Friday 18 May 2007

Resilient Sufferers:Breaking the stereotype

Long ago before the violence erupted in Kashmir, Haseena Bano lived with her parents in a peaceful, picturesque village of Wangama in South Kashmir district of Anantnag. Times were peaceful and so were the days which she would partly spend by attending a nearby school and then lending a helping hand to her mother in the household chores while father Ghulam Nabi Shiekh would be busy in his postal department job. But as the destiny had it, Haseena’s mother died young and her father became so protected about her that he made her discontinue her studies.A few years later, a young Haseena was married off to Mohammed Amin Shah, a carpenter by profession in Zalangam village of Tehsil Kokernag in Vailoo block. Though her dreamy eyes had weaved a number of dreams about her married life, things weren’t that better as she had envisaged. The newly married couple had to live from hand to mouth within their limited income. While her husband would go out to work in people’s houses, Haseena would take care of the household.But her family could not remain untouched by the winds of change that were blowing across the state in early 90’s. Amin Shah quit his work, picked up the gun, joined the “tehreek” (freedom movement) and become one of the cadres of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen militant outfit.Life could never remain same for Haseena thereafter. Her husband was killed by the security forces in Ashajipora in 1996 leaving her to fend for herself and their kids. Heavens seemed to have fallen on Haseena who had not even ventured out of her house without a male member, not to talk of going out to eke out a living for her family. From a sheltered life, she was suddenly exposed to the vagaries of life.Years later, Haseena is not only earning a livelihood for her family but is determined to give good education to her only daughter. For hours she works on crewel embroidery in local Social Welfare centre in Zalangam besides\n managing the entire household right from buying ration, grocery, schooling of her daughter Raeesa,14 and attending to other household chores. Sadly, her son Parvez Ahmed, 16, had to quit his studies after Class 8th due to economic conditions. “But I want my daughter Raeesa to study hard, she is in class 9th and I would do anything for her to continue education,” says the mother as tears well up in her eyes. Haseena is among hundreds of such women in Kashmir who were forced to come out of their houses and earn a\n livelihood for themselves as their husbands had either been killed by the security forces, militants or simply caught in the crossfire. Hundreds and thousand of widows and half widows (the women whose husbands have been missing for long but they haven’t been declared as dead) in Kashmir are trying to sustain their families in the conflict-hit region. As such, women of valley are deeply affected either directly or indirectly by the continuing conflict in Jammu and Kashmir. The rough estimates in the violence-hit state suggest that there are over 25,000 widows and 40,000 orphans in the state as a result of the protracted conflict in the mountainous Years later, Haseena is not only earning a livelihood for her family but is determined to give good education to her only daughter. For hours she works on crewel embroidery in local Social Welfare centre in Zalangam besides managing the entire household right from buying ration, grocery, schooling of her daughter Raeesa,14 and attending to other household chores. Sadly, her son Parvez Ahmed, 16, had to quit his studies after Class 8th due to economic conditions.“But I want my daughter Raeesa to study hard, she is in class 9th and I would do anything for her to continue education,” says the mother as tears well up in her eyes.Haseena is among hundreds of such women in Kashmir who were forced to come out of their houses and earn a livelihood for themselves as their husbands had either been killed by the security forces, militants or simply caught in the crossfire.Hundreds and thousand of widows and half widows (the women whose husbands have been missing for long but they haven’t been declared as dead) in Kashmir are trying to sustain their families in the conflict-hit region. As such, women of valley are deeply affected either directly or indirectly by the continuing conflict in Jammu and Kashmir. The rough estimates in the violence-hit state suggest that there are over 25,000 widows and 40,000 orphans in the state as a result of the protracted conflict in the mountainous state.Such Kashmiri women who have come out of their houses to work have broken the stereotypes related to women, especially in the background that they had no work experience and were forced to support their families and thus take over the role of a patriarch. Despite the adversities, the conflict has a somewhat empowering impact on Kashmiri women. It has provided them a space to resist, negotiate, cope and survive. Many ordinary Kashmiri women who have been affected by militancy- their fathers, husbands, sons having been lost to the violence- but\n after coming out of the initial shock and mourning, have taken up new roles. One among them is Shehzada Yusuf Begum who too has also survived the most challenging situations after her husband’s death. When a young and beautiful Shehzada married Idrees Khan, he was already a militant with Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF).A right hand man of JKLF chief Yaseen Malik, Idrees was killed in 1995 leaving behind his wife and two daughters. “My husband sacrificed his life for Yasin Malik and the party did not do anything for us,” rues Shehzada\n informing that things were really bad after the killing of her husband Idrees as she and her two young daughters, now 9 and 12 year old, were thrown out of the house by her in-laws.With nobody to look her after, Shehzada who got exposed to this ruthless world, also