Kashmir woman minister heals scars of rebel violence

Tue Sep 15, 2009 9:14am EDT
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By Sheikh Mushtaq

SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) - Her father and uncle were gunned down by militants and she has survived at least 10 attempts on her life, but the violence has helped Indian Kashmir's lone woman minister to understand the pain of victims.

Sakina Itoo, 36, is helping heal the wounds of thousands of orphans and widows, innocent victims of a two-decade anti-India insurgency in the disputed Himalayan region.

"I know their pain and that is why I have pledged to wipe away their tears. Inshallah, I will achieve successes," the soft-spoken Social Welfare Minister told Reuters in an interview.

"Major steps have been taken to rehabilitate them. Initially, we have identified 5,000 widows and 3,000 orphans."

There is no official data on the number of widows and orphans of the insurgency involving separatist Muslim militants and Indian troops in Kashmir.

Social activists put the number of orphans as high as 60,000 and say an equal number of widows live in the scenic valley of five million people.

Social activists say the number of women and children left without a breadwinner in their families is mounting with only a fraction of them receiving financial support from the government.

Her ministry has spent about $600,000 through the Militancy Rehabilitation Council in last six months for the rehabilitation of widows and orphans, Itoo said, adding the schemes included monthly pensions to widows and parents of slain militants.   Continued...

<p>Sakina Itoo, Kashmir's minster for Social Welfare, smiles during an interview with Reuters at her office in Srinagar September 14, 2009. REUTERS/Fayaz Kabli</p>