India has been occupying Kashmir since the 90’s, causing various levels of displacement and violence. This book focuses on women’s activism following the disappearances of at least 10,000 men at the hands of the Indian military. Zia captures the style of protesting that has been adopted by the mothers and wives of the men who’ve gone missing. The women call themselves half-widows, as they often go the rest of their lives wondering if their family member is alive or not.
An important image Zia focuses on is the unlocked front door. Many people anxiously leave their doors open in the hope that their missing person might return. Others are weary to ever move because if their missing person returns, they won’t know where to find them. The collection of files is another act Zia describes as a form of activism. Families often compile and carry around the documentation surrounding the case of their missing person, thus creating a symbolic body of work. (Note that police are unsurprisingly unhelpful. No one has ever been found through police efforts. Those who have escaped or otherwise returned from disappearance come back with serious injuries and stories of violent torture.)
These disappearances effect everyone’s daily life. Women often accompany men in public to give off a familial vibe, which helps avoid men from being kidnapped. Just having a beard can often be enough evidence from military personnel to accuse a person of being a radical conspiring against the Indian government. And before you think women’s suffering ends at the threat of loss (or the actual loss) of men in their lives, a house void of men makes the women more vulnerable to military raids that sometimes result in sexual violence.