Pampore: Like a pre-supper prayer, a glare at a picture everyday has become routine for 15-year-old Aqib Lateef of Pampore. Though the beckoning picture gives him a moment of joy, but it stirs a wave of dismay as it explains an unfortunate reality that he lives with.
A person in the picture smiles at Aqib, each time he looks at it – a smile of affection, responsibility and love, but confined to just a frame.
The picture is of Mohammad Lateef, father of Aqib, a truck driver, lynched to death by a violent mob at Jammu in 2008 during the Amarnath land row agitation.
Every day, Aqib fixates his eyes on the picture and sees his father posing with a benevolent smile, it spurs a responsive smile by Aqib. But it also shakes up a gloomy reality of life he is learning to live with.
He issues daily rosters for the family to act upon, starting with diktats to motivate his elder sisters for reciting the Holy Quran. “If we don’t follow his orders,” says one of his elder sisters, “he gets upset and stops talking to us for days.”
The elders in the house have created an atmosphere to make Aqib believe that he is in charge at the house and he can manage things as his father did.
Aqib’s mother Hameda, 30, with a stoic look listens to her children reciting Quran from the hallway. She sometimes repeats the verses with her three children. “I would recite this page before you,” Aqib says to his elder sisters as they sit together in a huddle. Two sisters adore their only brother so much that they never oppose him on any matter.
After an hour of recitation, Aqib puts the Quran on the shelf and rubs his tender hands onto his face. “Rubbing hands over the face after reciting Allah’s words give strength and keep me away from sins,” he says.
Like his father, he returns to his mother in the kitchen to ask for money to buy groceries. “She doesn’t have money,” Aqib tells me later. “I know that. We are very poor. No one in our family earns.”
That day Aqib brought 1 kg of cabbage and a few onions. When a shopkeeper asked for money, he pledged to pay him later that month. “I don’t know how I would pay him,” he says, “but Allah shall help me to pay his debt.”
Aqib is one among the thousands of unfortunate children in Kashmir who have lost their parents at a very tender age to conflict. During the year in which his father died, more than sixty people lost their lives in protests against illegal transfer of land to the Amarnath Shrine Board by the then government. Aqib’s father was not a part of these protests; he was out of valley to earn a living. He, infact, became a victim of the violence that escalated in Jammu after the government revoked the land transfer order.
He was killed and his children orphaned. A study in 2009 by UK-based child rights organization, Save the Children, has revealed that estimated population of orphans in Jammu and Kashmir is 2.14 lakh and 37 percent of them were orphaned due to the armed conflict.
The responsibility to take care of lakhs of children like Aqib was the duty of the orphanages and the society; however, both seem to shy away from their responsibility. According to a survey done recently, orphanages in JK are a 120 crore business, but only a few fortunate children benefit from them.
Aqib’s family, though, survives on the small donations from the local mosques and neighbours. “Once we survived on only tea for many days until our relatives came to know about it. They brought us food. A friend of my father has donated the house we live in,” he reveals.
Aqib studies in class eight and likes science and mathematics. “School authorities, after learning that we have become orphans, stopped asking for fee. Principal is good man, and he calls me at school to ask if I need anything.”
He dreams of becoming a doctor one day; his sisters would spend two hours every day to help him study so that he can pursue the dream. “He likes science,” says his sister. “He always talks about the human body and knows a lot about the different organs and their working.”
“He tells me that heart is on left side, it pumps blood and he also knows a lot about kidney, lungs, spine, intestines and bones. He points his fingers to show the organs on his own body,” the proud sister adds.
Children love to watch cartoon shows on TV but Aqib has no desire for that. He says he sometimes watches discovery channel at a neighbour’s house. “They show everything that I read in books. One day I would buy a television,” he says ardently.
His mother has a lot of hope in her son, she sees a doctor in him. “Aqib will treat patients one day in his own clinic and will earn lots of money. He has to earn a lot of money to get his sisters married,” she says.