Women Fight in The Streets in India

By Rekha Chowdhary, Womens Feature Service

Since the beginning of summer this year, Kashmir has been caught up in a politically volatile situation marked by strikes, massive demonstrations with freedom slogans, and pitched battles between stone pelting youth and the CRPF/local police.

While normal life has been paralyzed and the political order has been challenged, the cycle of violence that started with the death of a young student in early June has now recorded more than a hundred deaths.

Though the youth became the face of the present phase of upsurge, one could also see the images of women actively participating in street protests. More specifically, there were the images of women pelting stones at the police.

Women have always been the part of the movement politics of Kashmir. They have been involved in so many ways. They served as militants during the early period of militancy and providing food and shelter to them. They have also been the most visible faces at funeral processions. Women have also been coming out during the mass demonstrations specifically around the issue of human rights violations.

The participation of women during the last three months of political upsurge has been quite intense. Larger numbers of women were part of the protests that have been taking place all over the Valley.

Housewives, ordinary women, mothers and sisters of the youth killed or arrested by police came out to protest in the neighbourhood. In many cases, these protests were spontaneous responses arising out of the news of recent killings of young people belonging to the area. However, as time passed, the response of women also became more organized.

Since there were prolonged curfews, women would come out along with children at odd hours at night. Until quite late into the night, they would gather together in groups in the neighbourhood and raise slogans. As the number of killings increased, the responses of women on the street also became more aggressive.

One can identify various reasons for the intense participation of women in the street protests. In many cases they have been coming out because of their personal grief and anger especially when someone dear to them is arrested, injured or killed. Due to the massive participation of youth in the present unrest, the number of those arrested, injured and killed has been large and the number of protesting women has also grown.

But apart from all these reasons, women are also the participants in the demonstrations because they identify with the cause and the sentiment. They share with men the political response that has overwhelmed society. One can say that while the participation of women in street protests as well as in the stone pelting episodes is a statement about the deep-rooted collective anger of Kashmiri society, it also a reflection of the agency of women in the conflict.

The example of participation of women and their agency has been manifested at the level of leadership as well – through the role of Aasiya Andrabi, the leader of Dukhtaran-e-Millat, an all-women organization of veiled women. Within the male bastion of separatist politics, Andrabi is the only woman who has had some kind of a leadership role. During the current upsurge she emerged along with Masarat Alam as one of the prominent leaders of the protest.

The women who are participating in the protest demonstrations or pelting stones are not veiled women like Aasiya but those who manifest the traditional freedom enjoyed by women in Kashmir.

(The writer is Professor of Political Science, University of Jammu.)