Field Notes: ‘It Felt Like I Was Alia From Darlings’


On a hot summer night, I sat with a cup of tea, speaking with Arshie Qureshi about the women’s collective she and two other Kashmiri women had founded to help survivors of domestic violence in Kashmir.  One of the first things I learnt while reporting their work was that they had called it Mehram, meaning ‘close friend’, because survivors of abuse in Kashmir have so little support from their families or the government. 

It was 10 at night. We had spoken for an hour about a 62-year-old woman whose husband had turned her out after she returned late from a wedding. I had enough for my story, but neither wanted to put the phone down.

I could feel the familiar pangs of anger and frustration that bubbled to the surface whenever I heard a tale of a battered Kashmiri woman. I sighed. She sighed. We both sighed at the exhaustion of hearing these stories that never seemed to end. 

Growing up in Kashmir, I watched my mother eat later than us because it was her duty to feed her husband and children first. My mother’s sister was taunted by her partner because of her choice to pursue her job and employ a domestic worker to take care of the household chores. My sister was assaulted by her partner. 

As Arshie and I bonded over these familiar yet devastating stories of domestic violence that made us question the institution of marriage, she asked, “Have you watched Darlings?”

This movie about domestic violence, released in August on Netflix, spurred many conversations about the abuse Kashmiri women silently endure in their homes. 

“I couldn’t watch it all the way,” I told Arshie. “I kept asking my friend to forward the scenes of abuse.”

We sat in silence for a while; I forgot that I was a journalist interviewing her for a story, and she seemed to forget that she was being interviewed for one. We were two Kashmiri women, imagining a sea of bruised faces and puffed eyes of the abused women we had encountered or heard about all our lives while remembering their grit and deep loneliness in the face of adversity. 

“You know, it always starts with something small,” Arshie said suddenly, referring to the comparisons men make between working married women and homemakers, and women who can make “delicious” homecooked food and those who can’t. “It starts with practices like these, where they’re not held accountable.” 

Listening to her, while staring at the words I had scribbled in my journal—“domestic abuse”—I blinked back tears and realised that domestic violence is a slow-cooked dish. 

“I know you’re doing your bit to hold them accountable,” I told Arshie. 

She said, “I hope so.” 

A month later, I met Syed Uzma, a journalism student who had volunteered at Mehram for a year, in the worst days of the Covid-19 pandemic when domestic violence rose. 

While speaking of her time there, Uzma said, “They’ve taught me so much about holding my family and the space we share in my house accountable. When I hear the survivors’ stories, it’s like hearing my own.”

After the interview, I reached out to my sister and asked her how she found the movie.

“Chilling,” she said over the call. “I felt like I was Alia.”

You can read Hameeda Syed’s full story here

Also read:

Write a comment ...