Many Faces Of Violence In Kashmir
The reality of Indian democracy is most conspicuously exposed in Kashmir. On
August 5, 2019, the Indian state stripped Kashmir of article-370 followed by the
denial of very essential rights via regular crackdowns on the internet (4G
network yet to be restored) and phone services, restriction on movement,
prolonged lockdowns, and so on to make Kashmiri life even more wearisome.
Besides, the routine humiliation -army and police checkpoints, surveillance,
harassment, blockades, illegal detentions, profiling- that the people face has
become a gruesome yet banal reality of their everyday existence.
The many faces of violence in KashmirOver the past three decades, the conflict in Kashmir has intensified; everyday
life is affected by insurgency and an intensive militarization. Apart from the
manifest physical crimes which include multiple rape cases against the Indian
Armed Forces, killings of militants, and civilians, there are plenty of explicit
fallouts of the conflict which involve the mental trauma of living in a conflict
Corresponding to the complex nature of the conflict and its associated everyday
struggles, the responses of women are also multifaceted. Some women express
themselves by assertively participating in political spaces demanding civil and
political rights. While others are unwillingly forced to take up new
unconventional roles (such as the half-widows who are unexpectedly thrown into
the public sphere of conflict to take up non-traditional roles) and yet for some
stepping out alone even to their orchards is too much of a risk to take- as the
accountability crisis is even worse in the rural areas of Kashmir.
For the half-widows of Kashmir (husband disappeared/taken away by security
forces or militants) leading a dignified life can become a real challenge. In a
typical Kashmiri society, women's identity is intertwined with their husband's
once a woman is married off, she becomes the man's responsibility.
Thus, many of these women (half-widows) and their children get into a survival
crisis with no source of income. Nyla Ali Khan an academic and the
grand-daughter of Sheikh Abdullah, writes "the lack of closure in their lives
makes their existence unbearable." Yet at the same time, it is the vulnerability
of these women which brings them together and facilitates building solidarity
where they are bound by grief, struggle, and resistance states Goldie Osuri.
While the sight of women searching and waiting outside the army camps/police
stations for their sons, brothers, or husbands to get released is crushing; it
also exposes women to the worst kind of public sphere in a conservative and
highly militarized society. In these cases, the women are not only exposed to
the suspicion of being an informer of the state but also to the harassment of
the male-dominated bureaucratic system.
Furthermore, the huge presence of Indian troops who are perceived as an
occupational force by the locals creates apprehensions amongst the women and
their families, leading to restricted movement of women in public spaces. It has
in due course, also resulted in the excessive control of women and their bodies.
The apathy of the Indian audienceExcept for a few Indian academicians, the people of India exhibit no political
or moral responsibility towards the women of Kashmir. However, this does not
mean that they are disinterested in the Kashmir issue; indeed, Kashmir has
become a question of national pride as well as personal concern for many Indians
wherein they claim that Kashmir is India's atoot ang (internal part).
Yet when it comes to the grave atrocities being committed on Kashmiris and its
repercussions on the lives of women, they prefer to remain ignorant. As Balraj
Puri - journalist and human rights activist precisely writes "(t)he Indian
public are not so sensitive towards 'anti-national' Kashmir Muslims."
In urban India, one can clearly observe some transformation in approach towards
women's rights or some tendencies towards feminist inclinations. Nonetheless,
there have also been some progressive movements in India lately, including the
MeToo movement, protesting against rape and rape culture, the movement for
spatial equality such as Sabarimala, and so on. However, the same society speaks
with much discomfort and duplicity when it comes to the appalling brutality
committed against women in Jammu and Kashmir.
To quote a recent episode when some liberal groups organized a protest for
Kathua rape and murder victim in Delhi, Aligarh, Mysore and other places once
again only to underplay the context of the crime by framing it as another case
of violence against women in India.
Whereas, the whole political machination behind the brutal crime committed by
upper-caste Hindu men supported by Hindu far-right groups to terrorize the
Muslim Bakarwals (nomadic) community and to drive them out of Rasana (in Kathua)
is largely overlooked in the popular Indian discourse. Even the supposedly
liberal section of Indian society fails to recognize that the excesses committed
on the women of Jammu and Kashmir cannot be fathomed without questioning the
state's impunity granted to the perpetrators- as in the rape case of Kunan
Pashpora, Shopian and others.
While on the contrary, an objectified image of a fair-skinned Kashmiri woman has
become a common and casual part of everyday language in the heartland of India.
One can easily encounter the bigotry towards Kashmiri women. I first encountered
it when our north Indian friends jokingly would call Kashmiri guys Al-Qaeda,
katwa (circumcised) which I suppose is used for Muslim men in general, Kashmiri
musali (the word musali has many different meanings, however in this context, it
means Kashmiri Muslim woman in a demeaning tone) for Kashmiri Muslim girls.
Kashmiri women have been routinely exoticized, the removal of article-370 has
only highlighted an already naked reality of the Indian patriarchal fantasy of
occupying the Kashmiri body. However, the irony of the situation is that equal
rights for the women in Kashmir (itself a debatable issue) was stated as one of
the foremost justifications for the removal of the article- 370.
The complicity of the Indian public and the association of Kashmir with Indian
national pride has sustained this 'sensationalization' of the Kashmir conflict.
Thus, even though Kashmir does not directly contribute to the elections in India
on a massive scale, nonetheless definitely has an indirect bearing. As we
witnessed after the Pulwama attack, the whole debate around the Indian election
shifted to security and ultimately to Kashmir and terrorism.
Afterward, to make the matter worse the Indian media furthered the prejudice, on
the one hand by maintaining that everything is normal in Kashmir while on the
other by calling for revenge both against Pakistan and the criminalized
Kashmiris. Kashmiris were threatened, fired from jobs, driven out of their
apartments, besides being beaten up in Kolkata, Maharashtra (Yavatmal and other
The deep-seated prejudice in India towards Kashmiri women and men is also
evident in the selective criminalization of Kashmiris typically-Ali Muhammad Bhat, Lattef Ahmad Waza, Mirza Nasir Hussain wrongfully imprisoned for 23 years,
and recently a Kashmiri couple in Delhi, Jahanzaib Sami and Hina Bashir,
arrested on alleged charges of links with ISI- as it is quite easy to picture
Muslim and Kashmiri labels together with 'beard and burqa' as terrorists.
Hannah Arendt asserts that a crime against humanity becomes banal when it is
committed in a routine and systematic way. The banality of evil makes people
accept as well as justify the use of oppressive policies, to bring back those
who have allegedly lost the right track or are misguided even at the cost of a
huge humanitarian crisis.
Hence, the framing of the azaadi movement as a manifestation of radical Islam
and Kashmiris as troublesome, alleviate the necessity for the state to justify
its actions in Kashmir. Likewise, the narrow-minded Indian popular discourse on
violence towards Kashmiri women, which views it through the limited lens of law
and order or solely from the point of view of a women's rights narrative, does
not really further the cause of Kashmiri women. It only divorces the systemic
violence against them from the whole power principle of occupation which is
really critical to untangle the political dynamics of gender, religion, and
conflict in Kashmir.
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