Agonies: Half life of half widows

Views from Srinagar

Saltanat Farooq

HALF widows is a label used for those women whose husbands have disappeared, and yet not declared dead. A half widow means a woman who is neither a complete widow nor a complete wife, but something in-between the two.
A half widow hangs between these two identities, to lead a life that provides her with half the amount of breaths coupled with complete agony and affliction.
For a widow, when her husband dies, the pain ceases to go but to surrender before the will of God turns ultimate for her. By the very passing of time from days to months and then rolling of these into years, her deep wound fills up by the remedy of time and life moves on henceforth.
Being a half widow is a different tale in itself. Here, in this case, the husband is subjected to forced disappearance with meager chances of his return. The mind continuously directs the soul to shun away all hopes leading to his release but the foolish heart overwhelms the currents of brain to hope against the hopeless.
The hope of her husband’s return never ceases to die even after passing up of giant years. It’s rightly said, that “Hope sustains life,” and for half widows, their life sustained by the very hope of their husbands’ return is nothing more than a hoax, a drama of exchange of some tired breathes playing hide and seek within and outside their fragile frames, vulnerable to the harsh winds of misfortune.
Half widows bear a twin-tragedy. One, that they lose their husbands, their support system and the other, that they can’t even mourn the very loss of their beloved ones. They remain in a dilemma all through their lives whether to wail over their lost husbands or to hope for their home coming.
Life never waits for anyone. Its nature is to continue amid hurdles, so is the nature of life of half widows. As wives of men thus ‘disappeared,’ half widows face various economic, social, and emotional insecurities and to live in such a vulnerable environ, is itself a great challenge. The absence of husbands thus renders them economically reliant, most often on their in-laws, with their property and custody rights undetermined.
Further, the uncertain nature and duration of the absence opens women to scrutiny and policing by their society as well as threats, extortion, and manipulation by those in external positions of power. The absence of her husband renders a woman economically vulnerable. In already socio-economically weak families, such disappearances turn half-widows vulnerable to destitution. The condition of the financially dependent half widows is worse than those who at least earn two square meals a day for themselves along with their children.
The result is that such women either opt for begging or do some menial jobs to sustain their lives. In addition to all the miseries they carry on in their lives, their continuous search operations for the lost ones, adds an additional burden on their backs.
With less monetary strength, it turns difficult for them to fight against the injustice meted to them. Life turns a pyre on which their hopes, desires, aspirations together in a bundle kiss the eternal flames of misfortune.
The very survival of a half widow along with her children turns a herculean task with each passing day. It usually becomes tough for a single mother to struggle with life, education for her children and her money-making efforts.
Apart from the economic constraints, a half widow continuously burns in the “Sati” of social stigma. Such unfortunate lot of women are socially discarded off and hence thrown away to the borders of neglect and abuse.
After the disappearance of their husbands, their in-laws consider them a burden together with their children. And more importantly, they are being cursed for bringing bad-luck to these families and often are being tortured on the pretext of being the responsible causes for the disappearance of their husbands.
In such a venomous atmosphere, a half widow is left with only two options. One is either to bear these tortures or return to her parents’ home. The atmosphere there too doesn’t allow them to breathe on their own.
Once a woman is married off, it’s usually looked down upon by the societal circles if she returns back to her parents’ home. As such, the half widows, who swing in the cradle of agonies, are time and again tossed in between the walls of solitude and confinement.
Hope plays a negative role in the lives of this unfortunate lot of women. From the very hope of their husbands return to the hope of having a new start of life with their beloved ones; all hopes turn hoax and the only monstrous reality that confronts them with a wide open mouth is of the “state of perplexity” in which they live. Although, remarriage is an easy and sound way-out, but only a small fraction of half widows choose to remarry. Many half widows do not contemplate re-marriage, believing they will eventually receive some information about their husbands. For many half-widows, the constant dilemma of whether or not to remarry is juggled with a sense of loyalty and love for the missing husband.
And for those who want to remarry, social stigmas around remarriage remain strong hurdles and to cross them turns usually impossible for these half widows. Some scholars and clerics are of the view that to remarry, a half widow is at least required to wait for about four years for the disappeared husband. But it is not a general view shared by others.
Different religious schools have chalked out different time periods for a half widow to wait for remarrying. Still, at large the idea of remarrying usually does not go down the dry throats of these half widows especially owing to their concerns towards the future of their children.
The initial trauma of the disappearance, and the resulting economic hardships and social challenges—that combines to have lasting adverse effects on the lives of half widows in turn deeply affects their children as well.
These children either grow up in the insecurity that shrouds the lives of half widows or away from their mothers in orphanages or in their grandparents’ homes. They carry the social stigma of being fatherless.
Combating the pressures of misery and debacles such half widows and their children too often witness an unending catastrophe in which their psychological paradigm loses its balance and dwindles between the twin struggle of sustaining life and safeguarding emotional security. The result is the ever increasing number of psychological illnesses that grasp and grope the very existence of these ill fated women and their children. To add fuel to the fire, such ill fated women and their families are often neglected equally by the society as well as government authorities. A meager sum of rupees two to three hundred is provided to half widows as a means of financial assistance by the government. It is rubbing salt into their wounds. How can a world of necessities and requirements could ever adjust in handful money?
In such a situation where a half widow’s own breaths turn a burden for her already loaded self, she is required to lift the load of her family in terms of her children’s requirements. Her hope widened eyes are forced to be sharp so that she could chalk out a secure future for her children amid her blurred present.

—Courtesy: Rising Kashmir
[Author is a research scholar at University of Kashmir and can be mailed at]

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