Married to the wrong side!
How would a woman feel if she is not allowed to visit her birthplace and maternal home just because she has married a person who once wanted to become a militant, decided not to, got her to his own home following assurances by then government regarding rehabilitation?
To know the answer, one must meet those women from Pakistan and its administered Kashmir who have wedded to the Kashmiri men, who years ago, had crossed the LoC for arms training but later had a change of heart and decided to live a normal life.
Many of these Kashmiri men started returning to the Valley along with their wives and kids in 2010, when then government, headed by Omar Abdullah, announced a ‘rehabilitation policy’ for those who had decided to shun the path of violence. The policy promised rehabilitation, job opportunities, financial help, and a sympathetic approach regarding their due prosecution.
The government had designated four routes — Chakan-da-Bagh in Poonch, Salamabad in Baramulla, Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, and Wagah-Attari in Punjab, for the return of these men and their families.
However, they avoided officially designated transit points fearing backlash by Pakistani authorities and agencies and thus adopted Nepal-India border.
Three years later, the ‘rehabilitation policy’ was announced with fanfare and then chief minister Omar Abdullah, on October 6, 2013, informed the legislative assembly that as many as 277 persons and their 578 family members had returned to Kashmir through Nepal. He denied any government assistance or extension of benefits of the policy to returnees, saying that Nepal was not an approved returning route.
The brazen announcement by the chief minister shocked the returnees because just seven months earlier, the same chief minister had stood in support of one Liaqat Shah, a former militant who along with his Pakistani wife and kids, had come from Nepal and was arrested by Delhi Police on March 23, 2013. At that time, Abdullah had said that the arrest of Liaqat Shah will harm the ‘rehabilitation policy’ introduced by his government. The former militant was set free and given a clean chit by the NIA from the charges framed against him by Delhi Police.
Since then Shah like other returnees is living a normal life in the Valley. However, women with them feel frustrated and humiliated for not being given the travel documents so that they could occasionally visit their maternal homes. They are frequently seen in Srinagar’s press colony demanding citizenship rights.
Interestingly, these women, who are denied travel documents, have not only been casting their votes in the elections but a few of them have even contested these elections, authenticating their claim that they are the valid citizens of the land.
Seeing that their requests are falling on deaf ears, some of these women have now started demanding that they should be, at least, deported, if not given Indian passports.
Tragically, some of these women have got divorced after they developed disputes with their husbands and in-laws in Kashmir. Many of them are suffering from depression and anxiety. They feel suffocated for not being able to visit their paternal homes and even one of them committed suicide in Bandipora district in 2014.
‘Kashmir Images’ spoke to some of these women to take a look at the situation and suffering they are forced to face for many years now.
In my childhood, I had heard that “duor ke dhol suhawne hotay hain (the grass is always greener on the other side)” but I did not know what the proverb exactly meant, until I came here with my husband Rayees Ahmad, a resident of Pulwama.
We came here because, in Muzaffarabad, we were told that the government in Kashmir has decided to rehabilitate the former militants and their families. To avail the offer, we reached here on May 1, 2013. We realized that we were ditched in the name of ‘rehabilitation policy’.
Furthermore, I realized that everything that I was told about Kashmir was absolutely a falsehood. For me, the place is not heaven but hell. I am sorry to say but during the past seven years in the Valley, I have realized that Kashmiris are ruthless people. I wish I could meet Omar Abdullah and grab his collar for what he did to us in the name of rehabilitation policy.
Due to his deceit, I lost my kith and kin and blood relations back. My father passed away recently waiting for me to visit him atleast once. Since then I am out of my mind. I want to go back, at least, to see the grave of my father.
Four years back, I had applied for a passport but it was refused, saying that I was not an Indian citizen. While the fact is that we are inherent residents of Kashmir. My grandparents were living in Fateh Kadal, in Srinagar. Even my elder uncle was born here. They had migrated to Muzaffarabad in 1947.
