26/11 Anniv:Widows of terror-from housewives to breadwinners

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With the passage of time, Momina Khatun has moved on with her life. But it was not an easy transition from being a simple housewife to breadwinner for the entire family. Momina's life had turned upside down when she learnt about her husband's death in 26/11 Mumbai Terror Attacks 2008. Momina's initial reactions were laced with morbid fear that "Now, how would I support the family, without my husband?"

In four years time, the 33-year-old wife of driver Umar Shaikh is diligently fulfilling the role of both "father" and "mother" for her children. Now, Momina sells garlands of jasmine flower for a shop at Shivaji Nagar in Mumbai. Her effort helps her earn around Rs 70 a day. Shaikh was killed after a bomb planted in his taxi by Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) terrorists exploded.

Smoke of the Taj Hotel

"Life has not been easy. With my meagre earning and without any grown up man in the home, everyday is a test for my family," said Momina, putting up a brave face. In spite of all odds, Momina has not given up hope. Like a warrior, she fights every battle of life and definitely she has her winning moments too.

Recently, Momina has bought a house with the compensation of Rs 5 lakh which she has received from the state government. Moreover, Aman Council of India, an NGO, has ensured that her son Arbaaz gets free education.

Along with Momina's husband, a total of 166 people were killed in Mumbai Terror Attacks 2008. The magnitude of human loss was huge in the deadliest terror attacks India has ever witnessed. The horror of killing and blood bath went on for three days. The terror attack was executed by 10 Pakistani home-grown terrorists, who entered India's financial hub and mercilessly killed innocent people.

Just five days before 26/11 anniversary to be observed on Nov 26, Monday, Government of India went ahead and hanged LeT terrorist Mohammad Ajmal Amir Kasab. Kasab was the lone surviving terrorists of 26/11, who was executed at Yerwada Jail in Pune after a trial period of almost four years.

Triveni Baruah, 58, might be staying miles away from Momina but fate connects them. Like Momina, even Triveni lost her husband in a bomb blast in Assam, almost 13 years back.

The 58-year-old gets strength and hope by nurturing her late husband's dream - an English medium school in Assam's Nalbari town. The school, 60 km from Guwahati, was founded by her husband Pranabesh in 1998. Pranabesh was killed in a blast triggered by the banned outfit United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) near Nalbari on Feb 27, 2000.

"After my husband's death, I was clueless as to how to support my children. Then, I took over the reins of the school. I am happy that I am now managing the school well and taking care of my children as well," said Triveni, putting up a brave face.

The story is not an isolated one. It is repeated in thousands of households in the Assam.

According to the figures available with the Assam Police, as many as 423 explosions occurred in the state between 2002 and Jan 2008. At least 928 civilians have been killed in these explosions, mostly triggered by ULFA, added a police official.

Sunita Sharma, 32, is yet to overcome the shock of losing her husband, Sagar, in Oct 2008 serial bomb blasts in Guwahati. Yet she has no option but to take up her husband's vocation, carpentry.

"In order to take care of my two children, I have to work in his workshop now. I am completely distraught after my husband's death. But as I have to look after my children, I have to carry on with my life," a sobbing Sunita told.

Sagar was killed in the Ganeshguri market in Guwahati, one of Oct 2008 bomb blast sites. At least 81 people were killed and over 300 injured when 12 coordinated bombings in Guwahati and western districts of Barpeta, Kokrajhar and Bongaigaon rocked Assam.

There is no official estimate about the number of women who have lost their husbands or children orphaned in insurgency or ethnic riots in Assam. "An estimated 25,000 people have been killed and hundreds more maimed for life since 1979," said a senior Assam police official.

Assam has long been a cauldron of violence triggered by insurgency and ethnic clashes, since the state's first rebel group, the ULFA, was formed in 1979.

Triveni Baruah rued that in spite of promises made by the government to help her financially, she has received no aid. "Initially, I visited a few government officials and ministers to get my dues. But nothing materialised. I have lost all hope of getting any help from the government," she said.

Wasbir Hussain, political commentator and columnist, in his award-winning book "Homemakers without the Men" has brought to light the plight of Assam's widows of terror through real-life narratives.

"The book, through real life stories, narrates the struggles of Assamese women who have lost their bread winning partners to insurgency or ethnic strife. Through the book, Hussain has brought out the pathos, trauma, struggle and challenges of these remarkable women," said Guwahati-based sociologist Anima Guha.

"The government has to support these women and help them financially to support their family. Women and children of Assam have been the most affected lot in the orgy of violence unleashed by the terrorist outfits for three decades," said Guha.

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