Kashmir Portal

A digital Kashmir Info Network

Tormented Kashmiri women battling it out in courts

Posted by Kashmir Portal on June 16, 2009

Srinagar, June 15: Mehmooda Wani (name changed) walked silently, tapping her cane slowly. Her aging eyes looked up at the building that she is visiting for the past eight months. Her frail body was fatigued after the tiresome bus journey, but the will to see her son free is too strong to stop her from pursuing the court case.
 “My son Ahmad (name changed) was detained in the last year’s Amarnath land row uprising, after he was caught stone-pelting by the forces. Since then, I have been making rounds of the courts and police stations but to no avail. My husband died thirty years ago and my other three sons are now weary to pursue the case. I also met National Conference (NC) leader Ali Mohammad Sagar but he gave me Rs 200, saying that he can’t assure anything and I should go back home. But I will not rest till my son comes back home”, she says.
 Mehmooda isn’t the only case of this kind. Hundreds of women throng the courts and police stations in Kashmir every week to follow up with the cases of their loved ones who have become victims of the security forces’ wrath ever since the conflict started. Most of them are now getting little support from the rest of the family members. Yet, they have high hopes from the system and never fail to miss the hearings at the courts.
 An advocate at the State High Court, Urfi explains, “Women tend to be more emotional than men. It is usually the mothers, wives or sisters, who file the petitions and follow the cases rather than the male family members. For them, the advocate is next to God and they religiously follow our advice.”
 Over the years, the Kashmiri men have been subjected to human rights violations including custodial killings and detentions having multiplied the number of widows and half-widows, who now pursue the cases of their dear ones.
 The vulnerability of men to fall prey to the troopers and various agencies is another factor that prompts the women of the family to fight the legal battles. “I have seen many cases where the brothers or fathers do not come forward due to the fear of being noticed by the security forces. The bread-earners of the family also have other responsibilities, which leave them with less time to focus on the court cases”, opines Ashraf Wani, a lawyer with the High Court.
 However, the difficulties these women face make things worse for them. Travelling from far-off distances to meet their solicitors, seeking loans from neighbours to meet petty expenses, meeting politicians and top-level officials often make things cumbersome.
  “Most of the such suffering women are illiterate and have never stepped outside their comfort zones. Courts, police stations, interrogation centers etc are conservative places that they have never previously visited in their lives and understanding the legal nuances is a complex exercise for them. They are also unaware of the authority levels and can be seen, literally begging the policemen and petty officials for the early release of their relatives. All these factors make them an easy victim to exploitation at the hands of unreliable elements”, says Urfi.
 Her views are seconded by Neelofar Bhat (name changed), who has been following the case of her detained husband Fahad (name changed) for the past four years. “I feel my knees are broken after making so many rounds of the courts. He used to drive an auto, before the forces took him away claiming he was involved in a Fidayeen attack. I draw a meager salary of Rs 200 as a peon in the local school. My 15-year-old son had to discontinue his education and is now working as a daily laborer. My daughter, who was extremely attached to her father, suffered a heart ailment after he was arrested. But I don’t have enough money for her treatment”, says Neelofar, amid sobs.
 She said the financial hurdles and lack of support from family often make her weak. “Fahad’s brother initially tried to help us but he was harassed by SOG. He also has a family of his own. My brother too helps us. But my three sisters-in-law are widows and they are dependent on him for survival. My brother has a family of his own. How much can he support me?
 A high Court lawyer, Asif Iqbal reflects ruefully, “There is an outburst of emotions when these women plead with us for the safety of their kith and kin. Their mental state is usually disturbed and the financial hurdles they face are stressful. One can see them crying in the courts, before politicians and anyone whom they consider powerful enough. At times, small children accompany them. It is often a heart rending sight.”
 Despite all the difficulties, these women continue their struggle in the hope that one-day, their sons, brothers and husbands would return. Till then, life goes on for them.
  “I am often torn between whether to pursue the case or lead my life as a widow. But the absence of a male member should not deter me from fighting this battle”, Neelofar concludes.

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