The history of Kashmir is replete with names of many brave women that toiled its lands, lived for it, and perished in it. We hear about the plight of Kashmiris and how they have been suffering not for decades but centuries. We rarely talk about the passive actors—the Kashmiri Women—who have kept the history going for this long. Kashmir has had women monarchs like Rani Didda and Kota Rani, rebels and mystics like Lal Ded and Habba Khatun, poets, and singers like Rupa Bhawani and Raj Begum, yet we barely even know of them. Ever wonder, why?
Women are relegated to passive spheres with secondary roles–always expected to be compliant. These submissive domains overshadow the individuality of women, their beautiful faces, their unique personalities, and their valuable legacy. Kashmiri women are no different, even when Kashmir had female queens, they were regents for male heirs as we today have in our assemblies. In reference to Kashmir, particularly IIOJK, we know about Mehbooba Mufti, Aasiya Andrabi, and Zamruda Habib because these are the women that have gotten some space in newspapers and media. Not many of us know that Kashmir has had a Women’s Defense Corps in the aftermath of partition. Women were among the first ones to agitate against the oppressive rule of Maharaja. They were killed and perished in their struggle for Kashmiri autonomy. Parveena Ahangar is one such woman who made her name known but so many like her have vanished into thin air without anyone knowing about their existence.
Women in Kashmir are not just passive actors, limited to being half-widows, rape victims, or orphans. They are historians who have kept Kashmiri culture and struggle alive through folklore and storytelling. They register their grief and resistance in the form of mourning sessions and processions. The patriarchal landscape may have limited their participation like that of men but the brave women of Kashmir well employed the gender stereotypes to navigate through their acrimonious and militarized context. They stood for Kashmiris’ right to self-determination and faced atrocities for their active participation. They carried weapons under their purdahs and veils. They nursed and harbored the freedom fighters and transmitted information to them. They rarely took to arms but they have been actively involved in mobilizing masses, rioting, spying, and even provoking hostile forces. In current times, Kashmiri women are excelling in journalism and scholarship; they have turned their pens into their swords. They have played an equally important role in the history of Kashmir if not more significant than that of their male counterparts.
From Rani Didda and Kota Rani to Lal Ded and Habba Khatun, the list of dauntless Kashmiri women is inexhaustible. However, we mostly remember them as nameless and faceless mourning mothers and sisters, victims of rape and pallet guns, or women who have lost their male relatives. We do not name them as fighters, protesters, historians, warriors, or any label, perhaps, that stands in the face of our patriarchal mores. Are we afraid of our women standing by our sides and building us up? Why does it bring a bad name to the family and the patriarch if a woman is breaking social taboo? Why are we even afraid to name our women in public let alone give them their due credit?
All the history that we delve into talks about the rulers, mostly the male rulers because they got their stories written when they were in power. Some may have truly inspired people to write about their legacy but the common practice is formerly stated. Likewise, we never hear about women because the writers and makers of history were almost always men. This not only belittles women’s role and existence but also demonizes them. Women were not treated as important enough to be dedicated a few pages to in the volumes of historiography. Arguing that women were mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters of prominent men in history, we relegate them to passive spheres where we recognize and respect them only in relation to their male relatives and acquaintances.
Women are mostly dragged to politics only after the search for a male occupant has gone futile; they are rarely a primary option. A few seats are given to women under the quota system to brag about our efforts to establish gender parity. We make a woman or two sit on largely male-dominated panels to make claims about gender inclusivity. We teach our daughters not to be decision-makers but to be passive pawns who should forever be grateful to us because we let them study. We need to rethink our ideas and practices of gender inclusivity and gender parity.
Note: This article appeared in Kashmir Watch, dated 16 April 2023.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are of the author and do not necessarily represent Institute’s policy.