I went to Kashmir with the intension of doing a photo feature on the ‘half widows’. For those of you who don’t know, ‘half widows’ are women whose husbands disappeared in the years of conflict.
When i went there however, there was this whole new story that was opening up to me. Not about the suffering, but the shining through it all. Eventually, in my very brief visit, i decided to give up the idea of concentrating only on ‘half widows’ and open my eyes.
And thank god for that! I met the most wonderful & inspiring women who helped me to truly open my eyes.
(I must mention here that this work is not complete. I could only meet a few of the many women I wanted to meet. There was unrest; and the locals, regular people like you and me, are unhappy about it. I look forward to going back soon.)
Women in various moods. Through a glass door. This picture, in a sense spoke to me about the complexity of the place.
‘Na tshay na aks’ (Neither shadow nor reflection) writes NASEEM SHAFAI. A Kashmiri poet inspired by Lal Dad, Meera, Sita, and women across time. One of the most passionate and charming women I have ever met, Shafai can speak for hours on the women of Kashmir, the state of affairs in Kashmir, and love. She won Sahitya Academy’s Tagore Literary Award last year. A first from Kashmir.
Parveena, educated only till class IV, set up and successfully runs the APDP (Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons). She set it up in 1994 after her son disappeared and remains so till today. Feisty, fearless, and exuding motherly warmth, Parveena is a voice against army atrocities not many can ignore.
Parents of Bashir Ahmed Bhatt. A 14 year old carpenter mysteriously disappeared 9 years ago on his way to work one morning. He has been missing since. His mother has not given up hope and is active in protests even at the age of 82, organized by the APDP that take place each month.
Tadzen Jolden, from Ladakh has lived in Srinagar for over 20 years. This is her home and even during the insurgency it never occurred to her to leave Kashmir. Today she is the principal of the Women’s College, leading 6000 women. In this picture, she does an unannounced inspection of the library.
Taslima, an unlettered woman lost her husband to insurgency apparently, 4 years ago. He was just a perfume seller in Lal Chowk and that day, four years ago, he did not come back home in the evening. It is a proven case of fake encounter but Taslima differs to this theory. She believes her husband is still alive because the police never handed over the dead body to her. In the photograph above she takes me through newspaper cuttings, protest letters, etc that she has been collecting over the years as evidence.
Prabhadevi is a scholar and a Kashmiri Shaiv yogin. Matter is consciousness the Kashmir Shaivs believe. The world is not illusion or ‘maya’; rather the perception of the duality is the illusion. She summed up the philosophy in the following sloka:
“Dukha nyapi sukhayante,
Yatra marga so Shankara.”
This roughly (very roughly) translates to this – In sadness, there is bliss; in poison, heavenly nectar; in this world, nirvana.”
Maimona, a ‘half widow’ goes to the mosque to pray for the return of her husband who disappeared 8 years ago. She has hope that any day now he will be back; and it is this hope that keep the women of Kashmir going. In a place as complex as Kashmir where one can experience both heaven and hell in the same space, hope is perhaps the only way to live.