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Negotiating the boundaries of gender, community and nationhood: a case study of Kashmir.

What are the traditional freedoms and prerogatives of Kashmiri women in the land of a spiritual luminary like Lalla-Ded? Is there any history of a substantive indigenous or modern feminist movement in Kashmir? Although, traditionally, women's experiences in situations of state-sponsored violence, armed insurgency, and counterinsurgency have been negated in narratives of dominant history, the recollection and interpretation of the lived experiences of the women I talked with in conflict-torn Indian-administered Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) showcase the nuances of women's narratives in these situations.

Militarization of Kashmiri Culture

Over the years, tremendous political and social turmoil has been generated in the state by the forces of religious fundamentalism and by exclusionary nationalism that seek to erode the cultural syncretism that is part of the ethos of J & K. These forces are responsible for the shutting down of dissenters who voice cultural critiques for the repression of women, for political anarchy, economic deprivation, lack of infrastructure, and for the mass displacements that have been occasioned by these events. Since 1949, the United Nations and Pakistan have consistently demanded that a plebiscite be held in order to determine the wishes of the Kashmiri people. India has denied this wish for fear of losing the vote in the predominantly Muslim Kashmir Valley. India uses Pakistan's reluctance to withdraw its forces and the decision of the U.S. government to supply arms to Pakistan in 1954 to justify its denial (Ganguly 1997, 43-57; Rahman 1996, 4). Nearly 400,000 Indian army and paramilitary forces have been deployed in the state to date, in India's most beefed-up counterinsurgency operation. Financing these operations has taken an enormous toll on the annual administrative budget of the state (Ganguly 1997, 1-2).

Since the inception of the secessionist movement in 1989, more than 50,000 Kashmiris have been brutally murdered by the Indian forces, 100,000 Pandits have migrated to Jammu and other parts of India for fear of persecution, a large number of women (over 5,000 according to a conservative estimate) have been violated, and innumerable people have been incarcerated and held incommunicado. UN experts on extrajudicial, summary, and arbitrary executions have not been invited to Kashmir, and international human rights monitoring organizations were until very recently prevented from entering the state (Amnesty International, "India Must Prevent Torture," 2005). In such a conflict situation, the law and order machinery is rendered dysfunctional, increasing the vulnerability of women and children. The counterinsurgency operations in Indian-administered J&K have been brutal--not just militarily, but politically and economically as well. Has J&K now been reduced to a garrison state?

The unpleasant reality in which J & K lives--one of Indian and Pakistani dominance is marked by the overwhelming presence of paramilitary troops, barbed wire, and invasive searches; dispossessed youths trained in Pakistani training camps to unleash a reign of misguided terror; custodial killings in detention centers, and mothers whose faces tell tales of woe waiting outside those gloomy centers to catch a glimpse of their unfortunate sons (an exercise in futility); and burqa-clad women living in fear of the wrath of fundamentalist groups as well as paramilitary forces bent on undercutting their self-respect. The military has carte blanche under the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act of 1978 and the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act of 1987 (for a discussion of the draconian laws in J&K, see Puri 1995; Widmalm 2002; Wirsing 2002). The traditional communal harmony in Kashmir has been eroded by Pakistan's sponsorship of terrorism in the state, India's repression of every demand for local autonomy and shelving of self-determination for the people of the state, and the eruption of ethnoreligious fervor as a result of the central government disregarding democratic institutions in Indian-administered J &K (Ganguly 1997, 14-20). The anarchy that pervades the cultural and political fabric of Indian-administered J & K has been stoked by government-sponsored militants and foreign mercenaries. Such an unwieldy situation has rendered women psychologically incarcerated (ibid.), and does not enable an autonomous life, devoid of the pressures that people of the state have been subjected to since 1947. The brutalization of the culture has been rendered more lethal by the socialization of Kashmiri boys and men into a military culture.

Within such a masculinist discourse and praxis, the rigidly entrenched hierarchical relationship between men and women is inextricably linked with sexualized violence. Although I consider her agenda questionable and am skeptical about her scholarship, there is an element of truth to Rita Manchanda's observation that "the conservative patriarchal ideology of the Kashmir struggle cast women as symbols--Grieving Mother, Martyr's Mother and Raped Woman. It developed an instrumental relationship with women as the frontline of the propaganda war over human rights violations by the Indian state and undervalued their activism, dismissing it as accidental" ("Guns and Burqaa," 2001, 43).

For instance, numerous cases of rape are reported to have been committed by Indian security forces in the state since the inception of the secessionist movement in 1989 (Prasad 1999). A number of women have been ruthlessly violated by members of the paramilitary troops deployed in Indian-administered J & K as a tool to avenge themselves, and indelibly scathe the consciousness of a culture that dared to raise its insurgent head against the two mammoth nuclear powers on the subcontinent. Although rape was construed as a weapon of war in the then burgeoning discourse of armed insurgency evoking a submerged nationalist identity and the corollary discourse of human rights violations, "dishonored" women retained their status as familial and cultural chattels lacking control over their own bodies. Furthermore, custodial disappearances, custodial deaths, and bestial interrogation methods have indelibly scarred the psyche of the Kashmiri people. In a highly brutalized culture can women assume hitherto unexplored agential roles? (2)

Mobilization of Women

Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP)

Parveena Ahangar is one of many unfortunate mothers whose son was a victim of custodial disappearance. Her son, Javed Ahmad, was picked up by the National Security Guards (NSG) in Batmaloo, Srinagar, on 18 August 1990, and taken to one of the interrogation centers that have emerged all over the Valley. Javed was a school-going adolescent when the NSG, suspecting him of being affiliated with a militant organization, brusquely picked him up without a substantial rationale for questioning. I met Parveena at her house in July 2006, and she graciously spent a couple of hours explaining to me the plight of ordinary Kashmiris who do not have access to the echelons of power, and therefore live anonymously in the fortresses of ruthless militarism until they are buried in the catacombs of history. Parveena, a courageous and forthright woman, chose to shed the veil and the inhibitions imposed by her cultural mores in order to verbalize the agony of a wounded mother. Instead of lamenting voicelessly behind the closed portals of her cultural and societal standards, she formed an organization called the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), comprising bereaved mothers whose sons had been victims of custodial disappearances or deaths. Politicians at the helm of affairs in the Valley have only managed to turn the groans of these mothers into screams that cut through the air, laden with pain and longing for their children. In early 1999, Amnesty International ("If They Are Dead, Tell Us") estimated that since 1990 over 800 people have been victims of custodial disappearances; in August 2002, Kashmir Times ("Militancy in Kashmir Valley Completes Fourteen Years"), a local English daily, estimated the figure to be 3,500. Members of the APDP mobilize women on the basis of the concept of protecting the dignity and rights of nonpartisan citizens who do not have vested political interests. It is an apolitical organization that does not receive funding from any regional or national political organization, and is not patronized by either the establishment or by the opposition. Parveena succeeded in assembling the relatives of persons who had been subjected to torture, death, solitary confinement, and other brutal methods while in the custody of the police or military forces in various parts of the Valley. In the course of foregrounding their trials and tribulations, she participated in conferences on human rights violations held in the Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia and organized peaceful demonstrations in the backyard of India's political gurus and masters, New Delhi. She stuck to her conviction in the midst of forceful antagonism, refusing even the monetary compensation that was offered to her to forget "the unfortunate incident."

Parveena and other mothers like her seek to know the fate of their children who disappeared in the abyss of political and military oppression before life had a chance to beckon them. The unknown fate of their children is a constant presence in their lives, like a leaden sky whose clouds are getting lower and lower. The lack of closure in their lives makes their existence unbearable. Their stories evoke tragic destinies, unredeemed by justice. "There are many families of disappeared persons who are deprived of the basic necessities of life. There are hundreds of half-widows [grass widows], who have been rendered destitute and don't know whether to await the return of their spouses or move on," says Parveena (conversation with the author, Srinagar, 2006). Although the APDP relies on the cultural and moral authority of the mother, which is religiously sanctioned, members of the organization have carved a niche for themselves in the public space. It is as bereaved mothers that the members of this organization can challenge the apathy and complacency of the political and bureaucratic machinery.

