Women in Kashmir: Dual Victims of Insurgency and Counter-insurgency

This is Dr. Nyla Ali Khan’s response to the comment by Kashmiri Feminists on Dr. Khan’s article: Women’s critique of insurgent nationalism in Kashmir. This article by Dr. Khan itself came as a response to a previous discussion between Inshah Malik and Asha Kachru on whether the “Azadi” slogan in Kashmir is exclusivist.

Dr. Nyla Ali Khan

I have underlined in my work, previous and current, that the saga of Kashmir has been one of oppression, political persecution, and undemocratic policies. I have also underlined in my book and in other places that because of the pervasion of militarization, cultural nationalism, religious fundamentalism, and rampant political corruption, it has become a challenge to lead a dignified existence in J & K. Lack of accountability in the J & K polity and bureaucracy has caused a large number of people to toe the line by living with fundamental structural inequities and violence, instead of risking the ire of groups and individuals in positions of authority, both in mainstream politics and resistance politics. The ethos of Kashmir has been violated by the outburst not just of religious nationalism, but of secular nationalism and of cultural nationalism as well. Kashmiri society recognizes the terror caused by such predatory discourses that swoop down on the vulnerable, devouring their ideological and experiential strength. But women in J & K really haven’t found niches in the upper echelons of decision-making bodies—political, religious, or social.

The onslaught of despotism unleashed by Maharajah Hari Singh awakened Kashmiri women and induced them to rattle the confining bars of the monarchical cage. Remarkably, the illiterate women of Kashmir were initiated into political activism and it was they who heralded the political participation of educated women. The “Quit Kashmir”movement of 1946-1947 saw the evolution of women into well-informed and articulate protestors, assuming important roles in the quest for a Kashmiri identity.

Regarding the role of women in the Plebiscite Front (PF), illustrious journalist A.R. Nair observed in 1968: “The Plebiscite Front has done remarkable work among the village women who seem to be as enthusiastic as men in these gatherings” (30). Highlighting the position of the woman in charge of the women’s section of the PF, Nair went on to say, “She is the widow of a tonga-driver who was butchered along with 13 others who carried Hindu women and children from Srinagar to Jammu during the troublous days of 1947. . . . This woman, widow of the murdered tonga driver, is now an enthusiastic leader of the women’s section of the PF, and she confronted me with an impressive array of challenging questions relating to the omissions and commissions of the Indian leadership toward Kashmir and the Kashmiri people. An illiterate woman for all practical purposes, she appeared saturated with the new ideas of self-determination and the popular will to achieve their ends at any cost” (31-32).

I have always admired the courage of Parveena and other members of the APDP, who in their fight for justice symbolize the self-actualization of Kashmiri women. They have carved out new roles for themselves. Although, historically, political analysts and social scientists have not considered the experiences of those coerced and tortured by state violence as relevant to their studies, the resolve of the members of the APDP to make their voices heard validates their perception as a centrifugal force that calls into question the coercive power of the state, highlighting a political and a gender dimension. These women are concerned about structural changes that would enable transformations within entrenched structures and appropriate the peace-building mission from the elitist national security constituency. This organization clearly and categorically calls for the creation of a climate of accountability and seeks to curb the carte blanche given to Indian paramilitary forces, but not from within a homogenized cultural or religious framework.

The Kashmir movement is a dynamic one, which requires internal critique to evolve and grow. The critique of violence, not just of the oppressor but of the oppressed as well came from within the resistance movement in the late 1990s and early 2000s with Abdul Gani Lone’s denunciation of the role played by “foreign militants” in Kashmir. A year ago at a seminar on the role of the intellectual in the freeson/ resistance, Professor Abdul Gani Bhat and the Mirwaiz reinforced that internal critique by challenging the hegemonic order within the resistance movement. Yes, it isn’t just mainstream politics that has a hegemonic structure. They also pointed out that Abdul Gani Lone had to pay a high price for his dissidence, which, they condemned. They were also critical of the inability of the resistance movement to capitalize on the protests of 2010 to make political headway. Any organization, whether mainstream or separatist, requires an internal critique to maintain its dynamism. The Kashmiri struggle for identity and autonomy for some, self-determination for others, has, historically, been a political one. There has been a critique, from within the resistance movement, of attempts to reconstruct historical and cultural discourses in order to inspire the kind of cultural nationalism that fundamentalist politics require. Some leaders of the resistance movements are reaching out to the Kashmiri Pandit community, because the movement seeks to be inclusive and seeks to define itself within a political framework, which I don’t see the Dukhtaran-e-Milat doing. Contrary to what the DM believes, Kashmiri culture is not homogeneous and nor is Kashmiri identity. I have been just as critical of the insensitivity in reactionary organizations as well as in current regional and national administrations to the diverse interpretations of religious laws and to the heterogeneity of cultural traditions.

Women affiliated with mainstream organization can be critical of hegemonic discourses as well. Not every MLA of a mainstream organization is elitist. Not every mainstream politician lives in an ivory tower. By the way, there is a world of difference between the backgrounds of Rabbani and Itoo.

There is no question that the women of Kashmir have borne the brunt of armed insurgency and counter insurgency.

To say that I have supported “undemocratic policies” in Kashmir is a baseless, ad hominem argument. Also, at no point have I said that Itoo has carved a niche in the top tier of the National Conference.



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

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