Thursday, April 1, 2010

IMPACT OF VIOLENCE ON WOMEN, CHILDREN IN KASHMIR: Tale of Dardpora widows and orphaned children

Violence in all its manifestations affects every aspect of life. Here in the story below our correspondent Amin Masoodi analyses how it has left its affect on the children and women of the village Dardpora, Kashmir.

In the strife-torn Kashmir valley reeling under relentless violence for more than two decades, Pahari dominated village Dardpora, translated as “abode of pain”, in the frontier district of Kupwara, some 130 kms. from Capital city Srinagar still presents a grim picture of the effect of violence particularly on women and children even after more than a decade.

Violence especially during the 1990’s, a period in which Kashmir valley witnessed unabated bloodshed rendered Dardpora a village of widows. The-ill fated village has the dubious distinction of being the village with the most widows and orphans in Kashmir valley.

At least 130 women were rendered widows and 340 children orphaned due to the unabated violence in this ill-fated village during 1990’s.

Distress and despair are writ large on the faces of these widows and their orphaned children, who lost their fatherhood at a very tender age. Victims of official apathy, the orphaned children and widows have been left to the mercy of Almighty God in absence of any support from any quarter.

Listen to the woeful tales of victimized families and you would be stunned. Except for the words of sympathy from non-government organizations and civil societies who make tall claims of safeguarding the interests of poor and needy, these families have not received any sustainable support to help them live a life and educate their children.

Abject poverty over the years has forced a good chunk of orphaned children to abandon education and to do manual labour to help their mothers earn a living.

Instead of pen and paper, the orphaned children carry tools like plough and screwdrivers in their hands to earn a living.

“I had a dream to become a pilot and fly an aeroplane . My dreams are shattered and I am washing vehicles to earn a living for my ailing mother,” said orphaned Shahzad Ahmad, with moist eyes adding that many people interviewed and photographed him but nobody has come forward to help.

Begum Jan has four children and a daughter-in-law. Her husband Shamsuddin Poswal was killed in 1992 who according to her was later attributed to Albarq militant outfit by the security forces.

“I have five children to take care of as my elder son Mohammad Younus was killed in firing the same year. My children could not study further after my husband, who was the only bread earner in the family, was killed by security forces. In absence of support from any corner, my children abandoned education and are doing manual labour to help earn a living,” says Lal Jan in a muzzled voice.

Like Begum Jan, scores of widows have painful stories to narrate. In absence of help from government and non-government agencies, the widows do household chores in neighbouring villages to make both ends meet.

“We have been left to the mercy of Almighty God. Over past few years, many people came here and photographed us and our muddy houses but nobody helped us financially,” lamented Lal Jan adding that even the separatists did not ever bother to help.

The trauma for the victimized families of Dardpora does not end here. Nearly a hundred girls who lost their fathers in militancy-related incidents have attained marriageable age but there is nobody to take them in marriage.

Many orphaned girls in this village have attained marriageable age but nobody is ready to marry these helpless girls. A couple of years before, a girl sought my help in getting married as her father, the only breadwinner of the family, was killed by the Army 12 years ago. She told me that if nobody comes to her help she would be forced to take some wrong steps,” a senior citizen told Media Scan adding that with the help of some village elders they managed her marriage in the neighbourhood.

Naseema Begum, the widow of Qasim Khoja, who has five daughters, narrates her woeful tale. “My husband was killed by the Army in early Nineties and since then I have been virtually begging to feed my family. My two elder daughters are about 30 years of age but I am not able to marry them,” she said.

Many other widows lack resources to marry off their grown up daughters. Gul Jane said, “I have two daughters who are of marriageable age. But I don’t have resources to get them married. I want to die only after the marriage of my daughters.”

A senior citizen Abdul Rashid said, “On an average Rs 10,000 to Rs 12,000 are being spent here on a marriage. Economically it is a backward village and to arrange Rs 10,000 is an uphill task for the villagers. I humbly appeal to people from across the valley to come forward for helping these girls,” adding that if somebody wants to donate he should either come here and donate the money personally or give it to some credible organizations.

Apart from this, locals said that there are some 50 young widows too who need attention. “More than a hundred women lost their husbands due to violence and at least 50 of them are as young as 20-25 years of age. They too need attention,” said Gulzar Ahmad, who teaches at a private school.

According to a Social Welfare Department (SWD) official, most of the victimised families do not get any help from the department for the reasons that they are the kith and kin of militants. “The SWD pays only to those families where the heads of families were killed either by militants or in the cross firing as in the guidelines, the families of militants are not entitled to State relief,” he said.

The extent of official apathy to the village can well be understood by the fact that even in the present age of Information and technology the village barely 25 kilometers from the Kupwara township lacks electricity, proper water supply and has only one middle school.

After the armed anti India insurgency broke out in Kashmir, a large number of youth crossed the line of control to take up arms.

Dardpora was one of the favourite crossover routes to Pakistan administered Kashmir, says Mir Ghulam Rasool a retired school teacher in Dardpora.

“As many people would take this route to cross over to the other side, the youth of Dardpora were also vulnerable, perhaps the reason for so many causalities in the village.” Mir says.

Mir claims the villagers are too poor to help the widows and the large number of widows scares away those who come to help.

By: Amin Masoodi

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