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Brent Foster

Kashmir’s Half Widows

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Estimates range between 2000 and 6000 women do not know the whereabouts of their husbands. They are Kashmir’s Half Widows, women whose spouses have disappeared during the conflict. Some have been killed by security forces or militants, some have crossed the border to take up arms, and some have been jailed. Regardless the cause of their disappearance, they’ve left behind children, and their wives. Without proof of their husbands death,  the women are unable to re-marry, receive government funding, and are often cast out of society as a great stigma is attached the now single women. Most of their in-laws disown the women and their children.

For the first time these women are leaving their homes, and are seeking work as seamstresses, taking odd jobs, and begging on the street in order to provide for their children and themselves. They continue to search for their husbands and to hang on to the thought of them coming home. Every women I’ve met and photographed says they haven’t lost hope of their husbands return.

I hope to continue to document these women by photographing them through their daily life. The struggles, the stigmas, and the hope.  My goal is that this story raises awareness to the quiet injustices in this conflict.


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Brent Foster


27 thoughts on “brent foster – kashmir’s half widows”

  1. this essay reminds me of the women in sting’s song ‘fragile’ where women wore necklaces of pictures of their lost husbands or sons. they danced silently by themselves in the plaza… as a protest.

    after the loss of a beloved, what is left in one’s heart? nothing. absolutely nothing.
    how can grief be a stigma?

    i wish you goodwill and hope you would have the strength and resources to continue your work.
    this i hope is only a preview of a much longer, much stronger very meaningful essay.

  2. panos skoulidas


    ( i hope someone will do an essay about all those women from and around San Diego that their husbands will never return back home………i just hope…:(…………………)

    SORROW is my own yard
    where the new grass
    flames as it has flamed
    often before but not
    with the cold fire
    that closes round me this year.
    Thirtyfive years
    I lived with my husband.
    The plumtree is white today
    with masses of flowers.
    Masses of flowers
    load the cherry branches
    and color some bushes
    yellow and some red
    but the grief in my heart
    is stronger than they
    for though they were my joy
    formerly, today I notice them
    and turned away forgetting.
    Today my son told me
    that in the meadows,
    at the edge of the heavy woods
    in the distance, he saw
    trees of white flowers.
    I feel that I would like
    to go there
    and fall into those flowers
    And sink into the marsh near them.

    –William Carlos Williams

    The shortest of all the essays so far and without a doubt one of the most sublime.

    Searing and strengthened through the sanctuary of their grief, and all this extraordinary distillation of loss and sadness honed into the flower-color shape of those small portraits….

    all that we have, to all that they have lost….

    heart-breaking and precise….

    it only takes a single picture to carve up the world….this is that reminder….

    thank you for sharing…


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  5. for homer bob and brent,

    This plaid shelters a deep hole
    No bigger than sugar spoon for coffee
    But deep like the blue of eyes I once loved
    There was once heart in this void
    Nothing left but hope that
    The tiniest littlest picture of my love
    Shall stop my flowing tears

  6. your use of color is BEAUTIFUL
    What a compelling story,
    and you being a man,
    makes it even better for me…
    your sensitivity
    comes across strong…
    These women deserve to be
    your photos do that..
    I want to see more,
    hear more..
    I simply adore your use of color…

    ‘the tiniest, littlest picture of my love,
    shall stop my flowing tears…’

  8. Hi,

    I also like very much your use of color, your presentation is simple and strong at the same time, the husband, the woman, and the text… I imagine the pain not to know really… very beautiful, thank you

    best, audrey

  9. brent – you´re cooking on gas

    it´s always struck me as odd that so little news from this conflict makes our press.. it´s been going on so long, so many have died since the partition of india and with the arms race between the countries peeking it makes me wonder if it is somewhere we will be seeing more of, sadly.

    an excellent presentation, as with others on your website.. to the point, personal and unique as a way of illustrating the hopelessness of conflict.

    i think you achieved your goal :ø)


  10. Oh yes, Brent. Go on and continue this project. I like the women’s photographs a lot, specially #2 and #6. I really felt like I want to see more, and that is good!!

