In a dimly-lit room on the ground floor of a small two-storey house sits this graceful lady with a white shawl wrapped around her body as well as her head. A door opens into the street where some children are playing cricket while others are standing on the side as spectators.
Wife of a martyred police officer she became a widow at a young age and had to look after her children alone. During the late 1980s, the city of Lahore was a stronghold of organised criminal gangs many of whom drew strength from rogue elements in student unions and would find refuge in educational institutions. Police could not enter the premises of these institutions without the permission of the heads of these institutions.
Her husband was considered one of the bravest police officers in the city and would be included in special teams formed to raid a hideout or chase criminals. During his career, he had several close shaves with death but on one fateful day the luck was not on his side. He was hit by bullets fired by criminals. He succumbed to injuries on his way to the hospital.
Since that day, she has dedicated her life to her children and put up a brave face despite being totally broke. Everybody wants her to control her emotions and feel proud for being a martyr’s widow as behaving like an ordinary woman will hurt the morale of others in the service.
For years she had to survive on a meagre guzara allowance (subsistence allowance) that she received from the department as widows and heirs were not entitled to receive full salary of the deceased till the time of superannuation in case he had been alive. Intermittent support from members of the extended family and earnings from a part time teaching job was not there for long.
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Another big test of her life was when her son was offered a job in police on attaining the required age and qualification. She had lost her husband and was afraid of losing her son also if he joined the service. But ultimately, she had to accept this offer as her relatives, in-laws and even her son was of the view that he should accept the offer. Years have passed but the fear of harm coming to her son remains in the back of her mind.
This is just one of the accounts of many widows of law-enforcing authorities’ personnel who face a higher risk of death. The risk has increased with the passage of time amid terrorist incidents and sectarianism in the country.
Earlier, there would be targeted killings of police officers but now anybody can become a victim of subversive activities like suicide blasts, explosion of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), indiscriminate firing by terrorists, and so on. The number of casualties has been quite high over the past decade due to this reason, adding to the financial burden on the police department regarding welfare of the deceaseds’ families.
Pakistan army personnel are also among the main target of terrorists. There were times when their lives were at risk only during full-fledged wars at international borders or while guarding checkposts at borders. But now things have changed. They are vulnerable even in cantonment areas, during their movement in convoys, inside their training centres and while on watch duties.
Thousands of army personnel have been martyred over the years, many of them leaving behind their widows to pass through the emotional turmoil and live bravely for the sake of their children. Tasneem Atique, widow of Major Hafiz Atique Ahmed Shaheed, is one such lady who has struggled through her life. Her husband was martyred in an ambush by terrorists in Swat during the Swat Operation of 2009. The news of her husband’s martyrdom sent her in a shock and it looked she would never come out of it. But as life moved on, she struggled for some time and took over control of household affairs.
She was a lecturer in a government college in Sahiwal and had resigned after her marriage. After the death of her husband, she rejoined lecturership with the support of Pakistan army that requested the Punjab government through a letter to re-induct her. She does not need the job for a livelihood but to keep herself busy. The youngest of her four sons was four when she became a widow, they have not forgotten their father and often get emotional on seeing his belongings and photographs. Looking after the emotional well-being of her children is another task for her.
The institution (Pakistan army) supported the family in recognition of the sacrifice of the martyred and allotted two residential plots to them. Furthermore, they are receiving the salary that he used to get during his service. Cash support and waiving off of outstanding payments servicemen have to make in the form of deduction from their salary for residential facility were in addition to this. So the financial part was taken care of but the loss of a loved and dear one was irreparable.
Khawaja Khalid Farooq, former inspector general of police (IGP), Punjab says police departments of all provinces also take care of widows and children of martyred police officers but their resources are limited. “They have to depend on regular deduction from salaries for the welfare fund and income from facilities like petrol pumps, etc. The profit coming from fixed deposits in banks also contributes to this fund. The purpose here is that the bereaved families do not feel left alone and find the department standing by them whenever they need its support,” he says. An android “Welfare Eye” has also been developed recently by the police department to facilitate the recipients of welfare support, especially the widows.
Amir Bilal, an ex-serviceman, tells TNS that special attention is given to the fact that widows of martyred army men remain in the mainstream and are not left to live an isolated life. “All those who have requisite qualification are offered jobs in Army Public Schools (APSs). Besides, such families are regularly invited to events where they can interact with other families and be a part of one big family.”