Kashmir’s feminine face has symbolised tragedies and travails since Cashmere days. It was quite a sensation in the West when travellers reported tons of detail on Kashmiri women staying dirty fearing their cleanliness might get them ‘noticed’ and they might become part of the loot that occupational armies in Sikh and Pathan era were routinely resorting to, every harvest. They lived on the margins of an exploitative economy as the society, pushed to the limits of deprivation debate their participation quite loudly when Christians imported education to Kashmir.
And Kashmir followed India and sliced itself in the 1947 mayhem, Cartier-Bresson got a picture postcard over Hari Parbat hills when a group of women were seeking blessings from God. By then, the feminine courage was celebrated globally with the young teenagers lined up with vintage 3.3 guns, lacking any ammunition, in their hands shouting: Dushman Khabardaar – Humam Kashmiri Hain Tayar.
Nehru-Gandhis’ have a huge collection of those pictures when Pandit Nehru used to mingle with that Sena, where Sheikh Abdullah, Bakhshi Ghulam Mohammad and D P Dhar assembled. They never moved out of the frame to fight actually but that did not kill the romanticism the images generated.
Then Kashmir moved on, situations changed and women started becoming part of the larger socio-economic change. Doctors, cops, engineers, teachers and even politicians – women had equal opportunities. By 1990s when Kashmir underwent a new quantum jump, women were the worst suffers as mothers, sisters and wives. It led to the rise of families led by women as men ceased to exist. In recent years, pellets started making no distinctions and many girl students and homemakers lost their eyes.
Last week, Srinagar’s Lal Chowk was witness to something that was being talked about in whispers and rarely seen – women students actually pelting stones. A new photograph was born that contributes to the narrative of hate, anger and alienation. While the phenomenon is neither sustainable nor could be a routine, it does, however, indicate an urgency to talk, engage and address the crisis that is gradually spilling over to the street.