Masculinist Oppression and Feminist Resistance in Indian-Occupied Kashmir
5 August 2021 marked two years of the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir. Article 370 had previously accorded a semblance of self-governance and liberty to the people of Kashmir, at least constitutionally. The withdrawal of this safeguard would have been met with public uproar, if not for the increased militarization the Centre imposed on the state days before the decision was announced. Kashmir has been under lockdown for two years, but this sort of repression is not new to its people. For years, it has seen brutal subjugation and violence at the hands of the State and the military – complete with forced disappearances, custodial torture, mass blinding, mass rapes, detentions and unprecedented killings.
Gender, Oppression, and Questions of Sovereignty
At its simplest, Kashmir is a neo-liberal issue of control over property, land and resources between the countries of India and Pakistan. Kashmir lies at the center of a masculinist contention born out of a post-colonial, Hindu nationalist conception of sovereignty. Territorial sovereignty of the sort that is practiced by India is devoid of actors, institutions and people, which explains vividly the nature of the repression and occupation in Kashmir.
Kashmir finds itself a feminized subject state to the heteropatriarchal masculine hegemony of the Indian center – a narrative that has been built and constructed carefully over years, and absorbed readily by the Indian population. Media representations, educational patterns and popular political discourse has only added to this. In Bollywood films, we can usually see cinematic representations of Kashmir as a site of romance - with fair skinned, submissive, Muslim women oppressed by Muslim families looking to elope with Hindu, upper caste male leads or, as a site of violence - showcasing violent militancy instigated by Pakistani armies and Muslim fundamentalists, subdued by the sacrificial, Hindu, upper caste soldier. Both cases seek to demonize the native people of the land and express possessiveness over territory. This sort of territorial sovereignty stems out of what Parashar (2018) calls post-colonial anxiety that seeks to create hyper-masculinist, uniform and disciplined states mimicking the values of ‘successful’ Western states, finding worth in militarization and exceeding control over disobedient populations. Krishna (1994) refers to India’s ‘cartographic anxiety’ that stems from its birth by amputation in the bloody events of Partition. Both of these are reflected in the occupation of Kashmir – a project that seeks to cover up India’s unease at being a post-colonial, underdeveloped nation, and at the same time a political move to create, awaken, and strengthen a masculinist-nationalist body which is always vulnerable to the exposure of the self as non-masculine. (Anand, 2008 in Italics)
But Kashmir's occupation is not mere territorial occupation by the Indian state, it is a Brahmanical occupation of a Muslim-majority state which somehow aims to quench a Hindu masculine hunger for control over land and over the Muslim other. Kashmir and its peoples have become markers of jingoistic desires – they are the unruly people who are instigated by outsiders; unable to know what is good for them; and who need to be controlled, chastised, disciplined and coerced. (Kaul, 2018) It is easy to further the narrative of unruliness and irrationality of the protesting people who don’t know what they need in order to justify ruthless, violent oppression over their bodies. Kashmiri bodies become active sites of politics in this regard – and part of a Hindu masculinist fantasy to subjugate Muslim bodies (both male and female), especially since discourse in India places Muslim male bodies as dangerous and seductive and, female bodies as extremely oppressed but also desirable to Hindu men.
This phenomenon is highly evident in disciplinary tactics employed by the Indian armies to subdue and subjugate Kashmiri bodies – cases in point being mass rapes in Kunan-Poshpora, Chhanpora and Pazipora, Wavoosa, Handwara, and others. These tactics are employed not just to deter women from participating in resistance politics, but to emasculate Kashmiri men in a battle of conflicting masculinities.
The gendered narrative of the Indian state can also be seen in the developmental narratives that abound governmental reasons for occupying Kashmir. The state wishes to ‘liberate’ Kashmiri women from the inherent oppression of their Islamic identities, and this can supposedly be done only through complete integration with India and adoption of a Hindu-inspired culture and civil code (as demonstrated over and over by the ruling party’s trials to impose a Uniform Civil Code based on uniformity of personal law based on the Hindu Code.)
Creating Feminist Resistance
Women have been active participants in the Kashmiri resistance since the beginning. Women began helping by transporting weapons and clearing civilians ahead of attacks, in addition to providing shelter, food and medical care to militants and their families. there are several community kitchens operated by women, along with shelter homes and clandestine medical aid set-ups. They have also been at the forefront of public sit-ins and dharnas, since people had found that violent aggression on women’s groups was rarer. Though men bear the major brunt of military violence, women in Kashmir involve themselves in the resistance through various means. Of late, we have seen a rise in women-only militant groups (many times, just schoolgirls engaging in stone pelting) in reaction to major militant groups not allowing women to become members.
In popular discourse in India, the women of Kashmir have two roles to play – victims, and brainwashed perpetrators. We may find paradigms and ways of resistance in this vulnerability. Several women in Kashmir are widows, and many are ‘half widows’ with husbands who underwent forced disappearances. With limited means of sustaining livelihoods and families, women have seen in vulnerability a tool for political action. Organizing at small-levels and recognizing the importance of people-centered networks of support and aid have created groups that are often central to the survival of otherwise disadvantaged women. In these people-centered networks, the relationship between vulnerability, grief, memory and injustice is absolutely clear as is the courage and audacity of those seeking accountability. (Osuri, 2018)
Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) is an activist organization founded by Parveena Ahangar after the disappearance of her own son, which now works actively in documenting forced disappearances in Kashmir, along with providing support systems to aggrieved families. APDP organizes small monthly sit-ins at various locations, asking for accountability and justice, but also organizing grief, vulnerability and solidarity. These are sites of active politics, but also equally of sorrow and anguish, equating the two – creating a space that recognizes how the struggle of Kashmir can never be divorced from its huge emotional bearing. Butler (2015) recognizes the power of grief in resistance - the ungrievable [who] gather sometimes in public insurgencies of grief’ that is, those who are not seen as worthy of mourning by the public, sometimes gather to mourn in public, making a funeral and a demonstration in some places look alike.
Organization has been key to feminist resistance in Kashmir, with mobilization of the sort in APDP and organizations like Muslim Khawateen Markaz (MKM) or Dukhtaran-e-Milat having built amenities of friendship and solidarity that resist not only the Indian occupation, but also patriarchal settings within homes and communities. Women’s groups question the lack of acknowledgement of internal hierarchies within Kashmiriyat (reference to Malik, 2015) and create literature and art for propagation within communities to further ideologies. There is also an aim toward alternate knowledge production that centers the experiences of women with militarization, violence, occupation and religious patriarchy within the resistance. It is toward producing counter narratives to the accounts of the Indian state and military and seek out truth and justice.
Queer resistance in Kashmir is also a building framework. Though queer communities in Kashmir have been removed from the mainstream Kashmiri resistance due to discrimination and religious dogma, they have not been distant from it. Trans alliances in Kashmir and other parts of India (such as the Queer Muslim Project) have rejected the pinkwashing agendas of India and have been detached from queer nationalist discourse.
Within this context it becomes important to question the ideas of the Indian state that justify occupation in the name of according gender and queer justice. Kashmiri people have borne the brunt of violence and tyranny at the hands of the nationalist Hindu state. Kashmir lives on in the obscurities of trauma, injustice and bloodshed. Any feminist intervention in its long resistance must seek relief, solidarity, agency, and most of all, apology.