In Depth

From once being a child labourer weaving carpets, this Kashmiri woman now mentors kids in her village

Nowgam, Sumbal is at an hour’s drive from Srinagar, geographically it is a low lying area and most of its land is marshy. The furious flood of 2014 that inundated most of the parts of valley still has its traces left in this part; most of the cultivable land remains effected by the flood water, nearly two years after the flood.

A walk around the area and women are seen washing clothes on the bank, others using the same water to fill pitchers, children and ducks are taking a dip to escape the hot weather, and almost everyone drinking the same water.

Haseena Bano is standing just opposite to the stop where this busy scene takes place, surrounded by a group of females, and struggling to make her point.

She is in her late 20’s now and has worked hard to tackle various social pressures.

Haseena is the youngest female child in her family and the only educated one. She was a teenager when her mother passed away and her support system collapsed.

She has lived in a family were education was only meant for males, and females were only taught how to do the house hold chores, and art like carpet weaving, Sozini and Tilla, that could fetch money.

Haseena was to learn carpet weaving like her sisters. Haseena had three more sisters and all of them had picked there pace in what the society ordered them to do but, but not Haseena. She stood out in line and wanted to be who she aspired and dreamed of being!

As a child she would run away from her home and spend her whole day peeping through the windows and doors of a nearby school.

“Teachers taught the children in the open, under the shade and I used to keep an eye on what they were taught and I never missed those ‘spying’ classes,” says Haseena.

She was regular off the record student until she was ordered by her father to accompany her younger brother to school.

Haseena recalls her journey to school and says, “I was asked to accompany my brother and keep an eye on him because he was not interested in studying and used to skip school, so I was appointed as a guard to him.”

She accompanied her brother to school and was allowed to sit with him in the class. As the teacher moved his hand across the black board asking questions, Haseena recalls the ‘Spying classes’ and she often answered most of the questions.

The teacher became interested in her hidden love for education and approached her parents. After a brief session of motivation and counseling, the teacher was able to get the parents on board and they allowed Haseena to study up to 8th standard.

FPK Photo/Afshan Rashid

An official permission brought her all the happiness and she was all set to go, but as soon as she passed her 8th grade she was asked to sit back home and focus on what her other sister’s were doing.

Haseena was ordered to learn the art of Carpet Weaving so that she could contribute towards the finances of her family. Her sister had mastered the art and now Haseena was being trained.

During her two months training she often used to express to her sister and mother that she is more interested in books. Nothing could motivate Haseena’s father and elder brother and they stood by their decision.

“Education is not for girls, our society and religion does not allow it”!

After seeing her passion her mother and sister decided to send her to school without letting the father know.

Every morning Haseena would leave her home with a container filled with milk in her hand and her books in another buried deep within her Pheran.

Haseena’s mother used the money collected from this milk for her studies. A mother’s efforts to fulfill her daughters dream turned into reality when Haseena passed her 12th grade.

Her mother’s sudden death shattered her complete world.

Despite the struggle, Haseena was the first from her family to receive a Bachelor’s degree, albeit behind the veil.

FPK Photo/Afshan Rashid

Haseena wanted that no other children in her area should suffer the same. She joined the local Aganwadi center run by Social Welfare department and went door to door to motivate parents to send their children to the centre where she would teach them, make them play and provide them healthy food.

Haseena has now turned into a female activist of the village.

She is deeply concerned about the child labour in her area, something she has been a victim of. She knows the story of every household in her village and their sufferings, and believes that poverty is the only reason that is driving the children of the are into child labour.

The point that Haseena was struggling to make to the group of females surrounding, was to let Mubeena return to her school, a girl child who was taken out of school to help her family in carpet weaving and household work and is now a child laborer at her home.

Haseena was among the first women of her area to receive her Master’s degree and she stands out in the line because she received a double mater’s degree, Urdu and Kashmiri. It was only a year back that her family came to know that she has been studying.

Her struggle for change did not stop, she started a school in her home where she would teach school dropouts, and she has been able to teach them the basics. Now they are able to write their name, they have their own signatures for their bank withdrawals. “The priority,” Haseena says, “is the eradication of Child labour and sending them back to schools.”

One thing that now keeps her motivated is her father’s statement, “I am blessed to have you, I don’t need a son because I have a daughter like you.”

Haseena feels she was lucky to have a caring sister and a mother who gave her a supporting shoulder, but she is worried about the rest of the people in her community, who are still suffering and this is the reason she is populary know as Haseena Didi across all age groups.

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