brought me face to face with the reality of the dysfunctional and abusive families in our midst, a situation widely accepted and normalized.

As keen as I was to know their stories and experiences, their inquisitiveness always surpassed mine: they wanted to know why I, a stranger, wanted to know of their experiences and sorrow. “Why do you want to know?” they asked. “What will it yield?”

Women like B feel how pervasive domestic violence is, but far from feeling a kinship with others like them, they feel isolated owing to the silence surrounding the issue — except when a woman either dies at the hands of abusive husband and in-laws or by suicide. 

Although her decision to live with her abusive husband sounded counter-intuitive to me,  it took me some time to set aside my beliefs to place the experiences and agency of women like B at the centre of my story. She finds herself surrounded by people who make no effort to understand her.

“They ask to satiate their own curiosity and they feel and insist that is their concern,” she said.

The least I could do was listen.

In her sixties now, K* was ousted by her husband from their matrimonial home in 2020 for attending a wedding without informing him. We met at the office of Mehram, a nonprofit in Srinagar. Her longing for her home was visible when she pointed to the glass of water she was served, reminiscing that she had brought serveware for her home from one of the best known stores in the city. The curtains in her house were hand embroidered by local artisans, she said

K* asked me if I was married. On hearing no, she smiled tenderly and advised me to never get married. “You can be twenty or my age,” she said. “The lack of respect for women surpasses any age, education and job parameters.”  

Read Arshie Qureshi’s story on Kashmir’s battered women and why they are left with few options but to try and return to the home of their abusive husbands.

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