Created weeping widows and half widows
By Latheef Farook
KASHMIR'S beauty is the stuff of fables. Forested hillsides and lofty glacier-covered peaks of the mountain range surround the heavily populated central valley, which nestles picturesquely against the backdrop of the Himalayas. Over the ages, poets and writers have extolled its scenic splendour in superlative terms, bestowing on it appellations such as "Heaven on Earth". On the map of India, the State of Jammu and
Kashmir resembles a coronet.
However Kashmir's traditionally gentle and peaceful people remain a downtrodden and exploited lot for centuries.
Political manoeuvrings of the Central Government in Delhi, rigging of elections in 1987 and later in 1996, years of political frustrations, economic problems and poverty combined with many other factors led to the 1989 uprising which became a crucial turning point in the Kashmiri Muslims' struggle for freedom from India. With the Kashmiris intensifying their struggle for self-determination, Indian forces began unleashing atrocities to crush their freedom struggle.
Highlighting the atrocities the Weekend Guardian, London, reported as early as 4 August 1991 that "after a visit to Kashmir in 1991, the late Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi said at a press conference in New Delhi that 'the brutalities of the Indian army and the Central Reserve Police meant that India may have lost Kashmir'". Curfews preventing routine movements in the streets and even at homes and ruthless crackdowns had been two of the most deadly strategies adopted by India. It was often said that barbarism inflicted, often demonstrated the hatred and intolerance towards Kashmiri Muslims.
Jammu And Kashmir State Governor K. V. Krishna Rao admitted that Indian forces had been responsible for the massacre of the Kashmir people on several occasions and that he felt deeply for the victims of these human rights violations.
Summing up the situation one writer said "hell has been let loose on Kashmiris and what happens in Kashmir is not made known by national dailies and government owned media which distort events". Besides the common feeling of being betrayed by India of its promises to hold a plebiscite the arbitrary arrests, regular and systematic use of torture in interrogation camps, indiscriminate and extra judicial killings, brutal search operations, ransacking of homes and even raping women in the presence of family members and children added fuel to their anger.
Today, life in general remains paralysed with bomb attacks, reprisals, cross firing and curfew. The misery is worse for those living in and around areas known for freedom activities as they become targets for large-scale inhumane search operations. Once beautiful Srinagar is now a dirty and dusty ghost city; with uncollected rubbish littering the roadsides. Life sputters in the lanes and by lanes, while streets, full of potholes, are deserted and the charred remains of many beautiful buildings speak volumes for the unfolding tragedy. Dal Lake is thick and stagnant with weeds.
Almost every Kashmiri has a tale to tell of a family member being grabbed by security forces, not to be seen again. Besides being subjected to crackdowns and cross firing, Kashmiris have also been deprived of their livelihood, as the on-going uprising and the atrocities of the armed forces resulted in the abrupt drop in the number of tourist arrivals. As a result, houseboat owners, the Hanjios, who for generations managed these houseboats, hotel owners and those who depend on tourism to sell their traditional handicrafts, trishaw wallahs, Tonga drivers, taxi drivers and hundreds of thousands of others, have lost their only source of income.
The present generation of Kashmiri Muslims grew up in the midst of unprecedented atrocities unleashed by Indian armed forces which ,according to figures released in the March 2010 issue of All Parties Hurriyat Conference Azad and Jammu Kashmir, killed 93,142, destroyed 105,832 houses and shops, orphaned 107,326, molested 9901 women and widowed 22,719.
Indian oppression also created more than 33,000 widows and half widows-those who do not know whether their husbands, arrested by Indian forces, were alive or dead.
According to a research study, of the 33,000 or so widows and half widows only 8.66 percent have remarried while others suffer unable to cope with immense problems. The plight of half widows is still worse. They find it difficult to get married because they do not know whether their husbands are dead or alive.
More than 90 per cent find it difficult to marry again because they already have children to take care of .They face misery after misery and most of them often leave their children in the custody of their grandparents.
They face financial difficulties, psychological downfall, emotional stress, denial of due inheritance rights, sexual harassment, physical insecurity and social undesirability. They are losing control over children, mismanagement of home affairs, social security and apathy, dead husbands' liabilities, dependence on relatives and others, harassment by in-laws, loneliness, over-burden with domestic and other works, inferiority complex as they are consciously isolated and discriminated,"
The situation is such even these women often had to do various domestic works to feed their children. The eternal uncertainty, anxiety and other psychological problems had even led to suicidal tendencies among these women "said noted psychiatrist Dr Mushtaq Ahmad Margoob.
Various organizations pleaded with successive governments to find out whether their husbands are alive or dead .All these pleas fell on deaf ears of the New Delhi's puppet administration in Kashmir to date.
These half widows, lone bread-earners for their families, have been waiting for their husbands to return for almost two decades. However there is no sign of their return or even information about their fate.
In a sit-in programme organized by the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) in Srinagar, the half widows also criticized Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and opposition leader Mehbooba Mufti for failing to fulfill the promises made to them in carrying out fair investigation in the disappearance cases.
"It is not just this National Conference government, even its predecessors led by the PDP only made futile promises. All kind of investigations which have been initiated failed to deliver somehow and were left incomplete. The more recent issue of mass graves and DNA sampling is just one more farce created to muzzle our voices. But we all know, none of the probes have been fair, "Parveena Ahanger, chairperson, APDP, said.
Meanwhile, the APDP in its monthly sit-in programme urged the Indian government to ratify the International Convention for protection of all persons in enforced disappearances.
