By Tabia Masoodi
AMID the chants and cries, Romaisa’s husband was laid to rest leaving his bride of a few months all alone. While she was sitting numb and lost, her family wondered about her and the baby in her womb.
Romaisa’s husband was killed in an encounter just within six months of their marriage. Widowed just at the age of 18, she couldn’t comprehend the situation. All she wanted was the support of her family in particular and society in general.
But all she received was harsh judgments and cruel stares. After the birth of her child, her life became more miserable.
“It felt like I was an outcast in a place that I once called home,” said Romaisa. “The friends were not my friends anymore. Relatives were the first to leave all because I was a militant’s widow. I was called names like I might have any association with anything. Our society is hypocritical, they say it is a collective cause but the pain is always personal. I would have married again and started my life again. I was just 18-year-old. ”
For the next 18 years, Romaisa raised her daughter all alone. The life that she could have started in her 20s, took 18 long years of loneliness, desolation and abandonment because society made it difficult for her.
While in Romaisa’s case her second husband accepted his daughter with all the love, not all are lucky enough to have the same faith in their kids. Mostly, women have to think about whether their children will have a place after they re-marry. The same concern made Afroza take a big decision.
She married the love of her life in her 20s and flew to Dubai with him to start a life she has been dreaming about for years. But little did Afroza know the dream was short-lived. In just a few weeks of her marriage, she felt alone. She didn’t fit anywhere in his lifestyle.
In the first few months, she tried everything from going out of her way to fit in to talking to him and making him understand that married life is different from bachelor’s life. “He turned a deaf ear to all that I was saying,” said Afroza, disheartened. “I could have never imagined he would do this to me. It feels like I was blind all these years. How could I not comprehend this before?”
The situation never got mended, so Afroza decided to move back to her parent’s home in Kashmir. She had her little daughter with her and parted ways with her husband.
With that, the most brutal phase of her life started. People started mocking her for her divorce, especially because she had a love marriage. But it didn’t just stop there.
When her parents started to find another match for her, the mocking and name-calling increased. Even the matchmakers didn’t spare her. “But who would want this for themselves? I wanted support and care,” said Afroza. “I had been through hell with him and I was all alone there with strangers away from my hometown. I would never want anyone to go through the level of trauma and despair that I went through. I just cannot fathom how people, especially women cannot understand it.”
Afroza did get a few matches but all of them agreed to marry her only when she will leave her daughter behind. “I wanted to remarry for the sake of my parents but the condition of leaving my child behind is unacceptable. What harm would my little daughter have caused to anyone? She was just a year old. This shows that this society won’t give anyone a second chance.”
Afroza finally chose to be a single parent and sacrificed her whole life just because a large section of society could not show the support and encouragement that she required for making a new beginning.
There are a lot of hindrances caused by society when someone chooses to re-marry. They have to face taunts and judgments from people. Not only that, there have been cases in which after the death of the husband the in-laws refuse to give any share in his property to his wife or their child if she chooses to remarry.
Mehak also faced this unjust behavior at the hands of her in-laws. Her husband died within two years of her marriage leaving behind a daughter to be risen all alone by the young widow.
Just a few days after her husband’s demise, her in-laws started to make her feel that she and her daughter have no share in his property. Her in-laws clearly said that she would lose all her husband’s property if she remarried, forcing her to be a single mother.
Mehak’s husband died due to a natural cause and she knew all along that her husband would leave her soon but there are a lot of females who don’t even know whether their husbands are alive or not.
A lot of women are left as ‘half widows’ in the valley and due to the societal and religious pressure most of them keep on waiting for their husbands. The Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) estimate the number of ‘half-widows’ at around 1,500 in the valley.
The half-widows live with constant emotional uncertainty and societal and religious pressure. They also live in economic distress. According to Islamic jurisprudence, a widow with children gets one-eighth of her husband’s property. A widow without children gets one-fourth. A half-widow gets nothing till her husband is declared dead. And to add to the affliction, their option to remarry has a lot of hindrances apart from second marriages being a taboo.
The sectarianism further confuses the matter. There are different views of different schools of thought in this regard. “Legally,” says advocate Irshad Masoom, “if the whereabouts of the husband cannot be found for up to four years or seven years, then the marriage should be declared null and void.”
The only sufferer in this situation is the woman who has lost her only support, Masoom says.“She has to wait for years with no guarantee of her husband returning.”
Even though when someone despite all the taunts and judgments, takes the step to marry again they still have to go through hundreds of questioning faces. One victim of it was Sabrin.
Sabrin, who was hours from getting married for the second time, was transported 12 years back and all scenes of her first marriage unfolded in front of her as well as the time of her divorce.
Sabrin’s first marriage was a tragedy for her. Her in-laws and husband had brutal behavior toward her. All this started with the taunts she received from the female members of her new family. It didn’t stop there. Her husband then started to physically abuse her and no one would stop him from doing it.
She compromised all the years for the sake of her daughter because she didn’t want to give her a broken family. But then, one day, while her husband was dragging her down the stairs, her family happened to arrive there. After the incident, her family persuaded her to divorce but she couldn’t get custody of her daughter.
Her family members eventually persuaded her to go for second marriage. “You are not doing sin, stop overthinking and start a new journey of your life,” Sidra, her sister, told her.
During her second marriage ceremony, when Sabrin was sitting in a room full of guests, she heard people murmuring among themselves. “Why did she have to apply henna this much,” said one of the guests. “She could have just applied it on the fingertips,” replied another. “After all it is her second marriage,” added an old lady sitting with the other two.
These comments started to cloud Sabrin’s mind and made her feel like she was the accused and not the victim of all that has happened to her.
“Why do people have to make it even more difficult than it already is?” Sabin asks. “The marriage happened despite their comments but how it made me feel is unexplainable. Why cannot society let people like us live? Why cannot they make things easy for us?”
But while Sabrin is now happily married despite all the disapproval linked with second marriage, the case of Kulsum is a classic example of how some dreams become a dreadful experience for Kashmiri women.
As a happy-go-lucky college-girl, she was first introduced to a Kashmiri techie doing job in Bengaluru. He came across as a suave man and made Kulsum feel that he was the right man for her. But two months after their marriage, the lid over the can of worms got lifted and she saw his real face. “He was getting unmasked every now and then when I would question his commitment issues,” Kulsum says. “I was away from home and emotional support. His indifference was affecting me. Some four months later, I came home as a mentally-unsound person.”
Some marriages, she says, don’t need to be violent to unsettle you, they can be quiet and vicious like hers.
Back home, as counseling started, she became clear in her mind. “I didn’t want that apathetic marriage anymore,” she says. “But at the same time I didn’t know that it would be ‘out of the frying pan into the fire’ situation for me.”
Months later, as her mental balance somehow got restored, the second marriage option was explored. But to her chagrin, the process became a traumatic period. “More than in me, my prospective in-laws and matchmakers were interested in my first marriage,” Kulsum says. “This is when I realized the real mess in our marriages.”
In Kashmir, Kulsum says, people give preference to families than to persons. “I was also married in the so-called ‘high-caste’ family and it hardly mattered for my parents to look beyond that mindset. I was never married to a right person because we don’t see it that way.”
Today, as Kulsum is still exploring the second marriage option, she’s regretting the delusional state of affairs that has plagued Kashmir’s wedlock.
“We Kashmiris spend fortune on marriages, but when the same pomp and show driven bond turns ugly, we don’t learn our lessons and accuse the victims,” she says.“ We need to streamline this marital chaos, rather than letting it fester like a wound that second marriage has become in Kashmir.”
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