Being a woman in contemporary Kashmir is no fun as the fret of the puzzling prowlers keeps shadowing one’s senses. While the faceless felons seem to have a field day in piling up braids sans facing police, here a working woman details her daily ordeal of stepping in and out of her home.
Waking up early morning is no more a child’s play for a normal Kashmiri woman nowadays. It takes a lot of spine and stoutheartedness to come out of one’s bed after a long, sleepless night that the fear of increasing braid chopping incidents has created in every household.
Unlocking the bolt takes courage and once she does it, it’s an uphill task to step out of her room as she’s oblivious of what waits for her in her own space, may be a braid chopper with a pair of scissors and a spray bottle to make her dead for some time.
Wow, what a feeling!
She is favored and blessed not to have confronted a braid chopper ‘today’ unlike most of the ladies in and around her locality.
This does not end here, rather now starts a 24/7 ordeal for her – to deal with the fear of braid chopping while listening to unending tales of braid chopping her ‘valley of saints’ has fallen prey to.
For a working woman, it’s easier said than done to move out of her ‘not so comfort zone nowadays’ and be in the more vulnerable zones where she can be attacked anytime from anywhere by the mysterious, faceless scissor wielding ghosts.
Reciting all the holy verses she knows, she gathers all the courage to step out of her home leaving behind women of the house at the mercy of their own wheel of fortune.
What’s the first thing she does as she walks past the bylanes of her area?
What’s the first thing she hears as she’s out in the braid choppers’ zone?
Eyes moving from one gate to another, from one fencing to another, ears open to the slightest of the noises around, shoulder bag held by hands instead of being hung on the shoulders, she walks past the lanes very guardedly and thoughtfully while her otherwise routine was to be careful of her looks and her gait when she was in the public.
As a routine her ears were acquainted with the talks related to the conflict and the oppression, but today what she hears is all about braid chopping. Conflict and oppression are on backburner as of now.
One of the co-passengers’ ordeal last night: “We couldn’t sleep whole night. Thraeth paetaen hakoomatas (to hell with government!). Aes kariekh khaar, yemaen kaertaen khuda (they jeopardized us, may Allah jeopardize them). How do these rascals enter bedrooms?”
Another co-passenger: “Yiem hasa chi gourmentiek naffar, yiem waatan kouet kouet” (They are government agents and can reach wherever they want).
Back to the 1st passenger: “Pazaer chue Wallah (I second that). The woman who was the victim last night is a mother of two. Vaatnaeviekh Haspatal (She has been hospitalized).”
Her ears are getting used to never ending tales of braid-chopping incidents. And, she is scared to even move out of the passenger vehicle. But she has to reach her place of work. All she can do is move out and walk with her eyes and ears open and be prepared for the worst at every step she takes.
Braid chopping has actually made her vulnerable to issues like being distrustful, pessimistic; being suspicious of anything and anyone around or even being anti-social is becoming a norm.
A sigh of relief is heaved once she enters her office premises, but to her surprise, nobody is concerned about the work today but “braid chopping”. The issue has taken over on the otherwise table of discussion for future plans of work. And she’s not surprised; it’s of utmost importance to tackle — as her own life has turned upside down.
One of the colleagues’ tale: “My mother, the bravest woman I know, walked through the dreaded nineties without an iota of fear. Back then, she used to stand up right in front of forces during crackdowns. What the ‘occupational forces’ with lustful eyes couldn’t do, braid-choppers have managed to do that.”
She’s a scared woman now.
“Her eyes are always on the lookout now. She keeps asking my father: why did you leave the back door of the kitchen open? Do you want to see me braid-less?!”
A call from a happy-go-lucky friend from another city makes her more discomposed as her friend explains her the ‘to do list’ as the precautionary measures against braid chopping, worst being: Don’t go to attend the nature’s call alone. Phone hangs on the parting note, ‘Best of luck, behan!’ This is even scarier in the present crisis.
Meanwhile she remembers to call back home to inquire about the situation there. She seems agitated after hearing her sister on the other side of the call: “Yetie tulukh museebat aaz duhas (They wreck havoc over here today). There were protests against braid chopping and police retaliated with firing and teargas shelling. The air reeks of pepper and teargas smoke.”
She gets into panic mode and starts packing her things to rush back to her home.
After a long day, she somehow manages to reach the lanes of her locality with her braid intact. But the scene is unusual.
Where’re the mischievous kids! Kids who keep ringing her door bell every now and then. They are no more playing around and the dreadful silence is haunting.
Few days ago when the door bell rang the response was, “Ignore, it’s these naughty kids.” But today, it alerts the whole of the household. So, not to scare her own, she has to make a call to inform the family of her arrival instead of ringing the bell.
Finally, she’s inside her own place, which is no more safe — for she is well aware braid chopper may be waiting in her bedroom with a pair of scissors and a spray bottle to attack her dignity.
‘She’ is a big question!
Each and every woman of Kashmir is ‘She’ and ‘She’ has been the worst hit by the conflict and its myriad hues—like the braid chopping. How strange is this occupation that didn’t even spare the dignity of woman!