On the other hand, women like Farida Dar also emerged within the fractured fabric of insurgency. Farida shelved her maternal role and did not avail herself of the discourse that sanctified the dignity of the mother. In 1996, she along with Farooq Ahmad Dar was incarcerated as a co-accused in the Lajpat Nagar, New Delhi, bomb blast. After having founded the Students Liberation Front, Farida became an operative of the outlawed militant organization Ikhwan-ul-Muslimeen. When I spoke with Farida, she told me that although her complicity in the Lajpat Nagar, New Delhi, bomb blast case has yet to be proven, she was mercilessly interrogated by Special Operations Group personnel, the heinous role of which I have written about in a later section, at the infamous Papa II interrogation center in Srinagar after her arrest. Subsequently, she was transferred to the impregnable fortress of Tihar jail, which is Asia's biggest prison complex, located in New Delhi. Farida was confined to ignominious preventive detention for five years, during which, she claims, she did not buckle under pressure or wilt in the ignominy of an imposed invisibility. When I asked Farida about her stance vis-...-vis a feasible solution to the Kashmir conflict, she ruled out self-determination and. emphasized tripartite talks, in which India, Pakistan, and Kashmir would engage in security-related dialogues in order to make changes in areas of security policy, such as military doctrines or new political agreements (telephone conversation with the author, 2009). But how much credence would those involved in bilateral or multilateral negotiation processes give to the opinion of a nonstate actor like Farida?

Ethnographer Sharon Pickering, in her study of women in Northern Ireland, theorizes that historically, political analysts and social scientists have not considered the experiences of those coerced and tortured by state violence as relevant to their studies (Pickering 2001, 490). But the unflinching courage of marginalized women like Parveena in their fight for justice symbolizes the self-actualization and intervention of Kashmiri women in patriarchal national history by speaking from their locations about the current political realities. J.P. Hewitt's theorization of identity is relevant to the situation of women like Parveena: "As the definition of a situation is first disrupted and then reconstituted, people carve out new roles for themselves, and in locating themselves within these new perspectives they acquire new identities" (1989, 162). Recently, the APDP broke the walls of silence when its researchers found the graves of 1,000 unidentified corpses, unceremoniously dug in graveyards across Uri, the de facto frontier region that divides Indian-and Pakistani-controlled Kashmir. Despite its meager sources and the uphill climb ahead, the APDP has made "a strong case for an independent international scientific investigation" (Greater Kashmir, 31 March 2008). Such an investigation would facilitate the creation of a climate of accountability, curb the carte blanche given to the Indian paramilitary forces, and provide civilians with recourse to legal procedures. The resolve of the members of the APDP to make their voices heard validates their experiences and their perception as a centrifugal force that vehemently calls into question the coercive power of the state. It is the peripheralized, of whom women form a large portion, that are concerned about structural changes that would enable transformations within entrenched structures and appropriate the peace-building mission from the elitist national security constituency.

"Dukhtaran-e-Millat" (Daughters of the Nation)

In contemporary Kashmiri society, the question of the role of women in the nationalist scenario remains a vexed one. As Ann McClintock observes about the role of the subaltern woman in "third-world" societies: "Excluded from direct action as national citizens, women are subsumed symbolically into the national body politic as its boundary and metaphoric limit" (McClintock 1997, 345). I reinforce that in Kashmir there has been a dearth of secular women's organizations working toward structural change that would enable gender equity. For instance, the only reactionary women's organization in Kashmir, the Dutkhtaran-e-Milat (DM), claims that the image of woman as a burqa-clad, faceless and voiceless cultural icon, devoid of the agency to pave a path of her own choosing, is sanctioned by the interpretations of religious scriptures that this vigilante group subscribes to, and reinforces her strength and courage of conviction to sacrifice for the family. This group uses intimidating and questionable tactics to raid houses that allegedly have been converted into brothels, and brutally censors romantic liaisons between college-going boys and girls. The members of DM would perhaps never identify the modern Kashmiri woman with the liberated woman of secular discourse. On the contrary, they make a facile attempt to reconstruct historical and cultural discourses in order to inspire the kind of cultural nationalism that fundamentalist politics requires. Krishna Misri, former principal of Government College for Women, Nawakadal, Srinagar (1975-1982) and Maulana Azad Government College for Women, Srinagar, Kashmir (1982-1991), wrote to me in an e-mail (dated 5 April 2008), that
   the imposition of a dress code by authoritarian organizations such
   as the DM signaled dangerous portents for the right of women to
   make their own choices. I was shocked that barring a few, most of
   the Muslim women staff members were clad in "burqas" when the
   Maulana Azad College for Women reopened in March 1990.I thought the
   day of reckoning had come and we had surrendered. The college had a
   rich history. I could recollect only the past, while the present
   and the future looked blurred.


Organizations such as the Dukhtaran-e-Milat advocate the creation of a homogeneous culture devoid of the freedoms that Kashmiri women have traditionally enjoyed. Their draconian methods to enforce the purdah reinforce a patriarchal structure in which an unaccompanied woman is rendered vulnerable, and curtail the mobility of the tech-savvy youth in an attempt to Arabize the syncretic ethos of Kashmir.

There seems to be an insensitivity in such reactionary organizations, as well as in former and current regional and national administrations--such as the Congress and People's Democratic Party (PDF) coalition government in the state and the centralizing regimes of the Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and the National Democratic Front in the central government--toward the diverse interpretations of religious laws regarding the institutions of marriage, divorce, inheritance rights, and so on, and to the rich heterogeneity of cultural traditions and the paradoxes within them. The vociferous members of the DM would better serve the female population of the state by campaigning for quotas for women in the legislative assembly, legislative council, parliament, and the judiciary. An increase in the female representation in these institutions of authority would facilitate a cultural shift in terms of gender role expectations, legitimizing a defiance of the normative structure. The intrusion of women into traditionally male domains would cause perceptible erosion in the structural determinants of sexualized violence. Such a form of empowerment would "frame and facilitate the struggle for social justice and women's equality through a transformation of economic, social and political structures" (Bisnath and Elson 2002). In the present scenario, no thought is given either by the state authorities or by the insurgent groups to women who have been victims of the paramilitary forces and/or militant organizations. In the late 1990s the brutalization of the culture became further horrifying with reports of "unidentified gunmen" intruding into the sanctum sanctorum of women and shooting them without an iota of compunction. For example, on 28 August 1998 a well-reputed local English daily, the Kashmir Times (Jammu), repotted that in Poonch district two women, Latifa and Khatija, who were allegedly moles, were shot in cold blood by "unknown assassins," alias renegade militants, mercenaries, and paramilitary forces.

The women of Kashmir have borne the brunt of the violence. In the absence of their menfolk, hapless women have been negotiating with officials and military personnel, both materially and sexually. Unfortunately, the innate conservatism of Kashmiri society disables them from overtly describing and condemning sexual exploitation. Kashmiri women are further dehumanized' because of the self-denigration that accompanies physical defilement. There is no statistical data of rapes and molestations in the state because of the secrecy with which such acts are shrouded. I asked a Gujjar matriarch, Pathani Begum, about the political awareness of women in her native village, Mahiyan, and neighboring rural areas in the Valley. I asked her if she was familiar with the ideology of the DM. Pathani, who did not pursue a formal education for fear of being ostracized, claimed that she and her ilk had not heard about the DM and its political agenda. Her concern was the inability of rural women to retaliate against the harassment they are subjected to by militia groups such as the Special Task Force (STF) and the Indian paramilitary forces. The molestation of three women by members of the STF in Pathani's village had marked the ebb of youthfulness and stanched the blooming atmosphere (Pathani Begum in conversation with the author, July 2006).

