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KASHMIR: My Childhood in the Shadow of Fear

Baseera Rafiqi
Posted January 19, 2017 from India

“I had adjusted to the fact that my life could end very soon, in the form of a bullet or torture. I thought this was normal.

Baseera Rafiqi reflects on the trauma of growing up in the midst of a decades long conflict.

It was a bright evening in October of 1995. My school bus dropped me off in the lane where my mother would usually pickme up each day. 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. I followed her, dancing along the path on my teeny tiny feet. That night, I ate some food at my aunt’s house and went to bed without wondering why I was not at my own home.

With the first rays of the morning sun, my father came to take me home; at least that is what I understood. Instead, we ended up in a new place, far, far away. We wouldn't start our journey home for nearly three days. On our way, I kept talking, asking about my mother and sisters and posing any question that came to my mind. My father hushed me after each burst of curiosity.

As we opened the front door to our home, the stench of cigarettes and blood greeted us. Clothes, books, and food were lying on the ground. It was difficult to avoid stepping on things as I made my way to my room, which had become a graveyard of my precious possessions. My white rabbit was no longer white; my Barbie had a missing leg; and my shiny arm bands, clips, and pins were dulled with dirt.

I ran to my father in the other room. “What happened here? Are we going to live here?”

He knelt down to his knees and started to brush off a family photo of ours, his eyes moist. What he knew and I didn’t was that there had been no news of my mother or sisters for four days. This was a time when there were no mobile phones and even landlines were a rare commodity.

My sight settled on a fluffy object and my little hand went to fetch it. It was Rosaline, my favorite toy—a light pink teddy bear with a red heart in its hands. Now, 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 what he could salvage: some documents, wearable clothes, and his briefcase. As a 6-year-old, my biggest concern was losing my toy collection.

Today I think about how my father must have felt seeing his houseand the dreams he shared with my mothershattered.

Although years have passed, the image of my teddy bear in that house and my helpless father refuse to fade away. I still keep Rosaline with me, despite her stains and faded color.

Later, when I was old enough to understand, I was told the whole story.

Militants had barged into residential government quarters of Chanapora-Srinagar, launching a 72-hour-long gunfight. Two militants hid in the building right next to ours where they could take aim. By the time it was over, the two militants and some men from the Indian army were killed. The three-story building next door was razed to the ground and our house sustained many bullets in the crossfire.

During the gunfight, my mother and two younger sisters were evacuated, along with other civilians. While my father was losing hope that he would find his family, my mother and sisters were living in a single room six kilometers from our house, unable to leave or contact family.

The local police who helped the army during the encounter left our house in ruins. They ate all the food in our house and took whatever money, jewelry, and valuables we had.

I don’t know how my father maintained his calm as he faced losing his family and his house in one go. It still gives me goose bumps when I think about it. I was too young at the time to give him any consolation. Thankfully, my mother and siblings were traced after a week. My parents cried when they saw each other. They were alive, which was all they had prayed for over these days.

We collected our bits and pieces and made a new world for ourselves, just like other people of my homeland have been doing for years in this unending conflict.

More than two decades after this experience, I live in a home with every comfort, but the fear is yet to fade away. I developed a fear ofthe dark, loud sounds, and the sight of armed men. People born and brought up in the Kashmir Valley in the ‘90s can relate to these fears.

New words like ‘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, whispering. People were not able to express their feelings even to their families.

My childhood was shadowed by fear of being killed or kidnapped. Every day, the news informed us of people killed inside their homes, farms burned down, women raped at gunpoint.

We faced curfews, crackdowns, and hartals (strikes); freedom was an alien concept. Like others, I had adjusted to the fact that my life could end very soon, in the form of a bullet or torture. I thought this was normal.

As I began to read literature and learn about human rights, I saw how the rest of the world seemed to lived in peace. I started to question my beliefs.

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 other side, I was reading about and romanticizing a peaceful world. I wondered what it would have been like to experience 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 have been suffering in silence for years. We have been subjected to violence, torture, and fear. It is totally unjust and a violation of our basic rights.

By the time I graduated, I had read about nearly all the famous wars and revolutions. Through these stories, I could relate to the people who had been through all this. We shared the same pain. I understood that I needed to do more than read, so I started to write down my ideas. As I polished my writing skills, ideas started to untangle and the pen ran smoothly on paper.

