In the year 2006, I would always wake up early in the morning to prepare for my competitive exams. I would leave the bed every day at 6 am.
Before opening the books, I would lazily stand near the window of my room to see the happenings outside. My eyes would look at the apple orchards, beyond it was visible the gurgling stream which looked like a snake crawling through lush green landscape and beyond it were the mighty mountains of Pir Panchaal range. The azure skies would add to the beauty.
I was just 17 then.
The very sight of this marvelous landscape would instill hope in me. It would revitalize me to take on the challenges of the world.
I would sit in my room from dawn to dusk, taking intermittent breaks, reading the boring physics formulas, trying my hand at the diagrams depicting human digestive system, and remembering the chemistry problems. The little room, whose walls were painted in blue color, also possessed a wooden wardrobe with a big mirror fitted in the middle of it. It would hide my little secrets.
Whenever books would become boring, I would stand and walk close to the mirror of the wardrobe. I would look at my face in the mirror. I would try cosmetics, spread on the shelf adjacent to the mirror, on my face. I would make my face look funny by applying colored cosmetics. Sometimes I would like to look beautiful. I would laugh at myself in the mirror. The sweet nothings of a young girl would amuse me. In those years, this room was my little universe.
On the morning of the July 2006, something was terribly going to change for me in my little village located in South Kashmir’s Shopian area. It would be the day when I would realize what it would mean for a young girl like me to be a “woman” in the Kashmir conflict. The dark face of occupation would reveal itself to me.
The weather was mild and the sun had just shone behind the glossy mountains which shined like a hot red coin. I was in the deep sleep when suddenly, mother knocked at the door of my room.
Mother banged the door many times with her closed fists. It was an indication that something bad was coming. I was yet to recover from the yawning and the sleep when I jumped out of the bed. I opened the door. She looked worried and in hurry.
“The army had cordoned off the village,” the mother told me. I could see the anxiety in her eyes. “Do one thing… Wear a Pheran (a loose Kashmiri gown)”.
The mother told me to wear the Pheran – the loose Kashmiri outfit meant for winters only- only for one reason; it had deep pockets. Her suggestion was out of fear that military might steal valuables from the house. Her caution had some substance. I had heard many stories earlier in the neighborhood when the soldiers would enter the house for the searches and would stole the costly ornaments.
Apart from gold rings and jewellery, I slid my cheap ear rings and chains into the pockets of my Pheran. It was summer. I was feeling a bit suffocated in the outfit as it is usually worn to beat the cold and keep the body warm.
Finally as the gun wielding soldiers, wearing black bandannas on their heads, and dressed in olive fatigue, arrived in our house, our male members were ordered to leave the house. Father and two elder brothers left the house. Along with the male members of our neighbors, the military shoved them to a nearby open ground for identification parade to ascertain whether they were affiliated with militant outfits or not.
I and the mother were left alone in the house.
I sat near the window of a poorly lit room of our house which belonged to my grandmother. The window looked into the courtyard of our house. A strategic position from where one could keep an eye on who enters or leaves the house surrounded by four walls. My grandmother, a prophetic figure with white wrinkled face and broad forehead, would always drape her head with a white scarf. She would always sit near this window. She would monitor the domestic happenings. She would act like a supervisor, instructing me, and the father to do this or that thing. I exactly sat at the same place where she used to sit before she passed away.
I must tell you when I sat there, her memories came rushing into my mind. She was my first inspiration. She was an iron lady. Despite her body had lost the ability to do work, except her eyes, her ability to fight to live always surprised me. Her courage to live inculcated in me the hope to live and move ahead.
Suddenly, the army men barged into our courtyard. They were accompanied by two local boys. It was a ritual for army men to use the locals as human shields whenever they would lay the siege of villages. Those boys finally led them inside the house. I was scared since I thought if, god forbid, the fight would break out between rebels and the army men, these boys would be the first causality. There was no difference between a local and an armed rebel for army men.
