Somaya Sadaf, originally a resident of Muzaffarabad in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) came to Kashmir in 2010 after marrying a local militant from village Batargam in North Kashmir district of Kupwara who had crossed the Line of Control (LoC) for arms training in the nineties. A successful entrepreneur now she was an independent candidate in the just concluded District Development Council polls. Her symbol was laptop.
Similarly Shazia Aslam, who also hails from Muzaffarabad in PoK and is married to an ex-militant was contesting from Banyari in Hajin.
But the authorities stopped counting of votes in two seats as the two women are not considered as legal residents of J&K despite the fact that the union government treats PoK as a part of India. In 1994 the parliament passed a resolution to this effect.
The decision to halt the outcome of the two constituencies has once again cast the spotlight on the plight of these PoK women and their future. They are neither considered as the residents of J&K nor are they allowed travel documents to visit their families in PoK. On January 4, a group of these women held a press conference in Srinagar to press their demand for deportation to PoK if the government was not ready to consider them the citizens of J&K.
“We want the government to let us return to our homes. We have knocked on all doors but to no avail”, the group of women told reporters. “If we are not citizens of J&K it makes no sense to let us stay here”.
Among them was Tayyaba Ijaz who is working at a private school in Baramula. “It is time government provides us travel documents,” she said.
The women came to Kashmir in the years after 2010 as part of the rehabilitation policy announced by the then state government for the Kashmiri youth who had crossed over to Pakistan or PoK for arms training and wanted to return to a normal life in the state. These women are the wives of these former militants.
Around 450 youth had returned, many of them with their wives, under the rehabilitation policy. The state government had opened “channels” for them to return without arms and resume normal life. Government had selected four entry points – Poonch-Rawalakote (Poonch), Uri-Muzaffarabad (Uri), Wagah (Punjab) and Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi from where the youth could enter J&K following necessary clearance. But after the 2014 takeover of the BJP government at the centre, the plan was all but shelved. This, despite the fact, that the then Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti who headed a coalition government with the BJP had suggested “legalising Nepal route” for those Kashmiri youths who had now shunned the path of violence and wished to return to their homes.
The women complain they are being treated like criminals in Kashmir even though they are not infiltrators or intruders. They complain of having no travel documents and also that their children are not being admitted in local school as they hail from the other part of Kashmir.
Also, many of these women live in miserable conditions after being divorced by their husbands. This has left them without any property and documents. According to an estimate, around fifty of these women have been divorced by their husbands. Last year, these women had approached Kashmir’s grand mufti Nasir-ul-Islam to seek his intervention on their behalf. So far, seven divorced women have approached Mufti Nasir. He had urged the then state government to consider the cases of these women on compassionate grounds.
But the government has so far been blind to the plight of these women, neither sending them back to Pakistan nor rehabilitating them properly “as envisaged originally under the rehabilitation policy”.
This has also left political leaders baffled, even someone like Usmaan Majid, a leader of Apni Party which is seen close to New Delhi’s point of view on Kashmir.
“Government of India’s assertions that PoK is an integral part of India has proven hollow after it stopped vote counting of the constituencies from where PoK’s female candidates were contesting,” Majid said. “By doing this Government of India has made it clear that the claim to bring back PoK into India is just rhetoric”.