Srinagar: A Muslim neighbourhood in South Kashmir’s Lewdora has come together and pledged to adopt four orphan Kashmiri Hindu siblings after their mother passed away on Saturday.
Forty-year-old Baby Kaul died exactly a year after her husband – a struggling contractor who passed away due to a debilitating disease related to diabetes.
Kaul left behind two girls aged 15 and 16 and two boys aged 15 and 7, with bare resources and only a roof over their heads.
She died just three months after the government provided her with an ad hoc job in a bank to help her support the family.
Last year, Kaul's husband died rather abruptly and it was then that the villagers pleaded with Sartaj Madni, a former MLA and uncle of J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti to find a job for the widow since the family had no other means of income.
The misery for the family did not end there though, as the mother too died a year later, leaving behind four underage children. The villagers then decided to take over the responsibility and share the family’s grief.
The story reaffirms the centuries-old bond that is shared by the Muslims and Hindus of Kashmir.
Hundreds poured in to participate in Kaul’s last rites, teenaged boys were seen fetching firewood and taking instructions from Hindu religious leaders over the phone on how to put the body on the pyre or tie a thread around the body. Others were seen ferrying their Hindu relatives and friends to see the cremation was in accordance with Hindu customs.
“This is similar to last year when the husband Maharaj Krishan died. A large number of people have come to mourn this time as well. The villagers, though, are anxious about the children. They have lost both their parents,” said Showkat Ahmad, the Kauls’ neighbour.
The villagers have collected four quintals of rice and pledged to crowd-fund the children’s education, household essentials.
“We are not rich but will ensure that they don't suffer. We will pool our money and fulfil their needs. This is our duty,” said Ahmad.
“When the father had passed away, we collected six quintals of rice and Rs 80,000. We opened two bank accounts in the girls’ names and deposited Rs 55,000 in it. We furnished their house with the rest. We are willing to do all of it again,” said Mohammad Yousuf, another of the family’s neighbour.
Of the four children, Meenakshi is the eldest. She is a school dropout, while her brother Sushil is in class 9. The other daughter Sapna is also in school, while the youngest is Rohit, who is in Class 3.
Rohit is yet to completely understand the tragedy. He goes out to play during the day and returns in the evening to lie down on Naseema’s lap, a sort of foster mother to the children.
“I have breastfed these children, along with my own. They call me mother,” she says, a statement backed by the children.
One of the village elders, Abdul Rashid says that just before the father died, he had told Rashid that the children were not to be sent outside Kashmir and were the village’s responsibility if something were to happen to him.
“We will ensure that the children live comfortably within what we can provide,” says Rashid.
The three elder siblings too share their father’s thoughts and have said that they don’t want to leave the village, despite their aunt insisting that they accompany here to Jagti camp in Jammu. Many migrant Kashmiri Hindu families who fled the valley during militancy stay at the camp. The government provides each family there with a monthly relief and ration.
Meanwhile, the aunt, Jigri, claims that she wants the children to stay with her as the villagers cannot take care of them for the rest of their lives.
“At most, the villagers can provide for a few months. For a better future and facilities, the children should come with me. If they don’t want to go to Jammu, let them come with me to Vessu (in Anantnag district near Srinagar). This way, they can continue to follow their Hindu culture and way of life,” said Jigri.