Durdana Bhat | Sheikh Tabish
Mohammad Rajab (44), Shopian
I was 18-year-old when paramilitary forces picked me up—as my unshaved face stirred up suspicion in them. For me, it was any other day. I had no idea about an incoming peril! Scores of uniformed men had already stepped inside our village. But I never sniffed that soon I would be framed for something unimaginable to me. And subsequently would be reduced to mere begging for my entire life!
On the fateful day, I was heading towards woods in the village to fetch firewood. I saw them staring hard at me from a distance. I never minded their vigil. We had, somehow, learned to live with it. But within next few minutes, all my notions changed when someone suddenly shouted: “Come here!”
That call instilled a sense of fear in me. I had heard how scores in my village fell to such calls. I pushed on my heavy steps towards them—quizzing myself, what are they upto. And in a flash, I was standing in front of them. They didn’t ask any questions. They just grabbed me by my collar and took me deep into the woods. There, I was thrashed, badly roughed up and labelled as Pak militant!
But the ordeal didn’t end there…
I was taken to nearby camp—where, I was interrogated like anything. Such was the severity of pounding that my back got badly damaged, forever! I was released six months after, half dead. I was soon operated, but lost one of my damaged scapulas to a surgical knife!
Once out of surgical bed, I realised that I have been left handicapped for the rest of my life. And since then, I am begging to sustain myself. There are no other options left, as I belong to a humble background where people live to hand to mouth situation. Besides, there were/are no helping hands around.
Yes, I know begging is a big embarrassment. But what else I have been left for. Somebody should ask those, who left me for nothing else in life!
Sultan (75), Srinagar
[Shaking] How I am supposed to reply this question of yours? What shall I say. For an old man like me, there exists no other option than begging. I am too old to do any work. It is not easy to survive in today’s world when one has a family, a wife and a daughter to look after. It is very difficult for me to feed my family. My wife, sometimes, works at neighbour’s house. They provide her some food and clothes. And sometimes, they give my wife money to purchase medicine—she remains ill, quite often. We don’t have a son who could have been a helping hand to us.
We put up in a rented accommodation. And, it is even more difficult to thrive on begging. My health also troubles me a lot. But still, I keep coming out on streets, put up a shameless face by asking for alms.
Maybe I would have never come out with begging hand, had there been any assistance around. I wander through the alleys, asking for help which doesn’t show up, always.
Gobur, you know [sobbing], I am old and my health is getting worse. So there is no any other way for me. That’s why I beg.
Mohammad Imran (19), Srinagar
I was just 6-year-old when my father was killed by his nephew. He was just asking for his money back from his sister. But in return, he lost his life. It was snowing that day, and his body was buried beneath the frozen white.
I was yet to overcome from that shock when another tragedy unfolded. My mother married another person and left me alone. It was huge mental trauma for me. But still then, I started working to feed myself. But at the age of fifteen, while working, I fell from the tree. And unfortunately, broke my leg and badly injured my spinal cord. I couldn’t pocket the proper treatment which aggravated my health condition and I was declared disabled for the rest of my life.
I am handicapped, I can’t work. I am alone and broken. Sometimes, I don’t have food to eat. In this biting cold, I don’t have blanket—no warm clothes. I ask for food, clothes and money from strangers. Some give me and some don’t. I don’t like to beg. I was not born beggar, but my fate forced me to beg!
Zahawar Jan (75), Kangan
I beg to manage my family. Being a widow, there is no one in our family who can earn for us. I need to sustain my son and a daughter. Twelve years ago, I lost my husband to some illness. I couldn’t effort his treatment.
I am too old to do any work. And I don’t want my child to beg, don’t want them to suffer. There was no option left for me other than begging. If I won’t beg, my son and daughter will die because of hunger. I cry day and night. My days are like misery. When I come to Srinagar, I have no place to live. Very often, I sleep on the road.
Fatima (65), Bijbehara
Life is very uncertain. Never in my wildest dreams had I thought to beg on streets. But it takes a few seconds for life to flip! Today, I have a begging bowl in my hand.
I and my husband lived a very humble life in South Kashmir’s Bijbehara town. He was feeding a family of five. He would sweat hard by pulling a cart for the living. We were earning meager, but we were satisfied with life. But then my fate had other plans for my three daughters and me.
I lost him. I was told some speedy truck crushed him on the spot. He couldn’t linger any longer. That day he was pulling the same cart. Even his cart couldn’t survive the fatal strike. It all happened 15 years back. And since then, I am on road.
Soon after his demise, I was left with no help. There was no helping hand around. For the sake of survival, I shelled out all my savings. And then, I sold my house to feed my three daughters. But when I was left with nothing, I sought refuge in begging.
Being a mother of growing up daughters, it does pinch me like anything to beg from door to door. But as of now, there is no way out. And I continue masking up a face which is ugly to its core!
Gowher Ali (09), Kupwara
I along with my siblings come to Srinagar quite often for begging. I was too small when I started begging along with my father. I have no mother. People say my father is an insane. He can’t work. So, we beg for feeding ourselves. Sometimes, I beg in front of schools. And when I see children wearing that uniform, it makes me feel very sad. I can’t go to school. I have no friends.
Last time, I expressed my wish to be in a school to my father. He couldn’t reply. Only a statement followed: “You aren’t meant for school.” And since then, I don’t raise questions!
Ghulam Hassan (32), Ganderbal
My life took a vicious turn when my parents passed away. There was no one in my life except them. My father, a local farmer used to bear all my expenses. Too much of dependency on my father’s pocket spoiled me and left me for nothing. I thought life would go like this always. But no, his untimely death shattered and stirred me up.
After his death, my uncles embezzled all our property! I couldn’t fight back. And soon the very shock devoured my mother. And suddenly, I was rendered homeless. There was nowhere to go. I laboured, but couldn’t do justice. Perhaps, I wasn’t used to it. The compulsion of survival forced me to beg. I found it quite convenient.
“Look,” says, Nazir Bhat, one passerby in busy Lal Chowk, “not all beggars have some genuine reason to beg. Some of them do it out of habit.” Bhat claims to know the case of one such beggar hailing from Central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district. “That person is economically sound and yet he could be seen sitting outside shrines to seek alms.”
Rafiq Mushtaq, 32, from Srinagar shares similar experience. “There are no two ways about it that begging is the biggest menace of our society. And most of these persons do it out of habit,” he says.