The decades-long conflict in IIOJK has forced the Kashmiri women to take on new roles. With their men serving jail sentences, maimed, killed, or subjected to enforced custodial disappearance, these women have to shoulder heavy responsibilities both within and outside their homes. As if that is not harrowing enough, they also suffer constant threat to their lives, dignity and freedom at the hands of the Indian occupying forces. The psychological and emotional turmoil that they have to go through is unimaginable. However, not only have they faced this situation bravely but their challenges and personal tragedies have empowered them; Kashmiri women are now at the forefront of the Kashmiri struggle for freedom from the shackles of Indian subjugation. They are the strongest pillars of resistance, their role having evolved from passive to active.
Struggle is not something new for Kashmiri women; they have been at the receiving end of Indian tyranny as direct and indirect victims of violence by the State. Their suffering is a result of its policy of suppressing the voices of freedom.
Everyday lives are led in siege-like conditions even when there isn’t a curfew in place where they have reduced accessibility to basic facilities, such as health and education because of the presence of the Indian armed forces. Their tragedy is compounded by the constant fear of being violated at the hands of the personnel of Indian occupying forces. Rape has been the weapon of choice of Indian armed forces whereby they seek to break resistance by forcing the community into submission, using the patriarchy in the society that places the burden of honour on women, the woman herself left traumatised and unable to assume any kind of role in achieving the goal of freedom.
Initially, the struggle of the Kashmiri people for their right of self-determination, saw Kashmiri women supporting their men morally, emotionally and economically. But with the Indian barbarity and attempts of genocide of the Kashmiri people increasing in intensity, the Kashmiri women now realise that they have to do more than just support their men; the freedom struggle has entered a new phase, where women have taken on more responsibility regardless of age or social status.
The Kashmiri women have always been politically astute but now they are making sure their voices can no longer be muffled. IIOJK has entered a new phase of collective resistance, from women on the streets in the form of spontaneous or organized gatherings where thousands of nameless women fight pitched battles with armed forces, women fighting battles for justice in legal and political spaces, and younger women who are challenging the narrative using their skills and talents making documentaries, illustrating the plight of Kashmir through their art and photography, reporting about it as journalists, and writing literature about it — both poetry and prose, fiction and non-fiction. This is the new reality of the Kashmiri woman’s existence, albeit one in which she exercises her agency as an individual not just as a wife, mother, daughter, or sister, who is equally, if not more, affected by the conflict. This is a new dawn for the freedom movement of Kashmir in which female voices are cutting through the barbed wires of oppression, making noise as they have not for years, with women standing for women, and resisting in multiple roles, keeping the spirit of the resistance movement alive. Kashmiri women’s resistance has been present from the beginning of the movement against the Indian occupation and has only changed forms, from passive to active roles, their political voice being the same as the rest of the population of Kashmir: Azaadi (Freedom).
However, they look to the world community to support them in their struggle. The world should open its eyes to the misery of the people of IIOJK, particularly the women who are braving through unimaginable odds, unwilling to surrender or submit. The international community needs to realise its responsibility towards the Kashmiri people as each passing day unfolds new tales of persecution and cruelty of the Indian State against them. HH
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