Is the “Azadi” slogan in Kashmir exclusivist?: Two Kashmiri women discuss

In any prolonged conflict-situation, truth acquires multiple facets. In Kashmir, the Indian State’s repression is an undeniable fact and that India is defined primarily as a Hindu majoritarian nation by its ruling classes, where everybody else’s loyalty automatically comes under question, is also a hard truth. However, the voices claiming to be solution evade several important questions. In the context of Sri Lanka, Rohni Henseman has bravely questioned the dilemmas of Right of Nations to Self Determination. Below, we present two different viewpoints by Asha Kachru and Inshah Malik – a Kashmiri Pundit and a Kashmiri Muslim – and hope that this would trigger some meaningful discussion on the issue.

Feminine Face of Resistance: Kashmiri Women speak out
Inshah Malik

Inshah Malik is a PhD Scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Very recently, her book titled "Muslim Women Under the Impact of On-going Conflict in Kashmir: a study conducted in Northern District of Kupwara" has been published by Lambert, UK

Pronouncing the Politics of Kashmir’s Freedom Struggle

The political landscape on which the scenario of freedom movement in Kashmir rests itself is that of a resistance. Much of the feminist discourse has continued to look at the post-colonial, neo-colonial and colonial situation through the same prism. The prism which defines a view on Kashmiri women locating them as caught in between the two contesting violent armies. But in my reviewing of the politics this view is not only flawed but makes grave factual mistakes in the way it compares the violence done by an army man or a militant with the same confidence. When we talk of Kashmir, we are talking of a country of colonial times. It depicts an imagery of brutal military occupation and broken down social support mechanism with extreme polarization and fear within communities. The understanding of Kashmir as merely a conflict zone is limited to the extent that it cannot tell us about the women in Kashmir. Women of Kashmir have been part of the resistance as well as of the occupation—just as in any other colonial situation. Although, one is forced to borrow an independent lens needed to understand as to how women have suffered additionally on the basis of their gender at the hands of their own men as against the view that men are suffering as a subject of occupation, both as an active face of resistance and guardians of women in Kashmir. The resistance politics in Kashmir has come a long way in shaping its strategy from violence to non-violence.

The discomfort of some Indian feminist views (often comes from Indian secular front) and which by rule also shares a power politics with the dominant class of India that does not understand “Kashmir as a problem of occupation’ and most often embarks on a very apolitical determination for peace. Many though argue that peace is a political process in a violent environment, it remains unclear how are the women at the receiving end to make sense of the interpretations that women of Indian upper class make about their lives.

The resistance politics has failed in many ways to achieve for people but despite it lingering for 60 years, the spirit of Kashmiri people continue with their dream. They are being asked to define that dream, to come up with a precise statement or terms about what it means? Azadi? What is that? As if to propose that all sorts of visions of freedom must be subjected to descriptive language before it is achieved. Why has the Indian conscience been so shattered to ask of the oppressed to be sophisticated in depiction of their realities that no longer belong to them? I think the understanding of this feminist review is colored by the politics of the oppressor. It serves as a back channel—a politics that ignores the understanding of the normal development of a nation’s transition.

Kashmir’s women are also for example Asiya Andrabi, Asiya Jeelani, Zamruda Habib and Parveena Ahangar. They are women with a suffering way beyond victimhood. They are conscious victims through a conscious struggle against the occupational hegemony that impacts the entire Kashmir’s population, its environment, even its trees and animals. The limitations drawn upon the Kashmiri women’s self realizing and political agency from feminism outside their social context are harming the interests of Kashmiri women.

The Women you see and the women we are:

The perceptions of Kashmiri Muslim women are shaped and reshaped over a period in time. In the secular mainstream in India, it is enriched with perceptions and rhetoric of the right wing Hindutva brigade. It is important to look at Muslim Kashmiri women well past the urgent need to see rebellion of one’s own politics in them.

