Campaigner, wanderer, rhymester: Tale of Kashmir’s lost siblinghood

On her sibling's 11th death anniversary, Urzeba recently lodged protest at Srinagar's Press Enclave along with her father.

A Kashmiri girl’s justice campaign for her deceased brother lately drew everyone’s attention towards the shrugged sufferings of the lost siblinghood in the valley.

The walk to remembrance on the schoolboy’s eleventh death anniversary caught everyone’s attention in Srinagar’s Press Enclave recently when his younger sibling arrived with a distraught father and a pleading placard.

Before arriving on the scene for justice, Urzeeba Qayoom, 25, had silently fought the decade-long trauma stoked by the void created by her sibling—Soura boy Umar Qayoom’s sudden departure.

The teenager died “due to custodial torture” during the 2010 street protests.

Raising her brother’s case, Urzeeba through her campaign highlighted Kashmir’s largely secluded struggle of the lost siblinghood.

But while the Soura girl could come out, scores of others walking in her shoes suffer in silence. Mushtaq is one among them.

Watching young boys play cricket in his hometown Srinagar, Mushtaq Bhat recalls the time when he used to play with his sibling. After losing the same sporty and spirited sibling to strife, he could never play again.

At 40, Mushtaq doesn’t even look a pale shadow of his not-so-distant youth seen in his living room photo frames. Back then, a dashing young man donning chic-outfits was his moniker image.

But now, weighed under woes, he walks unassumingly and looks like a gaunt man.

The change happened some twenty years ago, when he lost his sibling to an “unknown gun” in Kashmir.

“My brother Rafiq’s killing badly jolted my family,” Mushtaq reluctantly speaks about his agony. “While it drove my mother mad, the killing left me shattered.”

Mushtaq was in Mumbai when his brother was abducted from his room during one rainy night and shot dead. His body was retrieved at dawn, at the deserted marketplace surrounded by a pack of strays, with spring shower watering down his spilled blood.

“In Kashmir, we all carry a lost world with us,” Mushtaq says. “Despite sharing the collective grief, it’s very difficult to take out that bumped-off beloved out of your mind with whom you shared your moments, meals and memories. It kills you every day!”

The two Bhat brothers were each other’s solace. Rafiq’s killing broke Mushtaq from inside forcing him to isolate himself.

Since then, he no longer wishes to socialise. He has devoted his life to take care of his old mother and now works as a salesman at a local shop in Srinagar. He earns nothing in comparison to what he earned in Mumbai.

In the doleful valley currently passing through a sweeping shift, this sibling story remains shrugged, thus concealing the conflict-torn characters around. But people like Feroz still make their presence felt with their tormented reality.

Feroz became a street wanderer shortly after losing Saleem, his elder brother, to a “cryptic curse” of his homeland.
Being a special child, Feroz was taken care of by his sibling subjected to enforced disappearance in early 2000s. Alone and anguished, Feroz soon drifted in the longing of his brother.

Since then, he’s no longer in his senses – everything for him is an illusion.

Saleem was the eldest son in the family, the sole support of his five sisters and Feroz.

But even after the twenty years, the sibling isn’t reconciling with fate, as he wanders on the roads like a disillusioned soul.

“He was a promising boy who could’ve achieved anything in his life, but the tragedy of his brother made him a wanderer,” laments Gulzar Khan, Feroz’s neighbour in Srinagar.

“All of us tried to take him out of streets and restore some senses in him, but the recurrent disturbances in our homeland made us busy attendants of our own troubled worlds. Since we all are sailing in the same boat in Kashmir, we sometimes tend to lose focus on other’s grief.”

What Gulzar says is believed to be a key reason for some unattended conflict crisis in Kashmir. Some ‘conflict cynics’ even say that the strife-stricken souls, like Feroz, make the mountains melancholic for the 80-lakh strong natives.

“We all suffered over the years, but then, while most of us have moved in, albeit appearance-wise, those bitten hard by the situation were left to fend for themselves,” says Tanveer Ali, a young commentator.

“If only as a society we had come together for our helpless brethren, perhaps we wouldn’t need those token destitute-management setups like orphanages as our conflict crisis-managers. We could’ve acted together and prevented this crisis spill-over rearing its ugly head.”

Tanveer might sound outrageous to those who believe that the valley ‘beleaguered bunch’ have never come out of the survival mode since years now, but there’re characters like Saba — whose plight raises some serious questions about the collective welfare will.

Even after losing her buddy brother, Nazir, in 2003, Saba is unable to reconcile with the loss inflicted by the pending political problem. Her torment is known to all, so is her family’s fallen situation. And yet the girl in her mid-thirties never received the community consolation.

After her sibling’s killing, Saba took a small job to compensate with household expenses.

A family breadwinner by day, she laments her sibling by night.

“I paint his lifeless image with my poems,” Saba says. “My wailing verses make me forget the pain and anguish that my beloved brother’s death caused me.”

But while Saba continues to remember her sibling through verses, the Soura girl has found call in the justice campaign highlighting the lost siblinghood struggles and the sheer callousness of discord in Kashmir.


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