Women and Violence: the Socio-economic and Political Status of Half-widows in Kashmir

Women and Violence: the Socio-economic and Political Status of Half-widows in Kashmir

“What do I want? One more meeting.  If he’s alive, just show me… If he’s dead, tell me where his body is…I have been sent from one police camp to another army camp… It’s been years.” (Zara-half-widow- interviewed Srinagar, Kashmir, and November 2014).

 

Introduction

Kashmir is a bone of contention between India and Pakistan and is been in armed conflict since 1989. The resistance of several years by Kashmiris against government has brought the people of Kashmir into frequent confrontations with administration over a period of decades. Although the dispute affected each and every aspect of life in Kashmir, it had a particular effect on thousands of those women whose husbands have been frisked away from their homes, road sides or their working places by security agencies after which they never came back to their families. These were the cases which were later defined as the case of disappearances. Women whose husbands have been subjected to enforced ‘disappearances’ and have not yet been declared deceased are often called “Half-widows”. This term  half widows has been used for two and a half decades of conflict in Kashmir during which people were disappeared in the custody of security forces, leaving behind wives who are unable to confirm whether their husbands are dead or alive. The phenomenon of enforced disappearances emerged in Kashmir in 1990s. Enforced Disappearances is considered the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiesce of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law. United Nations, International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances 2006, Article 2. In the past, only military dictatorships were known for this practice. It was uniformly fallowed by all elected governments and has been stringently applied during governor rule of Jagmohan, S.K. Sinha and Grish Chander Saxena. Most of the enforced disappearances have been carried out by police, paramilitary or military and militants. The important role has also been played by the Ikhwanis (government backed militia armed groups). Omar Abdullah the ex-chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir has pushed the thread to cross border, he believed that the disappearance cases should be investigated across the Line of Control into Pakistan occupied Kashmir.  He suggested establishing the truth and reconciliation commission for carrying out enquiry into the matter. But the number of disappearances carried out by militants is significantly lower since it is believed that militants generally have no reason to hide anyone they abduct.

Review of Literature

Bernnett said that the after the Cold War armed conflict become more internal, ubiquitous and long drawn in which mostly civilians became targets. Cockburn explained the distinct experience faced by the men and women in conflict situation. Though, in some conflicts like Sri Lanka women were found as active combatants. But women are traditionally being considered peace lovers and non-combatant. Amnesty International, USA explained that although men are the victims of violence, but, women in general is the victim of extreme violence and are targeted for abuses in war and are also victims of physical economic and psychological abuse.

International Action Network On small Arms reported that the women being half of proportion of human society directly face rape, molestation, and torture in armed conflicts. Their sufferings are long term, consistent and unacknowledged. In many societies losing their men means losing the bread-winner of the family, which may put family into miseries and uncertain future. This condition may push women to male domain to earn their livelihood. However, there is still lack of decision making power given to women.

The women in the Kashmir conflict faced harassment and violence from Security forces as well as militants. They were also victims of parochial pattern of Kashmiris society. Kazi said they are often the victims of rape and harassment. The plight of women was such that their grievances were left unaddressed. In some situations, however, women were not the direct victim of violence. There are lakes of orphaned children and thousands of half widows facing the aftermath consequences of conflict. This paper will highlight the socio-politico-economic conditions of half widows in Kashmir.

Methodology

This study describes the socio-politico-economic position of half widows in Kashmir. This is an anthropogenic study and relies on both primary and secondary data. The author has conducted interviews of half widows. The study is further supported by the interviews conducted with members of NGO’s related with relevant field. The secondary data constitutes books, articles, newspapers and reports. The content analysis is used for substantive understanding of the human rights of women in general and the rights of women in the conflict prone areas in particular.

Limitation

The actual population of half widows is scattered throughout the Kashmir. It is difficult to reach each and every one of these ladies. Therefore, the study is confined to interviews conducted with some of the ladies whose address is available with Associations for Persons of Disappeared Persons (APDP).

Delimitation of my studies

Though there is the paucity of actual records either by government or by NGO’s. However a commendable job has been done by the APDP by maintaining brief records of some disappeared persons who helped in identifying some of the half widows. The study is simply descriptive and explanatory; therefore, it is limited to contextual analysis of certain reports and projects carried out by APDP. A field visit was conducted to interview some of the half widows and officials.

