Sunday Exclusive for Indepth
Had never thought life would be so tough in Valley, say PaK brides
Srinagar, March 19: Hundreds of Kashmiri men crossed the Line of Control into Pakistan-administered Kashmir for arms training in the early days of insurgency in the state. Many of them made a life there. They left the training camps, found jobs or started their own businesses, married local women, and raised children.
Around 450 of these men returned to Kashmir with their families after the Jammu and Kashmir government declared an amnesty scheme in 2010 in its rehabilitation policy for Kashmiris who had crossed into PaK between 1989 and 2009. What awaited them at home, however, was nothing they expected. Many of them were booked and jailed for illegally entering India from Nepal instead of the routes the government had approved for their return. The returnees said these routes were blocked, because Pakistani security agencies and militant groups were against the rehabilitation policy. But, the government refused to accept the explanation or extend any help.
Despite trying hard for years, these returnees have failed to start a new life in Kashmir. Banks do not lend to them, the government does not employ them, and the private sector does not need them. It is almost impossible for their children to get admission in schools and colleges because the government has refused to provide them state subject certificates and passports. The worst sufferers of this debacle, however, are the women. Cut off from their families when their husbands left PaK, they have been struggling with poverty and low social acceptability.
Some of these women have been seeking psychiatric help to deal with depression and stress disorders. Saira Sadiq Khan of Bandipore, however, did not wait for that—she set herself on fire and ended the “trauma of a hard life in Kashmir”.
Saira belonged to a middle-class family in PaK, and she came to Kashmir with her husband, Abdul Majeed Lone, in 2012. Lone crossed into PaK in 1995 and married Saira in 2004. She thought she could travel freely to PaK on the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus to meet her family. But, her Kashmir dream turned into a nightmare the moment she set her foot on its soil. Both of them were arrested and jailed. They were released after a month, but Lone’s parents were not pleased with her and they had to move in to a tin shed home. Saira tried her best to adjust. “She ran errands, looked after the children and collected firewood as if she belonged here,” said a neighbour. But deep down, she missed home. “Every time her parents called to check on her, she would weep,” Lone’s cousin Sami told Kashmir Indepth in an exclusive chat.
On the night of April 12, 2014, Saira walked out of the shed, poured kerosene on herself and struck a match. Two days later she died in a hospital in Srinagar. She had told the police that she did it because she was tired of the hard life in Kashmir.
Her son Mohsin, 12, lives in a free Islamic boarding in Sopore. Her elder daughter Munazah, 10, lives with Lone’s parents, and younger daughter Mehak, 8, is with an aunt. Lone married a woman from Bengal a while ago.
Many returnees fear that anxiety could push their wives to take the extreme decision like Saira did. That is why Zarif Ahmed decided his wife, Uzma, needed to see a doctor. The doctor referred her to a psychiatrist in Srinagar. The psychiatrist said she might have felt caged in Kashmir and a change of environment would help her recover. Uzma’s family had shifted to Karachi from PaK in 1998. Zarif and Uzma had lived there after marriage. “In Karachi, we lived in our own flat and our children went to private schools,” she said. They came back to India in 2011. “Here we cannot even pay their fees on time.” Last year when their elder daughter got admission in a private college, Zarif’s brother paid the fee for the first semester. “This is not the life we had imagined in Kashmir,” said Uzma.
These women are disturbed by the uncertainty in life and the state government’s indecision over defining their status. “We are treated neither as Kashmiris nor as Pakistanis,” said Uzma. They are not allowed to travel to PaK on the cross-LoC bus or visit Pakistan on a visa. And, the life in Kashmir is not helping, either. Zaitoon, who came to Kashmir with her husband, Shabir Ahmed, and five daughters in 2011, simply caved in—she died of a heart attack in February. Shabir crossed into PaK in the 1990s and married Zaitoon in 2000, after picking up a job in Muzaffarabad. “The pressure of a tough life killed her,” said Shabir’s cousin Nisar Ahmed.
Many of these men came back hoping their families would help them start afresh in the valley. That hope, however, often was misplaced. Syed Bashir Ahmed Bukhari was ecstatic to reunite with his brothers at Kreeri in Baramulla in June 2012. He, however, could not cope with the anxieties of a life in Kashmir. On July 13, 2013, he set himself on fire at Kreeri market. “He was my only hope in this alien land,” said his wife Safeena. “My son Faizan quit studies and took up a job as a computer operator.”