Times have changed, but not her necessity to work. For seven decades she has been a part of Amira Kadal, struggling to make an earning and a decent place to work.
It’s a spring morning. A group of around a dozen fisherwomen have lined up on the Amira Kadal bridge–calling out customers in their shrill voices. Some of them are waiting, some selling and others busy bargaining price. Donning a Pheran, and some traditional jewellery –she is one of them. This bridge on Jhelum is a part of her life and she, of its history. Among the group, she clearly looks the oldest. Her wrinkled face, grey hair and decaying teeth don’t decline to convey that she is 70 something. She is a fisherwoman and her name is Jigri. Age has fetched her a honorific title: Jigar Maas (meaning Jigri Auntie). A mother of six, every morning this old woman, leaves her home at Habak on the City outskirts and travels to the City centre of the summer capital to sell the fish her husband caught at night. Jigar Mass stays on the bridge till sunset trying to exhaust her lot. This has been her routine since she was a child. “I started coming here with my mother around 70 years when I was a kid and have been coming here since,” she recaps.
Jigri and her husband are only bread earners for the family. Of her six children, two of them daughters, only one could get married. But she got divorced and came back. The entire family lives in a shanty hutment on the Dal lake banks. Managing life in poverty has become routine for the family. “We are extremely poor people. I earn mere Rs 100-150 a day. How difficult it must be for me to manage running my entire family on this meagre amount?” she asks while bargaining with a customer.
Though, catching and selling fish is what sustains this family of eight; none of her children have taken up the parental profession. “My children are not interested in this business,” she says. “Some of them are 10th pass but none could get a job.”
Jigri has seen the changing face of Amira Kadal. Even tough the area became a volatile hub in ‘90s when almost everyday there would be cross-firing in the marketplace resulting in causalities, the fisherwoman braves to come and earn there. But then a line of fear crosses her wrinkled face as she sees policemen walking the bridge. The old woman complains of ill treatment by the cops. “Every time something goes wrong in this area, we are unnecessarily beaten up by the police and we have to run leaving our belongings behind.” She questions this behaviour. “My work is what keeps my family alive. Why should we be forced to leave the place of work?” she asks. Gigji has another complaint. “We get no help from the government.” She says the government should look into the plight of some 250 families besides her own, who live at the fishermen colony at Habak. “Our life has never been better... The government should do something for us… Provide us with some fish market so that we have a decent place to work and nobody removes us from there.”
Though illiterate and away from political developments, she recalls names of the chief ministers at her finger tips. And one of them she says had been of some help. Referring to Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, she said: “Sheikh sahib tried to rehabilitated us but nobody after him remembered us.” She has a complaint with the society as well.
“We are not respected by the society. We’ve done our job ceaselessly through all these years but still, our entire community is looked down upon,” she says.
For the rest she says: “Everything has changed.”
“The crowd on the road has increased and now there is more traffic on the roads. The entire place seems to be in a rush.”
But as she works, the rest of the family is at home. During daytime, her husband takes rest. “My husband is old. He spends his entire day home.”
But by the time Jigri reaches home after day’s toil, its time for the husband to leave for work, to catch fish in the Dal lake till sunrise when he hands over the catch to Jigri and she leaves for work. This has been her life. A routine for 70 years!