KARACHI: For Humera Zaman, a middle-aged widow who lost her husband to Karachi’s targeted killings, life is a series of humiliations.
When she steps out from her house in a veil and a chador, men in her neighbourhood shower scorn on her. They are yet to get the money back that she borrowed from them.
When Humera goes to a nearby store to buy essentials, the shopkeeper ridicules her and calls her a beggar. He refuses to give her anything until she has cleared previous dues.
The woman pleads but fails. She returns home empty-handed.
“I am constantly thinking about how to feed my nine children,” she said. Two years ago, her husband Bakhsh Zaman was killed in the oft-volatile area of Katti Pahari.
Social activist Abdul Waheed says that violence in the area has impacted around 250 women. At least half of them were widowed. “Life for these women is extremely harsh especially when they don’t have any other man in the house.”
While the men work as labourers, drivers, waiters at roadside cafes or as guards, the women are not allowed to work because of cultural norms. The only way the widows can survive is to live off charity or borrow money.
Like Humera, they live in rented houses. After her husband’s death, Humera managed to make some money by selling off a charpoy, a fridge and even the doors of her bedroom. The family is down to one meal a day. She has accrued a debt of Rs70,000. “I don’t mind working outside but if I do people will raise fingers at my character. I keep on asking people for money but am never able to pay it back.”
Her newly married daughter’s dowry comprised ‘three sets of clothes’. But she was sent home by her husband. Humera says he “won’t accept her” until she brings a sizeable dowry.
Some younger widows have been married to the brothers of their late husbands, while others move to their parents’ house. When Zahida’s husband was shot dead in last July’s violence, she relocated to her parents’ house in the same locality. Zahida, 23, had only been married for nine months. “My life seems finished. I feel like a burden on my parents.” she said. “I wish that the wives of my husband’s killers also become widows. My husband was innocent; his ethnicity became the motive for his killing. What was his fault?”
Widows from other ethnic communities in Kati Pahari fare slightly better, as they are able to work.
Four years after her husband was killed in Banaras Colony when armed men opened fire at his mobile shop, 54-year-old Surraya Bano has started working at a private welfare school as an administrator.
“At this age when I should have been resting, I am forced to work,” Surraya Bano says. She is supporting two daughters, and paying off her husband’s debt. “My husband would keep all problems to himself. He would have cried to see me in this state,” she said. Abdul Hai of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan says that women and children are the worst hit by violence. “Families are finished financially when the man of the house is killed,” he said. Women living in localities where they are not allowed to work end up becoming ‘mentally disturbed’, he said. “Financial burden and everyday violence troubles them. How they are leading their lives without money amazes me.” Hai called on the government to provide these women with financial aid.
Surraya Bano has learnt the value of women in the workforce. Her husband, she says, wanted to make a big house, and get their daughters married. “But now I want them to study so that they can support themselves.”
Published in The Express Tribune, November 13th, 2012.