WOMEN OF THE VALLEY

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.
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Friday prayers at Hazratbal Mosque.

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‘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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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,

Vishamapi amratayante,

Mokhayate sansaro,

Yatra marga so Shankara.”

This roughly (very roughly) translates to this – In sadness, there is bliss; in poison, heavenly nectar; in this world, nirvana.”

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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.

5 thoughts on “WOMEN OF THE VALLEY

  1. Immensely poignant, truly reflective, sincere and pure reaction to this socio-political laboratory of an emotional tug of war called kashmir. May you get more and more strength to pursue your dream Alaka. Remember an artist is primarily revolutionary in nature because it is he who has the natural sensitivity and purity with which he reacts to his/her surroundings or life. This is the artist’s natural ‘voice’. Am glad you are away from profit triggered commodity industry selling high gloss life and into a more real world with real people, real emotion and stories. we wear a Che t-shirt and wear the costliest perfume and turn blind to farmers committing suicide just 200 kms away from us. we call it progress. the world needs more people like you to open up the can of truth. the force be with you.

  2. Your work is a reflection of real life a parallel reality, which we want to deny. Our state of denial is so strong that we sleep over the rude shocks that should have shaken us years back. I am a student of Human Rights, I always wanted to work and fight for the people of Kashmir. Soon I will be working in Kashmir, but I was wondering how to start my work in Kashmir this is my clue. Great work! But this is just the peak of the ice berg, the entire post colonial state structure needs to be ransacked and people need to wake up from the deep slumber…your work is an eye opener…keep it up!!!

  3. Amazing work Alka!

    Very inspiring to see you connect with such strong women-who resolutely pursue against all odds. It must get quite overwhelming when you’re meeting so many people each with issues worse than the other-in a place so shaken with unforeseen eventualities and perpetual fear of the worst kind of doom.

    But you’ve done a great job of sifting through it and hanging on to that which can inspire all of us.

    Hope! And the audacity of it….

    I agree with Shoubhik -and I’m glad you’re following your heart 🙂
    much love!

  4. Alka, even though I am a novice at Photography I feel these pictures are wonderful. What I love about them is that none of them are sad an gruesome but they do convey the sorrow behind some very strong women. Keep it up.

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