A landmark consensus agreed by Islamic scholars (Ulema) regarding the waiting period for ‘half-widows’ to remarry in four years will have an unprecedented impact on the lives of Kashmir’s forgotten survivors. Decades of conflict have produced many half-widows, women whose husbands have disappeared but are not yet declared deceased.
Since most of the disappeared men are from rural Kashmir, these widows usually live impoverished lives often facing various socio-economic and emotional uncertainties such as lack of property rights, right to compensation and the right to remarry. The joint agreement means that the wives of Kashmiri men who have disappeared during the Kashmir conflict are allowed to remarry four years after the disappearance. Civil society activists are hopeful that this can pave the way for further dialogue to address the other rights of half-widows, including their rights to inherit property under Islamic law.
The decision to reach a consensus on the different schools of Islamic thought was the culmination of three consultations in Srinagar-Kashmir, organised by Ehsaas, a civil society initiative and supported by Conciliation Resources, an international peacebuilding organisation. The sessions were held last year on 3 August, 24 November with a consensus finally being reached on 26 December.
Prominent members of civil society and representatives of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) sought the opinion of eight Ulemas from different schools of Islamic thought. Half-widows were also present at the consultative sessions.
This is a huge breakthrough for the half-widows of Kashmir and the result of years of hard work by civil society groups, including Ehsaas. It is a good example of addressing important issues of rights and empowerment through dialogue.
Tahir Aziz, Director of India, Pakistan and Kashmir Programme at Conciliation Resources
This initiative, the first of its kind in the past two decades of conflict, brought together legal and religious scholars to address the issue of half-widows. Creating safe spaces for dialogue can go a long way in recognising the rights of women whose voices have often been marginalised despite being profoundly impacted by the conflict.
Ezabir Ali, Ehsaas Coordinator
Since 1989 thousands of civilians in Kashmir have been subjected to enforced disappearances following arrest by Indian security forces. A conservative estimate of involuntary enforced disappearances is over 8000. The state government admits to 4000 disappearance cases.
The government doesn’t have a figure on Kashmir’s half-widows but a report Half Widow, Half Wife? Responding to Gendered Violence in Kashmir estimates the number at around 1,500.
While widows are entitled to some compensation under civil law, half-widows are uncertain about their future and are entitled to compensation only on production of death certificates. Under 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. A half-widow, till her husband is declared dead, is also forbidden under customary laws from remarrying.
State law dictated that a woman has to wait for seven years after the disappearance of her husband to remarry. However, opinions vary due to different interpretations of Sharia law – while the Hanafi school claims 90 years after the husband’s disappearance, Maliki school scholars put the waiting period as four years and some as seven years.