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Kashmiri Feminism: History of Refusal, Rejection, and Resistance – 1

What is Kashmiri Feminism?

Before understanding or claiming to define ‘Kashmiri Feminism’, one needs to consider the representation of Kashmiri women in popular media and culture, and more broadly in the Indian imagination. Ather Zia (2018) states that there is a ‘persistent trope in Indian imagination’ where Kashmiri women are perceived and stereotyped as powerless, passive, oppressed and dependent beings. Stereotyping of Kashmiri women is a tool, which is carefully fabricated and exploited by the state to legitimize the military occupation, abusive nationalism, and violence carried out against the people in the valley. 

Resistance against the Military Occupation

To highlight the evolution of Kashmiri Feminism, it is important to explain its relationship with the role played by women’s resistance against the military occupation in Kashmir. 

Women Organizations and Armed Resistance

Insha Malik (2015) explains that even though several socio-religious women organizations existed and functioned before the armed struggle started in Kashmir (pre – 1980’s era), Kashmiri women emerged as powerful figures in the armed resistance against the military occupation in the 1980s specifically. These women organizations included: Dukhtaran-e-Millat, Women’s Welfare Organization, Muslim Khawateen Markaz, and Jammu Kashmir Mass Movement. The rise of women and their increasing role in the ongoing freedom movement in Kashmir debunks the arguments which define Kashmiri women as a passive community, who do not possess political opinions and are ‘misguided’ by Kashmiri Muslim men.

Enforced Disappearances

According to Trial International, enforced disappearance is ‘the act of making someone disappear against their will, and often suddenly. It, therefore, refers to the arrest, detention or abduction of a person, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the fate of that person’. In Kashmir, the history of enforced disappearances has continued even before AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Power’s Act) was introduced in 1990.

The Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) in Kashmir was co-founded by Parveena Ahangar, a Kashmiri woman whose son, Javaid Ahangar, suddenly disappeared on the night of 18th August 1990. The enforced disappearance of her son led her to start a movement against the enforced disappearances of the people in the valley and then, the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons came into being. 

APDP, under the leadership of Parveena Ahangar, has documented about 8000 reported cases of enforced disappearances in the valley. These are not some individual cases that exist in a vacuum because the idea of ‘disappearance’ in Kashmir exposes the grave impact of Indian occupation on Kashmiri people, not only in the physical sense of disappearance but the psychological trauma that the Kashmiri society carries collectively on an everyday basis.

Failure of Indian Feminism

Main Problem of Indian Feminism

The Indian feminist circles and their debates around gendered violence in Kashmir are problematic and contestable. First, they don’t acknowledge the existence of occupation in Kashmir and second, even if they do, the Kashmiri women are not considered as an active part of the resistance against the military occupation. Additionally, after being excluded from the Indian feminist dialogue, Kashmiri women are conveniently ignored and loosely thrown around for socially and culturally backed objectification and exploitation across communities and geographies. 

Imperial Brown Feminism

The Indian feminists do not comment on the exact political question that revolves around the life of Kashmiri women and hence, this particular practice of feminism loses value in terms of solidarity and allyship to Kashmiri women and their struggle. Situating the respective case in the category of imperial or colonial feminism, Ather Zia (2018) defines Indian Feminism (in this case) as ‘imperial brown feminism’. The women organizations like Dukhtaran-e-Millat and Muslim Khawateen Markaz are criticized by Indian feminist scholars for being in support of the militants and separatists while ignoring the perpetuation of violence by the same men upon the Kashmiri Women. Stressing upon the myopia of such arguments, Insha Malik (2015) argues that Indian feminism disregards the effect of militarization upon the Kashmiri women in the same way as White feminism ignored the aspect of race for black women.

Harvard Law Review (2021) talks  about the settler-colonial project of India in Kashmir but the effect of occupation, militarization and the violent nationalist project can also be seen in Indian feminism, where the questions of ‘ethnicity’, ‘caste’ and ‘religion’ are easily discarded.

Kashmiri Women and Indian Nationalism

With regards to the patriarchal conception of the Indian Nation, Nitasha Kaul (2018) comments that here, Kashmir is to be protected from the oppressive Muslim and Pakistani gaze and, on the Pakistani side, it is to be protected from the clutches of the Hindu majority state.  In relation to the Kashmir issue, the nationalism of both states is based upon the patriarchal idea of nation-states, where the intersection between ultra-masculinity and religion is visible. Within the Kashmiri society and its idea of Nationalism, the women’s narratives are invisibilized in the popular idea of freedom, how it should be achieved and who the major stakeholders in the process are. 

Furthermore, Nitasha Kaul (2018) argues that the ‘feminized understanding of Kashmir’ is the primary force behind the Indian Nationalist project to occupy and possess the territory of Kashmir. Further, she writes that the military occupation of Kashmir depicts India as a patriarchal–masculine figure beating, abusing, torturing and killing Kashmiris to have control over the body of Kashmir and occupy it by force. This idea is central to the politics and nationalist beliefs of India itself, where possession of Kashmir is considered vital and symbolic for the existence of the Indian nation. 

Kashmiri Women in the Indian Nationalist project

Elaborating upon the example of Naya Kashmir, Hafsa Kanjwal (2018) demonstrates that, from forcing the Kashmiri girls to perform in front of the Indian delegations to threatening them to not give any views on Kashmir illustrates how the Indian government tries to manufacture the pro-Indian sentiment among the Kashmiri women and then, sells it to the outside world.

The protection of Kashmiri women seems to be central to the Indian Nationalist Project but from whom are they to be protected? And if they are to be protected, where does the agency of Kashmiri women lie? The rapes, sexual violence, domestic violence, and abductions are committed against Kashmiri women by armed forces as well as by militants and Kashmiri men (Nitasha Kaul, 2018) . In the Indian Islamophobic Nationalist project, Kashmiri women are to be protected from the violent, barbaric and orthodox Muslim men while the crimes of armed forces against Kashmiri women are not even documented or recognized, let alone given justice.

According to Maktoob Media (2020), after the abrogation of Article 370, the depiction of Kashmiri Women across media platforms as objects for marriage or on sale were potential rape threats to the Kashmiri women and is an extension of the existing rape culture in India. In the imagination of the Indian nation, to have the right over the bodies of Kashmiri women is fundamental for dishonouring and dehumanising the male population of the Kashmiri society, which again is linked to the patriarchal idea of women being the honour and dignity of a community.

Moving Beyond the Boundaries

After evaluating the three main dimensions of Kashmiri Feminism, it is important to mention that Kashmiri Women and their resilience can be marked and studied in the academic spheres but the real truth about their lives lie in their experiences. These experiences do not find a place in the world and are washed away or erased from history; however, never from the Kashmiri women’s memory. 

We need to move beyond the realm of academia and understand the real experiences of Kashmiri women, which include religious minorities like Kashmiri Pandit and Shia women. In the second article of this series,  we would further analyse how  Kashmiri Feminism is not a stable, rigid, and homogenous idea. The sexual violence, the tale of ‘half widows’ and women being the active recipients and actors in the movement will be put forward to understand the history of the Kashmiri women and their continuing resistance against the military occupation. 

Sabahat Ali Wani is the Young India Fellow at Ashoka University. 

This is the first article of the three part series on Kashmiri Feminism.

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