Commentary

Administering silence on the women of Kashmir

On July 4, New Delhi based TV Channel India Today ran a special program juxtaposing two simultaneous lockdowns in Kashmir, the period after August 5 and the ongoing lockdown enforced due to Covid-19.

The show titled ‘Silent Women of Paradise: Voices from Kashmir‘ was a 23-minute run-through of problems faced by various women in Kashmir due to these shutdowns.

Noticeably, the paradox in the title itself speaks of the lack of agency with which the makers of the segment view Kashmiri women.

There is a continued cultivation of images of Kashmiris by the mainstream Indian media, which often renders them as either violent aggressors or victims in need of rescue. There is no in-between, and in this process of dichromatic reportage, the everyday lived realities of Kashmiris get blurred.

Here, in the special segment, a similar kind of uncritical and over simplistic narrative has been presented.

There is an apparent unwillingness to move beyond this dated idea of who a Kashmiri, in this case a Kashmiri woman, is. Within this patriarchal and jingoistic imagination, Kashmiri women are reduced to being silent victims who are devoid of any political personhood.

This creates a fractured understanding of the reality that these women live, suffer and survive.

Such reportage lacks in-depth investigations, has no fact-checking, is reluctant to question institutions of power and is privy to present half-truths.

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In the case of ‘Silent Women of Paradise: Voices from Kashmir’, the presenters aimed to highlight the women of Kashmir as ‘silenced’ and their show as a platform to give a voice to their grievances, perpetuating a fantasy of furnishing Kashmiri women as subdued individuals in need of saviours.

Arundhati Roy’s reminder that ‘there’s really no such thing as the voiceless, there are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard,’ fits very well in this backdrop.

However, it is a tight rope that the makers of this show are walking because, as a Kashmiri, one can sense that they do not want these voices to be heard, especially in its entirety.

They prove this by cutting off multiple speakers mid-sentence, whose voices trail into the sounds of music or traffic. It almost seems as though they want to cherry pick bites which will help them spin a pre-decided narrative.

The segment also platforms Parveena Ahangar whose journey is a testament of a lifelong struggle against state violence in Kashmir. During her narration they barely scratch the surface of her activism, interject at times with melancholic music to cue the audience for an emotional response and have an animated woman vigorously nodding at her.

By doing so the makers actively choose to present the conflict in Kashmir in abstract terms, never unpacking the reasons for her son’s (or nearly 8,000 other cases) disappearance which would open a Pandora’s box of a valid line of questioning.

To the makers then, Kashmiri women interviewees are dispensable, so much so that the whitewashing of the politics of their identity is conveniently attempted and largely achieved.

Similarly, the subtitles of the segment reveal that ample and careless liberties have been taken with the translations from Kashmiri to English. In one instance, a woman identified as Zubaida (name changed) says : “Behtar oas agar kyen faesle gachi ha kashmiruk, behtar oas ti kashmiras manz sudhrahan halaat, aesi ti pakhaw, matlab har kanh pakki hay khochne warai, darre warai.”

Literal translation: It would be better if there would be a decision taken about the Kashmir dispute, it would be better, the situation would improve, we would also move around, everyone would be able to move around, without fear.

The program’s translation and transcription for 14 seconds of Zubadia’s voice over:

In addition to this obvious misrepresentation, the report also manages to not divulge too much information about the reasons for her existing material conditions.

Yet again, conflict is mentioned as an ambiguous entity that is operated by invisible forces and misled youth. In this pre-decided narrative, our own voices are used to dilute our politics and we are used as a means to an end.

This report also begs the question: who is it made for?

It cannot possibly be made for the Kashmiri audience who will be able to pick up this and many other fallacies in it. It is made to fit the idea of Kashmiri women in the Indian imagination. This uncritical journalism is a disservice to the Indian audiences as well who continue to be fed only palatable amounts of “truth” about the conflict in Kashmir considering that the mainstream media is the only source of information about Kashmir for many Indians.

It is important to note here that this report is not an isolated anomaly but is a part of a larger problem of misinformation with regards to Kashmir.

It is a continued and deliberate obfuscation of the truth about the stakeholders who perpetuate violence in Kashmir.

In trying to give a voice to the women of Kashmir, the patronizing approach further deviates from revealing their realities. The lives of Kashmiri women cannot be segregated from their identities. Their voices, their stories are misused when taken out of the context of their political conditions.

There is an urgent need for spaces which encourage indigenous and minority voices without having to compromise on the authenticity of their narratives.

Such spaces, although remain on the margins of the mainstream, alternative discourses which rely on ethical representations, are needed.

That the same can be expected of mainstream media in India in the current socio-political climate is something I would not hold my breath over.

 

Zara Bakshi is an independent researcher based in Kashmir with a focus on gender, psychology and conflict. She is currently working as a human rights advocate. 

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. Feedback and counter-views are welcome at [email protected] 

 

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