By FARHANA LATIEF
Kashmir lives a state of exception. A situation where the law is indefinitely suspended, though not abrogated, in the name of public good. Courtesy: the Disturbed Areas Act, 1997 and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1990. While Kashmir continues to live in the state of lawlessness, an installed government continues to preside over this state of affairs with a change in actors from time to time.
The stale stories of India’s statecraft in Kashmir have no legs to stand on and, therefore, are always in need of new props. Youngest chief minister, new ray of hope, healing touch, separatist-turned-mainstream, return from political vagabondry are some of the packages India’s factotums in Kashmir have been wrapped in the past to make them more palatable.
This time, spin doctors in the Indian media and elsewhere have dusted dictionaries of feminism to extract a fresh phrase for the new headline: Jammu and Kashmir gets first-ever female chief minister. While people have been busy deconstructing this new development of a female heading the state cabinet in the context of women empowerment, one can understand this event in the backdrop of what would women empowerment mean to the people of Kashmir, especially the women in Kashmir.
What is the immediate worry of the women in Kashmir given the socio-political background? Acquiring positions of power or the establishment of a state of affairs where everybody has access to a dignified life? Does Ms. Mufti’s becoming the CM have any bearing on the empowerment of women in Kashmir? What have been her struggles to reach the position she holds today? What have been her methods to overcome the hurdles she may have come across to reach where she is today? How much is her struggle reflective of the struggles of ordinary Kashmiri women?
Ms. Mufti’s ‘achievements’ are personal, given her caste and class privileges, and in no way a symbolic representation of women empowerment in Kashmir. Ms. Mufti certainly must have experienced sexism at various stages of her political career, being a woman in a patriarchal set up. However, she would have been able to overcome most of them because of her privileged position, being the daughter of Mufti Sayeed, the grand doyen of collaborators in Kashmir.
Ordinary Kashmiri women do not enjoy such privileges. They have to fight two difficult battles together, against the patriarchy of their own society and against strategic violence used by the Indian state to counter the freedom struggle of Kashmir. They have to safeguard the fight against patriarchy from becoming a tool for the state to divide the freedom movement on the basis of gender. At the same time, they have to ensure that false flag calls for unity do not end up in suppressing the calls for gender justice in Kashmiri society. These women, ordinary women, walk this tightrope with characteristic élan.
Compared to their struggle, how is the empowerment of the powerful any empowerment at all? A symbolic act cannot be a replacement to the actual needs in society.
How does the gender of the collaborator change anything for the oppressed overnight?
What extraordinary feats has Ms. Mufti performed during her political career, particularly in the years when her party was in power? Apart from breaking promises made to the half-widows of Kashmir, to whom she promised a fair enquiry into enforced disappearances of their husbands; the mothers whom she had pledged a thorough investigation into the fake encounters and enforced disappearances of their sons; to the women of Kunan-Poshpora and the countless known and unknown victims of sexual violence by the same state apparatus for which she presents a façade of representative government in Kashmir.
Any government in Kashmir is the representation of the Indian state. The people through whom this representation is ensured are a facilitating agency for India and nothing more. Chanakyan India is best at exploiting any situation in Kashmir which can help it in dividing, weakening or bringing disrepute to the freedom movement, be it be it the controversy on the Pragash all-girls band or women participation in Sadhbhavna tours to India etc. In doing so, India’s media has played the part of a hand-maiden faithfully.
Yet, the same state has time and again used violence against women as a primary tool of war to try to suppress the struggle of the people. The empowerment and disempowerment of Kashmiri women is thus a tool for the Indian state, to be used according to the situation. Mehbooba, seasoned politician, daughter of a political fox, cannot be said to have fallen for this trap. By consciously allowing herself to be projected as a symbol of women power, she is setting a bad example of what empowerment is.
But then, Fairview residence/Papa 2 hides the blood and bones of countless martyrs under its expensive carpets. A certain idea of feminism is the latest casualty.
—The writer is a legal researcher with the Tata institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai