Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Mother's Eid Without Her Son

His cricket bat lies abandoned in the corner of the small courtyard in front of his home in downtown Nowhatta. His bicycle too stands there; it is covered with a brown cloth. He would ride it to fetch bread and vegetables from the market. Not now. Faisal Showkat Dar is dead. He was killed. He was 17.

Faisal was shot on August 12 during a massive pro-freedom protest at Baghi-Mehtab in the city outskirts. A bullet from a troopers’ gun pierced Faisal’s left side of abdomen. Hot blood gushed forth from the gaping bullet wound and wet the tarmac. His t-sheet’s colour too had changed to scarlet. In the background, youth raised their fists in the air and shouted pro-freedom slogans. He bled profusely. He died in hospital the next day amid prayers by his mother and aunts.

“It feels hollow,” says his uncle Imtiyaz Ahmed. “He was a child. He was innocent.”

As he speaks, the cramped room is filled with murmurs and sobs. Faisal’s aunts and other relatives have entered the room and are talking among themselves, their right hands folded into fists and held to their mouth. Everybody’s eyes are moist. In a corner of the room, the television set is covered with a grey shawl. Maybe because nobody watches cricket now. Faisal loved cricket.

Faisal’s mother Nazima Showkat fiddles with the gold ring in her finger, her eyes filled with tears, her chin quivering. “It feels as if I am scratching a wound every time I think of Faisal.” She sobs, “I wish he had not gone to Baghi-Mehtab on the fateful day.” Baghi-Mehtab houses his nanihal (maternal home). Faisal had gone there on Saturday, August 9, 2008. “My god, he was a gentle son.”

Kashmir lost more than 50 gentle sons who were shot dead by the army and police during the recent massive peaceful protests.

The transfusion of 26 points didn’t help save Faisal’s life. It didn’t possibly suffice the blood that he had imbued the road with. He died on the hospital bed while the blood drops dripped through the tube into his skin.

Faisal was an eleventh class Commerce student at S.P. Higher Secondary School. Cricket and friends were his life. He would come from his school, throw down his bag in the kitchen, take lunch and rush to play cricket with his friends. “Now nobody would play cricket here,” Nazima says and the room breaks into wails and moans. His father, Haji Showkat Ahmed Dar is looking at the covered up TV all the time. Only his eyes are dry.

He speaks for the first time in a quivering voice. “Faisal was an obedient boy, (Aulad-e-salihah).” His voice chokes, he swallows, he looks down and speaks again, “He would do nothing without my permission.” The tangled wires on the electric pole outside the house are visible from the grilled window. The room is hushed once again.

At his maternal uncle’s home at Chadoora, Baghi-Mehtab, Faisal was oblivious to the bloodbath on the streets. He was playing cricket with his cousin Raju. It was August 11, the day of Muzaffarabad Chalo call. Later in the evening, having dinner with Raju, he asks, “Why are they killing people?” Nobody had an answer. They ate their food and went to sleep.

More than (-----) people were killed on August 11, 2008.

On the morning of August 12, Faisal hears slogans outside the house at Baghi-Mehtab. They grow louder and louder. The previous day’s events had stirred something inside him. Maybe the seed of the question that he had planted needed an answer. He leaves his salt-tea and the bread behind. He dares to venture out. Wearing a worn-out slipper, he scurries from the backdoor to join the protesters, to find answers. He never came back. He never will.

“Only a mother can understand this pain,” Nazima says. “This Eid will be different for us. Without Faisal how will I live?”

A suffocating silence descends upon the room.

My Kashmir Burning

It is something they never thought would happen again. But just as it turned out, exactly the same happened. They said it had died its own death. But the dead rose, with vengeance, with renewed vigor. My Kashmir erupted once again. It had, in 1990 when I was six. Today, it took birth once again. The sentiment of ‘Azadi’ was reborn in Kashmir, it was.

Some weeks earlier in my Kashmir. The script read like this---- Thousands marching the streets shouting azadi slogans. Troopers opening fire on them. Killings, Injuries, Miseries. More protests, More killings, More miseries. Then came the curfew. With it the deserted streets. Hungry babies. Desperate mothers. And more sad stories. My Kashmir’s was a heartrending tale.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Fishseller's Tale of Surviving High Tide of Agitations

Squatting on the side of a busy stretch of road, Maal is busy scraping away the scales of a fish, while two customers wait by her side. A large metallic container carrying a few fish in blood-tinged water lies in front of her and a black umbrella fixed on a long stick protects her from the sun. It is morning hour at the Soura market, the crunch time.

While bees buzz around the fish-carrying container, she yells at the customer. The price he is fixing is too low. "Life is difficult, I have to strive so hard."

Maal is a fisherwoman, who has to come out of her small shack in the interiors of Jenab Saheb Soura to earn a living for herself and for her family. She has a family of ten and her husband is dead.

"I live with my only daughter. Her husband is kind," she says and settles for a bargain price.

Maal belongs to that section of the society who do not get the monthly salary at the end of the every month. She lives a hand to mouth life. And the recent protests and curfews in the Valley did not help the matters. Daily wagers like Maal were left in the lurch.

"Business did incur losses, but then what could I do." She wipes her hina-tinged hands on her pheran. "All I could do was stay inside the home."

Maal has six granddaughters and two grandsons. Her grandsons and the younger granddaughters go to a local government school. Others spin yarn. "We are poor people, cannot afford schooling for all," she says. "Life is hard for wagers like us."

Her daily work day starts at nine in the morning. She buys the quota of fish from a local fisherman and tries to sell the stocks till evening. "Then I go home." Today, however she came to the market at eight.

