A Widow’s Life

Families of disappeared youth demanding whereabouts of their loved ones.

An overwhelming 91 per cent of widows choose not to remarry in Muslim majority Kashmir as they are stigmatized and their children are not accepted by their second husbands, even when Islam encourages remarriages of widows and divorcees. SYED ASMA reports.

Nazir Ahmed Deka was an ex-militant from South Kashmir. He met Tasleema, who was from Srinagar. They married against the wishes of their families in 2002. He was living with his wife and daughter in a rented room at Habbakadal Srinagar. Nazir made a living by working as an imam in a local masjid at Habbakadal besides selling caps and itar (perfume) at Lal chowk. Tasleema was a housewife. They were leading a normal life until 2006, when one morning Nazir left to see his doctor and never returned.

“He (Nazir) was picked up from there and probably killed on the same day in Ganderbal,” says Tasleema.

For 11 months Tasleema along with her 3-year-old daughter and 40-days-old son visited various police station and army camps to know whereabouts of her husband, she says.

Almost a year after Nazir went missing, some personnel of Special Operations Group of Police were arrested for killing innocent people in fake encounters. Nazir was one of their victims. “He did it for promotions and medals, branding innocents as terrorists he killed many,” says Tasleema. “He had beard. Bearded men are easily branded as terrorist. It is a general perception with the police and army here”.

Widowed Tasleema now works as a seamstress to earn a living and support his daughter and son. She is living in rented room at Barzulla near her parents’ home. “I chose to live here not because my parents live here but I was born in this place and they (people living here) have seen me growing up. They think ten times before they talk about me,” she says.

Families of  Tasleema and Nazir did not approve of their marriage but after the birth of their daughter Aneesa, the families reconciled. After Nazir’s death her in-laws invited Tasleema to live with them. Tasleema refused, for her husband’s both parents were dead and she did not want to live with her brothers in law, though all of them were married.

“Treating me as their sister was not enough. People talk what they want and that senseless talking at times weakens even strong relationships, ours was though not so strong. So, I decided not to live with them,” she adds. Her brothers in law presently take care of some of the expenses of her children. She dreams of her daughter becoming a doctor and son an engineer.

Sociologists categorize widows as the most vulnerable lot of the population who don’t even enjoy as much freedom as other women do.

Having no male member around, Tasleema is always living with some fear. She even fears darkness. The loneliness is killing her but she can’t do anything about it, She says she does not have any other option.

“Being a wife of a surrendered militant has closed all options of my marrying again. Who will accept me, who will accept my children,” Tasleema says. “My parents never respected me for what I did, how can I expect it from a stranger.”

A study conducted by sociologist Prof Bashir Ahmed Dabla, revealed that 91 per cent of widows do not marry again. They want to look after their children, it adds.

The study also found that 53 per cent of the widows were living independently/ separately and 31 per cent had to shift their residences after the death of their husbands. Eighteen percent of the widows were living with in-laws while 16 per cent returned back to their parents. Most of the eight per cent of the widows who remarry have to leave their children either with their in-laws or parents as there is little acceptability of a widow’s children in Kashmir society.

Like Tasleema, Fehmeeda, a school teacher, too did not marry again after her businessman husband died in a road accident. They had a daughter, who was studying in third class when he died. “I feared that if I married again, her step-father may not treat her well. I had a colleague whose daughter was maltreated by her second husband that scared me a lot,” says Fehmeeda. Her colleague’s daughter later suffered from depression.

“I thought no other man can treat Naila (her daughter) the same as her husband did. A step relation in today’s times seemed dangerous to me and I did not want Naila to experience that,” says Fehmeeda.

Naila is presently studying in Delhi and Fehmeeda is living alone in a house at Nishat constructed by her in laws after her husband’s death. “At times it gets scary and the loneliness eats into me,” she says, “I am waiting for the day when Naila will come back after completing her degree”. For the well being of her daughter, Fehmeeda did not marry again.

Sakeena, 38, widowed seven years ago has decided to marry again. She is looking for a match now. She has a daughter and is presently living with her parents and a brother, who is married and has children. Sakeena is a trainer at a cr?che and does not earn enough so that she can take good care of her daughter.

Her daughter studies in one of the leading schools of Kashmir. “Her father has admitted her in that school. It is hard to manage the expenses but I do not want to take her out of that school,” she says. Her husband died of lung cancer just five years after their marriage.

Sakeena believes that re-marriage is the “ultimate solution for living a happy and secure life”. She has been looking for a match for over a year now and has met couple of men but none of them has agreed to accept her along with her daughter. “I can’t leave my daughter. How long will my parents and brother look after her? I have to look for other options and marriage is the only one,” says Sakeena.

She says, her former in-laws do not want Sakeena to be in their relation anymore. “Though a business family, they are not taking care of any expenses other than her school fees. Nor are they ready to give her a penny from their property,” says Sakeena.

Half widows during a sit-in at Srinagar

She says she has met doctors, engineers, people from all walks of life but no one is ready to accept her daughter into his family. “They say it is difficult to handle somebody else’s children but they expect me to handle theirs. This says volumes about the mentality of our male society,” says Sakeena. “Their mothers (of prospective grooms) too are hesitant to adopt my child.”

Social worker Dr Rouf Mohi ud din Malik, who runs an NGO Koshish, says that men are not interested in the “baggage” a widow is carrying – her children. He also says that absence of any property in the name of orphans and widows hinders remarriage of widows.

