The changing gender discourse

Re-contextualizing Feminist approaches in Kashmir

Dr. Shazia Malik
Srinagar, Publish Date: Jul 16 2018 12:06AM | Updated Date: Jul 16 2018 12:06AM
The changing gender discourse

Twelve year old Andleeb Ali, a 7th standard student was the latest victim of continuing bloodbath in Kashmir. As per the news reports she died of bullet injuries on Saturday after Army men fired outside her house in Hawoora, Kulgam. As is our daily routine, we got busy in counting the dead ones and recollect the stories of short lived lives of martyrs. Andleeb’s death, like many other girls and women, who died while shielding militants, or in cross-firing, or by target firing, posed several questions on the recently emerging gender discourses in Kashmir. 

While feminism should not make people bristle as feminism in essence is all about equality and justice, it is widely accepted that the overarching assumptions of Eurocentric feminist theories tend to explain patriarchy and the ways in which it is reproduced as somehow fixed and universal.  Third world feminism has contested the western feminism for not taking into account race, class, sexuality, religion and culture. It is worth mentioning that until very recent the feminist movements in South-Asia in general and in India in particular, showed lack of compassion for the sufferings of Kashmiri women. Feminist scholarships on Kashmir have lately been discussing the gender dimensions of Kashmir’s ongoing militarized conflict. Lot of such works has focused on atrocities done on women not by the traditional patriarchal notions but by the newly constructed patriarchal alliances that juxtaposes military gender and violence. Since Kashmiri Women are part of the Kashmiri community, bringing notions of justice and equality to them is a kind of activism that needs to be highly sensible. While I say this, it is not meant to discourage, discredit and delegitimize any kind of activism here. The various forms of oppression facing kashmiri women, and the discrimination that violates their rights along with the state’s structural violence have proliferated in last two decades. 

There has been an upsurge in the cases of domestic violence against women in Kashmir, property rights are still denied to a large proportion of women here and rapes and molestations are haunting girls at homes as well as schools. However talking about the issues of women through a feminist perspective that demands equal rights with men without recognizing the complex socio-political reality in Kashmir will reduce the options available to the Kashmiri women.  We need to understand when it is the matter of life and death, the people of the land talk about their survival and not their dreams of individual progress. When women lose their young educated sons on daily basis, when girls like Andleeb die, professors choose gun to fight,  women’s property rights, companionship in marriages and equal opportunities at workplaces automatically  become  a non-issue for them. Many women rights activists are genuinely trying to lend a helping hand to the women who suffer violence inside the closed doors of their homes or in offices/schools/colleges and universities in the valley. They dare to speak about patriarchy and bring out women’s voices in public through feminist perspectives. The approaches they have chosen are a deliberate attempt to remain apolitical in a very hyper-politically active region. Having said that and trying not to discredit any kind of activism, their approaches are seemingly based on western notions of freedom and equality which needs a little sensible correction. 

They campaigned for safer and comfortable spaces for women in public spaces such as parks roads and shopping centres. Well any such activism will not go down well with the local people mostly for their misogynistic perceptions of womanhood. However as Andleeb died in her own lawn I had a problem with their approach. There are no safer places in Kashmir, men and women are direct victims of militarized conflict in Kashmir. How do we as feminists ascertain the comfort levels of Kashmiri women. Not having property rights is not as serious as getting killed, raped or losing a dear one. In Andleeb’s case, she wasn’t a burden to her poor parents. She was one among three daughter’s of her parents who tried their best to educate their daughters. Andleeb as per reports was good in sports as well and was free to pursue her dreams-the society didn’t restrict her movement, she was silenced forever by a bullet that has institutional sanctions in the part of the world, if not sanctions, the impunity with which crimes are being perpetrated creates lot of fear and confusion around.

 Although the women’s voices are still unheard in the dominant political movement in Kashmir and women’s perspectives have not at all been integrated, women are as much part of the movement as men are and they are equally suffering alongwith the men. Gender issues are conspicuous and real and therefore feminism has to stay on. Nevertheless the feminist approaches need to be sensible to the socio-political and cultural oppression. The particular obstacles that Kashmiri women’s rights activists face are to be addressed within the broader political discourses.  The unprotected social and political environment has to be invoked every time we speak about gendered rights. De-linking the issues of politics and women’s issues will only demean the activism and further marginalise the women. Feminism in Kashmir needs to incorporate culturally and politically sensitive approaches to be productive. Kashmir issue is a women’s issue and if we deny this we are being reductive and selective. It is so relevant to quote a Palestinian women living under a constant turmoil under Israeli forces, ‘I do not want the same rights as my husband. My husband he has no rights’.  


(Dr. Shazia Malik is Assistant Professor Women's Studies Centre University of Kashmir)

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