Kashmir, Azadi and Women: Rejoinders from Rohini Hensman and ‘Kashmiri Feminists’

We organised a discussion on whether the insurgency’s idea of Azadi in Kashmir is Exclusivist, leaving women and Kashmiri Pandits as subordinate citizens. Dr. Nyla Ali Khan responded to this debate outlining women’s critique of  the insurgent nationalism in Kashmir. Now, we have recieved two more rejoinders: one from Rohini Hensman, an independent writer and activist whose work questioning the exclusivist nationalism of LTTE in Sri Lanka was referred by us at the beginning of this discussion. We are also reproducing the long comments by an anonymous commentator, Kashmiri Feminists, that was posted on Nyla Ali Khan’s article.


Azadi would be meaningless if it is exclusivist

Rosa Luxemburg’s question – who speaks for the ‘nation’? – expressed two concerns. One was that nationalism would serve bourgeois interests by dividing the working class, and the other was that extreme right-wing groups would take control of a national movement to the detriment of all democratic elements. With hindsight, we can see that her belief that she lived in an epoch of socialist revolution was mistaken, and that state power in the hands of the liberal bourgeoisie was perhaps the best that could have been hoped for. But her second anxiety remains as relevant today as it was in her time, as we see in the case of Sri Lanka. There the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) hijacked the leadership of a genuine struggle against the brutal oppression of the Tamil people of Sri Lanka. It established its claim to be the ‘sole representative’ of Tamils by systematically wiping out all rivals (e.g. members of other militant groups) and unarmed civilian critics. In 1990, it ethnically cleansed around 75,000 Northern Muslims: a crime against humanity. It accorded two roles to women: as disposable fighters, or as breeders of fighters. Tamil women like Rajani Thiranagama, Sarojini Yogeswaran and Maheswary Velayutham, who challenged the LTTE by playing a leadership role in their community, were assassinated by it. Mothers who resisted the forcible conscription of their children into the LTTE military forces were beaten mercilessly, the fingers that clung to their children broken. Ultimately, the right-wing authoritarianism of the LTTE and its ruthless oppression of those who were subjected to its de facto rule in the North and East of Sri Lanka alienated even those who had at first supported them.

Kashmir has a very different history, but we see some similarities too. In Kashmir too, a genuine struggle against brutal oppression by the Indian state was at a certain point hijacked by right-wing elements whose nationalism did not accord equality to ethnic and religious minorities within Kashmir, who circumscribed the liberty of women within narrow limits and punished these who exceeded those limits, and who eliminated dissidents by assassinating them. The shape and form of a Kashmir that is free of all the oppressive forces that plague it now can only be imagined and brought into being by Kashmiris themselves. But Azadi would be meaningless unless it included freedom from the oppression of the Indian state, the Pakistani state, the Hindutva Right and the Islamist Right.

Rohini Hensman is an independent scholar, writer and activist based in Mumbai.

Why is Nyla Ali Khan silent on OCCUPATION?

I think Khan lands herself in a trap by simultaneously speaking about the heterogeneous Kashmiri subject and yet employing “Kashmiri Women” as a category, despite her own insistence to the contrary. This reminds me of Urvashi Butalia’s edited volume “Speaking Peace: Women’s Voices from Kashmir” which had out of a total of 16 essays just one by a Muslim Kashmiri woman. Much has been said and done in the name of “Kashmiri Woman”–and often she has been portrayed as if she exists in a separate Kashmir, where no military exists, where they hate their husbands sons fathers brothers, where they would prefer to live under India but for their men’s cruelty. Kashmiri women do exist, and they think, act, respond, direct, but when Indians (or those advocating permanent accession with India) speak about them, it is to put “Kashmiri woman” to political uses–a use which is fundamentally based on the idea (and hope) of Kashmiri women having no ‘agency’.

Not only is it deeply disingenuous to suggest women’s agency in Kashmir can be discovered only in their critique of “insurgent nationalism” but the choice of examples fails badly. First, by speaking of ‘insurgent nationalism’ she completely hides the fact that it operates as a people’s movement within a highly militarized context that has its own dominant nationalistic aims, albeit an unpopular one, hence forced down the throats of people. Sakina Itoo is not a critic of the Indian nationalism or the military occupation, in fact her entire politics is based on an opposition to the millions of Kashmiri women who aspire like Kashmiri men to live a dignified life of freedom. NC has never had any major women leaders at top. It has passed from grandfather, to son, to grandson–no wonder Khan is languishing in academic wilderness… And even if Itoo is a minister it is because her “father was a dedicated NC worker”. Then to suggest Itoo, a medical student (sent to medical school on her father’s cash) is a “grassroots” worker is laughable. And what minister did she make!–a “Social Welfare” minister (also known as anganwadi mantraliya)… A giant leap for women in Kashmir!

