Shaheena Akhter, a 51-year-old widow, is busy at her small home in Srinagar, the capital of the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK), tailoring a Kameez-Shalwar attire, a traditional long loose shirt and baggy trouser, for a customer.
Living alone in the congested poor neighbourhood of Khwaja Bazar, she has developed many health problems since the tragic death of her husband Ghulam Hassan in an explosion and the marriage of her only daughter. But she is determined to earn a living and not rely on others for financial assistance.
She is not the only woman in the valley; there are thousands of them, and some of them receive assistance from various charitable groups.
“I never begged anyone when my husband died. I managed to survive on my own despite the difficulties,” Akhter told Anadolu Agency.
“I use anti-anxiety and blood sugar medications to keep going,” she added.
According to health care professionals, the decades-long conflict in IIOJK has had a significant impact on the occupied region’s women, affecting them in a number of different ways.
Akhter’s spouse was killed in an unfortunate incident that left her family in dire straits, including a five-year-old child at the time.
She stated that her husband was a cloth merchant who had travelled from his house in the Ganderbal district for some work to the Kulgam district, 40 miles (65 kilometres) south of Srinagar, on Dec. 3, 1996, where he was killed in a grenade blast.
“He didn’t come back to us despite that he promised to come back by nightfall,” Akhter recalled, adding that this is something that has stayed with her with permanent grief.
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Akhter did not remarry when her husband died, instead devoting her life to caring for her in-laws’ elderly parents and her daughter.
“After my spouse died, life got quite difficult. Friends and relatives helped for a few years, but not after that,” she stated.
To keep things going, she began working as a helper in a local school in 2001 to alleviate financial pressure, but it was insufficient.
She lost her deceased husband’s parents in 2018, leaving her all alone.
“In a place like IIOJK, a woman’s life without a husband weighs heavily around her,” clinical psychologist Isha Malik explained. “It is difficult for women to shoulder family responsibilities. “However, the years of uncertainty have made women more resilient to suffering,” Malik underlined.
Almost hundreds of women in Occupied Kashmir receive some form of assistance in the shape of rations from local charitable organisations in the region each month to keep their hopes alive.
According to Zahoor Ahmad Tak, the chairman of Jammu and Kashmir Yateem Trust, one of IIOJK’s oldest charity organisations, hundreds of women receive monthly rations from the trust.
“These women are mostly widows who lost their husbands owing to different reasons such as accidents, conflict, or other tragedies,” he explained.
However, he stated that they also support women who are divorced and have no one to turn to.
Though these groups are attempting to help, many women are left behind.
Akhter recalled that when her husband died, many people asked her to go to any charity group, but she declined because she was told it would be a lengthy procedure.
“When donations are minimal, as a group, we make sure it goes to the most deserving,” Tak said, acknowledging that the process takes time but they ensure that help reaches the deserving women.
For the time being, the poor widow is content and managing to survive the most distressing circumstances. She vows that she will keep tailoring dresses until she can.
“By the will of God, I remained patient, and He helped me to cross these tides of uncertainty,” Akhter said.