A childhood in the shadows of fear

Baseera Rafiqi
Posted January 16, 2017 from India

It was a bright autumn evening of October 1994and I was returning from school, dancing along the path on my teeny tiny feet. My school bus dropped me at a lane, that was a five -minutes’ walk to my home from, my mother used to receive me each day, because of the traffic but this time my aunt appeared in front of me and asked me to come along. I was always ready to visit her place as it was full of toys and sweets. That night, I ate some food at my aunt’s house and went to bed without caring for what and why I was their home and not my own.

With the first rays of the morning sun, my father came to take me home; at least that what I had comprehended. But we ended up at a place far-far away from home.

After nearly three days me and my father started our journey to home, I kept talking, asking about my mother, sisters and all sorts of questions that could possibly come to my mind, but my father hushed me up each time I burst in curiously.

As we opened the front door, the stench of cigarettes and blood, seat greeted us, things, clothes, books all were lying on the ground. It was difficult to avoid stepping on things as I made my way to my room, it was a graveyard of my precious little thing like cotton was coming out my brown bear, my white rabbit was no longer white, my Barbie has a missing leg, my shinny bands, clips and pins were covered with dirt, light coming from the sieved window pane was helping me to identify my stuff.

I ran to the other room to ask my father, what had happened.

What happened here?

Are we going to live here?

He had knelt down to his knees and started to brush off a family photo of ours, his eyes were moist, as there had been no news of my mother or sisters from past four days. It was a time when there were no mobile phones, even the landlines where a rare commodity.

My sight settled on a fluffy object and my little hand went to fetch it. It was Rosaline-She was a light pink teddy bear that had a little red heart in its hands, it was dear to me as I was the only girl in the campus to have a teddy bear back then, my father had bought it from Delhi, I would flaunt it all over the place and girls were jealous of me. But presently she was smelly, covered in blood stains, and missing an eye, but I insisted on taking her with me. My father didn’t object as he was busy collecting pieces of what was left, like some documents, wearable and neat clothes, and a briefcase. As a 6-year-old, my biggest concern was losing my toy collection.

Today I think about how shattered my father must have been to see his house shattered to pieces and the dreams he and my mother would have seen while knitting a bright future for them and their children.

Although years have passed, the image of my doll in that house and my helpless father refuse to fade away. Rosaline continues to be with me despite her faded color and stains; that my mother had tried hard to clean.

I was later told the whole story in detail when was old enough to understand it in a better way.

Militants had barged into residential government quarters of Chanapora-Srinagar, a 72- hour long gunfight killed two militants and some men from the Indian army. Two militants had hid in the building right next to ours to get a comfortable aim. That three story building was raised to ground during the operation that killed both the militants and our house sustained many bullets in the cross-fire. In this process all the residential quarters of the campus were evacuated by the army, my mother and two younger sisters were among them, who had to live in a single room away from home in a mud house some six kilometers from our place. They were not allowed to leave the place or contact their family that is the reason my father had lost hopes to find his family alive again. The local police that was helping the army during the encounter had used all the food in our house, taken whatever money, jewelry, and valuables we had. They had left behind the ruins for us.

It still gives me goose bumps at the idea of losing family, children and house in one go, I don’t know how my father maintained his calm at that time; after all I was just six year old and I couldn’t furnish him any consolation. My mother and siblings were traced after a week, and I saw my father-mother crying to the fullest when they saw each other, they were alive and that was all they had prayed for over these days.

No doubt we collected our bits and pieces and made our new world just like other people of my homeland have been doing from years in this unending conflict. That event of my childhood induced fear, animosity, and anger for armed men be it a militant or an army personnel

After 23 years, I live in a three story building, well aerated, with all the comforts, but the fear is yet to fade away. I developed a fear for the dark, loud sounds, and the army. People born and brought up in the Valley in the 90’s can relate to all these things.

New words were added to my lexicon, ‘militants’, ‘bomb’, ‘hide-out’, and ‘army’ seeped into our vocabulary at a very early age. Yet, talking about these things was forbidden. I could see people mourning, fearing, and whispering. People were not able to express their feeling even to their families.

My childhood was shadowed under fear of being killed, kidnapped or disappearance. As each day the news read such and such person was seen handed in his orchids, burning of farms, people were killed right inside their homes, women raped at gunpoint.

Growing up in Kashmir in those days was a task, and not all survived to see a future.

Freedom was an alien concept- curfews, crackdowns, and hartals (strikes) was in abundance .Just like other I had adjusted to the fact that life is going to end very soon, it can come in the form of a bullet, torture or any other form.

As my understanding of the things grew I switched to literature, I began to read more about human rights, about normalcy, and how the rest of the world lived in peace. It started to question my beliefs; it was quite opposite to what I was seeing.

In my mind, I had two images of the world that were continuously tussling with each other. My world was full of pain that was so deep-rooted that I could hardly recall any incident devoid of anxiety and torture. And on the on the other side, a world I would read about and romanticize. I wondered what it would have been like to experience peace and tranquility in my childhood. I began to dream about a life full of freedom.

It didn’t take me long to realize that we Kashmiris where suffering in silence for years. We were subjected to violence, torture and fear that’s totally unjust, it is a violation of our basic rights.

My desire to read about various revolutions that had occurred across the globe grew with my age and by the time I had done my graduation, I had read nearly all the famous wars and the story of the people, of how they had been through all this, it gave me a way to relate with them as we shared the same pain.

I soon understood that mere reading won’t do anything, so I started to pen down my ideas; they were very haphazard, random and lacked consistency. As I started to polish my writing skills, ideas started to untangle and the pen just ran smoothly on paper. The situation didn’t improve in Kashmir and it furnished enough fuel for my pen for these years to write on.

Even today, houses are gutted down, people killed for no reason, women raped, children orphaned-the pain is same, as I had felt to see my doll, or when my father saw his house ruined, knowing his family is dead. It continues to haunt us every single day, some argue that situation has improved but I argue the reverse.

Can one go outside at night without the fear of being killed?

Anyone can disappear in thin air as if he had never existed, isn’t that true?

Our newspapers, TV channels are full with this stuff, he day I read, a paper without this kind of news; I will start to believe that things are recovering for better. If the ink dries, I will write with my blood.

I pledge to write till my last breath, it may not change a thing but at least I will die at ease, that at least I registered my voice against atrocities incurred to me, my people and my homeland.

This story was submitted in response to Share On Any Topic.

Comments 5

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Jill Langhus
Jan 16, 2017
Jan 16, 2017

Hi Baseera,

Thanks for your vivid and eloquent account of your childhood experience. It sounds like you suffer from PTSD from this occurrence. Are you still surrounded by violence daily? I sincerely hope not. Please let us know how we can help or what can be done...

Baseera Rafiqi
Jan 16, 2017
Jan 16, 2017

Thanks for your concern dear Jlanghus, living in a conflict zone for nearly two decades I believe that everyone here has PTSD syndrome. But we have got our little hacks to escape this tension. The situation is improving too, so its moving towards better times ahead.

Jill Langhus
Jan 17, 2017
Jan 17, 2017

OMG. You poor thing. Most likely. How horrible.

What do you do to escape? Meditation? How is the situation improving?  

Baseera Rafiqi
Jan 17, 2017
Jan 17, 2017

Optimism helps us to hold on and apart from that reading, writing and travelling. 

Jill Langhus
Jan 18, 2017
Jan 18, 2017

I see. Do you use spirituality in any way, like visualizing, praying, etc? I have found that it helps me but I can appreciate it doesn't help everyone. I hope that you have enough outlets to help you through:)