Sheltering Neighbours

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When state offered Santosh Rs 1500 for reconstruction of her flood damaged house, she was devastated. But thanks to unknown pious souls, Santosh and her family now have a roof over their heads. Suhail A Shah reports the plight of Kulgam’s lone Pandit family

“These are my people and I’m not going to leave them.  If I have to die, I will die here,” says Santosh (in pic).

“These are my people and I’m not going to leave them. If I have to die, I will die here,” says Santosh (in pic).

Seeta Devi lived all her life in Kashmir. And when Pandits were leaving the valley en-masse in 1990 she decided to stay back, “among her own people”

“I have lived all my life here. These are my people and I am not going to leave them. If I have to die, I will die here,” Devi’s eldest daughter, Santosh, recalls her mother saying when some of their relatives sent a vehicle for them to leave Kashmir.

Twenty-five-years down the line, Devi’s heart would have been warmed with the ‘gestures’ of her “own people” had she been alive. She would have seen how Kashmiri Muslims came forward to build the house of her Rajput family, after it was damaged in the floods.

Devi died in 2006 and her husband, Karan Singh, in 2007. Had she been alive, Devi would have been a proud lady for standing firm on the decision of staying back.

Aarigatnoo village in Kulgam district of south Kashmir is slowly coming to terms with the unprecedented damage the floods left behind. In this village of some 350 odd households, almost every house is being constructed afresh or being renovated. The village was one of the worst affected in the floods.

A gentle query about the lone Hindu household in the village and a middle-aged man accompanied us to what now is being called as Santosh’s house, after the death of her parents.

The houses, one damaged in floods and the recently constructed one stand amid a sprawling property, which includes an unyielding apple orchard and a kitchen garden, in the middle of the village.

Santosh, a frail, tall, middle aged woman comes across as a very sensible woman with an authoritative tone acquired probably after years of hardships and being the provider of a family.

When floods struck last year, like everybody in the village one of the two houses Singh family owned was washed away.

Ironically the government put compensation for the damaged structure at Rs 1500. Devastated, Santosh waited for divine help and it did arrive.

Some people from a ‘religious organisation’ approached Santosh and told her that they will be constructing a new house for her.

Santosh does not know the name of the organisation but recalls the ‘pious’ souls as just ‘Allah Waaley’, “They came, promised and left. I was not sure they were going to return but they did, and constructed the house. All of it.”

Given Santosh’s financial condition it was impossible for her to construct the damaged house on her own. “It is because of these noble souls that we have a proper place to move into,” she says.

The village also rallied behind Santosh after her name was omitted from the list of compensation recipients and made sure she got relief money like every other household.

Santosh says she would not have survived without the villagers rallying around her, like her own brothers. “The decision to stay back taken by my family proved to be the best decision of our lives,” feels Santosh.

Santosh was married to a Rajput in Baramulla and after a brief stay there, she parted ways with her husband. “May be destiny was this and God wanted me to take care of my sisters,” says Santosh.

She now lives with her son, daughter and her four sisters at her father’s place in Aarigatnoo and runs the family.

A Rajput, Santosh’s father Karan Singh worked as a wireless operator with the police and was a well-to-do man by any standards.

After he and his wife decided to stay back the local Mirwaiz, Ahmadullah Shah, took it upon himself to keep the family safe.

“Ahmadullah Sahab assured my father that he will protect us with his blood,” Santosh says and immediately prays for a place in paradise for the now departed soul in chaste Kashmiri.

Some people from a ‘religious organisation’ approached Santosh and told her that they will be constructing a new house  (in picture) for her.

Some people from a ‘religious organisation’ approached Santosh and told her that they will be constructing a new house (in picture) for her.

Moreover, Santosh says, there were two militants of ‘Hizb-ul-Mujahideen’ – Sabzar Wagay and Noorul Hassan – who ensured that the family lived in absolute safety, “they were very noble souls, may Allah grant them paradise.”

During all these years only once some militants dropped by at their place, curious with their language as they heard them talking.

“It was a gentle inquiry of sorts. We were constructing a new house then and the militants offered us timber, which we of course refused to take,” says Santosh, “We were very well off and did not need a thing back then.”

Things however did not remain same for the Singh family. Tragedies struck one after another and Santosh was left penniless, with the burden of her large family and without a male member or for that matter an earning hand.

Soon after her parents died Santosh’s brother, Cheen Singh, took charge of the family and started to do odd jobs, to support his family, as he was studying.

By then Santosh was battling court cases lodged against her by her husband and vice versa.

In the meantime, Cheen Singh got married and as destiny had his wife left him and lodged a court case against him as well. “Probably worried with the court cases and the marrying off his sisters, our brother one day died all of a sudden,” says Snatosh, “The doctors said he died of a cardiac arrest.”

Ever since, life has been a continuous battle for Santosh. She had to marry off her sisters and provide education to her children, which she did. The sisters however still live with her.  But one thing she remains happy and content about is her mother’s decision of not leaving the valley.

Her house built now Santosh’s only income is the money she gets from selling milk. She hopes her son studies well and turns the fortunes of the family.

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