Indian Media & Coverage of Kashmiri Women

Kashmir conflict generates a vast amount of media buzz; however as with any armed conflict the coverage comprises of extreme stereotypical imagery and which affects the audience and establishment greatly. Within these projections, Kashmiri women are represented as victims being abused by the constant strife between those fighting for Kashmir’s independence and the Indian armed forces. While wallowing in competing nationalisms, the Indian media works overtime on forging an inclusive national identity and emphasizes re-constructions of a homogeneous identity politics, offering a consensus to the political elite’s discipline, thus failing to reflect or mediate effectively.
Although the entire society has been subjected to physical and economic deprivation, displacement and poverty, the
costs of conflict have been borne disproportionately by women and their
children through gender-based violence. On one hand where portraying victim-hood of women seems inevitable, on the other hand, it is incorrect to assert that all women have been neutral or home front bound in the ongoing conflict. Women may have had a less political role in Kashmir’s traditionally patriarchal society; nevertheless it is also a fact that they have been tacit supporters, activists and in some cases active combatants in the conflict. Despite this fact Indian media has never covered women in assisting or sustaining the insurgency.
Within the media narrative, men and women exist separately as different kinds of civic subjects. The gender identities, the roles and experiences of women in Kashmir are projected as detached from the ongoing struggle. Kashmiri women, even though they are not homogenously neutral in the conflict, are portrayed exceedingly as such and to a large extent it comes across as an effort on media’s part towards legitimizing Indian hold on Kashmir. It is also implied that women’s aspirations, political, social and economic differ, they yearn for empowerment and emancipation that apparently only India, with its burgeoning economic and global clout can bestow and which their turbulent patriarchal, conflict-ridden society, probably cannot provide for.
In excluding Kashmiri women from the stable realist definition of 'masculine' state-centric insurgency or low intensity war, media perpetrates the assumption that they are disenchanted with the movement, while the fact that women traditionally do not occupy the forefront of wars is conveniently ignored.
In the recent years a handful of women have joined pro-India political parties mostly through familial associations, nevertheless scores more continue to work actively as upper-ground separatists and for human rights issues. While the images of victim-hood and a disparate representation of pro-India stance by women politicians is highlighted in the media the same cannot be said for a majority of women working openly for the resistance movement or those who are active protestors like the mothers of victims disappeared in custody of Indian security forces.
Kashmiri women oriented programs often are pivoted around a handful of pro-India female politicians and such like. They are presented as the epitome of Kashmiri womanhood and their contemporary aspirations which have a definite component of Indian allegiance are highlighted, while the same media outlets remain mum on the activities of the likes of Parveena Ahangar, who is an iconic symbol of Kashmiri resistance and fight for human rights. Although she has been visible in the global media, Indian media continues to ignore her and the hundreds of member women who continue protesting abuses by the government and searching for their disappeared sons and husbands. Women actively working on the separatist agenda are also kept conveniently out of the sight of mainstream Indian audience.
Even when the activities of a separatist female leader like Asiya Andrabi, who is known for her orthodox views are covered; they are mainly used to contrast with the ideals of mostly pro-Indian group of Kashmiri representatives. Any modern women portrayed are those in a pro-Indian context, expostulating on the resistance movement and how it hinders women’s progress and strongly emphasizing empowerment based on the Western model. However, there seems little evidence on ground that women are distanced from their political reality or activity, although there is a clear indication that literacy and employment rates of women especially in male dominated fields are rising since the last decade; as is the societal alienation from India.
Moreover, the narrative created by Indian media regarding the Kashmiri women and their road to emancipation is constructed through the rhetoric of western modernity. While these narratives may appeal to global audiences and gain brownie points for India, there continues to be a dearth of real representation of Kashmiri female subjectivities. The rhetoric of empowerment created by media is different from the ground situation which creates problems for women in their real surroundings and the realities that they contend with on day to day basis. Kashmiri women face a unique set of challenges including both militarization and the prioritization of security issues over economic development. By playing on the aspirations of women for social and political empowerment and endeavoring to pit them against their men-folk engaged in a resistant fight against India, the Indian media is trying hard to forge an inclusive national identity and trying to force semblance of legitimacy to Indian occupation.
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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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