In times of orphan sale, the story of parentless children of Kashmir remains untold. One such story of Raziya raises some hard questions.
A decade-long nocturnal mourning has made Raziya’s body language wobble. Her watchful gestures at the misty ghats of Hazratbal make her some withdrawn person. But the 21-year-old girl from Srinagar is neither solitary nor shy. She’s just wary of the world reminding her about her orphanhood.
Staring the hazy desolation of Dal Lake, pigeons come fluttering to break her quietude.
“I break down in the middle of the night,” she says, without making eye contact. “I keep thinking about my life as an orphan. It’s not a peaceful feeling at all.”
That terrible feeling at the ungodly hour makes her insomniac. Dark circles around her big eyes make her state of sleeplessness quite discernable.
“There seems no dawn of this long night that started 9 years ago when I lost my father,” Raziya says.
Nearly a decade of distress later, she finds it difficult to remember her father’s face. Having no photograph of him, Raziya’s mind tries to recall every feature of his face during the night.
“I know it’s personal,” Raziya says, “but then someone has to talk about the unsaid feelings of the abandoned lots.”
On the foggy February day, a chirpy girl appear on the scene calling “Papa, Papa” makes Raziya a freeze-frame before she resumes detailing the life of an orphan in Kashmir.
“That’s how my life used to be before Allah took him away from me,” says Raziya, drawing parallels with the giggling girl holding her father’s hand in the sanctum yard.
She recalls how she used to sit around her father when he was lying ailing in bed during his last days.
“I could hear a loud boom on the day of parting when he went in Sajood,” Raziya recalls. “I called him Papaa, Paapa… but there was no reply. My mother came from the kitchen. She beat her chest and announced my orphanhood!”
The muezzin breaks her monologue as the call for noon prayers echo from the shimmering sanctum whose fluid reflection on the lake holds Raziya’s unwavering gaze.
She closes her eyes as if feeling the deep divine moment with all her heart. In that meditative moment, the orphan’s girl story becomes clear in the backdrop of how some people were caught on camera selling Kashmir’s orphans.
While the trade-off has come under sharp scanner, the struggle of orphans in Kashmir is yet to become a public discourse.
The buzz returns to the ghats as the prayer pitch settles down. In that musing moment, Raziya speaks about the heart attack that consumed her father. It was 2012, and she was studying in Class 5. With an elder brother and two young siblings, the life ahead of her was no “kidding”.
A year after her father’s demise, Raziya’s mother got married and left her children clueless.
“I feel she did right for herself but we were too young to be alone and we needed our mother most after we lost our father,” she says, as the lake turns hazy with the growing cloud cover. “We needed our mother to prepare us for the larger battles of life, but alas!”
Raziya and her elder brother started living with their aunt. Her younger siblings were too young at the time so they lived with their mother.
“But now,” Raziya says, “one sibling lives with us, while our youngest sister is in an orphanage.”
The orphan’s wasted face, skinny body and compelling behavior makes her anxiety obvious. The ups and downs in life, she says, have left holes in her heart. “I’ve always tried to be strong to deal with every sort of unhappiness around. I feel I’ve to be firm for my younger siblings and particularly a strong support to my brother.”
From the glum ghats, she steps in the faithful-filled lawn and sits at the bottom of a Chinar tree to talk about not having her own home.
“Orphans have no home in Kashmir,” she says looking at the young woman praying nearby.
“People just sympathize with you, or simply send you to an orphanage. That’s what relatives do. Every time there’s some gathering, our relatives shower us with their fake love when the reality is Yateem Kari Te Ye Duniyahas Kharee (An orphan will do things, that the whole world will hate). Our mistakes are never normal like other children who have parents. We always get to hear this when we do some wrongdoings. Blessed are those who’ve parents. You’re special for your parents and the love they provide you with no one in this world can do that. Despite orphanages being there, I dream of having my own home where I can live with my siblings.”
Each day, Raziya says, she fights the feeling of being orphaned. “I wish our mother had stayed so we wouldn’t have been scattered like this,” she ends her monologue.
Syed Uzma is a bachelor's student of Journalism & Mass Communication at the Cluster University, Srinagar. She is currently an editorial intern at the Mountain Ink.