By Assabah Khan
Kashmir is one of the conflict zones of the world; it has been divided into Indian-administered Jammu & Kashmir and Pakistan-administered Azad Kashmir. Kashmiri society is yet to come out of its traditional and ethnic ways of life. Extremely rigid patriarchy tends to lead to the self negation of women. Women’s voices are almost drowned in that power web through which men function. Participation of women in the decision making process can be understood from the fact that with the exception of women like Mehbooba Mufti there is hardly any woman who is politically active. She also is there because her father happened to be home minister in India and not because she is a woman. Heavy militarization and backlash of Islamisation have made women to take back seat in societies like Kashmir, where there is a strong Islamic context and the interpretation of religion is extremely parochial.
We visited the village of Sheikhpora Dagpora in Ganderbal area on 1st October, 2006. There we met Mumtaza, who works as an Anganwadi helper and is bearing the expenses of her four sons with a wage of Rs 600 per month which she gets as an honorarium from the social welfare department. Her husband who was a militant was killed by the Indian Army in 1995. “My elder son Irshad could not continue his studies because he got psychologically disturbed by his father’s death. Authorities denied any compensation to my family because they said my husband was a militant. Once on Eid festival, our family had no money to buy even milk, what to talk of food. So my second son decided to leave his studies and take up a job of Shawl-bafi. (Shawl making)” In the same family Mumtaza’s father –in-law and brother –in-law were accused to be Indian Army informers and were killed by militants. There are more than 30 widows in the village. 17 men of the same clan have been killed by militants on the charges of being Army informers leaving behind the trail of widows and orphans. These women chose to be anonymous because of fear for their own lives and the lives of their children.
We visited Dardpora Kupwara or village of widows where there are more than 200 widows and more than 300 orphans. We met Reshma who has six daughters and whose husband was a militant and got killed. She says, “My husband was fighting for the party of Abdul Gani Lone’s (militant leader) Peoples Conference. All men who fought here as militants and got killed had full faith in Lone Sahib. But after my husband´s death I had no means of livelihood or survival. I not even had the money to buy shroud for my husband. Villagers collected money and bought shroud for my husband. I can’t afford to bring up my six daughters and I go and beg in the town. I have returned from begging.” These women are hardly aware of the political scenario or the ideologies for which their husbands died. They do not even know the cause of their widowhood. They simply are paying the price of the decisions taken by men in the family. These men who die in such warfare are themselves not aware of the political connotations of the struggle they are dying for. Either political sloganeering is used or religion serves the bait to catch them.
In a nine day cordon on 20th June 2000, at dawn at about 4 AM, 21 Rashtriya Rifles (RR) carried out a crackdown on the entire village of Wadoora. After search Army detained 500 villagers including 100 women at Wadoora Payeen camp. In the evening all the detainees were allowed to go back to the village except two women Mrs. Shamli and Mrs. Saja. Both the women were nine months pregnant. The villagers who pleaded with the concerned Army officials for the release of the two women could hardly get any response. A Government Gunman, Mr. Gh Qadir who was working with 21 Rashtriya Rifles tried to intervene in the matter and in the end got killed by the 21 RR unit as a result of his intervention.
It was a major of 21 RR who according to the women was abusing them physically. Narrates Saja : “Dozens of men in the Army camp abused us physically. We were hardly provided adequate meals. They even ignored our stage of pregnancy. This not only led to complications in our delivery, but also lead to the death of my child who was stillborn. Shmali’s Child died a few hours after birth.” Says Uncle Wali Mohammad Mir of Shamli: “Since that day Shamli is abnormal. Her mental condition deteriorated due to shock. I have registered a case against Army in the Handwara Police Station on 30th June, 2000. We were threatened of dire consequences by the RR men if we filed a case. I was even bribed by the unit with a sum of Rs10,000 for maintaining silence. I refused the money and filed the case.”
Such women have to live with social stigma of rape in traditional societies like Kashmir. In a society where women’s sexuality is the symbol of honour for the family they will undergo psychological trauma throughout their life of not being accepted in the general social circle again.
In the Village of Dardpora, most of the men had undaunting faith in the militant leader Abdul Gani Lone and took up gun in the name of struggle for independence and got killed along with the leader himself. In Sheikhpora Dagpora, men surrendered their arms and got killed for being Army Informers.
Whether men got killed with the Army’s gun or the militant gun , the end result is that the widows and orphans who were left behind have to bear the hardships of daily life.
Women of minority communities had to suffer because of the turmoil in Kashmir as well. With the immigration of 300,000 Kasmiri Pandits, some who could not afford to live in rented houses had to live in migrant tents. This enforced such women to live in extremely unhygienic conditions and prevailed not only upon the health conditions of such women but also upon their Psycho-social health as they got completely uprooted from their natural environment. Said Aarti Tikoo Singh, ex regional representative of Times of India in the Male Conference in March 2006: “I will never forget the humiliation we have faced at the hands of our house owners in Jammu. All this happened after our internal displacement from Kashmir in 1989. Our family was not allowed to carry the dead body in the owners house and we were not allowed to condole the death of our dear ones. What we faced in these 16 years only we know.”
The targeting of the Sikh community in Chattisinghpora is another ruthless face of armed struggle.
With all this happening around us, the teething question which arises in the minds of all educated and conscious women of Kashmir will be, “ Will we as women in Kashmir be able to chalk out a society where we as women will have a say in the decision making process? Will it be that old women will not have to bade farewell to the coffins of their young sons and younger ones to their husbands? Will we be able to create a fabric of society where mothers will not wait endlessly for their disappeared sons? Women who live on borders of Kashmir, will they ever live their lives without the fear of shelling of Armies of India or Pakistan? Could We as Women of Kashmir be the harbingers of peace and will be able to bring smile to the frowned faces of those orphans. Will we be able to make our way through that power web of patriarchy and make the world listen to our voices and harmonize with the voices of those millions of women who are bearing the brunt of living in conflict zones like Kashmir? Yes We will.