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'There Was Just Darkness Ahead': India's Youngest Military Widow Opens Up on Grief

© Photo : Salina KhatuSalina Khatu, the youngest ever widow of an Indian soldier
Salina Khatu, the youngest ever widow of an Indian soldier - Sputnik India, 1920, 07.04.2023
The world of 16-year-old Salina Khatun crashed when she lost her husband, Indian Army Sepoy Gunner Rizaul Haq, a decade ago.
Salina Khatun became the youngest ever widow of an Indian soldier at the age of 16 in 2013.
In an interview with Sputnik, she opens up about the ten-year journey since losing her husband, the legal challenges she faced as an underage wife, the support she got from the army and the Indian government, and her dreams for the future.

'Nothing Ahead, Just Darkness'

Salina was devastated when she heard the news of her husband's martyrdom for the first time, facing great uncertainty.

"It is said that sometimes words are not enough to describe what you're feeling during that moment. Nevertheless, when I first heard the news of his martyrdom, I'd say that I felt like a fish, a gasping fish out of the water, struggling to catch a breath. I felt my life had come to a full stop. There was nothing ahead, just bleak darkness," Salina told Sputnik.

"I wondered if life would go on just like this, crying, listening to the taunts of relatives and my in-laws. I had to hear a lot of things as if I was only responsible for his death. I was very young, so my in-laws even tried to hide the fact that I was married to their son," she continued. "But it is said that the truth can never be hidden no matter how much you try. Just like that, they couldn't hide this one. I got my rights after a lot of struggles, but there was a lot left to fight for. Like, for documentation, I had to face a lot of problems. I felt like my life was on the edge then."
"Now, however, I feel that as you walk and leave the darkness behind, you slowly start to see the light. In that way, I'm also trying to reach that light by going forward. When I heard the news that my husband is no longer in this world, if I try to think about it, even now, I get goosebumps," she added.
Salina felt like there was no will or no reason left to live and completely forgot there was a whole world outside. She spent two years in the same condition before she started to heal, slowly but gradually.

Legal Challenges as Underage Wife

Salina told Sputnik that as an underage widow, she faced a lot of challenges, primarily, because she could not get her name entered into the Indian Army order, although Muslim law in India allows girls to marry at the age of 16 years.
"Concerning documentation, I didn't have anything, neither a voter ID card nor Aadhar card so they used my matriculation admit card. There are still a few court cases pending regarding my underage," Salina says.
Salina added that her family members were also in the Indian Army, and they helped a lot. but she did not live with her in-laws because they didn't keep her in their house.

"A couple of officers helped a lot along with my brothers who were in the Indian Army. They told me everything about pension documentation and the procedures and where to send it, all that they helped me with."

Social Prejudice

After her husband's martyrdom, Salina faced bad reactions from relatives who had a "wrong mentality" and suggested she would get a lot of money, a job too, and then find a new husband after some time and settle with him.
Some even asked her parents, "Why don't you marry her off? Why have you kept her in the house? How much will she study?"
"Fortunately, my [own] family is very supportive so they said: "You can live the way you want to. There is no pressure on you, no one will say anything to you, if you want to study you can," she shared.

Financial Challenges

Currently, Salina is doing her post graduation and preparing for the civil services examinations. Her main focus is civil services.
As for her financial condition, they are based on whatever pension she is getting from the government and nothing else.
"Regarding the Army Group Insurance (AGI) money, the in-laws have registered a case so I haven't received that. I've received some portion of it but some are still left," Salina said.
"I'm totally dependent on the pension. My family is not stable enough to support me financially because they are also growing old. So, my current aim is to get a job according to my academic qualifications. I hope to do a job so I can be independent and no one can taunt me saying what did you do with all that studying?" she said.
Apart from education, Salina also communicates with a lot of soldier widows (Veer Naris) associated with the NGO Veer Nari Shakti Resettlement Foundation about their problems.
"If I had found this NGO or foundation 10 years ago to support me mentally, maybe I wouldn't have lost the 2 years that I spent in the darkness, and I would've reached the light a little earlier," Salina noted.
"My life, before being associated with Veer Nari Shakti Resettlement Foundation and after, has been quite different. From not uttering a word and being tired of my struggles, I found myself at peace with this organization. I started participating along with other soldier widows, ending my loneliness with that. I realized there were others like me, having similar or identical pasts."
She said the biggest, and most effective thing that they did was assisting her in the documentation process. Sharing that the level of threat from her in-laws was quite high, she said they could have caused any harm to her, even kill her. But she was to visit the District Magistrate's Office for documentation at all costs.
"After sharing my concerns with the NGO officials, I wondered what help I could get from Delhi. But, as promised, I was given full protection to complete my documentation," Salina revealed.

Message to Other Soldier Widows

Salina's message for all the widows of soldiers is "find yourself."
"You were a soldier's wife, doesn't mean you are not anyone now. You were someone in the past, you still are someone in the present and you have the potential to be something else in the future. So, just give yourself time, understand yourself, and figure out who you are. 'Who am I?' Answer this question yourself. 'Do I spend the rest of my life like this or do I do something that I want to do?'," she said.
"Motivate yourself that you want to do something and stand on your own feet. If you become someone, no one will ask you what you're doing post the death of your husband. Why did you not get a job or why are you still studying? Why don't you marry and settle?," she said.

"Whatever has happened will not be repeated and should not be repeated. We can carry them in our hearts and move forward. He is there with us like a shadow, we can't see him but he's there. He's still watching us. So, you have to motivate yourself because life doesn't stop for anyone," she concluded.