The woman must have been 80 years old. She was wearing a white salwar kameez. Her head was covered with a thin white dupatta. Her face was full of wrinkles, her back slightly stooped. I was sitting in a corner near the window in Inamul bhai´s office at the Darya Khan Gumbad relief camp. Noorjahan was standing next to me leaning on a broken table. Outside Uzma was announcing on the mike.
I was talking to Noorjahan in a low voice when the old woman entered the office, came up to me and asked Are you giving money to the widows here? Before I could reply Noorjahan told her that sewing machines were being distributed outside, she should go there and try her luck.
It took me a few minutes before I put my camera and the recorder in my bag. I rushed out after her. Darya Khan Gumbad relief camp is in a school building and a few tents and at that time there were about 6000 victims in the camp. I had to make my way into the crowd which
had gathered in the tent outside to collect the machines and the handcarts. Pushing my way through women and hundreds of children I kept on searching for the old woman for over 20 minutes but that woman was nowhere to be seen. I came back to the office tears were rolling down my cheeks. Noorjahan was shocked to see me in that state. This was my fifth meeting with her and she had seen me spending time with the victims and making them laugh and even if for a few moments make them forget their grief.
Noorjahan could not understand why I was so upset. I don´t know why I have started breaking down so often.
But that should not bother the civil society.
The old woman was a nameless, faceless woman. A widow with just one set of clothes and a rag to sleep on. The woman who has perhaps lost all her family, her sons, her daughters, perhaps her daughters were also gang raped and burnt alive like hundreds of other women. Her house was also looted and raised to the ground perhaps. Perhaps she used to help other poor people around her a few months ago. Today she was almost begging for money from a total stranger.
Imagine it did not happen somewhere else in a distant land.
Imagine VHP is about to knock at your door next.
Imagine RSS is about to do a Gujarat in your city.
Imagine she is not a faceless and nameless old woman.
Imagine she is your own mother.
Will you shed a tear before its too late?
Shabnam Hashmi, New Delhi June 20, 2002