Gendered Resistance in Kashmir
women should not be seen—
should I hide?
women should not be heard—
should I be quiet?
if all i do—
who will find you?
Invoking government forces’ discrimination against men, Sadaf explained: “When we returned from Delhi, I would not let my husband out of my sight. If he went out, I went with him. It was also my worry to have given birth to boys; they [government troops] kill men at first sight.” Zooneh said that men would initially feel offended or refuse to take a woman as protection. She attributed this behavior to mardeh mizaaj (male temperament). But increasingly women who were mothers, wives, and sisters would accompany men when they ventured out during risky hours. Likely, the sight of a woman accompanying a man was stereotypical shorthand for a family on the move, rather than combatants. The presence of women was possibly seen as making men less adversarial. However, it is not that Kashmiri women have been safer than men; to the contrary, they have often been victims of sexual violence as well as routine physical violence, just like their men (Human Rights Watch 2006; OHCHR 2018).
Regarding women participating fearlessly in public protests, not in the APDP’s monthly sit-ins but the impromptu ones that follow atrocities committed by government forces, Zooneh said: “Who knows, a bullet may hit me inside my home. It is risky everywhere. We have seen so many Kashmiris die inside and outside that what is one more life anyway?” According to Zooneh, women hope that coming out in droves might decrease the chances of being shot at, but this assumption often proves incorrect, since the government troops are known to use disproportionate force indiscriminately. As far as physical harassment is concerned, Zooneh said: “In a group, chances of badtameezei [rudeness/uncouthness] are always there. They [police/soldiers] will push or pull at scarves, shove us, or even drag us, or say vile things; women face different risks, but we hope, since we are demonstrating as a group, the chances of doing anything else are lesser.” By “anything else,” Zooneh meant that the chances of overt sexual assault might be avoided when a huge group of women is demonstrating. Physical and sexual assault are pervasive, however, and do occur (Batool et al. 2016; Manecksha 2016).
The steady increase of women’s participation in the civilian demonstrations is telling of the changes in gender dynamics and highlights the increasingly subordinate nature of Kashmiri masculinity in relation to the military occupation. Perhaps the military does not see the women as equal adversaries as they view the men. As lesser adversaries, their treatment of the women is arbitrary at best; that is, they might not be killed or arrested as readily as the men. The primary dangers to them are molestation or rape, and sometimes women will be killed anyway or let of with considerable humiliation and harassment. The main worry for all Kashmiri women who take part in demonstrations is not being killed but suffering any form of physical assault—worse than being killed because it spells social death. Scholars have illustrated that physical assault or rape during war and conflict, while making women the direct victims, is a proven tactic aimed at humiliating men and the community at large, who attach their honor to their women (Brownmiller 1975; Millilo 2009). While rape or sexual assault might be meted out on a woman’s body, its purpose is often to punish the men to whom the woman is perceived to belong and to break the community as a whole.
This excerpt has been taken from Chapter 4 of the book Resisting Disappearance: Military Occupation and Women's Activism in Kashmir by Ather Zia, published by Zubaan.