Thursday, January 8, 2009

Limping through the protests, old women walk to Eidgah.


After every slogan she utters a sigh. In the middle of a massive procession, Taja Begum slowly limps her way through the packed streets. The wrinkles on her face look deeper, the veins on her temples engorge with blood as she raises her fist in the air and shouts “we want freedom”. At 71, Taja with an ailing body has already walked six kilometers with the thousands of people. She too is one of the many thousands who defied curfew in Kashmir today.

“I am suffering with several ailments but no ailment can stop me today. I will walk till I fall down. And I will not fall down”, Taja says as another old woman holds her arm as she stumbles over one the numerous stones that the street is littered with.

Taja like hundreds of old women is a part of the procession on its way to Eidgah. People from all over Srinagar and neighboring towns were marching to join the funeral prayers and bury the Hurriyat leader, Sheikh Abdul Aziz who was killed yesterday at Chehal village in police firing.

The women kept joining the protest at every neighborhood, every lane, and every by-lane. “I too like every Kashmiri have only one dream- freedom. We don’t believe in any Indian imposed curfew. We have shown that again today”, Noora Begum from Srinagar shouts amidst deafening slogans. Noora joined the procession at Shaheed Gunj coming out through a narrow alley with a dozen other women, most of them above 50.

With sticks in hand sometimes to lift up and most of the time to support their weak bodies, they keep muttering prayers for the safety of the people in the procession. “Enough Kashmiri blood has been spilled. We deserve freedom now. Help us”, says Rehat, another old lady, as she looks towards the smoke filled sky with her hand outstretched. Someone shouts a slogan and she joins in, her shrill voice and high pictch resonates around. A young boy holds her hand now. “My sons carried me on their shoulders when they felt I had exhausted my self. There are enough sons to carry me if my legs don’t support me”. 

As the dead body of a boy killed in Hyderpora passes in an ambulance, Taja begins to hit her chest slowly and slogans turn into suppressed sobs. Through the wrinkles on her face, the tears find their way quickly. Noora consoles her, first wiping her own moist eyes.

As the procession reaches Safakadal, Taja has slumped into the back rows moving feebly. Noora is nowhere in the people.

With a green cloth tied around her head, the veins of her temples engorged and a stick in hand, an old woman from Safakadal makes her way into Eidgah. “No curfew can keep us in homes now”, she says with the stick cutting across the air. 

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