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THE VOICES SUBDUED



The year 1931 marked a watershed in the history of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. For the first time since alien rule was imposed, the people in the Valley en masse protested against the Dogra ruler, Hari Singh. Women got a platform, something that was unheard of before - many joined the protests, some even organized them. The aftermath of the upheaval of July 13, 1931 led to many of women becoming public figures. Similarly, during the Quit Kashmir movement, Zoni Gujree, Begum Akbar Jahan, Zainab Begum and Mahmuda Ali Shah came forward to lead. However, their potential was not nurtured through proper guidance, because of which, unfortunately, their efforts were mostly left unseen. Today, more than ever, it is extremely necessary to look at how female voices have hushed down in Kashmir, over decades.



In the late twentieth century, many women joined the protests against the brutality and violence in Kashmir executed by the state, and helped the victims morally, economically and emotionally. Women were also present at the funeral processions of fellow Kashmiris, chanting As-salaam As-salaam Aye Shahido As-salam, Aaj Teri Maut pey Ro raha hai yeh Aasmaan (Felicitations and farewell to you o martyr, today even the sky cries at your martyrdom). A minuscule section of women, belonging to the downtrodden section of the society, resorted spying for the security agencies. In the battle between the militants and the army, these women, commonly called mukhbirs, became the scapegoats - The latter exploit them economically, physically and even sexually and discard them, once their work is accomplished.



Prostitution was legalized in Kashmir during the Dogra rule precisely as it was an important source of revenue. Many dens of prostitution flourished in Tashwan and Maisuma areas of Srinagar, and some of the girls were even trafficked to other brothels located in different parts of India. The lower rung police officers were a part of this vicious circle. There are several cases of them marrying a girl, then selling her off or coercing to drag other girls into the racket. The condition of the half widows is miserable as they cannot remarry and are even denied a share in the inheritance. They cannot even think of remarriage as there is no consensus among the religious scholars as to whether they must wait for their husbands for a period of 90 years or only four years. Child marriage too is becoming common in the heavily militarized areas in order to escape rape and molestation. There are hundreds of mass rape cases all over the Valley, like the one in Kunanposhpora, Kupwara district in 1991, where the womenfolk were systematically gang raped and assaulted by the armed forces of the state. The sisters of the rape victims suffer too, as men refuse to marry them. Women related to militants are arrested, illegally detained, tortured, raped, molested or killed to force their male acquaintances to surrender.



But do we really see these women telling their own stories? There is a shortage of works which involve Kashmiri women, their choices, their outlook on the conflict and the politics surrounding it, and talking about their lives. To quench the lack of voices of Kashmiri women, it is extremely important to work at the grass-root level, and collect their voices, nurture them through understanding and gather their perspectives as insiders. However, the continuous political turmoil creates a hurdle in recording these anecdotes, leading to all the efforts of women remaining unheard till date. A new terminology has been added to the oral Kashmiri lexicon. The women, while relating their diseases to doctors, say, "I experience firing in my ears” – that says it all!

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