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Azad Kashmir is predominantly Muslim, although over 100,000 Hindus and Sikhs lived there until 1947.
Detention in Jammu and Kashmir has a long history. Out of 865 detainees in Kot Balwal Jail, 560 detainees had ''neither been served detention orders under the Public Safety Act (PSA) nor booked under the Terrorist And Disruptive Activities (TADA).
Kashmir: Beyond the Clichés
Warisha Farasat
Awkwardly adjusting my dupatta, I entered the ziyarat for Friday prayers. Conspicuous amongst a predominantly Kashmiri zenana (women) in the mosque, I decided to sit in one of the last rows to perform the afternoon prayers.

The Imam was still delivering the ritual qutbah (or sermon) and most women seemed disinterested. Some were performing the nafil (voluntary) prayers, some were moving to and fro as if reciting the Koran, and a few were weeping uncontrollably asking for god’s mercy.

Being used to clamor for prayer space on Friday afternoons, the airy and spacious prayer room was invigorating. Most mosques in North India don’t have separate prayer sections for women, who are expected to perform the prayers at home. For instance, at the dargah in Nizamuddin, women can pray in an informal tiny space allocated to them. In Delhi, a typical Friday prayer experience would include waiting for others to finish praying, continuously stepping on someone’s toes or jostling fellow devotees. Witnessing joint ownership of this religious space in the Kashmir Valley was reassuring.

This was in contrast to the conservative image frequently portrayed by the media. Since the inception of militancy, political spaces, no doubt, have been dominated by the men of the community. But the isolated women’s voices that are highlighted by the mainstream media are obscurantist groups that involve themselves in moral policing. This viewpoint neglects the diverse experiences and struggles of the women in the region.

Someone tugged at my dupatta and I was shaken out of my thoughts. A middle aged woman carrying a pink booklet was attempting to explain something to me in Kashmiri. I presumed that she was asking for a contribution to the mosque funds and I declined. She continued to stand there and stare belligerently. The woman sitting beside me realized that I didn’t speak the language and interpreted the message.

A strand of my hair peeped out despite covering my head. This had caused great dismay to the caretaker of the women’s prayer hall. Apologizing incoherently, I set out to hide the hair. Women on either side jumped to fix my hair. Somewhat embarrassed, I murmured in Urdu that I was capable of fixing it. But that was not to be.

Satisfied, they finally resumed their original places. Uncannily akin to the woman caretaker at the Nizamuddin dargah, who is a stickler and pokes women wearing lipstick during prayers, her new avatar was equally infuriating. To devout Muslims, Islam has many facets that guide them through their religious and political engagements. It is a religion that promotes a direct relationship with god. Consequently it restricts the role of intermediaries.

One place that is relatively free of interference is the Dastgir Sahib dargah located in Srinagar in the Kashmir Valley. Over centuries, Sufi shrines in Kashmir evolved as symbols of syncretism and communal harmony. From touching the intricately carved colorful panels, to wrenching down the Aytal Kursi that hangs at the door by the devotees, this is not a typical dargah. Made brighter by the fuschia and blue flower patterns, the colorful threads tied to the wooden ledge carry stories of numerous families, their sufferings and hopes. In a conflict area that has witnessed high levels of violence, sufi shrines act as spaces for public mourning.

The day is August 30, the International Day of the Disappeared and we observe another form of public mourning. A local victim group comprising of the families of the disappeared headed by a Kashmiri woman protest silently by sitting in a local park. The atmosphere is somber but gradually the refrain of loud cries reminds us of the renege of the “healing touch” policy of the current government. These families of the missing persons are still waiting for the truth and justice.
“I know that I will never be able to retrieve the body of my missing son. All I want the security forces to do is show me a photo of my son, even if it is of his dead body. Then I can at least die in peace,” says an old woman from the group. Everyone in the circle has a story to tell, a painful experience to recount and an uncertain wait for a loved one’s return. The official figures of the disappeared released by the Jammu and Kashmir state government stands at 3,931. The unofficial count by victims’ group is higher with estimates of around 8,000.

Justice has different connotations for different people. Courts as judicial institutions are required to cross these boundaries of subjectivity and uphold justice in a democratic state. Extra judicial or inquiry commissions seek to serve the same purpose. However, the general perception of these women is that only god can give them justice. Cynicism looms large amongst these victim families who cannot imagine perpetrators ever being brought to justice. Women and their struggles have been marginalized due to the armed struggle in Kashmir and the repressive state response towards it. For instance, when the association of the families of the disappeared started to become effective and increase in size, the government began providing exgratia relief of rupees one lakh ($2500) to the next of kin of the disappeared. While many members accepted the relief money for a variety of reasons, the government failed to suppress their demands for truth and justice.

The above experiences prove that women who are frequently seen fulminating on camera or propagating a conservative brand of Islam are not the only voices of dissent in the region. Yes, the brand of women’s rights activism fashionable in peaceful areas has not struck root in the Kashmir Valley. Nonetheless, an unconventional mode of collectivism propelled by impunity and an indefinite wait for the truth has channeled women’s energies positively.
Living with Conflict
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