“We” the Balladeers of Dawn: The Role of Women in Kashmiri Conflict

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The valley of Kashmir enumerates ceaseless stories of pain, torment and human misery. The people of Kashmir are living in the relentless, naked horrors of conflict for the last two decades. On one side, India considers Kashmir as its integral state and on the other, Kashmir also claims it to be a part of their territory. The place has been a target for unrest and a stage to play out this ownership politics. Where some want an independent nation; others want to join Pakistan, and there are also those who still want to remain within the Indian territory. I have chosen Figure 1. to represent the hapless plight of Kashmiri people who are torn between the two brutal worlds of militants and military and finally end up in imagining their existence behind the bars of curfew. Women in this scenario are subjected to greater sufferings as the surge of violence affect them at the intersection of their various identities. Women have always been placed in the centre of a heavily militarized environment of Kashmiri life. Their life is caught between the vulnerable lives of their children, who are forced to become militants, and the brutal tactics of the military used to counter the insurrection in the region. Everyday there are instances of rapes, harassments, and constant attacks on their houses and men.

Even amongst the environment of radical violence and religious jingoism, Kashmiri women have been at the forefront in envisioning change and peace. Figure 2. eloquently narrates the daily lives of these brave women who remain active agents in the course of the unresolved conflict. Rather than being docile and submissive, they are out on the streets to shout, scream and fight. They have trespassed the social norms of remaining within the inner boundaries of private spaces and have mobilized the public domain in order to voice their contestation of the constant brutal use of violence and illegitimate force.

To gain a deeper understanding of women’s activism against the radicalized use of violence and power, I conducted an ethnographic interview with Salima Baig (name has been changed for security reasons), whose insights were an eye opening revelation for me as a non-native of Kashmir. As a victim of radical violence herself, Salima’s narratives offered a first hand insight into the complexities of the situation. At the age of 18, she was beaten by an Indian Soldier on her baby bump by a relentless chant of “get rid of the terrorist you will birth”. This incident has been etched in her mind and illustrates the fascist ideology of right wing politics operating in the valley. When asked about the sexual violence in Kashmir, she explicated the women are regularly raped both by militants and military and is now a normal routine for the women in Kashmir. She also mentioned the horrors of Kunan and Poshpora where 150 women were raped by the military and how, to this day, justice has been denied to various women. She also astoundingly informed that male sexual violence has even outnumbered women but it remains significantly under reported. Rape is still used in a patriarchal terminology where the voices of victimized men are supressed and neglected.

The two most shocking features during our conversation was her constant denial of her victimhood and perseverance in contextualizing her agency through her counter-memory. Using personal narratives, archival pictures and songs, she explicated that Women of Kashmir are out to challenge the dominant narratives of “hapless women” in the interest of the necessity of security. She further stated that the resistance waged by them is structured and leads to creation of alliances which collectively “channelize the energies to create new paradigms of revolution”.

We also discussed the much-heated debate on the nature of correct “revolution”, given the diverse approaches that Kashmiri women have adopted to wage their resistance. Salima’s response posed a mind boggling question at me:” In a world taken over by bullets and violence, how can one draw a line between what is violent and what is non- violent”? People are grappling with the multi-faceted nature of trauma and their suffering has dispersed at different intersectional levels. Therefore, the axis of their resistance cannot be unilateral. Homogenising their right to resist is equally problematic as inflicting violence upon them because in both cases the conditions of their agency to act is being compromised. The dichotomized vocabulary is itself problematic because there is no “correct way to resist”. In my own case, even the act of witnessing these numerous years of “naked horrors” is not an “everyday act but something that drives out of my political consciousness”. She ended the interview with a thought provoking statement: “We, the Women of Kashmir are witnesses of history who participate in the resistance movement in all its shades including armed struggle as well”.


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