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Women in Conflict

The armed conflict in Kashmir post-1989 has forced the women of the Valley to take on new roles. With their sons, husbands, brothers or fathers serving jail sentences in different parts of Kashmir and India, these women have had to shoulder heavy responsibilities within and outside the home. Not only have they faced up to the situation bravely, their difficulties and personal tragedies have actually empowered them.


conditions of the poor Muslims, who be-

Women in Conflict gan sending their girls to school due to a

more reliable source of income.

Surviving and Struggling in Kashmir

Armed Insurgency and Women

In the early 1990s the women were in Mushtaq Ul Haq Ahmad Sikander the forefront of the protests demanding

The armed conflict in Kashmir post-1989 has forced the women of the Valley to take on new roles. With their sons, husbands, brothers or fathers serving jail sentences in different parts of Kashmir and India, these women have had to shoulder heavy responsibilities within and outside the home. Not only have they faced up to the situation bravely, their difficulties and personal tragedies have actually empowered them.

I am thankful to my Japanese friend, a researcher on Kashmir, Toru Takashi, who provided me with books on the women of Kashmir. I also thank my mother Masarat Jan Shah, who with her keen insights and comments helped me at various stages of this article. Special appreciation is due to my friend, comrade in arms and fellow traveller on the path of justice and peace, SYB for unrelenting support in the course of research and writing.

Mushtaq Ul Haq Ahmad Sikander ( is a writeractivist based in Srinagar, Kashmir.

Economic & Political Weekly

march 3, 2012

he year 1931 marked a watershed in the history of Kashmir; for the first time since alien rule was imposed on Kashmiris the people en masse protested against the Dogra ruler, Hari Singh. For the first time women got a platform and many joined the protests, some even organising them. The aftermath of the 13 July 1931 upheaval led to many of these women becoming public figures.

Jana Ded became a household name after 13 July 1931 in Kashmir. Similarly during the Quit Kashmir movement Zoni Gujree, Begum Akbar Jahan, Fatima, Zainab Begum and Mahmuda Ali Shah came forward to lead but their potential for leadership and public life was not nurtured through proper guidance and they could not make it further. Begum Akbar Jahan, wife of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah who led the National Conference (nc) a political party with mass following in Kashmir, and Mahmuda Ali Shah, who later joined the education department, were the exceptions.

Naya Kashmir Manifesto

The NC announced the Naya Kashmir manifesto in 1944. It is the first revolutionary document in the whole subcontinent which provides and strives for the equal, political, economic, educational, cultural, social, legal, health and motherhood rights of women. Partition brought in its wake numerous issues and problems, but Kashmir1 remained calm and quiet. Kashmiri women even organised themselves in a voluntary battalion with the slogan Hamlaavar Khabardaar, Hum Kashmiri Hain Tayaar (Beware o attackers, we Kashmiris are ready).

The pioneers of education among women were the foreign Christian missionaries. Later on Mirwaiz Maulvi Rasool Shah also known as Sir Syed of Kashmir too worked for female education.

The revolutionary step of land to the tiller also improved the economic

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secession from India, helping the mujahideen morally, economically and emotionally. The women used to join the funeral processions of the dead militants, chanting As-salaam As-salaam Aye Shahido As-salam, Aaj Teri Maut pey Ro raha hai yeh Aasmaan (Felicitations and farewell to you o martyr, today even the sky cries at your martyrdom) and encouraging their men with Aye Mard e Mujahid Jaag Zara Waqt e Shahadat Hai Aaya (Wake up o warrior, the time for martyrdom has come).

Burqa Discourse

The burqa (or veil) was never widespread among the Kashmir Muslims. The vast majority of the common peasant labouring class women never used it. After 1947, the Syeds and Khoja women discarded their veils and began working in the field of education, like Shamla Mufti, Zenab Begum, Begum Zehan Abdullah and Mahmuda Ali Shah.

The Dukhtaran-e-Millat (dem) (Daughters of the Faith) founded by S yeda Aasiya Andrabi in 1981 had been working towards veiling the Kashmiri women, but without much success. Similarly, the efforts of the Jamaat-e- Islami, Tablighi Jamaat and Jamiat-e-Ahli Hadith too did not produce results.

The inception of armed insurgency saw the women being ordered by the dem and other militant organisations like Allah Tigers to adopt the burqa.

