Home; a word we would generally like to associate with safety, refuge, shelter, comfort, rest and family. No matter what kind of home: big, small, huge, decent, denotes some idea of a space for retiring in the assurance of warmth and security. The huge gathering of crowds at the railway station, the long queues at the airport, the migrant crisis with an underlying craving to be home during the pandemic are scenes that strikingly depict the idea of home as a need intrinsically woven to the human nature. However, it is time that idea be interrogated in certain ways.
Home Sweet Home?
The data recently circulated online, statistically attempted to establish a direct relationship between domestic violence against women and the time spent with the family inside the four walls of homes during the pandemic. That gives us a hint that not all homes are safe spaces. And while pandemic affects us all together, some suffer more than others and women especially have to face the brunt at so many fronts.
Now let us add another variable to the equation of home as safe spaces, the pandemic, the women- the variable is that of a political conflict. How would that impact the equation, if at all? While having a house is a priviledge any day, building a home takes effort too, needless to say. Keeping that point at the back of our minds is important while we elaborate on the just added variable.
The Added Variable: The Conflict Is Real
On May 19th, many news portals reported about the security operation that was undertaken by the security forces in Nawakadal area of Downtown Srinagar in Kashmir. Several media outlets further reported that the residents of the area alleged that the police looted cash and other valuables from several homes in the dense locality of Kanimazar area as they carried out the operation to eliminate the militants there. The operation was launched in the wee hours, following which two Hizb militants were killed. The Nawakadal encounter is the first encounter in the downtown area in the past two years.
However, the variable of political conflict brings into perspective that which has lately been called shocking and shaking by certain sections as well as the residents of the area. The people in the area, during the operation, were in deep shock as they witnessed houses razed to the ground, charred by flames. The police statements although labelled the operation as “clean”. This, in the month of Ramzan, the holy month of fasting for Muslims. In no time, the entire locality was fogged by the smoke as fire tenders were rushed to the stop.
Meanwhile, the phone connectivity and internet had already been blocked by the authorities. Two civilians who were injured due to the damage to the houses during the operation succumbed to the injuries later. it was reported that two houses were razed to the ground, eight houses were completely burnt, and two to three houses were partially damaged. It is unclear what is the exact number, but according to news reports and residents the number is in between 12 to 22.
As pictures and videos of the debris, the smoke, the dust and the crumbling structures flooded the internet post the operation, the mere visuals raise crucial question about the idea of homes as safe spaces in regions ridden with conflict or those with a history of conflict. With families to look after, the women in Kashmir feel doubly concerned for their families in this case, with elders and other ailing members in their families, as the women spoke to certain news agencies about their plight, while looking on at the debris of their houses.
Further, what does this imply for the women, who not only do most of the unpaid care work but also are silent sufferers in the conflict, with the world outside those four walls rendered unsafe for them already?
The Sky Is The Shelter: Safe Spaces For Women During Political Turmoil
One is reminded of a well-placed work by Iris M Young which highlights the masculinist role of state as the protector and how a security regime in overly aggressive fashion to protect the people undermines the very process of democracy that it is supposed to stand for. It should be remembered that under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, also known as AFSPA, Kashmir has been declared as a disturbed region for more than two decades now, hence the working of the security regime.
Interestingly, the essay by Young puts to use the analogy of the patriarch in our homes, which happens to be a male member and thus, the logic of bad men outside the homes from which the family needs to be protected and the good men inside the house as those offering the protection. One wonders, how do we situate the category of women in this, when houses are razed to dust during “security operations” and if the inside-walls to outside-the-house logic collapses into each other, when it comes to the regions ridden with conflict!
The history of Kashmir seems to be like a pendulum oscillating between homelessness and the fear of homelessness, driving the clock of the “present times” marking the politics of the valley. The crisis triggered through the exodus of the 1990s is yet another case in point. In conflict ridden societies, the question is that, is there any safe space for women at all, outside the four walls or within those four walls? Houses as the target during security operations in conflict zones is not a new thing.
IndiaSpend records the destruction of 105 homes between 2015 to 2018 in Pulwama district alone, where encounters are frequent. Vulnerability of women in such a situation also has been recorded intermittently. While incidents like that of Kunan Poshpora nails the instances of direct targeting, burning down of houses during such operations bring to light the ways in which women become the indirect sufferers too- and this time, with the pandemic as the added misery.
Conflict, Pandemic And Relief Measures: We, The Homeless
Till 19th of May, 1289 COVID–19 cases were reported in the Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir and distancing measures remain the topmost priority. In the midst of the this, while in some states, the state governments are trying to arrange assistance to send the migrants home, the central government is taking evacuation measures by running special flights to bring citizens home, it remains to be seen where are those families that have been rendered homeless supposed to go. Who will open their doors midst the pandemic scare? It is yet to be seen if the government will consider to come up with some rehabilitation compensation, in addition to an economic package to revive the economy in the valley.
Also read: Covid-19: Kashmir Under Yet Another Lockdown
While poverty, pandemic, disasters and conflicts time and again drive home the centrality of a home in human lives, it will not be wrong to infer: there are the homeless, then there are those who chose to be homeless and then there are the ones who are rendered homeless. What appear to our eyes as houses razed to dust were actually homes for some! And then there is the question that persists throughout: what does home really signify for the women? Are we satisfied with the answer to this question? This is perhaps yet another question we are not ready to face.
Featured Image Source: Stand With Kashmir