Guest Post by SONAM MITTAL
To understand why Kashmir is a feminist issue, let’s take up a hypothetical, or not-really-so-hypothetical-after-all, situation of an abusive relationship.
A woman, gorgeous, graceful and delicate is in need of rescue. A man, mighty, strong and resourceful, offers to help. His only condition is that she should be his and only his for now and forever. She agrees.
It could have been the beginning of a beautiful love story if not for the underlying patriarchy and misogyny threatening to burst out. All it needed was an excuse. See, this woman had an acquaintance, a friend, with whom she had shared a part of her life. Her culture, her values and various elements that added to her charm were influenced by this friend. One fine day, this friend returned to lay claim on her. The man got angry, quite obviously. Fists and punches were thrown around and all three parties were badly hurt. Several grudges were adopted and nursed. Days went by but the memory of this brutality never faded away.
The man started placing restrictions on the woman. For her safety, obviously. Silly girl, he said, what if ‘your friend’ comes back again?
Then came in the taunts and verbal attacks. Are you really mine? Is this how you repay the help I gave you? Is this how you behave for sharing my life? Am sure you must have done something to provoke him and make him feel like he owns you.
The neighbors started talking and debating on who had a rightful claim on her. Nobody asked her what she wanted.
Day by day, the atrocities committed by the man, under the garb of protecting her, became unbearable. It was cruel enough that she had suffered many wounds on her body, some which were still hurting. The man would keep poking her, pinching and questioning her. Every action taken only for her ‘protection.’ It was almost as if he gained some perverse pleasure from her torture, knowing that no one can question him.
Some people noticed her wounds and started questioning the man. It’s nothing, he said. Don’t worry about it, her safety is my priority. She is an integral part of my life. It’s hurtful that you’d question and think that I don’t care about her. Do you remember how I bled trying to save her from that friend?
The torture continued. She had slowly started protesting, saying, No! stop this, I don’t want this any more.
SMACK. You anti-national!
The slap rang hard across her face. It was insulting, but she bore it silently. Her movements were restricted.
We will have to put you under a curfew, he said. The virus of anti-nationals is breeding on you like ticks on a stinky dog.
The neighbors started talking again. Why is she under curfew? What was her crime? Again, nobody asked her what she wanted from all this debacle.
The man started guarding her at all times. How dare she talk back! She refuses to believe that I’m the best thing that could ever happen to her. All she cares about is that friend of hers. Hmpf. I must not let her leave. The neighbors will say then say that I’m weak and submissive.
She decided to talk to the man. But alas! Words were met with questions of integrity and loyalty. She protested and raised her voice. He put more curfews on her. It’s for the anti-nationals you see, not really for you. Tired, exasperated and utterly desperate under the memories of all her wounds, she picked up a stone and threw it at the man.
Dhut Dhut Dhut Dhut Dhut Dhut.
Pellets and bullets were fired for every stone she threw. She lay there, broken, hurt and bleeding. The neighbors started shouting this time. Mixed opinions overlapping each other. Do you really love her that you fired bullets on her? Why don’t you give her back to that friend of hers. Let us live in peace.
What kind of a man are you, couldn’t even rein in your woman! Oh, she deserves it am telling you! The audacity she had to question you back, when you have done so much for her!
Again, no one asked her what she wanted.
Such incidents kept happening. Her body was punctured with bullet wounds, but her will for freedom was very strong. Every time she protested, bullets were fired. Every time bullets were used, she just lay there, broken, hurt and bleeding.
What’s her name you ask? Kashmir. Her name is Kashmir.
Feminism works against every structure of oppression and seeks to wipe out patriarchy. Kashmir’s relationship with India has many overtones of an abusive relationship. If we are feminists, then we are against oppression through structures of power. By extension, we are against state oppression in Kashmir. If our feminism demands that we outrage over rape and how patriarchy uses rape as a tool to silence us, then by extension we are against state-sponsored rapes carried out by uniformed agents of masculinity and patriarchy.
When women decides to fight back and question the patriarchal society, they’re told that they responsible. Their tone and methods of protests are in the spotlight instead of the actual issue. They’re told to remain calm and composed. Why resort to violence when you can talk about it? In Kashmir, we are blaming the stones and overturned buses instead of reflecting on the reason behind their protest.
A woman knows what’s at stake when she speaks publicly about her rape and abuse. An unarmed protester knows what’s at stake when they throw a stone at army men loaded with body armour, helmets and bullets.
As many of us know too well, any toe out of our patriarchal laxman-rekha and you’re called a slut, whore or a spoilt woman. The consequences are nasty and grave (RIP Qandeel Baloch). If a woman wants to leave an abusive marriage, she’s often called a home-breaker, a trouble-maker and an anti-marriage woman who just cares about herself.
For Kashmiris, the term is anti-nationals. For when they raise the question of their individuality, just like those women who want to live life on their own terms, they are met with resistance. The question of identity, of freedom to decide for themselves, the right to self-determination in Kashmir, is as relevant as a woman’s right to individuality.
It’s hard for a woman to decide her own life, what she wants to be and do with herself. In other words, she is denied the agency and control over her own existence. With the muzzling of dissent, gagging of newspapers, blocking internet and telephone lines, the Indian state is denying Kashmir it’s agency to voice their opinions and decide about their existence all by themselves.
All a woman wants is to live her life in peace, on her own terms. Kashmir has a right to self-determination, as much as I and other women have the right to individuality.
The denial of an independent voice, the denial of right to self determination, the force being used, the emotional and physical abuse being used to subdue and to get them to comply – are all examples of patriarchy in practice. It’s almost absurd that you’d be against one form of oppression and patriarchy but not against another form of it in Kashmir.
Oppression anywhere is a threat to freedom everywhere. If we feminists don’t speak up for the freedom of Kashmir, do we really have the right to expect help for our freedom?
If not you, then who? If not now, then when?
Sonam Mittal is an activist and a writer. She works on issues related to gender, human rights and environment. She is also the co-founder of Spoilt Modern Indian Woman, a feminist initiative on gender and patriarchy. She is currently pursuing s fellowship in Kanthari by Braille Without Borders to establish her dream project on prevention of sexual harassment at workplace.