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Women are the first and most affected casualties in any war zone, and the women of Kashmir are being sacrificed at the altar of the violence kept alive by men.
Pinjar is a 1950 Punjabi novel by poet and novelist Amrita Pritam, that reflects upon the identity and fate of women in a conflict zone, under the nationalist and patriarchal discourse, during the partition of India in 1947.
Women become the first casualty in such zones, and yet their plight gets overshadowed by the violent masculinity that causes this conflict. By default, men become the sufferers and women acquire a cloak of fragile honour, mostly at peril.
The stakes are high, and any transgression on that cloak of women’s ‘honour’ accelerates the spiral of bloodbath with the perceived enemy. The stage being set, territorial honour and morality gets concentrated around barricaded female sexuality. To justify masculine feuds, her mental/physical agency has to bear the cross of honour killing, rape, widowhood, cultural abuse, social isolation, societal taboos, objectification, sexual repression, religious dogmatism, loss of sanity, migration & so on.
The plot poignantly weaves the stories of such hapless women, reduced to tools of honour, yet plundered with impunity during partition; women who bear the cross, when men wage wars for territory.
One such character in the novel is a mentally unstable woman named Pagli, who lives in tatters, on the periphery of a village. She’s scoffed at, looked down upon, and yet raped by honourable men. As the ‘respectable’ society shows total apathy to her plight, she bears a child in the wilderness and dies unwanted and uncared for. No one, except for another hapless abducted woman is there for her, who adopts her child.
The narrative of Pagli’s plight was a scathing attack on the erosion of moral fabric of a culture ravaged by territorial and communal wars of men, on both sides of the border. It mocks the moral grandstanding of a pseudo culture which has become hollow in the pursuit of illusionist territorial power play.
It’s also noteworthy that in the nationalist narrative, the concept of a nation draws corollaries with that of a mother. Territory is ascribed a ‘Mother’ identity, which is deified, and her honour is to be defended. However there’s no narrative of the lives of women in that territory without inherent abuse and bias. The entitlement and ownership of the honour of this territorial mother manifests itself in heightened tensions at times, wherein the stakeholders put this very honour of mother at stake. The mother figure finds itself caught within a continuum of violence in strategic polity. In the same vein, sentiments like ‘Mother India’ and ‘Mouj Kashir’ (Mother Kashmir) are direct manifestations of the above mentioned warped ideology.
Juxtapose the whole juggernaut associated with Pinjar on Kashmir, and you come across uncanny similarities that are peculiar to placement of women in conflict zones. As they say truth is stranger than fiction; I couldn’t help but relate the Pagli of Pinjar to the plight of a mentally unsound girl from Kangan in Kashmir, whose story has been doing the rounds.
As per reports she was neglected by her family, initially due to her mental health and later due to the stigma of her rape/honour and ensuing pregnancy. She used to live around the Makhdoom Sahab shrine in Srinagar. In such a condition she was repeatedly raped in the Malkhah graveyard surrounding the shrine.
During the nine months of her subsequent pregnancy she was not cared for by anyone, nor were the culprits booked. In such apathy, and zero medical attention throughout, she delivered a baby on the cold wintery night of Nov 20 in a desolate structure, out in the open. She pulled out the baby all by herself, writhing in extreme pain. Only dogs stood witness to her horror and later devoured her baby. A passerby chanced to see her in the morning, soaked in blood, and her newborn eaten up by the dogs. No one from the village, except for a gentleman by the name of Mr Rashid Wangnoo took her to his own home where his wife (supposedly a French lady) washed her and took her to the hospital.
Where did the local women vanish? Fear, shackles of patriarchy, or deep rooted conditioning of shame? The news itself was killed all along. Where did all the good samaritans go? Where’s the hue and cry?
Here it’s noteworthy to mention the irony of it all, when some locals supposedly thought of her as a ‘Pir’ or ‘Dervesh’ when she used to wander around aimlessly. Not unheard of, I would say. After all ‘sainthood’ for a woman is inversely proportional to her mental faculties, and her functioning within the set boundaries.
