It is the need of the day to narrate stories of Kashmiri women combating the modernist as well as the traditional discourses of female gender construction. Responsible feminist scholarship on Kashmir would make an enormous contribution to the plethora of work on the subject by considering the assertion of Kashmiri women’s agency as historicized moments in a particular geographical location. Without a rich body of scholarship on Kashmiri women, transnational, comparative, and diasporic studies would be impossible. It would be erroneous to impose a “collective identity” on “Kashmiri women” without considering how Kashmiri women, including those in the diaspora, see themselves within the arbitrary and shifting contexts of regional, national, communal, and transnational identities.
For the further delineation of my purposes here, it might be beneficial to quote Chandra Talpade Mohanty, who succinctly observes in the Series Editor’s Foreword to my book Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir: Between India and Pakistan, “Militarization, environmental degradation, heterosexist State practices, religious fundamentalisms, sustained migrations of peoples across the borders of nations and geo-political regions, environmental crises, and the exploitation of women’s labor by capital all pose profound challenges for feminists at this time. Recovering and remembering insurgent histories, and seeking new understandings of political subjectivities and citizenship has never been so important, at a time marked by social amnesia, global consumer culture, and the world-wide mobilization of fascist notions of ‘national security’” (xii). Concurring with Mohanty’s acute observation, I consider it incumbent upon responsible feminist scholarship on the Kashmir imbroglio to underscore and analyze not just the gendered violence that has bedaubed the landscape of post-1989 conflict-ridden Kashmir, but also the capacities of Kashmiri women to imagine alternative possibilities for the future.
I am not suggesting a hegemonic, North American, white middle-class feminist agenda as the reference point to gauge the import of other feminist concerns. On the contrary, I emphasize a politics of identity that would allow for the recuperation of the heterogeneous Kashmiri subject, which would undermine any attempt at homogenization. Although I am wary of the construction of a monolithic “Kashmiri” female subject and well aware of the repressive politics of a homogenizing cultural nationalism, I do not wish to forestall the possibility of a unified subjectivity as the basis of nationalist politics. But I caution the reader against eliding specific, varied, and unique forms of agency deployed by Kashmiri women in times of relative calm, conflict, political turbulence, resurgence of nationalism, and internal critique not just of state-nationalism, but insurgent nationalism as well. Although every instance of the resurgence of nationalism in Kashmir has strategically employed the term “women” to further engender this category of subjects, I reiterate that there is no monolithic “Kashmiri woman.”
Organizations like Dukhtaran-e-Millat and Daughters of the Vitasta, its Kashmiri Pandit counterpart, are glaring illustrations of those manifestations of the armed rebellion and counterinsurgency in Kashmir that are striving for exclusionary and patriarchal nationalisms. It is important to point out that women in vigilante groups, which are more reactionary than revolutionary, are unable to climb to the highest rung of the hierarchy. This dismal fact is borne out by Anjum Zamarud Habib, one of the founding female members of the Hurriyat organization, a conglomerate comprising separatist organizations of disparate political ideologies bound by their insistence on the right of self-determination for the people of Kashmir. In her poignant memoir, Prisoner No. 100, she agonizingly observes that she wasn’t given access to the top tier of the organization, nor did her male comrades try to expedite her release from Tihar jail in Delhi, Asia’s largest prison complex, where she languished for five years.
I often find myself asking if the militarization of the political and sociocultural ethos of Kashmir will enable female politicos in the Legislative Assembly of J & K to assert themselves as political agents to reckon with. I would be doing the reader a disservice by limiting my theorization of the Kashmir conflict and the subsequent brutalization of its ethos to the history and experiences of non-mainstream women. The intellectual agenda of scholars working on Kashmir, particularly those located in the diaspora, is defined by the histories and perspectives of non-mainstream or non-state actors. I too have been guilty of relegating the distressing experiences of some female state actors, in the interests of maintaining “objectivity,” to the background.
Therefore, before I conclude, I scramble to write about a female member of the J & K Legislative Assembly, Sakina Itoo, affiliated with the political organization that was founded by my grandfather in 1939, the National Conference. Sakina’s father, Abdul Salam Itoo, a devoted National Conference worker, was assassinated in the early 1990s by a militant outfit that had pro-Pakistan leanings and espoused an ultra-conservative religious ideology. Sakina, who was then in medical school, took the plunge into mainstream politics. In the political climate of the late 1980s and early 1990s, those who had not supported accession to Pakistan in 1947 were on the ‘wrong’ side, and the National Conference had assertively opposed accession to the then newly-formed nation-state of Pakistan. I might be critical of current centrist policies of the National Conference, but that hasn’t prevented me from commending Sakina’s courage for having donned her father’s mantle at a precarious and perilous time in Kashmir politics. Currently, Sakina is the Minister for Social Welfare in the J & K cabinet. Her undoubtedly intrepid decision to join mainstream politics in Kashmir at a chaotic, frenzied, and precarious time is, in my opinion, a forceful critique of insurgent nationalism. Although Sakina has risen from the grass-roots, it remains to be seen if the increase in female participation in the Legislative Assembly in J & K in 2008 will facilitate the creation of forceful positions for Kashmiri women in decision-making bodies.
Dr. Nyla Ali Khan is Visiting Professor Department of English , University of Oklahoma. She is the author of two books, including The Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism and Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir: Between Indian and Pakistan