The Wounded Women Of Kashmir
By Ashutosh Sharma
08 August, 2013
Largely ignored in post-conflict reconstruction efforts in Jammu and Kashmir by the government, many women severely affected by conflict have been fighting a tough battle for existence
The life out of her village does not exist for Parveen Akhtar —who lives in a mud house perched atop a hillock, nestled in an undulating forest area of Banmat, a small village tucked away in the mountainous border district Poonch in Jammu and Kashmir—for about 8 years.
On a usual afternoon, Parveen (38) was busy collecting firewood in the forest nearby. She unwittingly footed a hidden anti-personnel mine and within no time lost her leg in a powerful explosion. Since then she has not been able to move as freely as she used to.
There are many such survivors including Gulaab Jaan from Shahpur, Razia Bi from Qasba, Hakim Bi from Salotri and Kanta Devi from Haveli in the border villages of Poonch—where horror of stray landmines and unexploded ordnance stalks the villagers. All of them have been endlessly waiting for compensation amount from the government hoping that the token money might solve some of their problems.
After losing a limb, the normal work routine did not change for these women, though surely their miseries have multiplied. They tend to children, assist in fields and look after cattle. And worst, they consider themselves ‘a burden’ on their families—an inevitable psychological ghost that stays with them after losing limbs.
Those who don’t have any alternative sustainable source of income have been compelled into beggary. One such victim, Fatima Jaan (40) from Guntrian, a village located at the Line of Control (LoC), heads out to district headquarter Poonch for begging on routine basis. She treks for nearly four kilometres and then boards a bus to reach her work station after feeding her children and sending them to school.
Fatima was grazing her cow near the house when she unknowingly triggered a landmine. She does not recall the year of the incident but says with certainty that “it happened some years after my marriage”.
A few years after losing her leg she lost her husband also. “My husband, Noor Mohammad, went missing after he was taken by some Army personnel in 1998. No one ever saw or heard of him after that time.”
“A year after my husband disappeared, I started begging here. It has been 13 years now,” she says. Then, as she looks at her amputated leg, she breaks down into loud sobs. Asked why she comes so far to beg and she replies, “If I beg in my area it is likely to bring disrepute to the family’s name. In a few years I will also have to arrange for the marriage of my daughters.”
Her case was taken up with the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) by a noted local activist, Kamaljeet Singh. Taking cognisance of her difficult situation, the SHRC in its final judgment of April 2011, recommended that the government provide suitable financial assistance to her without delay. This recommendation has not been followed up.
After being maimed, widowed or affected by conflict in some other unfortunate way, these women have not been able to access health care or benefits of government schemes. Their life is miserable in the absence of state protection.
In the border village of Pukharni in Nowshera sector in Rajouri, another amputee Safia Begum (35) is battling her disability. Under a cloudless and shimmering sky, in the dusty courtyard of her mud house, she is busy working in the makeshift kitchen. She kneads dough and then expertly makes rotis on an earthen ‘chulha’ (stove) – and she does it all, literally, single handedly. Safia lost her left hand to a landmine blast when she was just six. The same tragedy revisited her in 2011 when her eight year old son also lost a hand to landmine explosion near home.
“Besides a little bit of farming, my husband and I do various menial jobs to sustain the family,” she says. In the same village, there are women like Naseem Akhtar, 23, and Sharifa Begum, 22, both of whom lost one of their legs as children in separate landmine blasts near their homes. They now stitch clothes for survival and are worried about the future.
Gulkhar, a widow and mother of six daughters, lost three buffaloes – the only family asset and source of income – when the cattle wandered over to a landmined pasture in a village near the LoC in the Bala Kote area of Poonch district last October.
“Despite reporting the matter to the local administration, I haven't got any relief yet,” complains Gulkhar, whose family ironically is categorised as Above Poverty Line (APL), as a result of which she does not get a widow’s pension. Normally, widows get a monthly pension of Rs 200 whereas those who are above 64 years or fall in the Below Poverty Line (BPL) category are given a monthly pension of Rs 400 by the government.
“Most of our land is infested with mines; the rest is rocky and arid. Only a small portion is cultivable,” she says. These days, there is one question that keeps haunting her: “How will I marry my daughters? After losing our livestock we don’t have any source of income.”
Gulkhar also talks about Razia Bi, 65, and Sakina Bi, 65, who are her neighbours in the village. “Razia and Sakina lost their husbands to shelling from across the border. Neither of them received any financial assistance from the government. Their families are also facing severe economic hardships,” she reveals.
Monetary compensation to landmine victims, provided by the Ministry of Defence, is given only after the cases are processed on the recommendation of the District Development Commissioner. But the process of compensation is believed to be too complicated to give timely and required benefit to the victims.
A disabled person normally gets a monthly pension of Rs 400 from the state’s social welfare department—in many cases even this paltry amount is not grated to them for various reasons.
Despite their lives being entwined with stigma, discrimination and isolation, these women have been courageously struggling to put their life together yet it remains to be seen how long the government takes in fulfilling its obligations towards them!
(The writer is a media fellow with National Foundation for India and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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