The validity of these fears was established by a recent study, which reported that "There can be no two opinions that the women of Kashmir during the past two decades have been in the vanguard and have been fighting battles against all kinds of injustices and crimes against humanity committed by the State and by some dubious non-state actors" (Kashmir Human Rights Site 2005). A large proportion of rape victims and war widows are afflicted with post-traumatic stress disorder, and are prone to suicidal tendencies.

Women representatives of the then ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) and those of its ally, the Congress Party, were quick to make visits accompanied by their entourages to isolated villages or towns in which the Indian army had trammeled upon the sensibilities of the female population. The PDP, while in opposition, raised the issue of human rights abuses, which, until then, had not been given much credence by the National Conference (NC) government. But they were unable to advocate reforms that were specific to women, and no stringent and timely measures were taken to redress those wrongs. In effect, the Kashmiri woman is constructed as a parchment on which the discourses of religious nationalism, secular nationalism, and ethnic nationalism are inscribed, and the most barbaric acts are justified by the Indian paramilitary forces as means to rein in separatist forces and by militant organizations as means to restore the lost dignity of the "woman."

Negotiating Political, Cultural, and Social Spaces

In order to explore women's empowerment in some of the rural areas of Kashmir ravaged by militancy, I traveled to the villages of Mahiyan and Qazipora in July 2005. These villages are in Tangmarg, a revenue tehsil (revenue unit) of Kashmir bordering Pakistan. The Kashmiri and Gujjar women I met with there belong to predominantly agricultural communities, and are workhorses on the lands they cultivate, but they lack the tools with which to critically understand their reality and the causes underlying structural poverty. While conducting my research, I found myself constantly beleaguered by the following question: is the version of events of women absent from the official records relegated to the archives of memory and history? While conducting my research, I found myself constantly beleaguered by the following question: Is the rich complexity in the social and cultural positions of "native women" ignored in order to retain the remnants of colonialist power-knowledge in "[the] appropriation and codification of 'scholarship' and 'knowledge' about women in the third world by particular analytic categories ..."? (Mohanty 1996).

My research enabled me to realize that despite being unable to understand or overturn the structural determinants of their oppression, these Kashmiri and Gujjar women are able to negotiate in small spaces. The importance of context must be understood and used to identify items within each boundary appropriate to local circumstances. None of them had qualms about functioning as the main socializing agents for their children, and considered the constitution of the mother-son relationship-as the nexus of every social relationship in their culture. With their faces turned away from the camera and controlling their shy laughter after being berated by their mother-in-law, the feisty Haneefa Begum, Hafeeza Begum, Fareeda Akhtar, and Rifat Ara sang a medley of folk songs for me in the intimacy of their hut. The songs, which were translated for me by Shabeer Ahmad, a Gujjar lawyer, were a doleful rendition of the self-abnegation and loneliness of a young bride who is severed from everything familiar to her and finds herself being ruthlessly molded to fit a new environment. The most articulate of the group was Shabeer's mother, who was content to understand historical and social events within the explanatory frameworks of religious and filial obligation. Her stance vis-...-vis the contexts that formed her identity displayed a capacity to act upon the social boundaries that "define fields of action for all actors" (Hayward 1998, 27). The ostensibly compliant attitude of these women seems to be a strategy of survival in a social setting in which relationships are hierarchically structured, maintaining social and political stasis. The notion of uncompassionate in-laws is a part of their folklore. But it might be easier to imagine the survival strategies that women deploy in that environment if we think of power "not as instruments powerful agents use to prevent the powerless from acting freely, but rather as social boundaries that, together, define fields of action for all actors" (Hayward, 1998, 27).

Subsequent to the dismantling of the feudal economic and social structure in Kashmir in the early 1950s, feudal clans and the emasculated nobility clung to their decadent traditions with unparalleled ferocity. Educated Kashmiri women like Dr. Hameeda Naeem, professor at the University of Kashmir, are unable to relate to the ideologies of such dethroned feudal clans and of the DM as well. Hameeda Naeem articulately delineated the brutal human rights violations occurring in Indian-administered J & K at the United Nations Conference in Geneva in 1996, after which the government of India impounded her passport until 2005, rendering it impossible for her to speak at other international conferences during that period. In an enlightening conversation with Hameeda at my parents' house in Srinagar (in July 2006), she described the DM as self-styled custodians of the Islamic faith who had caricaturized Islam by reducing it to the veil. She categorically stated that the DM did not represent all Kashmiri women and lacked the authority to enforce a code of conduct. I asked her how sixteen years of armed insurgency and counterinsurgency had pervaded the social fabric, and what measures, if any, had been taken to redress the grievances of women adversely affected by militancy. Hameeda expressed an adverse judgment on the government of Indian-administered J& K for having facilitated the psychological, sexual, economic, and emotional violation of women, particularly in the insulated rural areas. The law of the jungle that prevails in those areas leaves no scope for rehabilitation of the victims of violence. The desecration of the political, social, and cultural landscape looms large over the lovely face of nature in its pure majesty. The grievances of these lacerated hearts are, inevitably, not redressed. The unalloyed purity of nature and the spiritual illumination it inspires have, therefore, been indelibly tarnished.

Hameeda's unequivocal censure of Indian military and paramilitary forces was echoed by Shamim Firdous. Shamim was a member of the Legislative Council of J & K from 1999 to 2005, and is now the president of the women's wing of the National Conference (NC) and a member of the newly elected Legislative Assembly of J & K (2008), She is responsible for having opened vocational centers in her constituency, Habbakadal, for illiterate and semiliterate women who lack financial autonomy. Despite being well educated and well spoken, Shamim was relegated to the background in the prestigious halls of the Legislative Council. In response to my question (during a discussion in Srinagar, in July 2006) about whether she had adequately represented the people of her constituency in the Legislative Council, she was critical of the treatment meted out to women legislators, who are not deemed worthy of consulting on matters of governmental policy. Although they are permitted to voice their opinions, their claims or objections are pooh-poohed. The strident machismo of the male legislators in the council enables the reductive objectification of the women members. Although educated women desire full participation in professional and political life in Kashmir, the nexus between patriarchy and militarism has insidiously indoctrinated women, to the extent of making a virtue of helplessness and destitution. Shamim expressed her resentment at the complicity of women in fortifying existing political and social structures.

Women in Kashmir now live in an unendurable atmosphere created by the acrimonious implementation of draconian laws. Indian paramilitary forces, militants, and mercenaries have unleashed indiscriminate violence in .the state, which has metamorphosed the legendary beauty of Kashmir into an intolerable inferno of molten bodies and bottomless perdition.

Brutalization of Women in the Conflict Zone

Horrifying narratives of women and adolescent girls being humiliated and brutally interrogated in remote villages are absent from the official records, and are fearfully voiced in the atmosphere of paranoia that pervades the Valley. For instance, in 1991, more than 800 soldiers of the Fourth Rajput Regiment raped between 23 and 60 women in the course of one night in the village of Kunan Pohpura in Kashmir. These soldiers raided the village on the pretext of interrogating the local men who were allegedly insurgents. Another gruesome incident of a similar nature occurred in Handawara village in 2004, where a mother and her minor daughter were sadistically violated by a major of the Rashtriya Rifles (RR). In Mattan in south Kashmir, an Indian army subedar and his bodyguard of the Seven Rashtriya Rifles were involved in a chilling rape case against which the necessary governmental action is yet to be taken (interview with human rights activists in the Kashmir Valley, June 2004; Kashmiri Women's Initiative for Peace and Disarmament 2004).