The patriarchal institution of masculine military occupation is far more challenging in the aspects and in the ways it has affected women, particularly for their gender and men at large for resorting to resistance. The militarism and its phallus erected on the women’s bodies and its marking of women as apt for rape and a symbol for defiling community’s sense of honour is far more challenging. Women in Kashmir are intrinsic to the national resolution as much were the Indian women in the Indian freedom struggle against British colonial rule. Women in India took part in that struggle despite’s it non-accommodative approach for women’s rights. Rosa Luxemberg’s analysis of is delimited as her concern was for the working class in the national question and not particularly that of women’s rights. Her fear was that the bourgeoisie who fought for the national liberation will again hinder the rights of working class and therefore play to be a hurdle in the realization of international worker’s class movement by dividing people on the case of boundary. In a pre-industrialized society like Kashmir where class is an insignificant classification, involving this analysis is to place the question of Kashmir’s right to self determination as completely misplaced and ill informed. The Indian feminist view (not to speak of various diversions that happened over time, such as Dalit women’s feminism) is a very restrictive, specific view which is completely rooted in the oppressive mechanism of Indian state. The way in which it borrows the meta-narrative of Indian constitution puts it very much in the discourse of Nation-state.

The question of communities within the unsolved political question of Kashmir is an old one. To compare Kashmir’s Muslim women with Kashmir’s Pandit women is an inference rooted in not the question of religion but the question of Brahamanical class in Kashmir. The dominant majority of Kashmir’s pandit population has been the one close to the beauracratic, intellectual and political power. According to census document presented to Dogra Ruler of Kashmir by Walter Lawerence in which he notes that Kashmir’s dominant Muslim majority suffered absolute repression with 90% of the population uneducated while the Pandits (as a community) shared power of the Maharaja’s rule. This position has often helped pandit women to excel in education much better than Muslim women historically. The question of Muslim women is intrinsic to the liberation of the community from tyranny and occupation which it now suffers at the hands of India.

But this goes without saying that some population of Kashmiri pundits continue to live in the shabby ghettos in Jammu and Indian government has failed to deliver on their empty promises for them too. The rate of literacy of Muslim women in Kashmir despite resistance movement is high, higher than the non-conflict parts of India. To base arguments clearly on what one sees is often misleading. In 2010, the general literacy in Kashmir had increased by 10% for both men and women with women’s literacy as 58%. So in the years of turmoil education of women was never compromised.

Our Azadi [Freedom] Our way

Freedom for women is not restricted by men in the community of Kashmiri Muslims, only Freedom is defined differently. In Islam, freedom has two layers one that of personal, other that of community. The freedom of individual does not come at the cost of compromising the freedom of community. Freedom of Kashmiri Muslim women need no borrowing from the Gandhian thought, it is embedded in each and every vein in which our teachings of humanity and equality have trickled down. Prophet Muhamad (PBUH) said, “If you see oppression than stop with your hand, if you can’t than stop it with speech, and if you can’t do that at least feel bad in your heart, that is the lowest consciousness of being a Muslim. Islam is not a means of oppressing another community but it not a promise of hollow peace; it promises peace with justice, it can’t compromise with inequality in the name of secular democracy.

Islam encourages freedom of thought, speech, politics, economy, individual conduct, but insists that this freedom encompass a sense of responsibility and commitment. By doing so, Islam aims to build strong, unwavering characters who are secure in their self knowledge and have confidence in themselves and their values, and whose behaviour will always reflect their strength.

The Prophet (s.a.w.) warned us not to be foolish imitators of others. He urged us to develop our independent characters nourished by Islamic teachings.

He (s.a.w.) has said:

“Do not be a mere imitator with no firm determination. You say, ‘I am with the people. Should people do good, so do I. And if they do evil, so do I’. But school yourselves. If people do good so should you. But if they do evil shun their evil deeds”.

We demand Azadi of a kind where everybody has his/her autonomy to develop all aspects of human consciousness without being crushed under the oppressive occupational domination. Kashmiri women have suffered alongside the men and they have resisted both patriarchy and Indian Masculine Militarism. They are women of determination who are fighting irrespective of their personal gains.

