​​​​​Why Kashmir is a feminist issue

Image credits: Getty images

This piece from Sonam Mittal is her revision of the original article she wrote in 2016.

Historically, women have been considered as spoils of the war, a prize the soldiers get for fighting bravely, living in subhuman conditions for days and other disgusting excuses. Women are also used to make the conquest permanent, a sort of enforced mass Stockholm syndrome because women now have to love their conqueror with the fathers of their children gone.

The recent annexation of Kashmir is nothing different. Hear me out.

In September 1947, Kashmir had its first taste of war after India received independence. Pathans invaded Kashmir on a warpath of destruction. Like any other war, they looted the wealth of everyone in their way, Muslims included, and raped their women.

This August 2019, Kashmir was victimised by another war. In this one, Indians won after repealing Article 370 and bifurcating and downgrading the state to a Union territory. Those who argue that this was for the good of the state do not understand consent. And when men in power go back on previous agreements made to the state and use a cheat loophole to change the core structure and functioning of a state with an absolute lack of consent of its inhabitants, it is called war. Sure this may not be like any of the full-fledged wars Kashmir has endured since 1947, where there saw mass killings of civilians and soldiers, destruction of economy and resources and rapes, all in a short period. But it is a war in its very nature, because like every other war, the consent of the inhabitants is overridden by definition. Yes, collective consent of the people to make their state exist and function as they desired to, was as overridden in Kashmir as it is in any war. Instead of letting people first have elections, a central power was enforced upon them as abruptly as possible. It was an imperialist conquest, and just because many Indians feel entitled to the land at the expense of the inhabitants, doesn’t make it less of a conquest.

So who is the conqueror, you may ask? You may point that there have been no mass rapes yet. You may see this development as a way to bridge the gaps between Kashmiris and the rest of India. You may say that the ends (fed to your imagination) justify the means. So why is this even a feminist issue? I will address this in 2 parts.

Consider this. A woman, gorgeous, graceful and doing just fine by herself. A time comes when two men in the neighbourhood with whom she shared her childhood, decide to lay claim on her. Both the friends influenced her culture, her values and various elements that added to her charm. They urge her to make up her mind quickly. Society is already involved. Most people just want her to commit, some to one man, some to the other. Part of this big guy was okay with her being still friends with the smaller guy after marriage. Her father is otherwise useless but wants her not to commit yet. She asks for the time she did not get. She is attacked upon by someone encouraged by, if not sent by the smaller guy. She is in deep trouble. Her father asks the help of the bigger guy who comes to rescue only on the terms that she be his forever. Father agrees and she is was married to him. This was not consent as we understand it – conditional and taken under distress. She is naturally anxious about the way her life is taking quick turns. 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. When the smaller guy returned to lay claim on her, the bigger guy got very insecure and possessive.

Fists and punches were thrown around, and all three parties were severely 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 with someone who protects you? I am sure you must have done something to provoke him and make him feel like he owns you. The neighbours 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 is 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 neighbours 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 talkback! She refuses to believe that I’m the best thing that could ever happen to her. She is acting all modern, talking about liberty and deciding things for herself and all. Hmpf. I must not let her leave. The neighbours will say then say that I’m weak and submissive. My masculinity is on the line. She decided to talk to the man. But alas! Words were met with questions on 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 neighbours started shouting this time. Mixed opinions were overlapping with each other. Do you really love her if you fired bullets on her? Why don’t you give her back to that friend of hers? Or set her free. Let us live in peace. What kind of 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 firm. 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.

As this ‘hypothetical’ situation tries to show, Kashmir’s relationship with India has many overtones of an abusive relationship.

Feminism enables us to recognise and work against the dynamics of gender oppression. Intersectional feminism enables us to recognise other oppressive dynamics that play alongside and intertwine with gender oppression. By extension, we are against state oppression in Kashmir. If our feminism demands that we outrage over the 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 patriarchy.

When women decide to fight back and question the patriarchal society, they’re told that they are responsible. Their tone and methods of protests are in the spotlight instead of the reason of this protest. They’re told to remain calm and composed. Why resort to violence when you can talk about it? In Kashmir, we were blaming the stones and overturned buses instead of reflecting on the reason behind their protest.

So yes, Kashmir is a feminist issue for these reasons. But moving to the other part – no rapes after this recent war, right? 

There are no rapes (yet) because this annexation was a consolation prize for at-least some army men who would rather wipe out large sections of dissenters and take control of the city. But the army represents the state chosen by the people who were baying for this and more full-blown wars. And these people and their representatives alike, see Kashmiri women as objects. Their refusal to even think of consent of Kashmiris in the whole matter extends to their refusal to see Kashmiri women as individuals who have their own agency. 

Exhibit no.1:

Not surprisingly, BJP MLA Vikram Saini who is an accused in Muzaffarnagar riots, said that his party workers can now marry “fair” Kashmiri women. BJP workers here are akin to soldiers who are instrumental in getting their party to form this government (and consequently contribute to this war). Looks like a symbolic way to reward them with “fair” Kashmiri women who are considered in their heads as spoils of war.

Exhibit no. 2:

None other than the CM of Haryana jokingly said they would now bring Kashmiri brides to Haryana to fix their sex ratio. Misogynist jokes contribute to rape culture. When men in power talk in their speeches about women like they are assets, the audience who joins them potentiate many manifold the firm patriarchal belief that women are assets of men.

Exhibit no. 3:

One of the more overt admissions of lust for genocide and via the use of women as child-bearing objects was the following tweet. More men joined in hailing this horrific tweet.

A plethora of men on TikTok, Facebook or twitter are happy that they can now get Kashmiri brides.

 

Picture credits: Huffington post

Maybe some of them were unaware that there was nothing under Article 370 or 35A that prevented them from marrying Kashmiri women. Perhaps some were aware and felt that inability to inherit their wife’s Kashmiri property was a deal-breaker. But there are at least two motivations at play here. One is the deep-seated racist mindset of Indian society which values “fair” complexion. Other is the imperialist and misogynist implication that ‘Kashmir is now open for India’ so that Indian men now want to buy lands in Kashmir and marry their women.

Still here? That gives me hopes. But for every one of you, we have 20 others who still are stuck like a broken record about how the decision to bring Kashmir back into India is such a good thing. Well, here’s another broken record for you. Did you ask her what she wanted?

Army troops were sent in. Curfews and restrictions. Local leaders and politicians under house arrest. All communications shut down. Without any information on what is happening. Did you ask her what she wanted?

Apparently there was a threat of an enemy attack. Hence the troops. Then much like Paytm releasing a full front page ad in newspapers, overnight from our Prime Minister’s speech at 8:00 pm the night before, the Ambanis and their Reliance are ready to invest into ‘development’ of Kashmir. Did you ask her what she wanted?

We can talk endlessly about what is good for her. The point is, did you ask what she wanted?

And, if you were so sure that she genuinely loves you, then why force her into your house?

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