Kashmir’s half-widows considered only half in society
Tehmeena (name changed), who is thirty-seven years old, is a resident in old city of Srinagar. She has waited for her husband’s arrival back home for twelve long years. After waiting for so many years she married her husband’s nephew, which is allowed in Islam. But Tehmeena had to face the wrath of her family and her neighbors. This wrath exists to the extent that she is now not even allowed to enter the kitchen of her in-laws.
Scores of poor half-widows, who do not come from wealthy families in Kashmir, are living in desolate conditions, suffering psychological illnesses connected to war conflict, with a high inclination toward committing suicide. Many have fallen prey to psychological problems that include depression, phobia, emotional instability and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Sadaqat Rehman, Assistant Professor in Clinical Psychology, Government Psychiatric Hospital Srinagar, says, “Many half-widows are coming these days who are hypersensitive and shows signs of depression. We treat them with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
“There is glaring evidence that the suddenness of bereavements, general and sexual violence has given an immense rise in psychiatric and psychosomatic illnesses in people. Doctors at the government psychiatry hospital say that women comprise more than the 60% of the patients they examine. Experts agree, women have to bear the brunt of every tragedy. They have to support their family after death of their husband, father, son or brother. Their injuries are more than physical,” said Kashmiri human rights activist Ms. Aasia Jeelani.
“Life is so suffocating. Yet, I am living for my children,” the still grief-stricken half-widow, Haleema, laments. “The disappearance of my husband has left me in a never-ending psychological agony.”
Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), founded in 1994 by women’s rights advocate Parveena Ahangar, is supported by lawyers and human rights activists in Kashmir. In 1991, Parveena’s son, Javaid Ahangar, was abducted by Indian security forces and never heard of again.
Organizing for more than three hundred families of the disappeared, APDP supports family campaigns to find out the truth about their disappeared relatives. APDP also works for an end to the practice and international crime of enforced or involuntary disappearance. “Our membership is spread all over Kashmir and is open to all the relatives of the victims of enforced disappearances,” said Ahanger.
Organizing regular inter-district meetings on the tenth of every month, APDP holds a public meeting in Srinagar for families to remember their missing loved ones. These public meetings exist to build pressure on state agencies to question authorities about the fate in the investigation of their loved ones. These meetings also enable members to extend solidarity to each other, share information and review the status of their legal cases.
“Nobody appreciated my decision,” continued now ‘former half-widow,’ Tehmeena, as she talks about her remarriage. “All waves were against me. But I had to look after my two children. People pass very hurtful comments and nobody helps in the tough times,” she said with a gentle smile and honesty.
For many half-widows, the constant dilemma – whether to remarry or not is juggled with a sense of loyalty and love for their missing husband. The considerations include their children also, whose very survival is a herculean task for single mothers who struggle with life, education for their children and their own money making efforts.
As half-widows face hard and stressful ‘lives in limbo,’ all opportunities are desperately few and far between. “The world must know how we grieve,” adds rights advocate and founder of APDP, Parveena Ahangar.
“I work with women whose husbands and sons have disappeared and who have no financial support and I feel really helpless,” said slain human rights and women’s rights activist Aasia Jeelana. “When I hear the story, it brings tears to my eyes… After 10 years they still don’t know the whereabouts of their husbands or sons.”
Suffering under conflict for decades women in the Indian territory of Kashmir continue to ask important questions. Human rights lawyer Ms. Lebul Nisa narrates the plight of numerous ‘half-widows’ in Kashmir – women whose husbands are missing, with cases that have been abandoned and/or ignored by authorites. In December 2011 Nisa was awarded was for this video and her work with gender sensitivity in the media during a conference organized by Population First and the UNFPA – United Nations Population Fund for the Western region of India at a ceremony in Ahmedabad, India. This 2010 video has been produced by WAVE – Women Aloud Videoblogging for Empowerment. Watch more videos by WAVE at www.waveindia.org.
For more information on this topic:
- “Conflict in Kashmir: The Gender Dimension,” University of Jammu, Dr. Seema Shekhawat, November 2006
- “Study on the Half-orphans of Kashmir: Analysis of the Problem” – Child Rights and You (CRY), Haroon Mirani, July 2007
- “Kashmiri Women and the Politics of Identity,” Kings College for the European Union, SHUR Conference on Human Rights, Dr. Ayesha Ray, May 2009
Women News Network – WNN correspondent in Kashmir, Aliya Bashir, has also written for Kashmir Life and The Hindustan Times, as well as other publications. Her work has also appeared in the humanitarian journal, WorldPulse. As a journalist, Aliya has specialized in reporting on women and health, social-justice, global women’s news, human rights and political analysis.
Additional material for this story has been provided by the editors at Women News Network – WNN.
Additional sources for this article include Christian Science Monitor, Amnesty International, the Government of West Bengal, The New York Times, University of Jammu, Department of Human Rights Watch, AFAD – Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances, CRS – University of Jammu, Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies, National Community Radio Forum & CRY – Child Rights and You, The Internet Journal of Criminology, Human Security Report Project – Simon Fraser University and The Kashmir Times.
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