How Single Mothers in Kashmir Struggle to Live Dignified Lives

Baseera Rafiqi
Posted July 26, 2017 from India

Single mothersraise their children, take care of the house without any help of a male counterpart and live like any other women in the society. — Representational photo

LIVING ON THE EDGE

Working or unemployed separated women find it increasingly difficult to live a decent life in a patriarchal society and it’s even more so in a conflict-ravaged society like Kashmir. Their dependency on others for shelter, food and clothing makes it difficult but even if they are earning they face many other disparities. Baseera Rafiqi meets some of these extraordinary women who have been taking care of their families against all odds

Baseera Rafiqi| Caravan Daily

FROM running home errands to attending the PTA’s, from earning a livelihood to being a soccer coach, from solving the sums to using the smart phones; single mothers do all the chores of daily life by themselves and break the notion of women being the weaker gender.

Single mothers – who have been divorced, widowed or left by their husbands – raise their children, take care of the house without any help of a male counterpart and live like any other women in the society.

Ruqaiya, 32, mother of four-year-old Atif was married to a drug addict and as soon as she came to know about it, she left him.

“Coming to such a conclusion was not easy; I had to think of myself and my son’s future. I very well knew that I will have to face harsh times ahead but I didn’t want my son to be a victim of his father’s beating,” reveals Ruqaiya.

By the time she had decided to file a divorce application, Ruqaiya had applied at a local school as a teacher and is teaching there since July 2016. In October 2016, she filed for a divorce which is under process now.

“I don’t know what future has in store for me but I want to work hard enough to make a bright future for my son,” she says.

Others who have been raising their kids also had to face hardships in order to provide a shelter and secure a future for their young ones.

As the sun sets on her face, worry lines glow her pale face eyes as she sits on the window for an unending wait. Zainab Amin, 47, mother of three boys lives in a remote village of Kupwara. Her husband left her in 1990 when her last son was just one year old. He never came back and left without any reason.

“It was the winter of 1990, when Adil, my third boy was only 13 months old. Amin just disappeared; I searched all over the place, orchids, markets, farms but he was not found. After few days, I even lodged a missing FIR but months, then years passed by but no news came from any side,” says Zainab.

ISLAM STRINGENTLY DISLIKES SEPARATION OF A COUPLE, BUT NOW THERE ARE ADDITIONS THAT ARE MAKING LIVING TOGETHER DIFFICULT. OFTEN IT’S JUST EGOS CLASHING BUT IN SOME OTHER CASES DIVORCE IS THE ONLY OPTION. BUT A WOMAN NEEDS PROTECTION OF A MAN; BE IT HER HUSBAND, FATHER OR BROTHER, AS SHE IS VULNERABLE

She did not even have the time to think about her husband and the situation, as none of her relatives were willing to take responsibility of four people. So she geared up and started to do some stitching at home which generated some income for the family. Amid all this, she recalls that living alone has been the most difficult phase of her life.

“The idea to live without a man is seen as a curse in our society, I had to defend myself to live for my kids or else I would have ended up marrying a widower and leaving my children in an orphanage. I was incessantly asked to re-marry by my family, neighbors, but I made sure that no matter what I will not let anyone ruin my children’s lives,” adds Zainab.

Today, Zainab feels proud mother when she sees her 3 boys working hard in their studies.

“I want them all to flourish in their fields. It was difficult to raise them all alone but it has paid off well,” says the proud mother.

Working or unemployed separated women find it difficult to live decent life in a patriarchal society. Their dependency on others for shelter, food and clothing makes it difficult but even if they are earning they face other many other disparities.

There is a continuous psychological pressure on separated, divorced women or widows to re-marry.

Ulfat Ashrafa, 42, from Bandipora was widowed when her son was just six-months-old. Her husband died when a blast rocked the city center in Bandipora.

She was just 31 at that time and the only daughter of her parents. After waiting for nearly a year, her father pressurized her to re-marry on the condition that her son will be taken care of.

“I agreed to re-marry and I wanted to take my son along but my father and my second husband objected to it, so I had to leave him at my parents place,” says Ulfat.

Initially, Ulfat used to visit her son, but then she got two more from this marriage and the contact with his first son became less and lesser. The son is now 16 and has hardly any memories of either of his parents. He blames his mother for letting him all alone in this world, with no one to take care of him.

“If God took away my father, why couldn’t my mother just stay with me? I needed her the most,” says Numan, Ulfat’s son from her first marriage.

Had Ulfat not succumbed to her family’s will, Numan might have had a normal family and childhood, and could have lived a normal life.

In terms of religion, according to scholars, it is not advisable for a woman to stay single for long.

“Islam stringently dislikes separation of a couple, but now there are additions that are making living together difficult. Often it’s just egos clashing but in some other cases divorce is the only option. But a woman needs protection of a man; be it her husband, father or brother, as she is vulnerable. That is the reason our Lord has severely detested separation,” says Qazi Irfan, a religious scholar.

Moving away from the religious perspective, our society is shaped in such a way that it is not ready to accept single women.

“Ours is a patriarchal society where men hold the important decisions and are very rudimentary in its very basics. Education has not reached to this level that can accept single women, single mothers. It will take time to reach to that level of understanding. Women tend to suffer silently than thinking of getting a divorce. It is eating our society like termites. We are way behind actual development or empowerment,” says Dr Sabia, a sociologist.

Comments 3

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Jill Langhus
Jul 27, 2017
Jul 27, 2017

Hi Baseera. Thanks for sharing your informative article about divorce and single women's stimga in the Kashmir society. I think the women that you talked to did more than fine on their own. They're amazing trailblazers:-)

Baseera Rafiqi
Jul 28, 2017
Jul 28, 2017

Thankyou 

Jill Langhus
Jul 28, 2017
Jul 28, 2017

You're welcome:)