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Kashmir’s “half-widows” in precarious state


Summary of story from Al Jazeera, July 29, 2011

The Indian government’s refusal to officially recognise enforced disappearances has left families in perpetual limbo, promulgating stress and psychological trauma for parents, spouses and children, according to a new report.

The 48-page report , Half Widow, Half Wife, released on Thursday by the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), argues that although “direct violence is disproportionately inflicted on males” in Kashmir, women and children whose husbands or fathers “disappear” are caught in a legal conundrum that does little to compensate or protect them.

More than 1,500 women whose husbands have disappeared but have not yet been declared deceased are in a precarious position with little legal protection, rendering many desperate, homeless and paving the way for abuse and exploitation in Indian-administered Kashmir, according APDP’s report.

An estimated 8,000 people have disappeared in Kashmir since the insurgency against Indian rule began in 1989, although the Indian government says the number of those “missing” is most likely closer to 3,000 to 4,000.

Indian authorities claim that the disappeared men crossed over into Pakistan-administered Kashmir to complete arms training, became militants and never returned.

Local civil society and international human rights organisations dispute this claim and say that these men were abducted by Indian security forces and were either detained indefinitely or disposed of.  

For the “half-widows” this is particularly difficult.

The report says that based on their insecure position of being “single”, yet still legally married, the “half-widows” are unable to access the family estate or ration cards.

Even the ex-gratia relief and compassionate appointment created by the Indian government can only be accessed with a death certificate and that too only if it is proven that the deceased had no link with militancy.

Ex-gratia relief can only be accessed by “half-widows” after a period of seven years has passed and only when the case is passed through a local screening committee.

The report says that the committee is usually made up of police officers and government officials, thereby undermining the process.

Adding to the confusion is the continued dispute over what is the minimum time needed to dissolve a marriage and allow a “half-widow” to move on with her life and possibly remarry according to Islamic law.

For more information on human rights in Kashmir see Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

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