Safina Baig, wife of Member of Parliament and PDP founding member Muzaffar Hussain Baig, formally plunged into politics after being assigned the charge of leading the PDP’s women’s wing. In an interview with Kashmir Reader special correspondent Moazum Mohammad, she talks about women power and increasing cases of sexual assault against women
Moazum Mohammad: Can you spell out your agenda as the chief of PDP women’s wing?
Safina Baig: Women are the ultimate sufferers of the turmoil and it is the right time to focus on them. I am affiliated with a political party and as a politician my work is to engage women at the grassroots with my party. Apart from that, our concern is to address the psychological or personal losses suffered by women. Initially, whenever a woman suffers personal losses in turmoil, people visit the bereaved family but later nobody cares about them. We can at least share their grief by reaching out to them.
We will be organising constituency-wise programmes to give women a sense of participation and to ensure that our policies and ideology reaches them.
MM: How you are going to heal the psychological or personal losses of women?
SB: It a chronic problem. Nothing can be done overnight. Irrespective of our political ideologies, we to have work together as a society on these issues. Civil society has a responsibility as well. We have to work as Kashmiris and sideline our ideologies and address the issues.
If someone loses a son, how can you compensate them? Money can’t compensate the loss. Our women should understand that conflict has achieved nothing but loss. Women can play a bigger role and have influence on the family. Women should understand that they are the ultimate sufferers in conflict, or turmoil, and should work for peace. Violence can’t achieve anything expect for destruction. Non-violence is the best way to put forward your point of view. It will receive appreciation in the world and will be result-oriented.
MM: What are the reasons women are not willing to join politics in Jammu and Kashmir?
SB: There is hesitation in joining the mainstream (politics) in our state. Many educated youth want to join the mainstream but there is hesitation, as many elements considered mainstream are seen as a stigma or as untouchable, especially in Kashmir. Those who believe that by joining the mainstream we are diluting the Kashmir issue are wrong. All political parties irrespective of ideology believe Kashmir is an issue and should be addressed. There is no difference of opinion on it. At a stage where even men are hesitating in joining mainstream political parties, for women to do so is out of the question.
MM: Even if women join political parties, their representation is quite meagre, isn’t it?
SB: Representation of women not only in our state but also in India in policy and decision-making is quite poor. India is behind Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh in terms of participation of women in policy or decision-making bodies.
The way out for the entire India is to give women a minimum representation. Former finance minister Muzaffar Baig presented the bill for 33 percent reservation for women in the maiden PDP-Congress alliance. But the Congress wanted the bill to be introduced in Parliament. Later, the alliance broke and nothing could be done.
Women belong to the weaker section of society and the directive principles of the Constitution say that their issues need to be addressed. The directive principals suggest giving them a minimum 33 percent reservation in the legislature. Political parties can at least give 30 percent reservation to women in elections. Not only political empowerment, however, economic empowerment is equally important. If that is granted, women will emerge and remain as symbol and source of strength and power.
MM: A woman chief minister, who is also your party chief, is heading the government. So what steps are being taken for women?
SB: She is an institution. In our history, after Kashmiri poet Habba Khatoon, we have a woman who is leading the state. It is a big achievement. She has a soft corner towards women. The recent abolition of stamp duty on property in the name of women is one such historical decision that she has taken. It has not only empowered women but given them a sense of security. Fifty percent of our population has not been addressed. Decisions in favour of women will continue.
Mehooba Mufti is running a coalition government because people did not give us the full mandate. She will take her alliance partner into confidence and ensure that reservation for women is implemented.
MM: Women are facing rising violence despite stringent laws. What do you see as the reason behind this?
SB: Laws can’t stop any crime. We think we are civilised because of advanced technology, but we are losing basic values. Values can’t be replaced by making laws. When an unfortunate incident happens, our institutions should set an example by giving severe punishment.
MM: Kashmir is witnessing rising domestic violence against women. What steps are being taken to bring it down?
SB: Kashmir is facing social issues such as domestic violence, late marriages, but they are getting sidelined due to other issues which dominate the political landscape. Unfortunately, the reason for late marriages is that people want the girl to start earning before she is married. It is the case with boys as well. As for domestic violence, women should file cases at women police stations or the state women’s commission. Some women treat domestic violence as normal. The government should raise awareness on this issue so that it is stopped. I am also working on it.
Women have been given representation in panchayats but it is the men who discuss policies during panchayat meetings. Women are not being given the opportunity to express themselves. Women should proactively participate in panchayat elections so that they can directly address domestic violence cases, which panchayats have the power to deal with.
MM: How do you see the politics surrounding the rape and murder of the eight-year-old Kathua girl?
SB: It is very unfortunate. We can’t blame the entire Jammu society. Most of them did not stand on the side of the accused, for which they deserve applause. The chief minister has taken a stand which is the right approach. We should trust the judiciary.