On International Literacy Day, Mountain Ink brings out the story of the two young girls from Kashmir’s situational-hit families who chose earning over learning.
Her home is a piecemeal world of woes where she’s slogging to bring some smiles on the situation-stricken faces.
But the perpetual pathos that has come to define the indoor life in Kashmir makes Shaista believe that her struggle is a long-drawn drive.
Her two-room house lies in the dusty lane in the Madwan area of the Sonawari belt. This is where she often spots her childhood playmates and school classmates traversing lanes—giggling and laughing—on their way to home tuition. This makes her sad. Being deprived makes her feel cursed and leaves her with heartburn.
The 15-year-old girl shares this destitute state with her parents and two siblings in their under-construction house.
Just before the pathos of poverty triggered by her father’s sudden speech loss, she was dreaming to be a nurse.
Farooq Ahmad, Shaista’s 42-year-old father had promised her to get a smartphone to attend her online classes. But as the second wave imposed another crippling state in Kashmir, the breadwinner couldn’t go out for work and ended up losing his mental balance and ability to talk.
Bereft of an internet-driven smartphone, heartbroken Shaista couldn’t attend her online classes and started to look for ways to earn to feed her family.
But due to the dearth of work opportunities in Kashmir, especially for women, she learned embroidery work on shawls.
“She left her studies despite being good at it because we had no other option,” Shafiqa begum, Shaista’s mother, said. “She had to step in her father’s shoes after he lost his mental balance and speech in lockdown.”
While Shaista is holding her family fort, she wants her younger brother, Umer Farooq, an 11-year-old and a Class-VI student, to study and excel in life.
“I want to earn so that I would be able to support my brother’s school expenses besides taking care of my family,” Shaista says.
But supporting the ailing family is tough and Shaista understands it very well. Apart from her speechless father, she has to take care of her heart-patient mother.
On the other hand, Shabnum, Shaista’s elder sister—mostly doing household chores besides teaching Shaista embroidery work—left school a few years back when her mother went through heart surgery. She was keen to play her role so that her sister attends school without facing any home responsibility.
Life has changed for many schoolgirls in the valley due to pandemic poverty. Many of them couldn’t continue their studies due to financial responsibilities on them — as one or both of their earning-hand parents got affected by the measures of lockdown. In the long run, many say, such struggles only redefine the life of these girls in a place like Kashmir.
Barely two kilometres from Shaista’s place, Nazima Aziz is sewing a new dress. The girl in her mid-teens had to leave her studies when her mother met with an accident. Her family is dependent on her mother, especially after her father’s health issues rendered him workless.
Due to her ailing parents, Nazima had to step forward to feed the family of seven.
To earn for them, she learned tailoring from her neighbouring lady. Mindful of her family’s pressing situation, Nazima proved to be a quick learner, who would slog in a tin shed, she calls home.
Her sisters—Mysara and Nusrat—were also forced to leave studies due to extreme poverty, while her brother, Jahangir, occasionally goes out for some labour work.
But Namiza makes sure her youngest sibling—Jawhar—studies and prospers in life.
Whenever she gets any payment from her customers, she keeps a portion of it for her younger brother studying in Class 6.
“He’s my hope now,” the teen breadwinner says. “I see my dream in him which motivates me to earn hard for my family welfare.”