Half Widow, a film based on the plight of women whose husbands were abducted and killed by the Indian forces in disputed region of Kashmir, is set to be released in India next week.

Made by Kashmiri filmmaker Danish Renzu, it enthralled an audience at the Vancouver International South Asian Film Festival in Surrey in 2018.

An armed struggle has been going on for years in Indian-occupied Kashmir, over the right to self-determination. In response, the Indian forces have been involved in enforced disappearances of political activists and civilians caught on mere suspicion. The women whose husbands were never found and are presumed to have been killed are referred to as half widows in Kashmir.

Renzu estimates that there are 2,500 half widows in the region, who have been fighting for justice and closure for the past three decades.

Although the Indian state has always been complicit in suppression of dissent through violence, under the current right wing Hindu nationalist regime of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), the tyranny has actually grown more aggressive in Muslim-dominated Kashmir. Those who try to defend the democratic and human rights of the people of Kashmir are frequently branded as “anti-national” and ostracized by supporters of the ruling BJP. So much so, ordinary Kashmiris are harassed by the police and vigilante groups in other parts of India.

On August 5, the BJP government abrogated the special status given to Kashmir without any consultation with local leaders. Since then Kashmir has been under lockdown. Thousands of troops been deployed in the name of security, many Kashmiri leaders have been detained indefinitely. Internet services have been heavily disrupted, and there is a complete blockade on press freedom.

It is rather interesting that Half Widow passed the censor cuts in India. This may have to do with the fact that Renzu never wanted to point fingers at anyone and focused more on the healing and closure. The protagonist of the story, whose husband is missing, decides to give up participating in rallies and learn to write to tell her own story.

Renzu believes that more protests lead to more killings, and it is time for the people of Kashmir to live in peace.

Half Widow does not take a definite position against the Indian state, and tries to look at the issue from a purely human perspective. But it might actually stir up angry reaction under India’s charged political environment when the film hits theatres in Delhi, Jammu, Mumbai and Pune from January 6 to 9, 2020.

After successfully opening a debate on state repression in Kashmir outside India, the film has become even more relevant for domestic audiences under the current situation, and may help the Indian mainstream to re-examine its own ideas about the people of Kashmir and their hardships.

Gurpreet Singh is a Canada- based journalist who publishes Radical Desi- a monthly magazine that covers alternative politics.


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