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Kashmir of a Kashmiri Indian Woman

Sudha madhuri dash is a published author of many novels. Along with photography she loves horse riding and practices odissi dance.

women moved in the shadows and so did I


Kashmir paradise of INDIA


My father was an IPS officer and we moved about quite a bit. My first sight of this beautiful land of flowers and snow was way back when I was in school. Under heavy police protection we moved about around a few chosen areas. Which today I realize were tourist spots that were meant to be exhibited and shown. They had been brushed clean of militants and nuisance makers. Army patrols kept the tourists safe and at that time I felt that we had very mean neighbors across the borders that keep killing our people and they should be punished. Till date no punishments have been meted out nor do big talking great countries of the western world care how about how many innocent lives are lost in mindless militant activities. The main causalities in all this are the women. Then all of six I hated people and such countries who care not for others after all I was reading in a convent school that taught us about kindness, and gospel words and sentences like ‘care for thy neighbors’. I do not thing any religion preaches that we should slaughter innocent lives that too in the name of GOD.

HOW GOD CAN ASK FOR SUCH CRIMES AND ATTROCITIES TO BE COMMITTED ON WOMEN AND CHILDREN? Militants controlled the lives of these people. Militants who came from across the borders armed with guns and bombs. Any school built by the indian government would be burnt down. Teachers killed and girls raped by militants or worse taken across the borders.

My next visit to this beautiful land of saffron and pashmina shawls happened when I was about ten years old. We stayed in houseboat on the Dal Lake. Heavy security around the area kept us safe. My mother behaved as if this was normal in this part of the country. I was told not to leave the boat nor try sitting outside on the deck. The house boat was very beautifully done up. Carpets provided warmth to the rooms. There was a spacious dining area and the food was sumptuous. On my second day I strayed into the pantry, a hub of activities and a lot of Kashmir tongues wagging in a friendly banter greeted me. I was welcomed with a large smile when I offered to peal walnuts. I made friends with Samira the cook’s daughter. She had large green eyes and long copper colour hair. A bit older than me she was delighted to have me as a friend as I was happy to have met someone so bright. We chatted and played on the boat she taught me how to eat lotus seeds and look for lotus tubers, all this under heavy scrutiny of the guards. “Don’t go anywhere with her,” my mother spoke in English.

After a while of playing Samira told me with a wide smile, “I will keep you safe, I will not take you away,” I went red in the face. Samira had understood every word. She was fluent both in Hindi and English and learnt all this from the foreign tourist who come and stay in the boat. She had never been to school. It is not safe, that was all that she said. I then didn’t realize how unsafe girls and women were in militant riddled Kashmir.

“Then how do you survive?” I had asked her. She pointed out to the Indian army soldiers and said because they are here, we are safe. I then had no idea how strong and vast was the Indian army and my destiny. That evening Samira didn’t come. I asked her father. He said she is not well. I wanted to see her. Samira lived on a boat close bye and I went to visit her. She seemed fine to me.

“Why didn’t you come to play?” samara kept quiet and gave no answer. Her mother told me that she was on her periods and cloth pads stain. I then had no idea but today I realize how difficult life must have been for Samira, no access to education and no access to sanitary requirements. These were normal things that I took for granted. Samira safety and life was being controlled by thoughtless actions across the brooders.

The next time I visited Kashmir was when my uncle came down from Masai Mara. He was a forest ranger of Masai Mara wildlife sanctuary and had settled there. He had even married a locale African girl. Her name is Abimbola (means rich child). For an eighteen year old my African aunt was an icon and a role model. She was expert shot and was often called by the Masai Mara rangers to track down errant lions who often became man-eaters. She tracked them on foot and then instead of killing the lion she would help catch them and send them to safe zones away from humans. Daring and beautiful she filled our bungalow with laughter and made my father blush many times over. She is favorite aunt and none my aunts could usurp that position.

