Widows, Orphans continue to suffer in Kashmir

Srinagar – Shama Bano at 30 continues to struggle for survival along with her two minors, including a mentally retarded son, in militancy-hit Kashmir where living conditions of thousands of widows and orphans deteriorate day by day.

Bano’s life was shattered when she found her husband Manzoor Ahmed Bhat’s bullet-riddled body outside the residence on December 15, 1992, and still finds it hard to believe it with seven-year-old mentally retarded son Amir groaning and grumbling about the fate of his father.

After the death of her husband, Bano moved into her brother’s house in the Lalbazar area here as her in-laws ill-treated and left her and children in the lurch and dependant on income hardly sufficient to feed the family.

The plight and misery of Bano and other widows and orphans came to light during a survey on “impact of conflict situation on women and children in Kashmir” conducted by the Department of Sociology, University of Kashmir and sponsored by UK-based NGO Save the Children Fund.

The study was carried out by nine researchers under the guidance of Dr Bashir Ahmed Dabla, Head of the Department, with 600 respondents (300 widows and 300 orphans) taken in six districts of Kashmir. In all, 100 respondents (50 widows and 50 orphans) were taken in each of the districts of Baramula, Srinagar, Kupwara, Pulwama, Anantnag and Budgam and an attempt was made to understand the prevailing conditions of the widows and orphans which emerged immediately after the death of their husbands and fathers, Dr Dabla, the director of the project said here.

According to the survey, significant groups of women and children have become widows and orphans as a result of death of their husbands/fathers who were the sole bread earners in their families with the result the living conditions of these have become worst as there is no organised, systematic and continuous financial support to them.

Dr Dabla admits that limitation of the study was its small sample as reliable estimates put the number of widows and orphans in Kashmir at 16000-20,000 at present and 600 respondents who come to 3.75 per cent cannot make a representative group especially for proposals of intervention.

A majority of the widows are illiterate fall in the age group of 19-30 years and belong to lower middle class families with a monthly income of Rs 2000-4000. The survey gives the break up of incidents of death of husbands of all women respondents – cross-firing (21 per cent), killed by army/security forces (26 per cent), custodial killing (15 per cent), militants (9 per cent), surrendered militants (17 per cent), killed by bomb/mine blasts (7 per cent) and at the line of control (5 per cent).

A majority of widows, the survey says had to shift from their old residence to a new surrounding and preferred to live with their children while a few were living with their new husbands after the death of their previous husbands.

Dr Dabla says though after the death of her husband, a Muslim woman is allowed by the Shariah to marry again, the survey found 91.33 per cent respondents, whose husbands had died didn’t marry because they wanted to look after the children of their deceased husband, while only 8.66 per cent had remarried.

“Most of the women face problems within and outside their homes like financial difficulties, psychological downfall, emotional stress, denial of inheritance/due rights, sexual harassment, physical insecurity, losing control over children, dead husband’s liabilities, harassment by in-laws, social security and apathy,” says the survey.

The crucial problems faced by children, after the death of their fathers, are economic hardship, psychological setback, lack of love and affection and apathy on the part of relatives, it adds. “The devastating effect in the post-death period is that children could not pursue their education, while orphans had to drop out of schools, others had to face a tough time for continuing their formal education,” says the survey.

The survey found that the number of dropouts from schools in rural and urban areas has significantly increased during the past decade as death of fathers led them to work outside to earn for their families. “These children, who work in automobile workshops, home service, handicrafts, face undesirable conditions as they are exploited which leads to child labour,” says Dr Dabla.

The solid financial support for widows and orphans comes after two to three years after the death of the person.

“A majority of the beneficiaries are not satisfied with the nature and amount of the financial as well as non-financial support provided to them by different agencies and organisations,” says the survey. The negative response by widows and orphans demands that a new alternative financial support framework has to be developed for helping them, says Dr Dabla, adding more NGO’s should come forward to provide the support to destitute.