Feature

Women Without A State: Pakistani Women in Kashmir Long For Home

By Mir Aiyaz, Sajad Gul

Hundreds of women from Pakistan who married former Kashmiri rebels are now living an uncertain life in Kashmir. Left without a state, they are neither allowed to go back to their homeland, nor accepted as a citizen here in India. They have been demanding to be deported to Pakistan or be granted Indian citizenship so that they can legally visit their families in Pakistan.

Bushra Begum from Pakistan came to India with her husband, an ex-rebel, in 2012. Expected to return to Pakistan in six months, Bushra is still waiting to go back.  Her husband snatched her passport and never gave it back. Now divorced, separated from her two sons, and without a passport, Bushra lives a lonely and fearful life in Kashmir.

There are hundreds of women like Bushra who are waiting for a chance to return to their ancestral home in Pakistan. Locally called “aparem” (from other side of border) , they are busy working inside a dimly lit room in a boutique at Faisal market, Kupwara.

Sairah Javid, 44, owns Bakhtawar Boutique, a shop named after her younger daughter.  Many women like Sairah come here to earn a living, miles away from their loved ones in Pakistan.

Sairah, mother of four, was married to Javaid Ahmad, a former rebel, in Karachi way back in 2001. She came with her husband to India in 2007. Since then, a trip back to her homeland has remained an elusive dream which never materlized.

Bushra works in a boutique in Kashmir | Photo: Mir Aiyaz

“Two years ago my father died. It was so painful to see my brothers and sisters wailing while clinging to him. I could not even attend the last rites,” says Sairah sobbingly who lives with her husband currently in Kupwara.

These women have held scores of demonstrations in different parts of valley, the recent one in Uri, Baramulla demanding to be sent back but “authorities lack the feeling to understand our agonies,” they say.

A girl who wished anonymity has never been to her maternal side but is unable to explain the feeling of not visiting them during vacations in school when others in her class do. “ If they cannot send us to attend joyous moments at least they should allow us to be with our family in the moments of sorrow.”

Back in 1990s, hundreds of men from Kashmir crossed the LoC to join training camps in Pakistan to fight against the Indian security forces. A few if these rebels gave up armed rebellion “due to a change of heart” and were willing to return to India.

An opportunity for such ex-rebels to return arrived when the government of Indian-administered Kashmir announced an amnesty programme for them. According to the policy, the rebels who went to Pakistan between January 1, 1989, and December 31, 2009 were eligible for rehabilitation along with their dependents.

But they were permitted to return only through border checkpoints at Wagah-Attari inPunjab, the Salamabad and Chakkan da Bagh crossings along the LoC, or through New Delhi airport.

But these returnees avoided the permitted routes to avoid Pakistani security and Indian security forces who might arrest them. They chose to come via Nepal and Bangladesh. And since they did not come through the permitted route, the government claimed they were not eligible for any benefits under the amnesty policy.

Six months wait turned into 10 years and counting

Sitting near a door, Bushra is ironing clothes in the three-room shop where a few divorcees like her have found temporary solace.

Sairah working at a boutique in Kashmir. | Photo: Mir Aiyaz

Bushra married an ex rebel, Altaf in 2008. She returned to India with her husband via Nepal in 2012 following an announcement of rehabilitation policy for former rebels by Omar Abdullah led government in 2010. However, upon arriving to India, her husband snatched her passport. The couple divorced two years ago. Mother of two, she lived with her children until Eid-ul-fitr when Altaf, her husband from Pattan area in Baramulla took them forcefully in his custody.

She chose to hide the news of divorce from her parents to not give them more grief. 

“Initially I kept it a secret from my parents who usually remain ill but when my sons were taken from me, my family implored to find a way to comeback,” says Bushra who has no one to call her own in a deeply populated town of Kupwara except other women facing similar tragedies. 

“No parent was willing to send their daughter here but these men like my husband took away our children. This was what compelled us to come. It was a deception,” says Bushra hiding her sorrow behind a visibly angry face.

At the time of return, parents of Bushra were assured by Altaf of visits back to ancestral home after six months. But it has been 10 long years and Bushra has not paid even a single visit to her home in Pakistan.

Having tried hard from last several years to become domiciles of the now bifurcated and downgraded UT of Jammu and Kashmir, most of the women, especially divorcees want to be deported at the earliest.

“If you are not accepting us, at least send us back,” requests Sairah who was summoned by local police in connection with demonstrations.

As per offical figures, following the change in residency rights after doing away with semi autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir, 55,931 West Pakistani refugees and 2,754 members of Valmiki community have been issued domicile certificates, but less than 500 wives of Pakistani origin of former rebels are not only denied citizenship rights but a trip back to motherland is not possible owing to denial of passports by authorities.

Bushra is waiting to go back to her home in Pakistan | Photo: Mir Aiyaz

In the middle of this year, Indian Government decided to issue domicile certificates to non local spouses of Kashmiri women who have married outside J&K making things easier for non natives. But pleas of these women fall on deaf ears.

“Every now and then, people from Bajrang Dal ask Pakistani sympathizers to go Pakistan but why are  they not sending Pakistanis by birth back even when we have been demanding so,” laments Sairah.

Legal Recourse

When asked about the children of these women, Shafeeq Ahmad Bhat, lawyer by profession stated that there is “no clear cut policy of government on this and law is not clear on this point as well that is why future of their children is in limbo.”

A longing to meet loved ones is buried in every women’s heart from different parts of Pakistan, united in this border town with a sole aim to return. Sairah while setting a garment under a sewing machine  asks, “ If they(govt) feel pain of their children why not of others?”

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Mir Aiyaz

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