Coloured water was thrown on those women, who refused to cover up, and the communal identity markers were emphasised to differentiate Muslim women from non-Muslim ones. Dire warnings appeared in the local press against those who refused to wear the veil. The imposition of the burqa was not treated very seriously by the women and in a few months when the stalwarts of armed struggle got busy with other more important and relevant issues, the ban lost its sheen; women even vehemently opposed the imposition of the burqa later on when in the late 1990s,


some unknown organisations like the Lashkar-e-Jabbar tried to impose it. But unlike the 1990s it was decried by religious leaders, civil society and even by the militant organisations, they alleged that the Lashkar-e-Jabbar was an Indianbacked organisation working to defame the militants.

Women’s Organisations

There were no secular women organisations with a strong cadre base present in Kashmir before the 1990s. The dem and the Muslim Khawateen Markaz (MKM) were socio-religious organisations with a small cadre base and a presence in certain specific areas. During the 1990s the dem and the MKM filled the void due to absence of secular women’s organisations. The dem and the MKM could not keep themselves aloof from the militancy and the prevalent political instability and became politically more assertive. The MKM is one of the founding members of the J&K Hurriyat Conference, an amalgam of various social, political and religious organisations demanding the right to self-determination. The dem, though invited to join the Hurriyat, declined to do so. Initially, the cadres of the dem and the MKM which numbered in thousands dwindled to hundreds due to the harassment from the security and law and order agencies. Their members remain anonymous which is the secret behind the survival of these organisations. They are well organised and besides a few known names nothing is revealed about the identity of other cadres.

Women as Mukhbir

A minuscule section of women belonging to the downtrodden and poor section of the society, who had to struggle for the daily square meal, did resort to espionage and spying for the security agencies. In the battle between the militants and the army, these poor women (mukhbirs) become the scapegoats as the former kill them for treason and working against the freedom struggle. The latter exploit them economically, physically and even sexually and discard them after their work is accomplished. Recently two sisters in Sopore were killed in 2010 in mysterious circumstances. It was alleged that they were police informers. However, no militant organisation claimed responsibility and the cold-blooded murders drew huge condemnation from all sections of the society. What is evident is that both the deceased were beautiful and very poor (Asif 2011).

The most infamous case of mass rape occurred at Kunanposhpora in the Kupwara district on 23 February 1991 when the fifth battalion of Rajputana Rifles laid siege to the village around 11 pm on the pretext of conducting search operations. The men were ordered to assemble at the bus stand, where they were left for the whole night to shiver in the extreme cold, while the womenfolk left behind were systematically assaulted, molested, raped, and gang-raped. A team led by chief justice Bahauddin Farooqi calculated that the number of gang-raped women was around 53.

This is the story of Kunanposhpora but there are hundreds of such cases all over the Valley. The sisters of the rape victims too suffer as no one is ready to marry them. The travesty of justice has been evident in all such rape cases in which the army is indicted, as the State apparatus gears up to save the culprits. The recent example of the Shopian double murder and rape case in which Neelofar (22) and her sisterin-law Aasiya (17) were allegedly raped and murdered on 29 May 2009 by police and army men is a living testimony to the denial of justice and shielding of the culprits. It triggered a massive hue and cry but left an indelible, deep and deadly impact on the psyche of women in Kashmir.

The judiciary and legal system too has failed to deliver justice to the rape victims, pushing them further to the wall. “In a majority of the cases the victims were not given justice. This negative impact has demoralised the victims and they want things to be settled in a less complicated manner”, says social activist H R Hanjura.2

On 6 April 2011 Margot Wallstorm, Special Representative of Secretary General (SRSG), UN on sexual violence told reporters, “So far we do not have proper reports about this……so far, we have not received any proper reporting on such cases…..I can’t say that there was anything in particular (about Kashmir)” (Bashir 2011). This remark of an UN official that they have not received any proper reports about sexual abuse in Kashmir shows up three aspects.

march 3, 2012

  • (1) The Indian state has been successful in projecting the “clean chit image” of its troopers and dismissing rape charges as mere allegations.
  • (2) The failure of the civil society and pro-freedom leaders to project them in a factual manner.
  • (3) The ignorance of the UN in assessing the ground realities in Kashmir and its failure to collect information on the grassroot human rights violations of Kashmiris.
  • Women as Prostitutes

    Prostitution (the term “sex worker” would not encompass all that this means in Kashmir) was legalised during the Dogra rule as it was an important source of revenue. Many dens of prostitution flourished in Tashwan and Maisuma areas of Srinagar, and some of the girls were even trafficked to other brothels located in different parts of India. The efforts and campaign of one barber Muhammad Subhan Hajam were responsible for the ban on prostitution in Kashmir and the brothels were closed down.3 Prostitution continued but clandestinely. In the 1980s the Pattan sex racket and Chinar sex scandal rocked Kashmir. The 1990s witnessed militancy and any immoral activity was punished with death. When the militancy began to dwindle and the economic repercussions on those who were hit by the conflict increased and unemployment soared, poverty forced many to land in the flesh trade.