The rape of a pristine young bride, Mubeena Bano of Lissar Ghowgam, on her way to her marital home is particularly disturbing. In anticipation of her marriage to Abdul Rashid Malik on 18 May 1990, Mubeena had been weaving youthful dreams of creating a romantic life away from the trials and tribulations of her militant-infested village. Her family had gone to great lengths to give their home a festive, bridal air. Despite threats from militants who were opposed to celebrations of any kind, Mubeena and her relatives had managed to create an atmosphere of laughter and happiness. Little did Mubeena's family know that their precious daughter, whom they had sheltered from the turbulent waves of life, was not destined to be indulged by the affection of her husband and in-laws. While on her way to her husband's home along with his entourage of relatives and friends, baratis, the virgin bride was horrendously violated by a bestial group of paramilitary personnel. The groom, Malik, and some members of his entourage were brutally shot at without provocation at Bodhasgam crossing. The pain-filled screams of the young bride, who had given her heart and soul to her groom, would have pierced the hardest of hearts. She had been defiled and her beautiful innocence had ended. She felt abandoned with no one to turn to. Had God forsaken her? Would she be saved by a messiah or would she be left at the mercy of these satanic creatures? Was this a nightmare that would vanish at the break of dawn? Would she wake up to find herself in the bridal chamber, anxiously awaiting the sound of her husband's footsteps? Mubeena's mind was so numbed that she could not remember a single Quranic verse that she had been taught to recite when in danger. Her husband, who had hitherto carried himself with dignity, was incapacitated for a while after this horrendous incident. I met Mubeena and Abdul Rashid Malik on 25 July 2008, at Sarnal. Mubeena is now an emaciated woman who is plowing a lonely furrow. Subsequent to the violence unleashed on 18 May 1990 at Bodhasgam crossing, Mubeena was ostracized by her in-laws. They were unwilling to forgive her for having been brutally raped by paramilitary personnel. Despite the indelible scar on her psyche and her humiliation, Mubeena had the resilience to cope with the buffets that fate had dealt her. Her husband's unflinching support helped to strengthen her. Abdul Rashid, unlike a lot of men raised in a patriarchal culture, was sympathetic to his wife's physical pain and psychological crippling. He made the firm decision to defy everyone who cast aspersions on Mubeena and who chose to shun her. Abdul Rashid realized that he could have been in the same plight as Mubeena. With the pervasion of the culture of violence and humiliation of the dominated, there has been an increase of such dishonorable and shameful incidents. Mubeena is now the mother of three spirited and courageous children who know about the reprehensible atrocities inflicted on their parents. Her children have the strength to protect their mother's dignity with aplomb. Her younger son gave me the First Information Report (FIR) that his parents had filed soon after the incident of 18 May 1990, That FIR, like many others filed by people who lacked the armor of clout or money, was buried under the detritus of law and order. Mubeena's husband, Abdul Rashid, like a lot of young and able-bodied Kashmiri men, is unemployed, exacerbating his sense of impotence. Will the grievances of such wounded and powerless people ever be redressed? Will the violated women of Kashmir ever have the satisfaction of knowing that those who wronged them did not go unpunished?

In order to further my research, in June 2009 I asked the director of the Psychiatric Diseases Hospital, Dr. Margoob, to allow me to sit in on a couple of his sessions with militancy related trauma patients. Dr. Margoob was magnanimous enough to permit me to observe some of these patients carefully. It was heart-wrenching to see despondent women with hopelessness entrenched in their atrophied looks and minds. Orphaned, widowed, improvident; socially marginalized and left to their own devices; unsought by those with the means to help; each sigh bespoke a grief that knew no bounds and had no hope of respite. These repositories of communal values and cultural traditions were unable to find a support system in a community that had experienced the trauma of state formation at its expense. The political turbulence in Indian-administered J & K has taken its toll on such people and has left them stone-faced with a stoicism that expects no recompense. Does the state give any thought to the economic and emotional rehabilitation of such people? Dr. Margoob lends a sympathetic ear to his patients; provides them with fatherly, care; boosts their morale; is quick to provide them with the necessary medical care; and is doing groundbreaking work in a culture in which people don't mention psychiatric ills without fear of being stigmatized. It was enlightening to see young men and women seeking psychiatric care of their own volition. I was pleasantly surprised to see a peasant from a rural area take his grandson to the child psychologist and beseech his grandson to conceal nothing from the psychologist. But we still have a long way to go in recognizing the dire consequences of trauma brought on by political turmoil, military brutality; and psychosis of fear created by such happenings. There are people who do not have recourse to the judicial and administrative machinery. Prabal Mahato found in an independent survey of the Psychiatric Diseases Hospital in Srinagar, conducted July-August 1999, that post-traumatic stress disorders increased from 1,700 in 1990 to 17,000 in 1993 and to 30,000 in 1998 (Mahato 1999). It is unfortunate that the more unaccountable state-sponsored agencies have become in Indian-administered J & K, the more aloof and gluttonous the bureaucratic, military, and administrative machinery has become. The culture of impunity has grown around India and Pakistan unabated. Women and children are in a miserable plight because of the lack of not just physical infrastructure but from a deficit in gynecological, obstetric, welfare, and economically rehabilitative services as well.

I met three female patients of Dr. Margoob who were traumatized after the loss of their male heads of the households. Two of the women had been widowed and the third orphaned because of the frenetic violence at the apex of insurgency and counter-insurgency in Indian-administered J & K. Their counseling sessions with Dr. Margoob were enabling them to redefine their life experiences as contributing to the depression and suicidal ideation in their adult lives; work through the discourse of victimhood was developing into the construction, of their identities as survivors; they were clearly working toward accepting their life circumstances and tentatively attempting to redefine them within clear conceptual frameworks (see Warner and Feltey 1999, 161-174., for details about traumatized women and identity reconstruction). Do such patients have access to a community perspective, or a reference group, or avenues for rehabilitation (Shibutani 1961)?

Construction of Kashmiri Womanhood by Ethnonationalists

Secular as well as ethnonationalists assert that as long as the inner or spiritual distinctiveness of the culture is retained, an autonomous "nation" of Indian administered J & K can equip itself to cope with a globalized world without losing its essential identity. This nationalist discourse creates the dichotomy of the inner/outer in order to make the inviolability of the inner domain look traditional. For example, ethnonationalists assert that a native woman of Indian-administered J & K who marries a non-Kashmiri, nonDogra, or non-Ladakhi loses her legal right to inherit, own, or buy immoveable property in the state. To them, by inhabiting the metaphoric inner domain, the native woman of J & K embodies the virginal purity of their culture and ethnicity, and these would get tainted by her stepping over the cultural threshold.

As a strategy to maintain the inviolability of the cultural sanctum sanctorum, ethnonationalists problematize the law concerning state subjects that was promulgated in J & K on 20 April 1927 by Maharaja Hari Singh. This injunction was meant to protect the interests of the local landed class and the peasantry against wealthy people from outside the state who had the wherewithal to buy the locals out of hearth and home. In 1957 the new constitution of the state changed "state subject" to "permanent resident," and permanent resident status was accorded to individuals who had been living in the state for at least a decade before 14 May 1957. On 25 March 1969, the state government issued an injunction requiring deputy commissioners to issue certificates of permanent residence to women of Indian-administered J & K (Kashmiri, Dogra, Ladakhi, and Gujjar), with the stipulation that the status was valid only till marriage. After that, women who married permanent residents would need to get their certificates reissued, and those who married outside the state would automatically lose their permanent resident status; on the other hand, a male permanent resident would have the privilege of endowing his nonstate subject spouse with the ability to own and inherit property in the state as long as she did not leave the state for permanent residence elsewhere (for a clearer delineation, see Abdullah 1993; Zutshi 2004).

