In Depth

Amid outrage, a look into the struggles of Kashmiri women — Part II

The recent rape incident and the subsequent outrage over it once again brought many issues related to Kashmiri women to fore. Despite playing an important part throughout history and standing toe-to-toe with men, women never really received much credit for it. In this concluding part on Kashmiri women and their struggles, the author highlights different shades of violence stemming from both the state’s as well as the societal setup.  

While the notion of ‘protecting’ women ends up in confining them to their homes and stealing their agency, but are even the houses safe?

As Cynthia Enloe points out, “Rape as a spectacle, particularly assumes the character of a “humiliation rite” since women are stereotypically associated with a “need for protection” and men with providing that protection. Such associations underlie sexual violence and rape being used in this manner as a tool of domination.”

In her book “Behold, I Shine: Narratives of Kashmir’s Women and Children”, Freny Manecksha narrates the story of 16-year-old girl raped in Kupwara.

Over the years,” Manecksha writes, “even as the girl struggled with her physical injuries, she had to contend with huge emotional trauma. She was often in denial and asked a young female-journalist whether the act was technically a rape. She hoped that the doctors were mistaken when they said she would never be able to conceive.”

Despite great efforts, the girl and her family were unable to file an FIR. Instead, the author notes, FIR was filed against both her and her cousin.

“Worse, the climate of intimidation destroyed the household’s links with support networks,” Manecksha notes. “The girl recalled, ‘Relatives told my mother I was no longer acceptable. My aunt said, Yeh humari kuch nahi lagti! (She is nobody to us!)’ ”

The girl was viewed as ‘spoiled goods’, and therefore, as ‘fair game’.

“People would come to my father feigning sympathy,” she told Manecksha, “and then they’d make indecent proposals. They would say things like, ‘Send her to our home and we will give you money.’ ”

The girl, as a human rights worker observed, endures ‘zulm’ at two levels—directed at her by the state as well as by society.

Rights bodies have given various accounts where Kashmiri women have been subjected to unspeakable agony.

In her recent article “Home as the Frontier”, Samreen Mushtaq quotes various reports and interviews highlighting the fact that crackdowns are a deliberate attempt to make women the primary targets of attack. There’ve been many documented instances in which the personal belongings of the Kashmiri women have been used for sadism. Most of these cases are never shared with family, leave alone the media.

The reason being, as well-known Kashmiri journalist-academician Shazia Yousuf puts it, “Kashmiri girls are expected to live in mystery. No male member of her family should ever see her intimate clothes. They should not be able to guess the timing of her periods. Although Islam exempts Muslim women from fasting and praying during their monthly cycles, almost every Kashmiri woman fakes these obligations in front of men. From eating the pre-dawn meal to breaking fast, from doing ablutions to offering prayers, women simulate every act to leave men clueless. They fake smiles even when writhing in menstrual pain.”

And as men refuse to talk about it, Kashmiri women suffer silently, while their stories get lost into oblivion.

But while all this is being discussed, one must not ignore the fact that the conflict in itself forces women to push the boundaries set by the society as they try their best to survive with sudden shouldering of responsibilities after a male member is imprisoned, killed or disappeared.

ALSO READ: Amid outrage, a look into the struggles of Kashmiri women — Part 1

This may be seen as a catalyst in bringing the necessary change and an undoubted sign of strength of the Kashmiri women by some but at the same time, is it organic?

Sudden burden of responsibilities, emotions and sexual-violations is also the reason why 61 percent of current married women reportedly suffer from one or more reproductive complications.

It’s also the reason around 60 percent of the psychiatric patients in Kashmir are women and at least 15 percent of Kashmiri women will never be able to bear children!

Such ideas should not be glorified, but rather seen as one of the numerous forced battles the Kashmiri women are fighting right now, unlike the women in the free parts of the world where such changes are organic and gradual. Kashmiri women still accept these challenges though when they identify with the resistance.

I have also come across a famous myth propagated by gullible Kashmiris claiming that most of the informers of the state are women (some even claiming the number to be going in thousands, while we don’t even know the total number of informers).

It’s highly possible that this myth was given birth to by the state itself to create an environment of distrust in the society that the Indian mainstream media later cashes on claiming that the radical Islamist Kashmiris hold their women hostage.