wore shields of insensitivity and worked for the betterment of her kids."Such Kashmiri women who have come out of their houses to work have broken the stereotypes related to women, especially in the background that they had no work experience and were forced to support their families and thus take over the role of a patriarch. Despite the adversities, the conflict has a somewhat empowering impact on Kashmiri women. It has provided them a space to resist, negotiate, cope and survive.Many ordinary Kashmiri women who have been affected by militancy- their fathers, husbands, sons having been lost to the violence- but after coming out of the initial shock and mourning, have taken up new roles. One among them is Shehzada Yusuf Begum who too has also survived the most challenging situations after her husband’s death.When a young and beautiful Shehzada married Idrees Khan, he was already a militant with Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF).A right hand man of JKLF chief Yaseen Malik, Idrees was killed in 1995 leaving behind his wife and two daughters.“My husband sacrificed his life for Yasin Malik and the party did not do anything for us,” rues Shehzada informing that things were really bad after the killing of her husband Idrees as she and her two young daughters, now 9 and 12 year old, were thrown out of the house by her in-laws.With nobody to look her after, Shehzada who got exposed to this ruthless world, also wore shields of insensitivity and worked for the betterment of her kids.and she herself working in the MNWA women welfare centre, Darishkadal ( a centre opened for the\n destitute women by a Kashmir based NGO Maqbool National Welfare Association run by Mr. Hashim Qureshi), where she teaches young Kashmiri girls stitching and tailoring, things seem to have fallen in place. valley is full of such examples of women who have survived the most difficult situations alone in all these years of turbulence. And as Kashmir observers say, it has given them some kind of supremacy too. “Kashmiri women have not only lived\n through political turbulence but have also negotiated and renegotiated their roles in the conflict that also does not remain static but keeps on changing. That becomes loudly clear when we see that most of these women became victims of militancy- lost their husbands, brothers, sons, raped and tortured, still came out of their houses to work thus breaking the stereotypes related to women, especially in the background that they had no work experience and were forced to support their families and thus take over the role of a head of the family,” says Rekha Chowdhary, Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Jammu. This also gives an insight into the fact that they aren't the passive recipients of conflict as most of the agencies see them but have\n an inborn, innate resilience, the will to survive the most challenging situations. "With her daughters now studying in class 8th and 6th and she herself working in the MNWA women welfare centre, Darishkadal ( a centre opened for the destitute women by a Kashmir based NGO Maqbool National Welfare Association run by Mr. Hashim Qureshi), where she teaches young Kashmiri girls stitching and tailoring, things seem to have fallen in place.Kashmir valley is full of such examples of women who have survived the most difficult situations alone in all these years of turbulence. And as Kashmir observers say, it has given them some kind of supremacy too.“Kashmiri women have not only lived through political turbulence but have also negotiated and renegotiated their roles in the conflict that also does not remain static but keeps on changing. That becomes loudly clear when we see that most of these women became victims of militancy- lost their husbands, brothers, sons, raped and tortured, still came out of their houses to work thus breaking the stereotypes related to women, especially in the background that they had no work experience and were forced to support their families and thus take over the role of a head of the family,” says Rekha Chowdhary, Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Jammu.This also gives an insight into the fact that they aren't the passive recipients of conflict as most of the agencies see them but have an inborn, innate resilience, the will to survive the most challenging situations.Ghulshan Bano, 22, too has survived the worst situations. A resident of Vilgam, a small village situated some 20 km from Kupwara district, one of her brothers Farooq Ahmed was killed in the initial years of militancy while another one was forced by the Hizbul Mujahideen to join their ranks. He too got killed in 1997. Things became worse after their killings as there was no bread-earner left in the family. Ghulshan Bano donned the role of patriarch, got herself trained\n in stitching-tailoring and now she earns Rs 1000 per month. The money is just enough to sustain the family and educate her younger sister Rubeena in the Government Higher Secondary school in Kupwara. Kulsooma Jan’s story is somehow similar. Her father Abdul Jabbar Dar, district President of Congress in Kupwara was killed by the militants in 1996 during the peak of militancy. Perhaps, this was the reason that not a single member from the party visited Dar’s family of a handicap wife and her five daughters. “My father served the Congress for 30-35 years. We did not get any ex-gratia relief after his killing. There was no job, no help from any quarters,” says Kulsooma Jan who has studied up to class 12. Out of the five sisters, Nusrat and Ameena are now married while she herself looks after her young siblings Saima and Iqra (who is class 2, Ghulshan Bano, 22, too has survived the worst situations. A resident of Vilgam, a small village situated some 20 km from Kupwara district, one of her brothers Farooq Ahmed was killed in the initial years of militancy while another one was forced by the Hizbul Mujahideen to join their ranks. He too got killed in 1997.Things became worse after their killings as there was no bread-earner left in the family. Ghulshan Bano donned the role of patriarch, got herself trained in stitching-tailoring and now she earns Rs 1000 per month. The money is just enough to sustain the family and educate her younger sister Rubeena in the Government Higher Secondary school in Kupwara.Kulsooma Jan’s story is somehow similar. Her father Abdul Jabbar Dar, district President of Congress in Kupwara was killed by the militants in 1996 during the peak of militancy. Perhaps, this was the reason that not a single member from the party visited Dar’s family of a handicap wife and her five daughters.