Women in Conflict

While it is important to condemn, in the strongest terms, the horrific act committed by the Fourth Rajput Regiment in Kunan Poshpora, Kashmir, in 1991, we now need to ask ourselves the following questions:

Have we provided adequate economic and humanitarian support for the women of Kunan Poshpora? Have we provided adoption facilities for orphans?

Does idle chatter followed by luncheons and photo ops at fancy hotels in Srinagar do anything to help their situation on the ground?

Do we have clear nation-building programs, which would involve reviving civil society, resuscitating the shattered economy, providing sources of income, and building social and political structures?

How can we, as a people, pave the way for sustainable peace, human rights and security which would diminish the potency of militarized peacekeeping, which follows closely on the heels of militarized interventions?

Educated women should fully participation in professional and political life in Kashmir, and not make a virtue of helplessness and destitution.

Should branches of the state government responsible for women’s issues and humanitarian assistance be pro-active and not dormant?.

Unless there is a qualitative difference to policy making and behavior, the chances of the existence of women ministers, bureaucrats, and diplomats making a difference seem rather slim.

I firmly believe that in order to address wider political, socioeconomic, and democratic issues in Kashmir requires “rethinking the relationship between state and non-state actors, between state and society, and therefore between the structures of decisionmaking in these two arenas” (Chenoy and Vanaik 2001: 124).

Also, a student of history, culture, and politics would construct a much richer narrative of Kashmir by tying in the current insurgent, counter insurgent, nationalist movements, and militarization of Kashmir with the larger political context.

It is in the arena of domestic politics that “changes in gender composition to favour [sic] women today may have significant effects on policies and practices, and here that such rearrangements of personnel can themselves be seen as responses to the presence of real and growing social processes of a pro-democratic and pro-feminist kind” (Ibid.: 128).

I observe that there is a serious lack of a feminist discourse in political/activist roles taken on by women in Kashmir, where the dominant perception still is that, politics and policy-making are associated with the objective, fearless male realist rather than with the archetypal maternal woman who believes in reconciliation.. As in other political scenarios in South Asia, a woman politician’s feminine traits, like reticence and a demure demeanor, cause her to be relegated to the “soft area” of Social Welfare.  Women’s rights and gender issues are secondary to political power.

Today, in the politics of Jammu and Kashmir and other South Asian states, women constitute a minority, increasing the pressures of high visibility, unease, stereotyping, inability to make substantial change, over-accommodation to the dominant male culture in order to avoid condemnation as “overly soft.” Even those with access to the echelons of power are unwilling or unable to challenge state-centered, elitist, and masculinist notions of security.

New efforts and new forums are required not just in Jammu and Kashmir but in other parts of the world as well for the germination of new ideas, broad based coalition politics that transcends organizational divides, and gives women the space and leeway to make important political decisions.

The most effective way to make a gender perspective viable in Kashmiri society would be for women, state as well as non-state actors, to pursue the task of not just incorporating and improving the positions of their organizations within civil society, but also by forging connections between their agendas and strategies for conflict resolution and reconstruction of society with the strategies and agendas of other sections of the populace impacted by the conflict.

It is imperative that women actors in collaboration with other civil society actors focus on the rebuilding of a greatly polarized and fragmented social fabric to ensure the redress of inadequate political participation, insistence on accountability for human rights violations through transitional justice mechanisms, reconstruction of the infrastructure and productive capacity of Kashmir, resumption of access to basic social services. It is imperative that the state government recognize the worth of the peace-building work that women’s organizations can contribute at the local and regional levels.

Nyla Ali Khan is the author of Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism, Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir, The Life of a Kashmiri Woman, and the editor of The Parchment of Kashmir. Nyla Ali Khan has also served as an guest editor working on articles from the Jammu and Kashmir region for Oxford University Press (New York), helping to identify, commission, and review articles. She can be reached at nylakhan@aol.com.