Sara Ahmad (name changed) is a scholar from South Kashmir’s Shopian district. She is currently studying at one of the Universities in Kashmir. Here she writes about her harrowing experience in the year 2006 when she felt disgraced after Indian soldiers littered her undergarments and sanitary pads in her room-her little universe- in a bid to teach her a lesson. She is yet to overcome the trauma she faced as a teenager girl..
I would always wake up early in the morning to prepare for my competitive exams in the year 2006. I would leave the bed every morning at 6 am.
Before opening books, I would lazily stand near the window of my room to see what was happenings outside. My eyes would look at the apple orchards. Then they would flit towards the gurgling stream which looked like a snake crawling through lush green landscape and beyond towards the mighty mountains of Pir Panchaal range. The azure skies would add to the beauty.
Then, I was just 17.
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 sit before the mirror of the wardrobe. I would look at my face in the mirror. I would try cosmetics on my face. I would make my face look funny by applying colorful make-up . 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 July 2006, something was terribly going to change me. It would be the day when I would realize what it means for a young girl like me to be a “woman” in the Kashmir conflict.
I was born and bred in a little village located in South Kashmir’s Shopian area. It is my home.
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 would be 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 would 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- 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 searches and finally end up in stealing the costly ornaments.
Apart from gold rings and jewellery, I put 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 Kashmiris usually wear it during winters to beat the cold and keep the body warm.
Finally the gun wielding soldiers, wearing black bandannas on their heads and dressed in olive fatigue, arrived at our house. Our male members were ordered to leave the residence. My father and two elder brothers had no option, but to leave mother and me alone. 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 took a seat near the window of a poorly lit room of our house. This place belonged to my grandmother. The opening looked into the courtyard of our house. It was strategic position from where one could keep an eye on people who would enter or leave the house surrounded by four walls. My grandmother, a prophetic figure with wrinkled face and broad forehead, would drape her head in white scarf and sit there. Her eyes would always monitor the domestic happenings. She would act like a supervisor, instructing me, mother, brothers and the father to do this or that thing. She had passed just a year ago.
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, her ability to fight to survive would always surprise me. Her courage would inspire me. I wanted 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. Then, and now as well there is no difference between a local and an armed rebel for army men.
The moment boys and military men entered the house, eyes would talk. The two boys gave an expression that they were helpless. They communicated to me through their eyes that the army men wanted to search the house. We understood the language of eyes. We have no option but to allow them inside.
Wearing dust laden jackboots, the army men barged into grandmother’s room. I was standing just outside the room door. 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 which were neatly kept on an over-head shelf. The books were mostly related to Islamic theology. The holy Quran was also kept there.
I just felt enraged. I thought what was the reason for the army men to push down the books from the shelf? 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 would not reply. He would keep 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 throwing down books. He stared angrily at me with open wide eyes. I felt sacred. It sent cold shivers down my spine.
Unable to hold back, my mom scolded me for entering into altercation with the soldier. She knew the repercussions would be anything from molestation to the death. After God, the solider laden with 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, constantly stared at me. The revenge was visible in his eyes. I thought 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 was almost fainted.
I found out the soldiers and his accomplices have hung my bras with the wall hooks and the hooks used for hanging clothes. They have taken all my bras out of the wardrobe and some were kept hanging with the ceiling fan, some others with the iron roads used for curtain hangings. They have also hanged my panties all over the room wherever they could find wall hooks. I found sanitary pads littered over the floor. I could not believe it. I felt so disgraced that for some time I was unable to think.
I discovered soldiers have broken my golden ring gifted to me by my uncle when I passed the matriculation exam. They have deformed it, but had not stolen. Next to it was my broken reading spec. All my exam books were torn apart. Indian soldiers have taken out all the clothes from my wardrobe and trampled them beneath their dusty jack boots. They have smashed the cosmetics on the shelf.
I could sense 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 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 had attempted to rape me. I broke down. I wept and wept. I had 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 night, I start weeping.
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 be the females who would suffer. The violence was visible in the gaze of soldier, in his talk, in his conduct, in everything what he did. Being a woman on right side of politics 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 shocking 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 was the first step towards freedom.