“ There is nothing new in world except the history you do not know.” – Harry Truman

Ishrat’s counter-point to Riyaz Ahmad’s commentary reminds one that Kashmiris – no matter what gender – may be chained by norms of the society, will never relinquish their freedom of thought

(Ms. Ishrat Bashir Mattoo 28, was born in Srinagar. She went to a local public School in Srinagar, and received her Bachelor’s degree from the Government College for Women in Srinagar. She completed her post Graduation in English from the University of Kashmir in 2007. In 2008, she worked as contractual lecturer in the directorate of Distance Education, University of Kashmir. Presently, Ms Mattoo works as a lecturer in English in the j&K School Education Department. In her leisure time she enjoys Writing Poetry,reading and listening to music.)

It’s All Patriarchy

They shut me up in prose-as when a little girl
They put me in the closet
Because they liked me “still”
– Emily Dickinson

This refers to the article Women’s place published in Greater Kashmir on June 16. The author has started with an argument about the stereotyping of Kashmiri women but she seems to have failed to take it to a logical end. What the author seems to conclude is that she is no more oppressed than her counterparts in the rest of India.

Nevertheless, the oppressed she certainly is but the argument has been made in such a way as to overshadow this fact. Because a man has written to undermine the stereotyping of Kashmiri woman, it is itself a reflexive of the women’s place in Kashmir. While debating that Kashmiri woman is looked at through certain prism, the author himself looks at her through patriarchal prism. The author writes “is she more or less oppressed, more discriminated against or, of course, more prone to honour killing? The fact is that she isn’t? In fact one can certainly GRANT (emphasis my own) her a DEGREE (emphasis my own) of emancipation that a large number of Muslim counterparts in the rest of India will take time to catch up with” This statement made by the author is itself an implication of the degree to which she is oppressed. Why does she, in first place, need emancipation to be Granted by one and who is this Saviour One? Of course, The Patriarchal man! This emancipation itself is to be defined and decided by patriarchal society and then presented to women as a processed product from man’s benevolent factory. Why cannot emancipation come to women as naturally as it comes to man?

The author writes “There is no body of research that could help understand her condition or create some sort of an image or identity for her”. He further writes “of course, she has an image, identity, location, geography, culture and history of her own.” The author here appears self-contradictory. On the one hand, he says that some sort of identity needs to be created for her and on the other, he asserts that she has an identity of her own. Moreover, the question is that why and what has made woman a “Researchable Object”, why does her circumstances need to be researched into? Why does her identity need to be created for her? Does it not reveal that Kashmiri woman is oppressed to the extent that her identity needs to be created? The author himself has brought out her identity crisis and then suggests that she is more privileged than her counterparts are in the rest of India.

Referring to domestic violence, discrimination against girl child in families, and so on, the author writes “…things nevertheless appear a lot more hunky dory on this front” The fact is that things are not hunky dory as author leads us to believe. Domestic violence is rampant particularly in the lower class of the society. We have everyday news about women being killed by their husbands and harassed on one pretext or the other. The author writes that “…More than the personal preferences, discrimination in our society is borne out of the cultural factors which have traditionally assigned separate roles for men and women”. The statement does not make Kashmiri women more privileged than women in the rest of the world. Discrimination in every society is borne out of the cultural factors. Men and women are traditionally assigned separate roles in every society but the question is who decides the roles and who constructs a culture. It’s all patriarchy.

Rather than holding women in India or elsewhere as the measuring rod, we have to address the issues pertaining to women in Kashmir. Kashmiri women are certainly oppressed psychologically, economically, socially, and politically as well. Physical violence is not the only violence against women that should be our concern; what is more dangerous and subtle is the psychological violence that is perpetrated against women. Even though parents are generally even-handed in their treatment of their sons and daughters but what is important is how the girl child is brought up in our society. She is ideologically so very conditioned right from her childhood that she doesn’t ever realize it. The irony is that it is done under the garb of love and care. Providing girls opportunities to become doctors, engineers, executives and so on does not necessarily mean that there exists no bias against girls. The oppression of women starts right from their families. Girls are made to believe that the “Honour” of the family lies with them. So whatever they do, they have to carry this flag of honour with them and at the same time keep it high and unfurled. They rather perceive themselves in terms of this so called “honour”. This is the biggest hurdle for their healthy self-realization. If a girl is harassed, she usually does not fight back. Not because she is weak but she has to think about the honour of her family. Nobody should come to know that she’s been harassed because that will be detrimental to her family’s honour. When girls are asked why they tolerate eve-teasing, elbowing and so on in public places, most of the girls’ reply is “what people around will think. They may think that we ourselves have no character”. What makes women feel like this? This is to be understood.

