Kashmir: Toiling in Ramadan, yet clueless about tomorrow (Letter from Kashmir)

September 12th, 2008 - 11:45 am ICT by IANS  

Haripora, Sep 12 (IANS) Ghulam Muhammad Magray, 42, is fasting during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan but still toiling away at his small, golden brown paddy field in this northern hamlet of Jammu and Kashmir.”The rice crop has been good this year. There were timely rains and plenty of irrigation in our area. I expect a bumper crop this season. Hopefully, it will last my family of six the full year,” Magray said while taking some time off from his work in the paddy field.

Like thousands of local peasants, Magray works round the year in his half-acre paddy field in Haripora in Ganderbal district, sowing, transplanting, manuring, irrigating, de-weeding and finally reaping his crop. His wife, Sara, 35, also helps him. In fact their four children, three sons and a daughter also lend a hand.

But like thousands of other peasants in the valley, they must also depend on the government ration depot to buy rations for at least six months each year.

“The yield has to be exceptional to last us a full year. Most of the time, our fields produce just enough to last us half the year,” Magray, clad in a shirt with a half-torn collar, said as he stopped reaping in his field for the day.

“I have to be home to break the day’s fast around 7 p.m.

“I start work these days at 10 a.m. and continue till 6.30 p.m. Yes, I take rest in between. It is tough doing physical labour when you are keeping a fast,” he smiled as he wiped sweat from his forehead.

Asked why he started harvesting a little late this year as his field looked all ripe and ready, he replied: “I had gone to attend the Hurriyat march at Eidgah. Then there was a curfew in the area. I couldn’t start early harvesting as my field is close to the highway where vehicles of the army and police keep passing daily.”

“Although nobody told me I could not go to harvest my field, I thought it prudent not to go out of the village during the curfew days,” he added, as he picked up his sickle and hung it on the back.

Like Magray, there are thousands of local peasants for whom peace is intrinsically linked with prosperity. And peace was certainly disrupted when land transfer to the Amarnath temple shrine board and its subsequent cancellation led to protests across Jammu and Kashmir two and a half months ago, resulting in the death of 50 people.

Prosperity for honest Kashmiri villagers means living happily among their families, being able to afford two square meals a day, sending their children to school and dividing their time between the field and as unskilled labour for a local contractor.

“I work as a labourer for nearly four months to arrange the money with which I buy rations from the government store,” Magray said.

He seems to be happy and offers thanks to Allah.

“I earn enough to live happily. My children go to a government school where education is free. I hope when they grow up they do not have to work as hard as I do. That is my dream,” he said.

But peace and stability is vital for the survival of this peasant.

“Peace is something which is non-negotiable. I am an illiterate Kashmiri, but I pity those running the affairs of the state.

“Why can’t there be a solution to Kashmir’s ills? Why must we live under the fear of violence today and tomorrow? India is a big country. It has great leaders. Why can’t they settle this dispute once and forever?

“Why does Kashmir erupt like smallpox every now and then?” he says with newfound energy that wasn’t visible a few minutes earlier.

The simple peasant’s questions demand answers, which even the best minds in India and Pakistan are perhaps still unable to provide.

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