Pakistani women abandoned in Kashmir

They have been demanding that they should either be deported to Pakistan or given Indian citizenship so that they get a valid passport and travel legally to Pakistan

(From left to right) Bushra Farooq, Ambreen, Nusrat Begum
(From left to right) Bushra Farooq, Ambreen, Nusrat Begum

Mudassir Kuloo

When Bushra Farooq from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan married a man from North Kashmir’s Baramulla, she looked forward to an idyllic life. Her husband had crossed over to Pakistan for arms training and fell in love with her, opting to lead a family life. That was in 2008.

In 2012, her husband planned a short visit to India to look up his old parents. They applied and received a 15-day visa and entered India through Nepal. Bushra accompanied her husband, telling her parents that she would return after a fortnight.

“My husband promised we would return to Pakistan after he looked up his parents and introduced me to them. But when we reached New Delhi, he took away my passport and never returned it. Since 2012, I have wanted to return to my homeland but in the absence of papers, I do not know what to do,” she says stoically.

The Baramulla man for whom she left her family, parents and her country, divorced her in January 2019 and also took away her two sons aged 12 and 9. She now lives in a rented room in North Kashmir’s Kupwara district and works at a tailoring shop owned by another Pakistani woman Sara Jan, who is on the forefront of a movement seeking citizenship rights for Pakistani women married in Kashmir.

“I earn a little money by tailoring out of which I have to pay the monthly rent and feed myself,” says the 32-year-old mother of two.

She would like all abandoned Pakistani women in Kashmir to be deported. “We trusted our husbands but they deceived us. My Ammi, Abbu, three brothers and a sister are waiting for my return. I feel insecure here, living alone in a rented room. I have been divorced by my Indian husband who has also taken away my passport, reducing me to being an illegal immigrant. Can’t I be sent back,” she asks and breaks down.

Bushra is among the 371 Pakistani brides who married Kashmiri men and were abandoned here by the men who had initially crossed over to Pakistan for arms training.

In 2010, the then Omar Abdullah-government introduced a “rehabilitation scheme” for those who had crossed the line of control between 1989 and 2009. Under the amnesty, former militants could return to Kashmir and be united with their families, provided they had “given up insurgent activities due to a change of heart and are willing to return to the state”.

However, the scheme did not provide the women any relief. “This scheme was meant for Kashmiri boys. But it has been devastating for Pakistani girls like me,” Bushra said.

They have been demanding that they should either be deported to Pakistan or given Indian citizenship so that they get a valid passport and travel legally to Pakistan.

Nusrat Begum, 35, is another woman from Muzaffarabad’s Neelam valley who married a Kashmiri man from Kupwara in 2008. Later that year, they moved to Kashmir.

“After some time, my husband started beating me up. Then in 2020, he divorced me. When my father got to know, he could not bear the shock and died of a heart attack,” she recalls. She lives with her two daughters in a rented room.

“I never expected to get stuck here. But here it seems no one is bothered about our plight,” she regretted. She too has turned to tailoring, one of the few options available, to fend for herself and her two daughters.

Ambreen Rehman, 32, from Muzafarrabad got married to a former militant from Kupwara in 2002. In 2013, she came to Kashmir and since then has never been to Pakistan, she claims. “After coming here, my husband took away my passport. I am still living with my husband and my children but want to see my family in Pakistan,” says a visibly upset Ambreen. She gets more upset and agitated while recalling that she could not see her father one last time when he died in 2019.

“Our children have no future here and are labeled as children of ex-militants. They can’t get a government job or won’t be allowed to go abroad either,” she explains. “My mother is unwell. I want to see her before her death,” she pleads.

It should not be too difficult for the Indian Government to verify their claims and arrange to deport them as a goodwill gesture. Nor should it be too difficult for the Pakistan Government to see the humanitarian crisis and accept them back. But frosty relations between the two countries, deep distrust and indifference seem to have ruined the women’s lives.

For some reason the Kashmiri civil society and political parties too are reluctant to take up their cause, possibly afraid that they would be called names and misunderstood. The motivation of the men who abandoned their wives is also not yet clear. All that is clear is the human tragedy foisted on the women and children for no fault of theirs.

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