22 years after Kashmir’s first custodial disappearance, clerics have ruled that women whose husbands go missing — or the Valley’s ‘half-widows’ — can remarry after waiting 4 years. But for many, the ruling has come too late.
The fatwa was out, over several cups of kahwa. On December 26 last year, six religious clerics decreed that Kashmir’s ‘half-widows’ could remarry if their husbands didn’t return four years after going missing.
‘Half-widows’ is a term that came up sometime during the two-and-a-half decades of conflict in Kashmir when men disappeared, mostly in the custody of security forces, leaving behind wives who had no way of knowing whether their husbands were dead or alive.
Twenty-two years after the first custodial disappearance in Kashmir and seven years after the last, a meeting of religious clerics at a Srinagar hotel — an initiative by Ehsas, a civil society group in Kashmir — may have finally arrived at a solution to one of Kashmir’s biggest social problems. But for many of these ‘half-widows’, the decision means little. They have waited decades for their husbands to return and now, it may be too late for them to start afresh.
A muddy road leads to the double-storied house of Ghulam Rasool Parray at Andergam village near Pattan town. This was where Muneera Begum grew up, got married and returned to when her husband disappeared one winter night. That was 18 years ago. She is now 36 and won’t entertain any talk of a remarriage.
Begum was 15 when she married Mohammad Akbar Rather of neighbouring Palhallan village. The couple had been married for three years and had a son Aamir, when in November 1996, life dealt them a hard knock. “We were eating our dinner when some soldiers of 8 Rashtriya Rifles turned up at our house. They picked up my husband, saying sahib (officer) had asked for him,” she says.
Soon, her relationship with her in-laws turned sour. “They started blaming me for what had happened,” she says. “I could not bear the torture. I had to take care of Aamir, so I came back to live with my father.” Aamir was barely a year old then.
“My daughter was only 18 when her husband disappeared. That’s no age to remain single. She could have remarried,” says Begum’s father. But there was no decree then that allowed her to do so.
The only socially acceptable option for her was to marry her brother-in-law, Rather’s brother. Begum’s father tried that. “But her in-laws did not agree to that marriage,” says her father. Aamir recently cleared his Class 12 exams and is preparing for competitive tests. “With Aamir grown up, I do feel lonely at times,” says Begum. “But when continued…