Lady Power

After unfurling Pakistani flag and later addressing a Jamat ud Dawa rally on phone, police have booked Kashmir’s ‘iron lady’. But she is not the lone lady in the separatist camp, Saima Bhat reports

ASIYA ANDRABI

Dukhtaran-i-Millat

Asiya-Andrabi-Dukhtaran-Milat-ChiefThe journey of Asiya Andrabi, Chairperson of Dukhtaran-i-Millat (DeM), from an ambitious girl to one of the most ‘talked about’  woman in Kashmir’s troubled political landscape, is full of twists and turns. In 1981, after completing her graduation in Home Sciences, Asiya decided to pursue higher studies from Dalhousie, Himachal Pradesh. But her plan of going abroad for studies got dashed when her elder brother rejected the idea on “religious grounds”.

With nothing significant to do, Asiya started spending time at her brother-in-law’s private library. “I was living in a different world then. My idea of life was vague,” said Asiya. “I had a notion that being a Syed I am exempted from hell’s fire. So I didn’t pray or practice religion seriously.”

One day while going through books at the library, Asiya came across a book on Maryam Jameelah’s life. Maryam, who was born to a non-observant Jewish family in New York, has reverted to Islam in 1961. “Her journey from Marcus Margaret to Maryam Jameelah inspired me a lot.”

It was evening when Asiya was about to finish the book. Outside, the Mouzzin was calling faithful for Magrib prayers. “It was the first Azan I had felt truly,” said Asiya.

Immediately, she asked for forgiveness from Allah and started observing Pardah (veil). “Since then I am following Islam as we should be,” she said.

Asiya knew that without learning Arabic she won’t be able to understand Koran and Hadith. Asiya’s father, a doctor by profession who was also an Arabic scholar, became her first teacher.

After “saving herself from hell’s fire” Asiya’s next step was to spread the knowledge among other less fortunate women. “In 1982, I joined a local darsgah (seminary) as instructor.”

The darsgah was officially meant for teaching young kids only. But Asiya let in females of all age groups. In no time the number of women visiting the darsgah increased many folds. “This resulted in formation of Dukhtaran-e-Millat (Daughters of Nation).”

With the number of students at darsgah growing significantly Asiya felt empowered. “That was the time when I felt that I could take my mission outside the darsgah,” said Asiya.

Soon, she started raising her voice in support of students who were not allowed inside colleges and other educational institutions wearing a veil.

But it was the daring attack on cinema posters and shops around Lal Chowk displaying mannequins’ in 1987 that made Asiya popular. “Around 10 thousand women joined me during that raid,” claims Asiya.

The attack instantly brought her under the police radar. Raids followed. “I stayed underground for 21 days.”

However, a year later Asiya was back in business. This time her target was liquor shops in Srinagar city. She also demanded reserved seats for women in public transport.

But the onset of militancy in 1989 changed everything for Asiya. She was witnessing a “new wave of sentiments across Kashmir”.

Asiya claims that the first batch of militants approached her “to get her involved in the action”. “I told them women are supposed to take care of homes while men are out fighting.”

Meanwhile, her activities outside the darsgah proved costly as government banned DeM in 1990.

Around same time Asiya’s mother convinced her to get married. In October 1990, Asiya married Ashiq Hussain Faktoo alias Dr Muhammad Qasim-the longest serving incarcerated separatist in Kashmir at present. After the marriage, for next two years Asiya busied herself with the family life.

In 1993, Asiya was arrested along with her husband and one year old son Muhammad bin Qasim. After 14 months Asiya and her son were released. “Immediately I went underground to evade further arrests.”

In 1998, Asiya flied to London to attend a conference.  There she met Dr Ayub Thakur, a NRK who headed Mercy Universal then. Thakur convinced her to start ‘Rehabilitation Centres’ across Kashmir for widows and orphans of militants killed in gruella rebellion. “In the first go, I opened 56 centres in remote areas across Kashmir. But this irked the government and I was booked under POTA in 1998.”

But it was her husband’s continuous detention that drained Asiya and her kids psychologically. “My kids had to lie about their parentage everywhere they would go.”

In 22 years of her married life, Asiya has spent only four years with her husband! “My husband was tortured (3rd degree) in front of my eyes. But even then I didn’t quit,” Asiya asserted.

The only regret that Asiya has “is the way freedom movement has been handled by its leaders”. “They (leaders) have made Tehreek and Islam two different entities. It should be freedom for creation of an Islamic state. Nothing else!”

ANJUM ZAMROODA HABIB

Tehreek Khawateen Kashmir

zamrooda-habib--km-- In 1986 a dowry related death in Islamabad district made a local private college lecturer, Anjum Zamrooda Habib, fight for women rights. Three decades later, the lecturer turned activist is the chairperson of Tehreek Khawateen Kashmir (TKK). The journey, however, was not a smooth one. After the dowry death incident, Zamrooda formed Women’s Welfare Association (WWA) which attracted around 200 members in the first week. “I wanted to help women have dignified life,” said Zamrooda.

By 1989, when the armed militancy broke out in Kashmir, Zamrooda’s WWA became virtually defunct. “Many members left the organisation and our work came to a halt.”

With many people around her joining militant ranks Zamrooda couldn’t resist the popular sentiment for long.

“Everybody was joining militant ranks: my relatives, friends, neighbours.”

Within no time Zamrooda found herself serving militants at the backend. “I was providing them food, shelter etc.”

But the arrangement didn’t last for long as Zamrooda got irked by growing complaints against militants. “The initial discipline in militant ranks started to fade out quite quickly. There were number of complaints where militants were involved in outraging the modesty of women,” said Zamrooda. “Later it turned out that these militants were actually Indian agents. They were maligning the movement. These guys later became part of dreaded Ikwanis.”