My next visit to Kashmir was with aunt Abimbola and my uncle who almost lived in khaki shorts and brown ranger shirt. He would say this is my identity. Our visit this time was according to my aunt and we stayed in a home stay. My father feared for our safety but to speak the truth staying with a locale Kashmiri family. Travelling incognito was fun. We well were from Masai Mara. My father was introduced as a writer. From his large handlebar mustache and his thick side burns, he looked least like a writer who wrote romance novels. This time I saw Kashmir through my uncle and aunts eyes. Soon a friendship was stuck with the women of the family. The reality was more of a shock. Though the man of the house spoke as if he ran the whole show in fact his wife and his two daughters toiled away day and night to get the home stay going. Even the shopping was done by these women. One night there was frantic knocking on our door and my aunt without caring for her own safety went with the women. She came in wee hours of the morning with a weird tale to tell. One of the younger girls had been sold for a lot of money. Sold to whom? We all wanted to know. My father gave a call trying to save the girl but he failed, she was untraceable and for an eighteen year old I realized, life for women and girls was not safe. They had no say and no rights. Even with the police, army and BSF and other security forces, the girl had been smuggled across the borders by her own relative and married to much married and older man for money. In this beautiful paradise on earth women were objects to sell and buy. This made me realize our dear friends across the borders interfered and controlled a larger part of the lives of Kashmiri women. My aunt never ever spoke of visiting Kashmir again. That night she had moved across the rough terrains of the mountain side along with the mother of the girl. Using her tracking techniques she had traced the movement of several men along with girl across the mountain and into the pine forests. The tract ended at a stream that flowed into the villages of our not so friendly neighbors. The young girl all of eight had been kidnapped when she had gone to get fresh eggs from the small market paces a few paces away. At gun point in front of other villagers this incident had taken place and no one had put up any resistance. If they put up resistance then the next target would be their own wives and daughters.

The mother’s wails could be heard through the night. We left with sadness in our hearts and I very well knowing that for that small girl life would now be a living hell. Whatever little freedom and especially her childhood that still believed in dolls and the tooth fairy was gone. She would never find her way back and if she ever tried her life would become shorter with a bullet to the head.

The next I visited Kashmir was when I visited as an army wife. The memsahib in me never ever interfered with my trying to reach out and make friends. I have always loved exploring and one day I struck up friendship with NOORA a Bakerwali woman. She belonged to a nomadic tribe that moved with their horses and fierce Bakerwal dogs from place to place. Her nomadic life was full of freedom to express her choices in life. She was fourteen and she had the freedom to choose a husband. I loved that idea. She had the choice to wear what she liked and I never saw her covering her face or head. At first she was weary of me. Gradually she opened up. She often spoke of men with guns who came at night and threatened the whole tribe. They threatened at gun point and often forced themselves on the women. She confided that widows of the tribe offered to sleep with these men so that young girls remained safe and did not get raped.

Their horse would get stolen and often killed. I realized Noora was telling me all that I was not supposed to know, one day while I was at the camp, spending time with Noora’s family. These men that Noora often spoke off turned up. I heard a strange bird call. The younger boys hid the horses, livestock and dogs into deeper part of the pine forest. Younger girls including myself were hurriedly moved down a valley and we were told to lie low in a small dhok built with logs of wood and almost hidden from sight as it was covered with brambles and branches. Only the older women remained behind. Noora’s aunt died that night as she was raped repeatedly by almost seven men.

That day I realized they could have offered me and saved themselves but the leap of faith among these women was different. They had saved my life. Noora told me, your life is more precious. A few days later the papers ran the death of seven militants who had been killed by the Indian army. The women of Kashmir are not divided by border or religion. They want a better and safer life. They want the right to go to schools and colleges for their girls. They want all those choices of life that every Indian woman has and gets. They want to have the choice of not marrying a much married old man with his legs in the grave. It has taken me many years to muster up the courage to write about my experiences in Kashmir.

Western countries talk big about punishing Vladimir Putin, sanctioning Russia for killing innocent civilians. What about justice to these war crimes committed by our neighbor across the border? Instead of giving them funds and further encouragements how about giving justice to these women of Kashmir who have suffered silently and are still suffering. no country has the right to interfere in the safety and upkeep of citizens of another country. No country has the right to dictate terms and harass the citizens of another country. Kashmir is India and we kashmiri women want to live the free life that all Indian women enjoy. We want to be Indians and live with self respect abd get education and all other facilities that being Indian is our birth right.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2022 sudha madhuri dash

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