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Girls Reduced to Being Repositories of Communal and Religious Identities in Kashmir

Women in Jammu and Kashmir have been living in an unendurable atmosphere for a while now 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 bottomless perdition.

The law of the jungle, which prevails in several parts of the state, 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 the lacerated hearts of those brutalized are, inevitably, not redressed. The unalloyed purity of nature and the spiritual illumination it inspires have, therefore, been tarnished.

Attempts to drown the voices of progressive women into oblivion became more frequent with the onset of militancy and counter-insurgency in 1989–90. Can the political and social exigencies of the women of J & K be addressed in more nuanced and purposeful ways?

Asymmetrical gender hierarchies legitimized by the forceful dissemination of militarized and fundamentalist discourses portend the debasement of women.

The brutalization and ruthless murder of eight-year old Asifa in Kathua district of Jammu province was the snuffing out of a young life who might have gone on to do wonderful things. Little Asifa belonged to the nomadic Bakharwal Muslim community of Jammu, which has, historically, been socioeconomically marginalized. The innocent child was kidnapped, held in captivity, and raped at the behest of a 60-year old Hindu resident of Kathua district who feared that growing Bakharwal settlements in the area would change the demographics of that part of the state, reducing the Hindu population to a miniscule minority. So what better way to instill fear in a people and drive them off the land?

The site of Asifa’s defilement and ruthless murder was a local Hindu temple. She was deployed as a pawn on the chessboard of regional and communal antipathies, which is simply pathetic!

I have always maintained that in India, the Congress stealthily does by night what the BJP does in broad daylight. And sure enough, the President of the Jammu High Court Bar Association, which is playing a highly reprehensible role in defending those responsible for the brutalization and murder of little Asifa, is affiliated with the Congress Party.

In addition, former BJP minister Lal Singh continues to perpetuate divisive politics by categorising women along caste and religious lines. How in the world can he justify the barbarity of little Asifa’s brutalization and murder!

The polarising rhetoric deployed by BJP bigwigs in the Jammu province of the state has portrayed the nation as an invention that breeds relentless hatred. Their myopic vision renders the nation all the more threatening because the belligerent politics leading to its construction is internecine and does not bind Muslim to Hindu or Bengali to Kashmiri but rather sunders Bengali from Bengali and Kashmiri from Kashmiri. Such an irregular politics polarises these ethnic groups into Hindus and Muslims who are required to disavow their cultural, linguistic, and social unities. Such short-sightedness will prove even more detrimental to the constitutional integrity of India.

The ruling political party in India, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has a women’s wing that claims that the image of woman as powerful mother underlines economic independence for women and reinforces her strength and courage of conviction to sacrifice for the family. The BJP vociferously campaigns for women in parliament and the judiciary. The women members of this political party argue that they could never identify the modern Indian woman with the liberated woman of the Western world. On the contrary, they campaign for reverting to a mythic past where women were purportedly equals in society. In doing so, the women’s wing of the BJP makes an ardent attempt to reconstruct history in order to inspire the kind of politics that present-day nationalism requires. However, the most barbaric acts against women are justified as means to restore the lost dignity of a caste/ community, which the Asifa case has made clear as day.

And in practice, gender violence is a consistent feature of the riots and political thuggery that spasmodically grip the subcontinent. The wretchedness of the crime committed against Asifa bears testimony to the intersecting notions of family, nation, and community. The horrific stories of women that are 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 nationalist are willing to lay down their lives serves, in effect, to preserve native women in pristine retardation.

Asifa could have belonged to any region, any community, and/ or been anyone’s child. She was a young girl who deserved to live with dignity, grow, reach her potential, and thrive to the fullest.

That in and of itself is reason enough to evoke my sympathy and strongly condemn the wretchedness of those who are leaving no stone unturned to deny her justice.

It is high time we learned to see girls/ women as individuals in their own right, not merely as repositories of communal and traditional values.

Unfortunately, politicians in the Kashmir province of the state are guilty of deploying Asifa as a pawn as well to whip up anarchy, leading to the closure of educational institutions with students taking to the streets to protest the incident. A mainstream movement or a militant nationalist movement must have the foresight to pay attention to whether the legislation and execution of political, economic, and social policies and programs in contemporary Kashmir is successfully addressing women’s as well as men’s experiences and concerns. Otherwise political and religious rhetoric doesn’t go beyond the rhetorical.

 

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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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