NEW DELHI: Harassment of women in the supposed security of their homes is as much a reality as is women's abuse in public places. Those who say that in order to prevent violence against women, women need not work outside of home, let me ask if they know that intimate partner abuse is a reality as is emotional and financial control of women in the safe havens of their homes.

Then the question arises, how does one prevent abuse and violence of women?

Institutional support, legal mechanisms, change in societal attitudes and shunning of prejudice are some important ways. Here's an attempt at understanding how.

Insha Sofi, a class 12th student went to the Jammu and Kashmir bank in Ratnipora village of Pulwama district on July 28, 2017.She was sent to collect the receipt of electricity bill by her family from Aijaz, an attendant at the bank who was also their neighbour. It was Friday afternoon and the absence of people, who had gone for afternoon prayers, was used as an opportunity by this 30 year old man to molest this minor girl.

There was some physical abuse but the girl somehow managed to escape. She reached home in extreme anxiety, she was crying and told her parents about the incident. Soon after she vomited and died in the District hospital, Pulwama. She was possibly beaten up by the man when she resisted, according to her parents.

The bank terminated Aijaz’s services and on August 18, 2017 a compensation package worth 25 lakh rupees was given to Insha’s family.

Such a heinous act must be dealt strictly by the criminal justice system. Since the criminal justice system depends on evidence, CCTV cameras in the bank can be used to ascertain the exact situation. A strong case must be filed against Aijaz with police’s co-operation such that it acts as a deterrent to perpetrators.

The step by J&K bank is appreciable and humane. The CEO of the bank while referring to Insha’s case talked about the customer-bank relationship and human dignity and life as the reasons for sacking Aijaz and compensating Insha’s family. The fact that our society still uses the generic language of life and dignity in a clear case of molestation and violence against a young girl only hints at how much work we have to do as a society to ensure the acceptability of the language of abuse, molestation, sexual harassment and violence without the need to disguise it under polite words and terms.

Nevertheless, the step by J&K Bank is appreciable, especially because in our conservative society, standing by an employee seen as a sign of a strong institutional loyalty, instead of holding the erring person accountable for a clear breach of law.

Accountability, punishment, responsibility, transparency strengthen an institution and do not bring a bad name to it. Getting rid of this notion is very important. The fear of bringing a bad name to the institution is the single most reason that the institutions come to the defense of a perpetrator in cases of sexual harassment and abuse, happening in public or private institutions.

There are multiple such examples in public knowledge and many more that never see the day’s light because women who are abused fear being mistrusted and labelled if they choose to report. Due to lack of proper institutional mechanisms their silence is further reinforced, to the benefit of perpetrators.

In many conversations around abuse and laws, a perception is created that such provisions under law are misused by women. For everyone who thinks like that, they need to ask themselves a few questions:

- Which law has not been misused? If two people claim ownership of a piece of land or property, prima facie, one is lying. When in such cases, we don't fear people lying, why in case of abuse against women?

-. To counter the claim that women abuse laws, let me ask, how many cases of abuse get reported? Had it been rampant, then most men should be in jail. Women's Commissions data shows that only one case in of harassment at the workplace was reported in 2016.

-. No one can say that such laws are absolutely not being misused but does that mean we should mistrust the women en masse? Or does that mean harassment and abuse is not common?

Such notions arise when law finally wakes up to guarantee welfare and security of a marginalised section of society. This power sharing between the traditionally powerful and disempowered sections of society often threatens conservative societies who counter such attempts in the name of preserving traditional order, no matter how unjust only to preserve the status quo of the concentration of power.

In a similar case that happened on April 8, 2017, a 32 year old woman, Adfar, who was an employee at HDFC, Sopore, committed suicide leaving a note that her group head, Showkat Nehvi, used to harass her and is responsible for her death.

In the first case of Insha, some esteemed newspapers of Kashmir chose to use the headline that a girl died under mysterious conditions in Ratnipora Pulwama whereas there was no mystery involved. The levels of sycophancy, fear of holding powerful individuals and institutions responsible, mistrust of women per se, leads to such lax reportage.

