Unless we create a spirit of community service not as a favour but as a duty, we can’t show real solidarity towards our women, who have faced widespread violence, says Muhammad Faysal
‘Kashmiri Women’s Resistance Day’ – an event to commemorate the 23rd anniversary of Kunan Poshpora mass rape – is being organised by a rights group in summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir today.
Weeks ahead of this event, people in Kashmir have been replacing their profile pictures on Facebook with a banner reading, ‘Kashmiri Women’s Resistance Day’ on 23 February.
Without a shred of doubt, it is a noble cause to commemorate the sacrifices of women and honour their struggle against various forms of violence since an armed rebellion started in the valley against the Indian rule in 1989. But if one doesn’t ignore the realities, this ‘commemoration’ or ‘tribute’ reeks of sheer hypocrisy.
February 23rd is an unforgettable day in the history of Kashmir. On this day in 1991, at least 50 women were raped, allegedly by the soldiers of 4th Rajputana Rifles, during a search operation in the twin villages of Kunan and Poshpora in the frontier district of Kupwara. However, the heinous crime was altogether dismissed by Indian Army calling it a “hoax by militant groups and their support groups.”
More than two decades after the monstrous incident, the justice remains elusive quite akin to various other war crimes committed against the Kashmiri people since Indian security forces launched an anti-insurgency operation in the Valley of tall mountains, crystal clear waters and green meadows. After all, one can’t expect justice in a territory governed by spineless puppets, which take orders from the military complex spread across the beautiful mountains and plains of the Valley.
Coming back to the hypocrisy of such days, we have often seen self-styled guardians of human rights self-inaugurating such events in the Valley. Yes, there are honest people doing sincere work and one can’t paint everyone with the same brush, but most of the time, these events turn out to be elite affairs.
You’ll have intellectuals (most of them spend their entire life living on the government money) becoming speakers, advocates (who rarely pick up a case on humanitarian grounds) and then the regular audience comprising journalists, photographers, and their associations.
These events thrive on media attention and chicken biryani. In some cases, the survivors of violence are brought from remote corners of the Valley. And, most of the time, they just become trophies during these events. The next day one finds the newspapers full of half-hearted statements and rhetorical condemnations.
The irony, however, is that nobody would care to find what these women have to go through in their daily lives. Most of these women live in abject conditions and their children have to leave their studies and work at a nearby chai or a car repair shop to support their mothers.
In some cases, these women are stripped of their property rights, as their husbands are no longer there to support them. They live in run-down rented rooms, which sometimes are worse than cowsheds. Many such women had to take to extreme step of begging to feed their hungry children.
Rape survivors are bullied and ostracised in our society. They are denied the right to marriage because they are ‘not pure’ according to the standards of our society. Even if they get lucky, in-laws mistreat them.
To be honest, we are a collective failure as a society. We have never taken the burden of the conflict on our shoulders. We are fence sitters who are so full of ourselves that we will not accept our responsibility.
During the monthly sit-ins of women from the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons or the APDP, we just pass around without even bothering to sit with them for just five minutes as a mark of solidarity.
There are also people who have the audacity to ask, “What are these women doing?” When students from a Fine Arts institution painted at Pratap Park as a tribute to the struggle of these women, I heard many people saying things like, “will they win prizes by doing this?”
How many of us know about the fate of families of our fallen heroes? Nobody asks about their condition or what they have gone through during past two decades. Or about the hundreds of thousands of orphans who got lost in the hustle and bustle of life.
What civil society we are talking about, knowing full well that our private and community schools have no seats reserved for the orphans or poor kids of a widowed mother, the business community extends no institutional help to the destitute or the doctors offer no free consultations in the far flung areas of the state?
Therein lays another question: why should the so-called doyens of the Valley commemorate such an event in Srinagar? Why cannot they go to Kunan and Poshpora or other areas to reach out to the people affected?
We, the people of Kashmir, have done far worse than rapes and murders to the beleaguered sections of our society. We need to apologise collectively over our failures as a community. We need to create a spirit of community service not as a favour but as a duty and fulfilling our responsibility as one people.
Our attitude needs to reflect the aspect of nationhood and community in a manner, which would mirror us in a free Kashmir. We should get real with our responsibilities that we have ignored for too long. The curtains of such a day, will never address the rot in our society. Eulogising and romanticising the women of Kashmir as ‘steel magnolias’ will never fill the void of an impotent society.
And next time when you take the names of these women of Kashmir or change your profile pictures in their name, ask yourself, what has been your contribution. If you hear nothing, then you need to make up for the time lost.