In Kashmir, the land of the wise Lalleshwari, mothers demand peace and reconciliation!
Asha Kachru

Asha was an exchange scholar in the field of pure mathematics and a scientific officer in the German National Informatics Center GMD and also a Green Socialist Feminist City Councillor in Bonn, the capital of Germany, altogether for 22 years, before returning to india in 1987.

It is my earnest desire to introduce what is missing from the standard secular-progressive mainstream discourse on Kashmir and yes it is an attempt to look into all aspects of a conflict-zone and facilitate healthy democratic debate covering all aspects. Let me at the very start inform the reader that here I am more interested in contributing to finding a pragmatic solution to the problem Kashmir, rather than indulge and compete in intellectual and political rivalries.

I want to put emphasis on the aspect of violence used by those asking for Azadi, regarding it as the only way to achieve their goal, misusing the role of religion for it. The oppressed is himself becoming the oppressor. it is best described in the example of the frustrated and exploited worker, who comes home and spews out all his frustrations from his oppressor, capitalist employer, on the “weak” house-wife. Just like Marx’s analysis was incomplete due to its non recognition of the reproductive work, so also the approach of those asking for Azadi from institutional repressions, state or else, but not looking inwards, into the self inflicted violence within communities and families as well as in human relationships. Inciting others, particularly women in their role as mothers to provide their sons as martyrs for the holy war and then asking for revenge from the enemy. Creating opinions based on the visuals of crying mothers and unknown graves is misleading.

The Indian state in its repressive role – having increased the security forces in such numbers that it becomes impossible for the average Kashmiri man/woman in the valley to really feel safe and protected- has definitely contributed to an increased violence in them. It is good that the present chief minister is working towards removal of the AFSPA. But my contention is that violence can never be undone with violence in return. Violence of religious fundamentalists is to be abhorred too. The fact that the Hindu religious fundamentalists -by harping on their original hold on the land -contribute to an increased anti-Muslim propaganda, can also not be the right approach. Kashmir with its culture of Kashmiriyat, a conglomeration of different religious thoughts and the Sufi tradition does not deserve any fundamentalism at all.

Being a Kashmiri mother, I am particularly interested in the Mother’s perspective. I believe more space needs to be given to women’s views, their role and their contributions in peacekeeping and healing.

Personal is Political for me and I will not go into state politics separately, as lots has already been said about it. Moreover all political-economic ideologies have more or less failed in bringing about human development. It is time that we find answers that touch each other’s hearts and souls!

I am of the view -as opposed to some here- that too little efforts have been made to listen to and understand the average non-Muslim of Kashmir. Not all are per se right wing, missionaries and Hindutva fanatics. In fact most are not. I believe much confusion, misunderstandings could be avoided and much useful energy could be spared for more constructive ideas, if we let their voices be heard here too.

Being involved in peace and ecological issues, I start with highlighting the role of women in Peacekeeping initiatives in conflict zones and share the successful example of the Liberian women, who brought the warring factions together at one table, after having sat on a Gandhian hunger strike for days, in front of the Presidential palace. They are a model for African countries now and I hope for Asian too.

The president of Liberia as well as the leading activist woman, who could motivate the warring men for peace by making the women refuse sex to them, in case they continued with war, have both become Nobel Laureates in 2011, as also the young Egyptian woman who played a major role in the Arab Spring movement in Egypt. United Nations Security Council Regulation UNSCR1325, emphasizing the significant role of women in peacekeeping in conflict zones and the recognition given to them by the individual countries in their relevant decision making bodies, are important steps taken at the international level. I have already spoken about it at various fora and I do so hereby, in the case of Kashmir conflict too.

Unfortunately I don’t hear Geelanis, Maliks and not even Arundhati Roy emphasize this role of women.

