Kashmir’s Unsung Heroes
By Faakirah Irfan
“In the book Soldiers on the Home Front, I was greatly struck by the fact that in childbirth alone, women commonly suffer more pain, illness and misery than any war hero ever does. And what’s her reward for enduring all that pain? She gets pushed aside when she’s disfigured by birth, her children soon leave, hear beauty is gone. Women, who struggle and suffer pain to ensure the continuation of the human race, make much tougher and more courageous soldiers than all those big-mouthed freedom-fighting heroes put together.” (Anne Frank)
They called her back home every time she went towards the gate to go out to work. They told her that it wasn’t safe yet for her to go out. The days passed by. It was autumn. And then one day, as the sun lit up the blood in the streets of her hometown, N left her home quietly. The calm on the streets was mourning the buildings and the roads that bore witness to gluttony and murder. She almost ran across the streets fearing that her parents might call her back, her Abaya floating in the cold morning breeze.
It is funny how your parents raise you up but cut you down, when you try to make your own decisions. As she walked the way out of her town, she remembered she had been out for three hours. The morning breeze was to her, in that moment, what elixir is to a cureless disease.
The way to the hospital was still one and a half hour long. The streets were filled with the paramilitary forces. As she glided past each street, in haste, she felt a rage. Those were her streets, those were her people, those were her memories that were now painted with khaki green.
Her knees began to ache. A memory came to her from her school days. It reminded her of the trips to the mountains that she had loathed in school. She associated her pain with the days when the streets were filled with old men and women and the air resounded with the humming from the shrines.
With her bag in her hand now, she saw, she had reached near the hospital. This was the place where she worked. The place she thought she had betrayed. The place that bore witness to children half her age, losing their strength, crying, as they fell silent. As a nurse, in the hospital, she had not much to do. Though, she felt, she had a lot to do, in the ward, which she did, with love and caution, still, she thought, she needed to do more than she could, more than what was expected of her, in her capacity as a regular nurse. She needed to be herself, which she needed for herself more than they probably needed it.
I talked to my mother that day about us fleeing to some other safer place. She held my hand and said to me, “You don’t run away when your house is being robbed, you throw the robbers out, R.” She kissed me good night but, under the quilt in bed, all I could think of was her resilience, courage. Day in and day out, she was working in the hospital when she could’ve just stayed home. She took her oath as a doctor way too seriously, but more than that she took being a Kashmiri more seriously. It mattered more to her. So I went with her that day to the hospital. There are very few times when being a woman makes you feel powerful. That day, in the hospital, to see those nurses, in white robes, and doctors working tirelessly together made me proud to be a daughter of this soil. There it was, right there, not just a feeble feeling of a feminist victory but triumph of humanity.
Those women working in the hospital were not just them; they were everything that Kashmir was and wasn’t. Here in the most militarized zone in the world were these women working all night, fearlessly. They were much more than the societal tags that day.
As the protests broke out and the forces went berserk, running after protesters, S came out of her car and recorded the event. She took her cameraman near to the mayhem, hoping to wake up the world to what was happening in Kashmir. That this was how streets of her country were cleansed out, this was how the children of her country were being maimed and blinded. It was at that very moment that an Indian police officer pushed her back and she fell down. Her camera was thrown away. Her head, badly bruised. As she lay on the tarmac, she didn’t know what to do. So, summoning all her courage, she stood up, to the oppression, to the tyranny, to the patriarchy, and looked him in the eye and said, “Azaadi”, and left. Her heart was beating wildly, as she walked away, perhaps anticipating a bullet to pierce through her heart in the name of national security but it didn’t.
THE 80-YEAR-OLD WOMAN
My friend recounted this recent incident to me. She said, “The Indian Paramilitary forces barged into her cousin’s house, and the men of the house ran away, in fear of being caught and tortured. There was no one in the house, who could have fought the enemy army. This was what everyone thought. But her cousin’s 80-year-old grandmother stood up and thrashed the infiltrators, who had barged into her house. She, with her wobbly walk and the nerves of steels, hit them while they watched in astonishment. Then they hit her back. They roughed her up. And she was hospitalized but her strength didn’t die. She told everyone she would hit them again, if they came by and joked about it and chuckled.
The kind of strength you see in the men, the kind of strength the titans are famous for? That was her strength that time.
Women of Kashmir with all your strength, your valor, your pride, your magnificence, your patience, your resilience, you are the definition of what a woman is. You battered the mountains and crushed the rocks, with your blood, and with the granite of your courage, you built the entire city. Then whose soil is this? Whose homeland is this?
Faakirah Irfan is a law student at the University of Kashmir. She aspires to be a human rights defender someday. For now she can be recognized as the “seditious” research intern at the Digital Empowerment Foundation, New Delhi, India.
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