The situation in my region has furnished enough fuel all these years for my pen to continue writing.

Some argue that things have improved, but I argue the reverse. Houses are still gutted; people are killed for no reason; women are raped; children are orphaned. One can’t go outside at night without the fear of being killed. Anyone can disappear into thin air as if he never existed. Pain continues to haunt us every single day.

I pledge to write till my last breath. If the ink dries, I will write with my blood.My writing may not change a thing but at least I will die at ease, knowing that I at leastregistered my voice against atrocities incurred to me, my people, and my homeland.

Comments 20

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QueenVirtuous
Jan 20, 2017
Jan 20, 2017

May your voice and the strokes of your pen paint a rainbow over Kashmir and over the entire universe, darling Baseera. Speak for the voiceless. I was so relieved to read that you and your father were reunited with your mother and the rest of your family again. Do write some more, I really want to read your stories and your thoughts. Be strong.

Baseera Rafiqi
Jan 21, 2017
Jan 21, 2017

Thank-you so much 

Colleen Abdoulah
Jan 20, 2017
Jan 20, 2017

This is beautifully done. I was right there with you and your father during that horrific time and wanted to scoop you up to safety. It is such a tragedy that so many children, generations, are growing up with this type of terror. Bless your heart for your desire to make a difference and share your story. Keep writing.

Baseera Rafiqi
Jan 21, 2017
Jan 21, 2017

Thank-you 

Margaret Thalhuber
Jan 21, 2017
Jan 21, 2017

Baseera, thank you for writing and writing and writing. The power of your words are making changes ... believe that ... my heart is different, my mind expanded, my gratitude more cherished from reading what you have to say. May you be safe from harm and the causes of harm. 

Baseera Rafiqi
Jan 21, 2017
Jan 21, 2017

Thanks a lot 

Raihana Maqbool
Jan 21, 2017
Jan 21, 2017

Beautifully done.... Keep writing dear

Baseera Rafiqi
Jan 21, 2017
Jan 21, 2017

Thank-you Rihana , love you my dear. 

Rahmana Karuna
Jan 23, 2017
Jan 23, 2017

Dearest Baseera,

what you write has been on my mind a lot lately. how absolutely privileged i have been to not be raised with war raging around outside of the house, even tho the raging was happening inside the home thru my father. it is with much gratitude that you have found your voice and are moving forward with love and not running with fear.

ya fattah! 

Baseera Rafiqi
Jan 24, 2017
Jan 24, 2017

Thankyou

Lily Habesha
Jan 24, 2017
Jan 24, 2017

Hi Dear,

You are a heroin!!!!

Cheers

Baseera Rafiqi
Jan 24, 2017
Jan 24, 2017

We all are hero's of our respective lives

Anjana Vaidya
Jan 25, 2017
Jan 25, 2017

Dear Baseera,

Keep the spirit high and keep up the writing. You have already got the victory over the fear so stay strong and inspiring people. May peace prevail in your country.

Love, anjana

Baseera Rafiqi
Jan 25, 2017
Jan 25, 2017

Thank-you very much dear Anjana 

PilarAlbisu
Jan 25, 2017
Jan 25, 2017

Baseera,

All I can say is: thank you! For this powerful, inspiring and wonderfully-written reflection. Please, do keep writing. And don't ever stop! The world needs to hear your story. I don't doubt that your pen will someday bring you the change you so yearn for. Thank you again!

In solidarity,

Pilar

Baseera Rafiqi
Jan 25, 2017
Jan 25, 2017

Pilar dear  thanks a lot.

maggie farquhar
Jan 27, 2017
Jan 27, 2017

Your words were painfull to read . It seems unthinkable that you and your family had to endure such violence and trauma. Your bravery and your sharing with us will stay with me, and I send my best wishes to you. Please continue spreading your positivity across this planet.

Jan 30, 2017
Jan 30, 2017
This comment has been removed by the commenter or a moderator.
Baseera Rafiqi
Feb 01, 2017
Feb 01, 2017

Thankyou Maggie

Mar 09, 2018
Mar 09, 2018
This comment has been removed by the commenter or a moderator.