Shabnam Rashid, 38, is married to Gulzar Ahmad khan who crossed the Indian border in 1995 to get arms training in Pakistan Administrated Kashmir (PAK) following many young Kashmiris during the peak of militancy in the valley.
Khan failed to do well in training due to bad health and ended up being a tailor for some years.
“After marriage, we shifted to Islamabad and I worked there on a grocery shop and had a content life,” Khan told Maktoob. “It was a peaceful life. But here (Indian Kashmir) condition is deteriorating with each passing day.”
Shabnam, hailing from Muzaffarabad of Azad Kashmir, fled with her husband and three children to Jammu and Kashmir, under the rehabilitation scheme announced in 2010 by Omar Abdullah led Government. Militants who went across the border were given a chance to surrender and return home.
Dozens took the opportunity to resettle back to their home, along with their families. But their documents are stuck in Indian offices.
“We have been left on God’s mercy, who cares about us?” Shabnam Rashid laments sitting in her cramped shed where she stays with her husband and three daughters.
“I spend my days crying,” she adds, pointing to the documents related to the disease of her husband that he is carrying for the last many years. “We have stopped living for ourselves; we just live for our daughters now.”
When Gulzar and Shabnam moved to Jammu and Kashmir after spending 22 years in Pakistan, their life has turned upside down running from pillar to post for their survival. The family slipped into a slew of crises with no source of income.
“The government is acting as a mute spectator. If we don’t belong to this land why they invited us, this pain of separation from my parents is killing me with each passing day. This heaven has been hell for us. We appeal, rather beg them to let us go just for once. In Pakistan, we used to get thirty thousand every month, but here we got fake promises and shallow lies,” Shabnam break down.
In 2017, the state government said 377 militants and 864 dependents had returned to India under the policy.
Safina Begum, another Pakistani woman who recently got her liver transplant in a private hospital in New Delhi toiled hard after her husband’s death due to self-immolation to get back to Pakistan. Her husband Syed Bashir was a successful businessman in Muzaffarabad. However, after coming to Kashmir, conditions became such that he preferred ‘death over life’.
“We came here with hope, but our hopes got dashed once we reached here. It became hell for us; even our children were denied admission to schools. We almost came on the footpath that time. After my husband’s death, I was left alone with my five daughters and a son,” Safina told Maktoob.
In January 2021, a group of increasingly desperate women once again demanded deportation, saying they had lost all hopes of getting Indian citizenship, following the new Citizenship Amendment Act that excludes Muslims.
Mohammad Ummar who also returned with his family in 2013 believes financial constraints, travel restriction and family support is the main reason why they don’t get adopted here in Kashmir. Most of these women are living in depression because of not meeting their parents over the years. They use WhatsApp groups to remain updated about each other.
“If the government will allow them to travel and meet their family members their conditions will improve mentally. But that seems like a distant dream,” Ummar told Maktoob. “We knocked on every door of government official they showed cold shoulders. They clearly told us that the rehabilitation scheme of Omar Abdullah has gone into the dustbin. We are connected with each other through a WhatsApp group on the name of ‘Nepal group’ through that group we remain connected and updated.”
Mohammad Ummar is the khatib at the local Masjid at Sopore.
Over the years these women are continuously protesting for reiterating their demand to get Indian citizenship and be allowed to visit their birthplace Muzaffarabad Pakistan. Recently they tried to march with banners towards the Line of Control (LOC) in the Uri area of Baramulla district in a desperate attempt to return to their homeland.
“They were detained by Baramulla police when they tried to march towards Uri. Later, were released and advised us not to allow them again, if allowed will be given FIR,” said Mohammad Ummar.
India claims that these ex-militants are ineligible for their benefits because they didn’t enter India through four approved entry points. But these families argue crossing borders through them is high risk.
“It is a humanitarian issue and they deserve to live with dignity. They are our people, government of India should facilitate their meeting with their loved ones in Pakistan without giving any political colour to it,” said Irfan Hafiz Lone One of the renowned lawyer and social activists based in North Kashmir