    The lower rung special police officers (SPOs) were a part of this vicious circle. There are cases of them marrying a girl and then selling her off or forcing her to visit the higher officers for sexual favours. Forced into the flesh trade these girls were even used as mukhbirs or coerced to drag other girls into the racket. In 2004, three girls were rescued from a prostitution racket in Delhi. Apparently, one Shahzada of Magam, Budgam, belonging to a poor family was approached by Syed Sajad Hussain of Hagarpora, Magam along with a non-Kashmiri woman named Julie, who claimed to be working for the welfare of the downtrodden.

    Shahzada maintained that

    Being one of four sisters, she was lured by the job and her parents allowed her to move out. Initially they were lodged in a house at

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    Qamarwari, where she met two other girls. Next day they were taken to Delhi where Julie verbally assaulted them. The girls were given a haircut and made to wear low cut dresses. Then they were assembled at a hotel. When the girls tried to resist they were thrashed. Their bodies bore the marks of torture. After a week they were shifted to Hotel Vikram where middle aged men raped them everyday. Shahzada was engaged before this incident, but now the groom broke the engagement. Who will marry her now? (Kashmiri Women’s Initiative for Peace and Disarmament 2004).

    The VIP sex scandal which broke in

    2006 involved high ranking police offi

    cials, bureaucrats and politicians. This case was handed to the Central

    Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Justice

    Bashir Ahmad Kirmani and justice

    Hakim Imitiyaz Hussain supervised the

    investigations. Justice Kirmani maintained,

    After grasping the situational scenario, depth of its potential to destroy the moral fabric and the magnitude of its future implications, I feel duty-bound to warn the State apparatus of extremely hazardous repercussions for the system, if the questions posing themselves through this case are not effectively answered, and answered now. When ministers misbehave, legislators break law, civil servants become uncivil and police officers plunder, the scenario becomes quite frightening. In their safe dwellings and offices guarded at the cost of public exchequer they indulge in sin and savagery at the strength of State power vesting in them and with promises of providing jobs and help to needy they ravage all norms of public, political and official life. By doing so they simply subvert the system from within by breeding discontent and destroying public faith in institutions of governance and wilfully created and promoted unlawful, unethical and immoral channels of approach, ...prompting the vast majority to hate the system. Visibly they are more dangerous than those challenging the system from outside who can be identified and taken to task. But the worthies deliver sermons in serene gatherings, decorate the dices; shake hands with excellencies; fly and hoist the national flag and rub shoulders with honourable people and then? Indulge in disgraceful activity to bring disgrace to all these institutions, occasions and personalities and escape action under cover of their authority. No doubt they are only few but they tarnish all those belonging to their creed and thus owe answers to them too (Honour 2009).

    The VIP sex scandal created a huge ruckus within the conservative society

    Economic & Political Weekly march 3, 2012


    of Kashmir, though not more than 50 girls were involved.4 Some of them were sisters or relatives of former, jailed or surrendered militants. The investigation by the CBI proved futile and all the accused were given a clean chit by the Chandigarh court due to lack of evidence. This further reinforced the common citizen’s belief that in Kashmir those with power and influence can get away with anything. The “sexploitation” of women in Kashmir including the trafficking of girls to other states still continues unabated.

    Women in New Roles

    The armed conflict has imposed new and alien roles on the women. During the initial phase of the armed struggle, the women were shoulder-to-shoulder with the men, and in many cases proved more effective, especially when the army or police would pick up the youth. The women of the locality would stage protests outside the army camps and picket them forcing the army to release the youth. They joined the men in resisting illegal detentions and atrocities of the state and army.

    Illiterate women, whose sons, spouses, brothers or fathers were serving jail sentences in different parts of Kashmir and India, began to follow their legal suits, contact lawyers, learn about the draconian laws under which their near and dear ones were imprisoned. They began to visit the various jails, and detention centres and travelled to far-off places. Thus their personal tragedies empowered them.

