War widows fight for their rights

NEW DELHI, JULY 24. Sapper Mohammad Javed of Rashtriya Rifles died fighting militants during Operation Rakshak in the Kupwara sector of Kashmir in October 2001 and now his young widow, Afroz Bano, is fighting a lone battle for survival... . and for her rights.

Despite the money that she got by way of compensation following her husband's death, she is virtually penniless since 2002. A Lucknow court barred her from withdrawing a major portion of the compensation following a petition filed by her father-in-law, Mohammad Syed, also a retired Army man. The stay is also on the soldier's life insurance policy in which Ms. Afroz Bano is the nominee. Worse, a fourth of the pension goes to her parents-in-law.

Ms. Bano is not allowed to set foot in her in-laws' house in Sultanpur district of Uttar Pradesh. Her father-in-law obtained a stay from the court arguing that Shariat laws did not entitle a widow to inheritance from her husband's property. That would go to the parents and siblings of the deceased. The widow would get only a small portion. The petition also said that Mohammad Javed was the only earning member in the family.

Awaiting court verdict

Ms. Bano has challenged the stay, maintaining that Muslim personal law was applicable only in the case of inherited property or at times property made by the individual. It would certainly not apply to compensation a widow received upon losing her husband.

Nafisa Hussain, member of the National Commission for Women, said the Shariat law would apply only if the couple were divorced before the individual's death. ``In fact, a widow and her children are entitled to a share from the ancestral property too.'' Similar views were expressed by a few other Muslim scholars.

Mohammad Javed's younger brother was inducted into the Army after his brother's death. Ms. Bano claims that her in-laws own considerable land in the village. Importantly, before moving on to Kashmir, Mohammad Javed had made her a nominee for all his movable and immovable property.

Though she has decided to fight the case against her in-laws, who even suggested that the family set up a trust from the money and that she be given a paltry Rs. 800 a month, it will be sometime before a decision comes. Until then as she fights the case at Lucknow, she would try to get admission to a B.Ed course. She also has to pay the instalments for a DDA flat that war widows get on a priority basis.

Concerted conspiracy

This is one of the hundreds of cases where women have to fight for their rights after being widowed. Another widow from Sultanpur, Abida, is highly qualified but is looking for a job since October 2002 when her husband died in `Operation Rakshak.' She has been allotted a petrol pump which she will get only after she purchased land. Abida has neither the money nor the manpower to do that. Even the DDA flat she has got will be registered in her name only after several years, according to Army rules.

Rather strangely, again in Sultanpur, another war widow, Sushila, was disowned by her in-laws at the time of applying for compensation. The family and the villagers gave in writing that her husband was not married. It was by sheer chance that she came to know about the conspiracy and approached the Army authorities with proof of her marriage. She got the compensation.

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