Zamrooda Habib’s thinking and position in pro-freedom ranks is incontestable. No one can claim Hurriyat allowed women to be decision makers in their organization, yet pro-freedom activism in Kashmir is addressed to all Kashmiris–including women. There are groups like DM, whose social conservativism I disagree with but not their political stance on self-determination. Itoo on the other hand is no revolutionary–neither is Nyla Khan for that matter–as both seek to continue the undemocratic Indian rule over Kashmir.

1. khan mentions chandra mohanty’s warnings against “militarization” and “the world-wide mobilization of fascist notions of ‘national security’,” as “profound challenges for feminists at this time,” yet refuses to actually engage with these notions! with not more than 500 militants left, even by indian estimation, is the “militarization” in kashmir coming from the “militants” or the ~700,000 occupying forces?! had khan dissected the “fascist notions of ‘national security’” she would’ve had to talk about the AFSPA, PSA, POTA, TADA, and the whole alphabet soup that deprives kashmiris in general of their legitimate political rights, and long before 1989. that would have been rather inconvenient, as then the conspicuously missing word OCCUPATION might have slipped in!

2. was Anjum Zamarud Habib ever a vigilante? if not, it’s rather disingenuous to mention “It is important to point out that women in vigilante groups, which are more reactionary than revolutionary, are unable to climb to the highest rung of the hierarchy. This dismal fact is borne out by Anjum Zamarud Habib…”

3. khan says,”I often find myself asking if the militarization of the political and sociocultural ethos of Kashmir will enable female politicos in the Legislative Assembly of J & K to assert themselves as political agents to reckon with.” yikes! seriously?! how in the world does the “militarization of the political and sociocultural ethos” of any society **enable** the political agency of women??
in case of kashmir, as pointed out in 1) above, this militarization is that coming from the occupying forces and there has been TONS of scholarship demonstrating an inversely proportional relationship between the two! cynthia enloes’, now canonical, “bananas & beaches” in fact shows how accelerated militarization *invariably* results in an increase in the rates of prostitution, decline in women’s empowerment, and the over all disintegration of social fabric wherever such military bases are established!

4.”The intellectual agenda of scholars working on Kashmir, particularly those located in the diaspora, is defined by the histories and perspectives of non-mainstream or non-state actors.

5. beyond the fluff (i’m sorry) the only thing i can excavate here is khan’s assertion that “Sakina is the Minister for Social Welfare in the J & K cabinet. Her undoubtedly intrepid decision to join mainstream politics in Kashmir at a chaotic, frenzied, and precarious time is, in my opinion, a forceful critique of insurgent nationalism.” and this despite khan’s own “criti[que] of current centrist policies of the National Conference”!

unfortunately, or fortunately as the case may be, do not know much about Sakina Itoo or her politics, except that i) she’s with the NC; ii) she’s in the current collaborators’ regime; and very importantly iii) women’s political agency and empowerment at large cannot be measured using the calculus of tokenized presence in an extremely unpopular and corrupt regime, when thousands of mothers seek their disappeared sons, thousands of widows thousands of orphan kids languish in poverty, thousands of raped women never get justice, and thousands of men languish in jails, get tortured, killed, or plain “disappear” (conveniently for the regime)! the category gender *cannot* simplistically be applied to women alone, when our men have been the targets of unspeakable cruelties.

6. and finally, khan’s logic of employing sakina itoo’s participation in NC and in the current cabinet as evidence of a “forceful critique of insurgent nationalism” leaves me bewildered. as an analog, one could make the (equally fallacious) claims that hina rabbani khar’s appointment as the foreign minister of pakistan is a forceful critique of balochi nationalism, or margaret thatcher’s presence in 10 downing street was a forceful critique of the anti-imperialist anti-racist feminist movement!

She could have pushed her critique a step further by looking at the Sakina Itoo’s case, her joining the hegemonic mainstream national conference party that is presently allied with the occupation as a forced/compromised choice and ideologically a capitulation of feminist ideal. But alas she continues to be an apologist for the National Conference despite her assumed academic posture.

Sakina Itoo is a galring example of Democracy’s (read herd-bank-politics) flawed institutionalization of demagogically exploitable naivety of masses. Se was installed, more for having the “Itoo” prefix in her surname, signifying a pseudo continuum of the status manufactured by her father which would basically furnish the preservation of the NUMBER of the hands balloting for NC in that area. To call Itoo’s inclusion into herd-politics “a forceful critique of insurgent nationalism” is like terming Rahul Gandhi’s Inclusion into Congress as a significant example of “deconstructing Hindutva Nationalism” in India. Sad and perturbing analysis.

Kashmiri Feminists’ comment, on Nyla Ali Khan’s article.

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