My study Kashmiri Women: The Burden of Conflict, Half Widowhood and its Psychological Health Effects conducted in three districts of Kashmir (Kupwara, Baramulla and Srinagar) depicts everyday struggles of survival of half widows as they fight the society, culture, norms, and are forced by circumstances to assume the role of a bread earners for the survival of their family and continue to live – a life of endless wait.
The study reveals that these directly women after assuming the status of “half widows” of “disappeared men” are facing various economic, social, and emotional insecurities which have added to their psychological problems.
Most half widows reported anxiety, often described as “gabrahat” (palpitations), sleep disorders and lack of interest in everyday activities. Almost all exhibited Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and anxiety, mostly triggered by memories of the scene of disappearance or the disappeared. To ease these somatic problems, most of these women have resorted to self-medication, consuming easily available anti-depressants, resulting in further health issues.
The study reveals that due to the high level of violence having been faced by the women the prevalence of suicidal ideation amongst those interviewed is striking, 93.33% shared the thought of ending their life had been on their mind in Srinagar and Kupwara district, whereas 86.67% shared they thought so in Baramulla district. It is striking to note that the findings further reveal that 86.67% felt like killing someone in Srinagar district whereas 93.33% felt so in Kupwara and 66.66% in Baramulla district.
The major findings of my study reveal that these women after assuming the status of half widows have developed three main sets of problems: the first set of problem includes emotional stress, harassment and social problems. The second sets of problems are losing home and property and dependence for living. The third set of problems is loneliness, physical insecurity, over burden of work
The half widows major concern includes the social stigma of being a half widow, traditional taboos, denial of property rights, shift of residence, feeling of insecurity, concern for the future of children and their education and the endless wait for the missing husband.
One of the half widows, Haseena, (name changed) from Baramulla district narrated her ordeal and shared about the lack of family support, she said, “I filed a court case against the disappearance of my husband. My father-in-law never supported me for the same step. He would always fight with me. I lived at my parents place for years together. My in-laws debarred my children from the ancestral property under the plea that half widows are not entitled to any property. Now I am trying to support my family by selling vegetables.”
Naseema (name changed) of Kupwara district, a half widow and mother of four children has been waiting for the past twelve years for the news of her missing husband, whom she has not seen ever since he was taken away in the middle of the night from their home, by the security forces. She has lost the right to her husband’s property and has been thrown out of her home by her in-laws.
Nearly all of the women under study wished to see their loved ones return and this insecurity and lack of information about their whereabouts was the most important concern for them.
While Kashmiri women continue to shelter nameless corpses, beyond burden, and continue an endless wait for the “missing”, they can only hope and pray when an unmarked grave is discovered. They continue to live an uncertain and insecure life amidst embattlement and barbed wires.
Zara looks at me with tear filled eyes. She has many questions for the society. She wants to ask why is our society so insensitive towards the unfortunate destitute woman like half widows? Why half widows and their children are denied ancestral property rights. What is their fault? In the absence of any support from family and society how are they expected to fend and support themselves and their children?
Though Zara’s brother has tried to help by giving her a room to live in, she continues to live in constant state of uncertainty and fear of an insecure tomorrow for her son. She has become a patient of diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. She has no answers to her son’s questions when he asks her will his father ever attend the parent –teacher meet in school. Zara has been put on psychiatric medicine.
Maybe some of us would like to term the struggles of these half widows as “resilience” – to be seen in a positive light, an example of women’s struggle in Kashmir – to continue living, despite all odds but the violent and politically dubious realities cannot be negated.
However the question remains, can we all join together to do something to address this social issue and social cause? Can anything be done to alleviate the problems of these directly affected women and enhance their broadening role in the society in face of dire circumstances? As waiting is painful, forgetting is painful- but not knowing what to do is the worst form of suffering.
The author can be mailed at email@example.com