In 2002, the High Court declared that this proviso had no legislative sanction because it violated the gender equality clause of the constitution of the state as well as of India. The court held that the proviso relied on Section 10 of the British law, which had governed pre-partition India and which had itself been amended (see Bhagat 2005; Puri 2004). The bench quoted Section 4 of the Sri Pratap Consolidation Law Act to declare that the only legislative prohibition was that the property inherited by a woman permanent resident who married a nonpermanent resident could not be sold to a nonstate subject. But this decision of the court created a furor, with the then opposition NC asserting that the earlier proviso invalidating the permanent resident status of women who married outside the state as outmoded was an attempt to erode the distinctive cultural identity of the state. The NC accused the then ruling PDF of having made a compromise by withdrawing its appeal from the Supreme Court against the judgment of the state High Court. The angst of power caused the PDF, including its women members, to immediately draft a Permanent Resident Bill reinforcing the earlier stipulation. The High Court's decision was supported by the PDP's coalition partner, the Congress. The issue of permanent residence was hijacked by Hindu fundamentalist organizations, the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), to inflame regional divisiveness; they condemned the opposition of the NC and the PDF to the High Court's decision as acts of Muslim secession, which excluded the predominantly Hindu Jammu. Representatives of the NC and the PDF in the Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council opposed the decision of the High Court that declared the earlier proviso archaic and outmoded, and the Congress and the BJP supported them (Puri 2004). In effect, thus, women were deployed as a political tool not just by regional political organizations, but also by national political parties.

Women politicians in the Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council played the role of tokens, bolstering the social, cultural, and moral institutions that maintain a male-dominated power structure (Amnesty International, "India," 2005; Kashmiri Women's Initiative for Peace and Disarmament 2004). Even those with access to the echelons of power refused to engage "more effectively with the politics of affiliation, and the currently calamitous dispensations of power" (McClintock 1997, 396). Despite its firm promise, the then coalition government comprising the PDP and the Congress was unable to entirely incorporate the Special Operations Group (SOG), a paramilitary division of the police accused of heinous human rights violations, into the regular police force. The SOG continues to run amok and functions as an entity that only obeys the law of the jungle. Alongside the SOG, the Special Task Force (STF), a militia group comprising renegade militants, was incorporated into the regular police force but was not disbanded, in contravention of a promise made by the PDF government at the time of its installation in office. These forces were deployed to handle extrajudicial matters in arbitrary ways, and were responsible for gross misdemeanors against women (Amnesty International, "India," 2005).

Women as Repositories of Communal Values and Cultural Traditions

Why is gender violence such a consistent feature of the insurgency and counter- insurgency that have wrenched apart the Indian subcontinent for decades? The equation of the native woman to the motherland in nationalist rhetoric has, in recent times, become more forceful. In effect, the native woman is constructed as a trough within which male aspirations are nurtured, and the most barbaric acts are justified as means to restore the lost dignity of women.

The story of the partition of India in 1947 into two separate nation-states, India and Pakistan, is replete with instances of fathers slaughtering their daughters in order to prevent them from being violated by the enemy, and of women resorting to mass suicide to preserve the "honor" of the community (for further discussion of gendering and structural determinants of gender violence, see Kaul 1999; Kumari and Kidwai 1998; Jayawardena 1986; Ray 2000). If a woman's body belongs not to herself but to her community, then the violation of that body purportedly signifies an attack upon the honor (izzat) of the whole community.

In one instance, the crime of a boy from a lower social caste against a woman from a higher upper caste in Meerawala village in the central province of Punjab, Pakistan, in 2002, was punished in a revealing way by the "sagacious" tribal jury. After days of thoughtful consideration, the jury gave the verdict that the culprit's teenage sister, Mai, should be gang-raped by goons from the wronged social group. The tribal jury ruled that to save the honor of the upper-caste Mastoi clan, Mai's brother, Shakoor, should marry the woman with whom he was accused of having an illicit relationship, while Mai was to be given away in marriage to a Mastoi man. The prosecution said that when she rejected the decision she was gang-raped by four Mastoi men and made to walk home semi naked in front of hundreds of people. The lawyer for one of the accused argued the rape charge was invalid because Mai was technically married to the defendant at the time of the incident (Reuters 2002).

Such acts of violence that occur on the Indian subcontinent bear testimony to the intersecting notions of nation, family, and community. The horrific stories of women, in most instances attributed to folklore, underscore the complicity of official and nationalist historiography in perpetuating these notions. I might add that the feminization of the "homeland" as the "motherland," for which Indian soldiers and Kashmiri nationalists in Indian-administered Kashmir and in Pakistan-administered Kashmir are willing to lay down their lives, serves in effect to preserve the native woman in pristine retardation. Although this essentialist portrayal of the Kashmiri woman in J & K is clearly suspect, it is embedded more deeply in the quasi-feudal culture of Pakistan-administered Kashmir. Pakistan-administered Kashmir has been a fiefdom of feudal lords whose only concern is with the impregnability of their authority and the replenishment of their coffers. Tribal women in Azad (Free) Kashmir are still circumscribed within the parameters created by the paternalistic feudal culture that disallows the creation of a space for distinct subjectivities (see discussions about the creation of Pakistan in Cohen 2004; Talbot 1998).

Conceptualization and Crystallization of Women's Agency

My attempt to theorize women's empowerment in terms that allow the creation of a space for distinct subjectivities involves framing the concept with regard to its cognitive, psychological, economic, and political aspects. I borrow eminent educationist Nelly Stromquist's assertion regarding agency, which involves taking decisions that deconstruct cultural and social norms, and beliefs that structure seemingly intransigent traditional gender ideologies; the psychological aspect refers to developing self-esteem, for which some form of financial autonomy is a basis; the political aspect involves the ability to organize and mobilize for social change, which requires the creation of awareness not just at the individual level but at the collective level as well (Stromquist 1995, 12-22). For me, empowerment is a process that enables the marginalized to make strategic life-choices regarding education, livelihood, marriage, childbirth, sexuality, and so forth--choices that are critical for people to lead the sort of lives they wish to lead and that constitute life's defining parameters (Kabeer 1999, 437). It is important to keep in mind, however, that women are constrained by and grapple with the normative structures through which societies create gender roles.

I was raised in a secular Muslim home where we were encouraged to speak of the "liberation of women" and of a culturally syncretic society. I was taught that Islam provides women with social, political, and economic rights, however invisible those rights are in our society. It was instilled in me that Islam gives women property rights (the right of Mrs. Ghulam Kabra, a Kashmiri state subject, to inherit the property to which she was the legal heir was challenged as early as 1939 because she had married a nonstate subject, but the High Court legislated that she could inherit the property bequeathed to her by her parents); the right to interrogate totalizing social and cultural institutions; the right to hold political office (Khalida Zia and Sheikh Hasina in Bangladesh, Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan, Najma Heptullah and Mohsina Kidwai in India, and my maternal grandmother, Begum Akbar Jehan, in Kashmir [who represented the Srinagar and Anantnag constituencies of J & K in the Indian parliament from 1977 to 1979 and 1984 to 1989, respectively, and was the first president of the J & K Red Cross Society, from 1947 to 1951; see Lok Sabha 2000]); the right to assert their agency in matters of social and political import; and the right to lead a dignified existence in which they can voice their opinions and desires so as to "act upon the boundaries that constrain and enable social action by, for example, changing their shape or direction" (Hayward 1998, 271).

Renowned historian Tariq Ali, among many others, has written about my maternal grandmother Begum Akbar Jehan's enormous political and social contribution:

She threw herself into the struggle for a new Kashmir. She raised money to build schools for poor children and encouraged adult education in a state where the bulk of the population was illiterate. She also, crucially, gave support and advice to her husband, alerting him, for example, to the dangers of succumbing to Nehru's charm and thus compromising his own standing in Kashmir. (Ali 2003, 230-31)

Begum Akbar Jehan established an organization, the Jammu and Kashmir Markazi Behboodi Khwateen, in 1975, for the purpose of providing women from the downtrodden sections of society with functional literacy, training in arts and crafts, health care, and social security. Once economically empowered, these women would gain self-respect, be able to protect their rights, and lead purposeful existences. The organization was registered under the Societies Registration Act of 1998. Its current vice chairperson, my mother Suraiya Ali Matto, provided illuminating information (e-mail dated 10 April 2008 about the aims and objectives of the Behboodi Khwateen:
   to impart intensive training to women in various arts and crafts
   which would become a source of livelihood for them, enabling them
   to become better citizens and homemakers, and work for the
   betterment of society; to run homes for destitute women and
   disenfranchised orphans; to provide supplementary nutrition to
   preschool children in ghettoized areas; to provide accommodation
   for working women from rural areas.