“If every widow and her children carry their share of property with them they will not be considered a burden anymore,” says Dr Malik, who has been working in the area of widow remarriages.

Dr Malik says that the best way to handling the remarriage cases is marrying a widow either in her family or her husband’s family or anywhere in the extended family.

Thirty-five year old Aisha has two daughters. Her husband, Nazir Ahmed of Manchwa, a bus driver, nine years ago, left home for work but has not returned since. She lives with her in-laws. All her sisters-in-law are married and her mother in-law died some time back.

Under Islamic laws a widow is free to marry any person she wishes to and the right to remarry also extends to the women whose husband’s go missing for a specific period of time.

Aisha wants to remarry but her father in-laws believe that she has to wait for Nazir till she is alive. Her father in law says, “If she remarries she will lose her property share to me and will have to leave her two daughters with me.”

Aisha spins wool to earn a living, making her the only earning member in the family. Her father-in-law who worked as a labourer is too old to work.

They had some land which they had to sell for their daughter’s (Aisha’s sister in law) wedding.

Aisha feels that her father in law and others in the family are discouraging her from marrying again as she “is a maid and a care taker of an old man working free of cost for them”. “I know when my father in law will die I will have to serve my sisters-in-law and their children in the same way,” says Aisha.

“The old man always threatens me that if I remarry, he won’t allow me to meet my daughters again. It is hard to be with them. I wish death for me and my daughters,” she adds with tears rolling down her cheeks.

According to Islam, which is the major religion in region remarriage is the best option for a widow. “Nikah is a close thing to our Prophet’s (S.A.W) heart and he has always encouraged widows and widowers to go for second marriage. It reduces the ills of the society and balances the human life,” says Molvi Rehmatullah of Darul-uloom Raheemia.

Molvi Rehmatullah also says that accepting children from her first spouse can be treated as Sunnat-e Rasool (practices of Prophet Muhammed SAW) as he has taken care of all his step-children alike,” says Molvi Rehmatullah.

However, these Islamic practices are hardly followed in Muslim majority Kashmir for which Molvi Rehmatullah blames the ignorance among masses and holds Imams of Masjids and elders in the society responsible for the predicament.

The experiences of those who chose to remarry confirm that the apprehensions of widows over the well being of their children from first husbands are not unfounded.

Farida, 38, from Kupwara was married to a labour. Both lived happily and managed to earn their living. Her husband, Ghulam Hassan, met an accident and was handicapped for some time before passing away. When he died, Farida was pregnant and a few months later she gave birth to a baby girl.

Three years after the birth of her daughter, Farida’s parents married her off to a shopkeeper, Abdul Ahad, from Sopore. Ahad agreed to marry Farida over a condition that he would not accept her daughter. Farida’s parents accepted the condition.

“Nobody bothered to ask me, if I want to leave my child or not but I had to look after my new husband’s children,” says Farida. Her second husband had three sons.

Farida had to leave her three-year-old daughter with her parents at Kupwara. Initially, she could not see her daughter for months. “For many years I could not get her here because of my husband. He straight away disagreed to take care of her and her expenses. He even told me not to bring her to Sopore,” she says. “He feared if I bring Shazia (Farida’s daughter) here, I would not take good care of his children and besides, he was not ready to spend a penny on her”.

After few years when Farida started taking her along to Sopore, her mother-in-law, Shazia’s step-grandmother made her to work like a maid, says Farida. “Once in winters she fell ill because for the whole day she was made to wash clothes with cold water and was served cold meals in the evening. I couldn’t bear that and left her with her grandparents,” she said.

The widows or divorcees who remarry almost always have to leave their children behind, say sociologists.

Saleema, 37, from South Kashmir was divorced, she says, because she gave birth to a girl. After that her husband, a vendor, and in-laws did not treat her well. “They were dangerous people. My mother-in-law used to torture in different ways. She many times did not allow me to have my meals. I had spent many hungry days and nights at that place,” says Saleema.

Saleema believes her mother-in-law harmed her by black magic, which ultimately led to her divorce. She even blames her mother-in-law for encouraging her husband to have an extra marital affair. She thinks her husband was innocent. Saleema, presently, lives with her second husband, Ghulam Nabi, 63, a retired government employee.

Apart from leaving her one and a half-year-old daughter, she had to compromise on his age as well. When Saleema came into their family, her daughter was one and a half year old while Ghulam Nabi had a grandson. Though she looks very happy with Ghulam Nabi and they have two sons, one reading in 6th class and another 2nd class but could not bring Soliha, her daughter along to her new family.

Soliha lives with her maternal uncle who is looking after her. She recently appeared in her class 12th exams. She wants Soliha to become a doctor and be independent.

“It is difficult for any mother to be away from her children. It is a pain that cannot be shared and only a mother can understand,” says Saleema.

Saleema says she would keep her daughter’s photograph close to her. “I missed her a lot and used to cry for nights together.” She says she many times got scared in her dreams when Soliha was ill. “I many times saw snakes, eagles and rats all over me. And then we didn’t have telephones so communication was difficult. I had to visit to my brother’s home to know Soliha’s well being”.

Mond (widow) and vor (step relations) are two stigmatized words in Kashmiri society, says Dr Peerzada Mohammed Amin, Assistant professor at Department of Sociology, University of Kashmir. He says “Our society, social systems and institutions have failed to deliver that is why these individuals are suffering in here”.

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