It seems, this myth has worked to a very good extent on the minds of the Kashmiri people (even though basic common sense suggests against believing something as absurd, take for example the number of men working openly for the state in police and army, should we demonise all of Kashmiri men next?).

And that’s why we see people in large numbers on social media fall for it, no matter what. Even if in reality, it’s just a journalist doing her duties as in the case of Masrat Zehra, who was labelled as an informer or a stalker/ex-boyfriend trying to extract revenge.

No matter how many times these ‘mistakes’ are repeated, a large section continues to fall for it because deep-down this flawed notion continues to fester.

It became clear to me during 2016, when my best-friend Nayeem was shot dead, as he walked past a protest in Handwara square along with his uncle with groceries in his hands after delivering a camera to his elder brother who’s a journalist.

The protests were going on after an army man had followed a teenage girl into a women’s washroom. As the anger grew after the killings, the girl was whisked away to an unknown location. Her video statement was shortly released on social media, in which she towed the state version. Indian media also amplified it without thinking twice about revealing the identity of the minor.

Next day, as I tried to bypass the curfew with my friends and other locals by taking an alternate way to Nayeem’s home through the orchards, I heard people discussing how many had seen multiple phones in her bag, how she used to frequent the recharge shop of one of the boys who was shot dead while closing his shop (somehow holding her responsible for his killing) and how she had a loose character.

Even if true, would all this make molestation acceptable? A large majority believed and gossiped over it for weeks to come, conveniently ignoring the manipulation by the state to control the narrative.

In a survey done by celebrated (late) sociologist of Kashmir Dr. Bashir Ahmad Dabla, around 63% Kashmiri women felt that there was widespread discrimination against them in Kashmir and about 55% of women in Kashmir have been denied their inheritance rights in property.

Also, around 15% women face domestic violence.

According to Shazia Malik’s findings, about 73% of women observe pardah in Kashmir. Around half of them do so because they’ve been ‘instructed’ as such by their partners, while 36% percent women admitted to restrictions on movement.

Some Muslim societies justify such dominance over their women through their skewed interpretation of the religious text.

But why would God or His Messenger (PBUH) want women in such a position wouldn’t make sense to somebody with even basic common sense. And if Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) really propagated what is being interpreted, why do we not see him do so himself? Would we be violating our commandments, if we do not mistreat our women?

The fact remains that women are considered as a property and are used as possession one has a monopoly over. This goes contrary to the teachings of Prophet of Islam [PBUH], whose wives were empowered in the best possible sense.

While Khadija ran her own business, Aisha acted as a religious, political and military leader. Umm Salamah would accompany him to battles. She has been praised by numerous scholars for her narrations.

It was Prophet’s way of life which made him to train Umm Waraqa, also known as ‘The Female Martyr’, in the Qur’an. Then there was Fatima bint Ali, who became one of the most important transmitters of Prophet’s (PBUH) tradition.

The status of the women under Islam and its Messenger continues to grow.

Karima bint Ahmad, the Meccan Shaikha became a superior authority in the teaching of the Hadith [Prophet’s sayings]. Zaynab bint Ahmed, the famous woman muhaddith—religious scholar—in 13th century Damascus, inspired the likes of Ibn Battuta, who increased his knowledge of Hadith during his stay in Damascus.

There was Ummal-Darda, a seventh-century jurist and scholar who taught jurisprudence in the mosques of Damascus and Jerusalem. Her students were men, women, and even the caliph.

Likewise Fatimah al-Bataihiyyah taught both men and women in the Prophet’s mosque in Medina, drawing students from as far as from Fez. Daqiqa bint Murshid was a textual scholar who occupied an eminent position during early Islamic scholarship, while Hafsah bint Umar stored the first mushaf or collection of leaves on which the Quran was written.

There’re thousands of other women like them who’ve been conveniently ignored by Kashmiris, just like majority of the Muslim world.

And that’s the reason that instead of helping them to grow, Kashmir women—research indicates more than 40 per cent—are physically or emotionally abused by their husbands and/or the in-laws.

As a society, Kashmir doesn’t see it as something abnormal. The women abused also tend to accept it as their Takdeer or Kismat due to the prevailing notions of patriarchy common in our society.

