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The Vulnerable Repositories of Honor in 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 J & K showcase the nuances of women’s narratives in conflict situations.

Will the grievances of such aggrieved 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 give me the permission 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 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 fear psychosis 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 in July-August 1999, that Post-traumatic stress disorders increased in 1,700 in 1990 to 17,000 in 1993 and to 30, 000 in 1998 (1999). It is unfortunate that the more unaccountable state-sponsored agencies have become in 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 like nobody’s business. Women and children are in a miserable plight because of the lack of not just physical infrastructure but deficit in gynecological, obstetric, welfare, and economically rehabilitative services as well.

I met three women 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 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; working toward accepting their life circumstances and tentatively attempting to redefine them within clear conceptual frameworks (See Susan Warner and Kathryn M. Feltey, “Recovered Memories and Identity Transformation” in “From Victim to Survivor: Recovered Memories and Identity Transformation”, in Trauma and Memory, edited by Linda M. Williams and Victoria L. Banyard, 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).

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 has 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 ethno-nationalism are inscribed, and  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.”

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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.

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