Knowing that your husband’s corpse has been found and that you have become a
widow may be some sort of relief. At least this is what would happen to the “half
widows”, the women that every day queue before police stations, military bases
or morgues in Kashmir to find out if their husbands are dead.
When their turn comes, they are ready to show the same picture or to tell the
same story one more time. There are stories of men picked up from their homes
by security forces, who in Kashmir have a free hand in putting down rebellions,
of men who were going to work or who were travelling to another town, but all
stories have the same ending: none of those men have come back home.
The Indian law
. Women who do not know what has happened to their husbands are called half widows
and they are the invisible victims of Kashmir conflict which, since 1989, has
caused 90 thousand casualties and an uncertain number of missing people, more
than 10 thousands according to the Association of the Parents of the Disappeared
Persons whose offices are in the capital town of Srinagar. The Director of the
Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, Mr Suba Chandran, has explained to Peacereporter
that it is difficult to estimate the number of missing people and, therefore,
the number of half widows precisely, but they should be about 2,000 or 3,000.
The Government has never confirmed these figures, it acknowledges the possibility
of about one thousand missing people, mainly in the Pakistan-administered area,
but less than 150 of them have been officially registered and their wives have
a compensation of 800 rupees a month, less than 15 euros, regardless of the number
of their children.
Unfortunately, women who cannot prove to be widows cannot ask for compensation
and have no rights on their husbands’ property. The 54% of them have no other
choice but to go back to their parents’ with their children.
. To try to start a new life seems to be impossible. According to the Islamic
law, as it is usually interpreted in Kashmir, these women have to wait for seven
years before being allowed to marry again and, anyway, in most cases men are not
willing to marry a widow and to provide for someone else’s children. Half widows
find themselves in an uncertain condition which is considered shameful by the
society and, if they no longer have their parents, they are forced to ask their
in-laws for hospitality. At this point episodes of violence are not rare. Gulsham,
for example, witnessed her husband being picked up by the security forces and,
with her son, asked her parents-in-law for help, but she was nothing but a burden
and for this she was beaten. Parvez, her ten-year-old son, was so upset that he
ran across the street without looking and was run over by a car. Tahira was forced
to work in a brothel and Jana, who had no relatives at all, started begging, which
is what 5% of half widows end up by doing.
Some associations have been founded to put an end to all this, like the one set
up by Pervez Imroz, a lawyer from Srinagar, specialized in human rights, or others
whose aim is to put pressure on the government in order to have full information
about the missing people.
Parveena Ahangar has lost both her husband and her son in the Kashmir conflict,
but she has been lucky, she has received economical support and affection from
her parents-in-law. She has started protesting and collecting testimonies and,
eventually, she has set up the Association of the Parents of the Disappeared Persons
. “We are not fighting for money, nor for territory, we are fighting for information”
. Half widows live in a sort of limbo, between the wish to see their husbands
come back home one day and the government’s indifference. Sometimes they are helped
by some NGOs, or by some politicians more sensitive to their problems, but, so
far, nothing has been made in their defence, yet. A survey on “The Impact of Conflict
situation on Women and Children in Kashmir” shows that 80% of women have suicidal
thoughts mainly for economical reasons, while 50% of them suffer from mental disorders
caused by a painful state of uncertainty, their future being directly related
to the discovery of a corpse.