Srinagar: Pakistani-origin women married to Kashmiris said Monday that International Women’s Day, being commemorated today, will be bereft of any meaning until they are either granted full Indian citizenship or are allowed to visit their home country.
“This day has no meaning for us, not until the day we are allowed to go back home and see our families,” said Saira Javaid, who hails from Karachi. “Those celebrating this day should take a moment to listen to our pleas as well, otherwise all of this is falsehood.”
Around 370 Pakistani women are married to Kashmiri men and are based in the Valley. The men had crossed over to Pakistan to take part in the J&K insurgency but had in 2010 returned under a rehabilitation policy announced by the then Omar Abdullah government. They had brought along their wives, whom they had married in Pakistan, and children.
Some of the women said they had entered India through Nepal but upon their arrival, their passports and other travel documents were seized and have since never been returned.
Javaid said that the Indian government wants its citizens to celebrate International Women’s Day but questioned why her voice and that of other Pakistani women were not being heard.
“Our demand is simple — either give us full citizenship and travel documents so we can travel home, or deport us along with our families,” she said. “There are women in Kashmir who are not able to see their dying parents.
“The last time we took out a protest, we were attacked and tear-gassed,” she added. “If women are to be respected, why this behaviour with us?”
“Our children have not seen their grandparents, uncles and aunts,” said Bushra Farooq who now stays in Kupwara. “Their education is suffering here. Why are we being punished?”
A host of issues
Although some of the women were allowed to travel back to Pakistan on a few occasions, an overwhelming majority of them have been barred from traveling home prompting them to carry out several demonstrations.
The flailing relations between the two countries have only diminished hopes of these women ever visiting their homes in Pakistan.
“The problems we face here are immense. One of the women committed suicide and others have been divorced,” said Misbah Mushtaq who hails from Islamabad in Pakistan. “Kashmir is not an ordinary place to live. What we are asking is for avenues to make our lives here easier and a chance to travel home once a while.”
She added that while they possess most of the identification documents and even have voting rights, lack of citizenship hampers their future and that of their children.
“Our children will develop an existential crisis. Our children get admitted to private schools but getting them admission in government schools is very difficult,” Misbah said. “Now that they are growing up, what will their future be like? Will they be able to have a normal life, get educated in an institution of their choice, or find a job to support themselves? These are questions that keep me awake at night.”
The women were in the news during the maiden District Development Council (DDC) elections when two of them had decided to fight the polls. However counting on both the seats was halted after the J&K administration received complaints about their citizenship.
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)