The difficulty of being a fisherwoman

There is only hardship for us, she says, only hardship

SHRINKING SPACE

ZARKA SHABIR

Amira Kadal Bridge is dotted with people. Men sit on one side of the bridge. An assortment of glossy watches, sunglasses and an endless row of golden chains is spread out in front of them. They gesture passer bys to glance at what they have to offer. And when faced with refusal, they slump back again. On the other side of the bridge sit seven fisherwomen.
In front of fisherwomen are large metal bowls and the entire path emanates the odor of fish. If anyone stops near them, they are showered with a number of questions: “Do you want the big ones or the small ones? Take these! For your kids!”  Every passerby feigns surprise at their prices. Finally, when too many people pass by, the women sigh and shout that somehow rises above the surrounding din: “Gad ha cho!”
Zoona, a resident of Dalgate, first hesitates to talk about her work. She looks disapprovingly at the notebook and says it’s time for tea, or that she simply cannot talk because she has nothing to say. Prod her further and she says that her story will be lost in hundreds of other stories that have been written so far to no avail. Finally, she agrees to talk. “There is only hardship for us,” she says, “only hardship.”
Zoona has two sons and three daughters. She has pulled her children through school and one of her sons has a college degree. But all her five children are unemployed. Zoona’s mother was a fisherwoman and she grew up hearing that selling a few kilos of fish in the day will only bring a plateful of food at night. Despite her lineage, she hopes that her children will never have to sit on the roadside where she sells fish during harsh summer and winter months. “Because there is no respect for us,” she says.
Zoona says she has received warning from the Srinagar Municipal Corporation to evacuate the bridge for pedestrian use. But without another road to turn to, she is forced to run and watch from a distance as policemen fling her livelihood to the Jhelum. “They throw our fish, our knives and our scales into the river. At times there is beating as well,” she says. “We understand that this bridge is not a market but where do we go?”
“This is our trade and we should be given a market,” Zoona says. “Why can’t the government uproot these bunkers and make a market for us instead?”
Being members of one of the first professions women stepped out for in Kashmir, there is a certain historic and social significance attached to these fisherwomen. And yet Pousha, who works a few meters away from Zoona, says her daughters don’t want to keep any association with this trade. “They want to work with Pashmina,” she says. “When they watch their mother suffer, they do not want to come anywhere near fish.”
“I have worked hard to educate my children. Books cost so much. If my sons had jobs, I wouldn’t be here,” she says. “There is no dignity in doing this work anymore.” In reality, selling fish is no different than selling anything else. It entails hard labor. It demands patience, persistence and careful marketing.  “When the police beat us and throw away our fish, people gather in masses to look at us,” Posha says. “If the government had any compassion, they would see how wrong this is.”
A few meters away from the Amira Kadal Bridge, a man sits before a sweet shop with a basketful of fish. People stop by every minute; he greets them smilingly and tells almost every customer that he has lowered his prices especially for them. Rahman, a bus driver, can work for long hours and on some days he sells his father’s fish to boost sales. “This is a business,” he says. “We get our fish ourselves and then we take a profit of Rs 15 or 20 on each fish. We make almost Rs 3000 a month and our household runs well.”
Unlike the fisherwomen who struggle to sell their fish on the Amira Kadal Bridge, in Mahraj Bazar, Rahmaan is left untouched by policemen, by the heat and the mortification. He is happy and content with his sales.
(Zarka Shabir is an Izhar Wani internee in GK)

Lastupdate on : Thu, 18 Jul 2013 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Thu, 18 Jul 2013 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Fri, 19 Jul 2013 00:00:00 IST




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