How conflict affects Kashmiri women

Cornered by circumstances beyond their control, we find the victims of violence becoming victimisers themselves.

 |  4-minute read |   01-11-2016
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Anthropologists agree that family is the principal institution for male-female bonding, procreation and socialisation of children. As the basic platform for raising children, they generally classify most family organisations as matrifocal (a mother and her children); conjugal (a husband, his wife, and children, also called the nuclear family); avuncular (for example, a grandparent, a brother, his sister, and her children); or extended (parents and children co-reside with other members of one parent's family).

However, as societies evolved in modern times, the nature of male-female roles in it also went through radical transformations, often influenced by the socio-economic development, environmental conditions, and the nature of work.

Division of labour and family dynamics

In agrarian societies, women are the backbone of the development of rural and national economies. They comprise 43 per cent of the world's agricultural labour force, which has risen up to 70 per cent in some countries like India. This need for farm labour enabled the formation of extended families and communities. In Africa, for example, 80 per cent of the agricultural production comes from small farmers, who are mostly rural women. Women comprise the largest percentage of the workforce in the agricultural sector, but do not have access and control over all land and productive resources.

In India, as times progressed, women's role was no longer restricted to child-bearing and child-rearing; they actively participated in farm work and, often, were the custodians of the farm produce, which gave them some control over the resources. However, in trading families, because of the footloose nature of the industry and the uncertain nature of returns, inter and intra family relationships were significantly different and the patriarchal system of family control emerged as a dominant form.

kashmir-rr_110116030413.jpg Kashmiri women were pushed by circumstance or sentiment of nationalism to engage either as victim-activists, protesters or as separatist politicians in the Valley conflict. Credit: AP

In India, the nature and form of family relationships differs from place to place - in some communities, joint (extended) families were once the norm, whereas in others, nuclear families survived; similarly, patriarchal and matrilineal families coexisted in some societies. However, globalisation, modernisation, increase in female literacy rates, access to information and increased participation of women in the labour force have, together, brought into sharp focus the gender inequality that has persisted in most patriarchal societies.

Kashmir: An agrarian society

Kashmir has a predominantly agrarian economy. 80 per cent of her population is rural; of those households, 60 per cent engage in agriculture and it remains the main source of their incomes. It has always been Kashmir's most important economic sector. In this important agricultural sector, women play a vital role, because it is largely a household enterprise. Women in the Valley are major producers of food in terms of value, volume and number of hours worked.

Nearly 63 percent of all economically-active Kashmiri men are engaged in agriculture as compared to 78 per cent of the Valley's women. About 70 percent of farm work is performed by women. It is observed that Kashmiri women play a significant and crucial role in agricultural development and allied fields, including main crop production, livestock production, horticulture, post-harvesting operations, agro/social forestry, animal husbandry, and fishing et al; and it is a fact long taken for granted, but ignored.

Kashmiri women endure

Ruled by foreign forces for centuries, the local Kashmiri communities withdrew into the passive acceptance of state terror. During this time, the extended family and community emerged as a strong support system. However, religious extremism and three decades of continuous violence have altered the situation dramatically, with the result that the position of women in Kashmir today is drastically different from their situation in the rest of the country.

In present day Kashmir, women face tyranny at three levels - the tyranny of patriarchy, that of religious orthodoxy and more importantly, the tyranny of the state. Cornered by circumstances beyond their control, we find the victims of violence becoming victimisers themselves, and consequently, partners in violence.

Kashmiri women's role in conflict and violence

The years between 1988 and 1995 were a turning point in the contemporary political history of Kashmir. The Kashmiri people's demand for freedom from India was gaining momentum each day during those years. Life in Kashmir was changing rapidly from routine business to a heightened sense of urgency and restlessness because of ages of injustice meted out to Kashmiris as a people. This manifested itself into massive popular protests, and declaration of popular support for the armed struggle against the Indian rule, following a movement launched in the late 1980s.

During that era, when the Kashmiri people were riding high on the wave for "azadi" ("freedom" - from India), the women in the Valley could not keep themselves isolated from these developments to the political landscape. They were pushed by circumstance or sentiment of nationalism to engage either as victim-activists, protesters or as separatist politicians. However, a Kashmiri woman's identity and place in historical accounts describing her position in the ongoing struggle - more often than not - is seen as culminating at being a mere "victim".

Writer

Safina Nabi Safina Nabi @safina_nabi

Born and brought up in Kashmir, the author is a freelance writer based in Delhi.

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