They said that the Indian government's refusal to officially recognize enforced disappearances in Kashmir has left families in perpetual limbo, promulgating stress and psychological trauma for parents, spouses and children But for the "half-widows" it is particularly difficult? Based on their insecure position of being "single", yet still legally married, the "half-widows" are unable to access the family estate or ration cards. Even the ex-gratia relief and compassionate appointment created by the Indian government can only be accessed with a death certificate and that too only if it is proven that the deceased had no link with militancy.
In rural Kashmir, with fewer economic opportunities, "half-widows" are at a greater risk of suffering manipulation by government officials and even community leaders. Adding to the confusion is the continued dispute over what is the minimum time needed to dissolve a marriage and allow a "half-widow" to move on with her life and possibly remarry according to Islamic law?
"Life has crushed me with a double tragedy," explains half-widow Haleema. "My husband has disappeared and I am all alone to look after my little children, especially their education."
It's been five years since Haleema's husband left for work in the morning never to return. Since then, she has received no news of her husband. Not even an idea of what happened to him. Tired of tracing who she has named, 'my beloved,' she desperately wants to move ahead to take care of herself and her three children.
The primary concern of families, "...is to find their missing person. They move from one police station to another, from one army camp to another and so on. It takes months and years...," says a detailed report by award winning Kashmir based journalist, Mr. Haroon Marani.
During the years of conflict in Kashmir, it's not only the half-widows who have suffered. The half-orphans have also suffered heavily. As a child's self-esteem is wrapped in the identity of a missing father, a generation of children is now living through the confusion of broken dreams.
Though the world , including the so called Muslim countries, have forgotten the plight of Kashmiri Muslims, the situation even today is such that women lose a family member every day. A husband, son, brother, father, cousin, or uncle disappears. Kashmiri journalist Afsana Rashid captures the voices of these women in her heart-wrenching book, Widows & Half-Widows.
Based in Indian-administered Kashmir, Rashid has devoted her life to uncovering human rights abuses in her homeland. She writes, women and children are the worst sufferers...The suicide rate among women have increased.
Rashid's book reads like a saga. Every page is more horrifying than the last. More compelling. More disturbingly rich with details of the women who are learning to survive without a male guardian–the breadwinner.
A Kashmiri woman, detained tortured, raped and killed by Indian armed forces.
Women also disappear. Inside prison. I've met women charged for terrorism. They insist there is no evidence against them. Even without evidence, women serve at least five years, which is the longest (illegal) time a female suspect spends behind bars.
"My file was moved from one judge to another. The case was false to begin with. I knew I was innocent, but the Indian Court stalled the case. So I waited five years before they could release me," female political activist Fareeda Begum told me.
When they are finally released, women are determined to reenter the political fray. They protest. They join men on the streets. They create their own political parties–like Fareeda Begum, head of an all-male organization managed by her son. We met in her home when she was not hiding from the authorities and after her release for a terrorist attack in India's capital, New Delhi that she says she had nothing to do with.
Depressed faces of half widows suffering in Kashmir
While Fareeda Begum is a well-known political activist, Rashid's book highlights women who are "invisible," giving attention to the ordinary Kashmiri woman whose voice deserves to be heard.
Rashid's authentic stories of women in Kashmir remind of countless women in the valley. In every household, there is a story of trauma. Torture. Loss. Regret. But there is also hope. Despite their losses, women are taking a stand.
Women create change. They meet. They move. They make it possible for other women to live. Female leaders and members in an all-women's political group.
In yet another report on widows in Kashmir struggle to make a living columnist Shahana said that the conflict has changed almost all aspects of society which remains fractured in one or the other way.
There is broad agreement among civil society groups and most political parties, including major Kashmir-based parties, that draconian laws, including the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, must be withdrawn because when such laws are in place, it is the woman who is most affected. Indeed, this along with need to set up special fast track courts for speedy trial and justice to rape victims and punishment to security personnel and all others accused of rape and molestation topped the list of 10 demands made at a convention on Peace and Justice for Kashmiri Women organized by the Centre for Policy Analysis (CPA) on October 30 at the Kashmir University in Srinagar.
But there is no middle ground insofar as hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani of the Hurriyat Conference is concerned. The atrocities against women are taking place in Kashmir because of the presence of AFSPA and the "Indian occupation force of seven and a half lakhs", he alleged, dismissing all talk of a civilian government, deliverance of justice, development or role of militants in the atrocities as misplaced. His one point demand: locals be allowed to decide their future through a referendum; everything else will follow from that.
Most of the children living in orphanages in Kashmir suffer from psychiatric and emotional disorders including depression as orphanages fail to provide adequate facilities and psychosocial support to these children.
A survey conducted by a social activist, Qurat-ul-Ain Masoodi, found among the orphans high prevalence of Separation Anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Panic Disorder, Social Phobia and Conduct Disorder, Generalized Anxiety disorder and Dysthymia.
According to an independent study by UK-based 'Save The Children "there is a high rate of mental health problems, predominantly those of emotional nature among orphanage children.
In late March, Amnesty International released a report entitled A lawless law: Detentions under the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act (PSA) that castigated Indian authorities over a law that allows police in the troubled state to detain suspects for up to two years without charge.
The report notes that the PSA "violates India's human rights legal obligations" by by-passing institutions in securing the long-term detention of political activists, suspected fighters and other individuals in a bid to keep them "out of circulation".
Strongly denouncing Indian double veteran Kashmiri leader Syed Ali Gilani said" The horrific crime that has been committed against our daughter, the gruesome gang rape of a college going girl in New Delhi, has broken our hearts, and understandably so, but if the Indian people have even an iota of conscience left in them, they should also raise their voice against the atrocities committed against Kashmiri women and press their government to bring the culprits to book,".