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Living in despair, Kashmir half widows hopes still alive

Yasir Ashraf
Agence India Press

Srinagar: Today Javaid would have been celebrating his 37th birthday, if ‘security’ forces had not picked up him 21 years ago. On August 18, 1990 Javaid was taken away for never to return.

During the first years of militancy in Kashmir sixteen year old Javaid Ahmad Ahangar, class 11thcommerce student, was staying at his uncle’s house for the night when he was picked up by the ‘security’ forces and bundled into a vehicle. Till now his whereabouts are unknown.

Parveena Ahangar along with prominent human rights activists founded an organization in 1994(split into two organizations in 2006) Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons to know the whereabouts of their dear ones. Parveena told Agence India Press that, her son was taken mistakenly. “The security forces had come to arrest Javaid Ahmad Bhat, a JKLF militant in neighborhood, but instead picked up my son Javaid Ahmad Ahangar,” remembers Ahangar.

Every month she organizes a sit in protest with others like her whose dear ones are missing. Ahangar says that we are one family: “They are my family, their sufferings are mine, and we fight for same cause. The search of our dear ones,” says Ahangar.

Mothers, sisters, and wives of the disappeared have organized under the association of parents of disappeared persons (APDP) towards bringing justice.

Today they are protesting against the enforced disappearances of their relatives, and one among them is Naseema Bano. Naseema is sitting silently on a road here with a candle in her right hand and wearing black pheran (a long cloak to cover body) to mark the International human rights (December 10) day as black day. She is a ‘half widow’.

Women whose husbands have been subjected to enforced ‘disappearances’ but not yet been declared deceased are often called ‘half widows’.

By conservative estimates there are 1,500 widows in Kashmir.
Indian forces have been accused of human rights abuses against civilians since 1989. By conservative estimates, 22 years of strife have left more than 70,000 dead and more than 8,000 disappeared.

Such disappearances have been carried out by government forces—police, paramilitary, or military—or by militants. However, the number of the disappeared carried out by militants is significantly lower than government forces.

The British Raj, which once controlled Kashmir, a Muslim majority princely Kingdom ruled by a Hindu monarch Maharaja Hari Singh. End of British rule in sub-continent or independence in 1947 split this sub-continent into two sovereign states of India and Pakistan. The two nations have paid with strife and bloodshed to establish their conflicting claims over the disputed region.

Kashmir has signified a major source of tension between India and Pakistan since their birth, 1947, and has seen armed conflict since 1989.

Currently, 4000,000 to 750,000 (the exact number remains unknown and disputed) Indian military and paramilitary remain in Kashmir, making this one of the world’s most militarized regions. The Indian government has passed security legislation—such as the Disturbed Areas Act, the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, and the Public Safety Act—giving military and police forces special powers to suppress insurgency and maintain a fortified presence in the region.

Naseema’s husband, a painter, left for work on 21 July, 2000, never to return. She lives in a rented one-room apartment with no curtains and scraps of calendar and news papers over the walls and the ceiling, as if hiding their poverty. She lives with her brother-in-law, her mother-in-law, and her 11- year-old daughter Shazia. Naseema, herself about 27-years-old, is effectively the breadwinner of the family.

She was married to Anwar Shah in 1998; she belongs to south Kashmir’s Islamabad district. They were living happily after their marriage, but their happy life lasted only for two years. Anwar went missing as if he never existed. He vanished as thousands of others like him vanished in Kashmir and get the term ‘disappeared’. She has no clue about what happened to her husband.

Anwar’s disappearance was the beginning of the family’s sufferings. Mushtaq and his Mother, Haseena Bano, who went looking for their loved one, are sent from one military base to another, one jail to another, each suggesting some clue at the next.

They went from pillar to post in order to register a missing report, but the police officials refused to file any report.

Mushtaq along with his mother appeared in the year 2006 to the district magistrate Srinagar with an application for filing a missing report. Again the applicant has filed an application to the District magistrate 16-06-2007. Finally, it was 11 February, 2008 an FIR was lodged in the police post Bona Mohallah, Fateh Kadal on the directions of Chief Judicial Magistrate Srinagar. The irony of the officials and the judiciary did not stop here, the orders were wrong instead the officials filed a wrong date of the missing, as the orders were given by the CJM himself to lodge a missing report in 2002. But Anwar went missing in 2000.A question mark on the judiciary and casts a shadow over its verdicts so far.

The family felt relieved to get a copy of FIR but the irony of the justice is that they ordered a wrong date of the missing report. “We get copy of an FIR, so we thought it will be alright. As an uneducated how could we see such details? And our lawyer also did not speak about it,” laments Mushtaq.

The family has received no compensation for the disappearance. Naseema’s brother-in-law and mother-in-law made several trips to the District Commissioner’s office, all unsuccessful bear no fruits.
The family has a copy of a confidential report by the Special Branch of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) report from October 2009 that states:

“…as per reports the subject has not come to averse notice prior to his missing.”

That is, the CID affirmed that Naseema’s husband was not part of the militancy and is thus not believed, even by the CID, to have potentially left with a militant group or gone to Pakistan.