In the meantime, WWA ceased to exist and a new organisation called Tehreek Khawateen Markaz (MKM) was formed.

In 1992, in order to sustain financially, MKM started a small pickle factory in Srinagar. “It didn’t last long as the factory was burned to ashes in January 1993 by some unknown persons.”

The same year Zamrooda joined Hurriyat Conference as it founding member thinking that a wider platform will help her reach more women. A few months later, Zamrooda was detained in Delhi. She was alleged to have received money Hawala money from Pakistan. She was booked for Hawala money transaction.

Zamrooda spent next five years in Delhi’s Tihar Jail. “I was the only women prisoner from Kashmir in Tihar. And let me tell you jail life is full of horrors. You feel neglected, unwanted, left out and disgusted,” said Zamrooda.

Disturbed by the condition of fellow prisoners and the way their families have to struggle in Delhi to get justice or seek legal help, Zamrooda decided to help them. After her release, Zamrooda formed Association of Forgotten Prisoners of Kashmir (AFPK) and penned down her jail memories in a book titled ‘Prisoner No: 100’. “Since all other members of AFPK are in jail I still make sure to file at least one petition to SHRC in a week.”

“A lot has changed in Kashmir since I was in jail,” she added.

YASMEEN RAJA

Muslim Khawateen Markaz

Yasmeen-Raja-Inspired by her “freedom loving” father Ghulam Nabi Bhat, who was part of Plebiscite Movement, Yasmeen Raja was an outspoken girl.

Presently chairperson of Muslim Khawateen Markaz – who recently abandoned Hurriyat (m) to join octogenarian Geelani- Yasmeen shares an interesting anecdote from her childhood days in Jammu. “I was in 6th standard. One by one, students were called on the dais to sing something. A Hindu girl stood up and sang India’s national anthem. But when my turn came I started singing Pakistan’s national anthem,” recalls Yasmeen.

This annoyed the school administration as well as some Hindu students. “I had to miss school for next five days.”

The time spent in Jammu was eye opener, says Yasmeen. “There was a little girl named Suraya in that school. She used to sit under a tree during free time all by herself,” recalls Yasmeen.

The girl would often have panic attacks. “She would tear her clothes and cry wildly.”

After enquiring about Suraya from people around, Yasmeen came to know that her brothers were killed in broad day light while Suraya witnessed the whole incident. “Whenever Suraya would recall the incident, she would have such panic attacks,” said Yasmeen.

The incident stayed with Yasmeen long after she left Jammu. “I wanted to do something to ease her pain. But I was not sure what I should do.”

After passing 10th standard, Yasmeen opted for an X-ray technician diploma.

But armed resistance which started in 1989 changed her life for good. Her family shifted to Pampore from Ganderbal where she started teaching young girls at a darsgah. “I now had a cause. I wanted to do my bit for our freedom struggle.”

In early 90s, while attending a marriage ceremony Yasmeen met Bakhtawar Behanji, then chairperson of Muslim Khwateen Markaz. “Inspired by my work Behanji invited me to join MKM as a member.” Yasmeen became chairperson of MKM when Zamrooda was in jail. Zamrooda broke from MKM post her release form jail to form TKM.

Like other women separatist leaders, Yasmeen too has been in and out of jail many times since her association with MKM. In 1994, Yasmeen was arrested from her father’s government allotted quarter in Jammu for her alleged involvement in Stadium blast. “It was a setback for my family. Our neighbours feared to walk with me after my release. I had become an alien instantly.”

After her release, Yasmeen is active addressing issues related to women in Kashmir. “There is a surge in violence against women after increase in number of government forces on ground,” claims Yasmeen.

FARIDA BEHANJI

Jammu Kashmir Mass Movement

Fareeda-BahanjeeWhen Farida Behanji was a child she would ask her father about her uncle living in Pakistan. Her father would tell her about India and Pakistan and why Kashmir is a disputed territory.

But the real nature of dispute only became clear when Farida’s brother Bilal Ahmad Beig went to Pakistan for arms training in late 80s. “On his return he was arrested. He was part of Ikwan-ul-Muslimeen,” said Farida.

It was Farida, then mother of three, who actively pursued court proceedings of her brother. “It was during those court visits that I came face to face with other victims.”

In 1994, Bilal was released. But raids continued on Farida and her brother’s residence. Around same time, most of the Ikwan-ul-Muslimeen members were shifting their allegiance towards government. “They later became Ikwanis.”

Disturbed by the change of heart of his colleagues, Bilal along with one of his friend Sajad Ahmad Kinu distanced themselves from the new avatar Ikwan. “They formed Islamic League,” said Farida. “While Sajad achieved martyrdom, my brother Bilal went to Pakistan.”

The same year (1996), there was a series of blasts in Delhi. Police picked up a few boys who allegedly confirmed Bilal’s involvement in the blasts. “It was not true. Bilal was in Pakistan then.”

When police failed to locate Bilal they arrested up Farida. “I was taken to notorious Cargo interrogation centre. Then I was shifted to Delhi where I was interrogated for consecutive 26 days.”  From there, Farida was shifted to Delhi’s Tihar Jail. “I was in Tihar for five years.”

Finally, Farida was released in 2001. Once back in Kashmir, Farida found ‘things had changed entirely on ground’. “My family was made to suffer while I was in jail. My younger son was arrested several times and interrogated.”

After her release Farida joined Jammu Kashmir Mass Movement (JKMM) as its chairperson. But despite her release, raids did not stop. “Whenever there is an explosion in any part of India and intelligence agencies feel Bilal is behind it, they detain me.”

With around 450 members, JKMM helps militants lodged in different Indian jails with judiciary related cases.

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