Does Kashmir really care about its half-widows and half-orphans?

  • Publish Date: Dec 22 2017 11:10PM
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  • Updated Date: Dec 22 2017 11:10PM
Does Kashmir really care about its half-widows and half-orphans?

The whereabouts of the husbands of many Kashmiri women remain unknown to this day. Some of those who were illegally picked up by government forces from their homes during the ongoing conflict were also fathers


Safia from Rajbagh Srinagar was a mother of a 6-month old baby when her husband went missing in 1993.

“Where is my husband? Where has he vanished?” Safia asks with her teary eyes.

She says that like many Kashmiris her husband too has offered sacrifice for the people of Jammu and Kashmir but hardly anyone is bothered about her daily struggles as a single mother.

“No one will ever understand my struggles. No one knows what I have endured all these years,” Safia tells an audience comprising prominent religious scholars, civil society actors, human rights defenders, writers, journalists and poets during a day-long consultative meeting recently organised byEhsaas, a non-governmental organisation, in Srinagar.

Safia has worked as a daily wager, labourer, maid and domestic help to raise her child. She is critical of what she describes as society’s apathy towards her plight and also to similar struggles of other women whose husbands have been enforced to custodial disappearances in Kashmir.

Safia is not the only one. There are many other women like her who have similar or more tragic stories to narrate.

Shameema’s husband is missing since 2000. For 17 long years she has been raising her two children as a single mother. She is a lone bread earner of her family.

Kashmir’s society describes women like Safia and Shameema as ‘half-widows’ for they have no clue regarding the whereabouts of their disappeared husbands.

They are waiting for the return of their husbands. But they do not know whether their husbands are alive or dead. Jammu and Kashmir Government believes that over 4,000 militants and ‘missing’ people from J&K are still in Pakistan and Pakistan-administered Kashmir (PaK).

However, the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) and human rights groups in the Kashmir Valley allege that over 8,000 youth have gone missing after the eruption of a popular armed rebellion in 1989.

No one knows the exact number of women living their life as ‘half-widows’ since the outbreak of anti-India armed rebellion in 1989 in the Kashmir Valley.

Half-widow is an expression that has become part of Kashmir’s narrative and lexicon post-1989. A half-widow is a woman whose husband has been made to either disappear in custody by government forces or non-state actors like pro-India counter-insurgency bands in the early and mid-1990s.

The government has not declared those listed as disappeared as deceased.

The whereabouts of husbands of many Kashmiri women remain unknown to this day. Some of those who were illegally picked up by government forces from their homes during the ongoing conflict were also fathers. Their children have been raised by their single mothers who live their life as half-widows while the children are referred to as half-orphans.

The predicament of a half-widow in Kashmir is that she can neither give up hope about the almost miraculous return of her husband nor follow her basic human urge to go for a second marriage, fearing social criticism.

Some narrow-minded people also put undue burden on her ‘to keep alive the sentiment for freedom’ thus denying her to opt for a second innings in life while a few coerce her to go for a second marriage without bothering to know her wish or without her consent.

Besides, there is also a religious strand involved here.

Is there a consensus among various schools of thoughts in Islamic jurisprudence regarding a half-widow’s right to remarriage, right to property and the period of wait before she can actually choose to remarry and move on with her life?

There are five schools of Islamic thought accepted by all Muslims. They are the Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi, Hanbali and Ja’afari.

In Kashmir’s society what is the fate of a half-widow? Is it appropriate to call her a half-widow? What are her rights over the property in the family of her in-laws and at her parental home? What is her legal recourse? All of these burning questions were discussed in a day-long consultative meeting organised by Ehsaas on 30 November in Srinagar.

Leading religious scholars from five schools of Islamic thought, civil society actors, human rights activists, journalists and people from different walks of life participated in the said meeting.

Some participants articulated that there was a need for legislative reforms in Jammu and Kashmir Assembly so that support for half-widows can be mobilised through a proper legislation while a few were unsure about the state’s intervention in this regard. Some emphasised the need to establish the Right to Truth and Justice Commission while others made a point that actual number of half-widows in Kashmir should be ascertained so that appropriate measures could be adopted.

There were some voices which favoured forming an exclusive Trust for half-widows while others insisted that more needed to be done to ensure their financial independence.

Earlier, after a series of deliberations there was consensus among religious scholars on adoption of wait period of four years as opined by Imam Malik and Imam Jafar. Thus, after a wait period of four years, a half-widow can pursue closure of her first marriage and choose to remarry. It was also agreed upon that in exceptional cases, where it was impossible or difficult for a half-widow to wait for four long years, then the wait period in her case be reduced to one year because of unique circumstances.

In this regard, a consensus statement was also issued by religious clerics.

There was also a consensus on a half-widow’s right to remarry and the period of iddat (wait period of 4 months and 10 days).

On 17 May 2017, religious scholars affiliated with Anjuman-e-Himayat-ul-Islam Jammu Kashmir, Jamaati Islami, Ahl-e-Hadith, Anjuman Nusrat-ul-Islam, Ahl-e-Bait Foundation etc in an extraordinary meeting, organised by Ehsaas, had succeeded in building a consensus over many important points. Some of them were as follows:

A grandfather of an orphaned grandson (whose father is listed as disappeared) is duty bound to take care of the orphaned child and take care of his basic needs in the light of Islamic Jurisprudence (Fiqh) and Islamic law (Shariah).

Grandfather should make an appropriate will (Ahsan Wassiyat) so that his grandson is not forced to enter into any kind of property dispute with his uncles.

After the death of the grandfather the responsibility to raise the orphaned child shifts towards the uncle which he can’t shy away from.

In the recently organised seminar some civil society actors strongly advocated an “out of box” solution to this issue. It is not only about a woman’s right to remarry but also about her property rights, property rights of her children and her right to know truth and get justice.

Apart from not knowing whether her husband is alive or dead, a half-widow has many other battles to fight which include daily survival, challenge to raise her children while combating social stigma. For her, it is a constant battle between hope and despair; belief and doubt.

Do we have any convincing answers to the questions being raised by Safias and Shameemas of Kashmir?