‘Why we have to make all the sacrifices?’

  • ALIYA BASHIR
  • Publish Date: May 6 2017 2:20AM
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  • Updated Date: May 6 2017 2:20AM
‘Why we have to make all the sacrifices?’

Robbed of childhood, militants’ sons become fathers

Ovais Parray grew up being identified as a ‘fatherless’ child, his classmates and teachers always feeling sorry for him. There was nobody around who could tell him stories of princes and kingdoms or shape his imagination with the castles of progress and hope.

All he had in his mind was a space so full of silence and darkness that, after all these years, it still exists there.  “I always feel that silence and darkness are what I am made of,” says Parray, 28, staring at the sun-drenched horizon outside his home in Pulwama.

Parray is one of thousands of children of former militants who could never enjoy the bounties of childhood. Instead, what he saw was distress and loneliness.

His father, Muhammad Ayub, was a militant commander known by nom de guerre Ibn-e-Haidar or son of the lion. He was killed in 1994. Like Ayub, hundreds of thousands of men have been killed in counterinsurgency operations by the armed forces.

“We mourn his death each day,” Parray says in his soft voice. “All along I have yearned for just one thing – to be cuddled by my father.”

When his classmates were enrolling for higher education studies, Parray was preparing a budget to manage the finances at home. He left his studies after class 12th and invested in his younger brother’s education, Inam, who is now 24 and pursues a post graduate degree.

“To look after my mother and brother, that was all I knew,” Parray says. “The absence of my father swallowed our happiness once and for all.”

His mother was just 22 when she became a widow. She couldn’t cope up with the loss of her husband and went into depression. Her illness further shattered the already broken family.

There are over 200,000 orphans in Jammu and Kashmir, according to Save the Children; out of the total number, 37 percent were orphaned because of the ongoing armed conflict. The bulk of the tragedy is borne by children and women, who are the most vulnerable segments in Kashmir, and therefore the prime survivors of this man-made calamity.

The conflict has produced orphans who live in impoverished conditions and the absence of any support system further alleviates their suffering. The families with minimal economic resources prefer to send their children to orphanages. But, social activists do not see orphanages as a viable, long-term solution.

Parray is trying hard to overcome the emotional distress of the past and fulfill his responsibilities as head of the family with a new ray of hope. He manages to eke out a living by farming a piece of the family land.

“Only those who lose their family members know the pain and burden of life ahead,” he says. “But, we don’t want to become victims. We are trying to survive with dignity.”

“The loss of a family member,” according to research by an Oxford University professor and colleagues, “starts a chain reaction that drastically affects the lives of children in very practical ways.”

For children like Parray in Kashmir, the ‘chain reaction’ is always brutal: it robs them of their childhood and enforces ageing in them much before they could age.

“Whatever happened was in our destiny,” Parray says. “It’s not so easy to endure such a loss. But, at least I’m able to help my family.”

Parray has not yet planned to marry. His priorities are to invest in the family, especially his brother’s education.

Like Parray, Gowhar Lone, 30, also had to take a lead role in his family after his father Ghulam Hassan Lone, a militant, was killed in the frosty winter of 1998. Lone too left his studies in the 12th class and became the breadwinner to look after his mother, two sisters and a younger brother.

“We had to pay a huge sacrifice for our father,” he says. “The army put improvised explosive devices in our house and blew it into pieces.”

The family was lucky to survive because they had already escaped the house due to intimidation and humiliation in frequent raids.

“I didn’t want my siblings to become victims,” Lone says. After his father’s death, “they became my children.”

These are the real life sacrifices that young boys like Parray and Gowhar have made, and now they struggle to rebuild their lives amidst a continuing conflict that has ravaged the life of hundreds of thousands in the region.

These sacrifices, however, remain unknown, with the society expecting more from them.

“They think we should follow in the footsteps of our fathers,” says Lone’s younger brother, Junaid, a stenographer. “Why is that we have to make all the sacrifices? Can’t we have a life of our own?”

 

Reported with the support of the International Women’s Media Foundation through the Howard G. Buffet Fund for Women Journalists