The moment the boys and military men entered the house, the eyes would talk. The boys gave an expression that they were helpless. They communicated to me through their eyes that the army men wanted to search the house. Without speaking, we understood the language of eyes and permitted them to enter the house.
Wearing their dust laden jackboots, the army men barged into the grandmother’s room. I was standing just outside the room. I would see everything they were doing right out there.
All of a sudden, I noticed that one of the army men started pushing down the books where were neatly kept on an overhead shelf in the room. The books were mostly related to Islamic theology. The holy Quran was also kept among those books.
I just felt enraged. I thought what was the reason for the army men to throw down the books? Were they just doing it to irritate us? Or were they looking for something serious? Later I would sense that they just wanted to annoy us.
I shot back at the soldier, “We cannot hide anything in the book. Do you think we can hide ammunition there”?
He did not reply. He kept on desecrating the religious scriptures.
I could not hold back. I told him angrily, “Stop this nonsense. What will you get from doing this”?
The soldier stopped doing it. He stared angrily at me with open wide eyes. I felt scared. Those threatening eyes of that Indian army man sent cold shivers down my spine.
Unable to hold back, my mom scolded me for entering into an altercation with the soldier. She knew the repercussions could be anything from molestation to the death. After God, the soldier laden with the gun was the most powerful creature in Kashmir. He still is. My mother had a fair idea of his power and intentions.
Leaving the grandmothers room, they frisked every room one by one. Lastly, they entered into my room, my little universe.
Soon after searching the house, the soldiers left. One of them, whom I had an altercation, stared at me. The revenge was visible in the eyes of the beast. I felt he would kill me.
When the soldiers left the house, I entered into my room.
I pushed the door open. I was shocked. My heart started pounding and I almost fainted. I was angry and enraged.
I found out the soldiers and their accomplices had hung my bras on the wall hooks, ones used for hanging clothes. They had taken all my bras out of the wardrobe and some were hanging with the ceiling fan, others with the iron rods used for curtains. They also had hung my panties all over the room wherever they could find hooks. Then I found the sanitary pads littered over the floor. I could not believe it. I felt so disgraced that for some time I was unable to think.
Then I discovered the soldiers had broken my golden ring which was gifted to me by my uncle when I passed the matriculation examination. They had broken it into pieces, but they had not stolen it. Next to it were my reading glasses which too was smashed and broken. All my books were torn apart. The Indian soldiers had taken out all the clothes from my wardrobe and trampled on them. They had smashed the cosmetics on the shelf.
I found they have fairly good idea about the women’s world. They would have since they had been given the power by the Indian state to enter every home at will. They have slid open the drawers and the wardrobe to take out the secrets of a girl which she hardly reveal even to her closest friends. I felt so disgraced when I saw my bras, panties and sanitary pads hanging and littered in the room. I felt somebody has attempted to rape me. I broke down. I wept and wept. I have never felt so helpless before the state violence. The idea of being enslaved and helpless was as clear to me as the blue sky that day.
The humiliation which I felt that day continues to haunt me. It haunts me now as well. Sometimes, when I suddenly wake up in the middle of the night, I start weeping. That experience terrifies me.
This was just a one experience which I narrated here as to what it means to be a women in war ravaged Kashmir. I always felt that the state violence on women has been the least talked about thing in Kashmir. Behind those walls, when the women would be alone to face the soldiers, it would always be the violence which we suffered. The violence was visible in the gaze of a soldier, in his talk, in his conduct, in everything what he did. Being a woman is not an easy thing in occupation.
Despite facing such harrowing experience at the hands of insolent Indian soldiers, the spirit to live has not died.
Whenever this gruesome incident strikes my mind, I remember the courage of my grandmother. I remember how she struggled to live and face the adversaries. She taught me courage is the first step towards freedom.
Sara Ahmad (name changed) is a scholar from South Kashmir’s Shopian district.
This article first appeared in the Rumbling Reporter blog site