I would emphasize that the articulation of the fervent patriotism of Kashmiri women, which manifested itself in their emboldened presence in 1931, 1947, 1950, and 1975 until the dawn of insurgency and counterinsurgency in 1989-1990, requires research that gives as much credence to the path-paving work of women within religious, familial, and communal frameworks as to the work of those women who deconstructed established frameworks in order to lead subaltern movements; motivate minority education as opposed to state-controlled education; and recognize culture and history as sites of struggle.

Reminiscences about Women's Agential Roles or Lack Thereof, 1947 and 1989

Do women's multiple narratives reveal a capacity for alternative ways of negotiating the construction of conflictual identities? Does the assumption of agential roles by traditional women in a patriarchal culture cause an identity conflict crisis that can be resolved through a firm commitment to specific values and goals? While reminiscing about Begum Akbar Jehan's and other women's significant roles in 1947, Krishna Misri writes about the formation of the National Militia and Women's Defense Corps--volunteer forces of men and women organized under the leadership of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah--to ward off the onslaught that occurred on 22 October 1947 when hordes of tribesmen from the Northwest Frontier Province, under the patronage of the Pakistani army, crossed the border of the princely state of J & K in order to coercively annex the region:

In the absence of a competent civil authority, volunteers of the National Militia filled the void. They patrolled the city day and night with arms, kept vigil, guarded strategic bridges, approaches to the city, banks, offices, etc. With preliminary training in weapons, some of them were deployed with army detachments to fight the enemy at the war front. With its multifaceted and radical activities, Women's Self Defense Corps (WSDC) was a harbinger of social change. It provided a forum where women steeped in centuries-old traditions, abysmal ignorance, poverty and superstition could discuss their issues. Attired in traditional Kashmiri clothes and carrying a gun around her shoulders, Zoon Gujjari symbolized the WSDC. A milk vendor's charismatic daughter, hailing from a conservative Muslim family that lived in downtown Srinagar, she received well-deserved media coverage. My elder brother, Pushkar Zadoo, Joined the National Militia, while I along with my sisters, Kamla and Indu, became volunteers of WSDC. We were first initiated into physical fitness and then divided into smaller groups where weapons' training was imparted. It was essential to follow the instructions given by our instructor, an ex-army serviceman to a tee. Soon we understood the operational details of loading and unloading a gun, taking aim, and finally pressing the trigger. To get acclimatized to shooting the 303 rifle, sten gun, bren gun and pistol, practice drills were organized in an open area, known as "Chandmari." The initial nervousness soon gave way to confidence and we would hit the target when ordered. For all parades including "ceremonial guards" and "guard of honor," the practice was that men's contingents were followed by women's contingents.

During that invasion of 1947, Begum Akbar Jahan undertook exhaustive relief work to rehabilitate displaced and dispossessed villagers. She addressed the volunteers on political issues to raise their political consciousness. Miss Mahmuda Ahmad Shah, a pioneering educationist and champion of women's empowerment, along with other women, was in the forefront of WSDC. Begum Zainab was a grass-root level leader. She took charge of the political dimension of WSDC. Shouldering a gun, she was in the forefront, leading women's contingents. Sajjada Zameer Ahmad, Taj Begum Renzu, Shanta Kaul, and Khurshid Jala-u-Din joined the "Cultural Front" and worked with Radio Kashmir as anchors, announcers, and actors. Several women writers and poets emerged on the literary scene and contributed to the cultural renaissance that followed down the decades. (E-mail to author 5 April 2008).

Women, as evidenced by the work of constructive and rehabilitative work undertaken by political and social women activists in the former princely state during both turbulent and peaceful times, have more or less power depending on their specific situation and they can be relatively submissive in one situation and relatively assertive in another. Assessing women's agency requires identifying and mapping power relations, the room to maneuver within each pigeonhole, and the intransigence of boundaries (Hayward 1998, 29). The level of a woman's empowerment also varies according to factors such as class, caste, ethnicity, economic status, age, family position, and so on. Also, structural supports that some women have access to bolster their commitment to action.

In 1950, the government of J & K developed educational institutions for women on a large scale, including the first Government College for Women. This institution provided an emancipatory forum for the women of Kashmir, broadening their horizons and opportunities within established political and social spheres. Higher education in the state received a greater Impetus with the establishment of the Jammu and Kashmir University (Misri 2002, 25-26). The mobilization of women from various socioeconomic classes meant that they could avail themselves of educational opportunities, enhance their professional skills, and attempt to reform existing structures so as to accommodate more women. The educational methods employed in these institutions were revisionist in nature, not revolutionary. But the militarization of the political and cultural discourse in the state in 1989-1990 marginalized developmental issues and negated the plurality of ideologies through a nonnegotiable value system. In her e-mail to me (5 April 2008), Misri wrote about the gory landscape of 1989:
   In 1989, Kashmiris were caught between the terrorists and state
   terrorism, two sides of the same coin. Women bore the brunt of the
   suffering since, ironically, the two forces wielding power shared a
   patriarchal mindset that views women as symbols of individual and
   collective "honor." As has been the case throughout history,
   women's bodies in Kashmir became sites of war irrespective of their
   class, caste, religion, region or ethnicity. Physical violations of
   women became common and were used to challenge the collective honor
   of the community. Rape, gang-rape, abductions, kidnappings, naked
   corpses with amputated limbs hanging from tree-tops, were visible
   manifestations of the grim reality that gripped women's lives in
   the Valley. In addition were the hordes of panic-stricken people on
   the run, uprooted from their moorings, bereft of their home,
   history and identity. They had become refugees in their own land.
   For women, the new reality was in part reflected in the new
   identities they assumed: rape victims, abducted women, widows,
   grass widows, migrants and so on. The United Nations Declaration on
   Elimination of Violence against Women states that pervasive
   violence against women is a product of "unequal power relations"
   between men and women, which characterizes gender relations in all
   parts of the world. Violence is built into patriarchal structures
   and it is practiced during peace as well as war. Kashmiri women
   have gone through immense turbulence and torture in the last two
   decades, and reconstituting their devastated lives is a formidable
   challenge. Given the urgency of the problem, what they need is
   empowerment. However, much of the discourse in the last two decades
   has focused on women either as victims/losers or welfare
   beneficiaries. Scant attention has been paid to their attempts to
   reconstitute their lives and to face the struggles of everyday
   existence. One of the ways in which victimized and displaced
   Kashmiri women are rebuilding and creating meaning in their lives
   is by taking up agency-oriented roles. The resourcefulness of
   underprivileged women in becoming part of a larger re-constitution
   and conflict-mitigation process is to be commended. For-example,
   Parveena Ahangar's untiring search for her son culminated in the
   creation of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons. This
   association has become a rallying forum for parents and relatives
   in search of missing kith and kin. Others have set up self-help
   groups that deal with specific issues pertaining to widows,
   grass-widows and orphans. Still others have become involved in
   large-scale social work and/or social activism.

