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The Sociological and Feminist Study on Gender Issues in Kashmir

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Gender issues cut across all sectors of the society regardless of the social, political and economic context. Their articulation in situations of armed conflict and political violence are often particularly marked.in the democracy of India, reinforcement of local perceptions of the legitimacy of the use of the military for domestic repression is emerging as an important question in the complex understanding of nationhood, especially in states who have undergone or are undergoing AFSPA (Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act). Consequently, the impact of ‘armed intervention’ on gender relations and gender equality has become a key issue. As previous researches have already begun to explore what local legitimacy entails to those involved in and affected by armed intervention and the growing dichotomy of identities, I would like to shift the lens to women who form a large part of the population that is often neglected in understanding of local legitimacy under constant armed vigilance and violence as a perception-based, relational phenomenon. Through this lens, the focus would be on Kashmir while examining an armed intervention in states under AFSPA, i.e., Assam and Manipur in 1958, Amritsar and Chandigarh in 1983 and Jammu and Kashmir in 1990.

In particular, I would like to study the relationship between locals, especially the women in Kashmir and intervening armed forces they interact within the valley, and how it shapes the identities and create perspectives on local legitimacy held by the main 'interveners' and those 'intervened upon'.

The term new war’s coined by Mary Kaldor (2006), is distinctly different from past wars in terms of its goals, fighting methods and financial sources. The 21st-century wars are about identity politics she says using the term gruesome to describe violence. They are more decentralized than the war in the era of world wars between state actors. They are, instead of purely interstate conflicts, “a mixture of war, organized crime, and massive violations of human rights. The actors are global and local, public and private”. According to the Uppsala university conflict data program an armed conflict is defined as a ‘contested incompatibility that concerns government and/or territory where the use of armed force between two parties, of which at least one is the government of a state, results in at least 25 battle-related deaths in one calendar year’[1].

As Sumit Ganguly (2002) writes, with the possible exception of Arab-Israeli dispute, Kashmir conflict remains an intractable issue in the post-World War II era. India and Pakistan continue to be an impasse regarding Kashmir, each stating their territorial as legitimate. This legitimation process, which Goddard calls, ‘legitimation strategies’, has continued for well over three decades now with little hope of reaching a compromise.

There has been an exclusion of women and gender issues in political conflict from the arena of international politics which has been explained through the reference to the public and private dichotomy. The dichotomy rises from the assumption that ‘power’ belongs to the public-political domain, which is considered a male monopoly where women have no role to play. Though the views that women have no power or political agency and they are only dependent on the existing social and political structures have been challenged, the dichotomy continues to exist on the fringes. In the context of Northern Ireland, Begonia Aretxaga (1997) has pointed out that internment and the widespread raids of people’s homes have blurred the boundaries between household and communal space and at certain moments practically erased them. This erasure of boundaries has had implications for the transformation of gender roles and identities in both contexts. Militarization presupposes a close relationship between political and military elites. As Cynthia Enloe, a pioneer in the study of militarization through gendered lenses, notes that a community’s politicized sense becomes entangled with circumstances and pressures for its men to take up arms and choose side, the women are needed to support the familial relations in their quest to become ‘soldiers’, there is a burning need to answer questions like what does militarization mean for women’s and men’s relationship to each other within and outside the familial context; what happens when some women resist that pressure; arises.

When a conflict between or among parties involves a core sense of identity, the conflict tends to be intractable. Under the Jammu and Kashmir Disturbed Areas Act and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), Indian security forces have extraordinary powers which include the authority to shoot suspected lawbreakers and those disturbing peace. The AFSPA also grants the Indian military wide powers of arrest, the right to shoot to kill and to occupy or destroy property in counter-insurgency operations[2]. Deep-rooted conflicts have developed under such over-arching powers of Indian security forces where there are underlying needs that cannot be compromised, and interests and positions are deemed non-negotiable, existing tensions have evolved into a reign of unrest in conflict-ridden states of India like Kashmir. Cheney and Cheney have spoken about the denial of rights and justice which leads to a sense of collective victimhood and narratives of oppression identified with a community. This collective victimization heightens identity consciousness[3].

Yuval Nira Davis points out that, the burden of representation on women of the collective identity and future destiny has also brought about the construction of women as the bearers of the collective honor. She goes on to talk about the construction of womanhood has a property of ‘otherness’. Strict cultural codes of what is to be a ‘proper woman’ are often developed to keep a woman in this inferior power position. Women living in conflict situations have been subjected to a range of human rights violations like rape, molestation, physical and sexual violence. Women being considered as appendages of men have been given differential treatment. Women are also indirectly affected in terms of killing, torture, the disappearance of their family members. There has been an increase in female-headed households, stressing women with the additional burden of maintaining the household. Because of the vulnerable nature of adolescent girls, their movement has been restricted affecting their education. The sexual appropriation of Kashmiri Muslim women by the military functions not just as an especially potent political weapon, but also a cultural weapon to inflict collective humiliation on Muslim Kashmiri men (Kazi, 2010).

