Kashmir: Guilty By Association
By Ashutosh Sharma
15 September, 2013
The women married to militants returning home from Pakistan, as Jammu and Kashmir embraces rehabilitation policy, feel trapped in the vortex of adverse circumstances
Twenty-four- year-old, Parveen Akhtar looks shattered. Holding her 3-year-old son, Bilal, in her arms, Parveen says with a deep anguish, “My husband was not known to me before marriage. Even after marriage I never asked him about his past. He was working as a manual labourer at a road construction site in a village, when he was rearrested.”
Married to a surrendered militant in 2008, she was living a normal life until her husband was rearrested in March 2011. The police claimed that his was a case of mistaken identity as he was not a local militant, as he had claimed, but a Pakistani mole living under the fake identity of a local surrendered militant. 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.
Earlier, the same person had reportedly surrendered before the Rashtriya Rifles troops in 2003 in Rajouri and was bailed out in 2007.The police, however, maintain that arrested surrendered militant had revealed his identity as Tanveer Hussain Bakhari, resident of PoK.
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. The in-laws of my daughter had given it to me in writing on an affidavit. 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,” laments the distraught father. He is a worried lot what will happen to his daughter and her child if his son-law is proven to be resident of PoK.
In the adjoining district Poonch, in village Khardi near the Line of Control (LoC), Zahida Parveen and her husband, Mohammad Shokat came home to start their new life. Originally a resident of Bhimber district of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK), Zahida was married to Shokat, a resident of Poonch when the young man was allegedly undergoing training as a militant—after he had crossed over to PoK, a few years ago.
Zahida recounts her nerve-wracking experience of clandestinely crossing a heavily militarised and landmines infested LoC last year. Her first task was to convince her husband to undertake the journey. “My husband was undecided about leaving the camp but I told him: ‘God does not judge such actions’. He finally agreed and we secretly set out on our own with our four children,” she remembers.
As Zahida narrates her story, a range of emotions – fear, indignation, surprise, sorrow and joy – flit across her oval shaped face aged prematurely owing to adverse life circumstances. “It was a rainy night of December. All through the night we kept walking, wet, crawling and panting. We didn’t come across any Pakistani soldier but as soon as we stepped on to the Indian side it was almost morning. Unsuspecting any surveillance, we came to halt near a small stream in the nearby Degwar village to gather strength. The very next moment we were encircled by army men. After being grilled for some hours, we were handed over to the police,” recalls Zahida.
The couple claimed that they were not armed and this perhaps helped their case. Zahida was arrested and released on bail after 15 days. However, her husband had to spend six months in jail under the Public Safety Act. Every three months couple has to appear before the district court.
“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,” says Zahida. 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 sewing clothes.
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 though that has innumerable harsh consequences for women like her, but cultural alienation and nostalgia for their former lives also aggravates their misery. Zahida also worries about her younger sister, Safia Parveen, who too is married to a surrendered militant, Mukhtayar Hussain, from Surankote in Poonch. 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 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, and was taken back on intervention of some local people,” elaborates Zahida.
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.
But, due to non-cooperation of Pakistani authorities, these converts to peace are unable to cross over to the Indian side legitimately and their wives come in conflict with law immediately. “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 in case they have criminal charges against them,” says advocate Taj Hussain Shah, who has been pursuing such cases at the Poonch district court, adding, “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.”
As the courts of the State are yet to decide on the status of women like Parveen, Safia and Zahida, they and many like them continue to live in a circle of fear and anxiety.
(The writer is a media fellow with National Foundation for India and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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