Living on the edge: women in Danesh Rana’s ‘Red Maize’
Dr. Kavita Suri
In the past 26 years of armed conflict in Jammu and Kashmir, a number of contemporary fiction and non-fiction narratives have come out which reflect the trauma and the sufferings of the people impacted by the conflict in this beautiful Himalayan border State. Among such writings,
Red Maize is a novel by Danesh Rana, a senior IPS officer of J and K cadre who is presently working as Inspector General of Police (IGP), Jammu Zone. Having been a witness to the conflict for all these years, his book reflects the human cost of war especially its impact on the women of the war-ravaged region.
Set in a nondescript village of Morha Madana overlooking the Chenab River in erstwhile Doda District of Jammu province, the fiction reflects life when the arc of militancy got stretched to the peaceful districts of Jammu region including Doda, Poonch and Rajouri. The village of Morha Madana also witnesses increased movement of gun-toting militants in the hills. As these militants fight in the name of Azadi, the euphoria attracts some of the young boys from the villages in the folds of militancy which ultimately tears apart the lives of its villagers.
The protagonist of the fiction is a widow by the name Kausar Jan who has three sons – Khalid, Shakeel and Firdous. Lured by the gun and the slogans for Azadi which are now resonating the valleys along the Chenab River in Jammu province, Shakeel who is Kausar Jan’s second son, joins the ranks of a militant organisation thus becoming Morha Madana’s first Mujahid and later a dreaded area commander. Shakeel’s elder brother Khalid who does not associate himself with Azadi or its ideology, however is dragged into the conflict after he is repeatedly picked up by an army officer Major Rathore and his men and tortured just because his brother happens to be the most wanted terrorist in the region. As the events unfold, Shakeel is forced to pick up the gun and disappears. The youngest school going son Firdous becomes a policeman and is later killed by the police after labeling him a deserter who tried to escape from the force to join militant ranks. Red Maize is thus the story of Kausar Jan – a mother who is caught in the crossfire between the militants and the army; like the hundreds and thousands of women of the State. Like all mothers whose sons joined the ranks of militant organisations in the initial years of turmoil in Valley, Kausar Jan would also get worried initially but would console herself that everything would be fine. This is also a time when the Che Guveras of Azadi are welcomed by the mothers in Kashmiri households. The women welcome the Mujahids with open arms and shower candies on them and sing wedding songs known as ‘Wanwun’ in their honour, this trend is also seen in Doda District in the Red Maize.
“It was believed that the houses that received the knock of the Mujahids were chosen by Allah himself to host His sons. The women of these fortunate houses would break into Wanwun-the weddings songs-and the delectable aromas of spices and mutton would fill their kitchens.”
Initially, riding on the Azadi wave, mothers and sisters from Kashmir Valley sent their sons and brothers to seek Azadi and wage a Jihad in Jammu and Kashmir, but the euphoria died down slowly which has also been reflected in the novel. “It is fassad, it is not Jihad”, …the people of Morrha Madana also realise that this is not getting them anything. Their peaceful lives have been torn apart and the honour of their daughters and sisters is also not safe.”
There are some other characters too in the plot. Gul Mohammad, the village headman who had lusted Kauser Jan when she became a young widow, is a double agent working both for the army and the militants. His house is being used by the militants to take refuge. Besides food and shelter, they also demand their daughters and sisters too to satiate their sexual urge. In these past years of conflict in J and K, there have been such countless stories wherein the militants, on gunpoint, demanded their daughters from parents and the poor parents could do nothing but watch the honour of their daughters being ripped apart. Red Maize also reflects this reality. For instance, the author writes:
“…Gul Mohammad had become close confident of the Tanzeem. His older daughter Hasina was a young woman of immense beauty. Unfortunately, she caught the prurient eye of a Mujahid. Gul Mohammad was shattered man on the day that a gun was placed on his heart and he helplessly watched his sobbing girl being led to an adjoining room. After a few hours when she emerged from the room the shame of the misdeed glazed her eye. Soon the house was famed not only for its hospitality, but also for Hasina. This left a deep impression on the young girl’s mind. Her soul became subservient to her body. Each time there was a knock on the door, she would start to shiver and look for the place to hide. However, she could not run away from the reality when the guns were pointed at her parents”.
(To be continued)