Beyond The Ordinary: The Resilient Women of Kashmir

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If we go a decade back and summarize this changing trend, we will find a growing number of men seeking working women for marriage.


David Durani

“When men hold every advantage, neither wealth, nor beauty, nor intelligence, nor education, nor strength, nor family can compete with gender. Women have only prayer and hope as allies.” These powerful words make up the opening lines of the author’s note of a beautifully written book by Jean Sasson, ‘For the love of a son’.

The book describes the struggles of a woman in the patriarchal Afghan society. While I was reading through the book, I realised that a woman’s struggle has been an age old phenomenon. One can convincingly say that it is these hardships that make women mentally stronger, emotionally sensitive, and a born leader.

These thoughts have impelled me to talk about the women of my place, Kashmir. I am pretty sure that you all must have read a lot on this subject earlier too but consciously I thought of revisiting this topic as it needs and deserve to be talked about more frequently. The fact that unlike the women of the world, women in Kashmir have evolved with conflict in the backdrop, therefore, their evolution has certainly been of a different kind.

Role division between man and woman has been clear since the Stone Age period, when the man was responsible for hunting and finding food and woman looked into preparing the meals and serving them. Till a few decades back in Kashmir, there wasn’t much change in this routine, expect that now mankind had evolved and man had either taken up a professional job or did some petty business to run the house while the woman of the house executed the extensive list of domestic chores, including cooking. Education was still considered as a man’s need primarily. Man continued to be the decision maker of the house and by and large took up most of the leadership roles within the community and outside.

With time, Women, specifically from the middle and lower socio-economic strata, took up duties beyond the house boundaries. They started tending to farms, raising cattle, and were participative in cultivating rice. Due to their eye for detail, women were engaged in professions like embroidering and carpet weaving. Vegetable vending and fish selling were two of the off-beat occupations where women performed excellently. Once again, education continued to elude them, except for the elite, who could afford the ‘luxury’.

With advancement in time and technology came the phenomenon like globalization, mass media, and the internet. Technically, as it shrunk the world into a smaller place, the needs of a family kept increasing. Gradually the right to education was not confined to a man alone. Spending on girl’s education was no more a waste of money but started to be thought of as a necessity as the family needed additional earning members.

If we go a decade back and summarize this changing trend, we will find a growing number of men seeking working women for marriage. This sums up the changing economic needs of families in Kashmir. Unfortunately, the entitlement of rights for women have come more often than not based on a man’s requirement rather than as a reward for a woman’s progression.

Today, we find a woman leading the political affairs of the state but if I was asked to mention five women leaders in Kashmir, political or apolitical, I would struggle to answer this. This reflects that Kashmiri women, who have surpassed men in every field, have still not been visible as ‘leaders’, something that comes naturally to them, right from giving birth to a child to keeping the family together and taking them along. The ones like Parveena Ahangar, who has been visible, have made an impact. The chairperson of the Association of Parents of the Disappeared Persons (APDP) is a role model for the young women to believe that if a woman stands up for a cause, she can work wonders. Having said this, it is high time that we as a community start understanding our women better. When a man goes out on the street to pelt stones, he knows the reason why he is doing so. However, like the recent incidences, when women take up to the streets, defying the age old notion that women should stay indoors in such situations, then there is more to it than just pelting stones. It is not just the conflict outside, where women have suffered silently, that drives their behaviour but it is also the conflict within, the frustration of being labelled as the weaker sex, of always being judged by the society, of being the soft targets for everyone, all this despite of their sacrifices and selflessness. Therefore, when a woman pelts a stone, she directs it not just at the security personnel standing in front of her but to every single person that stops her from being a woman.

We need to respect and acknowledge our women not only for the multiple roles they play in everyday life with diligence but also for always being the patient ones, like the sponge that soaks in much more than what is visible to the eye. This will go a long way to holding our society together in the most righteous way. I would sum up our Kashmiri women by this fitting quote by Margaret Thatcher “If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.”

David Durani is a development communications specialist with experience of working with the grassroot as well as international organizations in the social development sector. He is presently working as Manager-Communications for ICCO Cooperation.

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