Hyo Shabira: Slaves of the Slave State
This was my moment of shame as Sajad the individual, my moment of shame as Sajad the politician and the moment of collective shame for the society that we live in and of which I was a part
Shabir is a resident of village Lalpora, Lolab. He is twenty six and has been working as a domestic help at our house for the last seven years. I don’t know how Shabir landed up at our house. Nineteen year old, Shabir was a married man when he joined us. I confess I am a part of the despotic elite that employs and exploits domestic staff - no fixed working hours, low wages, bad behaviour, servility and by all means a slavish job. I see Shabir on a daily basis, toiling from morning into the night. Accidentally I stumbled over Shabir’s personal travails, seven years after he joined us and that has stunned me into shame.
I like Shabir but my mother has some reservations. She feels that Shabir is a bit of a kamychoor (lazy). My mother also secretly resents Shabir for being untrustworthy and impetuous and leaving us on four occasions in the past. He did not do a chalun (run away). He simply informed us that he had to leave. The body language, the look on the face said it all. I could visualize him striking a defiant posture, fists clenched with a frown on the face reeling with contempt and utter disdain- saying, “hell with you. I am fed up of working like a slave day in and day out and putting up with your idiosyncrasies. I quit. I quit. It is bloody better to beg, than work here. I will never come back here”. I tried to tell my mother that Shabir is a bit of a rebel. My mother thinks I am naive and sees no space for rebellion in poverty stricken Shabir’s life. Oh dear! O dear ! Shabir, poor rebellious Shabir. His rebellions failed and failed every time. He had to return and resume his job, on all the four occasions on the same terms and conditions albeit with lesser dignity. Even his colleagues in the domestic staff treated him as a newbie every time he rejoined and ordered him around. I have been a bit of a rebel – rebelled against my parents as a student, rebelled against my Uncle in Cardiff as a student, rebelled against my Kafeel (sponsor) in Dubai, rebelled against separatists in politics and rebelled even against rebellion. All my rebellions failed and Shabir’s failed rebellions were a reflection of my failed rebellions. The rebel in me was saddened by the four time unilateral, unconditional surrenders of the impoverished, rebellious Shabir.
“Hyo Shabiraaaa”, is our way of calling out to Shabir when he is out of our sight and is a repeated ritual. At times it is a necessity to call out for him and at times it is, “tala hu phone di yyuury” (give me that phone). The damn phone is lying barely a few feet away and Shabir is summoned all the way to fetch the phone. I can write a book on Shabir and his innate ability to retain sanity in a sea of insanity. He gets told off by me for the food being bland and by my mother for the same food being spicy and we are sitting on the same table and at the same time. If the mood is one of optimism, a feeling of gung ho, everything seemingly hunky dory- the super dude delivers the dialogue in a magnanimous manner- “kyo daleela Shabira” (how is it going Shabir), all smiles, the super dude pats Shabira on the back, whizzing past him. And in times of gloom and doom the hero of the house turns into a villain and barks, “un chuya” (are you blind), all replete with the evil look on the face, a wrinkled facial motion filling the puckered face of the super dude turned villain with infinite ugly wrinkles.
The concept of domestic help is so inherently slavish that it becomes a convenient target for venting our frustrations. Our heartless conduct with our domestic helps, our innate attitudinal supremacy explores the vast spaces of lunacy within us. It is an indicator of the extent of cruelty that ostensible gentlemen and ladies of our civilized society can go ahead and fearlessly indulge in. The domestic help is a safe bet- exists within the confines of our home, is a lesser human being, pinned down by poverty and ready to take it all in lieu of a miserly pay package earned through hard work, humiliation and endless working hours. Oh! Dreams, oh! Dreams- we all have unfulfilled dream of being the rocking super dude - the domestic help is the ever ready involuntary, applauding audience. Shabir is no different and a mute spectator to changing moods, idiosyncrasies, negative thoughts, positivism, gloom, delusions of grandeur and takes it all without a demur.
