Abandoned by their families these widows survive by roasting hooves in an overwhelmingly dangerous setting filled with smoke. Saima Bashir writes about their struggle for survival
For Maimoona, 35, her world is confined to the four walls of her small two room dwelling, and a small cubicle adjacent to the washroom that doubles as her work place. Every morning she lights an old kerosene stove, bellowing a cloud of black smoke, and starts roasting sheep legs or hooves. The hooves, after roasting, are passed on to a nearby butcher who sells them at his shop. Maymoona share: Rs 10 for a set of four legs. “I work till late in the night. But despite such hard work I mange just Rs 3000 a month,” says Maymoona showing her ash covered hands as a proof.
Hailing from Habba Kadal area of downtown Srinagar, Maymoona has a family of four to feed – two sons and a daughter. “My struggle started after my husband passed away in 2014,” says Maymoona amid coughing.
During September 2014 floods Maymoona’s husband Nazir Ahamd missed his dialysis and died within days because of acute kidney infection. “He was the sole bread winner of our family,” says Maymoona. “After his death I had to do something to feed my kids, so roasting hooves seemed doable as it needs little investment.”
But the urgency to earn money was felt when Maymoona’s six-year-old daughter had to undergo an emergency eye surgery. “I needed money for her treatment,” says Maymoona. Since then her daughter has gone through three surgeries.
After her husband’s death, despite suffering from many ailments and chest congestion, Maymoona continues for sake of her children. “I have to purchase kerosene for around Rs 800 every month. Rest you can imagine how I survive,” says Maymoona.
Inside a small lane in downtown’s Nawakadal area lives Mukhta Begum with her son and a daughter. She is roasting hooves for survival since last 17 years.
After her husband died in 1999, Mukhta was thrown out of her house by her mother-in-law telling her that she has no right over her dead husband’s property.
Disheartened, she sold whatever gold she had to shelter her kids in a two room modest house. But that did not end her woes. “I had to earn something to keep the hearth burning,” says Mukhta.
With no skill in hand Mukhta ultimately chose to roast hooves for survival. “We have spent days together without food,” says Mukhta.
As days turned into years, Mukhta found a helping hand in her daughter, who attends college during day and works with her mother afterwards. “I couldn’t send my son to school, but I am happy that my daughter is educated at least,” says a proud Mukhta. Her daughter is pursing bachelors in Science.
After mother daughter duo prepare hooves, its Mukhta’s son Ishrat, who sells them in the market. “He earns around Rs 3000 a month. It is not enough but at least it keeps us alive,” says Mukhta.
But it is not the poverty that worries Mukhta, it is the taboo attached with it that pains her more. “I can’t tell you what it means to raise a girl child in a society like ours if you are a widow,” says Mukhta who works more than fourteen hours a day despite a throat operation. “Working on a kerosene stove kills you like slow poison,” says Mukhta.
It has been twenty years since Raja’s husband passed away. “He left me with no money and four kids,” says Raja painfully.
Living in a small single room of her ancestral house, which doubles as bedroom, kitchen and her work place in busy Safakadal, Raja manages her life on bits and pieces. “With such meagre income it is really hard to survive,” says Raja who has to spend a considerable part of her small income to treat her depressed son. “There are times when I don’t get wages on time (Rs 10 for roasting two set of hooves), and have to mange on empty stomach,” says Raja.
Disturbed by her circumstances and the behaviours of society towards her two teenage daughters, Raja took loan from relatives and well-wishers and got them married after five years of engagement. “People blame me for marrying my daughters to persons double their age, but what was I supposed to do. Let them at the mercy of the heartless society,” asks Raja in anger. “I still have more than Rs 1 lakh to pay back.”
In order to repay the loan on time Raja works almost eighteen hours a day. “It took me five years to save money to buy a decent dress for my daughters on their marriage. How could I have borne huge expenses needed for a marriage of choice,” she asks.
Raja’s daughter, who used to work with their mother on kerosene stove since childhood face problems in conceiving. “They have lived their entire lives in smoke and poverty. And the same is haunting them even after their marriage,” says Raja painfully.
(Saima Bashir is an Internee with Kashmir Life)