As the world marked United Nations’ International Day of Widows on Tuesday, thousands of widows and half-widows mourn the killing and enforced disappearance of their husbands by Indian troops in occupied Jammu and Kashmir over the past 31-years.
According to a report released by the Research Section of Kashmir Media Service, that the killing of 95,611 of Kashmiris by the brutal Indian forces have rendered 22,915 Kashmiri women widowed, 107,792 children orphaned and thousands of women half-widowed amid discovery of 6,000 mass graves and over 8,000 enforced disappearances. Half widows are such women whose husbands have been subjected to enforced disappearance but have not been declared dead. Their exact number is not known. These half widows live in isolation with little or no social or financial support.
Begum Jaan, 59-year old, whose husband Shamsuddin Pasal left home for evening prayers in 1998 to never return, she says his disappearance is still a mystery.
Another half widow Bibi Fatima, few years ago when her age was 65-years, told a media men that it was in 1993 when her husband Vilayat Shah, a daily wager, left home in search for work waited for his return for ten days but he was found nowhere. “I searched him for months. Except for the army camps I searched for him everywhere. And one day I just gave up,” Fatima says, adding, “We are illiterate people. In this far-away unreported world we do not have any information how to proceed with the case legally.” It is hard to imagine such a heartbreaking moment. But Saira Ahmed (name changed) has to go through this ordeal every day. Her husband was picked up by Indian forces 13 years ago and has not returned since. If it were not for the safety and future of her children, she said she would have “committed suicide long ago”.
Unaware of their husbands’ whereabouts, these women not only endure the grief that comes from being separated from their spouses but are also constantly struggling to survive. Their husbands — either still alive in the custody of Indian forces or dead at their hands — have not been declared deceased, hence the term half-widows.
Wives of disappeared men often face various socio-economic and emotional uncertainties. Since most of the disappeared men are from rural Kashmir, these widows usually live impoverished lives. And because of religious and societal pressures, most of the half-widows don’t re-marry.
“I’ve a handicapped son. I couldn’t have looked after him if I had remarried another man,” Bano Begum says, adding “And what if my husband returns?”
The biggest dilemma faced by the half widows is that in the absence of their bread winners, they have to rely on their in-laws or parents for their economic need with their property and custody rights undetermined.
Amid the days and nights of abuse and torture, the life of widows in Kashmir is marked with agony whose husbands have been killed in raising voice for their right to self-determination.
Most of the half-widows have not remarried due to doubt about their husband’s fate and a lack of consensus among Muslim scholars on the issue. In Kashmir, a group of religious scholars issued a fatwa on the 26 of December 2013 saying that half-widows are allowed to remarry after a waiting period of four years.
To suppress the justified demand of Kashmiri people, India has turned Kashmir into the world’s most elevated militarized zone.The conflict has affected women and children more than any other group or class, especially widows and orphans, writes sociologist Professor late Bashir Ahmad Dabla in his book, Social Impact of Militancy in Kashmir.
These survivors, Dabla argues, are the most hard-hit sufferers of the conflict living under grim conditions of economic destruction, educational backwardness, mass psychological depression, mental and physical health deterioration and dehumanization of families.
The United Nations Security Council has stressed the need to survey and compensate women in Jammu and Kashmir whose husbands have been killed or maimed. It also emphasizes on making the targeting of women a war crime.
However, to-date, the IOJ&K has become a constant failure for the world peace bodies for not being able to implement the resolutions passed several times in favour of the self-determination right of Kashmiris.
Under India’s Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), the military and police forces have unlimited and unquestionable powers to carry out operations. The army is authorized to raid homes and arrest Kashmiris without warrant, destroy homes and villages, and shoot and kill unarmed civilians. Apart from widows in Kashmir, the decades of conflict have also produced many ‘half-widows’ whose husbands have been made ‘disappeared’ but are not declared deceased, hence the term half-widows.
The untold and unheard story of Kashmir’s half-widows – the brave women carrying on despite all odds, exposes before the world their undeterred struggle and contribution towards a better future for the generations to come.
The resilience of these torchbearers women of Kashmir’s freedom struggle is unmatched despite their stories of pain of disappearance of their husbands by Indian security forces.
Unaware of their husbands’ whereabouts, these women not only endure the grief that comes from being separated from their spouses, but are also constantly struggling to survive.
Left on their own, these Kashmiri women have to make ends meet besides suffering from trauma and constant fear of being mistreated by the occupying forces that may hunt, torture, and rape women. The situation of widows and half-widows is an eye-opener for the world if it realizes that more needs to be done rather than mere observing an international day for them.—KMS