Why is the old-man begging?
A sister of teenager, Feroz Ahmad alias Showkat wails as she clings to the bed carrying her brother’s body during his funeral in Pattan- 22 miles north of Srinagar, on September 6, 2010.
By Mukhtiyar Ahmad
Seventy-year-old, Ghulam Mohammed, wears a customary shabby blue cap with white colour lining. His green eyes seem to be searching for someone…someone who would be his respite, at last. He wears a traditional pheranwith one side folded on his shoulder that makes his body look slightly bent, one hand in the pocket of his waistcoat and the other holding a stick that allows him to walk. His whole body shudders as he takes slow, calculated steps. I offer him a helping hand and try to interact with him. He seems like a cooperative bloke. I take his hand, and we walk for a little distance as he starts narrating the tragic tale of his life which turned him into the beggar he now is.
Mohammed, who was a farmer by profession from the hilly area of Tangmarg on the outskirts of the city, comes to Srinagar regularly to implore for money. He lived a content life with his two sons until the nineties. Although his wife had passed away very early, he brought up his children alone against all odds and got them married eventually.He was greatly concerned with the growing insurgency in the valley in the 1990s, a time when people were ready to join the militant ranks to fight against the Indian rule that resulted in thousands of gruesome and violent deaths, disappearances and mass rapes. His younger son was one of these people and went off to the other side of Kashmir for arms training. He cut off all contact with his family. Mohammed was in a constant state of agitation, thinking night and day of his son. He tried his level best to make contact with his son but to no avail. After several years of no success, Mohammed got lost in the deep, dark alleys of his troubled mind, spending night after night thinking of his son.
Finally, after almost a decade, Mohammed came to know through some people that his son had been killed in an encounter while crossing the Line of Control via Uri sector. This news broke him down entirely. His dead son had left behind a wife and three children. He suggested his daughter-in-law to remarry, but she refused. His elder son lives separately and sometimes offers him a little monetary help that barely fulfills his needs.
Mohammed is now approaching the end of his life as his grandchildren are growing and expenses steadily increasing. After the death of his son, he found himself unable to continue with his farming. Although his daughter in law would help him farm, their life went from bad to worse when Kashmir erupted in turmoil in 2008 after the state government decided to transfer more than 100 acres of forest land to Amarnath Shrine Board. This had resulted in massive protests against the Indian state to revoke the land transfer order.
Although the people were unarmed this time and protested peacefully, the Indian forces killed 117 people- most of them teenagers. Thousands were injured and large scale detentions were held without any trial under the draconian law, Public Safety act (PSA). This unrest continued for more than two years. Strikes, curfews and shutdown calls greatly affected the business sector in the valley during those years. Due to the continuous undeclared curfews, people were caged at home most of the time. Violence has affected every individual living in Kashmir and Mohammed was no exception.
Mohammed grew very old and feeble with time. They couldn’t use their land to cultivate anything. They would live without food for days. His elder grandson started working in a restaurant at Tangmarg for merely 500 rupees a month, but this was not sufficient for their family expenses.
Mohammed’s patience ended and putting aside all self respect, he started to beg money and food for his grand children. Nobody came to his aid. His conscience is still alive and he says he doesn’t want to do it, but left with no option his need compels him to beg. His only wish left, he says, is to see his granddaughter get married.
Photograph courtesy of Burhaan Kinu