To discuss the gruesome events that happen in different parts of the state, country or world is one thing but to actually sit across someone who has been at the receiving end of atrocities is another. Last week, we did just that. I am having trouble sleeping, processing the sequence of events and trying not to personalise the tragedy that had befallen an eight-year-old child in Kathua.
One hundred kilometres from Srinagar, under tarpoline sheets, sipping warm tea and trying to make eye contact with the child’s parents, we had no words. Usually, my colleague Darab and I are prompt with our questions to the survivors of violence, whom we often deal with. This time we had nothing to say. The mother’s big eyes, the ones she had passed on to her daughter, whose posters are on every third vehicle in Kashmir, were a cruel reminder of why we were there.
We did not want them to narrate events, as it would mean reliving and recounting the horror of their child’s fate. We wanted only to participate in their grief, in solidarity. I only said “aapke mann main agar kuch hai, to bol dijiye” (if there’s anything on your mind, please say it). And all they wanted to say was: “Our child should get justice.” My takeaway from the hour-long conversation was only that they are magnanimous people. They say we do not want any inter-faith disputes in our area, but just that the court should bring the alleged perpetrators to justice. That places an extra onus on the judicial system to not let them down. Her parents and many other believers in justice should not regret placing their trust in a system which otherwise disappoints hoards of victims and survivors on a daily basis.
When informed that many members of the civil society had raised substantial funds for them, the parents did not even blink. Their only concern was justice. Because of their lifestyle, which involves being on the go for around seven months of the year herding livestock, their coping mechanisms also seem varied. They believe, very strongly, in the greater force that guards them through jungles and mountains, against wild animals or a natural calamity. They have a limited understanding of systemic injustice. Hence, they are not spiteful or full of vengeance.
The judicial procedure will take its course, the politics will manoeuvre as it does, but what remains a constant is the deep, inexplicable grief that I saw in a mother’s eyes. And that grief will haunt us. There could not have been a better analogy to give you all to live by than what we saw on our way back from meeting the parents.
When we were coming down the mountains, there were vultures, of a size and type we had never seen before, waiting to eat a puppy that lay dead on the bare ground. The vultures had an air of superiority and arrogance. They did not seem to have any remorse for being so hungry for flesh and blood. To me, they represented the perpetrators of this horrible crime and many other men of their ilk and reminded me that no matter how safe I thought I was, these wild creatures could pounce on me and many other women. Rich or poor, Hindu or Muslim, educated or illiterate, it doesn’t matter, they could decimate our existence, our flesh and pride, our honour. And at the end, they could just fly away, soaring into the high skies of lawlessness and lack of accountability in a society that seems to be in reverse gear.