Tuesday, November 25, 2014

#16DaysDiary: Siah's Story

Image from here
On February 24, 1991, Siah had just turned fourteen. She never knew of a tradition where birthdays were ushered in with a wish at midnight – in her little village, Kunan, even being aware of their birthdates were a rarity. Siah’s mother, though, had hers etched in her memory – simply because the only daughter of the family was born. On the cold night, Siah did not for a moment think that her birthday would be pockmarked with scars of painful memories. Siah's name has been changed and photograph withheld in order to protect her identity.

 I don’t know about this, really. I want to put it behind me, I want closure. But what closure can you get if justice eludes you? No one listens to our story, no one believes us – the government has even gone so far to say that nothing of this sort even happened.

Today, we are ostracized at every level. There is no justice for us, people ascribe us with a stigma – my sisters and I cannot get married. When we dare so much to go to school – or even our children – the ones born out of the rape – go to school, the stigma we face makes us want to be invisible. So many times, I’ve only wanted the earth below me to open up and swallow me whole.

That night, my mother, father, two brothers and I were ready to turn in. Ours was a simple life. My father and brothers would work in the fields through the day. Sometimes, my mother and I would help them, but most other times, we kept house. One of my brothers was due to get married soon – and we had planned all that we wanted to do in the coming weeks, that night. It must have been somewhere before midnight – I don’t know – when we heard a commotion outside. Within moments, the army had entered our house and dragged my brothers and father out. We didn’t know where the men of our family were taken – later, we learned that they were taken into custody. In the mean time, two men entered our house and dragged my mother and me by our hair. We were smashed against the wall, and disrobed – and …. and raped, over and over and over again. I don’t know how many times, I don’t know by how many people. I was kicked many times, my hands were pinned tight. My wrists hurt as I tried to struggle. Between hearing my mother’s screams and their aggressive verbal abuse, I died many times that night.

In the days after, when my mother walked her descent slowly, I heard her cry out in agony, and yet worry for me. I will never forget her wails – it haunts me every night as I try to sleep, even today, twenty-three years after the incident. I sometimes wonder how things might have been, had we not faced this. Maybe my brother would have gotten married to that girl – and she herself wouldn’t have been raped brutally. Maybe my parents would still be alive, playing with our children. Maybe I would have gotten married, I don’t know.

Our lives are mostly full of maybes. It has always been.

I was raped and beaten, kicked and raped so many times that night, all the way until the sun rose. Over the next few days, the Army men barricaded our villages – they didn’t let us get help medically, they refused to even let us think of justice. Much later, there was one government official, SM Yasin, who visited our village, and even reported all that we had told him, to the erstwhile civil administrator of Kashmir. An FIR, or a First Information Report, as they call it, was filed immediately after. Following that, an investigation took place, culminating in the order that the arrest and identification of the culprits had to be done.

 What followed that were a series of cover-ups, denials and absolute disregard for anything that we went through. Most higher ups in the administrative and political hierarchy ignored us, and even went so far to denounce what happened to us as a hoax.   

A lot of efforts have been made to seek justice. The government of India has tried to shut us up, and even rejected allegations against its army – but here’s the irony. The former Director General of the paramilitary Border Security Force himself said that he has no doubt about the involvement of the Indian security personnel. 

What can we hope for if this is the wall we are up against? What we do believe in, now, is ourselves, and our power of survival. We’ve faced the worst, and we’ve lived in the twenty-three years after. We have been denied a shot at life. We went to school, we went out on the streets, we tried talking to people, but as though we were the criminals, everyone threw us out of their lives because we bore the stigma of a crime they all helped happen with their silence. Let it take as much time as it will. But we will fight for it.