Dear Chetan Bhagat,
It is really considerate of you to write a letter to me and many others like me at the time when the valley is going back to a 2010 like situation or should I say like it has always been; on the edge? Your letter is like one of those ScoopWhoop listicles that ask give readers reasons for things to do and things not to do. One of the points in your listicle refers to the will of women. I have always felt that women are under represented in any society, Kashmir being no exception. Being a woman I believe that I can be the one who makes that start and thanks to your letter for invoking that sense.
Your ‘rational’ appeal comes after a cold-blooded murder of six persons in Kashmir.
Your ‘rational’ appeal comes after a cold blooded murder of six persons in Kashmir. I wonder how you missed that. Now that you have missed, let me bring it to your notice. On Tuesday, two protesting youth and a woman were killed in Handwara. The two men were protesting because a girl from their locality had allegedly been molested by an army personnel. She was taken to a ‘protective custody’. Next morning my Facebook timeline was flooded by links to a confessional video of this girl. The girl was seen confessing that she had not been molested. This was the state’s way of slamming the critics of AFSPA and army men and partly justifying the shooting that killed three. For next five days, she and her father were kept in a ‘protective custody’ for their safety as police claimed. Whether or not the custody was to safeguard them is still not clear, but it certainly was illegal. The police claimed that the family had demanded police protection but how many Indians who demand police protection are put in a protective custody inside a police station? And how many women in particular are confined to a police station when they demand a police protection in India?
To me as a women, the rapist was not one man or a group of persons, it was someone in that uniform, possessing power.
Police station is never a pleasant place to be at. Few months back at a public event on eve of International Women’s Day at University of Kashmir, a senior police official said that to ease the passport verification formalities for women, the police wouldn’t ask women to visit police stations for verification and rather send a police personal to their homes for verification. He admitted that not many women would be comfortable to visit police stations. Today, it is the same police that has kept a girl and her father in a police custody for days altogether. What makes the ‘protective custody’ even more dubious is that the girl or her father has not been allowed to speak to media. If the police unflinchingly released her ‘confessional’ video in public, why would they not let her speak to the media even in the ‘protective custody’? Also, as basic minimum ethics goes, the face of the girl was not censored except in official version. But while the video was shot, only officials were present, so the one who leaked the identity of the girl naturally happens to be an official. Would the police launch an inquiry against that official?
You have also expressed your concerns about the position of women in ‘independent or Pakistan controlled Kashmir’, trust me, it worries me as well. The only difference between my concern and your concern is that unlike you I don’t carry preposterous assumptions about Kashmiri women in my head. Half of the Kashmiris are women, more than 1500 of whom are half widows, their husbands been subjected to enforced ‘disappearance’. They are ineligible for pension or any governmental relief. Among the remaining are also the victims of mass rapes in Kunan Poshpora, Shopain, Haran, Gurihakhar, by Indian army who have been fighting for justice for decades now.
To me as a woman, the rapist was not one man or a group of persons, it was someone in that uniform, possessing power. Every time I cross a man in uniform, I feel the pain that all those women must have felt. I will continue to feel the same pain and anguish as long as the real perpetrators are not punished in court of law. I will continue feeling insecure to cross an army bunker as long as the perpetrators enjoy the exemptions under AFSPA. This is where the sham of gender empowerment by state fails. If I am raped or molested by an army personnel, I will be responsible for my rape because my perpetrator will never be punished and I will be compelled to ask myself, “Why did you leave your house or walk along that desolated road sheltering a bunker when you knew that the people inside enjoy an impunity?“
What has the state done for these women who survived mass rapes? Nothing. What will ‘aazadi’ or Pakistani occupation bring them? Nothing except that their scars won’t be rubbed on everyday basis and the malefactor won’t be tagged as my savior.
“The rest of India should not ask for the removal of Article 370.”
Right. Instead the rest of the India should ask for removal of AFSPA.
Emancipation of women is sadly looked upon by most of the ‘intellectuals’ as a commodity that you can make available for women.
Your tone also reveals your assumption that women are not politically active in the state. What you have mentioned in your letter about the will of women is what is expected of any outsider to say. Even I don’t see many women protesting on streets and pelting stones. But to assume that women don’t have a say is not so ‘rational’ because every young boy pelting stones on a street is someones husband or son or brother or a friend. What a man expresses on street is his cumulative experience from his father, mother, siblings and friends. The relative of those disappeared regularly stage a protest in Srinagar because they want any, any goddamn information about those that they lost. They all have a clear opinion about who they want to integrate with and who they want freedom from. Do they not matter?
Emancipation of women is sadly looked upon by most of the ‘intellectuals’ as a commodity that you can make available for women. During my days at university we were called for a television debate on Kashmir elections. Apparently the news anchor had two sets of questions; one for men and one for women. Those for women were all related to ‘development’ and that to the anchor meant more outlets and for men, the questions were more political. The anchor had probably been swayed by the gender stereotypes that women like shopping and are therefore ‘progressive’ and men are otherwise. Having a UCB showroom in the city is not development of women. Having a Lo’real salon for women is not their emancipation. In fact, it is not development and emancipation at all. Addressing to the aforementioned issues is. The replies from women didn’t go up to his expectations and so he kept approaching all the women in the group to get that one answer. Does any big brand hold any meaning for a woman who’s husband is missing for years? No.
Whatever apprehensions you have about what might be the future of women in an independent Kashmir or a Pakistan occupied Kashmir are valid but what the Indian state has already brought upon Kashmiri women is no different from that future. Not just women, people of all genders here are deprived of basic human right internet access as and when state feels.
“Because if India fails, you will fail too.”
True . But what happens when the state fails its subjects? Isn’t that a failure of state itself?
What I narrated above, trust me, is the tip of the iceberg. I urge you to look up for the human rights abuses that women in Kashmir have faced at the hands of Indian army and then, maybe alter your stance or improve it any how.
Disclaimer: This open letter originally appeared here.