Kashmiri women have always fought for their rights

Urvashi Butalia | Updated on August 23, 2019

A pledge to remember: The Kashmiri women have vowed never to forget the loss of their men and their sons   -  REUTERS/DANISH SIDDIQUI

The abrogation of Article 370 has also opened the lid on misogyny. Far from the docile creatures they are made out to be, Kashmiri women are out there on the streets, shouting, screaming, fighting, refusing to be cowed down

Crisis brings forth the ugly face of misogyny. The masks — such as they are — fall off and reality is exposed.

This has happened repeatedly in the last few days since the announcement of the abrogation of Article 370 and the turning of Kashmir and Ladakh into Union Territories. At a time like this, the dominant narrative is usually political, in the narrow sense of the word, and so it has been.

Politicians of different hues have held forth, in celebration or in opposition, editorials have been written, WhatsApp groups have been formed and there is much clamour everywhere. Except in Kashmir, from where all we have is deep silence.

In this clamour is the misogyny: It takes the shape of general jubilation on the internet about Kashmiri women who have suddenly become “available” to all men. It helps that they are “fair” and it also helps that they are (mostly) Muslim, for, then, “taking” them becomes a way of teaching Muslim men in general and Kashmiris in particular, a lesson. The assumption is that they are docile — perhaps because they are fair-skinned — and that they are there for the taking.

It’s not only the rank and file who are celebrating, so are ministers and MLAs. Get them to set the sex ratio right, they say, after all, theirs is okay, they can now help with ours.

There’s a strange kind of hubris behind this expectation, an assumption of superiority, and even a wilful refusal to see. There are many things that they don’t want to see: Their own claims that when a Muslim man dares to be in a relationship with a Hindu woman, it’s love jihad. And when a Kashmiri (Muslim) “fair” woman is claimed by Hindu men, they’re only reclaiming their property, and it’s patriotism.

And here’s another thing they don’t want to see: That the women of Kashmir are anything but docile, they’re out there, shouting, screaming, fighting, refusing to be cowed down. They have vowed never to forget: Never to forget the loss of their men and their sons, never to forget the excesses of those in power. The walls of their homes can no longer contain them. The streets now belong to them.

A brief look at history may help to understand the Kashmiri women a little more.

As early as 1944, Kashmir created a manifesto for itself — The Naya Kashmir manifesto. Created by strongly political and Left-leaning individuals, and with the support of Hari Singh, the king, one of the remarkable things about it was a full chapter on women, one that saw them as equal actors in nation building, as bearers of economic and political rights.

In 1947 Kashmiri women — Hindu and Muslim together — formed a women’s militia or the Women’s Self Defence Corps, learning to use guns and fire grenades to defend themselves against the raiders whose attacks were imminent. Krishna Misri, Usha Kashyap, Begum Zainab, Zuni Gujjari — these are only some of the women who were part of the movement.

A local magazine, People’s Age, had this to say: “The women of Kashmir are the first to build an army of women trained to use the rifle. By their example they have made Indian history, filled our chests with pride [and] raised our country’s banner higher among the great nations of the world.”

Their legacies found their way into contemporary successors, who have carried on with the same grit and determination.

Anjum Zamarud Habib, a teacher, was imprisoned for five years but remained undaunted. She worked through her organisation, Tehreek-e-khawateen, for women’s education and their rights and did not hesitate to speak out against the Hurriyat for its indifference to women. Parveena Ahangar is fighting for news about her son who has disappeared, and heads groups of parents who, like her, have lost their children. Listen to what she says: “I have been fighting for 27 years. Fight with me in whatever way you can. Kashmir is beautiful but it is full of pain and grief. With this pain and grief in our hearts, we fight for justice.”

Five women — Essar, Ifrah, Natasha, Munaza, Samreena — have courageously defied the apathy of the system to reopen a more than two-decade-old case of army rape in the villages of Kunan and Poshpora. Even after 25 years, the women of Kunan and Poshpora are not willing to give up the fight.

Further, there are the writers and teachers such as Sudha Koul, Kshama Kaul, Chandrakanta, Nighat Shafi, educationists such as Mehmooda Ali Shah, Neerja Mattoo and so many more.

Perhaps it’s time those lusting for fair Kashmiri women realised that the woman they’ve created is nothing but a figment of their imagination. The Kashmir ki kali who coyly sang songs and rolled down snow-clad hills is gone with the Bollywood movies of yore.

In her place is the strong Kashmiri woman, the one ready to battle; and if you so much as touch her, you will very likely not know what has hit you.



Urvashi Butalia is an editor, publisher and director of Zubaan


Published on August 23, 2019

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