By BASHARAT SHAMEEM
As the dust of propaganda surrounding the recent Handwara incident finally settles, many things have come to fore. The facts have revealed themselves, inevitably, notwithstanding sustained efforts by the state machinery to dilute, distort and when it wanted fabricate a narrative that suited its objectives.
But what is disquieting is that many of us were once again easily taken in by these state machinations. How ironical that we so easily believe the oppressive and tyrannical version contorted by, to quote Louis Althusser, the ‘repressive and ideological state apparatus.’ The persuasive tone of the state sanctioned propaganda and rhetoric is indeed too intense; imagine, as in the case of Handwara, forgetting the whole tragedy, many of us began to blame the victim herself, thus clearing the way for the militarized state apparatus to exonerate the oppressors.
For a nation yet to come to terms with the tragedies and horrors of mass rape and torture in Kunan and Poshpora, Zalangam, Shopian, and many others, any such act should have shattered the precincts of imagination. The victim was already subjected to molestation and sustained abuse by the so-called security forces, but many Kashmiris took that abuse to the next level, particularly on social media. It all only gave credence to the versions of our oppressors and vindicated the obfuscatory spree of the Indian national media, as has become a norm when it comes to the regular and shaming developments in Kashmir.
Many a time we have failed those of us who have been at the receiving end of the brutality of our oppressors. The Handwara incident just proves that; in many ways, a lot of us were not able to distinguish between the oppressor and the victim. That the psychological abuse faced by the Handwara girl, after the actual incident, must not be seen as an isolated problem. The issue goes deeper than this; it smokes up our collective consciousness and is symptomatic of our overall attitude towards women. The Handwara incident again proved the deeply misogynistic nature of our society, which, as countless scholarly analyses prove, has been exacerbated by the military oppression. Add to this, in farcical terms, even the blame for natural disasters like earthquakes and floods is often put by some self-styled god men on women. When we should have been the guardians for our women in the face of military oppression, which uses women as soft targets to inflict a certain vengeful pain on our society, we do just the opposite. We torment them psychologically. And far from being able to ensure safety of women, the governments in the state provide cover to ministers and bureaucrats letting them off the hook after their repeated involvements in such crimes as molestations and sex-rackets.
There is a big problem in our society that often displays in our attitude towards women; the deep-rooted and widespread misogyny, which rather disturbingly displays itself as men being more valued members of the society than women. This is done even after the religion of the majority here, Islam, strictly proscribes any such discrimination. In recent years in Kashmir, there has been a steady increase in the cases of female feticide, acid-attacks, infanticide, domestic violence, ill treatment and even burning alive of women over dowry, etc. In urban and rural areas alike, there is not much of a discrepancy in this unfortunate aspect. The problem lies in our attitudes towards women. It is here that we can do a genuine favour to ourselves as a nation. Howsoever, we may be in denial. An honest appraisal would show that we perpetuate a social realm that ‘objectifies’ women at all levels.
A widespread social perception of a woman, both at conscious and unconscious levels, is that of a secondary entity on which masculine powers can be enacted and exercised freely. It is how we view her as a family member or as a part of the larger society. A woman has to carry the burden of modesty and moral keeping of our society while men can enjoy a bit of leeway. This kind of thinking has traditionally informed our sensibility.
As various studies have shown, this situation gets complicated in an environment of military oppression that makes women soft targets. Various scholars have argued that a long period of militarization, as is witnessed in Kashmir, provides an ideal climate to foster violence against women as the already adverse attitudes towards them get aggravated further. The recent incident involving a schoolgirl in Handwara is the latest example.
In Kashmir, various studies have revealed, violence on the bodies of women, as rape or other forms of sexual assault, serves as a well-entrenched mechanism of political suppression. Scholars like Binalakshmi Nepram in this regard states that “rape, or other types of physical assault in conflict or under a repressive regime, as in Kashmir and Northeast, is neither incidental nor private; it routinely serves a strategic function and acts as a tool for achieving specific military or political objectives”.
Such acts are propelled by an idea of keeping a woman confined and under submission. Since our culture puts emphasis on women’s sexual purity and honour, the oppressive forces attempt to violate this ‘purity and honour’ in order to hurt our collective sense of societal honour. There is another argument which links the increasing domestic violence as being further exacerbated by the militarization of Kashmir. Since our society witnesses violence on a daily basis, it also fawns a culture intolerance towards women which then manifests as violence against them.
Scholars like Rita Manchanda argue, “Cultural violence against women gets magnified as conflict promotes macho values which legitimize misogyny.” As a result, gendered violence becomes more common in the context of military oppression like in Kashmir where this violence is institutionalized in the form of draconian laws and a culture of impunity.
In the aftermath of the September 2014 floods, one remembers, various newspapers carried out news items wherein some girls had narrated about the trauma of the taunts of ‘blame’ directed at them in the public places as being responsible for the floods. Surely, it cannot get anymore farcical than that. To whatever extent this may seem frivolous, this particular instance was a potent reminder of the psychological abuse that our women often face. The most unfortunate part is that this kind of attitude towards women appears to legitimize violent acts against women in both public and private spheres in our society.
Imagine the lives of our women, having to face double oppression in the form of patriarchy and the tyranny of the military occupation. It is true that a significant number of women in our society have defied all this to progress beyond the limits imposed by the society; yet, the fundamental attitudes towards women remain largely unchanged. The change in our attitudes must come sooner than later.
—The writer is a lecturer of English Literature in the University of Kashmir.