    Thousands of men have been killed in staged, fake encounters and in the custody of the army and police. There are men who after being picked by the army or police have simply “disappeared” while the army or police claim that they have run away. Their families allege that the disappeared men are either in the custody of the agencies that picked them up or have been killed and their corpses thrown into the unmarked graves.5 According to unofficial sources more than 10,000 persons have disappeared in Kashmir, and there are more than 3,000 half widows.6

    The mothers of the disappeared men got together under the leadership of Parveena Ahangar, whose son Javed Ahmad Ahangar is missing since the 1990s

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    from the army’s custody. They formed the Association of the Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) in 1994. Later on, the half widows too joined the APDP. Parveena a middle-aged, illiterate, woman has promised never to surrender or give up, and is inspiring others too. On the 10th of every month, members of the APDP stage a peaceful silent protest in the Pratap Park, located in the heart of Srinagar. Parveena is regularly invited to attend seminars and conferences all over the world, where she shares her agony and that of t housands of others.

    The stalwarts of armed insurgency in Kashmir have been grossly negligent towards building institutions for the victims of conflict. The money which was contributed for the victims of the conflict was siphoned and swindled off either for personal or political use. This is one of the reasons why the common masses feel disgusted by the flag bearers of Aazadi. The APDP with its meagre resources tries to cater to the needs of the families of the disappeared men. Parveena argues that only mothers know the agony of losing a son, hence mothers have to be in the forefront of the struggle for justice.

    Armed insurgency has lost much of its momentum. As a result, women are regaining their public space and are even in the forefront of the protests that have rocked Kashmir Valley since 2008. They are also active in the peace and reconciliation efforts though these initiatives are still an elite venture.7 Similarly, Nighat Shafi Pandit has intervened to cater to the needs of orphans and widows by launching the Human Effort towards Love and Peace (HELP), a non-governmental organisation.

    Multidimensional Problems

    The women related to militants and profreedom voices suffer from governmental and state apathy, hostility and hate at every step of their lives. Those related to renegades or counter insurgents are treated as social outcasts.

    Previously it was the father, brother, husband or son who used to provide s ecurity to his daughter, sister, wife or mother. Now the roles have been reversed. The women have to shoulder the family responsibilities and support their


    men though social norms inhibit women visiting police stations, army camps and detention centres. However, they are forced to do so by circumstances and in the process get labelled as “bad” women.

    The concept of widow remarriage though permitted by Islam is rarely practised in Kashmir. Syeda Aasiya Andrabi has called upon and encouraged men to take more than one wife while requesting the women to permit their husbands to opt for polygamy. She even urged her husband, Muhammad Qasim to take a second wife. However, Qasim has spent more than 16 years behind bars. Her call found no respondents to say Labbiak, and widow remarriage could never become a norm. The widows are not even aware of the ex gratia relief amount, though meagre, provided by the government or whom to approach in order to get the compensation amount. The condition of the half widows is even worse as they cannot remarry and are even denied a share in the inheritance. They cannot even think of remarriage as there is no consensus among the religious scholars and theologians as to whether they can be pronounced widows. The Hanafi school of thought says that the half widow must wait for a period of 90 years while the Malliki school of thought holds that the waiting period should be only four years. No religious council or initiative has been undertaken by the ulema to arrive at a consensus.

    Child marriage too is becoming common in the heavily militarised areas in order to escape rape and molestation. The dropout rate from schools is also on the rise as the girls are fed up of the routine taunts and harassment by the army personnel when they are en route to school.

    Despite being a Muslim majority region, women in the Kashmir Valley are denied their share of inheritance. Customs that deprive women of their share in property are still followed instead of the Islamic law of inheritance (Rashid and Tabassum 2005). It is heartening however that in 2007, the Muslim Personal Law Shariat Application Act was passed by the legislature. Under this Act the right to inheritance is ensured to women and it is legally binding on parents to ensure that their daughters get a share in their property.

    A new terminology has been added to the Kashmiri lexicon. The women, while relating their diseases to doctors, say: “I am feeling as if some ghasti party (soldiers on patrol) is going in my stomach”, “I experience firing in my ears”. In a survey conducted by the Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) in 2006 on “Kashmir: Violence and Health”, 11.6% of interviewees said they had been victims of sexual violence since 1989. Almost two-thirds of the people (63.9%) had heard about cases of rape during the same period. The study revealed that Kashmiri women were among the worst sufferers of sexual violence in the world. The figure is much higher than that for Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Chechnya and Ingushetia. The suicide rate among women is on the rise and the ramifications of conflict have contributed to its steep increase among women (Dabla 2010). A very small percentage of women have been imprisoned for their pro-freedom leanings and activities. Women related to militants and pro-freedom groups are arrested, illegally detained, tortured, raped, molested or killed to force their male acquaintances to surrender.