Women and Violence in Kashmir

Women have often been the targets and survivors of violence suffering from trauma, injury, and disease because of the heavy militarization in the Kashmir valley. Although gender violence is systematic, but like other conflict situations it is typically overshadowed by attention to harder security matters. Thus the actual statics of violence is unknown though various independent observers have reported it’s prevalence in Women’s everyday lives. Women in Kashmir are facing sexual violence like rape, harassment by Indian security forces. More than 40 women aged between 13 and 80 years were raped in 1991 allegedly at gunpoint by the 14thRajputana Rifles Unit in Village Kunan Poshpora, Kupwara. In October 1992 nine women were reported gang raped by army unit in Shopian. In 2009 two young women-Neelofar Jan and Asiya Jan were found dead. After post-mortem report they were found raped and murdered. Besides this, there are unreported violence of rapes and harassment cases perpetrated by security agencies against women which the researcher personally came to know about during field visit to some places. For Example, while interviewing Rubeena, a widow from Kaloosa, Bandipora, narrated that she was allegedly raped at her residence during a search that was conducted by paramilitary forces. The researcher interviewed some of the families of deceased of surrendered militants. The female members of these families narrated horrific stories of harassment done by the forces during search operations. Some of the ladies narrated that they were taken to military camps for sexual exploitation. However due to social stigma the victims are not open enough to report it in front of public and media. Besides direct violence women in Kashmir also suffer indirectly. They are affected psychologically and have been reported as the worst affected with mental health problems in Kashmir. Women also suffer socio-economically given their conventional financial dependence on men in most cases.

Socio-Economic issues of half widows

Half Widows faced and, are facing various economic, social, and emotional insecurities. Most of the disappearance cases occurred in rural areas where women enjoy less economic and social independence. The half widows are dependent on their in-laws who often try to devoid half widows of their property rights. The social stigma also undermined their basic lively hood rights. Half widows face threats, extortions and manipulation by those in the power positions. They were not only exploited by power holders but also by the rogue elements who often extort money from them by cheating that they will make them know about their disappeared husband or arrange meetings here and there. To know their beloved ones half widows in their desperation seek blessings of saints and sometimes face harassment or exploitation under fake saintly figures. The plunder doesn’t stop here but their pockets were also emptied by fortune tellers. Government Officials further makes direct demands of money or even sexual favors from them, revealed to the researcher by some ladies during an interview.

The disappearance of husbands results in an abrupt paucity of income and makes women economically vulnerable. The issuance of ration cards, transfer of husband’s property or bank accounts is closed to half widows. As these processes needs death certificates which the half widows do not have since their husband are not officially declared dead or require government verification in which inquiring official noting that the person is missing which they relate he may be underground or on ground worker (OGW) militant. A widow with children under Islamic jurisprudence gets one-eighth of her husband’s property, without children one-fourth but a half widow gets nothing till her husband is declared dead. Half widows and her children become dependent on husband’s family. In some cases, she is forced to leave the in-laws family. While In most of the cases, maternal house become the source of shelter and food. Half widows and her children are seen burden as culturally daughter is not supposed to live in maternal house after she married. Some half widows who do not get support are able to find menial work, others run to begging and few have been reported resort prostitution. Some receive government assistance which also become a bone of contention between her and family members. In some cases, the in-laws claim stake in the relief. Some half widows do not accept government relief as they say that they will not sell their dignity for it.

The disappearance of husbands’ makes half widows vulnerable to several threats against their physical and mental well-being. Social stigma and political estrangement towards half widows has perpetually traumatized half widows. Their children were separated from them by their in-laws and she may never be able to see some of her children. Their status has been degraded to such a level that they were feeling socially isolated, economically marginalized and political alienated.

Half widows re-marriage

Re-marriage of half widows is rare and many do not contemplate re-marriage because they believe that they eventually may receive some information about their husbands. Islam encourages remarriage but all the four major schools of Islamic thought-Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi and, Hamabali provide different guidance about remarriage. For example, Maliki school of thought declares four years of waiting period while Hanafi school of thought declares 90 years of waiting period after her husband’s disappearance. And there are also different opinions about the validity of second marriage if the first husband returns back. Half widow has to seek the guidance and direction from Islamic principles which is often interpreted by the Qazi or Maulvi (Islamic Scholars) about the nullifying of first marriage and then only she can go for remarriage. But mostly half widows are not aware of such issue and they don’t go for remarriage. Moreover Muslim clerics are sometimes hesitant in taking up the case of re-marriage of half widows. It is difficult for them to declare a missing person as dead. Some younger half widows remarry within years of their husband’s disappearance, with the blessings of local qazi. Hanafi School finally expressed its consensus with the Maliki school of thought while prescribing the time frame for half widow remarriage in the Muslim marriage act 1939 which is four years.

Social problem of half widows

Another problem with half widows is that a woman who lives alone is often seen with suspicion in the Kashmiris society. They are stereotyped by the common people who often accused them of seducing the men if they do not dress properly. Fingers are being raised over their working to survive on their own. Even their struggle for justice is being stigmatized. For Instance, when they meet their lawyers or government officials people whisper and abuse their character. Sometimes even their own children look at them with suspicious. They do not trust their mother, as narrated by some of the half widows.

