By Tanvi Berwah:
Mainstream Indian feminism, as prevalent on Twitter and Facebook, is very occupied with the obvious: the daily struggle of the women in Delhi, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Kolkata. Sometimes Chandigarh, Pune, Chennai or Ahmedabad. It ranges from the freedom to wear what women want to how long families allow women to stay out at night. It debates how daily-use products like shampoo and skin-care are divided into genders. Essentially, it focuses on the experience of middle-class, urban – and predominantly Hindu – women with access to social media to express their annoyances at these limitations.
And that’s where it contorts feminism, the theory of equality, and becomes a vanity charade riding on the crest of a certain level of privilege.
For decades now, Kashmiri women have been ignored in the mainstream. They face a discrimination that is unique to them because they lie at intersecting systems of oppression – gender and politics.
Indian women often conveniently forget about this framework as applied to Kashmir and stick to the rhetoric: Kashmir is an integral part of India, essentially erasing the Kashmiri experience and embracing the faulty idea of nationalism. The idea of Kashmir is narrowed down to a young, masked man throwing a stone, completely quashing away the face of the Kashmiri woman who is a routine sufferer of the violence.
However, the category of gender does not get erased even if personal identities, whether the rhetorical religious or regional, are brought to the fore. The Kashmiri women aren’t women one day, and Kashmiri the next. The recognition of this intersectionality is important as their oppression is simultaneous and helps in not splicing the life of Kashmiri women. It makes visible what the Indian women have in common with the Kashmiri women – and what they never will, which is why the Kashmiri women’s own voices are the ones that deserve to be heard.
There’s a lot of solidarity among urban Indians with white pop-stars who speak against sexual assault in the American music industry, but when it comes to the mass rapes in Kunan Poshpora, a large section of Indian society flat-out denies the entire incident. Imagine an entire brutalisation being termed a ‘hoax’ by the mass opinion and the alleged perpetrators being lauded as ‘heroes’ fighting for the country.
Where, then, are the advocates who fiercely champion women standing up to their perpetrators? Why, when Kashmiri women speak, are they ignored – or worse, silenced by being termed liars? Why are legitimate points raised by Kashmiris against the army invalidated because of their ‘tone’ that makes Indians uncomfortable and unsettles the morale of the soldiers? What kind of self-centred ego shifts the narrative from Kashmiri suffering to the comfort of Indians?
Here are the blunt words: Indian militarily occupies Kashmir. The army is not restricted to borders, or pockets of ‘disturbed’ areas. They are in cities. They are outside homes. They walk through neighbourhoods and stop Kashmiris in their own land and demand proof of identity. Their gazes follow Kashmiri women everywhere. The difference between being in Delhi and having to suffer the perpetual violence of the male gaze and being in Kashmir and having to suffer the same from an army man is that the latter is a hero in the eyes of the country. His male identity suddenly evaporates the moment he dons the army uniform, making sexual violence an infallible tool that is used to control and propagate fear in Kashmiri society. Why, then, will Kashmiris not retaliate? How is it any different than protests against police and military brutalities the world over? Police brutalities and war crimes are not a new phenomenon exclusive only to Kashmir that India can pretend it’s not true. The very language of AFSPA exempts the army from persecution, in full anticipation of the idea that there will be abuses and violations of humans under this act.
As a woman, if you are tired of being treated wrongly and your belief lies in equality, then it shouldn’t be narrowed down to personal experiences or the intangible idea of ‘nationalism’ that makes you proud of drawn lines that can be redrawn at any moment.
If you rage against your own oppression, but go on to ignore another’s and even add to it, what you raged for was not equality but power.
Evaluate if your personal discomfort is higher than a Kashmiri woman’s dignity being attacked in her everyday life. Don’t shift the narrative from Indian perpetration of violence in Kashmir to another problem because it exonerates you, or one that lets you pretend to be the victim of a problem that is far removed from you. Your voice matters. Use it to boost Kashmiri women’s voices, not speak over them and certainly not to police their tone.
Featured image for representation only: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images.