Kashmir’s suffering women

Book: Widows & Half Widows   Author: Afsana Rashid   Publishers: Pharos Media, New Delhi   Year: 2011   Pages: 192   Price: Rs. 200/$ 15   ISBN-10: 81-7221 - 048 - 5 / ISB-13: 978 - 81 - 7221 - 048 - 9   Dr AG Khan

Here is a shocking exposure of indifference and callousness of the community, politicians as well as self-styled custodians of law and order and a polity claiming to be secular. Here is the recorded colossal failure of the system to even understand the plights and predicaments of these victims of militancy and counter-militancy in Kashmir. Never has there been so absolute an indifference to man-made human misery and agony.

The book is written in tears (and blood) of those unfortunate women who have been condemned to eternal misery of “widowhood” while hope drives them to believe that their husbands are still alive. For decades they have been nursing the hope of a re-union with those who were forced to disappear by forces claiming to protect law. Their whereabouts or even the fact whether they are alive (or dead) is a mystery. These miserable people wives/ fathers/ sons s/daughters/ sisters /mothers have been moving from prisons to graveyards in the Valley and beyond to find what happened to their dear ones once they were taken away by the security forces (or militants). Economically and emotionally devastated, they still hold protests, rallies and take delegations to those in power only to realise that theirs have been futile exercises. The blame game leads no where. And yet vultures wait to pounce on them! While the sole responsibility rests on the police for perpetrating such inhuman atrocities under the pretext of curbing militancy, successive governments (belonging to different parties) did nothing to alleviate their sufferings. Each case story moves us to tears.

Afsana Rashid, a Srinagar-based journalist who is recipient of prestigious fellowships and awards, narrates the trauma of these widows who have been deprived of their rights in the families of their deceased husbands. Misfortune of half widows – whose husbands are thought to be dead (but not officially confirmed) is even more poignant. They themselves don’t believe that they are widows, flicker of hope is in their hearts. They do not want to remarry for a number of reasons – emotional but more important than that is financial: lest they lose the support of the deceased’s families.

Several such victims have formed an Association called “Parents of Disappeared Persons” (APDP) to voice their protest against the callousness of the state machinery. However, there has been disillusionment and some people parted company. Parveena Ahangar who lost her son Javaid Ahmad 19 years ago, however, continues the campaign on several national and international forums. A U.N. working group on enforced and involuntary disappearances has taken cognisance of their plight. Marches, rallies, open letters to the chief minister and others, however, proved futile.

Widows, half widows and orphans live as destitutes because, in most cases, the bread-winners have been lost. Aged parents look after grandchildren though they find it too difficult to make both the ends meet. Unable to take care of themselves, they are burdened with the task of looking after their grandchildren too. Among such victims is Tahira whose husband has been missing for the last seven years. Hajra lost four sons - three killed and one made to disappear. There are hundreds of Tahiras and Hajras waiting for justice in Kashmir. “Apart from Arundhati Roy, no one in India has come out against the policies of Government of India,” complaints Hafizullah who claims that there are more than 50,000 members of the ADPD.

Yes, Movie Mughals have their own pursuits and priorities, so have the cricketers. A nawab can donate lakhs for Prasad at the Ayodhya temple but no corporate baron came forward to help these victims so far.

By the time you finish the book you will find that there are no more tears in your eyes. One can imagine the prolonged wait and suffering of these unfortunate victims of state-sponsored ruthlessness. Kashmir catches the attention of people only when there are agitations, flareups and stone-pelting. No one bothers about Kashmiris as long as they continue to suffer silently.

Afsana Rashid deserves our gratitude for giving a wake-up call to those who have been engrossed in their absurd pursuits of power, lust and luxury. Indians as a whole and Muslims in particular have ignored the subdued shrieks of these victims. One wonders whether we deserve to be called civilised and yet claim to be Muslims!

Not only should this book be sent to the three interlocutors, MPs, judges and human right activists, it should also be prescribed as textbook to police officers to prick their conscience (if they do have one) and especially to those who are undergoing training.

Extremely well-researched and documented with facts and photographs, the book is a landmark contribution in the field of counter-terrorism and Kashmir studies. Let us pray for a day when the need for such books becomes redundant. Pharos Media has rendered the country and the community a yeoman service by daring to publish such poignant account of the sufferings of the voiceless.