Field Notes: Amid Poverty, Kindness, Resilience & Despair 


In November last year, a protest organized by contingent paid workers (CPWs) in Kashmir included sweepers, guards, and cooks working in government schools, who demanded minimum wage and regular employment. 

In the protest in Bandipora, elderly Nisara Begum stood out.

After hearing her life story—she had earned Rs 25 a month working as a sweeper and was the sole provider for her daughter with a mental disorder—it was difficult to sleep at night. 

Our hearts sank when we visited her village in May and saw her dilapidated house. The structure was old and in disrepair. It belonged to her brother, but he had moved to another home, leaving it to Nisara and her 32-year-old daughter.  

Calling out her name, we received no response.

From across the street, a concerned family emerged and asked why we were inquiring about Nisara. 

When we explained that we wanted to interview her for a story, they told us that she left early in the morning for the government school where she worked as a sweeper.

Abdul Aziz, a member of the neighbouring household, shared a heartbreaking story with us: Nisara, whose husband had left her many years ago and whose son had died of a cardiac arrest two years ago, had no choice but to leave her daughter in the care of her neighbours when she went to work. 

Concerned about Nisara’s daughter's safety and well-being, Aziz, an elderly man, offered to watch her. His family members took turns monitoring and caring for her. 

Suddenly, Nisara appeared, clutching a single slice of bread for her daughter. 

Spotting us, she halted in her tracks, unsure of who we were. 

Her face lit up when we told her we wanted to interview her—years of struggle had made her want to share her pain. She embraced us tightly, tears flowing.

Nisara shared her story, her eyes expressing an ache that words could not. 

Despite her invitation to visit her home for tea, we declined, requesting her presence at the school where she worked. Without hesitation, she agreed. As we rode in the car, she poured out her heart, recounting her hardships. 

We listened intently, recognising that this was the only solace we could offer even though it would not change her circumstances. 

When we arrived at the school, Mehmoona, a cook, told us that Nisara's memory was gradually fading under the strain of unrelenting financial hardship. 

Despite the efforts of the teachers to provide her with some monetary support, Nisara's condition continued to deteriorate, making it more difficult for her to take care of her daughter. 

When students left garbage outside the classroom, a teacher asked them why they were making a mess after Nisara had finished cleaning. Even though she looked sad, Nisara calmly told the teacher not to scold the children. 

"I'm here for them. I'll clean it again,” she said.

As we prepared to leave the school, Nisara, with tears streaming down her face, pleaded to let her and her daughter come along. 

“I don't want to stay here anymore,” she said. “We want to go with you.”

You can read Sajid Raina and Seerat Basheer’s full story here

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