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Why we need to talk about Kashmir's "Occupied Feminism"

The gap between Indian Feminism and Kashmiri Feminism has never been so visible

Historically and contemporarily, Kashmiri women have been defined, treated, and portrayed as mere objects possessing “light skin, red cheeks” with no agency in politics, popular culture or media. Even one of the most celebrated historical text about Kashmir, Kalhana’s Rajatarangini doesn't stress much about the lives of Kashmiri women of the lower strata or class of the society, and the historians who later on adopted Kalhana’s method have also not done justice to highlighting the role of Kashmiri women and their position in history. 

Objectification of Kashmiri women is not new; this disgraceful practice has survived throughout the ages. François Bernier, who visited Kashmir in 1664-1665, wrote “the women especially are very handsome; it is from this country that nearly every individual, when first admitted to the court of the Great Mongol, selects wives or concubines, that his children may be whiter than the Indians and pass for genuine Mongols”. 

Cut to the time right after the abrogation of Article 370, BJP’s MLA from Khatauli in Muzaffarnagar, Vikram Singh Saini, shamelessly said that his party workers were “excited” as now they would be able to marry the “gori ladkiyan” (fair girls) of Kashmir.  To fulfil the rest of the patriarchal desires of Indian nationalist imagination, Haryana’s Chief Minister, Manohar Lal Khattar, wanted to bring girls from Kashmir for marriage. Kashmiri women are not only subjected to this rape culture, racism, and objectification by the foreign colonial gaze but, at the same time, are oppressed by the internalised racism and misogyny of Kashmiri society. 

Kashmiri Women and Resistance: Making a case for Occupied Feminism

It is true that most of the feminists inside and outside Kashmir condoned and raised serious concerns over these remarks, but the deep gap between Indian Feminism and Kashmiri Feminism has never been so visible and undeniable. As a Kashmiri woman, I claim that the main difference or the bone of contention between Kashmiri feminism and Indian feminism is that the latter doesn't acknowledge the militarisation of the valley, and even if it does, in some cases, it does not place Kashmiri women at the centre of the separatist and anti-state struggle. Some feminist scholars compare this classic case of imperial brown feminism to the white feminist biases, where the question of race was and is conveniently ignored in the case of Black women

“We want to be celebrated. Just like the women of Shaheen Bagh are celebrated for their resistance, we also want to be remembered for our role in the ongoing freedom struggle”, says Mumtaz Mohiuddin, a Kashmiri student studying in India. “Kashmiri women, especially the ones who live under the oppression every day, are the flag-bearers of women resistance in the valley, and unfortunately, their experiences are being robbed and not adequately given ink and space in both academic and non-academic circles”, she adds.

Editorial Credit: Sunil Prajapati / Shutterstock

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There is an apparent intersection of class, religion, politics, and gender in Kashmir, and understanding the valley's women's narratives devoid of the same will do no good to the feminist cause in general. Kashmiri feminism cannot be described in homogenous terms, and anyone trying to do so does not represent the ambitions and issues of Kashmiri women authentically. 

Kashmiri women and their resistance does not only include fighting against the state’s oppression but, in the same breath, encapsulate the rejection of – extremist religious beliefs which classify women as second-class citizens who are subordinate to men, homophobia which people proudly practise in the name of culture and religion in Kashmir, violence against minorities (Sikhs, Hindus, Tribals, Migrants, Pandits, etc.) in the valley and above all, the virus of ‘after-azaadi’. 

‘We are more than just sisters, mothers and wives’: Addressing the Myopia

From the perspective of a Kashmiri woman, making a case for Occupied Feminism, I argue that the two main tropes which fuel the myopia of the term azaadi inside Kashmir are: the ‘after azaadi’ trope and the ‘boi’ (brother) trope. After-azaadi trope treats women and their rights as a matter which is to be addressed after the ‘real’ freedom is achieved from the Indian state, and the boi trope reduces the women of the valley to figures or characters whose whole identity is that they are associated with men (or, the potential martyrs).

Editorial Credit: Firdous Parray / Shutterstcok

“This imposition of relationship by the members of the society upon us with any Kashmiri man reeks of toxic masculinity and patriarchy. We are much more than the sisters, mothers, and wives of Kashmiri men, martyr or not!” says a 24-year-old Kashmiri working woman who has lived both inside and outside the valley. “It's also alarming to see that in the Kashmiri imagination, respect, rights, and the existence of women are heavily based on masculinity. It makes me scared about the future”, she further comments. 

While analysing the feminist scene in occupied and heavily militarised zones like Kashmir, the frightening reductionism of women as just lamenting bodies and not documenting their everyday resilience empowers the ultra-masculine conception of anti-state movements. Simply put, portraying women as just an extension of a man is undoubtedly reductive in both theoretical and practical terms. 

By keeping Kashmir at the centre of the debate, Occupied Feminism attempts to take a departure from the stereotypical positioning of a Kashmiri woman in the native and colonial psyches. It aims to prop them as the stakeholders who are at the forefront of the resistance, demanding freedom from the occupier state but also rejecting the established religious beliefs, sexist cultural practices and myopia of the term azaadi in Kashmir.

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About the author

Sabahat Ali Wani is a Kashmiri researcher, writer and artist. Her focus areas include politics of war and conflict, gender and sexuality, feminism and conflict analysis. She is a mixed-media storytelling artist who, through her art experiments, aims to create a space for bold and critical statements. Her art focuses on highlighting many socio-political issues encircling the lives of women in Kashmir and using it as an expression of refusal and resistance.



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