ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Unequal Citizens

Field Notes from Rajouri and Poonch

In the militarised border regions of Rajouri and Poonch (Jammu and Kashmir), the boundaries are blurred. Violence had breached the security of people's homes, changing their lives forever. Despite the enormity of the violence done to their lives and livelihood, the cry for justice seems to be missing. The region appeared to have been enveloped in hopeless resignation.

This paper is based on the two fi eld visits to Rajouri and Poonch, between July and October 2012, to study the social impact of militarisation and security. This is a part of an ongoing research project of the “Women’s Regional Network” focusing on people’s experiences of living in a militarised zone.

For over 20 years, like the rest of the world, we had focused on the strategic significance of the Kashmir Valley. After all, it was Kashmir’s ethno-national assertion, which challenged Indian nationalism; it was Kashmir over which India and Pakistan ideologically, territorially and diplomatically battled in three wars, and it was in Kashmir that the commitment of Indian democracy to rights and equality was tested. As for Jammu, Kashmir was the reference point to its minor narrative of regional identity politics. The twin border districts of Rajouri Poonch were a footnote to Kashmir’s turbulent history of Partition, militancy and militarisation.

But Rajouri and Poonch refused to stay neglected. Intriguing news reports spoke of a different social and political dynamic that was at work in these border districts peopled by a complex mosaic of religious, ethnic and linguistic communities, in contrast to the largely mono-ethnic Muslim Valley. It was here that we read of the mass revenge slaughter of extended families. Here were the sightings of women and men whose ears and noses had been punitively slit or who had been beheaded for being informers. Here, women lived in remote, sparsely populated villages or at heights in isolated dhoks (stone and wood shelters of migrant shepherds), while men migrated for work to Jammu or Punjab, negotiating the family’s survival between the security forces and the militants. Here there was no outcry against mass disappearances, arbitrary killings and sexual violence, while across the Pir Panjal, the Valley resounded with public outrage at human-rights violations. Here, it was said, the army was a “friendly force” patrolling the borders, not a counter-insurgent force brutalising civilians.

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