A short flight

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His father had died 15 days before he was shot. His wife died less than two years later, leaving their three orphans and his aged mother in extreme poverty and shock. Hamidullah Dar reports.

Parvaz Mohammad Sultan

When Parvaz Mohammad Sultan preferred journalism over a job in Jammu and Kashmir Bank, his mother, Reht Ded was all fire. She did not talk to her son for days as the poverty stricken family had finally got a source of regular income only to be wasted by obstinate Parvaz.

A few years later Reht Ded relented as Parvaz earned a reasonable income besides respect. Parvaz made a successful career in journalism and the family’s living standard went up. Now the family that lived in a three room single storey house owned a car and was planning to build a spacious house on the outskirts of Khiram village in Islamabad district.

However, everything changed when on Jan 31, 2003 Parvaz Sultan was killed by unidentified gunmen outside his office in Press enclave at Srinagar where he ran a News and Feature Alliance (NAFA) news agency. Fifteen days before that his father had died.

Parvaz’s death pushed the family into penury as he was its sole breadwinner.

“Parvaz’s death proved detrimental in every way. Earlier even strangers would show their nearness to us but after his death all changed. Abruptly we lost source of income and were left destitute,” says Rehti. Parvaz was survived by his wife Shameema, their three children – Sheemu (9), Junaid Parvaz (6) and one and a half year old Umar Parvaz and his aged mother Rehti.

The government sanctioned ex-gratia relief of Rs one lakh to the family which supported the family for some time.

“A few journalists also helped the family in the first year. And then Shameema was appointed as peon in education department which relieved the family of the financial pangs,” says Nisar Ahmad, younger brother of Parvaz who is lives with his in-laws. Soon the family suffered another tragedy. Shameema, now the family’s breadwinner for a year and a half years died on Oct 8, 2004 after a brief illness. The whole burden came on the shoulders of Reht Ded.

“With the death of Shameema, the children lost the main emotional support and I had to shoulder the responsibility. It was really hard to pacify young Umar when he would seek his mother. I would weep for nights over the unfortunate series of back-breaking events,” she says, occasionally wiping her tears. As there was no money left in the family, Reht Ded says, she went to school where Shameema worked to claim her two month’s unpaid salary. “But they (school authorities) asked me to bring some papers so I left the idea as it would take a long time and required visiting many government offices,” she says.

Living became a tough challenge for the family of three orphans and an aged widow. They would rely on the Rs 14,400 a year that Parvaz’s orphans Sheemu and Junaid would get from Social Welfare Department (SWD) as aid.

“From next year it will be reduced by half as Sheemu will cease to get the fund from the department due to her age,” Reht Ded says the SWD officials have told her.

(Mother and daughters of Parvaz at their south Kashmir residence)

Taking cognizance of the poverty of the family, a local private school waived the fees and allowed Parvaz’s children to continue their studies. “It is really burdensome to run a family on such a meager income. Even press fraternity barring (Sheikh) Mushtaq Sahab (of Reuters) and Parvaz’s friends left us in the lurch,” says Reht Ded. Mushtaq had last visited the family on Eid-ul- Fitr, she says.

The politicians made many promises to the family but as time passed, the politicians forgot their promises.

“Mehbooba Mufti promised to bear the expenses of education of the three children besides giving the family a sum of Rs 1500 a month. However, that never materialized,” says Nisar.

After losing both their parents and falling into extreme poverty Sheemu is dejected. “Sometimes it looks as if life has no meaning for us. But then seeing our grandmother managing things for us gives us strength to carry on,” says Sheemu with wet eyes. The three-room house is the only property the family has and there is no sign of these hard times going to leave the family in near future.

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