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Affective Female Alliances and Companionships of Resistance in Kashmir

The Intimate World of Vyestoan

Through ethnographic vignettes and auto-ethnographic fragments of women’s intimate worlds in Kashmir, women’s congregations, female alliances, friendships, embodied practices, and everyday memory projects are examined, arguing that these constitute an alternate affect and episteme in Kashmir. The concept of vyestoan is introduced as a critical, affective female alliance and companionship of resistance hinged on the notion of witnessing, in life, death, and beyond. This critical female alliance, against several interlocked forms of domination, is proposed as a useful term, rather than the notion of “sisterhood” in feminist scholarship, to understand intersectionality and criticality particularly in the context of Kashmir.

Ceaseless rhythmic thumping of the tumbakhnaer1 filled the autumnal night air with a strange possibility. Whiffs and the silence of tall pines coalesced with smoke and the sound of burning wood of the verr2 as food for celebration was being prepared. Women who had gathered in the colourful tent sculpted the night with their handclaps, beats of the tumbakhnaer resting in their laps, the cling of keys and the copper nout (a pot used as a hand drum). Incessantly, the women whirled. Singing in the traditional call-and-response style, where a group of women sing to “call” for a “response” from the other group, their antiphonal singing turned hours of the night into a rhythmic conversation. Endless cups of brewing nunchai (Kashmir’s everyday salty milk tea) from the samovar were passed around. Sleep was as distant as the Pir Panjal, the hazy contours of which were visible amid the dense night fog. The bride’s friend sang cheshman che gaashnevaan and the refrain travelled far to the distant mountains, as we all sang together yeti bhaer bhaer kaet malguzaar yewaan.3 An obscure sense of longing persisted.

Women filled Rukhsana’s hands with henna in intricate patterns, as if inscribing secrets on her palm. Rukhsana’s confidante, Parveena Ahanger, sat next to her and sang along. Rukhsana was a little girl when, accompanied by her grandfather Jamaal Dar, she would travel every month from their village Pahaldej in Handwor for the sit-ins and protests of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP)—a collective of relatives of those subjugated to enforced and involuntary disappearances in Kashmir—in Srinagar’s Pratap Park demanding the whereabouts of her father Fatah Muhammad, who was subjected to enforced disappearance in 2000. It was here that she met Parveena, Haleema and Sabia, who, along with other women from her village, were now singing at the maenzraat (night of the henna) of her wedding.

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Updated On : 8th Dec, 2018

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