In the case of Adfar’s suicide, the media was even worse. The news reports focused on the man being posted in Harisingh High Street (Srinagar) and Adfar at Sopore, separated by a distance of some 50km. The implication was that because of this distance Nehvi could not really be responsible for her death! And this without any investigation of the charges. Could the media case really be that 50 Km prevents physical/mental abuse? By the way under the IT act for instance, online abuse is also a legally defined crime.

Media and Police in their insensitivity played down Nehvi’s role in Adfar’s suicide whereas under law a deceased’s suicide note can be treated as evidence. Under abetment to suicide, Section 306 of RPC, police registered a case but kept playing down Nehvi’s role due to the physical distance between Sopore and Srinagar. Even if sexual abuse is ruled out, abuse of power by a boss to mentally and emotionally harass an employee does classify as harassment under Harassment at Workplaces Act, 2013.

This case only reflects ignorance and callousness of the larger society towards its women. Some members of the Kashmir Women's Collective found out that Adfar is survived by a young unemployed brother and an ailing father who had just undergone a heart surgery. With no means of livelihood available to them, KWC wrote to multiple people at the corporate office of HDFC demanding a monetary compensation for the deceased family. This demand is not only prompted by humanitarian grounds but is a moral responsibility for HDFC bank as the deceased lady, Adfar, was also an employee of the bank.

Nehvi was released on bail and has not even been temporarily sacked from his job. Aijaz of Ratnipora was an attendant in bank and it was possibly easy to fire him. This is not to trivialise the appreciable step taken by the Jammu and Kashmir Bank but to put in perspective how nepotism and moral corruption prevented HDFC from acting against an employee who is well placed in the institution.

It also comes with understanding that in Jammu and Kashmir, Sexual Harrasment of Women at Workplaces Act of 2013 is still not applicable which reflects that possibly issues concerning half the population is neither a priority of the governed nor the governing class. Prior to this act that was passed at the national level, the Vishaka Guidelines of Supreme Court (in Bhawri Devi Case) were in place in India according to which every institution, public and private, required to have a committee (with a female member, a member from civil society and the institution itself) that looks into reports of harassment and abuse.

In Kashmir, these committees are either absent or present only on paper in the institutions of higher education and even in civil secretariat. Not only do they need to be constituted but the government of J&K needs to pass this act on priority.

As far as HDFC is concerned, they need to prove their morality as an institution by taking cognizance of this matter which can be done temporarily, suspending the accused’s service such that he doesn't influence the investigation in the case. Compensation to Adfar’s family, as was done by J&K Bank , must also be ensured . Police must investigate Adfar’s suicide case seriously without any preconceived notions. Again, CCTV footage can provide some evidence of the interaction between Adfar and Nehvi, at either person's branch. Physical distance between the two bank branches cannot be cited as the reason to treat the suicide note as void.

It is time that police takes crimes against violence against women seriously and investigates with no societal prejudice that the local media also seems to suffer from while reporting on crimes against women. Most of the crimes against women acquire a corner space beyond page 5. The rampant crimes against women in society must not only concern women but the whole society.

A tendency to show that crimes against women do not occur in a society afflicted by political conflict needs to be curbed. This is not possible unless society is sensitized on the issues of gender based violence and women’s legal rights. Much needs to be done. We can begin from the case of Adfar. It has already been more than 6 months. HDFC needs to sack and compensate, even as JK Bank's decision becomes important.

According to Supreme Court guidelines the name of the female victim survivors of abuse or violence is not to be made public due to the stigma attached. Interestingly, the perpetrator also gets the benefit and most media publications do not want to name accused. This practice must end.

Insha and Adfar are no more. They need to stay in our memory as women who died due to social callousness and gender based violence and hence their names have been repeatedly mentioned in this piece. Issues concerning half the population need to be identified, recognised and worked for, not denied and forgotten.

(Mantasha binti Rashid is an employee with the government, Scholar of Gender and Policy and a Patron of Kashmir Women's Collective.)

(Cover Photo BASIT ZARGAR)