A woman in perfect senses can’t leave home and hearth/ responsibilities to seek enlightenment. Won’t that earn her the disrepute of moral degradation/ promiscuity? She ought to be a ‘maverick’ or ‘diwani’ to earn that coveted title, while men are bestowed the same, irrespective of their mental/ physical attributes or social placement. Without being disrespectful to them or reductionist about their respective aura and prowess, we have a Lal Ded and a Meera Bai, who are used as case studies, to corroborate the same. Both were considered to be in a state of heightened consciousness, amounting to eccentricity. But then times are changing, and perfectly sane women can dare to dispense some pearls of mystical wisdom at times, provided they are desexualized and even dehumanized!
All this and more boils down to the fact that despite her supposed spiritual prowess, this ‘Pagli of Kashmir’ could not garner the perks of sainthood from her ‘believers’, in her hour of need. They too shunned her when she sought help, and did not even bother to arrange for any indirect help. All this in the land of mystical Lal Ded & Nund Rishi, the ‘Pir Waer’ or Abode of Saints?
‘Holy’ or territorial wars are waged by men on all sides of the continuum. Kashmir has been a conflict zone since the last 28-30 years and the fall-out of such a scenario has taken a serious toll on the mental health conditions of women in particular. Considerable research has pointed out the impact of such a conflict on women, with many having no real safe spaces or channels where they can vent out. The claustrophobia of conflict coupled with stringent patriarchy and overbearing masculinity in the recent past, has given rise to a plethora of socio-cultural/ gender imbalances, crime, and psychological ailments, as far as women are concerned. The shrinking spaces for women as compared to the past, are a direct manifestation of conflict and its dynamics.
An important step in the understanding of women’s placement in conflict zones is pertinent, and should take precedence over the vile politics or spoils of a diabolical conflict factory that Kashmir has got reduced to.
Shelter homes, homes for the destitute, mental health awareness, gender sensitization, women’s safety, police protection, legal aid, cultural and social spaces etc, are some basic necessities for a balanced and tolerant society. Yes all this is required everywhere, as far as women’s welfare goes; but in cultures ravaged by violence and its fall-out, women are more vulnerable at all times. Had this not been so, this horrific incident would not have happened to the extent it did. Culprits roam free, most people felt hesitant to come forward and help.
This exactly is the bane of Kashmir, at many levels, where truth gets sabotaged, and fear overrides the sentiment of welfare.
Here I quote from an earlier article of mine: “Given the repetitive monotony and the wax-eloquent rhetoric, basis innumerable variables at play, the term—’Kashmir of yore’, of late has begun to sound like a feel-good pacifying cliché. It has lost its meaning in the paradox of the conflict and diabolical agendas.
We are knowingly destroying ourselves with a strange manic gratification, given the fact that there are numerous profiteering agencies that we can put the blame on.
Beneath the cloak of our pseudo-armor that insulates us from the harsh facets of our respective apathy and selfishness, we all subtly allude to the fact that intentionally or unintentionally, we have lead ‘Mouj Kashir’ towards a deep abyss, let her falter, raped and plundered her, and then shed copious tears over a reclusive shame of her existence!”
This episode, and a whole lot of other such occurrences on the socio-cultural front should serve as a wake-up call. Kashmir used to be a gender sensitive and tolerant society in its heyday. No conflict is worth its mettle, if it erodes the inherent fabric of a society. Beneath the cloak of our erstwhile veritable raison d’etre of mysticism and religion, we somehow fail to recognize our degenerated social fabric, and that’s sure to boomerang, sooner or later.
As they say “A society is best judged on how it treats its women” and Kashmiri women aren’t going to take it lying down, come what may. Let’s learn our lessons from the Pinjars and Paglis of past. History need not be revisited.
A version of this was first published here.
Image source: Flickr
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