Text by Rifat Mohiudin | Photos by Zuhaib Muhammad
For decades, Kashmir has been a conflict region. The conflict has left irreparable loss in everything; women have too faced the worst. They are at the receiving end, directly or indirectly. The situations in the Valley caused disruptions in their education, job opportunities and overall development. Kashmir has not offered much to its women. She has spent her life under social and political barriers. Her life has been miserable and hard. Without forgetting her status under which she has been living, she has now started training herself to fly. She has started giving wings to her dreams. Ten years ago, it would have been only a dream for her to become an air hostess. She had no such opportunities. But today it is a reality; she is training herself to be one. To be identified as a proud Kashmiri woman. She makes her presence felt on roads. She has changed. She can be seen on bike or scooty or driving a car. She is getting her space in the society. Kashmiri society also seems to have adjusted with the idea of women travelling alone in their own vehicles.
These things show that Kashmiri women are heading towards a change. Kashmiri women do not only want to fly or increase their speed. They want to be winners of their game. They are seen in different stadiums and playing grounds, playing their choicest sport. Some of them have chosen sports as their profession. Several times they have earned laurels. Whenever they got a chance, they proved their mettle.
But unfortunately, it is only the one side of her life. The same Kashmiri woman is living the other side too. During these years of conflict, her son, husband or brother was killed. Some are left with nothing but to make their living from begging, at the doors of shrines, banks or on roads, wherever she gets a place. Killing of her earning hand in the family destroyed her economic conditions. Even sometimes she has to sleep in tears without giving food to her kids. Though she doesn’t want to be called as a beggar, she was not always a beggar. This is what occupation made her. Studies have revealed that 50,000 Kashmiri women have lost their husbands during the conflict. Her life does not end here; she is still waiting for justice.
Some of the women became “half-widows’’- who doesn’t know whether their husbands are dead or alive. Their husbands went through enforced disappearance at the hands of Indian forces. They are living with a hope of their return. They carry their photographs at the tenth of every month at Pratap Park, Srinagar. They are not ready to accept their husbands are dead. Some of them have missed the last glimpse of their husbands.
As per the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) about 10,000 people have disappeared in Kashmir in last twenty years, and nobody knows where they are. These half-widows are overburdened by the responsibility. They are hardly able to make a living or educate their kids. Hope is their only companion. They hope one day their dear ones might return. The tragedy is that some of them even died with this hope. One was “Mughal Maas’’, an old woman who died with the hope of her sons return. She kept on waiting for him; looking at the door whenever she started taking dinner. She used to show the photograph of her disappeared son to everyone, so that someone might tell her about his whereabouts, but her hope vanished with her death.
Some died while waiting, while others still resist. One of the examples of resisting women is Parveena Ahanger. She heads one of the APDP groups. Kashmiri women have witnessed everything from their sexual abuse to the death of their immediate family member. But they still make their existence felt, they have proved to be the real brave women.