Widows and orphans will be rehabiliated: Kashmir’s woman minister

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    By Binoo Joshi

    Jammu, (IANS) Officially the figures are 9,000 widows and 25,000 orphans, but activists claim the figures are much higher. Women and children have been among the worst hit in the over two decades-old terrorist violence in Jammu and Kashmir. Providing them relief and rehabilitation is now “among the priorities of the state government”, says a state minister.

    Sakina Itoo, the lone woman minister in Jammu and Kashmir who looks after the Social Welfare department, told IANS in an interview: “I am personally monitoring it, we cover almost all those rendered widowed and orphaned by militancy under aid and assistance and rehabilitate them.”

    Though the exact number of such widows and orphans is not available, rough estimates with the Jammu and Kashmir Rehabilitation Council suggest that there are nearly 9,000 women whose husbands were killed in militants’ strike and about 25,000 children became orphans.

    But Nigat Pandit, who runs an NGO in Kashmir Valley, contests this point by saying that the number of widows is much higher. She says: “If on an average ten people were killed daily from 1990 till 2000, and 50 percent of them were married, then one can see how many were widowed.”

    Sakina, whose father Wali Mohammad Itoo, a veteran National Conference leader, was shot dead by militants in March 1994, does not contest the point that the number of widows could be higher. “There are many who have not got registered with the Rehabilitation Council and many others who have got remarried.”

    The Rehabilitation Council is giving monetary help of Rs.750 to 51,267 widows registered with it. Around 2,866 aged persons whose earning son/s got killed and 1,067 rendered handicapped in militancy are also getting financial help. “Besides this, we are giving money for studies of those orphaned.”

    The Rehabilitation Council was created in 1996 and has till date spent about Rs.50 crore in such aid and assistance.

    The minister also pointed that there are over 3,000 widows of killed militants “whom neither their parents nor in-laws are accepting. We do not have any provision to help them under the pension scheme.”

    But Sakina said such women can always come forward and avail themselves of loans from the Women Development Corporation (WDC) to start their own enterprises.

    Sakina noted that the handicrafts skills with many destitute women is a boon for them. Many such women have started their own ventures and “make handsome earning”.

    She mentioned the case of a young blind girl of Kokernag in south Kashmir, whose brother and father were killed by militants. “She knits so beautifully that no one can believe she is blind. The WDC recently held en exhibition in Chandigarh where her stall too was put up. She is now the only earning member in the family.”

    The ministers said “though we are doing our best for these widows and orphans, I agree that a lot more needs to be done. We are short of staff and infrastructure though money is no problem.”

    However, many widows and orphans complain that they have not got any aid or assistance from the government.

    Ashfaq Khan, 20, has been working as labourer in the Mendhar area of mountainous Poonch district, about 240 km northwest of Jammu. His father was killed by militants in 2001 and since then “My mother and I have been doing menial jobs to earn livelihood.”

    Hamida Begum, 30, of a village near Doda, about 180 km northeast of Jammu, was widowed in 2006. She could not manage to get government aid or assistance. “Now I am cleaning utensils in three households to survive.”

    Told about such cases, the minister told IANS: “Such widows and orphans who have been harassed by officials can straight come to me. My doors are always open for them.”