Muzaffar uses an unusual backdrop to convey a deeply disturbing message of changes in Kashmir’s social fabric that, left uncorrected, will leave an indelible scar on the society
(Mr. Muzaffar Khadim, 59, was born in Srinagar. He did his early schooling in Srinagar and after completing his pre-medical college studies, decided to go into business of selling Shawls and Embroidery all over the country. Mr. Khadim’s excellent writing skills, as clearly evident in the following essay, are partly and genetically attributable to his late father, Mr. G. M. Khadim, who retired as the Principal of Islamia High School, Srinagar.)
… and finally I decided to kill myself
She was educated but simple. Her education and simplicity had no takers. She was an invalid note of currency, too outdated to be accepted in this `modern’ and `enlightened’ era. Finally she left all with a message that rends a human heart, narrates Muzaffar Khadim.
An ear piercing scream from my sister’s room in the dead of the night shook me off the sleep. In utmost agony, I ran to her room. Instantly, the other members of the family too rushed to see what had happened. The horrible scene that we encountered was unbelievable. My dearest sister was lying in a pool of blood with a knife deep embedded in her chest. “What happened? Who could have done that?” was the question every eye was putting forth. Feebly she lifted her left hand in which she was holding a folded paper. I removed that paper from her hand. As if she was waiting for it to happen, her soul instantly fled her body. All of us were buried under the shadow of grief. No one could understand what had happened. I opened the paper which she had so legibly written. I was afraid even to read that, but I had to; to know as to why she had taken this extreme step. She wrote:-
“ My Dear Brother,
“I knew that it would be you who would dare to read this. I realise what must be happening to my family members right now. For the last many days I have been meditating whether I should take such an extreme step or not. Finally I came to the conclusion that to protect my thousands of other sisters from the agony that I have faced, I must surrender my life. My blood is a humble token of protection to their honour and chastity.
“How can I tell you what a hell I have been going through, for the last couple of years? I am not unaware of the fact that the whole family, too, were very worried and anxious. But I was realising that without any fault of mine, it was me, who was the reason of your anxiety. Alas, I was born; had I not, you wouldn’t have to swallow this bitter drink of my departure in this manner.
“Ever since I entered into the fold of youth, all of you began to worry about me. You were dreaming that if I got married somewhere, you would be relieved from a great responsibility of your life. Myself, I too had some dreams, some fantasies. Unfortunately, we had a very untrue picture of our society in our minds. We presumed that nobility, proper education, religious upbringing and beauty of character were the criteria. But when we faced the “market” we realised that some other criteria was in vogue. It took us so long to understand that lineage, cast and creed had a great role to play. Our experience taught us that however well-educated the girl might be, if she is not an earning hand, she is invalid in the eyes of a boy’s family. Of late, we came to know that simplicity and modesty of a girl are no virtue. In fact they are an immense eclipse. You encounter these facts of life only when you practically enter into the field, otherwise everybody would boost that we are all bound by the criteria set by Islam and humanity.
“Some two years ago, a boy’s family came to see me. It was my first such encounter. They had almost given their consent after looking into my “bio-data”. Everybody in the family was rejoicing as if it was Eid. Apparently it seemed that we too had got a family of our liking. But all that was our wishful thinking. How on Earth did I know what kind of an interview that was to be? The lady who was heading that group, discreetly probed into every single hair on my head. On looking at my long hair, she had suspected them to be artificial. They left and disappeared for ever. We could never know the reason of their disapproval.
“After some time another family came. Three ladies and two men! It seemed that those ladies had directly descended on us from a Bridal Saloon. Elderly ladies in that kind of make-up were always a sour to my eyes. The eldest among them minutely conducted a post-mortem on the nails of my fingers and toes. When she realised that I had not “painted” them, she clearly said that such simplicity did not work in this “advanced” society. I was courageous enough to tell her that my simplicity was my precious ornament. She disliked my conservativeness and left without a word. I could never imagine that all their life, they had never known that unless water reaches every single nail, ablution can not be achieved. Then how come they dare to stay unclean?
