FOUZIA Amin Mahajan is just 20. But her pretty face bears no sign of carefree youthfulness. What sets her apart is tragedy. Her father, Mohammad Amin Mahajan, one of the most renowned calligraphists in Srinagar, was killed when security forces opened fire on Mirwaiz Farooq's funeral procession on May 21, 1990. A little over two years later, her 30-year-old uncle was taken out of his house during a routine cordon-and-search operation. She does not know what exactly happened afterwards, only that she heard gunshots.
"I ran out to the door," she recalls tearfully. "My grandfather was just behind me. I saw my uncle lying in a pool of blood. I tried to take my grandfather's hands and drag him back inside the house. Suddenly another shot rang out and the 70-year-old manas lying at my feet. I can never forget the moment."
Fouzia is not the only one to be stalked by memories. Her younger brother is still so traumatised he just cannot bear to stay on in the family house in Shafakadal. He stays with his maternal uncle In another locality. But Fouzia lives a despondent life with her mother and grandmother.
Far away in a village on the road to Sopore, Mohammad Altaf craves for death. He has lost both his sons in the never-ending gunbattle. His elder son, a JKLF militant, was killed in an encounter. His other son was shot by unidentified gunmen shortly after--Altaf suspects the hand of militants inimical to the JKLF's credo of azadi. Half crazed with grief, he is unable to cultivate his five-acre plot and lives a life of virtual penury with his wife and 23-year-old daughter Nafisa.
The one thread that binds almost the entire Kashmiri society today is a sense of loss. Every family has lost members in the last seven years. Gone are the days of carefree socialising. "it's been a long time since I went to a friend or relative's house for simple social pleasantries.Ham to ab sirf maatam manna ke liye ek doosre ke ghar jaate hain (we only visit each other to offer condolences)," sighs a member of the Auqaf Trust, which manages Kashmir's holy shrines, including Hazratbal.
The old man sums up the Kashmiri predicament: "We are sandwiched between two guns--those of the security forces and the militants." Then he hastens to include the renegades. "What more can I say. We feel totally suffocated. We dare not speak our minds on anything," he laments.
The worst-hit area is probably education. Hundreds of schools have been burnt or bombed in the last seven years, hartals and curfew take care of the rest. The better-off families send their children out for education. But what does the common Kashmiri do?