Special Reports

Conf on widows remarriage in Kashmir

By Mushtaq Ul Haq Ahmad Sikander

Srinagar: Since the inception of armed militancy in the Valley a number of new problems have emerged in our society. The rising alienation with India was exploited by Pakistan which provided material, political, diplomatic and economic support to the militancy as it suited its national interests. In the process, Kashmiris became cannon fodder in the tussle between the two countries. Certain political leaders at that moment gave their whole-hearted support to the armed militancy and sent thousands of youth, who are the real treasure for any nation, to certain death with themselves resting and enjoying in solace and their own progeny was safe and sound in Western countries which they never cease to criticize. These leaders, some of whom are still alive, were so myopic and intellectually bankrupt that they couldn’t foresee the consequences of taking up arms agaisnt a huge state. This state of apathy still continues even today, though some of the stalwarts of the armed militancy have dropped their guns and came to the table for dialogue though the damage has been done and they couldn’t even rectify it as they are an elite which is unconcerned with the common man’s problems whose corpses they need to press their demands and push their vested interests.

This armed militancy which unleashed unprecedented problems of great concern like the growing crop of widows, half-widows and orphans in our society, but as is the norm these leaders are so dull, egoistic and eccentric that they have neither institutionalized the political struggle nor built any solid institutions which can attend to the requirements of these widows and orphans whose lives they have wrecked. Who is going to take care of these wretched souls driven to starvation by those who were/are at the helm of affairs? They just forsook them as they don’t need them because their men have served as cannon fodder until they became useless dead wood of no use to these leaders. One of the stalwarts of the armed militancy later made a u-turn into Peace-Dialogue Politics. When he brought a bride from across the broder, he was questioned by a prominent historian of Kashmir, Shabnum Qayoom, as to  why he could not marry a local daughter, sister or a widow of a shaheed. The leader sent his goons to beat up the historian in order to silence any other voice of dissent. Similarly if one made a simple demand for accountability or transparency in carrying out the separatist agenda or questioned the role of these leaders, he will end up with a verdict of being an Indian agent or blasphemy against the mission of martyrs.

The question of Widow Remarriage, though considered a social taboo here, was broken on 2 May 2010 when a social reformatory seminar was organized by the Islamic Fraternity, a socio-religious  organization run by youths, in the S.P. College auditorium.

Dr Abdul Latif Al-Kindi, a famous religious scholar of Kashmir, spoke about the prophetic model of addressing the issue of widow-remarriage but was brave enough to acknowledge the social constraints and obstacles in achieving the same in the present-day Kashmir. To make his point clearer, he quoted an example of a scholar who wrote a book on polygamy though he didn’t take a second wife himself yet he was socially boycotted by his friends and relatives. Islam describes the best model to tackle this problem but we by our deeds malign these universal teachings thus making their implementation impossible in our societies.

Dr Zafarul-Islam Khan, editor of The Milli Gazette who was the Chief Guest, discussed the widening sex ratio divide in India which is due to female feticide but here in Kashmir, militancy and other reasons are responsible for the same and the estimates for widows range from 30,000 to one lakh. He said, though there are no official figures giving the correct number of widows in the Valley, yet if they are even in smaller numbers, it remains a problem which needs to be tackled. He delved on various practical steps needed to be taken in this direction like setting up more institutions which can look after the widows and orphans because due to the scarcity of such institutions orphans are often sent to other institutions outside J&K where they become culturally alienated and when they will come back they will be strangers in their own motherland. Discussing the taboo of widow-remarriage, he went on to say that it due to local influences because in Hinduism the widow remarriage is shunned. He also appealed for shunning the extravagance in marriages and organizing group marriages so that the cost may be lowered. He repeatedly emphasized that Kashmiris should have been a role model and ideal for the whole Indian Muslim community but they have failed to inculcate among themselves the teachings of Islam which could have made them the leaders of Muslims in the Subcontinent.

Prof. Hamid Naseem Rafiabadi, director of the Shah-e Hamdan Institute of Islamic Studies at the Kashmir University, severely criticized ulama and scholars for their apathy and reluctance to actively discuss, debate and solve the problem of widows which if not delved properly will eat away the vitals of society and create social problems like prostitution, juvenile delinquency and drug addiction. He called for the social activism by ulama saying that unless they educate people as well as implement Islam in their lives nothing is going to change.

Muhammad Aamir, the young president of the Islamic Fraternity, was vociferous in his demands and called for steps to be initiated for widow-remarriage. He focused on what is expected from the youth and NGOs which mostly are paper organisations with little or no ground work and grassroots activity as they mostly concentrate their material and monetary assets to raise buildings instead of institutions.

The seminar wasn’t a monologue but questions were raised after every presentation by the speakers thus making the discussion vibrant and fruitful. Thus this seminar must prove a watershed in the course of our social norms. Though the flag of social reforms must have been initiated by the conscious civil society but they are entangled in different issues. In this situation it was heartening to see that youth are becoming the torch-bearers of new enlightenment and activism. We have to tread a lot and be ready to face stiff opposition to our efforts to change the society’s mindset about widow-remarriage. One does not anticipate Though a drastic change in this direction, yet we must strive for change and harness every opportunity to make change possible and acceptable.

While in Srinagar, Dr Zafarul-Islam Khan also delviered a lecture about the roots and the current situation of the problem of Palestine. The lecture, attended by a select gathering of intellectuals, was delivered on 3 May in the auditorium of the Islamic Relief & Research Trust. The function was chaired by Prof Noor Ahmad Baba, dean of of the Faculty of Social Sciences in the University of Kashmir. Dr Khan dwelt in detail on the origins of the Palestinian issue starting from the beginnings of the Jewish immigration in the 1860s to the occupation of Palestine by Britian in 1918 which opened the floodgates of Jewish immigration into Palestine and finally culminated into emergence of Israel as a result of the calcuted use of terrror by Jewish militias like Haganah and Stern. He also dealt with the Camp David and Oslo accords and explained why they failed to achieve peace. The Israeli attack and seige of Gaza Strip was also discussed in detail. After the lecture, a lively question-answer session followed.

Mushtaq Ul Haq Ahmad Sikander is a writer-activist based in Srinagar

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 May 2010 on page no. 17

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