By Umar Khurshid
SRINAGAR: Setting up an example, Muslim majority in Levdoora village of Islamabad district performed the last rites of a neighbouring Hindu woman early this week. They also adopted her four kids who were already orphaned after their father’s death in 2016.
As soon as the news of the death of the Pandit lady spread in the belt, people in large numbers assembled to mourn and manage her last rites.
Nancy Koul and her husband Maharaj Krishan Koul were the only couple that refused to migrate. Their all relatives had migrated during the early years of militancy. Interestingly, they were married in 1990, at a time when the migration took place. Levdoora village had 35 families and all migrated but Koul’s decided to stay back.
Koul was a small time contractor who was also running a tea stall at Qazigund. Nancy was a homemaker and they had four children, two sons, and two daughters. The contractor died in December 2016.
In 2016 December, Koul died. This left the family reduced to literal destitute even though they were not earning hugely either, earlier.
Then, villagers assembled and raised the donation to manage the family. “When the father had passed away, we collected six quintals of rice and Rs 80,000. We opened two bank accounts in the girls’ names and deposited Rs 55,000 in it. We furnished their house with the rest. News 18, a Delhi TV website quoted a resident Mohammad Yousuf saying. “We are willing to do all of it again.”
After the death of Koul, the villagers wanted some sort of income to the family. They approached J&K Bank that employed his widow that would feed her kitchen.
Now, when Nancy (also referred as Baby by some reports), died herself on December 22, the village had to face the same situation, slightly tougher than 2016. Then she was alive and would take care of her kids. Now they have nobody from their blood relation who lives in the village.
Meenakshi is the eldest of the four who dropped out of school and would manage home and her mother, till she was alive. Her brother Sushil is in ninth class 9, along with Sapna. The youngest of them is Rohit who is in class third.
“Rohit is yet to completely understand the tragedy,” Mufti Islah wrote. “He goes out to play during the day and returns in the evening to lie down on Naseema’s lap, a sort of foster mother to the children.” Naseema told him that she has “breastfed these children, along with my own” and that “they call me mother.”
There were nearly 3,000 people, mostly Muslims who joined the last rites of Nancy. The women of the village were wailing and consoling her children in a typical Kashmiri Muslim mourning.
Ateeqa Begum, an elderly neighour of Koul’s said that they will take care of the children. “Even if I have to beg from people, beg outside mosques or from the people, I will take care of these children. These are our own children and we will take their care as we do care for our children”, she said.
Ateeqa said that they will not allow them to leave the village as it is the responsibility of the village to look after them. “We have decided that village will adopt these children and will not allow anybody to take them away from the village”, she said.
After receiving news of her death, their relatives had come from Jammu. “Aunt Jigri and her family have come from Jammu,” Telegraph newspaper quoted Susil saying. “They want us to move in with them but we want to stay here. Our parents never left this place; we won’t either.” Their aunt lives in Jagti camp at Jammu.
Some of the Kashmiri Pandits who are serving the state and operating from Vesu camp had also come to the village. One of them was Sunny Raina. He was quoted by various newspapers for his observations in which he insisted that the incident should prove an “eye-opener” for “those vested interests who are running a negative campaign against Kashmiris by portraying them as communal.”
There has been another suggestion put forward to the village: Let them retain their ancestry but move to the Vesu camp for a living. Some of the villagers have not opposed the idea. Children, however, have not accepted the suggestion so far. A local private school has, however, offered free education to the kids.
“Villagers are again raising money for the siblings and are urging Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti to find a job for Saroj, who has left schooling. A neighbour, Showkat Ahmad, has already taken her school certificates to start the process,” Nazir Masoodi reported for NDTV. He quoted Ahmad saying: “We will give these certificates to the government and the chief minister and ensure that they get a job. Last time when their father died we got a job for them in a bank.”