“After that, almost every week, I was being paraded in front of stranger men and women. All that happened with me each such time was a tragic incident. One lady tried to impress us that she was well-educated. Her “kashmiri urdu” was hardly understandable. She asked me my qualification. I said that I had a Master’s in Physics. With a brightened face, she quickly asked, “Are you a teacher?” It was not easy to make her understand that I had done my M.Sc which had nothing to do with “mastery” (teaching). With a face that had lost all brightness, she could not stay without asking, “Don’t you have a job?” I said, “Our father tried to impart the best education to us but his conviction was that women were better meant to be indoors than being a piece of decoration in the market!” However, she was not impressed and left with the remark, “In these hard days, if a woman does not help her husband in making a living, how can a household run?”
“Do you know when exactly did I feel what it means for a girl to be orphaned? When that Doctor’s family visited us and approved of everything but “rejected” me when they came to know that my father had passed away, they said to the middleman that a son-in-law can not get proper “pampering” from a family where either or both the parents have expired. I was wondering how much of the Qura’an had touched them. What would they achieve from reading, “Therefore, treat not the orphan with harshness.” (Dhuha: 9) That day I really felt the pain of having lost the shadow of a beloved father.
“So far, my “marriage application” may have reached a score or more families but there was an utter rejection from every where. I tried to assess what was actually wrong with us? What were we lacking that we had no takers? Why had I become an invalid currency? Three factors came to my mind.
“Firstly, that we belong to a lower caste of the society. Our nobility, our education, our beauty; everything is invalid; because our elders neither were the custodians of any holy shrine, nor were they the clergy of any grand mosque. Bilal (RA) and Abu Bakar (RA) could get equal rights. Salman-i-Farsi (RA) of Persia could get an honourable companionship of the Holy Prophet (SAW). A blind bedwin Abdullah Ibni Ummi Maktoom was to receive more attention compared to the so-called nobles of the Quraish and a complete chapter of the Qura’an was revealed to the Holy Prophet (SAW) pertaining that particular incident. But all this was possible only when Islam was implemented in letter and spirit in every field of life. Now, those who preach this equality, themselves have become such “Mahmoods” where no “Ayaz” can get closer. We had read in the text books that cast-system was prevalent among the Hindus; but in our market, long ago, we have left them behind. It’s impossible for a carpenter’s daughter to become the daughter-in-law of a Syed family or that a “noble’s” daughter becomes the daughter-in-law of a potter’s family; unless it’s a romantic affair that compels two diverse families to pretend unity.
“Secondly, my simplicity was a great hurdle. In this behalf, I tried my level best to compromise to a certain extent. But it was impossible for me to wear a make-up or a dress that was denounced by our Holy Shariah. How on Earth do these people expect us to look like very advanced but behave like five centuries before? Our dress and make-up definitely has to have an impact on our behaviour.
“Thirdly, we did not own such heaps of wealth that could camouflage all our draw backs. We never learnt the art of amassing the wealth. Alas, the knowledge, nobility, simplicity and God-consciousness; that we made our invaluable assets unfortunately have only very few buyers in our society now.
“The final destiny of an untreatable disease is death. I am embracing that death today. The knife that you see embedded in my chest had my hand on it. I own the responsibility. But the instigation was from the society. Will it take its responsibility? I doubt! But in the Day of Judgement, each one of them will certainly be asked that for which sin this innocent girl was slaughtered. I am offering this sacrifice in the hope that no other girl will be kicked off in future only for a sin that’s not her’s.. That she was not born in an upper caste………”
I had yet to read the complete letter of my dearest sister. The cosy room was now full of mourners. In the mayhem some one’s elbow pierced into my ribs and I woke up! My younger brother was besides me, saying, “Bhayya, why are moaning and murmuring so strangely?” I was all soaked in sweat. I quickly went to my sister’s room. In the dim light of a night bulb, I found her prostrating before her Lord. After a long time, when she lifted her head, the prayer rug was garlanded by the glittering pearls that had flown in abundance from her eyes. Quietly I left very satisfied that if she was relegated to being an invalid currency in this society; she very truly was very beloved in the eyes of Allah!