Deconstructing the Bridge Talks: Gender and Occupation, “The war within and without”

One is justifiably sensitive to the evils of patriarchy, but confusing it with the distinct nature of organised state violence is something we cannot afford.

The recent Bridge Talks titled as “Women and Conflict, within and without” and held in Shangri-La Hotel, New Delhi, India, weren’t entirely feminist but rather carried a gender tone whose inference was blinkered.

The processes of learning about freedom and equality are a significant aspiration that an educated society may struggle towards. Nobody should give anybody a ‘space’; it must be taken legitimately by everybody. If I say I would give my sister equal space, I am theoretically landing myself in trouble and thus specifying myself as powerful and oppressive, as if I have the authority to grant space.

These conversations need to be honestly encouraged and talked over, be it in a community, educational institutions or our homes. But places chosen for these discussions must be available for everyone—unlike the Shangri-La hotel which was chosen for this discussion. Picking a five-star hotel and that too in the capital of India, away from the conflict, shows that there is a major distance not only geographical but one based on class and gender as well. Moreover, because these were not victims of immediate war who were talking about these important issues but privileged individuals of a certain authority, the event was stylized and constructed in a manner as if to accede to elitism. It’s conveniently fashionable and easy to talk about violence in a space like Delhi than in Kashmir. It’s a deliberate divide of categories, Delhi (civilised) and Kashmir (uncivilised).

There was a contradiction in the concept of the programme: Essentialism which contributes to sexism was used to draw binaries of color—of blue representing men and pink representing women—hence rebelling against gender essentialism. If politics is used as a domain of power, which is what feminists do, they wouldn’t be far from Marxists (in Karl Marx’s sense) who don’t believe in a gradual shift in politics but completely radical. A feminist speaking from within the state defeats the whole purpose of how feminists otherwise would see the transformation. It serves no purpose.

There is in feminism, undoubtedly for all time, a kind of unfairness about viewing men as more violent, more hostile and viewing women as more pacifying. That is also a part of the feminist political project. The feminist assignment views all women in the uniform way and doesn’t display that some women actually profit from the oppression of the other women, that some women profit from the oppression of the men, as well.

These shades have come up theoretically and politically during the late 80s, with intersectionality and with the consideration to these disparities among women. There is an abstruseness on how feminists keep women in the center of people’s attention without condensing women to the victim or ignoring that there are women who live very rich lives without really being concerned about who dies and who suffers in Kashmir. This need to be dealt with and the apprehensions about this discussion are inclined to it.

Women who talked about the Kashmir conflict in the programme come from different positions of life in Kashmir.

Mantasha Binti Rashid, an elitist bureaucrat who evaded introducing how privileged she was, unlike Samreen Mushtaq, a PhD scholar from Jamia Millia Islamia who did humbly mention possessing a certain kind of privilege to be in Delhi and be able to speak about things.

Speaking from a space of comfort in an elitist platform gave these elitist women a certain level of confidence and privilege so much so that they went to the extent of ignoring the most grievous transgressions committed against women elsewhere, that too women who are not of their stature socially, politically or economically.

Given the kind of dangerous political conflict we live in, the subversive understanding of these feminist debates in Kashmir show us that no revolution is possible, which is why it’s shallow, because feminists if honest about the gender justice would equally talk about the immeasurable rapes of men by the Indian armed forces in Kashmir conflict.

Nayeema Mehjoor, a journalist-turned-politician friend of Mehbooba Mufti, ironically took time to reflect on her own elitist swaggering than reflecting on how women in conflict are and how she contributed when she had a position to deliver services.

She also didn’t acknowledge the privilege she carried and illogically made a divide on society and state, as if society was completely run by people, thus projecting violence coming only from society. On 12 April 2016, in the Handwara town of Kupwara, a 16-year-old girl student was molested by army personnel from 21 Rashtriya Rifles. Protesting the incident, protesters pelted stones. People ransacked the army bunker in Handwara Chowk and tried to set it on fire. The army fired at civilians and two persons were killed. At least six civilians were injured. The police detained the girl and in custody she was abused, slapped and forced to change her statement.

Nayeema offered lip service to the girl and miserably failed while being the chairperson of State Women’s Commission when the police spat on the girl’s face in custody. Neither Mantasha nor Nayeema spoke about how the authorities treated the girl and how she dealt with the society in her post-traumatic life. One cannot ignore that both these women share perks given by the same police state, which oppressed and humiliated the girl. That’s also where the moral question of Kashmiris having faith in these kind people lies, which obviously they don’t have, and they must not.

Mantasha, a fervid fan of feminism, said, “It does not matter whether a woman is raped by an armed person or by a community member; rape is just rape for a victim.” If one is justifiably sensitive to the evils of patriarchy, how can one be insensitive to organised state violence? But she didn’t even mention anything about the women from Kunan Poshpora, Shopian, Kupwara and the struggles that they have faced after the carnage they have time and again faced at the hands of Indian security forces. It doesn’t mean that we should not hold internal talks about the domestic or social violence that women face in Kashmir or elsewhere.

But the most important question is the honesty about a debate, which evidently was missing. There is an institutional violence that the Indian state carries out in Kashmir by appropriating their social narratives. Feminism through statist turncoats is one such tempting narrative. Because the colossal magnitude of violence that women in Kashmir have faced directly comes from state, which is why feminism in Kashmir is calling Kunan Poshpora as Kunan Poshpora, and not Pathribal.

Mantasha’s honesty in the discussion also gets illustrated when she bizarrely utters the statement that “we women pelt stones”, as if to feel the revolutionary fervor of Kashmiri women confronting the Indian state; contradictorily, on social media she recurrently condemns stone pelting, perhaps simply because she is far from even the imagination of being one among them.

A research scholar from Jamia Millia Islamia present there understood the problematic usage of the plural “we” and suggested her to revisit using it. the scholar also asked her to consider a situation where she gets the post of Deputy Collector of Srinagar, since she is an elitist bureaucrat, and Shehla Rashid Shora (who was also on panel) pelted stones. Would she book her under PSA, the scholar asked. She chose not to answer the question. As for a Kashmiri audience, it wouldn’t be hard to understand that she definitely would book her in such a case!

Shehla Rashid said Srinagar was the hub of militancy and betrayed her ignorance, or denial, of the brutal order in the countryside where the Indian army had already illegally occupied land and militants were roaming like students roam in Kashmir University. Her ignorance further crept in when she said that “you didn’t know there was a conflict’’ and hardly had she qualms that people had already started a revolution in the countryside, even in Srinagar and both women and men resented the militaristic violence. You need to be the cream of the crop to have no idea about the conflict which people had a full sense of before Shehla was even born.

Why didn’t Mantasha or Nayeema talk about the rapes of Kunan Pushpora women, Asiya and Neelofar, Mubeena and numerous others? Shockingly not even a passing reference was made by either of the women, not even by Samreen Mushtaq or Shehla Rashid, as academia required some daring. That clearly speaks about the freedom of choosing what to say and what not to.

To the surprise of many people, at the end of the discussion each panelist was given a gift-hamper. It contained a face-pack, some cream, and a stole. Products were promoted through a discussion which had barely any meaning for the world of capitalism, but that’s how the markets work. No wonder FabIndia was the gift partner.


The writer is a Political Science graduate from University of Kashmir. His work has appeared on The New Arab, Two Circles.net, Outlook India, Kashmir Reader, and elsewhere. He is on Twitter @karimnannwore.

Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position and policy of Free Press Kashmir.


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