I married Rayees in 2008. We have a 9-year-old daughter, Aqeela. I do not see any future for her at this place. Allow us to go back. My husband is, every now and then, being called to the police station for attendance. He is a poor man and a painter by profession. We were happy in Muzaffarabad, where we owned a shop and an auto-rickshaw. If they do not want to give us a passport, let them deport us.
I was born and brought up in Karachi. In 2001, I married Javeed Ahmad, who had gone to Muzaffarabad in 1989 for arms training but did not become a militant. Instead, he chose to live a normal life. After marriage Javeed set up his travel agency and transport business in Karachi. We were well off in Karachi, but my husband was unhappy. He wanted to return to his ancestral place. We came here along with our two daughters Laiba and Bakhtawar on Pakistani passports in January 2007. Bakhtawar was just born and Laiba was a toddler at that time. All of us were arrested in Srinagar and kept in Central Jail for about four months. Later, we were released on bail and allowed to live in my husband’s native village in Kupwara. Our two sons Shahrooz and Sharyaar were born here.
With the passage of time, we were provided with documents like Ration card, Aadhar card, State Subject certificates, etc. However, authorities have always turned down our request for issuing passports to my husband and the kids.
Due to the lack of travel documents, I have not been able to visit Karachi, since the time I came here. During the past fourteen years, there were many occasions of joy and sorrow at my parental home and I desperately wanted to visit there. A month and a half ago, my father Abdul Aziz passed away in Karachi. All of my siblings were present, but I was the only one who could not visit to see my ailing father. I saw my father was dying, through a video call. Those visuals are still haunting me.
I am not the only one who has been suffering because of not being allowed to go to their parental home. There are at least 350 women who are stuck here due to the lack of travel documents. Some of them have been divorced here but back home, their relatives do not know about their tragedies. Two of these divorcees are working with me at my tailoring shop in Kupwara. One of them was living in Tangdar and the other in Pattan. Each of them with two kids both were abandoned by their husbands. Now, they are living in rented rooms near my house in Kupwara. Unlike me, both of them are citizens of Jammu and Kashmir. One of them came from Muzzafarabad and the other from Bagh.
Sixty of us, including me, have applied for deportation. We tell the authorities that if they do not want to give us citizenship rights, at least they should deport us along with our kids. Send us back and then provide our husbands with passports so that they will be able to visit us. We want a better future for our kids and we want peace and dignity in our lives.
My husband Shiraz Ahmad Wani crossed LoC in 2004, but instead of becoming a militant he started a normal life and became a driver in Muzaffarabad. We married in 2005 and by the year 2010, we had three kids. We came here through Nepal in March 2012, as we heard that the government in Kashmir has announced the rehabilitation policy.
As soon as we reached Jammu, we were detained along with our kids. We were taken to Chandwekote police station in Ramban. A few days later, a court released our kids on bail. The police handed over them to Shiraz’s father who brought them to Shopian. I and my husband were sent to jail where we spent six months together. Later, Siraz was released, but I was kept imprisoned for two years and three months and then released on bail. Our case was put on trial in Session Judge’s court in Ramban. After several years’ of the trial, the court on March 18, 2019, acquitted my husband but convicted me under ‘Foreigners (Amendment) Act 2004’ for my illegal entry into India. I was given the punishment of three-year imprisonment and Rs 10, 000/= as a fine. The court, in its order, also said that I should be deported to Pakistan after completing my jail term.
Presently, I am out on bail with a condition that I will produce myself in the concerned police station, once every month. Considering that I am a mother of young kids and have already spent more than two years in jail, High Court released me on bail. I do not know what would be my fate but I want to stay here with my husband and kids. I want to spend the rest of my life with them. I do not want to go back.
I was a teacher in Karachi. In 2002, I got married to Abdul Salam Bhat, who had crossed over the Line of Control in 1995 to become a militant but instead worked in a readymade garment factory to live a normal life in Muzaffarabad.
