Syed Nazakat / Sultan Dhaki, India-Pakistan border
Irfan, 6, wants to become a police officer. Anees, 9, wants to become an engineer. Nusrat, 5, wants to become a teacher. Mehmooda, 10, wants to become a pilot. But their elder sister, Ulfat, 15, knows that if they all really have to go back to school and accomplish their career goals, they need something more than just ambition and hope.
“We lost both parents in the earthquake. Now who will give us money for books and bags? And who will bear our school fees,” asks Ulfat, a 9th class student. “But we do whatever we can to continue our studies and of course to keep our parents name alive”.
Ulfat was orphaned along with her three sisters and six brothers when their parents, father Abdul Rashid Mir, 42, and mother Nazim Jan 37, were killed by the killer earthquake.
“My mum and dad were the best parents in the world,” says Ulfat while holding her little brother Yasir in her lap. “I don’t know how do we live without them”.
The loss of parents meant that Mohamed Kabir, 21, the eldest son, has to take care of a family of ten children. He works as an adhoc teacher and draws Rs 1500 in a month. The gloomy faced orphans are too dazed to think about the future but Ulfat says that she will do anything to send her younger brother and sisters to school.
“My father was very concerned about our education. Despite being very poor my father sent all of us to school. I will do everything to accomplish their dream”, says Ulfat.
“But how”? I asked? She smiled and then replied “I don’t know. But I will”.
There is a sprit of hope and resilience in her beautiful black eyes.
The family from Sultan Dhaki, one of the worst hit villages of border town Uri where fifty people died in the quake, was busy in their day-to-day work when the earthquake hit the region. Rashid and Nazim Jan had sipped salt tea and had eaten wheat chapattis with their children in their room that morning when the earthquake hit. Nazima was washing utensils outside her home when the earth shook. The whole house fell on her and her body was recovered from the debris only after ten hours. Rashid had gone to jungle to fetch wood and do farming. His body is still missing.
Little Irfan was with his father that cursed day. He had insisted that he wanted to go to the forests with his father. Irfan cannot remember what happened that morning. All that he remembers is that he was with his father, he heard the unforgettable noise of the earthquake when he turned to look back, his father was gone, swallowed by the earth as if some scene from mythology was being cruelly replayed.
He was still weeping when villagers found him atop the hill. “It is not less than a miracle that this small kid is alive today. We found him just a few metres away from the avalanche area which had engulfed his father, says a neighbour, He was weeping, crying. If Irfan had been any closer to his father he would have been buried alive under debris.
Irfan has no idea that his father is dead.
As we tried to ask him what happened that morning, he left his cricket bat on ground and asked us a very perturbing question instead. “When will my father return?”
His father had promised him to buy a new school bag for him. His elder sister Ulfat, who sits beside him, says that he asks the same question to everybody who comes to their house.
During the day, Rukhta, 19, who has never been to school, and Ulfat anyhow manage to keep their little brothers and sisters busy. But at night it is very hard for them to console the children.
“We all miss our mummy and daddy but to calm down Irfan and Yasir is very difficult. In the middle of the night they wake up and start searching for mom”, says Rukhta. Last night, Yasir was weeping whole night, looking for mom. “We didn’t get even a wink of sleep last night,” says Rukhta.
But the elder sisters will have to face another dilemma when their other younger brother, Zaheer,13, will return on Eid day from UP where he is studying Islamic studies at Darul-Aloom Deoband.
“We have not told him yet about the death of mummy and daddy. You know he is very far away from home, how come he bears this news, Ulfat says. “We just want to ensure that he continues his studies and fulfill his parents dream”.
Their father, Abdul Rashid, was a farmer. He used to earn Rs 50 â€” Rs 100 a day and with that little money he and his family had been living modestly in the small wooden shack.
Life was not lavish but they were happy, till the fateful day of October 8.
After the death of their parents, there was nobody around in their village at Sultan Daki to take care of them. Their house was flattened and their cattle â€” two cows and sheep were buried alive under debris. Finally they travelled to Salamabad to live with their uncle and aunt, who too have lost their home in the quake.
Now, fifteen of them live, in 12 feet long and 14 feet wide canvas tent, which is open at the two ends. Wearing a red-coloured jacket, six year-old Irfan sits upfront to their shack. Her aunt is burning a mixture of sewage waste, plastic bottles and wood, the only fuel she has to face in the freezing winter cold. Irfan rubs smoke from his eyes. The collapsed remains of their house are behind them. At sunset Irfan and her brother and sisters huddle under blankets, relying on each others body warmth.
In another quake-hit village, in Churunda, three-year old Ishtiyaq is sitting with her ailing grandmother Rasham Bee. His mother Akhtar Bee, brothers – Mushtaq, 4, and Imtiyaz, 2- died in the quake.
“He is so frightened and traumatized that he weeps even if somebody speaks loudly”, say his father Lal Din. “I am very worried about him. I don’t think he will grow up as a normal child”.
Surrounded by siblings and many children of the village who lost their parents in the quake, Ishtiyaq’s future, like over 3000-orphaned children who lost their parents in the quake in J&K, seems doomed to face a life lot of traumas and hardship.
Though Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has approved a scheme ‘Naunihalon Ka Naya Severa’ under which an amount of Rs. 5 lakh will be placed in a fixed deposit in the name of the orphaned child and the interest accrued on this amount utilized for supporting the child until he or she reaches the age of 18 years, Ulfat likes many other orphaned have no clue about that.
“Nobody told us about that (PM’s scheme). Even our brother went to Salamabad where everybody was getting blankets and other things but they refused to give my brother anything saying that our name is not mentioned in the list”, Ulfat complains. These orphan children have not even received the amount of Rs 40, 000 which government has promised.
On a broken bench inside the dark tent lies a blue school exercise book, filled with diagrams of circles and angles. “Nusrat does well at school, coming in the top six for her grade”, says Ulfat.
But as schools have closed for the long winter vocation it is the time for Irfan, Anies, and their sister Nusrat to play with their little brother Yasir. In their extended family room, 2-year-old Yasir is playing with his brothers and cousins. He almost walks out of the room but is pulled back.
He was sick and frightened by the sounds. But now he can eat, sleep well and play with other children, says Ulfat, as she pulls the wriggling boy, dressed in brown colour pheran. “I will make him doctor one day; you just pray to God that He helps me in my endeavour”.
How can God not listen?
(Sahara Time, January 7, 2006)