Exclude Women Of Kashmir And No Solution Will Be Lasting
Kashmir remains the United Nation’s longstanding unresolved territorial dispute for various reasons, but male supremacy has to be within the top three. Male supremacy also creates conflicts that perhaps could have simply been avoided in the first place. As a result, Kashmir is perpetually in a spasm of curfew-war-blackout-complacency since 1947.
Women are deliberately excluded in Kashmir. Their identities intersect with the Indian and Pakistani cultural stereotype of purportedly delicate sensibilities. Any active participation in the exterior is, therefore, purely the realm of men. Abhorrent levels of violence in the Kashmir valley only perpetuate that stereotype further.
That’s no excuse to continue a patriarchal approach to demilitarization. Landmark research on the gendered conflict by Inclusive Security concludes “an agreement is 35 per cent more likely to last at least 15 years if women are included as negotiators, mediators, and signatories”. Lasting peace is only achieved post-conflict when women are invited to the negotiating table.
Kashmir is a valley; wildflowers and bunkers side by side have grown here since 1947 when the colonial British haphazardly transferred powers to largely Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan. Kashmir was a disputed territory. Technically, this means only the UN can determine its legal status, and operationally it means that the people of Kashmir are under real threat and famished. Today, the Indian-controlled Kashmir has a nine hundred thousand military personal presence that doesn’t shy from shooting. They shoot even at women breaking curfew in case they need to give birth or desperately find safety.
Kashmir has the highest civilian-to-military ratio in the world – described by the few reporters that have access as an open prison. For the women of Kashmir, the violence is even more harrowing. They need to escape men with guns and the demonization of the honor culture. Human Rights Watch documented that Indian forces consistently use “rape as a counterinsurgency tactic”.
India is an illegal occupying force on its side of the Line of Control. It cannot even allow its opposition leaders to enter Srinagar. Rahul Gandhi was asked to turn back. The crackdown was especially brutal since August 5, 2019, when it established Article 370. These actions gave the citizens of Kashmir, largely Muslim, exactly zero rights to take home. An internet and communication blackout ensues now leaving 12 million in fear and desperation.
An Indian politician from the BJP, Vikram Singh Saini of Khatauli in Muzaffarnagar, announced with bravado that Indian men could now take fair maiden Kashmiris for brides. When men take women and brag, they are unmistakably bragging about violating women sexually. This vile version of patriotism by RSS and BJP, both right-wing parties gained strength with the Gujarat pogrom against Muslims. In 2002, thousands of Muslims were targeted and instead of condemnation, there was jubilation and instead of democracy voting out the bigots, a bigoted society voted in the perpetrators. Now it’s Kashmir that will be a lesson out of.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has, hence, made it convenient for PTSD-marred troops to fill Kashmiri prisons with political dissenters if they feel benevolent and stuff the earth instead if they are not feeling charitable. This is the full range of the Shining India myth. Pardon the trigger, this may pose for some delicate souls morning granola breakfast, but this is textbook genocide – blood, gore, shrieks and pleadings for mercy – the whole works. Tallying people by their ethnicity was done once before with disastrous consequences and even then, it was frowned down to call it by its name.
Dehumanization, isolation, and legitimization of violence for some urgent notion of regional stability are chiefly fascist tactics. The moment the Indian economy showed signs of real trouble, taking Kashmiri women was the new electoral cry.
It is precisely because there is an eerie absence of women in the peace process. The women of Kashmir are only allowed to play one role of victims, and that depiction grandly assists the militaries that thrive on the conflict. Kashmir serves the fourth-largest military in the world but also poses as the gold standard for peace, democracy, and non-violence. The world watches because no one cares about brown men being killed by other brown men. The violence of men of colour is only fetishized.
A picture of Afshan Ashique who hurled rocks at the Indian forces during a crackdown went viral. The idea of ingenious Kashmiri women as warriors rather than victims is a new force in the midst of a men-only stakeholder list. I feel this picture, in all of its glory, puts the onus on these severely confined and gravely terrorized women to define how much freedom they will be willing to put up a fight for and at what cost.
The misogyny is systemic and this intifada-like glorification trivializes the scale of violence international humanitarian agencies are sounding alarmed for. The women of Kashmir should not have to be in the battlefield fronting bullets and gas canisters, they should be learning how to articulate their legitimate freedom struggle through a political process which is not limited only to the parliament, but also fierce activism, online and off. Those voices are stifled by patriarchy across both sides of the LoC. It’s a full circle – male dominance creates absolute power; violence makes it unsafe for women to participate in a legitimate freedom struggle – violence continues.
One cannot have any sympathy for the deliberate erasure of the women of Kashmir by all politicians and world leaders that promise intervention. These women have inherited loss of fathers, husbands, and sons. Their voices were never permitted to be part of the defining narrative. Merely, they were a pawn. Too often their pain is rejoiced by perpetrators; exalted by the peaceniks or ignored entirely by local politicians. If Kashmir belongs to Kashmiris then Kashmiri women belong on the table to determine what way the cookie crumbles.
Conflicts can never be resolved if those assuming authority to solve it are not harmed by its consequences. Conflicts cannot be solved by male supremacy alone because historically men value military and economic might to flex their way into an ugly conflagration. Usually this is done without any consideration for the human cost of war. Men are also known to hate admitting that they were wrong. They are also terribly inadequate in terms of living out the consequences of mistakes by adopting deflection, blame and overt emotionalism.
Conflicts cannot be solved without women in power. Not respect, not honour, not protection – power. If women are absent then we have what we have is seven decades of Kashmir – fifty rounds of talks by men in suits; talking points etched in ancient stone and crisp arrogance that has resulted in no definite benchmarks and no alleviation of suffering.
When men go to fix something and leave women at the stove, they have a zero per cent success rate. Someone tell the men to give way and let the women of Kashmir in. When they are in, pass them a microphone that works.
Aisha Sarwari is an international digital communications director, author, and public speaker with a dynamic career spanning fifteen years.
Aisha has lately emerged as a leading force in converging technologies to create an impact in grassroots communities, particularly among women and the marginalized.
She published Navigating Pakistani Feminism—Fight By Fight in 2016, followed by its sequel The Fight Goes On, in 2019. Aisha’s next book, How To Be A Woman In Pakistan, is slated for publishing by Bloomsbury India in 2020.
She has curated hundreds of projects and launched 25 international conferences. She has appeared in over 40 conferences in more than 23 countries as a speaker including The World Investment Conference; The Indus Entrepreneurs; Oslo – I-Empower-Me; Business & Professional Women’s Global Congress and the Stockholm Internet Forum.
Aisha is a digital communications director with over 17 years of experience in Pakistan, the UAE, the USA, and Turkey. She has worked with and advised The World Bank, UNCTAD, WHO, UNIDO, WAIPA, CNN, NPR, USAID, USIP, the Government of Pakistan, Oracle, Adam Smith International, DAI, BPW, and DFID. She currently holds the position of Director of Communications and Sustainability at Jazz, the largest mobile operator in Pakistan.
She regularly writes on gender rights and has advised on Pakistani policymaking in the context of violence against women as part of the Prime Minister’s Gender Working Group. Aisha’s op-eds, columns, and sound-bytes have appeared globally on the BBC, NPR, TRT World, The Guardian, GIS Watch. In Pakistan she is often featured at Dawn.com, the Daily Times, the Jinnah Institute and the Express Tribune, totaling over 400 published newspaper articles and 12 specialized research papers for prominent think tanks.