Studenti protestano per il Kashmir (LaPresse)

Proxy war in Kashmir suits Pakistan, but unending violence devastates families

Amidst the chaos that decades old Kashmir conflict has brought in and the attempts made by Pakistan and its proxies in Kashmir to manage perceptions, a critical angle – that of human loss, has been lost. Attempts have been made to valorize militants but dehumanize the sufferings with the intent to legitimize perpetuation of violence by them.

Unwittingly perhaps, the mainstream media has constructed the image of the militant as a hero and an altruistic role model sacrificing his life for a cause. When a militant is killed in an encounter with security forces, the media paints a dramatic picture to carry forward the built-in narrative of conflict and terrorism. Hardly ever are any efforts made to gauge the pain that terrorist actions impose upon the victims and their families.

Similarly, the killings of militants that bring into the suffering families and its impact on their lives is selectively forgotten. For Pakistan and its proxies, killings in Kashmir have been turned into statistics which hardly ever give an inkling into what people go

The Journal of Emerging Technologies and Innovative Research (JETIR) has an interesting research paper on the effects of armed conflict on the families of slain militants in Kashmir in its June (2021) issue. Since Pakistan forced Kashmir into a protracted conflict zone, the Valley has become home to a new group of widows, single parents and orphaned children.

Dr Asima Hassan, a sociologist from Kashmir University in the research paper published in the JETIR has depicted the miserable and pathetic condition of families of slain militants, their pathetic economic conditions; educational backwardness, social
disorganization and social disorder, which has escaped the attention of strategists, analysts and above all the media.

The research reveals that a narrative of heroism constructed around militancy is believed to be one of the reasons for certain section of youth in Kashmir to become militants. Support is also counted in the attendance at funerals, the serpentine procession of mourners trailing behind the bodies of dead militants. The funerals of slain militants have become a matter of momentary pride for grieving families, a validation of the armed struggle that killed their sons. However, this heroic image and
sympathy vanishes within days after the militant‘s death and his family is left to fend alone, the study adds.

According to Dr Hassan’s survey, at least 10 percent of the militants killed in the last 30 years were married and had children. These families had to endure social ignominy, besides suffering financially as they were not entitled for any compensation from the government like the families of the civilian victims.

The study made a complete profile of 100 such families – 35 of them from South Kashmir districts of Anantnag, Pulwama, Shopian and Kulgam, another 35 families from the north Kashmir districts of Kupwara, Baramulla and Bandipora – which saw
maximum killings during 1990’s and 2000s as all the three districts share border with Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) and 30 from Central Kashmir districts of Srinagar, Ganderbal and Budgam.

The study reveals that while 24% slain militants had income of around $ 42 a month, 12% slain militants belonged to families whose monthly income was less than $ 15 when they joined militancy. Only 9% of the slain militants belonged to fairly well-off
families. Even in the 1990s, income below $ 42 was not enough to have basic amenities of life. A majority of them (46%) were doing petty labour jobs while 2% were involved in other similar jobs. 19% of the respondents were doing small businesses and 15% were either government or private employees.

Interestingly, most of the slain militants in Kashmir had no worthwhile educational background. A majority of them (–45%), were illiterate and had not attended school.

Another 20% were school dropouts. Only 12% of the slain militants (members of armed groups as the author calls them) had passed 10th standard while 11% discontinued after the 12th standard due to poverty. Just 12% of the surveyed were graduates who were either in a government job or from relatively affluent families and they were normally given leadership positions by the insurgent groups. 76 percent of the surveyed slain militants had been trained in Pakistan while 24% were locally trained. The study reveals that a whopping 94% widows and single parent orphans had experienced a negative impact from the main breadwinner joining militancy. Similarly the research findings indicated that the majority of the 85% women respondents did not
remarry after the death of their militant husbands. “It was also observed that the women who did not remarry faced lot of problems which included loneliness at home, mental torture, lack of control and guidance in home, fearful moments, failure of control over children, social insecurity, economic hardships, social apathy, discrimination and rough treatment by relatives and neighbours”. Only 15% of the widows of slain militants in Kashmir remarried who either had no children after the first marriage or were from well-off families.

Another disturbing trend, according to this study, that the family of the slain militants experienced stigma/isolation after the militant’s death. In 68% cases before and after the death of the militant, his family faced isolation. Contrary to the belief that militancy has social acceptance in Kashmir, it was learnt during intensive interactions with these families, that the family members were facing several social issues; including finding a suitable match for their children.

Over the last two decades, sociologists have time and again raised the issue of social implications of terrorism in Kashmir with some suggesting that women from militant families, dead or alive, such as their sisters, daughters, cousin sisters and other female relatives suffered a lot. They viewed that the women belonging to militant families have lesser chances of getting a good match, since marriages with girls related to militant families were considered undesirable and often avoided. As the financial condition of most militant families in Kashmir is weak, families looking for a suitable match for their kin prefer not to marry them in militant families.

This fact was corroborated in the current study with 37% of the children of the slain militants facing problems in finding suitable matches. While 27% of the respondents didn’t want to answer this question, it is widely believed that they too are in the
category of those 37% who faced problems in finding a suitable match due to the militant background of their father.

Similarly, it depicts that 40% respondents (including the widow and her children) had to seek financial help from others after the death of the militant to make both ends meet. As it was observed by the researcher that in the majority of the families, the slain militant was a lone bread winner before joining the militancy and his death led to enormous economic crisis for the family.

The burden of earning fell mostly on the shoulders of the widow of the militant or his children who in most of the cases were minors at the time of the death of their militant father. A good number among these widows and the orphans had to work as a domestic helps or other menial jobs to feed themselves. In many cases they were exploited, harassed and not paid due wages. Some widows of the slain militants said they had to beg to feed their children in the initial years and some even faced starvation, the study added. 42% respondents in the study revealed that the extended family provided some financial help to them in the initial years, but it was not enough to empower them financially. 10% respondents were helped out by the community which included civil society groups, NGOs and Mohalla-Masjid committees, but it had compromised the dignity of the family as the help was provided without keeping it secret. Nominal 8% respondents had been helped by the government in the form of SRO-43 jobs or widow fund. The source of help to 40% of them was unknown.

According to the study the total dependence of these widows and orphans on others outside their own families have made them socially handicapped in the patriarchal society of Kashmir. The living conditions of these widows and orphans are hit, as
helping them is still considered taboo. “In most cases, the death of the family head led to the problems with mental health, as well as stunted intellectual development and physical growth of his children and widow”, the researchers lamented in the JETIR report.

The unmistakable impression from the study is that proxy war may have suited Pakistan strategically, and militarily, but the unending violence and consequent misery have devastated thousands of Kashmiri families.