    Anjum Zamrud Habib, chairperson of the MKM who spent more than five years in Tihar, has described her ordeal in her prison diary, Prisoner No 100. Despite their sacrifices in the pro-freedom struggle, the contribution of women is not acknowledged. “There is nothing written about women’s quota as members and in decision-making body in the constitution of Hurriyat Conference. The condition there is quite abysmal and pathetic, women’s voices are ignored and their political participation and representation in the decision-making process is minimal” says Habib.8 Qurat ul Ain, an eminent social activist adds “women are not represented in separatist camps and they have no collective voice in the decision-making bodies of these resistance forces”.9

    The nc leader Abdul Rahim Rather when in the opposition had promised 50% reservation and representation to women when the NC came to power (Akhtar 2011). Now that it is in power the promise is yet to be fulfilled!

    march 3, 2012

    The 2011 Census has shown a drastic decline in the female sex ratio (some leaders have even advised the men to turn gay).10 The sex ratio has dropped from 906 per thousand males in 2001 to 883 in 2011.


    1 By Kashmir I only mean the Valley, in the Jammu division, genocide of Muslims was carried out and thousands of women were abducted, raped, molested, maimed and killed.

    2 Personal interview, 1 May 2011.

    3 For more on Muhammad Subhan Hajam, see Zahir Ud Din, Bouquet: A Tribute to the Unsung Hereos of Kashmir, J&K Coalition of Civil Society, 2007.

    4 See Shabnum Qayoom, Hindustan Mey Sex P ollution (Sex Pollution in India), Wiqar Publications, Srinagar, Kashmir, 2007.

    5 Numerous unmarked and unknown graves have been discovered in different parts of Kashmir. For more see Buried Evidence, Unknown, Unmarked and Mass Graves in Indian Administered Kashmir, International People’s Tribunal in Human Rights and Justice in Kashmir (IPTK),

    6 Half widows are those women whose husbands have disappeared from the police or army custody. For more see Zahir Ud Din, Did They Vanish in Thin Air? Volumes 1 and 2, Owaisi Publications, Srinagar, Kashmir. Also see Afsana Rashid, Widows and Half Widows: Saga of Extra judicial Arrests and Killings in Kashmir,

    P haros Media, New Delhi, India, 2011.

    7 Athwaas (handshake in Kashmiri) is one such effort undertaken by Women in Security, Conflict Management and Peace (WISCOMP) which is an effort towards bridge building between women of Kashmir, Jammu and other parts of India.

    8 Interview with Anjum Zamrud Habib, Milli Gazette, 16-30 April 2011, Vol 12, Issue 270.

    9 Personal Interview with Qurat Ul Ain, 26 April 2011.

    10 Farooq Abdullah, former chief minister of J&K who is notorious for his tongue-in-cheek remarks and statements while commenting on the declining sex ratio, in “If a Girl Child Is Killed Men Will Turn Gay”, Indian Express, 15 April 2011.


    Akhtar, Shahzada (2011): Kashmir: Women Empowerment & National Conference (Srinagar, Kashmir: Jay Kay Books).

    Asif, Mohammad (2011): “Sopore in Shock, Kashmir Wants Answers”, Conveyor, Vol 3, January-February.

    Bashir, Aliya (2011): The Date, The Deed, Kashmir Life, 01-07 May.

    Dabla, Bashir Ahmad (2010): “Suicides in Kashmir Valley 1999-2000” in Sociological Papers on Kashmir, Vol 2.

    Habib, Anjum Zamrud (2011): Prisoner No 100 an Account of My Nights and Days in an Indian Prison (Delhi: Zubaan Books).

    Honour (2009): “Sex, Sleaze and Lies”, August.

    Kashmiri Women’s Initiative for Peace and Disarmament (2004): Voices Unheard, a newsletter of, Vol 5, January-March.

    Rashid, Afsana and Tabassum (2005): “Discriminatory Customary Rules Valley; Women Walk on Double Edged Sword”, Voices Unheard, Vol 12, October-December.

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