- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 24, 2003

CALCUTTA — Pakistani officials have allowed Shehnaaz Parveen Kausar and her daughter to return home from India, ending an eight-year ordeal of abuse, imprisonment, exile, rape and pregnancy that got caught up in one of the world’s bitterest border disputes.

Officials in Islamabad Friday permitted a tired-looking Mrs. Kausar and her daughter, Mobin, to return home, four months after Indian authorities released the mother after seven years of prison and court prosecutions for being an illegal immigrant.

Mrs. Kausar’s plight, taken up by human rights activists, generated headlines across South Asia. Her release and return home are widely seen as symbols of a new readiness by Islamabad and New Delhi to ease the decades-old dispute over Kashmir.

“I am very happy that the trauma for the Pakistani mother and daughter who became innocent victims of the India-Pakistan tension is finally over,” said Indian human rights lawyer Aseem Sawhney, the Jammu attorney who championed Mrs. Kausar’s cause.

Mrs. Kausar’s troubles began in 1995, with a failed effort to drown herself in a river that tracks the Line of Control separating India- and Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. She was fleeing an abusive husband who taunted her for her inability to conceive a child.

Instead, the Pakistani woman, now 40, washed up on the Indian side of the Neelum River, where she begged Indian border guards to kill her.

Mrs. Kausar instead was questioned on suspicions of being a Pakistani spy, and eventually was sentenced to a year in prison as an illegal immigrant.

It was in the grim prison in the Indian border town of Poonch in January 1996 that Mrs. Kausar was raped by a prison guard.

“When it was happening, I didn’t want to scream for help, because I thought the prison guard might kill me,” she told an Indian court investigating her case last year.

“And then I thought that even if I shouted, perhaps being a Pakistani, [that] nobody would come to help.”

Weeks after the rape, she mustered the courage and sobbed out the story of her assault to the jail’s warden. Her attacker was suspended.

But Mrs. Kausar’s trauma was far from over. She discovered she was pregnant from the rape and refused offers to get an abortion because she considered it a sin against her Muslim faith.

The birth of Mobin in October 1996 introduced a new complication: Pakistani officials considered the baby an Indian citizen and refused to allow her to come with her mother even after Mrs. Kausar’s first release from prison in 1997.

The Indian government placed the mother and daughter in a women’s homeless shelter in Jammu, but Mrs. Kausar was returned to prison three years later under strict Indian immigration laws typically applied to illegal Pakistani nationals.

Mrs. Kausar’s luck began to turn when Mr. Sawhney took up her case. A petition to the Kashmir High Court led to her release in August 2002.

Mrs. Kausar’s brother in Pakistan agreed to sponsor her on her return.

The final break in the case came as India and Pakistan moved in recent months to break the long diplomatic and military stalemate over Kashmir. Among the gestures the two governments made in recent weeks was a decision to address Mrs. Kausar’s case.

She was freed by Indian authorities in August to return to Pakistan, on the condition that the Pakistani government would accept her.

“I am just happy that my brother, who has assured me a place in his family, has also agreed to adopt my daughter,” Mrs. Kausar told an Indian security official last week as she prepared to return to her native land.

On Friday, with her daughter at her side, Mrs. Kausar finally left for home.

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