They are women who have taken up a unique role—caring for and nurturing orphaned children. Saima Bhat reports on two women, who hope their selfless acts of love, will help create a secure future for these children.
She was blessed with a son after a year of marriage, but as fate would have it—she is now the mother of 111 girls.
Isha Nighat, 49, was married in 1987, had a son, and was divorced ten years later. Soon after, she started her own boutique with the hopes of earning a livelihood and completed a diploma in tailoring. In 1999, she got a job in a women’s centre for tailoring—a centre that was under the J&K Yateem Trust. Soon, Isha was guiding 40 women there on how to earn their livelihood.
After noticing Isha’s work ethic and nature for three years, the Trust’s chairman offered her the job of a warden for a girls-only orphanage. “Girls are a huge responsibility, one that can be only given to a reliable person; and I don’t know why the Chairman Sahib chose me,” shares Isha. She decided to accept the offer. Isha says her religious principles always made her want to contribute to society, and so she took the step. At this point, her son was in 9th, and she says he was able to understand why she took such a move.
So in 2002, Isha joined the girl’s orphanage Banaat Institute. Soon though, she began to feel homesick and had second thoughts about her decision. “I used to cry during the late hours of the night for my son,” she says. “But with time I started realizing how God gave me this opportunity to be a mother of around 100 kids instead of just one. And these children were in more need of love. God is the best planner and I left my decision in his hands.” Gradually, she says her bond with the children grew stronger.
Isha left her son with her elder brother, who had taken care of them early on as well after Isha’s divorce. Currently, Isha’s son is pursuing his Masters’ from the University of Kashmir.
Her approach with the orphanage girls is strict. She believes a mother has to be strict, or else her children will deviate from the right path. “I understand they are girls and tomorrow they will get married. I want to give them every skill so that they can prove to be good homemakers. For this, every winter, I teach them cooking, stitching and other skills,” Isha shares with concern.
Isha visits her own family twice or thrice a year, and sometimes during events. But whenever she visits her relatives, she becomes restless. “I feel insecure and anxious at night when I visit my son and my brother’s family,” she says. “I am now a mother of 111 girls, so I can’t really spend the night at my relatives. For this reason, they all say I am closer to these girls than my own blood relations,” she adds. Isha lost her maternal aunt last year, but could only go there for a day.
Just like any mother in any home, Isha constantly tells the Banaat Institute girls to read, to learn, to limit their TV watching hours, to come for lunch, and for dinner. Isha guides them with love and teaches them good manners—something she says will be valued for their futures tomorrow. “People should say these are Isha’s daughters,” she says.
She has decided to devote her complete time to the orphanage—but only till she is healthy. “I don’t want to be a burden on the organization,” she says.
“They call me Mummy, and that’s an honour,” says Dilshada when talking about the 20 children she takes care of at CHINAR, a home for orphaned children.
Dilshada, 32, is originally from Kulgam. She is a graduate and was working as a private teacher in her locality. After four and a half years of being engaged, she married into an educated family. But soon disagreements arose between her and her husband, and so they divorced just 14 months later.
One day, Dilshada saw an ad in a newspaper about the post of a ‘mother’ at an orphanage. She was eventually offered the job in 2005, and since then she has managed to leave her past and care for the CHINAR children’s present, and future.
“They are all dear to me; I know their destinies have brought them here, so has mine. I feel I can give them what they are deprived of,” she says. “They need someone’s hand over their heads to feel secure and I am doing the same,” says Dilshada in a low tone.
Dilshada says the efforts that have gone into taking care of such children will never go to waste. She believes one day she will be rewarded. “If sometimes I am ill, they come and sit around me as children do for their mothers. Such things make our bond stronger,” she shares. “I don’t think there is anything that I haven’t done for them in these years. But what a real mother and father can do, no one can do that. I still try my very best.”
Dilshada has completed her BA and has a diploma in ITI. She could not have her own children due to unavoidable circumstances, but today, when she is a mother of 20 children—she says she feels privileged on several occasions. Including, when she attends the parent-teacher meetings at schools, and the children introduce her as their ‘Mummy.’
Dilshada and other staff at CHINAR get two and a half days off per month, but she only goes to visit her family once every three or four months. She adds, “When I go home their voices resonate in my ears, and I start feeling restless—so I come back as soon as possible,” she says. Dilshada’s family has been telling her to leave this job, but she says she wants to continue.
Dilshada says she hasn’t thought of getting married again for the time being, but if she ever does, she would prefer to marry someone who would allow her to work at CHINAR—so that she isn’t separated from her children.
“We have a child, Tahir, who comes in the evenings to me and constantly rubs my face lovingly with his hands. He says, ‘you are my only mother, wherever you’ll be tomorrow, I will be visiting you.’ I’m not able to understand what this bond is, but there is some divine force that has kept us together,” she says.