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Thursday, 26 July, 2001, 22:51 GMT 23:51 UK
Kashmir bans the widow word
Villagers in Chati Singhpura Mattan, near Srinagar, grieve over a massacre of Sikh villagers
Twelve years of armed conflict has taken its toll
By Altaf Hussain in Srinagar

The government in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir has prohibited the use of the word widow in official records, after a national rights group argued the word was derogatory.

An order issued by the provincial government says a widow will now on be referred to as "wife of deceased".

A directive from India's National Human Rights Commission said the word widow aggravated a bereaved woman's suffering.

The local government said the number of widows in Jammu and Kashmir has increased phenomenally during the past 12 years of armed conflict.

A large number of them are aged below 40.

The words "vidhwah" in Hindi and "baywah" in Urdu will also be substituted by "dharampadni swargiya" and "zouja marhoom" respectively.

The widow of an Indian soldier killed in battle will be called wife of "shaheedvir" or wife of the martyred warrior.

New respectability

The NHRC issued a directive to all provincial governments last May last to change the nomenclature following a representation by a Kashmir-based non-governmental organisation, the Uttam Environment Awareness Mission.

The rights group does not know whether any other provincial governments have complied with its directive.

It will soon ask for a compliance report.

The women in Jammu and Kashmir who have lost their husbands have welcomed the change of nomenclature, saying the substitute words will give them a sense of respectability.

The number of widows in Jammu and Kashmir registered with the Department of Social Welfare is about 54,000.

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