A few months back my mother summoned me for some important one to one chat. She looked very serious and worried. She told me that Shabir yet again wants to leave and maybe for good this time. She was troubled by the efforts needed to recruit and train a new entrant. “Oh! Not again”, I replied loud and clear for her to hear and ensure that my utmost seriousness on this issue is registered. My mother is of the firm belief that I cannot hold on to a secret and refused to divulge her source, but insisted that Shabir was going to leave and wander away for good in lure of a government job. Government job and Shabir, I thought to myself, is a mismatch. Shabir is illiterate, has no skills, no influence, can’t pay a bribe; how could he be possibly considered for a government job? I started getting irritated with Shabir and his threats of what I saw as recurrent pull outs, and blackmail. Life is full of tensions. I had my plateful of woes. I had lost an election recently and rather than make a strategy for future- here I was brooding, guessing, analyzing, and wow, researching whether Shabir is doling out a threat or is actually leaving. I summoned Shabir and asked him whether he was leaving us yet again. The tone and style of my questioning was a piece of theatrical brilliance. It was a blend of exhortation- oh! Shabira! you leaving us. And veiled authority of a master over a slave- communicated by the body language; presumed prescience- oh, not again- you are going to end up back here. And after gentle prodding the answer did come out- very meekly, humbly, he said “jee sir” and added CRPF. Why CRPF, I thought to myself. And how is he assured of a job in the CRPF. The conspiratorial Kashmiri in me began to sense ulterior motives including the suspicion of spying on me and getting the job as a reward. I looked at Machiavellian’s “the prince” donning my study. And I vowed to uncover all the Machiavellian twists in now seemingly renegade Shabir’s tale.
In the evening I summoned Shabir to my study. Shabir and the study were a mismatch. My study is trendy, has huge walnut veneered racks packed with books, a walnut office table with leather tops, some nice sofas and a giant office chair. The ambience in the study is distinctly academic. Shabir is illiterate, has never handled books, can’t read, can’t write and lives in a room at his uncle’s house bereft of any hint of furniture. I sat in my chair, swiveling around at a gentle pace, aware of the impact the academic ambience must be having on illiterate, homeless, furniture-less Shabir. He was standing awkwardly, gaze lowered, in anticipation of the torturous conversation that was to follow. I didn’t waste any time and asked him clearly, how he could get a job in the CRPF. Shabir nervously clarified that he had not applied for any job, but that the police had come to his house and taken down his details. Apparently the government has a rehabilitation scheme for heirs of slain militants. I told Shabir that I was not aware of any such scheme and even if there was one how would he qualify. He fumbled and chose to lift his gaze and direct it at me with unsure pride and replied, “My father was a famous guide and he was killed by the army in 1992”. His answer and my heartlessness stunned me. Shabir was someone who lived in my home for the last seven years and I had never bothered to ask about his family, his travails. “I am sorry to hear that”, I replied. I leaned deep into my chair and after a long silence asked him, “And how old were you then”. With no trace of emotion, “nine years”, replied Shabir. “So sad- you must have been a kid at that time”, I sighed. Shabir apprehensively chatted on unemotionally, “I was very young. I knew something bad had happened. Everybody was crying. We could not get his dead body. He was killed and probably buried at the border. The militants who were accompanying him informed us of his death”. We talked for a long time about Shabir, his family, his childhood in what seemed a Dickensian reality- a classic tale of impoverishment, exploitation, helplessness and finally hopelessness. Shabir’s encounter with violent death did not end with his father. After Shabir’s father next in the family to fall to bullets were Shabir’s two uncles. The bloody bullet ridden trail of three dead bodies left behind three young widows in the impoverished family along with a dozen fatherless young children, some as young as two months.
