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Photo essay on disabled women captures a rarely seen side of the Kashmir conflict

September 24, 2018

The violence and unrest in Kashmir has led to a growing number of people suffering disabilities. A recent study by IndiaSpend, the data-driven public interest news website says the number of people left disabled between 2015 to 2017 is as high as 74%.

It's a facet of the conflict that rarely gets highlighted. And the stories of women left disabled even less so. Which makes journalist Aliya Bashir's photo essay a brave and remarkable account.

Through her photo stories for the renowned international news website Global Press Journal, Bashir follows the daily struggles of disabled women living in South Kashmir, a region most affected in the conflict.

In an interview to Global Press Journal, Bashir said she wanted to explore the angle that goes beyond the conflict.

I I believe that women suffer differently than men, and disabled women even more so because they are stigmatized and do not have access to public spaces. Due to this they have limited experiences, and also because they are considered useless. - Aliya Bashir, Journalist

The women featured are ordinary - daughters, wives and mothers - whose lives were forever altered because they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Like Ruby Jan, who lost vision in her right eye after she was hit in the face by stray pellets fired during a protest. She lives on the edge everyday because doctors have told her she will eventually go completely blind.

Or 25-year-old Shameema Akhter, left disabled due to severe abdominal and spinal injuries after being hit by a stray bullet fired by Indian soldiers during protests.

As she says in Bashir's account, she was simply walking home after visiting her parents.

"I had gone to visit my parents in the nearby paddy field," she says, as tears come to her eyes. "I didn't know it would be my last time to walk and live a normal life."

Bashir took enormous personal risks in traveling to South Kashmir for the story. Gunfights here are a part of daily life, but she was determined to go beyond the obvious news stories that get reported from this part of the world.

"The women I met were crying because they were facing difficulties from within their own families. It was crucial to being forth the hopelessness and trauma. "

That sense of despair and loneliness comes through powerfully in the black and white images. A deliberate choice, in Bashir's words, to capture the bleakness, "to show readers the vulnerability and highlight what they are going through".

The stories bring forth the lives of people left marginalized due to gender and disability, a side to the Kashmir conflict that is rarely seen or acknowledged. It has struck a chord with many calling it an "emotional and important piece".

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