They Wait Endlessly To Be Pronounced Widows

by Afsana Rashid

Absence of proof of death makes life miserable for half – widows, women whose husbands are missing in a conflict situation in Kashmir. That is the irony they are faced with and continue to live with uncertain hopes.

Waiting for twelve years (after the disappearance of her husband) Sara Bhanu (name changed) re-married but faced the wrath of the society in general and family in particular. I had children to feed and had no other source of income. Nobody helped me either. Now, since I am re-married, they don’t let me live in peace either. They keep taunting me in a way or other. Truth is hungry stomachs cannot be fed on illusions and hopes, Sara maintained.

Sara is not alone in her sufferings. Shakeela, Shahzada and others follow, the list is unending. Shakeela (name changed), a mother of five daughters shares the same woes of her husband missing for the last ten years. Her woes send shivers down the spine. She does menial jobs to feed her children.

Mostly, half widows live in a dilemma whether to remarry or not. On one side there is a sense of loyalty and on the other side there are children. Children whose sustenance is a hard task especially for those belonging to lower income strata of the society. Financial constraints play havoc with their lives.

Shahzada Bano (name changed) another half widow barely 22 years and mother of three children is in a quandary. She wants to re-marry for financial and moral support but fears the society might not appreciate her decision.

Sixty-five years old Fazi does not know the whereabouts of her son since 1997. Tears have literally rendered her blind. There are thousands of such women who continue to suffer yet have no voice. Society should react justly to their cause. Otherwise such situation can lead to serious implications, believes Chowdhary Shafkat, advocate J&K High Court.

Thousands of women in Kashmir are facing an identity crisis owing to the phenomena of enforced disappearances, which leads them to a miserable fate of being half – widows. For those, whose husbands died in a conflict and the body was recovered their story ended then and there. At least they are reconciled to the fact that their husbands are no more. Many women, whose husbands disappear, prefer to wait for them and for others there is no other option left. For those who defy norms, they are detested for taking such steps. Many women who re-married faced a hostile society and even an antagonistic family.

I feel ashamed that at this stage of life I am dependent on my old father, who works hard for my sake and that makes me feel guilty, said Shameema (name changed) waiting for the verdict of declaration of death of her husband.

Jameela (name changed) virtually lives by begging to feed her three children and old parents. Her health is deteriorating and she has to undergo a surgery, the expenses of which are to be borne by a charitable trust. If death takes me away from my children, then they too will have to come out to streets and that will haunt me even after my death, apprehends Jameela.

Zoona (name changed), in her thirties, was deserted by her husband as she was pursuing her brother’s case in State Human Rights commission (SHRC) and used to visit different jails of the state in connection with the case.

It is a wait in vain. It is like living in a dream world. true without a husband, dead or missing, she is a left out and society provides her no remedy at all. She is helpless and cannot even communicate her problem to her children. Her life stops then and there’, believes Muslim Jan, Editor, Media Education research Center (MERC), University of Kashmir, Srinagar.

A professor in the Faculty of Law, University of Kashmir views the entire situation as, We are governed by the personal laws. Accordingly, Maliki school of thought puts the wait, for such a woman the whereabouts of whose husband are not known, as four years and Hanafi school of thought, a dominant view, puts it as seven years.

Comparing it with the prevailing situation, he however questioned its justification. Can it be justified, in present circumstances, that a person disappears for four or seven years and nothing about him is known as such? asked the professor.

According to Shariah, however, she cannot go for re-marriage. A sort of uncertainty prevails regarding her future, he added. Discussing its social aspects, he raises certain points like, Is there any person who can come to her rescue? Even social taboos forbid her from re-marrying even if she meets such unfaithful incident after 2-3 days of her marriage. This can breed all sorts of evil deeds, Thus, this glaring problem needs to be addressed adequately.

If it is treated as a norm that women are entitled to inheriting property that can bring some relief to them, maintained the professor. Under Protection of Right of Divorcees, 1986, he said, there is a provision that husband should provide maintenance even after divorce if she does not go for the second marriage or has no other means. But, in this situation, he added, she cannot be treated as a divorcee. Absolutely she is on streets. No clear- cut policy has been laid down for her. However, she can move to Qazi (court) and get a divorce declared. But courts do not entertain such petitions and such precedents are not so common in practice. Women are not guided properly. They are at the mercy of male dominance. Law is tended more in favour of men as against women. Their status is that of a chattel, here, he lamented.

Afsana Rashid is the chief correspondent of Kashmir’s Daily Khidmat (English edition). She can be reached at [email protected].

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