A woman's murder uncovers a generation's wound
On February 23, Hassan Turi, a young man from Kurram, posted something disturbing on Twitter.
“I would have not posted on social media but since Aurat March is approaching, I couldn’t stop myself from sharing,” he tweeted. “Today, I’ve lost my childhood friend cousin. Her own son killed her. She was in her late 30s and her son, who would be hardly 17 years, killed her.”
Someone had called from the village to give him the news. Hassan had heard of this kind of murder on TV but so close to home, it had a different kind of shock. The victim’s name was Narjis. She and Hassan had grown up together as their mothers were sisters and friends. As kids they had gone to the same school in their village of Bilyamin. Narjis was married off so early that Hassan barely remembers it.
After doing his intermediate in Parachinar, Hassan set off for Peshawar. This was 2007 when the fighting erupted in Kurram, then in Fata*. The Taliban cut off the road to Parachinar and people like Hassan were barely in touch with people back home. He only went for funerals, like when a village was burned down.
They could only go home via Afghanistan or by air. Old friends melted away.
In 2016 he went abroad to study and came back in 2019.
Hassan heard the news of the matricide from relatives. Narjis had warmed water for her son to take a bath that day. There is no electricity in the village, so no hot water. She had told him there was a taveez takht in it because everyone said he had gone mad so she was trying to counter the evil eye.
When she emerged from the washroom he shot her thrice.
Hassan believes that there are multiple factors behind this kind of violence.
He is talking about lower Kurram, where he says the Shia Turi clan is in minority but has landholdings. Hassan says that people would make fun of them for not being the fighting kind because they were more preoccupied with their farmland. Over the last decade, went the Turis of lower Kurram were targeted the Turis from upper Kurram would come to their aid. And so, the young men who grew up during this sectarian violence absorbed the message that they needed to able to fight to protect their homes. They couldn’t be cowards.
Stories of acts of bravery became legend. Look at him, he fought off the Taliban. This young man took the morcha… And so, violence was valorized.
But given all the killings, there was also something else happening under the surface.
In Hassan’s small village of barely 200 homes, there had been far too many psychiatric breakdowns. One cousin who went to study in Rawalpindi was alright until other boys from Fata arrived to also study. The young man then locked himself in his room convinced that they had come to kill him. His paranoia was only eased when a cousin who happened to be in the army came to get him.
Hassan tweeted that he felt that there was a mental health crisis for young people in the merged districts. There is no internet in his village. No electricity. The young men want to go and play cricket and football, he says, but the elders are terrified someone has left a bomb around or will attack them. What should we do, they say, if we can’t even play sports?
So a lot of them have started self-medicating. Valium is apparently popular. It helps them kill the time. One cousin was very young when the fighting started and was given the job of keeping watch all night long. But, according to Hassan, he was terrified. He went to a pharmacy and got some tablets which helped him cope, even made him feel happy. Then one day, he was with an uncle who looked very down, so he shared the tablets with him. The next day the uncle showed up asking for more.
Hassan scoffs at the inordinate focus on cracking down on hash or charas. That is not the real problem, he says. It is ice or crystal meth which has flooded the region at the hands of young men who have returned from the fighting in Syria.
Without the internet and jobs, these young men have to go to Peshawar and Islamabad if they want to make something of themselves. They can’t even do work-from-home, which is has opened up in the gig economy. But the price of living in the cities is that they can’t manage matters in the village. Hassan and others like him to have returned home want to be able to do something.
Narjis was killed in front of her little daughter and leaves behind another child, a six-month baby. Meanwhile, her son has been taken to Peshawar for a psychiatric checkup. According to Hassan, the father has a violent history himself and has said he won’t spare his son.
Hassan thought about tweeting about this news for a long time. He didn’t want Twitter sympathy. The news of the four women being killed in Waziristan, however, changed his mind. Aurat March is coming up. He said he felt guilty. He wanted to end the silence. He felt that they can’t just keep going quiet when this kind of thing happened in their villages. We should speak up, he said.
*Two years ago FATA’s seven tribal agencies and six frontier regions were merged with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa