Wedded To Worries: Wives Of Former Kashmiri Militants

Wedded To Worries: Wives Of Former Kashmiri Militants

8 September 2013
Kashmir Times
Ashutosh Sharma

Srinagar: Zahida Parveen, 29, from Bhimber district of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK), recounts her nerve-wracking experience of clandestinely crossing the heavily militarised Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir that divides India and Pakistan. Her first task was to convince her husband to do this. 'My husband was undecided about leaving the camp but I told him that God does not judge such action. He finally agreed with me and we secretly set out on our own with our four children,' she remembers. Zahida's parents had married her off to Mohammad Shokat, a resident of Surankote block in Poonch district. At the time, the young man was allegedly undergoing training as a militant after he had crossed over, a few years ago, to Moong Bajree in PoK with a group of militants for arms training. As Zahida narrates her story, a range of emotions - fear, indignation, anticipation, surprise, sorrow and joy - flit across her oval shaped face that seems to have aged prematurely owing to the adverse circumstances that have marked her life. 'It was a night in December last year, and rain was pouring down. All through the night we kept walking, crawling, panting and perspiring. We didn't catch sight of any Pakistani soldier but as soon as we stepped on to the Indian side it was almost morning. We came to a halt near a small stream in the nearby Degwar village to gather strength, not suspecting that it would be under surveillance. The very next moment we were encircled by army men with their guns pointed at us. After being grilled for some hours, we were handed over to the police,' Zahida says. The couple claimed that they were not armed and this perhaps helped their case. Zahida was arrested and bailed out after 15 days. Her husband had to spend six months in jail under the Public Safety Act. Today, she lives in Khardi, a village that almost adjoins the border. Every three months, both husband and wife have to appear before the district court. 'I weighed 72 kilos when I came here, now I am just 49 kilos,' she says, showing her marriage album. The photographs corroborate her claim, indicating how daily deprivation has rendered her a pale shadow of her former self. 'Here, we don't have identity cards, ration card - nothing. With great difficulty I managed the admission for my children in a local school but they are not formally enrolled,' Zahida reveals. Her husband cannot leave the area, so he works as a daily labourer in the village and Zahida assists him in running the household by tailoring clothes. While life is tough, it was not as if things were better on the other side. 'Our life at the camp was miserable. Women there are not treated like human beings. We came here to start our life afresh after hearing about the government's rehabilitation policy, but so far we have not received any help from the authorities,' regrets Zahida. It is not just their statelessness that has innumerable consequences for women like her, but the cultural alienation and nostalgia for their former lives that aggravates their miseries. They also have to face many psychological upheavals. Zahida worries about her younger sister, Safia Parveen, who is also married to a surrendered militant, Mukhtayar Hussain, from Surankote. Hussain too had gone across the LoC to join the ranks of the militants on the other side, but returned secretly with his wife and three children by slipping through the almost unguarded Nepal border. 'My sister's in-laws don't like her. They want to remarry their son to a local girl. Last winter they repeatedly beat her and threw her out of their home. She remained out for three months, spending a month with me. After that, because of the intervention of some local people, they took her back,' elaborates Zahida. While she was with Zahida, Safia kept pining for her children, saying that she would prefer to die rather than be without them. Zahida tried to help her and even approached the local police, but nothing came of it. Under the Government of India's Rehabilitation Policy, native militants who abjure violence and pledge allegiance to India can surrender by arriving in the country through four recognised border crossings - Poonch-Rawlakote in Jammu region, Uri-Salamabad in Kashmir, Wagah in Amritsar and the International (IGI) Airport in Srinagar. However, because of non-cooperation on the part of the Pakistani authorities, these converts to peace are unable to cross over to the Indian side legitimately. Says Advocate Taj Hussain Shah, who has been pursuing such cases at the Poonch district court, 'The rule of thumb for every conflict is usually state versus state or state versus insurgents or us versus them. But these women have no presence in the ongoing conflict for either side, yet they are facing the worst kind of human rights abuse.' Adds Shah, 'Police normally book them under Egress and Internal Movement Control Ordinance, the Enemy Agent Ordinance and Passport Entry into India Act, besides the Public Safety Act. But I have been arguing in the courts that this is really a political issue. If India claims PoK as part of its territory, then these women - or for that matter anyone coming from that region - is automatically a citizen of India.' Then there is the case of 24-year-old, Parveen Akhtar, who was married to a surrendered militant in 2008. She was living a normal life until her husband was rearrested by the police who claimed that his was a case of mistaken identity as he was not a local militant, as he had claimed, but a Pakistani mole. Soon after the police nabbed her husband, his family abandoned her. Presently she is living with her maternal family in the Thanamandi area of Rajouri district. Holding her three-year-son, Bilal, in her arms, Parveen says with deep sorrow after a long pause, 'My husband was not known to me before marriage. Even after marriage I never asked him about his past life. He was working as a manual labourer at a road construction site in a nearby village, when he was rearrested.' This arrest in March 2011 evidently followed intelligence inputs that the man was a Pakistani national living under the fake identity of a local surrendered militant. Earlier, the same person had allegedly surrendered before the Rashtriya Rifles troops in 2003 and was bailed out in 2007. Claims Praveen's father, Mohammad Latief Shah, 'I was given to understand that the surrendered militant is Zaman Shah, the son of Hakim Shah, a resident of Chrung Hasplote. He had been kidnapped by a group of militants nearly 15 years ago. After interrogation and imprisonment, he was released by the Sessions Court at Rajouri in 2007.' The police, however, maintain that in a statement the arrested surrendered militant had given, he had revealed his identity as Tanveer Hussain Bakhari, resident of Mannana in tehsil Samani of district Bhimber, PoK. Laments the distraught father, 'The in-laws of my daughter had given me an affidavit stating that the surrendered militant was their family member, Zaman Shah. My community and relatives had also assured me that there were many surrendered militants who have made good husbands in the state. Now when things have gone amiss, everybody is turning their backs on us.' Only one question haunts him: if his son-in-law is proven to be a resident of PoK, what will happen to his daughter and her child? The answer to this question remains elusive. So far, the courts have not pronounced on the status of women like Praveen, Safia and Zahida. They continue to live in a circle of fear and anxiety. (The writer is a media fellow with National Foundation for India presently working in Jammu and Kashmir.)