Her name is Asma. She is a 16-year old beautiful and shy girl. Beauty and shyness was inherent to her but it was recently that she had to strangulate her childhood with the robe of decency. She is expected to be chaste, modest, religious and what not! She is a "martyr's" sister now.
It was July or August (she remembers the time) when her brother left for Friday Prayers. By afternoon he was back, but on shoulders. Habitually Asma came out to welcome her brother, but had to change her emotions and expressions. Smile changed into tears, salaam into cries and hug into chest beating. Not just a hug, she got slogans and shouts and cries, in return, not from her brother but from his friends and relatives and neighbours. "For what crime was my brother given death penalty?" Weeping and crying, she asked every soul who visited her. Nobody could tell her what her brother did except for one day, when an angry lady on TV told her what her brother did not do (bring toffee and milk)!
Her last night was very long for it was awful. She wept for quite a long time. Of course, she misses her brother but last night's reason was different – pheran! Looking at her pheran she wept and wept. Yesterday, a friend visited her to invite her for her brother's wedding. As her friend left, there was a pain in her heart. The pain of missing her brother is definitely undying but this pain had a different reason, pheran. The condition of her two-year-old pheran is not good enough for the marriage ceremony. Last winter, she got an extra dress and a sweater and a promise of a new pheran from her brother. That bullet not only snatched her brother but also the hope and the promise of pheran. Retired due to age and frailty, her father had to look for work again (carpentry, if you wonder). With a diabetic wife and school going son and daughter, and a "caring society" around, he can't afford to sit home and let them starve. And, I believe that Asma is sensible enough that she won't ask her father for a new pheran.
There used to be huge gatherings in their courtyard, for many days, after that bullet "hit" them. Angry "patriotic" young lads could be seen sloganeering, crying and cursing the oppressors and traitors. Asma was made to believe that losing one brother gave her hundreds in return. Every other youth would proudly and pompously call her "sister". Since yesterday, whenever she looks at her pheran she, in the heart of hearts, calls those brothers. Not expecting jewellery or a wristwatch or the mobile phone her brother had promised her for next Eid but asking herself again and again, "Can't so many brothers afford a new pheran for me." Aaliya, Mehwish and Afifa, everyone got a full set of winter clothes, and she craves for just a pheran! She never demanded anything from her brother but he would always understand her needs and delights. She doesn't know any shopkeepers, because she never had to! But, now she has to face this brutal place, the market, all by herself. "Never forget your martyrs and heroes. They are our real wealth", the local Moulvi Sahab persisted on this sentence in many Fridays sermons. Now he doesn't mention her brother's name any more. Has even the Moulvi Sahab forgotten him? Her brother was declared a "hero" and she, a "hero's sister". Doesn't a hero's sister deserve a new pheran? Or should those, who declared her so, be declared missing?
Whenever anyone visits her, she hides a portion of her pheran, the portion with a hole. Is it just a hole, a gap between the threads of the fabric? Or a hole in our consciousness, a hole in our charming speeches, a hole in our so-called resolve, a hole in our determination, or something else? Or all the hardships we faced or our sacrifices got lost in this hole?
She was advised not to mourn her brother, because he "sacrificed" his life for the "nation". Hearing this relieved her pain. But the "strange nature" of this nation has given her an everlasting sting. A nation, where you are supposed to "die for the nation" but the nation is free of any duties. We are either used to dead bodies or our memory and consciousness lack sharpness, otherwise such quick forgetfulness is not possible. The nation that can't take care of its martyrs does not deserve them!
This summer, some achieved "moral victory" and others "normalcy". Search her house and you will neither find any signs of "moral victory" or "normalcy" or a "scooty" or for that matter any "milk or toffee". What you will find are some godforsaken humans meant to fight and suffer till eternity?
We may never return her brother but we can buy her a pheran, at least. Could we?
The author is a 1st Semester student at the Department of Political Science, University of Kashmir.