Over the past three decades, an estimated 8,000 men have disappeared but are not yet declared deceased in the Jammu and Kashmir region as a result of the conflict. With no idea if their husbands are dead or alive, around 1,500 women have been left as ‘half-widows’ – stuck in a permanent state of limbo without emotional closure, and with limited financial support.
Without death certificates, it is almost impossible for these women to get pensions, ration cards or bank accounts, and one of the biggest challenges they face is the transfer of their husband’s property rights to their names. A death certificate can only be acquired if the family of the disappeared proves that the victim was never involved in militant activities. Many 'half-widows' face homelessness as in-laws or other family members withhold property rights on religious grounds – stating that a wife cannot claim her husband’s property until he is declared dead.
Ehsaas, a civil society initiative, supported by Conciliation Resources' partner, works to champion the recognition and protection of the rights of ‘half-widows’.
As part of this work, they bring together legal experts, civil society activists and Islamic scholars (Ulema) to discuss issues critical for the ‘half-widows’. At community level, the Ulema represent various schools of thought and have important influence over the interpretation of religious laws, in particularly the narrative over half-widow’s rights. Their decision, for instance, to allow the reduction of the waiting period
for ‘half-widows’ to remarry to four years is considered as guidance by the community.
A significant breakthrough in the summer of 2017 saw religious leaders from various Islamic schools of thought articulate a consensus statement recognising the property rights of 'half-widows'.
"Often, women aren’t aware of their rights to property. By talking to Ulema, we are not only able to address the specific issue of half-widows, but make all women aware of their rights."
Ehsaas coordinator, Secretary, Ezabir Ali
In November, Ehsaas organised a further consultation on the rights of 'half-widows'. The meeting included Ulemas from different schools of thought, as well as 'half-widows', activists, scholars and members of civil society. They discussed a draft resolution which will be presented to the State Government, suggesting changes to current laws, legislation and policy concerning 'half widows'.
"We are working to help women take charge of their lives, and not just feel like victims of violence but survivors."
Ehsaas coordinator, Ezabir Ali
Over the past two years, Ehsaas has gradually been shifting the understanding and increasing the recognition of half-widow’s rights among influential stakeholders, such as Ulema. The hope is that these discussions will lead to a change in local religious doctrine which supports greater guarantees for their legal status, property and inheritance rights.