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Women as harbingers of change in Kashmir

The credit for Kashmir having retained its social coherence and integration despite the situation of unmitigated conflict goes, in great measure, to the courageous women of the region.

While the men fight their wars, it is the women who are left to manage the aftermath and pick up the pieces of shattered lives. The women of Kashmir have been called upon to take on this onerous responsibility in great measure. As the conflict raged, women became the worst sufferers being the hardest hit. Deprived of the luxury of a normal existence as mothers or daughters and wives, they have suffered, and continue to suffer, trauma as victims of violence in all of its manifestations; they see their male members killed in mindless bloodshed and their world falling apart, they have been subjected to the worst forms of infringement, molestation and humiliation; new terminologies of half-widows and half orphans have to be coined to explain their vulnerable position. Worst is the environment of unpredictability, of not knowing what will happen any moment of the day; 

History records some very prominent women in Kashmir like Queen Didda and Kota Rani. Kashmir also boasts of some overpowering female mystics and poets like Lal Ded, Habba Khatoon, Arnimal and Rupa Bhawani but, over the centuries since their existence, the region turned into a conservative and patriarchal society where women were given an inferior status. They had little access to education or employment and were, as such, economically dependent on the men. They were called upon to do heavy work, suffer polygamy and repression within their own homes. 

It was the advent of freedom in India which brought about a paradigm shift in the role of women in society, across the country, and also in Kashmir. Records suggest that in 1901 only one in a thousand women was educated in Kashmir, now the number stands upwards of 50 percent. Women are actively taking on to jobs in the government as well as the private sector.  A visit to any branch of the Jammu and Kashmir Bank gives a pleasant visage of a large number of women behind the counters and in high managerial positions, same can be said about the education sector where women are dominating. There are enough female doctors, engineers, IT professionals and Journalists etc among the Kashmiri women, proudly holding their own in their respective professional streams.  The trailblazing was done by some iconic Kashmiri women like Hanifa Chapu, who was the first woman from South Kashmir to get a Bachelors Degree in Education and become a Gazetted officer and Dr. Girija Dhar, a Gynaecologist who studied in the United Kingdom and came back to establish the Lal Ded Woman Hospital. 

It is the situation of conflict and the challenges that it has posed which has impelled the women to exhibit a rare degree of courage. They have been called upon to keep their families intact, to overcome the displacement caused by loss of a male member of the family and provide food and shelter to the children and to the aged and infirm. Their education, social life, health has been adversely impacted as they are called upon to set aside their personal aspirations and sacrifice their very existence for the sake of their families. They have put in herculean efforts to overcome Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD) to get the situation in control. Psychiatrists speak of the manner in which these ladies have developed defence mechanisms to live with their memories and put their trauma in perspective.  The credit for Kashmir having retained its social coherence and integration despite the situation of unmitigated conflict goes, in great measure, to the courageous women of the region. 

Today, despite the violence in Kashmir (which is fortunately on the decline) there are a large number of women who are pursuing their dreams and coming of age. The best measure of an uplifting society is its participation and excelling in sports, it is rightly said that “The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.” It is in sports that the actual grit and determination of the modern Kashmiri women is becoming discernible. Nadiya Nighat, a football player from Kashmir has 10 national and state level awards to her credit. She is also Kashmir’s first female football coach, presently training more than 30 children, including three girls. Iqra Rasool of Baramulla is a young cricketer who is nurturing the dream of becoming a part of the National women’s cricket team. Dr Sharmeen Mushtaq, a medical professional, is the first Kashmiri woman to participate in the snow car rally in Gulmarg. Irtiqa Ayoub is a senior Rugby player. The most well known is young Tajamul Islam who has created history by winning a gold medal for India in the under-8 World Kickboxing championship in Italy in November, 2016.  

Sports and jobs apart, there are many Kashmiri women branching out as entrepreneurs and giving the male businessmen in the field a run for their money. Kashmiri girls are venturing into the highly challenging and risky field of Journalism despite oppositions from their parents and the risk involved. 

With this kind of an attitude and a huge will power to progress in their own fields the Kashmiri women have proved that they are second to none. They have the capacity to stand by their men folk and address all issues facing their community while also working towards their aspirations. 

History has given to the women of Kashmir a unique strength, they have the capacity to face adverse circumstance and emerge victorious, this inherent capacity of theirs can turn around the situation in Kashmir. They alone have the capacity to convince their men to shun the path of violence which is causing maximum damage to women and children and standing in the way of a vibrant civilisation taking its just place in the world comity. Empowering of women in Kashmir can pave the way for ushering peace in the region. If they have a job, their voice is more likely to be heard within the family. 

Let the changing society with its own brand of consciousness, modern education, cultural and social awareness, better economic conditions define the role of women in Kashmir society. Once a majority of the women develop economic and social skills they will be in a position to usher positive changes in their own lives and onwards into their community.

(Jaibans Singh is a reputed journalist and author)   

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Anyways, past all other political actors both new and the longstanding ones, these two entrants will undeniably make a mark on existing politics []mainstream politics]. Whether they win or lose the electoral battle, the two will be the most watched and analysed political entities.

Source: Greater Kashmir