Book Review

Book Review: Widows and Half Widows: Saga of Extrajudicial Arrests and Killings in Kashmir

Reviewed By Mushtaq Ul Haq Ahmad Sikander

The armed insurgency has brought in its wake a host of human catastrophes, the saga of pain and unending miseries. Scores of new social issues and problems have cropped up because of the conflict. The ever-growing crop of widows and half-widows is an addition to the list of victims of the conflict. An entire generation of youth and men were wiped out by the Indian Army on the pretext of a fighting insurgency, which rendered thousands of women as widows and lakhs of children as orphans. Half widows are a unique breed of victims complacent to the Kashmir conflict. They are those helpless souls who don’t know about the fate of their husbands who got disappeared at the hands of the security forces, and they have been living since then every moment between hope and despair.

The present book under review by versatile and now seasoned young journalist Afsana Rashid is a story of many such voiceless souls who continue to suffer in oblivion. This is not only the story of half widows but widows and women who happen to be on the opposite side of the state establishment. Afsana in her preface about the book states that “the work has been done to provide a broader perspective of the problem that is yet to be recognized as grave even by the Kashmiri society itself.” This apathy towards the victims and pathetic attitude of society as a whole is evident on every page and every single word of the book.

The book is divided into 25 chapters, and the first few chapters deal with the historical background of the Kashmir conflict, the backdrop of armed insurgency initiated soon after the rigging of the 1987 elections and one of the reasons why youth resorted to gun culture was that India never did allow the democracy to function smoothly in Kashmir. Soon after the insurgency started, India took no time to respond with an Iron Fist policy to suppress the secessionist movement and began to opt for the genocide of Kashmiri youth. Thousands got disappeared at the hands of the Army and security agencies, which prompted the mothers of the disappeared persons to form the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), which was later joined by the wives of disappeared people.

The concerned agency that had apprehended or arrested the victims would, first of all, declare their ignorance about the arrest and if pressed harder would declare either that he ran away from their custody or ask the family that he must have crossed the Line of Control (LOC). The police also hesitate to file First Information Report (FIR) against Army personnel and security agencies, and the victims family is threatened by the establishment to give up their fight for justice or be ready to face dire consequences. Many cases of killing, maiming of the members of victims family are related in the book.

The worst sufferers are the families of the disappeared souls, who run from pillar to post to ascertain the whereabouts of their kith and kin and in this process, a lot of money gets drained and they are rendered as paupers. The half widows cannot remarry as there is no consensus among the scholars of various schools of thoughts as to when a half-widow can be declared as widow although the government has declared seven years as the stipulated time, but still widow remarriage rarely takes place as it is alien to the Kashmiri society as well as fear of maltreatment of their children by stepfather holds many widows back from remarriage. As soon as the woman becomes a half-widow, her status in the family is reduced to a maid and in most cases, she is forced to leave the in-laws home. In many cases, the wives were deserted and divorced by their husbands for pursuing the cases of their disappeared brothers or fathers. Many members of the victims’s family have lost their mental balance, developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and even some have opted for suicide as a way of escapism from the perpetual agony.

To add insult to injury politicians always give contradictory statements regarding the number of disappearances and before elections, they always promise to provide justice to the victims. And as soon as they are in power, they forget and break the promises. The victims are aghast when the National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party’s leaders are invited to attend international seminars on human rights because it was during their regimes when hundreds of disappearances took place and one renegade Papa Kishtwari who allegedly played role in the disappearances and killings of scores of men in Pampore area only, held a seat of councillor during the National Conference regime. The Indian civil society, which never gets tired of repeating the state dictum of Kashmir being crown of India are in deep slumber regarding the disappearances of thousands of souls, which is one of the biggest catastrophes of this century.

The police in collaboration with the Army is indulging in fake encounters for the sake of gallantry awards and securing promotions are burying the innocent victims in unmarked graves and declaring them as militants. Various torture centres existed in Kashmir, notorious among them were Hari Niwas and Papa Two, where hundreds of people got killed during inhuman torture and scores got disappeared. The victims have been pressing for turning these places as museums in the name of the thousands of people killed there.

The victims are fed up with the justice system. One victim Masooda Parveen whose husband was killed unjustly by the Army and renegades went on to seek justice even to the Supreme Court, but she returned dumbfounded and angry as the court believed the Army version. Now many victims don’t even file cases because they don’t believe in the justice system of the state.

The women of Kashmir are an epitome of selflessness and sea of sacrifice, who because of conflict came to acquire new roles of bread earners and decision makers. The old patriarch in the family has even assumed the overburdened charge of supporting his son’s progeny and daughter in law. The women are fighting legal battle as well as keeping the pot of family boiling too in their new extended roles. Hajra bano is one such example who lost her four sons to the conflict, but she still regularly attends the monthly sit-ins organized by the APDP at a local park in the heart of Srinagar. Due to the killing of the male earning member of the family, women and children are the worst sufferers as there has been an increase in the labour force of women as well as the child labour plus the school drop out rates. The juvenile delinquency is increasing day by day against which the society is ill-equipped to deal with. Faith healers are being consulted regularly to deal with the psychological problems, the society has failed to come forward to help the families of disappeared souls and they are left to fend for themselves, which escalates their agony and struggle.

The book ends with documentation of different plans, which have been envisioned for the solution of the Kashmir issue and the steps that must be undertaken to curb the inhuman practice of disappearance.

Overall the book is a welcome addition to the literature of human rights violations in Kashmir and what problems baffle the families of victims on various fronts.

Author: Afsana Rashid

Publisher: Pharos Media, New Delhi, India.

Year of Publication: 2011
Pages: 190
Price: Rs 200
ISBN-13: 978-81-7221-048-9

(Mushtaq Ul Haq Ahmad Sikander is writer-activist based in Srinagar, Kashmir, and can be reached at

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