   Agency-oriented roles are highly visible in the political
   participation and mobilization of women. Outnumbering men at times,
   they have made their presence felt in a big way in protest rallies
   and dangerous political missions. Women are organized under several
   political organizations that are affiliated to their male
   counterparts. Dukhtara-e-Millat ("Daughters of the Nation") is
   affiliated to a radical Islamist group and advocates restrictive
   codes of conduct for women. They even condone the use of coercive
   methods to enforce their agenda. Those aligned with moderate
   militant groups, on the other hand, have less restrictive codes and
   refrain from the use of coercive methods. At the other end of the
   continuum is Daughters of Vitasta (Daughters of the Jhelum, a river
   that is the Lifeblood of Kashmir), the women's wing of Panun
   Kashmir ("Our Own Kashmir"), mainly operating from Jammu and Delhi.
   They seek resolution of the problems of internally displaced
   Kashmiri Pandits in terms of a separate homeland within the
   geographical space of the Valley. Despite their varying
   perceptions, all the women's organizations in India-administered J
   & K share some common traits: they are based on a radical
   politicization of religious identities and their agendas exemplify
   their exclusionary ideologies. Though these women have served in
   the lower and middle tiers of their respective organizations, they
   have to date been excluded from the upper echelons. Some of these
   organizations have expressed deep reservations about including
   women in the top tier, and none of them has a plan of action for
   women. How women perceive their future after struggle in a
   regressive discourse is unclear. It appears that they look at
   issues from the lens of their patriarchies and believe in an
   illusionary post-conflict resolution. While women have gained some
   "agentive moments," these gains are flawed as their agendas stem
   from an insulated world-view.


I agree with Misri's passionate articulation of the merciless forms of oppression that Kashmiri women now confront: "The focus has shifted from empowerment of women to the brutal politics of intimidation and coercion symbolized by attempts to enforce a dress code on them. The burden of the new adjustments has disproportionately fallen on women" (Misri 2002, 26).

Realizing the significance of oral historiography and the importance of preserving it for posterity, I touched base with Sajjida Zameer, a dedicated member of the WSDC in 1947 and former director of the Education Department, J & K. I also wanted to delve into the politico-social activism of women like Begum Akbar Jehan, Sajjida Zameer, Krishna Misri, and Mehmooda Ahmad Ali Shah in order to study their transition from keepers of home and hearth to people who saw themselves as a social force to be reckoned with. Within the confines of nationalist discourse they claimed the right to define themselves. Sajjida was in the forefront of the cultural movement, designed to awaken and hone a political consciousness through mass media:

In the early 1930s Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah spearheaded the struggle for a socialist, democratic government under the banner of the Muslim Conference. He had a very clear vision for Kashmir. Maharaja Hari Singh's rule hadn't done anything for the masses. While select courtiers and those who enjoyed royal patronage became richer, the poor led a truly miserable existence. Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah wanted the support of Indian leaders and masses to gain freedom from the Maharaja. While the rest of India chanted "Quit India" to the British, we in Kashmir chanted "Kashmir Chhod Do" ("Quit Kashmir") to the Maharaja's government. I was very impressed by the fervor to build a new Kashmir. The slogan was, "Kashmiriyon utho, yeb Jang hai apne aap ho banana ki" ("Wake up Kashmiris, this is a battle to create yourself anew"). On 3 September 1947, under Operation Gulmarg, Pakistan initiated its raid across the state borders. The state administration was in shambles and the unending stream of refugees from Pakistan created many problems for the ruler. The Maharaja fled to Jammu, leaving Kashmiris to be brutally killed by the intruders. At this stage it was Abdullah who took charge and enlisted the help of civil society to save human lives. Even before Indian troops landed in Srinagar, the citizens of Kashmir had organized themselves into a militia to protect the land from raiders. Young men who had never seen a gun, let alone handled one, volunteered to join the militia. The women's militia was formed simultaneously in 1947. The slogan that inspired us was "Kadam kadam bhadayenge hum, mahaz pe ladange hum" ("We will advance step by step to fight on the front"). Women, men and children were infused with a sense of patriotism. It was with this spirit that the people of Kashmir lived without salt for six months. Food items were to be supplied by Pakistan under the Standstill Agreement, but Pakistan withheld supplies of essential commodities in an attempt to force the issue of accession. The common Kashmiri puts a pinch of salt even in his/her tea. Yet people did not complain. There was a unifying bond of nationalism, a feeling that we could overcome all hurdles. Men and women joined together to form committees to prepare the people of the former princely state to fight against marauding raiders. I was able to follow the battles fought by the army due to my involvement in the women's militia. My husband, who was in the men's militia, kept me posted with all the details. I was an active volunteer in the militia. We were trained in the use of firearms by Indian army officers. Often firing competitions were held at Badami Bagh cantonment. At one competition I fired on target. General Cariappa, who was the chief guest, asked me to fire again to ensure that the bull's eye was not a mere fluke. I fired bang on target again, to win the 'Brigadier Lakhinder silver Cup.' I went to hospitals to visit the soldiers with homegrown fruits and vegetables. Some of them were so young and were away from their families. But their cheerful courage was heart-rending. For the first time I realized that war is initiated by Machiavellian politicians, but soldiers lose their lives and the masses are put through untold misery. Many army officers stand out in my memory for the way they carried out their duties. War was thrust upon India when Pakistan sent tribal irregulars and its soldiers into the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. Even as the situation in the Kashmir Valley was stabilized, the threat continued to be serious in the Jammu region. On 3 November 1947 the raiders reached Badgam a few miles from the Srinagar airfield. Major Somnath Sharma was sent to Badgam. Being outnumbered by seven to one, Sharma immediately sent a request to Brigadier Sen for reinforcements. He knew that if the enemy advanced any further, the airport would be lost and Kashmir would become a province of Pakistan; the airfield was the only lifeline between the Kashmir Valley and the rest of India. His last wireless message stated that they would fight to the last man and the last bullet. Soon after, Somnath Sharma was killed by a mortar. In November, I remember there was absolute panic because 3,000 enemy troops were on the outskirts of Srinagar in Shalateng, just four miles from the city centre, preparing to attack the city. In a brilliantly planned and executed operation, Colonel Harbaksh Singh attacked Shalateng on 22 November and routed the Pakistani raiders. Finally, Brigadier Sen was able to lure the raiders into the net of Indian forces, near Shalateng. The raiders were defeated and the threat to Srinagar was over. If the capital city had fallen, it would have been one of the greatest disasters for the people of Kashmir. Today, there would have been no talk of self-determination for Kashmir. We would have been administered stringently like a poor cousin of Pakistan, similar to Pakistan-administered Kashmir. I wonder how many Kashmiris realize this. The militia worked with the army, guiding them through unfamiliar terrain, gathering vital information and giving details of the raiders' movement. The women's militia played a substantive role in repulsing the raiders. Zoon Gujjari of Nawakadal, Srinagar, Jana Begum of Amrikadal, Srinagar, and Mohuan Kaur, a refugee from Baramullah, Kashmir, were active participants in the women's movement. Kashmiris from all walks of life, irrespective of religion or race, actively participated in the various activities of the Cultural Front of the militia. Prominent among the Kashmiri participants were Mahjoor, a very famous poet who wrote poems about Kashmir, its freedom and secular traditions. Other well-known indigenous poets in the movement were Noor Mohammed Roshan Arif Beigh, Premnath Pardesi, Pushkar Baan, Mohanlal Aima, Ghulam Mohammed Rah, and Abdul Sattar. Lending his voice to their verses was Abdul Ghani Namtahali (from Wathura Budgam, Kashmir). I must also mention Ghulam Qadir, a small-time businessman who would partake in the activities.

I joined the cultural front due to a crisis situation that arose when the leading lady, Ms. Usha Kashyap, in the play Kashmir Yeh Hai (This is Kashmir) had to leave due to some pressing personal problem. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, first Prime Minister of independent India, and other dignitaries were due to arrive to watch the play written by Professor Mehmood Hashmi, a refugee from Jammu who had fled to Srinagar. All the members of the Cultural Front pleaded with me to take over Kashyap's role. I had just a few days to prepare for the grand event. However, the play was a huge success and it moved the audience to tears. We staged another play during that time, Shaheed Sherwani (Martyr Sherwani), written by Prem Nath Pardase whose illustrious son Som Nath Sadhu, along with Pushkar Bhan, later aired a very popular program, "Zoon Dab," on Radio Kashmir. I also worked for Radio Kashmir whenever required sans remuneration. Also, I vividly remember the role played by Sumitra Lakhwara and her sisters who worked relentlessly round the clock with the women's militia. Members of the women's militia hoisted the flag of Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir when Abdullah was sworn in as prime minister of the state in 1948. Sumitra, her sister passionately sang the anthem of the state, "Leheraaye Kashmir ke jhanday" ("The flag of Kashmir is unfurled and flies high"), at the ceremony.

