Turmoil in Kashmir and human rights violation has set a tragic correlation between women’s increased participation in workforce and absence of male bread winners
For decades Kashmir has been embroiled in a fulminating manifestation of a turmoil that has been like a simmering cauldron since 1947. The Kashmir issue is gangling and growing vehement on each passing day and taking a massive toll on human lives. Women amidst the pandemonium have been equal recipients in pain, agony and torment.
While on one hand women have become more discernable in a society with deep patriarchal roots, on the other hand they have pivot of sustained and valuable documentation in social or print media and academia.
There have been desperate and audacious attempts to study and highlight the intricate issues of victimhood and deceit in the name of empowerment mostly imposed by the prevailing circumstances; however the overall panorama has been fugacious.
It becomes important to make coherent efforts towards garnering a consolidated view about the emergence of Kashmiri womenfolk, their unique history and wretchedness inflicted on them and the recoil and elasticity with which they emerged and set an epitome and quintessence for the better- half in other turmoil hit areas of the world.
The healing touch policy towards the Kashmiri women by the government is lonesome and shadowy due to the gruesome political violence that engulfs the Valley every now and then. The frowning political scenarios prevalent in Kashmir add salt to the wounds and tot-up their agony exponentially.
Women in Kashmir have always been an active component of the society. Much of their growth in social and educational arena has seen a steady increase in last few decades in spite of deep rooted patriarchal norms of the society.
Barring the elite and clergy classes where womenfolk lived an orthodox and sheltered life, common Kashmiri women from middle class and lower strata’s have always been a part of bustling social and economic scenario.
Famous Kashmiri shawls pashmina and shahtoosh etc. are a legacy of Kashmiri women. This craft is perused within the confines of their homes, in tandem with predisposed to house and children mostly confined within the premises chiefly due to unpredictable conditions outside.
There are well-stocked eulogies in Kashmiri literature and folklore about the unique contribution of Kashmiri tradeswomen, tributes to their pristine beauty, wit, wisdom and industriousness. Rural women have always been counted as sturdy workers, tending farms, cultivating rice and dominant participants in the dairy farming.
In the aftermath of partition and political strife in Kashmir, there were quite a few women visible in the political welkin, mostly by the token of their family affiliations.
The wit, wisdom and competence of Kashmiri women is undoubtly great and has been proved by them in the male dominated arenas of art and literature, law and journalism, administration and entrepreneurship with steady increase with travails and setbacks regurgitated by oppressive regime.
Recent years have witnessed and exponential increase of womenfolk in male dominated fields from psychiatry to jet pilots bold enough to face the oppressive cudgels and batons of social barricades.
My few school mates taking psychiatry as their field of specialisation after MBBS made history to be first female psychiatrists of the valley to well-known social activist ParveenaAhanger indicating that strongly oppressed better-half who was very often treated as a bitter-half is breaking patriarchal cocoons and oppressive regime inflicted restrictions enjoying a rapid metamorphosis. The catalytic effects of the raging conflict on the lives of women can’t be negated.
Conflict can push women into the public sphere, nudging them to carve out a space for themselves which mostly is crowded by people with oppressive and patriarchal mindset.
Turmoil in Kashmir and human rights violation has set a tragic correlation between women’s increased participation in workforce (from white-collar jobs to rag-tag vocations) and absence of male bread winners (who were guillotined by the ongoing turmoil) forcing them into finding financial sustenance and other responsibilities which were left vacant in their small close knit society.
Gender bias and forced empowerment
Needless to say that Kashmiri women have been active components of their society; however the ongoing conflict catalysed the female infiltration into the social and economic mainstream.
The segue of women from conflict ridden environment to jobs and educational opportunities is not just a proverbial means for achieving gender development, but it is often an issue of survival. Many women have been forced into the forefront by the dire insecurity they live in and are boldly facing the challenge of academic inflation.
The unpredictability that prevails over their societies, homes and lives as a result of turmoil is gut-wrenching. They don’t have the luxury of mothers, wives and daughters living in free nations over the globe to worry only about mundane things but they also have to tackle issues of life and death, day in and day out.
Bullet and pellet ridden bodies of children in teens drenched in blood, nursing of elders whose sufferings worsened due to chemicals spread in air by PAVA and teargas shells hurdled by forces as first level of weapons used to disperse peaceful protests.
