Women in cross fire

The question that is always at the back of my mind is as to why different initiatives and programmes have not translated into actual politico-economic empowerment of women. The answer to the question lies in the state-society nexus in marginalizing and excluding women from the power structure. If we only look at South Asia, women have suffered on account of certain societal bias which over a period of time also found reflections in state and nation as well.
It is refreshing to recall that Kashmiri nationalism in the heydays of its evolution was not only inclusive but emancipatory as well. One can draw insight only if we look at the Naya Kashmir manifesto adopted by National Conference in 1944, which had a women’s charter geared towards the real empowerment of the women. In the immediate aftermath of 1947, some Kashmiri women, both from the elite and bottom segment of Kashmir society, played a pioneering role in writing the women’s chapter of modern history of Kashmir. Begum Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, Mehmooda Ahmad Ali, Zenub Baigum and Zooni Gujri symbolized the rise of the Kashmiri women. The fact of the matter is that Maulana Azad Road Women’s College became the site for liberation and emancipation of Kashmiri women.
The question that needs to be probed and answered is as to why contemporary Kashmiri women have assumed new identities as rape victims, abducted women, widows, half-widows and migrants. The immediate answer to the question can be that all this is because of militarization of civilian space and exclusive political and cultural discourse. As I look back, I feel the problem lies in the construction of peculiar nationalistic projects in South Asia.
It was during the partition of India in 1947 that women emerged as a victim of nation building process, which had its own impact on Kashmiri women as well. During the partition, 75000 women were raped, 33000 were Hindu/Sikh and 50000 were Muslim. Late in 1947, Nehru made an appeal to the public to take women post abduction in marriages. The story does not end here. After Bangladesh war in the first three months of 1972, 170000 rape victims were aborted and more than 30,000 war babies were born. In reply to this horror, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman stated, “Send these children who have no identity of their own farther abroad. Let the children of human beings grow up like proper humans. Besides I don’t want to keep that polluted blood in this country.” One inference that can be drawn from birth of a nation in 1971 is as to how the gender bias and women exclusion are interwoven in the idea of the nation.
It is a bit tragic that while as the nation building project in Pakistan since Musharraf’s rise to power has been quite gender sensitive to the extent that he established a Women’s political school for Pakistani women, Kashmiri society in general and Kashmiri women in particular suffer when the two countries are on the colluding path, as has been the case during most of the time. We also find that a woman for the first time was appointed as president of the state bank of Pakistan and a separate women’s chamber of commerce and industries was established. Similarly some important measures were also taken in India more particularly since 1975. But women in Kashmir are still waiting for the peace process to get deepened so that they too can walk on the highways of South Asia with their heads high.

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