When we, along with our three kids, left Pakistan for coming to Kashmir through Nepal in 2012, we had an impression that we will be detained for few days in the Valley for questioning and then rehabilitated under the government-announced policy. Personally, I was enthusiastic about the idea that I will start a new and secure phase of our family life in Kashmir.
A journey from Karachi to Kathmandu and then to Jammu was smooth and hassle-free. However, as soon as we reached Jammu to board a Srinagar-bound bus, a group of policemen showed up and arrested all of us (The couple and three kids). Our belongings including my jewelry were taken away. Even after nine years, my jewelry is still lying with them (police).
Initially, I along with my kids was lodged at a women’s police station in Jammu and my husband was taken somewhere else. At that time, my youngest child was two and a half years of age and I would breastfeed him. After spending 15 days in the police station, I was informed that my husband and I were being shifted to jail. My kids were handed over to my husband’s brothers. After three months in jail, my husband was granted bail but I was shifted to Delhi’s Tihar jail, where I spent another three months.
For me, this imprisonment was complete devastation. During my imprisonment, I was always worried about my little kids. After spending three months in Tihar, finally, I was released on bail. Our case was tried in the Session Court, Jammu.
In July 2018, the court acquitted my husband but convicted me for two-year imprisonment under the Foreigners (Amendment) Act 2004. Furthermore, the court ordered that I should be deported after completing my sentence. My lawyer has appealed against the order in the High Court in Jammu. Presently, the court proceedings are on and I am bound to be present in the court at each hearing and also to visit the concerned police station once every month.
These legal proceedings have a financial cost as well. My husband, who works as a waiter in a hotel in Jammu, had to sell his entire ancestral property to fight the cases and to support the family during the past nine years. Presently, we are living in a small house consisting of two rooms and a kitchen in Budgam.
I came here along with my husband Syed Irfan Hassan via the Nepal border, soon after the government announced the ‘rehabilitation policy’ in 2010. Since then I, along with other women like me, have been requesting for travel documents so that we can visit our ancestral homes, once in a while. We have been protesting time and again, and running from pillar to post to get travel documents. But our efforts appear to be going in vain.
On September 1, last year we, as a delegation, met lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha with our plea. He was kind enough to hear us out and assured help but nothing happened so far. A few weeks later, we tried to meet him again, but were not allowed by the police.
In spite of all these problems, we are hoping that, sooner or later, we will get our rights. We have also approached the court for getting citizenship rights.
I think the rehabilitation policy introduced by the state (erstwhile) government in 2010, was flawed and faulty by its nature. The J&K government launched the policy with the thorough consultation of the central government, but it seems that the Pakistani government was not taken on board on this matter. That is why none of the returnees did come from the designated crossing points. Instead, they chose the Nepal route to enter India.
Secondly, one must understand that according to the constitution of India both parts of Kashmir are basically a single unit. Even the J&K assembly has some reserve seats for the part of Kashmir which is under Pakistan’s control. Therefore, any person living in either part of Kashmir is a citizen of India by law. And also crossing over the LoC is not a serious crime. A husband from the valley and a wife from another part of Kashmir or vice versa and their kids are the due citizens and eligible for all kinds of residential and travel documents.
As far as the women who are basically Pakistani citizens and married to Kashmiri men are concerned, they too are eligible for granting Indian citizenship. According to the Indian Citizenship Act, these women are entitled to citizenship on the grounds of marriage to Indian citizens.
That said, the whole issue needs to be looked at on humanitarian grounds rather than the troubling legalities. These women married to Kashmiri men should not be stopped from visiting their parental homes. It is even against the spirit of the Indian constitution.
Additionally, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights also recognizes the importance of social and religious freedom of men and women. Take the example of those Pakistani women, who have come here after marrying Kashmiri men but got divorced and now they want to go back to their county. I wonder what stops the government from granting them permission to go to their ancestral home. Stopping them is not only against international laws but also against the Indian constitution itself.
This is more a human issue rather than a political or a legal matter and it should be looked at as a purely human issue.