Naseema no longer hears from her natal family. While her parents are long deceased, her siblings refuse to help her unless she re-marries.

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. Even more give up the option of remarriage on account of their children; there is a deeply held fear that a stepfather will never accept his wife’s children or give them his best. And for those who want to remarry, social stigmas around remarriage remain strong, while religious interpretations of the rules around remarriage remain contested, says a report titled Half widow, Half wife? Compiled by Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS).

A well known Kashmiri Sociologist, Prof Bashir Ahmad Dabla, carried out a survey in which he says that one of the tragic consequences armed conflict has been experienced in terms of emergence of huge widows and orphans, 16,000 widows in 2000, their estimated number has increased to 32,400 with 97,000 orphans in 2008.

The research says, having the provision for re-marriage in Islam, only 8.66 percent had remarried. “Rest doesn’t want remarry because they wanted to devote themselves for the development of children of the dead husband.”

“89 percent had not married till date and had no intention to marry again because children emerged as the crucial problem,” adds study.

The social taboos around remarriage are cultural rather than religious. Islam encourages widow remarriage.

In Islamic law, Shariah, there is no consensus around the marriage of women who are half widows, because there is no special provision for the phenomenon of enforced disappearances. All major schools of Islamic thought provide different guidance about re-marriage.

However, the concept of ‘Ijtehad’ provides for scholars to extrapolate an opinion regarding any topical issue that has no instance in Islamic jurisprudence, if done in accordance with the context and urgency of the issue and without violating basic Shariah. Thus, though the Hanafi School has declared that a woman has to wait 90 years after her husband’s disappearance but, Maliki School says that a woman either wait four or seven years, and if husband remains missing, without information about his whereabouts even after proper investigation the marriage is deemed to have been dissolved.

“If I get married, my daughter’s life will be ruined. If it was a son, it would still be fine, but she is a girl, what will she do without me?”asks Naseema.

The absence of husbands renders women economically vulnerable. In already socioeconomically weak families, this is the status of most families that have suffered disappearances, such vulnerability leads to destitution.

Generally, the husband is the sole breadwinner in the family and his disappearance results in an abrupt paucity of income.

Naseema works in neighborhood homes, cooking and cleaning and doing domestic chores as required. The money fluctuates and everything she makes is spent on food for the four family members, her daughter’s school supplies, and medicines for her mother-in-law. Her brother-in-law, Mushtaq Ahmed, has a disability since birth and walks with difficulty. He cannot earn for the family.

They believe she is squandering her energy taking care of an ailing old mother-in-law, a brother-in-law with debilitating disability, and a young girl. Mushtaq says that if this family have nothing to eat in the house, but they will never beg.

The half widow is mostly not equipped, educationally or socially, to begin earning for her family. As a result she, as well as any children she has, become dependent on others, most often the husband’s family (given the cultural context where parents live in a joint family with their sons and daughters-in-law, not with their married daughters). In the in-laws’ family, relationships often sour after the disappearance.
“I have no mother, no father, and my husband is lost. Where shall I go leaving all of them?”Says Naseema.

In their desperation, many half widows visit pirs, fakirs, darweshs (‘holy men’), make offerings at Sufi shrines, and some even patronize fortune tellers.

“I have also visited Shrines and pirs to get a clue about him, maybe someday he will be back to his home,” says Naseema.

Amidst this socioeconomic insecurity, women battle their emotional traumas while struggling as single mothers, many of whose children also often show manifestations of trauma.

The various socio-economic pressures together have psychological effects on half widows that largely go unaddressed.

Most half widows report anxiety (often described in terms of “speeding up” or palpitations), sleep disorders, and lack of interest in everyday activities. Many half widows exhibit Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD); anxiety attacks may be triggered by memories of the disappearance or the disappeared.

The Government Psychiatric Diseases Hospital in Srinagar continues to receive 200 patients a day in its Out Patients’ Department. However, doctors there report not seeing half widows or other family members of the disappeared come in for treatment very often; the families continue to harbor hope without recognizing that retaining such hope has taken its toll on their own mental well-being. Half widows are known to self-medicate, consuming easily available antidepressants, resulting in further health issues. In a vicious cycle, the worsening mental and physical health has adverse effects on their economic situation, which further worsens their social standing and vulnerability, entrenches their isolation and suffering, further compromising.

Valley’s well known psychiatrist Mushtaq Margoob told Agence India Press that most of the half widows have insecurity and uncertainty. “They are always in a state of turbulence, because they are over burned with responsibilities of their children,” says Margoob.“Their whole world changes, their entire life, suffering a perpetual trauma and having extreme psychological agony. Which many times magnified, after months or years, because of their loneliness. They have also hope at the same time. They think Creator’s powers are not limited, it would create a miracle and finally their husband will come back,” elaborates Margoob.

“He always come in my dreams and says he will be back soon,” says Naseema with a hope in her words.

“Agar hai su aeshaa yem maslie ma gasheen” (if he, Anwar, would have been here, there would have been no problems), says Mushtaq in a broken voice.
“I am living on a hope that he will knock at the door and declare I am back,” says Naseema finally. (AIP News)

Copyright © 2011 AIPTV. All rights reserved. http://agenceindiapress.com


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