Psychological implications on half widows

The enforced disappearances have grave psychological impact on minds and emotions of half widows. The enforced disappearances of their husbands, the economic, social, and legal struggle causes anxiety, stress, sleep disorders and disinterest in their work. Half widows are facing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder but the government has failed to provide special medical or psychological treatment for them. Due to unaffordable and costly medication half widows rely on the antidepressants and other pills which have created other health related complications for them. Half widows continue to harbor hope without recognizing that retaining such hope has taken its toll on their own physical and mental well-being. The worsening mental and physical health adversely effects on their economic situations which further worsens their social standing and vulnerability, entrenches their isolation, suffering and further compromising their health and wealth being.

Legal complication face by half widows

The half widows are not registered for any welfare scheme provided by the government on the basis of legal or law related complication. Because officially they are not being considered widows and are not eligible for grants and aid. For example, the half widows faces difficulty at following levels (a) in seeking pensions, that is, the widow relief pension from the state Social Welfare Department, (b) applying for ration cards and transfers of land title become impossible(c) in seeking compensation from the government being victims of conflict, (d) in seeking their share of their husband’s property, and (e) in becoming eligible for remarriage.

In the case of legal remedies, there is no official acknowledgment by the police, the army or other agencies of the missing person being arrested. Police refuses to lodge First Information Report (FIR). Even if FIR is registered, most of the half widows are not having legal awareness or economic strength to hire a lawyer and pursue legal cases. The legal procedure is lengthy process and is the lost option for half widows when all else options has failed, and is mostly pursued if a lawyer takes the case free of cost.

Government Assistance

For half widows, the government compensation for the family is extremely difficult to come by. When the relief is granted, in most of the cases, it becomes a conflict between her and her in-laws who try to spend the amount on whole family due to patriarchal nature of society and families. The in-laws claim a stake in the relief and their right to share is supported by Muslim Personal law, which results half widows receiving only one-eighth of the relief. In some of the cases, a debate starts whether the half widows should receive the compensations because first she is not certain that her husband will not return and second she is accepting the money from those who are responsible for her husband’s disappearances. Most of the half widows claim that they will not sell their dignity for government compensation. This claim arises only when it was assumed that compensation and relief is given to them to withdraw legal cases.  Generally,  half widows are not opposed to government assistance but the stories of half widows are recorded by many and only few brings them hope of any economic assistance which is what they need most desperately. The struggle for justice has exhausted the enthusiasm and energy of these victimized women who out of desperate need to survive accept aid, if not by their will.

APDP

Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) is an organization of the relatives of victims of enforced and involuntary disappearances in Kashmir and according to it; at least 1500 half widows are present in Kashmir. Both the state government and the Government of India are not addressing the phenomenon of enforced disappearances in the state because of political interests. Civilians, militants, as well as suspected militants are forcibly being disappeared and in all the three cases women have the rights to know where are their beloved ones.  Majority of Half Widows who have joined APDP and have pursued disappearances cases are the wives of civilians. Wives of militants as well as suspected militants often come to find closure in the belief that the disappearances/death of their husband was a natural by-product of being involved in the violence.

In majority of the cases, revealed by APDP, have a common pattern that the forces entered and search the house and took the eldest son stating that they need to question him and the son is never seen again. In majority of the cases wives and other family members who go to search their beloved ones are sent from one military base to another, one jail to another. Officials in many times give a fleeting hope to the family asks them to bring clothes for the missing persons but latter they state that they don’t have the person in their custody. He has truly disappeared.

Conclusion

Half widows are the worst sufferers of direct and indirect consequences of armed conflicts in Kashmir. Beside the economic instability half widows suffer from the perpetual agony of trans-generational trauma, and post traumatic disorder. The prolonged absence of their husbands makes them vulnerable to scrutiny and policing in the society as well as exploitation by those in power. Only a small fraction of half widows choose to remarry. Kashmiri half widows are good examples of steadfastness who despite hardships continued their struggle for justice and dignified life despite hurdles and constraints both societal and political. The direct forbearance of consequences of the hardships of these half widowed mothers was also on their children who are not yet supported by government or civil society sincerely. These half-orphaned children of valley should be given free education and other necessary treatments to prevent them fall prey to traumas, and lead a successful life in future. The plight of half widows remained dormant for a couple of decades which was later exposed and highlighted in public domain by the NGO namely APDP. However the central and state governments have so far failed to provide a mechanism for reintegration of these women into mainstream. Therefore government and civil society both at state and national level should come forward to offer necessary help and aid for these traumatized women to lead a respectable life. These unfortunate women need free medical treatment and council for their mental well-being. They should be given aid to form their self-help groups for their socio-economic sustenance.  the issues of political alienation and social exclusion of half widows should be immediately addressed by government at state and national level, and different women organizations should give due attention for security of half widows.

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