The 1990’s crisis of insurgency of Kashmir improved partially with the commencement of peace talks between India and Pakistan and dialogues between the Centre and stakeholders in Kashmir in the early 2000’s. As the talks died down, abuse of human rights and an increase of power of the military in around 2007 set a tone for the emergence of a stronger militant power in Kashmir. 2016 saw a complete breakdown of law and order post killing and abuse of locals in the area. In this situation, the question of identity remains paramount and has gained further importance in the past two decades as the tug and tussle of identities – ethnic, linguistic, religious, class, and especially national continues to dominate political life throughout the region. Every time these aspects of identity are perceived to be denied or threatened tensions between different identity groups have escalated and the threat of conflict has emerged. Possibly nowhere else in the world are the contours of identity, both within and across nations, so complicated. The way in which conflicts of identity and legitimacy are resolved will not only affect peace and stability in the states but may also have greater implications for nationalist and religious movements in other regions of the country. Identities are created, ascribed, exploited negotiated in relation to the state where resistance and dialogue are cogs in the governmental mechanism.

As Sangri writes, that everyday gendered violence serves to reinforce all other forms of violence in our society, and is a connective tissue between patriarchal systems and social structures, the node at which the social inequalities represented by each of these dominant agencies meet and interact[4].

Women are not bound by homogenous experience, with emphasis on the importance of their subjective experiences of militarization cannot be clubbed with a general understanding of gender vis-à-vis militarisation. To state simply, women in Kashmir experience conflict ‘differently’. My research would focus on the crisis of identity in face of questions of legitimacy posed women of Kashmir and children to some extent. There is an embodiment of violence in the local identities where the question about the local legitimacy of military forces has become increasingly contested among Kashmiris thus leading to questions of the kind of identities that are emerging and their impact on the legitimacy of the violence propagated by the state. This has further increased largely due to the perceived intensification of foreign intrusion on 'everyday' life.

Research Objectives:

  • This study will use existing literature and narratives collected during the fieldwork to understand the new identities that are emerging through the negotiation of violence propagated by the state.
  • The inter-linkages between these domains of public/private dichotomy, victimhood and militarism will be explored and analyzed.

Key questions include:

  1. What are the different forms of the violence? In what ways do violence shape identity and agency?
  2. Are Kashmiri women challenging the stereotypical portrayal of woman as mere victims of conflict? How are they as individuals and citizens of the state negotiating with the paramilitary forces?
  3. Has the role of paramilitary forces in Kashmir changed over the decade?
  4. What is the impact of violence on women both directly as victims and indirectly in relation to the men? What is the effect of widowhood and half widowhood on women in relation to the fake encounters, disappearances, and long detentions?
  5. How is the family unit affected in its everyday existence? What is the impact on the family authority and economy in terms of role performance, role conflict and transfer of roles?

The study will be a sociological and a feminist study, which will use both qualitative and quantitative approach. The study will use in-depth interviews as the primary method. Semi-structured interviews will be conducted with selected respondents. The interviews will focus on their everyday experiences and interaction with the military and government officials present in the Valley. The other stakeholders with whom short interviews will be conducted include family or friends of the respondents, military and police personnel and local government officials. The study intends to be a narrative ethnographic study as it elucidates the “storying of experience in everyday life” (Gubrium and Holstein, 2008). Standpoint epistemology approach will benefit the study during analysis and interpretation of these narratives because the distinction of ‘facts’ or ‘data’ and experiences is blurred. This is important to understand and translate these women’s knowledge into practice and apply them towards social change and work towards the elimination of oppression of the marginalized.

Being aware that this is sensitive topic to broach to the stakeholders in this region and in a time where the Indian government and local population is trying to navigate through their differences to reach a common ground, it is important be to be aware of the power relation between the researcher and the researched where the representation constitutes of women’s political opposition to the dominant. Non-disclosure of respondent’s identities is crucial to protect their well and views. None of the interviews will be conducted without explicit consent and any action that can threaten the respondent’s safety will emphatically avoid. Patience, sensitivity, and trust are crucial when accessing in university spaces and the respondents about their experiences.

  • Year 1: Research Methods courses and Planning
  • Year 2: Fieldwork
  • Year 3: Writing up and dissemination

India has seen a steady growth of feminist scholarship through several detailed, well researched and documented studies on the position of women in the country since Independence and prior to 1947 in past few decades. Though there have been several studies on Kashmir, the women of the valley and their issues have not received due attention. My primary objective, therefore, is to fulfill this lacuna and study the changing position of women and gender relation since last decade. Indian citizens, outside the region of Kashmir, have diverse options on this issue and often these voices are colored in religious and communal colors. The awareness about the situation has seen a shift in media representation where words are chosen, images portrayed stoke the national patriotism and deepen the sense of ethnic belonging in opposition to ‘other’ from ‘we’, which in turn threatens the multicultural society we are striving to create. Thus, it is important for me that through my work, along with contributing to a more comprehensive global understanding of the complex role, responsibilities whether as victims, perpetrators or actors in a military-controlled conflict region, this study also intends to bring a certain degree of awareness.

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