After the attack by Pakistani raiders was successfully repulsed, the men's militia was amalgamated into the Indian army as the Jammu and Kashmir Light Brigade. The amalgamation, however, was not with retrospective effects from the day the militia was formed, but from a later date. This affected the seniority of the officers and soldiers of the Jammu and Kashmir Light Brigade. The fact that the amalgamation came into effect from a date later than the actual formation of the militia was construed as the Government of India's attempt to discriminate against Kashmiris. (Email from Sajjida Zameer to author, 1 April 2008)

Ironically, women in J & K have not yet found niches in the upper echelons of decision-making bodies--political, religious, or social. Asymmetrical gender hierarchies legitimized by the forceful dissemination of fundamentalist and militarized discourses portend the debasement and prostration of women.

Kashmiri society needs to recognize the terror caused by such predatory discourses that swoop down on the vulnerable, devouring their ideological and experiential strengths. The retrieval of the strength that nurtured the rich experiential content of the teachings of mystic poet Lalla-Ded, the conviction of the women volunteers of WSDC, the vision of women activists who were harbingers of change in the sociopolitical and cultural realms, would facilitate the recomposition of women's roles in the significant process of nation building. Do women embody the history of a culture and community only as it is remembered in the murky corridors of officialdom? The inception of the militant separatist movement in J & K in 1989 scorched the landscape, particularly the headway that had been made in providing women with educational and economic opportunities. The ongoing story of the trouble-torn state is replete with instances of fathers forcing their daughters to live in marital unions of psychological, sexual, and material frustration, to prevent them from being violated by the paramilitary forces or by trigger-happy militants; of women accepting physical and emotional torture in their marital homes to preserve the "honor" of the family and the community; and of women who were "dishonored," either by being violated or by asserting their political and sexual agency, being shunned by their families (Amnesty International, "India," 2005; Kashmiri Women's Initiative for Peace and Disarmament 2004). Consider Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak's delineation of the contexts in which the politics of representation renders mute the figure of the "third-world woman," which would apply to the situation in Kashmir:

Between patriarchy and imperialism, subject-constitution and object-formation, the figure of the woman disappears, not into a pristine nothingness, but a violent shuttling which is the displaced figuration of the "third-world woman" caught between tradition and modernization. (Spivak 1999, 304).

Power relations within the prevalent discourses of patriarchy and fundamentalism mediate the Kashmiri woman's identity. The valorization of her subordination is under-written by praxes that legitimize gender identities, which are necessary to patriarchal and fundamentalist dominance.

Despite the political mobilization of Kashmiri women during the upheaval in 1931 and the politically volcanic "Quit Kashmir" movement of 1946, they have now reverted from the public sphere to the private realm. The onslaught of despotism in 1931 unleashed by Maharaja Hari Singh awakened Kashmiri women from their slumber and Induced them to rattle the confining bars of the monarchical cage. Remarkably, the illiterate women of Srinagar, Kashmir, were initiated into political activism and it was they who heralded the political participation of educated women (Khan 1978, 115). The "Quit Kashmir" movement of 1946-1947 saw the evolution of women into well-informed and articulate protestors, assuming leadership roles in the quest for a Kashmiri identity: "When male leadership was put behind bats or driven underground, women leaders took charge and gave a new direction to the struggle" (Misri 2002, 19). But this consciousness of the women, which could have produced women cadres, was diluted by the reversion to normative gender roles. Attempts to drown the voices of progressive women into oblivion became more frequent with the onset of militancy in 1989-1990. Can women step out of their ascribed gender roles, once again, to significantly impact sociopolitical developments in J & K? Can the political and social exigencies of the women of J & K be addressed in more nuanced and purposeful ways?

Delineation of Concrete Measures

In November 2007, an intra-Kashmir women's conference, "Connecting Women across the Line of Control (LOG)" was organized in Srinagar by the Delhi-based Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation (CDR), in collaboration with the Women's Studies programs at the Universities of Kashmir and Jammu. Women delegates from both sides of the LOG participated in the conference to productively discuss concrete methods of rehabilitating victims of violence, either state-sponsored or militancy related. Women from Indian- and Pakistani-administered J & K discussed the socioeconomic hardships, psychological neuroses, and political marginalization caused by dislocation, dispossession, and disenfranchisement. Delegates at the conference sought mobilization of women for effective change in political and social structures. They vehemently endorsed diplomacy and peaceful negotiations in order to further the India-Pakistan peace process; withdrawal of forces from both sides of the LOG; decommissioning of militants; rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits to rebuild the syncretic fabric of Kashmiri society; and rehabilitation of detainees (Barve 2008). Some of the strategies delineated at the conference may seem Utopian, but it highlighted the ability to imagine confidence-building measures that grapple with normative structures and underscore the decisive role that women can play in raising consciousness, not just at the individual but at the collective level as well, giving the marginalized a vision with which to redefine life's constituting parameters.

In order to highlight the groundbreaking work accomplished by local agencies, cadres, and social networks in Kashmir, the distinction between traditional praxes that conscript the role of women and progressive roles prescribed for women within Islamic norms needs to be underscored by responsible scholarship and social work. The Western pre-occupation with empirical observation has led to an inaccurate conflation of Islamic norms with practices. Western feminist epistemologies can impair the research paradigms, hypotheses, and field work on women in Islamic societies.

Historically, cultural, societal, and market constraints have denied women access to information about the outside world. But the sort of advocacy concretized by the intra-Kashmir women's conference could overturn the historical seclusion of women and provide them with routes to make forays into mainstream cultural and socioeconomic institutions. Perhaps the mobilization of women at the collective level would enable a metamorphosis, fostering the skills and ability of women to make informed decisions about issues in the nondomestic sphere. The conference provided a forum where women's experiences were contextualized, theorized, and politicized.

Culture inscribes a wide range of experiences that centralizing institutions attempt to render invisible and homogeneous. But women in J & K, as in other postcolonial countries, are positioned in relation to their own class and cultural realities; their own histories; their sensitivity to the diversity of cultural traditions and to the questions and conflicts within them; the legacies of Sufi Islam; their own struggles not just with the devastating effects of Indian occupation and Pakistani infiltration, but also with the discourses of cultural nationalism and religious fundamentalism; their own relations to the West; their interpretations of religious law; their beliefs in the different schools of Islamic and Hindu thought; and their concepts of the role of women in contemporary societies.

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Nyla Ali Khan has a Ph.D in English Literature from the University of Oklahoma where she now teaches several courses, including South Asian Studies, Twentieth-Century Anglophone Postcolonial Literature, Postcolonial Theory, and Cultural Studies. Nyla Ali Khan, a native of Kashmir, has written extensively on issues related to Jammu & Kashmir. A former Associate Professor at the University of Nebraska-Kearney, Nyla Ali Khan is also the author of The Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism (Routledge 2005).

(1) This paper is a version of a chapter that earlier appeared in Nyla Ali Khan's Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir: Between India and Pakistan, 2010, Palgrave Macmillan, and is reproduced here with permission of Palgrave Macmillan.

(2) I consider it important to underline my assiduous attempt not to hinder or obstruct the various testimonies that I listened to with forgone conclusions or unfounded biases. The women I spoke with were not testifying simply to empirical data but to the profoundity of survival and resistance to the pervasive "culture of silence" in which they were bearing witness to the traumas they had lived through (see Felman and Laub 1992 for insights on trauma theory).

Nyla Ali Khan

Department of English

University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK
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