Of Women, Conflict and Empowerment

Of Women, Conflict and Empowerment

By Iqra Masoom

History pages are full of violence against women. In every war and conflict, it is women that have faced the brunt of violence. Abductions, rape and forcible conversation are concomitants of conflicts. In the partition of the Indian sub-continent, thousands  of women were lost and abducted. Some estimates put the number into millions. In some low conflict areas, it is also women bear the secondary effects of violence. Be it in the North-Eastern States or in Kashmir, a keen penetrating eye will decipher the impact of conflict on women’s psyche, health, emotional makeup and livelihood.
Kashmir, which is sometimes, referred to as a nuclear flashpoint between nuclear powers India and Pakistan has been in crisis now since more than five decades. In fact,  in the initial days of the crisis which engulfed the state, thousands of women were abducted in the communal frenzy which swayed the state especially in  the Jammu region. A small percentage of these women was recovered but most  got lost in the winds of time, never to be heard of again. The pens of historians have never been able to ink the atrocities that were carried out against the daughters of eve. Research has indicated that the gruesome acts were conducted by the communally frenzied mobs with the sole aim of profiting from tuncertainty , decline in law and order in the state and the attendant chaos. The key point here is that whenever law and authority breaks down, women are the worst hit.
Unfortunately, the state has never recovered from the crisis mode. The emergence of militancy against the backdrop of rigged elections of 1987 was the last nail in the coffin. It led to militarisation of the state, especially the Kashmir valley. Death and Destruction ruled the state and it continues to be so. Moreover,  the armed forced were equipped with draconian laws like AFSPA which prevented the civilian judiciary to act whenever there were violations of human rights in the valley. The  gory happenings at Kunan-Poshpora, the rape of a  young bride in Anantnag and the Shopian double rape case never reached their conclusions in terms of law. Many cases never came to light due to social stigmas associated with these crimes. Many women preferred to remain silent and it encouraged more atrocities against them. Some women came out to press for their rights in the valley to create the space for highly patricachial step-up in Kashmir. One of these, Parveen Ahangar, known as the Iron Lady of Kashmir, organised women whose relatives disappeared in these years. It resulted in the creation of organisation which is known as  the Association of Disappeared Persons.
In 2005, Parveena Ahangar was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, which she could not obtain due to lobbying by some countries. The organisation comprises of women whose sons, husbands, fathers disappeared in the decades old conflict. The government has not been able to appoint a single commission to look into the allegations of its members. It is to be mentioned that Parveena Ahangar’s son, a boy of around seventeen years, was picked up by the forces,  never to be seen again.
The problems associated with the disappearance and torture of men created psychological problems for women. Many a women resorted to drugs to calm down the tempers and some went into deep depression. Most of these women are from lower middle income groups or below poverty line. With no sources of income, women anywhere in the world are prune to sexual exploitation. Not only were security agencies involved in atrocities against women, recent research has shown that “Command Marriages” happened in rural areas at the instigation of militants. There were a series of risks associated with the revelation of crimes. Women could have been simply blamed as the “tarnishers of freedom struggle” which would have risked the lives of family members. Keeping mum was the right option.
There is no doubt that government, civil society and residents of Kashmir have failed to take into consideration the effects of violence on women. The empowerment of women is seen as a secondary question next to Kashmir conflict. The government has been complacent in not encouraging the empowerment of women due to the fear that women in 1990’s have been greatly involved in militancy activities. It is because of this very fear that government here does not provide universal compensation to women who have lost their dear ones in whirlpool of violence.
The women here, to get compensation, have to prove that their sons/relatives were not in any way involved in militant related activities. This is just a breach of justice and dignity to live. In a society which is patriarchal  women are not able to make forcefully their decisions in family matters. The government simply looks women as being supporters of militancy without looking into the social set up. This was done with the pre-assumption those women, if not provided compensation, would force their relatives not to get involved in anti-India activities, the policy which has severely backfired. In recent times, women have come out in large numbers to protest even in killing of militants. The government failed to realise the consequences of their policies as lack of compensation further hardened their stand against government and entrenched the patriarchal society.
It is high time that the government realizes that empowerment of women through a long series of investments in the capital formation will be enabling for woman. Investments in women and their empowerment will create direct as well as indirect benefits which are essential for the economy, society and the political atmosphere of the Kashmir valley.

—The author is a Relationship Executive at Jammu and Kashmir Bank, and can be reached at iqramasoom@rediffmail.com

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