    Well done!


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  12. Brent

    Beautiful, tender, hearth wrenching.

    And I do mean beautiful in that it is beautifully concieved, it is a sad beautiful story, and that your pictures are simply beautiful on their own.

    I was looking at a Natchtway 9/11 photo recently that was so beautifully composed that it almost appeared to be a gorgeous landscape, and was almost feeling guilty about enjoying the sheer beauty of the photograph given the horror it depicted. I was left wondering “is it OK to make a beautiful photograph of an ugly situation?” It also got me wondering about how such photos communicate, and what kind of mindset and sensibility photographers such as yourself adopt when making such photographs. I personally cannot imagine.

    I had a look at your site. Amazing, brutal, stuff. Again, beautifully done. Truthfully, I would never set foot in such places, let alone bring out a camera. Shocking stuff. I don’t know how you do it. I’m truly puzzled. You have my complete admiration.

    Thankyou for bringing this to us.

    Gordon Lafleur

  13. Good work, Brent, very poignant. It is very difficult to photograph the absent ones, the disappeared. You have done your subjects proud. Masterful use of colour and depth of field. As David Bowen has already said, this conflict and its consequences seems to be continually under the press radar. The fact that the families of the missing receive little help is a double tragedy. We in the West should remember the poverty of the country before we rush to judge. Poverty is a terrible burden that makes necessary, choices that should never have to be contemplated. It is a waste of humanity and human potential. How many potential doctors, scientists etc. are being lost to the constant struggle to survive.

    I hope you have the opportunity to continue this essay Brent. If you can close the circle and document the return of one of the missing – well, that would really be something.

    Best wishes,


  14. BRENT – nice essay. i love your use of color, your simplicity and the strength of each image. i too hope you can continue this work. nice job!

  15. MIKE R.

    We in the West should remember the poverty of the country before we rush to judge.

    This one has been gnawing at me for a while. Of course, there is too much indiffernec and not enough action from all corners. But Mike, take the “West” out of so many poor corners of the world, and see if maybe it should not be rather “rush to help” rather than “rush to judge”. There is extraordinary samaritanship coming from the West, only intl geo-politics, but also local corruption keeps us from helping even more. Just an idea: maybe the problem is that there is more oblivion to the plight of their own coming from these places than coming from “us”…

  16. I think the photographic representation of ‘disappearances’ is difficult. There is a need to show ‘absence’ and the emotional, economic and social impact of this. I like most of Brent’s photographs of the women, especially those that appear to show them in their daily lives, particularly where they have been forced to break social norms and seek work – I would like to see more of these, depicting the daily economic and social difficulties they face. The use of individual shots of photos of the ‘disappeared’ to me has been rather over done (not by Brent but generally on this issue) to the detriment of other types of representation e.g. the belongings that they left behind, spaces that they used to occupy at home and work (empty chairs, beds, motor vehicles etc.). A photo of a photo doesn’t cut it for me. I think it would be interesting to explore how these women are active agents for social change – how they organize themselves to seek justice, whether they themselves have become activists or whether they work with local human rights / womens organizations. In this regard I like the work of Paula Allen with women in Chile searching for their ‘disappeared’ husbands ‘Flowers in the Desert’. Although it is perfectly legitimate to show the problems they face, where possible we should show what is being done locally to fight against such violations. Human rights organizations can put these type of photos to good use. I hope Brent’s photos can be used as a force for justice.

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  19. I think its a beautifully made project. I would like to see more. But I question what you say about bringing awareness to this problem. This is a problem that needs to be brought to the attention of the local community and can only be addressed by the local community. Our awareness – as people from the western world – will have no impact. This is a cultural problem particular to India and muslim countries. It is not only kashmiri wives who are dealing with the disappearance of their husbands or the stigma of being husbandless. But also I think Kashmiri wives do have the option of divorcing their husbands though of course that may be easier on paper than in reality.

    I have been in Kashmir and I wonder how you managed to find this story. An unconnected photographer would have a hard time finding such stories. That is the problem I have. No connections.

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