“Our men have shed enough blood. But ‘azadi’ (freedom) will come when we join them,” say the women.
The image of Afshan Ashique was striking to many in Kashmir: clad in shalwar kameez (tunic and trousers) and a hijab made from a long dupatta (scarf), she had a football clenched firmly in one hand and a number of stones in the other.
Her act was even more striking to many: she hurled those stones at an Indian security officer.
Deemed a violent provocateur by Indian media, Ashique explained she had never set out to resist Indian occupation forces — she had felt compelled to when her friend was roughed up by the security officer, when they mistook her for a stone-pelter.
For in the world’s most heavily militarized area, the 27-year insurgency has seldom seen women on the frontlines, and for Kashmiri women, resistance has always been two-fold: against the military occupation, as well as the deeply entrenched patriarchy of the region.
But after Ashique’s defense last week, many young women across the valley held demonstrations against the killing of a college student by police, and the forcible entry of the Indian army and police on college campuses before that, marching and pelting stones alongside their male counterparts.
As The Citizen, an independent Indian newspaper reported, Kashmiri women’s activism in the last near-three decades has largely been anchored to their role as mothers, sisters, daughters and wives, “in invoking or discouraging the men and boys in their families to pick up the gun and join ranks of militants, in acting as shields for the men during raids and cordons and in seeking justice for the men of the family killed, tortured of disappeared in custody.”
But they have long challenged traditional gender roles, often becoming sole breadwinners for their family when male relatives are imprisoned or killed by Indian security forces.
It is these relatives that Kashmiri women seek justice for, making groups like The Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, which is headed by the women activist Parveena Ahangar, one of the strongest strands of the women’s resistance movement in Kashmir.
In another trend of resistance, the last decade has seen a number of young women don the hijab, otherwise rarely seen in the valley, with many girls stating that it is a conscious assertion of their identity.
Still, while last week’s incident of stone-pelting by young women received praise and salutations, the government in Jammu and Kashmir is already cracking down by creating an all-women police battalion to deal specifically with women who resist in this way. The Union government of the valley is a coalition between the Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party and the fascist Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bhartiya Janta Party.
But still yet, for many Kashmiri women, that’s no reason to give up or give in.
“Our men have shed enough blood. But ‘azadi’ (freedom) will come when we join them,” they say, reported The Citizen.