But if a man listens to his wife and doesn’t ‘keep her under control’, he’s denigrated as a Zanni-mohnyuwa man with the characteristics of a woman or a slave to his wife—and is looked down upon. Those who resort to these tactics further ignore the fact that Prophet Muhammad [PBUH] used to ask his wives for advice, even in military matters, and help them in their domestic chores.

This attitude is the reason why women continue to struggle and suffer in our society.

The Women’s Police Station in Rambagh Srinagar, reports that more than 2800 cases of domestic violence are filed every year. The mounting incidents of domestic violence compelled the state government to pass the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA) in 2010. But ever since the Act was passed, very few efforts have been made for its proper implementation.

Sexual harassment is another challenge that a majority of Kashmiri women continue to face daily. It’s almost impossible to find a woman who hasn’t experienced it. Such cases are overlooked and it’s only when a crime is brutal enough (like the 2014 Nowshera acid attack or 2009 murder case, involving 17-year-old student Romana Javaid who was crushed under a car by her stalker after she refused to take his number) do we wake up to the reality and express our momentary outrage. The trial is still going on in both cases nonetheless.

Kashmir being a conflict zone offers its own daily challenges to women as well. A 2009-10 study done by two Kashmiri lecturers further makes it clear. The duo interviewed 300 students in three districts—Srinagar, Budgam and Ganderbal. “69% of interviewees claimed they had undergone verbal or physical sexual harassment at the hands of Indian forces stationed near schools,” the study said.

Another study conducted by a student Mariya Mushtaq about Sexual Harassment and Molestation in Kashmir found that 81% of women facing harassment were students. And the rest included working women and homemakers.

“97.9% respondents knew what harassment meant and all of them had faced it in the form of stalking, whistling, catcalling, passing of lewd/unwanted comments, ogling, etc,” the study notes. “40.7% of women faced harassment very often while 27.7% said that they had faced harassment sometimes.”

The study further reveals that 90.5% victims knew others who faced harassment, while 88.5% believed most of it happened in public buses, 56.3% on streets and 20.8% in offices.

I myself am yet to meet a girl who hasn’t suffered eve-teasing in some form. Every time I’ve asked any of my female friends if they have faced it, none has ever replied with a no. Chesfeeda Akhtar’s study also confirms this.

Chesfeeda spoke to around 300 females of age 16-20 from Srinagar and every one of them replied with a “yes”. Majority of the respondents (69%) had first suffered sexual harassment at the ages of 14 -16, and 16.7 % respondents had this experience at the ages of 16 – 18; while 14.3 % respondents reported having been teased for the first time at the ages of 18 – 20.

She further states that the frequency and intensity of verbal and gestural teasing tended to decrease with increasing age, but there seems to be no significant decrease in the frequency and intensity of physical abuse especially in buses; it was only at the stage of their middle age that the frequency as well as the intensity of physical abuse gets significantly diminished.

This means sexual violence is being perpetrated at two levels — both by the state’s institutions and also by some sections of the society.

No matter how loudly we preach the rhetoric of respecting women through speakers or the idiotic theory of Kashmir being a peer-waer where everything is supposed to be pure and perfect, it doesn’t hold any ground when facts stare us in our face, if anything it stops us from improving ourselves.

The concept of reserving seats for women in buses also seems nonsensical because they are always overcrowded.

Keep in mind here that most of Kashmiri women observe Pardah and are bound by strict rules as mentioned already, so how come it’s so prevalent and how come women are the first to be blamed for it?

Even if we go by the radical interpretation of Islam which orders women to stay at home, how does it allow men to molest them if they don’t? Where do we draw a line and not hound the victim?

The larger struggle should go hand in hand with the struggle for women’s right and every other such struggle which retains our humanity. If not, then it is only natural that such struggles would be used by the state and its minions against us.

There must be an open discussion on these issues in Kashmir and answers must be sought so that women do not continue to suffer abuse. A proper system too must be put in place through which women can report abuse safely and which guarantees support so that they do not live in fear afterwards.

Most importantly, we, the men, must reflect on our views and actions and then rectify the huge number of problems that lie within us.

 

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