Causing flutters in political camps is not the intention. Ruffling feathers of political bosses or making political leadership to dither is also not the objective. I am just looking for answers for a few not intellectual but mundane questions that have been haunting my mind.
Is politics in our part of the world patriarchal? Has our struggle suffered for patriarchy? Is negligible women leadership in the state because of gender bias of the top leadership? Many intelligent and committed women have been complaining of denying them their due place in political parties and social organization. Professor Hameeda Nayeem, a friend in seminars and conferences for past many years has been attributing absence of women at decision-making stage in politics to patriarchy. She is not alone in her belief, many other women scholars, social and political activists share her views that gender permeates in social and political organizations in the state. Some women activists in various organizations have been accusing top leadership of their organizations being discriminatory towards them. They often assert that ‘their talent, competence, sacrifices and commitment to the cause is not recognized.’ ‘Denial to women activists, their due place in political organizations has been adversely effecting political movements in the state.’
Before looking at these assertions in right perspective there is, need to understand the role of women in political struggle of the state.
Long before, in this column, I wrote that the story of Kashmir women is derring-do. Every day she adds a page of courage and bravery, gallantry and determination to scarlet history of Kashmir. ‘There is a jagar mass- a woman of extraordinary courage, a moving spirit that braves batons and bayonets in every village and locality of Kashmir- in every nook and corner of the state.’ Nevertheless, this is not the story of the recent past only. The women of Kashmir have been in the vanguard of struggle against oppression from 1865, and their involvement became intense and explicit after 13 July 1931 happenings and it continues to date.
‘In Kashmir valley women also made a notable contribution to the Movement, writes Yusuf Saraf, “Procession of women was a common feature of the agitation in various localities of Srinagar and the towns of Baramulla, Sopore, Islamabad and Shopian. It goes to the credit of the daughters of the valley that although illiterate and unaware even of their social rights and traditionally confined to their homes they braved hardships and fought along with men for freedom of their country from the Dogra rule.’
History bears testimony that they sacrificed their lives. Names of some women martyrs who showed courage of conviction distinctly figure in the pages of history. Many women died in firing of Dogra soldiers not on in Srinagar city but many other towns. ‘Freechi of Baramulla, who died of bullet wound, is classic example of courage. She hurled a Kangari on face of a Dogra police officer who had tried to stop a women’s procession in support of freedom. Police officer was disfigured permanently’. True, no work has been so far been done independently about the role of women in Kashmir struggle but pages of history eloquently narrate tales of their sacrifices, courage, steadfastness and determination.
Notwithstanding role played by women in Kashmir struggle, in the post 1947 situation they never made to the centre stage of politics in the state. After 1947, when the Muslim Conference leadership was either pushed across the ceasefire line or put behind the bars the only political party left on the scene was the National Conference. It had many women workers in its ranks, but there is no history of a woman ever elected as its president, general secretary, district head and even block president. The organization that has been in power for over fifty years is yet to make a history in this regard. This was true of the rechristened version of this organization under command and control of G. M. Sadiq.
Historically gender bias is not only seen dominant in the political parties that were in power but even the parties that struggled for “right to self-determination” were not free from it. The Jammu and Kashmir Plebiscite that dominated the political scene of the state for twenty-two years and had a lot of support base in women never ever had a woman leader in its ranks. It did not even have a woman member in its working committee or a woman delegate in its very elaborate general council.
In the post, 1990 situation women were again in the forefront. They have suffered immensely. Studies done by various international organizations like that of the Medecins Sans Frontieres about the suffering of Kashmiri women have been disturbing. It is true that some women for their commitment, steadfastness and sacrifices have made to the centre stage of Kashmir politics and head women organizations but fact remains they continues to be marginalized in the mainstream political organizations.
Seema Kazi’s in her book ‘BETWEEN DEMOCRACY & NATION Gender and Militarization in Kashmir’ published by Oxford has incisively analyzed role of Kashmiri women during past twenty-three years. She has brought out the ‘essential paradox between women’s significant role in the struggle for azadi… and their political marginalization… shaped by patriarchal social context…” She also argues that despite the role of women in Kashmir political struggle none of the women leaders is on executive of any of the mainstream organization- this includes the Hurriyat Conferences.
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