When we talk about self-development, it necessarily includes the ability to decide wisely and rightly for oneself. But how many women in Kashmir take decisions for themselves. Hardly a few! The biggest decision (marriage) that decides the course of much of a woman’s life is not taken by her. Either she is not allowed to make it or she does not feel herself worth taking it. If she is not allowed, why isn’t she? And if she cannot take it, why can’t she? These are the issues that need to be addressed when we talk about emancipation of women.

Let’s take Hijab that has become so much integral to woman’s identity in Muslim society anywhere. Why is it made exaggeratedly related to only woman? In Islam, hijab or purdah is as important for man as it is for woman but why do we hear it only in her relation? Haven’t men been directed by Allah in Holy Quran that they should keep their eyes lowered? How many Muslim men know this and more importantly, how many of them practice it? Why hasn’t the hijab of man ever become an issue to be debated by Muslims or non-Muslims.? It clearly reveals that man propounds only that much of knowledge that helps him to subjugate woman. If this is not oppression, what else should we call it?

We see that on Fridays in Kashmir, our Molvi sahibs preach ethics and proper behaviour to men in the mosques and thanks to loudspeakers, we women too hear them. What is more noticeable in such sermons is the concern of preachers for the Kashmiri society going astray. And one of the main reasons for it, according to them, is parents’ lesser control on their daughters or women folk in general. I haven’t ever heard these preachers tell our men that they shouldn’t urinate on roadsides, they should behave properly in public places like buses, they should observe hijab rather than keep staring at women folk, that they should teach their sons proper behavior but what is almost always more noticeable in such sermons is that they (men) should control their daughters. They are instructed how to brought up their daughters. Much of the moral degradation in society as they perceive it is attributed to women.

If we have to get a glimpse of Kashmiri women’s economic exploitation, we just have to have a cursory look at “Private School industry” thriving in Kashmir. Almost all private schools depend upon cheap labour provided by female teachers. Walnut industry is yet another example.

What is even more important is that most of the Kashmiri women are intellectually impoverished rather they are kept so. That’s one of the significant reasons why she is stereotyped within and without Kashmir. The author further writes “our idea of an emancipated woman operates in a conceptual framework of its own. For us it is fundamentally a moral idea as against an intellectual concept in the west”. Even if we take our idea of emancipation as a moral one, how can it be separate from intellectuality? This is exactly where we are in error. Moral choice can not be made and cannot be effective unless and until it has an intellectual background. We cannot and we don’t choose morals in vacuum. They are integrally related to social, political, economical and ideological aspects of a society. How many Muslim women in Kashmir, for instance, have the first hand knowledge of Islam? How many of them are well aware of their rights and responsibilities even though from an Islamic perspective? The fact is that even this knowledge has come to them through a filter, that is, man. They know what man has chosen for them to know. This is the front where women have to equip themselves. They have to know for themselves. Men, howsoever well-meaning, cannot fight the stereotypes propagated against Kashmiri women. It’s the Kashmiri women themselves who can dismantle these stereotypes. For this, they have to understand the mechanism through which they are stereotyped. They cannot do this unless they are intellectually compatible with those who stereotype them.
I agree with the author when he says “…there is still a long way to go before all Kashmiri women… approximate a common minimum description of emancipation: as somebody who is educated, knows him or herself, understands the world around him and has mature opinion about the issues” But what is more important is that Kashmiri woman has to make herself competent enough to work out her own definitions of her emancipation rather than let men set frames for her mind and body.

A SAD COMMENTARY
Women’s Place
Alleged `honour’ killing apart, is Kashmiri women really more oppressed than her counterparts across India?

RIYAZ AHMAD

In the swirling protests over the killing of one more youth during stone-pelting in the city, the murder of a woman by her father in South Kashmir has all but passed unnoticed. The media has branded it as an honour killing to make it dramatic. The word `honour’ has served the dual purpose of lifting the story out of the tag of an ordinary crime and also feed into the larger stereotype about Kashmir: this time the place of woman in a conflict ridden Muslim society.

