By Yusuf Jameel
Widows & Half Widows: Saga of extra-judicial arrests & killings in Kashmir
Author: Afsana Rashid
Publishers: Pharos Media, New Delhi
Pages: 192 Price: Indian Rs. 200
More than two decades on the Kashmiri campaign for separation from India, often referred to as “freedom struggle” by those who espouse it, has lost much of its violent intensity. But while the entrenched political realities may be slowly changing, recent studies have shown that ten million Kashmiris are increasingly heirs to a lineage of suffering that, after years of insurgency and tough counter-insurgency measures initiated by the Indian state, has no end in sight.
One of the most traumatic consequences of the armed conflict is Enforced Involuntary Disappearance (EID). Since 1989, when the separatist campaign burst into a major violence, more than ten thousand people have disappeared after they were seized by security forces and other official agencies, as claimed by the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), an organisation of the relatives of the EID victims. The government disputes the number and even claims that some of those who went into missing may have joined the militants’ ranks or crossed over to the other side of Line of Control.
But the contradictory statements of successive governments, and various official agencies under these, not only betrays the reliability of the government’s claims, but also shows the triviality and silliness with which those at the helm of affairs perceive an issue which has left indelible scars on thousands of women leaving them as widows, half-widows and destitute as a majority of the victims of EID were married men.
Being related to these missing as daughters, mothers, sisters and wives, it is mainly women who are suffering in the absence of any information about the whereabouts of the disappeared men. These wives have acquired the title of ‘half-widows’ — most of whom are left without any entitlement to land, homes, inheritance, social assistance and pensions and even face “pestering” at home and at the hands of the society.
Afsana Rashid, a young journalist of the Valley, has tried to mirror the miseries of these women who, she justly says, are “even after years of the disappearance of their husbands, sons and fathers still on a daily search for their loved ones while trying to discover their own identity – are they widows or not widows.”
That said, it appears Afsana has not been wholeheartedly involved in the important subject as it is, or on the level it demanded from her. Afsana has botched an opportunity to do justice with this subject. After reading her work, the question one is confronted with is, as a successful journalist was she perhaps in a hurry to enroll her name as a book author as well?
It is claimed that this is a ‘book’ that compiles the tragedies of these women to give a voice to the voiceless — but it would be incongruous to call it a book. Compilation, of course it is; merely an anthology of something as the most part of which has already been there in print. Much of the material is a recap of official handouts of the APDP, statements from its activists or others connected with the subject made or the interviews of the suffering women that appeared in local or outside newspapers from time to time. Some of these, filed by Afsana Rashid herself, seem to be not any better than wire agency copies.
Paradoxically, Afsana has not even troubled herself by re-editing the already published newspaper/ wire reports before slotting them into this book, as seen by phrases like “he (she) said here today.” Several APDP statements have been incorporated verbatim, rather reproduced, and the reader finds himself at a loss when told about APDP’s past plans such as asking people to observe ‘complete shutdown’ on August 30, 2008. As more than one newspaper reports on same or similar subject matters, this causes the reader to lose interest halfway.
While discussing the case of Tasleema Bano, a young widow, two of her statements made on two different occasions, and already appeared in newspapers, have been included which only leaves the reader bemused about her plight. Does she know her husband is dead — or she doesn’t — even after his corpse together with four other victims of “fake encounter of killings” was exhumed from a cemetery near the town of Ganderbal. Like several other portions, Chapter 1 is nothing more than an anthology of borrowed bits and pieces pertaining to the historical background of Kashmir conflict — nothing less or more than usual wire agency copy of a Western reporter.
Likewise, Chapter III introduces APDP to the reader, but then on Page 41, the author does it again. There are some factual errors there as well or, but at least some facts have been given a perverted dye before putting them in. Was APDP faction head Parveena Ahangar really a Nobel Peace prize nominee? Nominated by whom? Wasn’t it in the wish list of a home-grown organisation that the writer has failed to identify? This is tantamount to misinforming the reader, to say the least.
Other errors: Hizb-ul-Mujahedin ‘supreme commander’ is Syed Salahuddin, not Muhammad Salahuddin, Afsana who is covering Kashmir for over a decade now should have known it.
It appears, Afsana has not bothered to learn the basics of writing a book, if she still claims, ‘Widows & Half Widows’ is one, before seeking to become an author. This need not have been so complicated, as some may think. Having said that, ‘Widows & Half Widows’ would have been a better piece of writing (or reading) had Afsana opted to do a self-assessment by reading her own work or even submitting it to exerpt(s) to those who could have given an honest assessment. I’m sure neither has been done.
Evaluations are very important because they help towards determining where one needs to concentrate to make his or her story the best that it can be. At best, ‘Widows & Half Widows’ can be described on the whole as a collection of records which were already in print, but strewn in various sources, and have now been presented to us in paperback form.