“My father served the Congress for 30-35 years. We did not get any ex-gratia relief after his killing. There was no job, no help from any quarters,” says Kulsooma Jan who has studied up to class 12th. Out of the five sisters, Nusrat and Ameena are now married while she herself looks after her young siblings Saima and Iqra (who is class 2nd).Though the pain and agony suffered by these women is tremendous, yet these women’s strength of character is clearly visible from the various difficult situations that they got confronted with. What is more interesting is the fact that Kashmiri women who might have supported the “Mujahids” at some point of time in the past 17 years of violence, are now invariably emerging as agent of peace. “Tehreek Nein Humko Kya Diya, Tabaahi Aur Barbadi (This freedom movement did not get us anything but destruction and devastation),” says Shehzada Yusuf adding after all these years, peace is very important to her. Peace to her is a life with dignity and honour for her two daughters where there is no bloodshed and violence. Such statements from the women victims of violence is a clear insight into the fact that they aren’t the passive recipients of conflict as most of the agencies see them but have an inborn, innate resilience, the will to survive. “The donning of the role of a mother and father both in the conflict zones gives some supremacy to the women who have learnt to survive against existing odds. Besides, there is an increase in women’s adaptability to new challenging situations,” says Professor Bashir Dabla, a well known sociologist of Kashmir.Though the pain and agony suffered by these women is tremendous, yet these women’s strength of character is clearly visible from the various difficult situations that they got confronted with.What is more interesting is the fact that Kashmiri women who might have supported the “Mujahids” at some point of time in the past 17 years of violence, are now invariably emerging as agent of peace.“Tehreek Nein Humko Kya Diya, Tabaahi Aur Barbadi (This freedom movement did not get us anything but destruction and devastation),” says Shehzada Yusuf adding after all these years, peace is very important to her. Peace to her is a life with dignity and honour for her two daughters where there is no bloodshed and violence.Such statements from the women victims of violence is a clear insight into the fact that they aren’t the passive recipients of conflict as most of the agencies see them but have an inborn, innate resilience, the will to survive.“The donning of the role of a mother and father both in the conflict zones gives some supremacy to the women who have learnt to survive against existing odds. Besides, there is an increase in women’s adaptability to new challenging situations,” says Professor Bashir Dabla, a well known sociologist of Kashmir.And perhaps this yearning for peace is a big turning point in Kashmir. Now, these victims of militancy fervently hope that peace on the borders will extend to their villages, towns and homes. For most of them, peace begins with their immediate family and extends to cover the whole region, country and the world. And perhaps this yearning for peace is a big turning point in Kashmir. Now, these victims of militancy fervently hope that peace on the borders will extend to their villages, towns and homes. For most of them, peace begins with their immediate family and extends to cover the whole region, country and the world.Long ago before the violence erupted in Kashmir, Haseena Bano lived with her parents in a peaceful, picturesque village of Wangama in South Kashmir district of Anantnag. Times were peaceful and so were the days which she would partly spend by attending a nearby school and then lending a helping hand to her mother in the household chores while father Ghulam Nabi Shiekh would be busy in his postal department job. But as the destiny had it, Haseena’s mother died young and her father became so protected about her that he made her discontinue her studies. A few years later, a young Haseena was married off to Mohammed Amin Shah, a carpenter by profession in Zalangam village of Tehsil\n Kokernag in Vailoo block. Though her dreamy eyes had weaved a number of dreams about her married life, things weren’t that better as she had envisaged. The newly married couple had to live from hand to mouth within their limited income. While her husband would go out to work in people’s houses, Haseena would take care of the household. But her family could not remain untouched by the winds of change that were blowing across the state in early 90’s. Amin Shah quit his work, picked up the gun, joined the “tehreek” (freedom movement) and become one of the cadres of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen militant outfit. Life could never remain same for Haseena thereafter. Her husband was killed by the security forces in Ashajipora in 1996 leaving her to fend for herself and their kids. Heavens seemed to have fallen on Haseena who had not even ventured out of her house without a male member, not to talk of going out to eke out a living for her family. From a sheltered life, she was suddenly exposed to the vagaries of life. "

BY KAVITA SURI

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