Whenever political parties hold conventions in the capital city of Srinagar, a horde of participants are often ferried from the countryside to a city venue. One such handpicked participant from a beleaguered village in south Kashmir became ‘collateral damage’ in 2006, and was forever left to fend for himself.
Inside a dull and dismal hamlet of the ailing winnow-weavers, a partially blind and handicapped weaver has been putting up a brave front in the face of his back-breaking tragedy since 2006.
Back then, he was a different person, who knew a different life — until some political fixers from an adjoining village showed up and forced him and his clan of weavers to take part in a political meeting.
Around him, life in Sheikhpora looks gloomy, thus, betraying the scenic setting of Lidder River, on the banks of which, in southern Kashmir’s Islamabad, this hamlet is perched.
The community of thirty three winnow-weaver families here suffer from a curse. The villagers are losing their eyesight to some anonymous reasons. Scores of the sightless weavers have already parted ways from their ancestral vocation.
But villager Ali Mohammad Sheikh stays put, despite gradually losing his eyesight and being left with a handicapped body.
At 35, he looks wasted, worried and wretched. The man seems to have a paid a huge price for being a political tool.
His world starts and ends with a single room he calls home. He shares this dreary space with his wife and five children. This is where, his family cooks, eats and sleeps. And this is where his two children take turns to finish their homework.
“Before I received a severe bullet injury in my right leg in 2006,” Ali says, making a face of a hopeless person, “I used to weave traditional winnows and earn my livelihood with a sense of pride.”
That pride is long gone.
And now, Ali needs crutches and shoulder of his wife and children to walk around, and weave winnows. But at times, it’s not easy, given his diminishing eyesight.
With nothing else to do, he often ends his days earning an insufficient amount that hardly puts enough food on his family table.
Life came to this point for him, when some ‘prosperous’ persons, he knew as political fixers, from an adjoining village approached and told him to attend the meeting of late Peoples Democratic Party patron, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, in 2006.
“I was manipulated and told that if I’ll attend the meeting, the government will reduce the charges that I pay every month for the ration,” says Ali, clumsily recounting his anguish.
For poor people like Ali, who don’t even manage their regular meals, missing such chances becomes hard.
“I still remember clearly,” Haseena, Ali’s wife, breaks in, “how they even threatened to impose a penalty of Rs 500 on us for skipping that meeting. They knew it well that Rs 500 was a big amount for us to pay.”
Like other poverty-stricken villagers, Ali went to Khanabal’s dak bungalow. And from there, they were transported to Sher-i-Kashmir Park, Srinagar.
“They told us that the meeting is to be held in Khanabal. But when we reached there, they had already arranged buses. We were taken to Srinagar,” remembers Ali, oblivious of the tragic incident he was about to face in Srinagar.
“Some gunmen attacked the Army patrol in Srinagar,” he recalls, “and I received a bullet in my right leg in the cross-firing.”
Ali was moved to Barzulla’s Bone and Joint Hospital where he remained admitted for months. Although he survived, his severe wound left him crippled for life. He became a ‘collateral damage’ that hardly turned heads around.
As token money, called ‘compensation’, he was given Rs 15,000.
“By then, I had already spent all the savings on my legs,” he says, as his wife vacantly stares at the murky front wall of her room. “Medicines, fare charges, surgeries and other things cost me more than one lakh rupees.” For a simple winnow-weaver living hand-to-mouth, it was a huge amount.
His rising medical costs and dried savings put his family under great stress. His kids, he says, had to sacrifice on many counts. Ali feels that his fate robbed his children of their normal childhood.
Among his three daughter and two sons, one son is studying in 10th class, while his youngest daughter is in 6th class.
To provide disciplined environment for her kids for studying, Ali built a makeshift tin shed outside his house. Earlier the shed used to serve as a kitchen for his family.
“We’ve attached our every hope with our son and daughter,” says Haseena. “We want to provide them good education, but sometimes we don’t manage to buy books and notebooks for them. That moment of helplessness kills us. But our kids are sensible enough to understand our condition.”
All these years, Ali says, he kept asking himself: What did I get from attending that political rally?
“Nothing!” he almost screams. “Had I not been forced to attend the rally, our situation would have been something else. But then I think, do people like us have any choice?”
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