I sank in my swanky chair as Shabir’s plight started to sink into me. All of a sudden the swanky study looked shorn of its academic ambience and books around me seemed worthless. The homeless, furniture-less Shabir seemed perched at a much higher moral pedestal. This was my moment of shame as Sajad the individual, my moment of shame as Sajad the politician and the moment of collective shame for the society that we live in and of which I was a part. I thought to myself- Shabir was too young to understand the enormity of his loss and too old to idle away his time enjoying the innocence of childhood. Death of his father made Shabir the only male in the family- the head of the family- the breadwinner at the age of nine, with a family which comprised of a widowed mother and three sisters. The FIR registered in the police station must have identified Shabir’s father as a militant- anti national, subversive. And families of killed anti nationals or subversives are not defined as victims of violence by the government and are not covered under any relief system of the government and are left to the wrath of a cruel uncaring society. The system of relief offered by separatists predictably missed Shabir. It was left to nine year old Shabir to fend for himself, for his family and take on the challenges of survival in a cruel world and an even crueller society. With no skills to offer and young hands of a nine year old too tender to take on tasks of labour, Shabir joined a household as a domestic help. Eighteen years down the line Shabir continues to labour as a domestic help in my home.
I closed my eyes and leaned back. The scenes of the sermons that we deliver, the ugly self righteous attitudes that we display, the rhetoric that we indulge in started to race in my mind. And in this collage of presumptuous morality emerged a young face of a nine year old, an impoverished fatherless nine year old Shabir staring at our faces- shouting mercy! mercy! The cacophony emanating from the din of presumptuous morality drowned the feeble, enervated voice of Shabir. Helplessly and hopelessly, poorly clad nine year old Shabir trudged barefoot along the unpaved by lanes of Lalpora wandering and wondering, alone in the big bad world. Nothing has changed. He still trudges along the now paved by lanes of Lalpora. He has grown. He doesn’t expect help. He nourishes no hope. He just trudges along.
I asked Shabir to go. I was feeling guilty for having Shabir as a domestic help in my home. Impoverishment apart- he is the son of a martyr. A martyr means sacrifice. His family has sacrificed so much- all in the name of our nation. Far from helping him- I employed him as a domestic help which can be an undignified and servile profession. I recalled shouting at Shabir, I recalled turning a deaf ear to his requests for advance, I recalled scoffing off at his requests for recommendation for a government job and many more instances of insult heaped at Shabir flashed in my mind. I was particularly feeling guilty about one incident. It was about two years ago and a frantic Shabir called me from Kupwara. His sister apparently had been admitted to the local hospital and was in a serious condition, due to a precarious pregnancy. He implored on me desperately to call the doctor for some help and extra care. Two days later Shabir came back, happy that his sister had delivered a healthy baby and sister was doing fine. He thanked me, kissed my hands for making a call to the doctor. I haven’t told him till this date. I had forgotten to call the doctor. I had not made the call to the doctor.
Shabir is not a rare case. Shabir for me is a symbol of exploitation of a typical case of division of the society into haves and have-nots. Me as an individual and we as a society stand guilty of committing the worst type of atrocities against our very own fellow Kashmiris. We as a society, we as a nation are all a part of this crime that we commit against our fellow Kashmiris. Is Shabir a recurring reality or an exception? What is his status in the society? Does the society owe Shabir an apology? Whose responsibility is Shabir? Should Shabir not have gone to school? Why did hid his father die? For what cause did he lay down his life? We pride ourselves with the sacrifices rendered in the struggle. And the despicable underbellies of this struggle of liberation are our very own slaves in the slave state.
Tailpiece: This article was written in the year 2009. Shabir still works with us. He has now completed a decade with us. He has built a small house. His mother died last year. It seems unlikely that I will ever let him go. He too seems to have made up his mind to stay with us. Let us hope we are able to help his children, study and encourage them to dream of a new beginning of hope. And that means change. But we will have to change within to dream of a new change
Sajad lone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Lastupdate on : Sun, 1 Jul 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sun, 1 Jul 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Mon, 2 Jul 2012 00:00:00 IST
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