A Poem for Every Handwara Girl

Poster in JNU (16 December, 2013. A year after Nirbhaya’s gang rape. Image Copyright: Niyati Bhat)


In the state of Kashmir

You are the estate of Kashmir.

Stand still, woman.

They know how to deal with you.

There isn’t much you need to do

Cover your head

Do not use that tone

Invest hours in the kitchen

Try, try not to be visible.


Why should you defy the norms?

Your parents support you.

The police protects you.

The media voices your opinions!

The hounds of the human rights watch pet you

Or so they all say.


Are you even a person, Handwara girl?

No, you are not.

Lalla was not a saint while she lived.

You are an instrument.

Your testimony will first discredit the opponents

Afterwards, they will discredit you.


Why should they believe you anyway?

Look at Lal Ded, the peasant woman

who knew too much for her own good.

Legend says, they mocked her for disrobing herself

They did not listen to her vakhs

while she lived to sing them!

Only the echo of their high headed insults

as they chased her down the streets

until she couldn’t run anymore.

Lal Ded, she jumped into the baker’s tandoor

‘emerged as a clothed fairy’, they say.

They want you to read and learn, yes.

But not live.

Speak your mind

when you are six feet under.

Then be reborn, fully clothed- without opinions.


Don’t teach them how to live, Lalla

They were dead before spring.

They cannot hear you anymore, Habba Khatoon

It would take a Nirbhaya’s death to rattle those cages.


But, please, do not jump into the tandoor,

Handwara girl.

Speak only as you can.

Those of us who know

the language of pain and fear,

will understand.


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