Similarly the role played by the Kashmiri Pundit Sangharsh Samiti, a congregation of KP’s who did not leave the valley in the 1990’s, in bringing peace in the valley needs being mentioned too. Mr. Sanjay Tickoo, the president on KPSS, whom i interviewed during my Sept. 2010 visit to the valley, had himself made the valuable suggestion-he said he has been sensitized about it his mother – that we should organise a get together of grassroots women of all religions and regions in Kashmir. This will give a new insight and a new dimension to the Kashmir issue. The recently held meet of women from POK, Gilgit, Baltistan, Jammu and Kashmir,and Ladhak, held in October 2011 in Gulmarg also made this recommendation that contrary to how it has been till now, they be included in future policy making decisions on Kashmir. One initial solution they made for the people from the various regions to be able to meet more often and more freely, was to demand that the LOC remain, but controls be removed.

What does the common Kashmiri want?

As my 2 reports of my 2010 and 2011 visits to the valley (see addresses below) illustrate, the common man/woman in the valley wants to live without the daily threat of breakdowns and closures of businesses, educational institutions, cultural facilities etc. they want to be able to feed their children well, get good education and good jobs, not more not less. They are tired of the violence disturbing their daily life.

Whether it is the shop owners, auto- rikshaw- wallas, the shikara-wallas, the young and old students, the health professionals doctors and counsellors, the NGO’s and the youth and the women, all of them HAVE NO INTEREST TO BE A PART OF THE AZADI AND/OR SEPARATIST AGENDA, OF THEIR OWN FREE WILL. They are mostly being threatened with and/or put under pressure of various kinds by those who have some power or the other and want to retain and/or increase that power for themselves and their own family members. Most of the politicians, I am told, are hand in gloves with the rich business wallas, who give huge bribes to get space for shops and the like. They are just as corrupt as anywhere else in the world, in India and Pakistan too.

Education and jobs for Muslim girls and women?

The granddaughter of the poet and intellectual ZAZ, who walked with me up and down the many stairs of the Maqdoomsaheb mosque, was complaining about how she and her friends are forced to leave their tuitions and head for home because the militants turn up suddenly, threaten and beat with sticks and ask for all educational institutions to be closed.

My friend, the owner of a Kashmiri crafts shop at the Dal lake, says “I love Pakistan”. He invited me to his home for lunch. The previous day it was stone pelting in the inner part of the city and it was difficult to access the area- stones were lying all over- but he took me to his home and i happily agreed and had a good exchange with his wife, mother, aunts and other female relatives, who all attended the event. His mother insisted that I talk to him in their presence about his being so possessive towards his wife -and i think herself too- and to let them work outside homes, as they used to do earlier. Shaukat is a staunch Muslim, very hospitable, but very “protective” towards his women. He is very loving towards his mentally challenged daughter, saying Allah has given him a challenge and he accepts it happily!

My other similar experience was with another very hospitable young Muslim man, working in an NGO, which has children suffering from disabilities due to militancy and otherwise. He became quite angry seeing Muslim girls pray in the church in the Christian hospital in Anantnaag, the place of my birth. He did not accept Prasad from the Christian Indian health professional serving there and he said he will send an RTI letter to find out whether the girls have been converted forcibly. I was told the young girls are doing Nurse training and live in hostel.

Kashmiri Women and (sexual) violence

Women – of ALL religious communities in Kashmir- are tired of the different types of violence they have to bear with silently. When the female students of one NGO I visited, complained about the eve-teasing the Indian security forces were harassing them with and I asked about patriarchal behaviour by Muslim men towards the women, in rural areas particularly, they admitted that the Muslim women think of themselves as vulnerable and so accept beatings and violence from their men as a god-given fact. I was reminding them to come out of the victim’s role.

I remembered my Muslim shop owner friend proudly telling me that the Indian security forces urinate in their pants, whenever they are confronted with the Muslim militants; so ferocious are they, the Muslim militants!

Rape is another form of violence used by the enemy (security forces or militants) to disgrace the women and their communities. It was this fear which led the KP’s finally left the valley! Isn’t virginity thought to be one of the biggest virtues of female by ALL in our part of the world!?

Role of religion in peacebuilding?