"We had no fish during the curfew, so no business to do and so no earning." A few customers dart their way through the carts piled with tomatoes and brinjal and start looking at the fish in her container, Maal beckons them, "come, come, they are fresh."

"There was a day when we had no vegetables to cook at home. But I didn't allow my son-in-law to go out. We had heard that they beat up people," she recounts. "During any relaxation in curfew, we would rush to the market and fetch bread and vegetables."

Maal, however, says that she herself would not venture to do business during the deal hours. "What business would I do in one hour, where from would I get the fish? she questions.

The fear of military barging into homes and beating and abusing women also held her from going out. "I would be at home all the time even during the deal. My son-in-law and my grandsons would go out." She says that the relaxation hour in curfew was like Eid for her grandsons.

She hopes the fragile peace would last. That is the only way she can carry her life smoothly. But looking at the situation in Kashmir, where everyday people are shot dead, her worst fears seem to be coming true.

Friday, September 12, 2008

"We Have Had Enough"...Say Kashmiri Women

Eight-year old Hina was searching for a stick in her courtyard. Having found one behind the henhouse, she rushes to her mother in the kitchen, brandishing the stick in her hand. “Let’s go out,” she tells her.

Holding a stick with one hand and her mother’s arm with the other, little Hina was happy. She was ready to come out of the house to join the people on the streets. The shattered glasses and the smoldering tyres on the roads did not frighten her. She too wanted to shout slogans for freedom.

Nayeema, Hina’s mother smiles, “She just wanted to go out, she was so eager you know.” As she says this, Hina listens to our conversation from behind a curtain. She smiles shyly, playing with her curly hair.

This was when Kashmir was protesting the transfer of 38.2 hectares of forest land to SASB. Now the land issue has completely been transcended by the calls for ‘Azadi’ (freedom) here in Kashmir. The participation of women in the ongoing protests has been unprecedented so far.

As the smell of dung-cakes, those are in the courtyard, floats through the air, Nayeema recalls, “All men of our family were out, protesting, my husband and my brother-in-law.” She nods as if pleased with herself. “Everybody was on streets, even women from my neighbourhood.

“I too covered my face and joined the protests,” she adds after a bit of probing.

This mother-daughter duo belongs to Taploo mohalla of Soura in Srinagar. This area was among the many localities that witnessed the women protesters coming out and registering their anger.

Women could be seen pelting stones and shouting with equal fervor the ‘Azadi’ slogans on the streets.

They see reason behind their active participation in the protests. “It was for our freedom,” says Rafiqa of Maisuma area in Srinagar. Having memorized the slogans, she blurts out in broken Urdu, “Aada roti khayay ga, sar nahi jukaye ga.” Her tone was proud. Rafiqa, a fragile lady in her forties, was quick to add, “The whole area had locked their houses. Nobody stayed back home. We ran with the protesters. It was a huge Juloos.” She relishes the memory.

Gulzara, another women protester from Maisuma, who says she was part of all the protest marches, from Muzaffarabad Chalo to UN Office in Sonawar, had to go in for painkiller injections in her feet after the days protests were over. “My feet hurt. I had to inject drugs to assuage the pain,” she says in her husky voice, taking off the footwear to show the soles of her feet.

“It is the jazba (passion) for freedom that brought us out on the roads,” she adds. “We won’t let the sacrifice of young boys go waste.” She says in a pensive mood.

This is for the first time after the Nineties uprising in Kashmir that ranks of women, young and old, have come out in such mammoth numbers on the streets.

But it is not only on the streets that women are making their presence felt, they are contributing behind the scenes as well. Consider the various ‘langars’ that were organized by them. They collected materials and prepared food, especially ‘tehri’, a Kashmiri rice specialty and distributed to marchers coming from different parts of Valley. They also made arrangements for refreshments to the demonstrators.

The women and girls were well in the forefront of these silent gestures of solidarity. Girls from Kashmir University donated blood as the number of injured in the protests grew.

Prof. Hameeda Nayeem, who teaches English at the University of Kashmir, had this to say, “I felt happy when girls protested in their own unique way. It is high time that India respects the voice of Kashmiris.”

The political consciousness among women has increased manifold in the recent years. Many attribute this to education. Yasmeen is a 12th grade student from Soura. She says she was among the firsts to shout slogans for ‘Azadi’. “Today media is there, education level is high.” Arranging her headscarf, she says in a broken voice, “One gets emotional, so I too went out to pelt stones at the CRPF men who beat up women from our area.”

Yasmeen believes “Kashmir deserves to be free on the lines of Bangladesh.”

Freedom seems to be the dream of every young girl at the Govt. College for Women, M. A. Road. Perhaps that is why they took out a protest rally inside the campus. They called for ‘Azadi’.

Saima Gul, a B.A. first year student joined the protests. This 19-year old girl says, “We are educated. We know what is right and wrong.” Her friends nod in agreement. “We know India wronged us. They fired on unarmed protesters and killed them, in Jammu they didn’t fire.

“In today’s world we think there is no difference between a boy and a girl, then why should we be silent at these trying times?” she asks.

This coming from a student of a college which is considered the fashion hub, tells the tale of Kashmiri girls coming of age.

Shaheen, another young college protester believes that the passion for Azadi in girls equals the passion found in boys. “We are united in our struggle for Freedom. That is why we thought we should protest.”

There is, however, some ambivalence in this argument. Some young girls at the College are of the opinion that girls are better off at home. “We should offer fateh khawani to the martyrs at the School and College assemblies instead of holding rallies,” says Asma, a B.Sc Final year student.

Whatever be it, Kashmiri women and girls are not among the ones to bow down easily. They have realized their roles and are ready to contribute their bit to the Kashmiris demand for ‘Azadi’.

As Nida, a Kashmir University student puts it succinctly, “We have had enough.”