Today it’s International Women’s Day and my thoughts linger around all the women who have invigorated and continue to inspire me. Each day. I am impressed by so many of them. The tech women, the scientists and the many athletes. The mothers who work 3 jobs to meet their ends, the young girls studying to be the first female graduate in the family and the female journalists, digging under the surface of regular news in conflict zones.
On this day the whole world celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political accomplishments made by women. Nations worldwide hold dialogs about the need to eliminate discrimination against females and different groups are brought together to mark the day with cultural events, talks, conferences and marches. In some places the women have achieved, or try to achieve all these rights, but in addition they also carry the whole burden of a conflict.
I’m speaking about the millions of women living under Indian occupation in Kashmir and the everyday suffering they face, yet waking up each morning to inject their strength and love into the struggle for justice. These women don’t get much attention and no hashtags trending in their honour, but still, they remain strong to challenge the fog of deception, violence and stifling of voices, that surrounds them.
In sharp contrast to mainstream media’s stereotyping of Kashmiri Women and the lack of context when describing women under occupation, the women in Kashmir continue to be the very backbone and the forefront of seven decades of struggle. They are the mothers, sisters and daughters, but also the storytellers, organisers of protests, teachers and the ones carrying and passing on the true narrative to future generations. They have borne the brunt of the horrendous Indian occupation and their plight has been completely ignored by the world.
The stories they have encountered, live and pass on are engraved not only in the memories, but are firmly carved in the faces and reflected in the eyes. Losing a son or a daughter is the worst nightmare for anyone, and in Kashmir death and injustice carve new lines in faces every day. Lines of sorrow.
Almost 100,000 sons and daughters of Kashmir have been killed by Indian forces the last three decades. Many more have been injured, tortured and thousands have lost their vision after being hit by pellet guns. International organisations conclude that between 100.000 and 150.000 children are orphaned as a result of the conflict. More than 11.000 Kashmiri women have been raped or molested (by occupation forces) since 1989 and as many young boys have disappeared and left mothers, sisters & wives in bottomless pain.
We are protesting every month in the square. I am not afraid. I must protest not just for my husband or for my sons, but for all the families and the men who are disappeared. There are 10,000 disappeared people in Kashmir. . . I want freedom for the people and for all those who are disappeared, those killed and those in jail. With freedom, the mass graves, crackdowns, and disappearances will all stop. We will continue to protest until we get freedom for all those dead, alive, and disappeared.~Meera Shah
In main stream media, the women are often not mentioned at all. Like they don’t exist. The faces we get to see are instead “angry young men”, depicted as terrorists, or motionless numbers of killed just flickering by. But, every single woman on these pictures has a story to tell and names of loved ones etched in her heart. Names that should be printed in bold and sent to the UN, every foreign minister and all media that so bluntly “forget” to tell the full story, as a reminder of their failure to show us the reality on the ground and take action. All these women are living encyclopaedias, storing each family’s fate, angst and also the call for Azadi (freedom) that is written on each bare wall, door and window in Kashmir. They convey the struggle when cooking, teaching the language, narrating the stories and when taking to the streets to support their sons, husbands, fathers, daughters and their irrefutable right to self-determination.
I went to the mass graves and saw the bones, the bones that add up to the absence of 10,000 men. I hug these bones. I hug them for their life.~Meera Shan
Kashmir is the most militarised zone in the world. Try to envisage that. Try to imagine almost a million soldiers in a tiny area, watching every move you make and barbed wire being more common than human rights. For a second, think about how it would feel to send your child to school, knowing that he/she will have to face the humiliation of foreign soldiers “embellishing” the road to school, maybe having military forces asking for the ID and in some cases detain a brother or father. Imagine pellet bullets showered on groups of people, which means everyone ‘can’ get hurt. Imagine. Your daughter getting injured. Molested. Your son jailed or disappeared without a trace. Take a deep breath and imagine your daughter getting killed. Imagine the unimaginable.
Occupation is not life. It’s not acceptable and it’s not what people should have to bear 2021. Seven decades of injustice is as long as an eternity and it’s beyond time to turn the spotlights on Kashmir. Kashmiri women are simply the real everyday heroes. Because, they don’t only shoulder the weight of fighting for their own rights and future, but also the burden of a much larger quest for justice. Their struggle awakes my desire to do efforts. Their determination makes me want to climb the fences. Their resilience and courage inspire me to continue to challenge the false narratives we are presented about the ground reality in the Valley.
So, today on International Women’s Day I salute the Kashmiri women. But I will do that every day until barbed wire, occupation and having your loved ones vanished, blinded or murdered, converts into a past tense.