In the dark skies of Kupwara, a heavily militant town in Kashmir, Saira Javed sadly remembers her happy childhood.
Recalling his early life in Karachi, a bustling metropolis across the border in Pakistan, he spoke candidly to his father, Abdul Latif, who in the weekend photos and on his moonlit nights with henna on his hands Will die
But for more than a decade, Javed has been able to catch a glimpse of his Pakistani homeland through the occasional and granular video calls made on the slow internet.
“We have no existence here, our children have no existence here,” Javed said.
She is one of hundreds of Pakistani women stranded in Indian-administered Kashmir who have lost their identity, rights and freedoms. She married Indian Kashmiri militants who sometimes entered Pakistan for training several years ago. Although there are no official figures on how many are stranded in Pakistan, about 400 are being considered.
Kashmir has been a source of contention between India and Pakistan since the partition of India. In the early 1990s, an Indian insurgency erupted against militants in Indian-controlled Kashmir and thousands of young Kashmiri youth began crossing the border illegally into Pakistan to receive training and weapons. For a few years, most were married.
But when the men finally returned to Kashmir with their new family, their Pakistani wives were stranded in India without legal rights and became stateless, even disqualified from returning to Pakistan for documents.
Some women, who thought the trip to Kashmir would be short, left their children in Pakistan and endured years of forced separation. Dozens were later divorced by their Indian husbands, left alone, but could not return home.
Speaking at a news conference on Monday, several people expressed outrage at the Indian authorities, saying they had “lost hope of getting citizenship rights”.
One of the spouses told reporters at a press conference: “We see the last glimpse of our dead relatives on the phone. We see their funerals on video calls. What could be more cruel than this. Someone’s daughter or sister. Imagine the plight if she can’t go home for nine to ten years, or you can’t see her body.
Javed married Javed Ahmed in 2001, a Kashmiri who entered Pakistan in 1990 to train militants. As the Indian Army consolidated its presence along the border, Ahmed was among thousands of militants unable to return to India. The long wait left him frustrated with the militancy, and instead he lived in Pakistan, working in real estate, marrying and starting a family with Javed.
But in 2007, at Ahmed’s insistence, Javed and his two daughters returned to Kashmir with him. Upon her arrival, her husband’s family insisted that she stay well and tear up her Pakistani passport.
“We fight every day to go back. His father died late last year and he had to endure it alone,” Javed said. “What could I do?” I shouted, “said Javed, who now runs a shop where she provides work to other Pakistani wives.
“It simply came to our notice then. We protest and wait for an answer. I have cried so much now that my tears have dried up and I am no longer able to cry. “I want to wait 14 years,” he said. She added that she did not want her children to suffer the same fate.
Most of the former militants had traveled to the border with their wives around 2010, when the Kashmir government, which had encouraged warm relations between India and Pakistan, provided relief to ex-militants stranded in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. Rehabilitation policy was announced.
However, the policy was never properly enforced, meaning that 400 or more former insurgents, and 800 members of their families, had to enter India through informal or illegal routes. The majority flew to Nepal and then traveled to Kashmir by road, meaning their presence was never officially recognized.
Life proved to be very difficult, many people faced unemployment, property disputes with relatives and acceptance issues which forced them to live in poor conditions without access to state support. Wives – seen as outsiders and never given proper citizenship – all spoke of a longing to return.
At least one woman killed herself. Suffers from another serious mental illness. Others are struggling to understand their lives and the society that has evicted them.
Ishrat Bano was a teenager when she married her husband Nisar Ahmed, who arrived in Pakistan with two friends in 1990 for insurgency training when she was just 16 years old.
Instead, Ahmed lived in Pakistan for 22 years, renounced militancy and became a tailor, but after the death of his mother, he vowed to return home. In 2012, he took his wife and three children on a difficult journey through Nepal, taking three planes to save his life.
But Bano found out that “life here is slavery.” Wives are not technically illegal citizens but instead have citizenship. A man’s land, denied the right to political participation and is even ineligible for a ration card. Bano admitted that she was hiding the pain of her family in Pakistan. “We lie to them that our life is very comfortable, we have a big house, we have a car,” he said. “If we had a chance to go, we would never come back.”
Last October, dozens of citizens took part in a demonstration in Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir, demanding citizenship and documents for them to travel to Pakistan. One group met Lt. Governor Manoj Sinha, the region’s chief administrator, who “assured them of a proper solution to their problems.” However, so far such assurances have not paid off and women are now threatening to march to the ups and downs of the so-called Line of Control, the Pak-India border.
Among the protesters was 42-year-old Fauzia Begum, who was picked up in Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, along with her five sisters and three brothers, most of whom are now dead. But she could not return home to mourn him.
She was 17 when she married Ghulam Hassan Lone, who, like many others, had crossed the border to fight for Kashmir’s independence but quickly abandoned the dispute. The family traveled to Indian-administered Kashmir in 2007 but has regretted it ever since.
“There is no peace here,” Begum said. He declined to talk about his memories and life in Muzaffarabad, saying “it is very painful to scratch the wounds.” He added: “If I talk now, I will not be able to sleep later.”
Begum said: “I am here during the day but I am in my dreams.”
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