An alleged honour killing can really paint it worse, even if the incident with all its as yet unconfirmed circumstances may be a very rare case in Kashmir. Or for that matter, even if Kashmir may in the lived experience be just another normal place for the opposite sex. And even if the father killing his daughter may at the end of the day be just another unusual crime. But stereotypes like habits also die hard. Kashmiri women will continue to be looked at through a certain prism. More so, when the place continues to be a rolling mess of guns, protests and killings. The author Justine Hardy in her recent book on Kashmir In the Valley of Mist she talks agonizingly about her own urgent need to wear burqa to walk around Lal Chowk in what she warns a new Islamized Kashmir. She doesn’t think twice while writing this about a place where a majority of the women don’t cover themselves in veil at all. The book primarily geared to the western audiences has painstakingly projected an anticipated image of not only the women in Kashmir but the place as a whole.

One can cite another example. The women’s Disqualification Bill, for instance. The bill whose mere tabling in the J-K House, in a sense, raised such a furore has also strengthened the stereotype of Kashmir as a women-discriminating patriarchal society. The bill was selectively seen in terms of gender debate rather than the politics and the context of Kashmir problem that surrounds it.

These disparate examples bring to light a reality that in any way doesn’t reflect the truth on the ground. But taken together these examples can serve as a jumping off point for a debate about Kashmiri women. That is, if she is really in any sense different from the women in the country. Is she more or less oppressed, more discriminated against or, of course, more prone to honour killing? The fact is that she isn’t. In fact, one can certainly grant her a degree of emancipation that a large number of her Muslim counterparts in the rest of India will take time to catch up with.

At an ordinary level, speaking about Kashmiri women is like shooting arrows in the dark. It is a play of fleeting impressions we gather in our families, at our work place. There is no body of research that could help understand her condition or create some sort of an image or identity for her. Here by an image or identity, I don’t mean we should have portrait of an undifferentiated, monolithic mass as images or identities are prone to do. Of course, she has an image, identity, location, geography, culture and history of her own. What I mean is the understanding of the specific circumstances of her life. Do we have incidence of domestic violence in Kashmir? is girl child being discriminated against in our families? Do women encounter discrimination or harassment at the work places? Even allowing for a degree of under-reporting of such cases, things nevertheless appear a lot hunky dory on this front.

Again, is there any serious equality issue between the genders in Kashmir? There is a gut feeling that doesn’t see anything seriously amiss here. Parents in Kashmir are generally even-handed in their treatment of their sons and daughters. Unlike in the west, discrimination between sexes here is not a scientifically measurable reality. More than the personal preferences, discrimination in our society is borne out of the cultural factors which have traditionally assigned separate roles for men and women. Though this approach is slowly changing, the cultural hangover will take a while to go.
Our idea of an emancipated woman operates in a conceptual framework of its own. For us, it is fundamentally a moral idea as against an intellectual (functional) concept in the west. But there is still a long way to go before all Kashmiri women, like of course the men, approximate a common minimum description of emancipation: as somebody who is educated, knows him or herself, understands the world around him and has mature opinion about the issues.

We have similarly, more or less a notional concept of freedom rather than a functional one. Freedom, besides an external dimension is a larger spiritual concept. More so, about the women. I think in our societies, it has more an internal value. It is less about freedom to wear and more about self realization or behaving in a modest, refined way. But then freedom is also about opportunity for growth, a room for self-development. And here again, Kashmiri women are in many senses, if not better than certainly at par with the women in India.

However, it is not that the negative stereotyping stops with their religious identity only. Conflict in Kashmir has created an image of its own, that thrives in the reporting in local media. Here the Kashmiri women largely exists in terms of the prevailing troubled circumstances. She is portrayed as a perennial victim. We have reports of general nature talking about her widowhood. We have stereotypes of mothers missing their killed or disappeared children. Picture of victimhood is so dominating and so pervasive that it has obscured the more real aspects of her life. For example, there is little effort to go into the details, to talk about the widowhood as an issue rather than as a stereotype, to talk about how the widowhood is actually lived or the other tragedies begotten by it. Similarly, there has been little reporting on whether government has any credible plan or mechanism to respond to the crisis. And if there is, do these work well and reach the intended beneficiaries. Women continues to exist as an abstract concept spoken about generally with little attention to detail. It is time there is an effort to tell the real story of Kashmiri women than talk about her in terms of old and set frames.