Solution for Kashmir and Women’s Empowerment

Chief Minister of Kashmir Ghulam Nabi Azad, announced that a women police battalion would be exclusively raised in the state as it would “help the state to tackle women protesters.” In the recent protests staged by Kashmiri women, on issues as varied as unemployment, wages, water scarcity, and human rights abuses; it was witnessed that male cops (even the handful of female ones) misbehaved and manhandled the female protestors.

 

Critics can’t help poking fun at the irony of scurrying to raise a female police contingent rather than focusing on the demands of the women and assuage what ails them and brings them on the streets, in the first place.

 

But anyways, this move will not produce much harm in a society where palliative cures by the government are a norm and anything rational is less expected. But yes, a female cadre of well-trained and well-behaved female cops can be a civic asset, anyday.

 

On the other hand following the female rhetoric, Azad’s leading light Sonia Gandhi, the Congress president and the chairperson of United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson in a very short visit to Kashmir called for “healing wounds of women of Kashmir”.

 

While speaking at a ‘Women’s Meet’ Sonia had no doubt an automatic duty to address Kashmir’s women (and being a woman, it is only politically correct and anticipated that she make a make a woman relevant statement). So, Sonia proclaimed that “Kashmiri women have suffered enough for last so many years and time has come when their wounds need to be healed.”

 

She harped on some schemes which have been started for women’s welfare in face of “natural calamity or violent incidents” and that “women were prime sufferers and every incident has burdened them more.”

 

All this is true and does not waver an inch from the reality on ground.

 

However, presenting women’s suffering in Kashmir in a vacuum, in a context-less reiteration – sans the politics that aggravates and facilitates it; these words are nothing less than a mockery of the suffering of Kashmiri women and the entire society encompassing them.

 

Such statements, about Kashmiri women have been coming to notice too often, most of the times sans any reference to the overarching situation in Kashmir.

 

How far is such an approach right, sincere or rational?

 

These narratives seem to hint that women’s suffering in the context of Kashmir conflict is different from that of the main society. Yes, women’s issues in a gendered aspect are different from men’s problems but how far does it hold true when viewed through the overarching conflict in Kashmir. No doubt gender issues are crucial and much maximized by women’s social, economic and physical vulnerability but in a situation like in the valley, many of their problems are very much fueled and aggravated by the political situation, first and foremost.

 

If anything else (read political) was impossible to mention, we would have been interested at least about which Kashmiri woman Sonia was talking about. Was she talking about women from Konunposhpura, Dardpora, who were inflicted the wounds of the conflict in a direct and humiliating manner by the Indian forces, or was she talking about the widowed, maimed or the orphaned ones who have suffered ever since Kashmiris rose to the realization for self-determination and faced India upfront?

 

Or was her rhetoric just a reflection of the trend in Indian media which is keenly putting Kashmiri women, in context of global empowerment (by implication with metropolitan regions of India) and tries to detach it from the mainstream struggle of the Kashmiri society?

 

When the pro-Indian media and politicians, talk to Kashmiri women these days, they are barraging them with empowerment rhetoric, not for the sincere effort of emancipation but making them falsely believe that their empowerment and the political struggle in Kashmir are two different things, when in reality they are interdependent and cannot exist in isolation from each other? Much emphasis is also laid on the fact the political situation is an impediment to women’s progress and the motivating factors behind such perspectives are not difficult to gauge.

 

Empowerment for women whose life and family faces the danger of being exterminated any second is not merely about economics - it’s first and foremost about their basic human security and rights. They need human security first. They need right to life and dignity.

 

They need to breathe in free air;without the fear as demeaning as being frisked by a male security personnel or that the business they build will be burned down in a fake encounter or the family they create will be killed in retaliation or that they are extremely physically vulnerable.

 

And human security, sadly in terms of Kashmir cannot exist until political issues are solved notwithstanding the burgeoning number of NGO’s, orphanages or widows houses being opened all around the valley. No doubt they are handy in alleviating suffering but they do a zilch in solving the actual problem leading to victimization and violence.

 

Truckloads of sewing machines may arrive from Delhi for vocationally training girls to help them earn their upkeep and primers for imparting them basic literacy may pile sky high (how noble?), but none can convince us of genuine concern and sincerity until there is no guarantee for safeguarding the lives of their fathers, brothers, husbands, sons (entire society), against humiliation, harassment, killings in fake encounters, as human shields and trauma from countless other ways. And foremost, for the women foremost, for maintaining their honor; which is increasingly and constantly under threat as recent incidents with Indian forces prove.

 

While women’s emancipation, social and economic empowerment is an imperative, as is the active participation of women in the political process in Kashmir; however, the glaring fact is - not a lot can be achieved until the political realities they exist within are negated. If anything can be done to alleviate the problems of Kashmiri women and enhance their broadening role in the society – the first step is to resolve Kashmir issue.

 

Anything other than that is palliative and mere appeasement for the gallery.

(republished from Greater Kashmir)

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About AtherZia

Ather Zia is a political anthropologist working on militarization, gender and Kashmir. Currently she is a faculty at the Anthropology and Gender studies program at the University of Northern Colorado Greeley. She is also a poet, writes short fiction and is the founder-editor of Kashmir Lit at www.kashmirlit.org.

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