I went to the Raghunath temple, which is next to my father’s ancestoral home and I wanted to visit it, because I wanted to do something in memory of him. Unfortunately he died during my trip to Kashmir and I could not fly back due to Air India strikes!

Since my father has played a vital role in my having studied and worked in Germany, as an exchange scholar, I thought of initiating a scholarship in his name in the school, donated by his aunt and next to the Raghunath temple.

The Muslim auto-driver was very helpful and somehow brought me to the temple, which has been totally robbed of the beautiful deities and also destroyed due to bombings. Nobody has taken the trouble to repair it as yet. Also my father’s ancestral home has been bombed and rebuilt by a Muslim who has lent it to another.

When I went to the (Muslim) school authorities and presented them my proposal, the principal called his senior most teacher and both of them looked pale and not happy at all. After inquiring I got the answer “they may feel angry”. I fail to understand who these “they” could be and why would anyone be angry at the proposal titled “ what role can religion play in bringing peace in societies?” They asked me to wait till their chairperson, the Hindu lady, who is the daughter of the donator, has given her permission. What role are the religious militants playing in the background?

A year later in 2011 when I met the chairperson, she told me, she never heard of anything related to my proposal from the school authorities.

When I visited the UN peace day celebrations at the Samand hotel in Nageen Lake on 21st sept 2011, I heard the Harvard school girls, 9th-10th standards, speak about the role of Islam religion in creating peace and that Gandhian thought is missing in the valley today, my joy knew no bounds and I said to myself “good changes are taking place for Muslim girls, they speak very good English and know so much already about International affairs, as was indicative from their speeches”.

I have met other young Muslim girls, also from Kargil, at the function on empowerment of adolescent girls in J&K, organized by the State Social Welfare Board, who were very vocative and corrected me in my speech, pointing that I should have addressed the Muslim boys and the men more consciously, since it is them who inhibit their empowerment!

I have mentioned these examples above of Kashmiri Muslims and their women and girls to exemplify how violence and religion are hindering the positive growth in Kashmiris. Also to highlight the fears that many Kashmiri Hindu women still have towards KM’s. and this is what they tell their children. The role of women in Islam and the fact that KP women were asked by the militants in Hazratbal shrine, to stay on in the valley and send away their men, haunts them still. They remember that the Muslim women were not allowed to study higher studies and decide for themselves what they want to do, where they want to go, whom they want to marry etc. etc. Not that all is OK with the Hindu women, but they have come a long way ahead, compared to their Muslim sisters, who are forced to be in homes, serve their families and not interact with foreigners. KP women are doing very well as doctors, professors, officers etc. outside Kashmir as well as outside India.

KP women today ask what Azadi is it that Yasin Maliks and Geelanis want? Whose Azadi, from whom and for what purpose? Is it to make life livable for all or is it to upkeep power in the hands of the few men controlling the religious sentiments of the masses in the valley?

I have been able to make friends and visit homes and offices of the Muslim men during my valley visits in restaurants, on the streets, through friends. All on my own and without protection from men (Hindu or Muslim)! The KM’s have been hospitable to me, but why they don’t allow their women more freedom is a big question mark to me. If they would let their women play a bigger role in the societal affairs, I believe peace will come soon.

Having had the privilege of knowing about Socialist and Green politics for 22 years in Germany, I want to cite Rosa Luxembourg‘s definition of Azadi or Freedom (Freiheit in German). “Freiheit ist die Freiheit des Anderen” (“freedom for me is defined through freedom given to others”). A great contribution to humanity!

Wanting freedom at the cost of others, at the cost of those who belong to other communities and another gender too, is not only selfish, but it will never be peacefully achievable and/or also not worth achieving.

Lastly I want to cite an example for the importance of peace in J&K:

“If Jammu and Kashmir State, the richest state of India in its diversities, can discover its potential and resolve its problem of regional tensions, it can open up opportunities for a major break through in radical growth of India in many fields and can also provide a lesson to resolve other complex and complicated political conflicts elsewhere. “
– Balraj Puri in PUCL BULLETIN, JANUARY 2012

  • Why are battas biased?