Rightly it has been said, ‘It is now more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in modern conflict.’
Conflicts are as old as human civilisation and women are the worst sufferers of them. All over the globe, conflict be it political or social has a devastating effect on the dignity and lives of women. If countries have somehow reduced some inequalities by providing the right to vote and education over the decades, they have also bred more conflicts, both within the nation-state and with other nation-states. In present-day Kashmir, women face the tyranny of the state as well as society (rapes are the worst example of this cruelty). The torture, killings, and rape of this section of society are known to all and there are hundreds of cases that show how women are the worst hit by both the state and the patriarchal nature of society.
Though we cannot deny the role played by this vulnerable section in society, to which they have given everything from labour to adoration, yet it is women who continue to suffer everyday injustice and inequality. The aim of this article is to describe how women as a whole have suffered, be it politically, socially, economically, psychologically, or educationally, and how we can move towards a place where women along with men could develop their abilities to the fullest without prejudice or inequalities.
The political uncertainties and the violent nature of the conflict that has been prevalent for decades in Kashmir has given birth to multiple problems. One among them is the sufferings of women. The UN Program for Action (1995) described how women were especially affected by armed conflict because of their unequal status in society and also because of their sex. There have been many restrictions on the political, legal, and civil rights of women. Similarly, there are restrictions on the exercise of their freedom of speech, expression, movement, and so on. What is most unfortunate is that there is an absence of organisations, both governmental and voluntary, to enable them to overcome such restrictions. In such a sorry state of affairs, victims of sexual violence and rapes don’t get justice. It was in this context that Major General Patrick Commaert, former UN peacekeeping commander, said, “It is now more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in modern conflict.”
Kashmiri society, like other societies of the world, is also patriarchal in nature (it may differ in degree but not in form), where women are treated as inferior to men. The political conflict has only added fuel to the fire. The woman has been confined to within the four walls of the house and it has been only recently that this patriarchal practice has slightly reduced due to education and awareness. In the present violent state of conflict where the gazes of armed forces are a reality, this section of society is hardly allowed to move freely due to security reasons. Likewise, women are economically dependent on men, though they work together with men in fields/homes but their contribution has been hardly recognised or has hardly made a difference to their lives. There is total denial of their socio-economic contribution because of patriarchy. One cannot deny that there is an improvement over the years in their lives but more radical reforms are needed to eliminate patriarchy from our home and society.
Women are not equally treated with men socially; likewise, they are also economically downtrodden. In a male-dominated society like ours, men are considered as bread earners, but due to the violent state of affairs, thousands of men have been killed or have “disappeared”. The result is an increase in the number of windows, “half widows”, and orphans. In such cases, all the economic burden has been put on women’s shoulders. Women have been forced to work as unskilled labourers.
Women in Kashmir suffer from stress, depression, insomnia, poor physical health, psychiatric disorders, bipolar disorder, panic, and phobia. According to one of the research findings of Médecins Sans Frontières in 2015, the percentage of women suffering from mental disorders was significantly higher than men in Kashmir, where 50% of women and 37% of men had probable depression, 36% of women and 21% of men had anxiety disorder, and 22% of women and 18% of men had probable PTSD. The fact of the matter is that the ongoing conflict has created disproportionate negative effects on women. Due to violence and patriarchy, this section is now in deep psychological trauma. In such a situation they are unable to carry out their responsibilities, so much so that they are not even able to be available for their loved ones psychologically.
Education is the fundamental right of an individual. However, in Kashmir, education is the worst-hit sector due to political turmoil. Education of girls has been badly affected by conflict here. Violence compels many women to forego education, marry early, and do domestic chores. According to the 2011 Census, female literacy in Jammu and Kashmir was 56.43% while male literacy was 76.75%. Thus there is a huge difference that needs to be redressed by providing education to women.
The question arises: what needs to be done to eradicate the gender inequalities in society? It is true that all these sufferings can’t be eradicated or removed fully, but some steps should be taken by the government, and by voluntary organisations and civil-society to rehabilitate and empower women. Some of the initiatives in this way which need to be taken are:
Different organisations and NGOs should work in the rehabilitation process, counselling, outreach programmes to manage health care, psycho-social traumas, etc.
Sexual violence against women should be subjected to public accountability and the judiciary must deliver justice to victims in cases like Kunan and Poshpora mass-rape case and so many others.
The need of the hour, according to HELP foundation, is to study comprehensively and take a holistic approach to addressing the problems faced by Kashmiri women. Rehabilitate and empower them by providing skill/quality based education, sense of security, and financial assistance.
Life is precious and the gift of God. This life is the only life we have, and being women we must value it with freedom and without injustice. No woman needs to agonise in silence. And for those men who have a patriarchal mindset, they must remember that a woman’s life is a story of sacrifice, suffering, and affection, not hate and selfishness!
The writer is from Baramulla and has done her Master’s in Political Science at University of Kashmir. [email protected]