Condition of widows, orphans in J&K miserable

Officials in the Social Welfare Department have fixed charges for clearing cases under various schemes


At first look Mugli Begum’s gloomy face conveys the ordeal through which she has been going for the last decade and a half. The unfortunate old woman has lost all  three sons in the bloody Kashmir conflict. Mugli, who hails from the Asham village of north Kashmir’s Bandipora district, says the pain of losing sons is unbearable.

Recounting her ordeal, Mugli says eldest son Farooq Ahmad Guru joined militant ranks in mid 1990s. After remai­ning with militants for a few years, Mugli recalls, he shifted his loyalty and joined Ikhwanis (counter insurgents) and was later killed by the Hizbul Mujahideen militants in 1996. However, Mugli’s orde­al didn’t end here. Two years later unid­entified gunmen kidnapped her two other sons Mashooq and Ghulam Moham­­mad in the dead of night. Next day their bodies  were found in a nearby village.

“My world came down crashing in a jiffy. Death of beloved is unbearable for those living and I have seen three deaths that too of my beloved sons,” wailing Mugli told Deccan Herald.

The old woman from fisherman community has no source of income to sustain. It is her neighbours who feed her. “Why didn’t Allah kill me instead of my sons,” she wails.

Sakina Begum, 35, was widowed when her husband Raj Aman was buried under the snowstorm that hit remote Waltengu village of south Kashmir’s Anantnag
district in February 2005. Since the death of her husband, life has become an ordeal for Sakina and her six children. “My husband was the lone breadwinner of our huge family and after his death there is nobody to take care of us. I am virtually begging to feed my six children,” Sakina said.

“I don’t have anything to sustain. My husband was a labourer and used to earn some money to feed us. But now we have nothing except Allah’s name,” she added.

Sakina’s 16-year-old eldest son had to leave school and work as a child labour to feed his family. These aren’t isolated cases in Kashmir where more than 50,000 people have lost their lives in the 23-year-old bloody conflict.

A recent research reveals that the condition of most widows and orphans in Kashmir conflict is miserable as they face multi-dimensional problems. Accommodation, educational loss, psychological depression, social disorganisation, insecurity, health deterioration, dependence on others, deviance and delinquency are some of the major issues widows and orphans of conflict face,” says “A Sociological Study of Widows and Orphans.”

The survey, conducted by noted sociologist of Kashmir, Prof Bashir Ahmad Dabla, says that most important problem for widows and orphans is shelter.

“After the death of their husband/father, woman and her children were not taken care of either by their patri-kins or matri-kins. They were so often denied their inheritance rights and were compelled to arrange their own accommodation,” it reveals.

The most important loss to orphans  has been in education. “The death of
father means stoppage of regular income to the family and they couldn’t pay even the meagre amount of school fees. This results in dropouts up to 40 per cent. The number of girls was more than boys in the dropout cases,” Prof Dabla said.

He warned that future of these people would be bleak if immediate steps weren’t taken by the government and the society. Despite the Jammu and Kashmir government’s tall claims to help widows and destitutes, sources say, officials at the state’s Social Welfare Department have fixed rates  for clearing cases under various schemes.

Hajra Bano, a widow from Srinagar, alleged that she had applied for special fund assistance. “But I was asked to contact a peon of a social welfare officer who in turn demanded a bribe of Rs 2,000 to get the case cleared,” she alleged. “The officer’s peon is working as his agent and beneficiaries like me are fleeced in broad daylight,” she  charged.

Officially, there are 9,000 widows and 25,000 orphans, but unofficial figures are as high as 32,000 widows and 97,000 orphans. According to the data prepared by the State Rehabilitation Council (SRC), not a single young widow has been provided with the financial assistance under the scheme of “marriage assistance to young widows and grown up daughters” in Srinagar and Ganderbal leaving a question mark on the government claims of giving first priority to these two districts. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah is elected to the state Assembly from Ganderbal constituency.

A R Hanjura, a social activist and lawyer, says that the main aim of the SRC is to provide financial assistance to widows and orphans directly or indirectly hit by Kashmir conflict in the form of pension, scholarships and marriage assistance. “We have 55,000 widows in Kashmir and 25,000 of them are widows due to conflict. In Srinagar, there are hund­reds of widows who have been directly hit by conflict and in immediate need of financial assistance as well as social support,” he said.

Hanjura said many people are unawa­re of  various schemes. “So it is the respo­nsibility of the SRC to approach the victims. They can also assimilate the locals and NGOs who can disseminate the message and identify the desirable victims.” State’s lone woman minister Sakina Itoo, who holds portfolio of the Social Welfare Department, said: “Though we are doing our best for these widows and orphans, I agree that a lot more needs to be done. We are short of staff and infrastructure though money is no problem.”

Sakina, whose father Wali Mohammad Itoo, a veteran National Conference leader, was shot dead by militants in March 1994, said that there are over 3,000 widows of killed militants “whom neither their parents nor in-laws are accepting. We do not have any provision to help them under the pension scheme.”

However, she said such women can always come forward and avail themse­lves of loans from the Women Development Corporation (WDC) to start their own enterprises. The SRC is giving monetary help of Rs 750 to 51,267 widows registered with it. Around 2,866 aged persons whose earning sons were killed and 1,067 rendered handicapped in militancy are also getting help. “Besides this, we are giving money for studies of those orphaned,” the Minister added.

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