Their spectrum of responsibilities have stretched from nurturing their families, becoming shields for their men, who inevitably are soft targets in the combat, to the traumatic and sudden assumption of responsibilities when a male member is either killed, imprisoned or missing.
Moreover as a matter of routine, they are pushed into taking over from the men during CASO (crackdown and search operation) where they become responsible for getting their houses searched, talking to belligerent armed forces and becoming a soft target for molestation and rape while their men are rounded up for identification.
In the earlier days of the Kashmir conflict it was not unusual for women to accompany their men so that they would be subjected to less harassment.
This trend changed with the passage of time as women too began to come under increasing surveillance and became partners of men in sufferings like tortures, detentions, harassments, threats. In recent past the number of pellet victims among females increased.
The trauma induced by the mighty military occupation forced pained mothers and agony-ridden wives to protest publicly in sit-ins or clashes with the occupational forces looking for arrested loved ones. Reverberating slogans and sounds of agony and pain in courts and protest-squares; what in the past was detestation in a deeply conservative society became an accepted norm.
Mothers started rummaging through razed buildings looking for bodies of their sons and home-maker wives suddenly have to venture out to arrange sustenance for their orphaned brood.
This way of consolidating a traumatised society where the agony-ridden womenfolk becoming the main bread-winners, can contribute to a supersonic gender mainstreaming in Kashmir to a large extent like the WW-Ⅱ did for women in the west.
Keeping exaggeration aside, this trend can be perceived as a reverse means of achieving social empowerment. The regime uses this fact in vote-bank driven politics captioning it as their grand achievement in women empowerment in our relatively conservative society.
It can hardly be glorified in the real sense since the circumstances fuelling it have taken a massive toll in inducing psychological trauma.
The persistence of emotional trauma and distress are the implicit and explicit costs paid by almost all Kashmiri women today. There are glaring evidences that the suddenness of bereavements, harassments and sexual violence has towered the psychiatric and psychosomatic illness in people.
Kashmiri womenfolk is known for social and economic roles which they played since centuries. Now the circumstances are tragic and emotionally ravaging. In the circle of combat against the forces, the counter-insurgency operations by forces the death toll is going high and high with the each passing day.
AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act), 1958 is unconstitutional and violates international humanitarian laws. However, the Indian Supreme Court has, “upheld the validity of the law, but in view of the potential abuse of human rights has laid down some detailed guidelines for its use”, but these guidelines has eaten dust and are not followed.
In 1994, ParvezImroz, a lawyer activist in association with ParveenaAhanger, a mother of 17-year-old-boy who went disappeared in the custody of forces started the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), an organisation of the relatives of disappeared persons.
APDP started protests and searches for disappeared persons from police stations to torture centres. ParveenaAhanger now the chairperson of the organisation, is a gusty Kashmiri mother, who has vowed to continue the search. She has suffered intimidation and harassment but continues networking and representing her cause.
The APDP members meet on 25th of every month to hold a sit-in protest displaying placards and wearing headbands with the names of the disappeared persons. This phenomenon has given rise to a new social group, called “Half-Widow”.
Rape and Molestation: A clandestine suffering
The human rights situation in Kashmir is dismal on all fronts and the incidents of women being raped with impunity are growing at an alarming rate.
The issue with rape unlike other incidents are covered up not only by the administration but also ignored by the society due to social stigma it entails for the victim and her family.
Incidents of rape often become mere headlines grabbing statistics which often sink to the bottom of the ocean of collective memory.
The social stigma associated with the act of rape silences entire neighbourhoods, sometimes for the sake of girl or the family, out of social and cultural bindings and most of the times for the safety of their lives.
Most of the cases are unreported and the reported ones are swiftly covered up by the authorities. Kunan-Poshpora mass rape, where women of entire village were raped by forces as young as eight and as old as eighty is being covered up and no one has been punished so far.
Same is the condition with the rape and murder case of Asiya and Neelofar. The case was closed by the authorities terming it as a drowning incident in ankle-deep waters of a nearby rivulet.
With the victims reluctant to come forward, documentation of these cases becomes impossible and the statistics remains unknown.
Although the strong resilience shown by Kashmiri women in face of dire circumstances fuels their march towards greater participation in the society, it in many ways is losing battle if the solution for Kashmir remains elusive.
Women’s emergence need to be seen in positive light although the sufferings that afflict women in Kashmir have their roots in the political situation and until that is not resolved, nothing much can change for good or long.